Monthly Archives: September 2012

Victimless Crime

Today, September 30, is International Blasphemy Day. There are people around the world imprisoned for blasphemy, some even marked for execution for it. PZ has a list, and there are more in the comments. People’s lives are being threatened because of something they said.

I wasn’t going to post anything for Blasphemy Day, because I’ve had this thing in my head lately that I should actually have something to say when I post, even if it’s pretty much just me thinking out loud, so to speak. Didn’t seem worthwhile to post something just to say “all gods are bastards”, really.

Two things changed my mind. The first was a quote I stumbled over, which will get its own post later. The second was thinking about free speech, which I’ll pontificate about here for a bit.

It’s important to remember that free speech is only a useful concept if it protects unpopular speech, which I’m pretty sure is the whole point of Blasphemy Day. Keep in mind, we don’t need laws to protect speech that everyone approves of.

In the United States, the freedom of speech is probably broader than just about anywhere else in the world. Courts have consistently ruled in its favor for pretty much everything short of direct threats of violence or other clear immediate dangers. The usual cliché is “Yelling ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater” to define the edges. This means that things like blasphemy, hate speech, and sedition are not crimes in the U.S.

Some people aren’t happy about that. I can sort of understand, I guess. It makes me angry when someone derides something I care about, or says hateful or cruel things about people. I suppose I can imagine how someone could shortsightedly miss the point of free speech.

See, the point is that people still get imprisoned and tortured and executed for speaking their mind. Even if you’re the kind of heartless bastard who’s okay with that as long as it’s nobody you know or care about, it’s still a practical matter for the good of everyone, because you can’t make things better if you can’t plainly say what’s wrong.

And there’s always something wrong. Always something that can be improved. How can they improve if people are afraid to speak for fear of sounding disloyal?

That’s not even getting into tyrannical rulers who casually imprison or execute anyone who shows less than enthusiastic loyalty. I remember a scene from a novel I read years ago where a kingdom was sinking into tyranny and the headsman’s axe swung like a pendulum, treason, sedition, treason, sedition… A chilling thought.

The connection to blasphemy is a simple one, every single religion has concepts and scriptures which are blasphemous to some other religion. All of them. If you were to truly enforce a blasphemy law fairly in a multicultural nation, you’d be arresting pretty much everybody. In fact, probably the only way such a law could be used with something that might, on paper, look vaguely like justice, is if there’s only one privileged religion which it is used to defend. Which will inevitably slide into treason, sedition, treason, sedition, if history is any guide.

Speech must be free. That doesn’t mean that all speech is socially equal, though. There’s a big difference between “You’re breaking the law by saying that” and “You’re being an asshole by saying that.” This really seems like it should be obvious, but I recall someone (Ann Coulter?) complaining on national television that she wasn’t allowed to say things. I don’t recall what the things were, but while complaining that she wasn’t being allowed to say them on national television she repeatedly said them, so I felt that the interview somewhat undermined her point.

The phrase “politically correct” really should have faded away soon after the movie PCU was released. All the good jokes had been made by then.

So anyway, yeah. Guess I should do some blaspheming.

All the gods and angels and demigods and saints and heroes and idols and miracles and commandments and divinity in all of existence combined are worth less than any single human being. All of them.

We are the best minds active on this world, and we are capable of so much more.  We are risen apes, and we are rising higher. We don’t need to rise above the gods, for we did that long ago, we need only rise above our own fear, anger, and weakness, and we can create a better world.

Rainbow Raising

Zinnia tweeted a link to this and it got me thinking. The link is a blog called Raising My Rainbow about a five and a half year old boy, C.J., who has always drawn himself as a girl. The specific post that links to tells that C.J. just started kindergarten, apparently this school pairs up the kindergartners with sixth-graders, they call them “kinderbuddies”, and they read or do some activities together once a week. Excited about this, CJ drew the two of them together, depicting himself as a boy for the first time.

This exchange followed:

“Hey, Buddy…how come you drew yourself as a boy?” C.J.’s Dad asked casually.

“Oh, that’s because I didn’t want my Kinderbuddy to know that I like girl stuff,” C.J. said matter-of-factly.

Read the rest of this entry

Party Politics

Saw this article about people signing petitions and having their political party changed without their knowledge, and it got me thinking about an old question of mine. Why are voters registered with a particular party?

I’ve never understood this, it seems ridiculous to me. Parties should be for candidates, not voters. If a voter wants to self-identify with a specific party, that’s fine and they’re free to do so, but including it in paperwork and restricting how you can vote based on it feels needlessly tribalistic to me. At the very least it chafes against my hatred of being labeled, but also it seems undemocratic to me, constraining your ability to vote as you please. Far better, to my mind, to abolish parties in voter registration and allow everyone to vote in a single primary of their choice.

If anyone can shed some light on why this is the way it is I’d very much appreciate it.

Since I’m speaking of parties, there’s another thing bothering me, and that’s that I’ve become a de facto democrat. I’m not registered with any party, (At least I don’t think so, after reading that article I want to double check) but in recent years the republican party has become so batshit that there’s really no chance I would ever vote for any of them. The system in this country is so geared towards two, and only two, parties that there’s no realistic chance for anyone who’s not a democrat or republican, and since the republican platforms all seem to boil down to “Fuck the poor, they deserve to suffer”, “Bitches ain’t shit”, and “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” that leaves the democrats as my only option.

Frankly, I’m appalled at this state of affairs and would like it to change. But then there’s a lot I’d like to change, and I don’t see a clear path to any of it, so I guess I’m just whining.

A taste of Hyrule

A couple of things that aren’t depressing. In fact, I think “stunningly beautiful” would be more accurate.

First is The Zelda Project, which combines cosplay and digital photography to create gorgeous scenes from the classic video game The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The photos evoke a feeling of magic and mystery, hinting at a deep mythology and probably other words beginning with “M”. Frankly I think they capture the imagination more than that actual game did.

Second is Zelda Reorchestrated, which is orchestral arrangements of the music from the various games in the Legend of Zelda series. I suspect a lot of the appeal to this one is pure nostalgia, but it has made a fine soundtrack to write to this morning.

The Zelda games have been consistently popular since the very first one way back in the ’80s. (I can still remember that stupid commercial with the guy wandering around in darkness calling “Zelda? Zelda!” like he was looking for a lost dog, and saying the names of various monsters from the game in tones of dread.) Over the years they’ve built up a surprisingly rich fantasy world, so it’s really no surprise that creative people are doing interesting things with the ideas. But I’m amazed at how good some of this stuff is. It really makes me itch to create something interesting myself.

I suppose it’s a sign of our times that this comment appeared under the first photoset from the Zelda Project:

These photos are taken so well they almost look like CGI, it’s beautiful

That’s not a bad thing by any means, it just made me laugh that CGI has gotten so good that this comment was intended as a compliment. Not too long ago comparing photos to CGI would not have been complimentary.

No homo…phobes

Stumbled over this thing a couple days ago, and it has the sort of horrible fascination that people mean when they say something is like a train wreck.

No Homophobes dot com scans Twitter for phrases like “no homo”, “faggot”, “that’s so gay”, “dyke” and several variations. In an attempt to be a “social mirror”, it tallies them in those four basic categories and displays the tweets below the counts.

Reading the tweets is really depressing. I have to keep reminding myself that its parameters select for some of the worst, so as a mirror it’s a bit warped, but still…

“Faggot” is the most popular, seems to get around 25-30 thousand hits per day. But it’s the “no homo” one that really strikes me. I guess I don’t run in the right social circles to be familiar with this turn of phrase, but apparently there are people so staggeringly terrified of being perceived as gay that they feel a need to point out they aren’t any time they show the slightest affection or even so much as compliment someone of the same sex.

I actually saw someone append “no homo” to a tweet saying he missed his brother. What the fuck is wrong here?

The stated goal of this project is to display how common casual homophobia is in popular language, and in my case at least it’s succeeded extremely well. Of course, now I don’t want to live on this planet anymore, but I suppose that’s not too big a deal since I seem to find a new reason to feel like that every day.

What do your characters look like?

Sitting in a waiting room reading a book, and I’m suddenly struck by how much page time the author devotes to describing the appearance of his female characters. It’s a striking contrast with the male ones, whose appearance and clothing is never mentioned at all. I could draw a picture of the women, (well, if I could draw) but I have no idea what the men look like.

I suppose the book isn’t holding my interest very well if I stop to write such a trivial observation, but I’m just starting the second chapter so I’ll still give it a chance.

One year after, life goes on.

I’ve been feeling sick all day, and haven’t gotten much done. But I wanted to get at least one post blogged, so when JT mentioned that today is the one year anniversary of the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I just had to say something about life one year after the United States military crumbled under the weight of not kicking out gays.

For your average geek off the street, American life hasn’t changed much without the armed forces. We’re a little more puzzled than ever about where all that military budget goes, and presumably it’s gotten much harder to wage multiple wars in foreign countries since teh gheyz destroyed unit cohesion, but those stoic patriots in the Department of Defense have hardly complained at all.

Okay, so JT and his commenters pretty much covered all the jokes. But I didn’t want to let this pass without saying something because people spoke about DADT as though ending this policy was the worst idea since radium toothpaste.

It’s not uncommon for me to go long stretches or time without reading any news or blogs at all, so maybe I missed something. But I haven’t heard a peep about any difficulty at all. It’s like it was just a non-event, the policy ended and life went on. The only difference from my point of view is that now I occasionally see pictures of same-sex couples in uniform. That’s it.

So there’s a happy thought for today, in this small way at least, love conquered hate.

Distance

Every now and then I think of a new way of looking at the universe. The scale of the thing always astounds me.

Consider this. Before the twentieth century the farthest apart any two humans could ever get was 12,756.2 kilometers, that’s 7,926.41 miles, the diameter of Earth at the equator. (I suppose it’s possible that mountains could add a little to that, but we’ll ignore that possibility because it really won’t matter.) The first manned orbiters extended this by a couple hundred kilometers, but it was the moon missions that really changed it.

At perigee, when it’s closest to Earth, the Moon is 362,631 kilometers away. Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr. and William A. Anders, the first people to orbit the Moon, were more than 28 times farther away from other humans than any other human ever had been.

I wonder if that distance weighed on their minds, or if they kept too busy to think about it.

It amazes me that as big and filled with fascinating things as this world is, it’s a tiny place even by the standards of its  own satellite system.

On average, the Sun is about 39o times farther away than the Moon. And we’re one of the near planets, close to our star.

The most distant machine we’ve ever made is Voyager I, which is now 122 Astronomical Units away from our homeworld, 122 times as far from us as we are from the Sun. Traveling at lightspeed, a radio signal from Earth takes 16 and a quarter hours to reach our farthest creation. And it’s still within our solar system.

Which is one of hundreds of billions in our galaxy. Which is one of hundreds of billions in the known universe.

And on that awesome thought, I’m going to bed. Goodnight, Earth.

Authority and Abuse

I was going to include this in that last monster post about the fucking patriarchy, in the part where I talked about authoritarian systems, but it was already ridiculously long and I was falling asleep at the keyboard and this really didn’t add anything new.

I saw this video a while back on Pharyngula. You may be familiar with the Overton Window, which in brief is a political theory that there’s a range of acceptable policies, with stances on the fringes considered radical and stuff in the middle mundane. Here’s Pat Robertson showing us the edges of the window with regards to power structures and violence in marriage.

If you don’t want to watch it, (and really who could blame you?) a guy going by Michael tells Pat that his wife is becoming a problem, she won’t respect him, insults him, once stretched out her hand to strike him, and refuses to talk things through. What should he do?  Read the rest of this entry

Ahoy thar, me hearties!

Well blow me down if it ain’t Talk Like a Pirate Day. I’m sittin’ in irons tryin ta puzzle out a dilemma, savvy? Do I try my blog ration in proper piratical lingo, or chuck it avast and resume writing in the mundane lubber style? Tricky, sez I.

While I ponder this and attempt to reach an accord, here be Cap’n Tom Smith’s song commemeratin’ this fine day. Yo ho!

the conspiracy in us

A while back, a blogger named emmawolf clicked the “like” button on one of my posts. As is my habit, I took a look at emmawolf’s blog and I saw this post about slut-shaming. I agree with the central premise that slut-shaming is bad regardless of the target, but that’s not what I want to talk about here. See the first comment on that page is by someone called ytakery, and it includes this paragraph:

Feminism also normally contains a belief that there’s some sort of patriarchy actively oppressing women. That’s normally the more controversial part, that all or most men worldwide are participating in a conspiracy to oppress and slut shame women.

I read that, and I thought to myself, “Maybe that’s the problem, maybe that’s what people think the fucking patriarchy is and that’s why they don’t get it.”

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written about the fucking patriarchy, so let’s discuss it a bit, and let’s discuss why that image of a conscious conspiracy of men is not only wrong, but counterproductive to equality.  Read the rest of this entry

Another month of search terms

I’m really sick of the heat. I’d like to write more, but I’m just constantly exhausted these days. From the moment I wake until I finally fall into a fitful sleep. Blah. The local weather being what it is, I’ll probably still be feeling this way when I serve up next month’s search terms, but it should start to cool off before the month after that. I don’t have a problem with summer itself, it just wears out its welcome, that’s all.

Anyway, mostly this month we have repeats. I’m trying to cut down on the feedback effect, so I won’t be showing most of those. Still haven’t worked out how to exclude a category of posts from search engines. Annoying.

Let’s do this, as usual the search terms are bold while my comments are italicRead the rest of this entry

Mobile apps

I recently joined the world of smartphones, after having no cellphone for several years, and then the cheapest I could find for a year. It’s interesting, and surprisingly useful, to be able to seatch google at a moment’s notice just about anywhere.
I’m writing this post from my phone. I realize there’s not much content here, but isn’t it just fascinating that I can do this?
Also, I really need to be posting more. I’ve fallen far enough behind on the daily post thing that the real question now is how close can I get to the goal, not whether I can hit 366 posts by year’s end. Perhaps this tool will help, perhaps it’ll just encourage me to fill the blog with noise. We shall see.
Enjoy living in the future.

Ambushed in the Night

It was sheer carelessness that found me out in the woods by the old castle at night near the full moon. I was so focused on my investigations that I’d lost track of time, both daylight and the moon’s phase. These are things you need to pay attention to when there’s a killer werewolf on the loose.

I knew I’d screwed up as soon as I saw the moon in the night sky, but it wasn’t until I heard the chittering that I knew I was in trouble. An alien sound to the quiet forest, it had a vaguely insect quality to it. In hindsight I think it may have been laughter.

Looking around I caught streaks of fey light out of the corner of my eye, and realized there were fairy creatures in the woods with me. Not the happy playful kind that teach children to fly and take them to Neverland for adventures with Peter Pan, either. These were the old kind, the fairies that eat children and will torment mortals with the same cruel detachment of a cat playing with a mouse.

So I did learn something useful from my mistake. I learned that fairies were probably involved in the werewolf attacks, because that’s when the monster jumped out at me. And I mean jumped, at the peak of its arc it must have been high as the top of a telephone pole. I think it cleared 40 yards of horizontal distance in that leap. After it hit the ground things happened too fast to remember clearly.

It didn’t go straight for the kill though, because if it had it would have simply killed me. It circled, unbelievably fast, and in a panic I summoned up Power and flung magic at it, a blazing ray of heat from my hand. But the werewolf was far too fast, it leapt and dashed around, perhaps trying to get behind me, or maybe just toying with me.

I became gradually aware of a smell, an acrid, vomit-like odor that hurt my throat. It was so pervasive I could smell it on the air from my lungs when I exhaled. Now it could be that the werewolf simply stank like this, or maybe I threw up in terror and was just too scared to notice, but looking back I think it had something to do with the fairies. I was still dimly aware of them zipping through the woods around me, being very distracting to a guy with as much on his mind as I had at the moment. It’s possible this smell was something they were doing, perhaps a way of directing or herding the monster.

But those thoughts came later, at the moment I had bigger problems. In my panic I had called up more Power than I could really control. The werewolf danced around just out of my line of fire as I brought the heels of my hands together, trying desperately to keep the ray of death in check or at least point it at the furry killing machine that I was certain would be tearing my throat out at any moment.

Stone glowed red and sagged where I clipped the edge of the castle. That wouldn’t be fun to explain, but on the bright side if I were explaining it then I’d have survived the night. Between that thought and the flickering fey lights and that awful smell and trying to control the magic, I lost track of the werewolf.

And just as I realized that, I woke up.

I lay in bed for about ten minutes, and then sat down and wrote this. It’s dreams like this that make me think I have at least one good novel in me. This specific dream, however, I’m pretty sure is my subconscious telling me that Jim Butcher isn’t writing the Dresden Files books fast enough.

Cutting bits off

I saw a link to this on Twitter, an article which claims that pediatricians are saying the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks. I had a few thoughts about it.

First and foremost, I really don’t care whether that claim is true or not. You’re still performing unnecessary body modification on someone incapable of consent. That right there is abuse. I’m not fucking joking, either. You don’t own your baby’s body, your baby does. You are making decisions in trust until your baby is old enough to make those decisions. Frankly if you’re cutting parts off when it’s not strictly necessary I think you’re abusing that trust.

Body autonomy really trumps everything else here, in my opinion. You can make whatever modifications you like to your own body, but you’d better have a solid, strong reason to alter someone else’s.

But frankly I kind of suspect that the whole thing is bullshit, and on some level everyone knows it, because no doctor has ever, I mean ever, said to me, “You might want to consider circumcision”. For all the people talking about its benefits, nobody ever tried to sell those benefits to me, or any other adult, I suspect. These wonderful benefits of circumcision are only ever touted for those who cannot make the decision themselves. When most circumcisions are performed on consenting adults, then, and only then, will I be willing to consider the pros and cons.

Until then I’m just assuming it’s institutionalized child abuse, performed and tolerated and even defended out of a sort of cultural inertia, because that’s how it’s been done for ages. Just like freshmen hazing in high schools, or child rape in catholic churches.

Hat tip to barrels of oranges for the link.

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