Thursday, September 3, 2015

Ze Zir Peh Per Ve Xe Zher - How silly is it, really?

The umpty-zillionth person has just disagreed with me that the concept of "gender" is pretty useless and outdated. Usually these objections begin with the "Everybody knows" statement that people are either born male or female - that's it! Maybe they make allowances for a stray hermaphrodite here and there, but, by golly, beyond that, there's only two lines, and you're born in one of 'em, and you better not step out of it.

And if'n you do, sure as heck you better not expect any right thinking person to let you cut in the other line.

So, start there.  Everybody (with a tiny footnote number and an italicized caveat "well almost everybody" at the bottom of the page) is born this or that.

Well, no.  Not really, no. Mostly, sure, that's the common lay understanding of gender, but it's certainly not the reality.  You're generally born more or less one sex or the other, but gender mostly gets put on you, and in your head, by society. And even with "sex", it's not a binary you're-either-this-or-that so much as it's actually more of a spectrum.  Every fetus starts off technically female, and then gets masculinized to some degree, depending on genetics, uterine environment and conditions, and hormonal exposure.

Mostly, gender is a social construct that's used to separate those in power from those not in power, the owners form the owned, the beings from the breeding stock.  It's not always one "gender" or the other that's up or down, across cultures and across history, but it's always one or the other.  There's -no- reason to sort everyone into those two categories -except- to clearly define who gets these rights and privileges, and who has to make do with those.

But let's ignore all that, shall we?  Let's assume sex equals gender, and there are only two (tiny footnote caveats excepted) and so it's critical we have two - and only two - pronouns to describe them.

Now, ask the next question... Why? Why do we have to describe them at that fundamental a level?  I mean, we have lots of binaries that we don't have mandatory special linguistic constructs for.

Almost everyone is either right or left handed - why don't we have different pronouns for those two classes? Lis and Ris, perhaps?
Almost everyone is either Colorblind or not color blind - why don't we have different pronouns for those two classes?
How about tall and short people? Everybody knows Short People aren't the same as the rest of us.  Surely we should have different pronouns for tiny munchkin creepers under 5 feet tall...
Everyone either has attached earlobes or unattached earlobes. My wife insists that the unattached mutant horde, including myself, aren't normal. Isn't it crazy we don't have different pronouns for even that?

So why is it that in this day and age - when even the UK has recently admitted that little Mistress Mary is just as good an heir as little Master James - do we still need an entirely different linguistic structure just to describe to everyone listening what kind of shape of the subjects secondary sexual characteristics are in?

Just stop and think about it a moment, and tell me it doesn't seem mad.  Of the millions of things a stranger could possibly know about you from the first word, the only one SO important that it's got to be served with completely segregated forms of address and reference is what's in your pants? Seriously?

 So - aside from the admitted fact that it's always going to be a bit of a pain to shift gears, wholesale, on language usage, is it really all that silly to say that this is kind of an outdated concept anyway?  I mean, I can respect a good, honest "It'd be unreasonably hard" as a reason to avoid doing something - even if "But it's hard!" is a lame reason, for the most part, it's still a hell of a lot more respectable than making a big nonsensical argument about how it's the will of god and nature that we don't do it, because by golly that just now (we're ignorantly pretending) it is!

Friday, May 8, 2015

What really makes the ultimate assault so ultimate?

I frequently come back to wondering about this...

If someone cornered you, kind of pushed you against a wall or something or in some other way physically restrained you in order to shake your hand... Well, that wouldn't be pleasant, would it? It'd suck really. Guy's (or girl's) an asshole, no question. But is it really going to wreck your whole life? Are you going to need therapy, spend your nights in fear, and never really be able to enjoy an honest, open handshake with anyone ever again?

What if it was a kiss? With tongue?

What if it was a fifteen minute conversation while holding hands?

At what point of "intimacy" does it cross the line from a creepy annoyance into full-blown life-shattering hell that justifies you being called a "victim" or "survivor"...?

Is rape as terrible as it is purely because of some quality or qualities inherent in sex, or is it - at least in part - because we have centuries and centuries of mythology and social taboo bundled up with sex?

Sex is "dirty", sex is "intimate" and "private", and should only be shared with someone "special".

Sex is a one-way commodity. Think about the common terminology - none of these are universal, but all of them are common. Males "get some" while females "give it up".  Girls "lose" their virginity (their innocence, their purity, their virtue, their honor), males "take" it.  A male might "give" a female his dick, but a female "gives" a male herself.

Ok, now, shake loose of the illustration. This isn't an essay about "Wah! It's so unfair being a girl!" The illustration is only there to show how steeped in taboo and sexism the nature of intercourse typically or often is for many people. (and especially historically - you know, in that time period when our current traditions and social outlooks were formed)

So, the question is this.  If we hadn't invested so much time, energy, and effort building up this mythology of personal worth and social value and shame around sex and sexuality, would rape be as big a deal as it is? Or would it be pretty much the same, in a reasonable scale, with any other kind of unwanted physical attention?

There's the matter of the possibility of pregnancy, of course.  If someone corners you and holds your hand for an hour, you stand little chance of having your life ruined (and by ruined, I mean "blessed by the gift of a child", of course) by it.  Is that a meaningful moderator of the subject, or is that another layer of the same kind of question - If humans were better at making distinctions between a fetus and a person, between a baby and a potential for a baby, would termination of a pregnancy be as big a deal as it is now?

Don't get me wrong, please. I'm not saying "Rape isn't a big deal" or even "Rape isn't as big a deal as we make it".  This essay isn't a statement or a proclamation, it's a question. What I'm saying is, what is it in our history, or society, or mental, psychological, and social makeup that makes rape as huge and devastating a deal as it is?

If we had more data from males who'd been raped, how would that shape the answers to these questions? Is it pretty much the same for them? Better? Worse?

Challenge Your Beliefs

Pardon the painfully obvious title, but as obvious as it is, it's also far too rare.

I think one of the big, important markers about how you measure yourself has got to be how much time you spend giving serious due consideration to ideas that give you a knee-jerk reaction of "Oh, bullshit!"
Political, economic, moral, ethical, cultural, societal, scientific, whatever - You have to give these discomforting ideas their due consideration, or you're not being a good steward of your own intellectual fitness. You're letting your brain get away with less thinking than it needs to be healthy, and nobody's going to stop you. It has to be internal - nobody else can do this for you, nobody else can check your answers. Only you know your own thoughts, and only you know whether you're being hard enough on your preconceptions and ingrained beliefs... 
And if you don't come away from it exhausted and exhilarated and sometimes much more "sure" of your position than you were when you first thought you were sure - or, very often, much LESS sure, but with a level of certainty or uncertainty borne by much better reasons, then you're not trying hard enough.
And you have to. If you don't really interrogate the hell out of your closely held beliefs, how do you have any idea of their value?
It's like a tool you never use. It's a lovely gold filigreed enamel painted porcelain fire extinguisher. Will it work when you need it? Does it actually do anything at all? Well, I don't know. I've never actually -used- it. But, I like it. No, I love it! It comforts me. I just -feels- right, having it there on the wall. I feel safer just looking at it.
If you catch yourself glancing at an idea that conflicts with your own existing ideas and dismissing it with a "Nah, that's bullshit." you need to rein yourself in.
"Ah ha!"
Hear that...? Off in the shadows, somewhere, someone just spotted what they perceive as hypocrisy! "I've got you now!" they're saying, finger stabbing skyward, "I must have seen you dismiss some claim or idea you consider mumbo-jumbo or 'woo' a hundred times in the last year alone!"
Well, I did say "serious due consideration" - not "limitless non-critical consideration".
If today is the first time you ever hear of ghosts, and it sounds like bullshit that dead people can wander around and do and feel things, and you just say "Bullshit!" then you're being intellectually lazy. If, however, you hear someone talk about how their uncle's ghost keeps eating the yoghurt, and you've already done some pretty extensive consideration and study into ghosts in the past, all that's required is a quick check to make sure there's nothing actually meaningfully new or unusual about this claim.
Once you've worked out the math for 64*813, it'll probably be the same result for a very long time. You just need to make sure you don't automatically apply it when the question asked is "What's that number in the mid sixties times that other number just over eight hundred?"

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mind Your Label!

Labels, right? When's the last time you heard someone refer to the concept of a label, in the context of terms used to categorize human beings) in a positive light?
It's "Do we have to have labels?" or "I defy all labels!" or - as someone commented on a Facebook post on this subject, probably in jest, "I transcend all labels."
And there are those -ists and -ians and -isms. At least two dozen separate times I've heard (or read) someone saying they oppose, disagree with, or in some other way deny or defy all -isms, etc.  Which, of course, makes them one of them - a contrarian.
The thing is, we need these things.  Life and the world and the mind, these are all very complex things, and we need labels to act as shortcuts and directories. 
When someone asks "Are you male or female?" there are rather a lot of folks for whom it's just not that simple, but for the vast majority, it's a lot easier to say "male" than saying you're a marginally typical example of Homo Sapiens Sapiens with the XY chromosomal variant and external genitalia, flat structure body hair extending to the cheeks, neck, cheeks, and subnasal plate, etc.
So, while there are always exceptions that fall outside the label's normal range, there are also those large majority who don't, and it's incumbent upon those who do to further explain where they are relative to it, not to demand we all expand the label to accommodate their not wanting to use more precise language.
Suppose you've got someone who's a sushi chef but also likes making donuts, and they demand that we all alter our perception of what it is to be a sushi chef. When they say "I'm a sushi chef" they don't want you to just think "Someone who makes sushi" but also "and deep fries donuts."  This is a little problematic for all the other sushi chefs who now have customers coming in looking for a California roll and a jelly roll.  As silly as the example is, it seems fairly obvious to most of us that the person in question should just say "I'm a sushi chef and a donut maker" rather than demanding we all accomodate his unusual use of the term "sushi chef".
So, if you're calling yourself a feminist, a liberal, a conservative, a socialist, communist, Christian, atheist, agnostic, doctor, lawyer, or sushi chef, and your positions aren't exactly in line with the definitional positions of that thing, movement, philosophy, whatever... Well, that's kind of to be expected. Labels are to save time, not to shape our existence, and nobody agrees with -all- of anything. There's got to be some wiggle room, or the labels themselves become too restrictive to be useful.
But, if you claim a label and or labeled position and your relevant views are diametrically opposed to the actual positions that are properly identified by that label - you're part of the problem.
So, I'd like to cordially and politely invite all fake feminists, liberals, conservatives, progressives, and feminists - especially feminists, this week - to fuck off and find your own damned label.
And, at least part of the problem is that the name "feminist" was very poorly chosen. It sounds like "female supremacist" - if you knew nothing about it but the Latin and Greek roots, you'd assume it meant "female supremacist" or misandrist...
Still - either come up with a new label, or use it properly. "Feminist" means someone who believes males and females should be legally and socially equal. Period. That's it. If you say "I'm not a feminist!" you're either saying "I'm a sexist" or "I'm an ignoramus" and I wish you'd just say that instead.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Sea of Abandoned Text

I'm going to go out on a limb and estimate that there are more pages of text not written on all the abandoned 'blogs on the Internet than in all the books not written by all the unpublished authors in the history of the world.

Ok, maybe not... But it sounded good.

So. In the long, long, long time since I've been back to this one, I've been a) posting on my LJ one (and not much of that in the past half year), b) reading WAY too much (the only way to read too much, by the way, is to read stuff you'd rather put down in favor of reading something else) c) working on spinning up several of my own projects that I couldn't pursue while I was on my two year long walkabout, but have no really good excuse for not dong now, and d) squirming like a pinned bug while Facebook eats every unguarded waking moment of my life.

I'm not sure how to handle cross-posting from other projects - I'll likely just post links. I'm not sure abut this one, anyway, since basically nobody even knows this one is here. Guess I'll decide when the time comes.

For now...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Republican Lies I'm Sick Of...

Over the course of the next few weeks, I'll be porting related entries from my other (personal) 'blog... Some in order, but some, I'm sure, not. I'll try to date them with the same publication date as they held there. "Current" posts will probably be just mixed in.

With any luck, though, it won't be a bad mess. It's all related, even if not as topical as when it was first posted.

So... The economy sucks, and we're hemorrhaging jobs - If I remember correctly, population growth and other factors give us an estimate that we need to grow about 600,000 jobs a year to keep the economy (and the people it's composed of) well fed, but we're losing about 50,000 jobs per month.

So what's the solution? Why, lower taxes on business, of course!

Republican politicians will tell you, and their parrots will echo, at the drop of a hat, that lowering taxes on business is the only way to grow jobs.

This. Is. Retarded.

Lowering business taxes does not create jobs. Lowering taxes on the general population creates jobs.

Let's see...

Business taxes are levied on profits. Profits are a function of sales. Sales are a function of production and demand. Demand is a function of brand/quality, availability (supply), and price. Price is, generally, a function of the balance of supply and demand.

It's all a big push-me-pull-you. If demand increases, you either increase production or price. If demand decreases, you reduce price, reduce production, or try to increase brand/quality, usually by means of advertising. And so on, and so on.

So... What are the reasons you might hire more people...? There's only one. You're not able to meet current or projected demand for your product. That's it.

So what if there's a higher profit margin because they're not paying as much in taxes...? How likely is it that they'll hold a company meeting and announce "It looks like we've made about 10% more in profits than we were expecting, so here's what we're going to do. We're going to hire more full-time workers, at the same wages, and everyone can just work about 10% less hard. Everyone please remember to leave ten minutes early from now on, and I don't want to see anyone stroll in before 9.15 in the morning."

Republicans expect us to believe that, if corporate owners find some extra money in the till at the end of the day, they're going to do something with it besides smile and take it home.

Lowering taxes on business increases the net income of business owners. "What?!?" you say, "Republican politicians pushing policies that will increase the wealth of the wealthy...? Why, that's shocking!"

"No, no, no!" they tell us. "You're missing the whole point!"

"If we give these poor, poor business owners - crushed under the weight of the largest business taxes in the world - a small tax break, they'll invest that money into expanding their business! That's how they'll create more jobs!"

Wait... Let's look again. You can't expand without demand. If there's not someone 'over there' who's willing and able (and, preferably, desiring) to buy your product or service, it'll do you no good to expand 'over there'.

And, believe me... If there are people 'over there' who are willing and able and desiring (or not) to buy a product, neither hell nor high water nor business taxes are going to stop a business from expanding. Doubt it? Go to outer Mongolia and buy yourself a Coke and a Big Mac.

If they want to expand... They will. They can already afford it. They're rich*. If they don't have the cash on hand, they'll borrow it. Happens every day. What's not going to prove a make-or-break difference on whether or not they expand into a new market is certainly not a few percentage points of profit paid or not paid in taxes.

Any taxes they have to pay will be figured into the cost of the expansion, and into the price of the product. They're good at this kind of stuff. They're businesses. They have accountant homeboys who can figure it all out without breaking a sweat.

You can't expand without demand.

So, how do we create more demand in the marketplace? Reduce the tax burden of workers... Lower and middle classes. Give a rich person a tax break, and they'll phone the broker, buy some real estate, maybe spend another week in Paris every year. Give a poor person a tax break, and they'll spend every penny of it in the domestic marketplace**. Which means higher demand for retail level goods and services... Which means more jobs in production, retail, transportation, and myriad other connected markets and industries.

Wealth never ever trickles down... It only 'evaporates' up.

History shows us, quite clearly, that under "Democratic" economic and domestic policies, the working classes do much, much, much better than they do under "Republican" policies, and, with all those working class folks spending their paychecks, the "rich" do quite well under "Democratic" policies as well.

While it's true that the "rich" do even better - amazingly, astoundingly so*** - under "Republican" policies, the poor do catastrophically worse, and the middle classes slowly dissolve into new poor. Worse, the Republicans - and the wealthy who support them financially - seem unable to see that, without a middle class to feed on, they'll soon be left to eating their own young.

Or, perhaps, the concept just doesn't much bother them.

After all... Once you've got a really nice level of wealth, there's hardly any such thing as "bad times"... Especially in the modern market. Short selling sub-prime mortgages netted savvy wall Streeters hundreds of billions... And, if the housing market really crashes, those with massive liquid assets will simply be in a position to bulk up on real estate holdings at bargain basement prices.

That's all an economic crash really means, usually... The poor starve, the middle become poor, and the very wealthy pick up the morsels that the upper middle drop on their way down.

Perhaps the reason this particular Republican lie bothers me so much is not simply because it's a lie... Both parties do plenty of that. It's that it's such an obvious lie, so easy to see around, and yet so few people bother to even look.

Saying that tax breaks for corporations create jobs is like saying that charging those who eat the most less for meals creates food.

* Yes. Of course, there are 'business owners' who aren't rich. I'm sorry to have to say it, but business taxes or no business taxes, they're probably not going to be the ones expanding. If they have a fantastic idea, but don't have the credit or capital to really expand on it, it won't be long at all until you see someone who is rich creating and expanding a knock-off in another market. Welcome to capitalism.

** Never mind that most of the product in the domestic marketplace came from Mexico and China... That's another subject.

*** The US "Wealth Gap" - the average economic distance between the rich and the poor - has skyrocketed under the current administration, even more than it always does under Republican rule. In 2007, 10 Americans earned a combined income of over $16 billion - more than the GDP of some countries - while most jobs paid less than $10/hr and the economy was beginning to grind to a halt. I can't find the reference now, but if I remember correctly, the wealth of the top one half or one tenth of one percent has grown over 600% while the bottom fifty (?) percent have enjoyed a net decrease of something like 45%. Naturally, if anyone has the reference I can't find, I'd appreciate a link.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Death to Right Wing Surrender Monkeys!

"I understand that there are people who disagree, people who are ready for the troops to come home. The President strongly believes that setting a date for surrender is not the way to do that." - White House Press Briefing by Dana Perino

"Let’s not play semantics. Redeploy is another word for surrender, retreat... Retreat! Surrender! Give up!"" - Sean Hannity, who has never served in the military

"This is cut and run, surrender without the words." - Rush Limbaugh, who has also never served in the military


"Having been attacked by al Qaeda, for us now to go bombing Iraq in response would be like our invading Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbour." Richard Clark, former Chair of the Counter-terrorism Security Group, United States National Security Council ("Anti-Terrorism Czar")

"In the days following those terrible attacks, the country's pain and despair were quickly replaced with a steely resolve to bring those responsible to justice. The world stood by our side, ready to join us in this effort.

"But before he'd finished the job of destroying al Qaeda, President Bush chose a different path, misleading us into an ill-planned war in Iraq...

"Our military is not to blame for those setbacks. The men and women who serve us in uniform have met every challenge and surpassed every goal with remarkable courage. These are President Bush's failures - and it is long past time for him to change his flawed policies." Senator Harry Reid, D, Nev

As a military veteran, and as a reasonable person, I am quite tired of people or the right saying that to leave Iraq would be "surrender". I'm also quite tired of people, left or right, saying we've lost there.

Our military did not lose, and coming home is not "surrender".

They went in to a country with a hostile dictator, and they removed him. They defeated his army, removed his political apparatus, and captured him personally. That's it. They won. Game over. At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, they kicked ass.

Now, we have valiant soldiers in a distinctly non-military mission, attempting to do police work in a country not their own.

The "mission" was to free Iraq from the grasp of a dictator. Are there other dictatorships in the region we would have been better to "free"? Absolutely. Of course. Would it have been better to stick to our stated and justified goal of finding and crushing Bin Laden and Al Qaeda? Absolutely. Of course.

Those "woulda, coulda, shoulda" considerations aside, our soldiers have done the job they were sent to do. They've performed valiantly and without hesitation or complaint. They've won. Now, bring them home, take impeccably good care of them, and let anyone who's only idea of "supporting the troops" is to expose them to further peril for no honorable cause be denounced as the lying traitors they are.

There are absolutely risks to our leaving Iraq. At the risk of an indelicate illustration, there are risks as any child matures and grows and seeks it's way in the world... And this is a very young government, but in a very old culture. It's insulting and improper and more than a little imperialistic for us to hover over them, unwelcome, and dictate to them how to reform their society.

Of course it's justifiable and honorable to render some needed assistance to the new government of Iraq, and we should be prepared to render reasonable assistance to them as needed... As they request it, first and foremost. We should make the greatest efforts to be good allies with this new government, and neighboring states should be informed without question that we will rise to their defense if their position is compromised by opportunistic efforts in the region.

The 'war' is over. Let's come home. Before we can support this new state, we must allow it to become a new state in fact.