Category Archives: Nonfiction

I’ve been struggling with this post in the back of my mind for a month now, so I’m just going to type it out stream-of-consciousness style and hope I can edit something coherent out of the result.

First and foremost, thank you, E.H., for your flattering words here. I sat down that weekend to write something, I forget exactly what, and saw the comment that lead to your post, and haven’t been able to figure out how to respond since!

On the one hand, I’m thrilled that someone holds my writing in such high regard! On the other, I really haven’t written much this year. Read the rest of this entry

Daily posting.

At the beginning of October I joined the Post A Day challenge. At the time I was wondering how long I could keep going. Apparently, the answer was “About two months”.

It’s a strange thing. Often I feel like my life, my hobbies, and even my personality is somehow subject to the laws of inertia. I find it very difficult to start doing things, but once I’ve started I don’t want to stop. Annoying, really, so many things would be much easier if I could just pick them up and work on them for, say, 45 minutes and then move on to something else. Such is life, I suppose; I doubt I’m the only one who feels that way.

Yesterday the Daily Post had a survey, and it asked an interesting question. “What is your personal system for blogging?” I didn’t really feel like I qualified to take that anymore, but I’m going to discuss it a bit here anyways. If nothing else, at least I’m writing. Read the rest of this entry

The Burzynski Clinic: Probably frauds, certainly assholes.

The odds are very good that if you’re reading this, someone you know has or has had some form of cancer, maybe even yourself. About 1,500 people die every day in the United States alone of cancer or cancer-related illness. More than half a million a year. It’s a boundless wellspring of human suffering that scientists have been working to understand better for over a hundred years. So far the best treatments we’ve got are still pretty crude, but all over the world researchers are working tirelessly to find new ways to improve the lives of cancer patients.

So when someone’s charging hundreds of thousands of dollars for a treatment they claim can cure cancer, I tend to think the worst of them. When their response to criticism is angry, weak legal threats that clearly weren’t made by a lawyer, well, that doesn’t really make me think any better of them. Read the rest of this entry

Free and brave

So, Congress wants to know why everyone hates them. Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but the reason I hate you, Congress, is because every time I turn around you assholes are doing something like this. (Incidentally, what’s up with the links on that page?)

Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), have apparently decided that what’s wrong with America is that we’re not enough like a fascist dictatorship. I wasn’t surprised to see McCain’s name on that, he introduced similar legislation in ’09 or ’10 which would give the President power to declare anyone an unperson without trial or charge, and specifically denied the option of judicial review. Seriously, the man introduced a bill to give the President, and any future president, the power to declare anyone (I think the term used was) an “unlawful enemy combatant”, who could then by held indefinitely without being charged with a crime, or given a trial, or even allowed to petition a judge to review the justice or legality of the detention.

In no free country should any one person have that kind of power. Certainly not one that has the Bill of Rights in it’s highest legal document.

Well, now McCain’s teamed up with another enemy of freedom and found a new approach. They should both be ashamed of themselves. Hell, I’m ashamed that they weren’t booed off the floor, this is my country and these are my countrymen, how could they consider that for even a moment?

The “detainees” taken in this alleged war on terror are a real sticking point with me, no matter which way you go they illustrate the criminal truth about the whole awful enterprise. If we’re at war, then those detainees are prisoners of war and subject to the rules and protections of the Geneva Convention. It we’re not at war, then these detainees are criminal suspects and subject to the rules and protections of Due Process. The term “Unlawful Enemy Combatant” suggests both while claiming neither, as if these people are somehow war criminals without ever being either criminals or soldiers.

I understand that this is a sticky situation where it’s often not clear, but changing the law to broadly strip (more) protections away from everywhere is not the answer here. The law isn’t about making the government’s job easier, it’s about protecting people.

So I was already in a cynical and angry state of mind when I saw this Guardian article about the crackdowns on the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Here is what Naomi Wolf of the Guardian learned when she started asking OWS activists what they wanted.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

Haven’t heard much about that in the U.S. press. In fact most of the news I get about OWS comes from Europe. Maybe the money in the government is in the media, too.

Maybe that’s why Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are sneaking in this obscene rape of the Constitution, it’s a way to protect the money. Or hell, I don’t know, maybe they’re so frightened of the threat of terrorism that they’re willing to take the chance that some president might declare them enemy combatants and have them detained indefinitely, and possibly tortured.

Were I president, and handed that sort of power, the first thing I would do is send troops to detain Congress. Because while Al Qaida may or may not be the biggest threat to our lives, it’s been made abundantly clear that the biggest threat to our freedoms, Congress, is you.

Interesting times

Busy day for Occupy Wall Street, lots going on. Twitter’s #OWS tag was very active, and yet never trended. Meanwhile, “Women Who Don’t Cook” was a trending topic, with predictable depressing shit being said. Well, fuck. Between that and the truly ugly things opponents of Occupy were saying, I’m feeling a little down.

Look, people disagree on things. sometimes passionately, sometimes even violently, and it’s easy to get angry when someone disagrees with you on something that seems so obvious to you. It’s important not to let anger blind you to the fact that your opponents are still people. Maybe they’re misinformed, maybe they’re stupid, maybe they’re selfish or maybe it’s something else entirely, maybe even they’re right and you’re the one who’s wrong, it really doesn’t matter. They’re still people, and if you dehumanize them, you’re becoming a bit of a monster yourself.

Worse, you’re opening yourself up to the worst kinds of manipulation, where someone can convince you to commit real atrocities. Because how bad can it be? It’s not like they’re asking you to do anything to actual people.

People matter. All of them. How rich or poor they are, what religion they claim, the politics they espouse, the color of their skin, the clothes they like to wear and the sex they like to have, all these things are irrelevant. Even the worst of us matter, we’re all in this together. You don’t have to like them, you don’t have to be nice to them, but when you forget that they’re people, when you start to see them as just obstacles, then what are you becoming?

Take care everyone, and take care of each other.

The Fucking Patriarchy, Part 5

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, this is the end of Fucking Patriarchy Week. Whatever I still have to say on the subject after this post (and there’s still a lot more) is just going to have to wait for another opportunity. Read the rest of this entry

The Fear of Writing

Well, today’s Daily Post thingy was to pick a topic from yesterday’s list of things you’re afraid to write about and, well, write about it. Nice idea, but leaves me a little light on topics. So I’ll write about learning disabilities and my fear of writing, and the connection between them.

Parents! If you ever hear your child described as “bright but lazy” by well meaning but frustrated teachers, have that kid checked for learning disabilities right away! The sooner you can get them into a program that knows how to work with them, the less it will cast a shadow over the rest of their life.

My learning disability is called dysgraphia.

Read the rest of this entry

To See or Not to See

Today during a discussion it was suggested that a scientific study of a subculture should not be performed because any negative aspects or perceived negative aspects such a study found would be used as weapons by those who stigmatize it. As so often happens in idle conversation the subject moved on fairly quickly, but I found myself thinking about it again and again during the evening. So, since I haven’t written anything in ages, I figure I may as well muse over this a bit.

Interestingly, I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter what subculture this is, so I’ve taken pains not to say it for both anonymity and for what I will call purity of purpose. If you’re reading this and thinking you agree with me unless it’s one specific subculture that you dislike, what does that say about you?

Anyways, the premise that I’m responding to is that a study should not be performed if the results could be used against the subjects. The short version is: I disagree on both philosophical and practical grounds, and will address them in that order. Read the rest of this entry

Gay Marriage

(For more on this subject in general, and the ongoing legal battles over prop8 in particular, I recommend the excellent Prop 8 Trial Tracker)

Last weekend New York passed a bill legalizing gay marriage. I haven’t talked about it here because I kind of felt that everything had been said already, but you know what? They haven’t been said by me, and that’s already bitten me in the ass once, so here’s my say.

If this looks too long to read and you just want to know in simple terms how I feel about it so you can categorize me or something, I’m saying “Marriage bans do nothing but prevent some people from marrying the person they choose. Way to go New York, hope the remaining 44 states follow you into the 21st century soon!” If that’s all you need to know, then there’s no point in reading past the cut. Those of you who want details? Onward!
Read the rest of this entry

Social networking junkie: Diaspora

As promised, today I’ll be talking about Diaspora, a social thingy with a philosophy of privacy and security.

This philosophy is first apparent by the fact that it uses https by default instead of the usual http. Speaking as someone who’s gone through all his social sites and set them to use encryption whenever possible, I really appreciate this.

Incidentally, most sites default to no encryption, with an option to use when available. Personally, I think “use when available” should be default, and there should also be an option to simply reject unsecured connections. I kinda suspect that if governments weren’t so hung up on the idea of spying on their people, the internet as a whole would be almost completely encrypted by now.

Back to the subject at hand, Diaspora connects nicely to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, and gives you options to send your posts to any combination of them with handy little buttons next to the text-box, along with a button to make your post visible to the general public. There are also buttons to control which “Aspects” you are posting to.

The aspect concept needs some explanation. When you connect to someone you organize them into one or more “aspects”, they work a lot like the contact groups in Gmail. By default you have “Family” and “Work”, and adding new ones is trivially easy. When you make a post you can select each aspect you want it posted to, or just click the “All Aspects” button to send to all of them, or In keeping with their ideals of privacy, Diaspora doesn’t tell people which or how many aspects you’ve placed them in, only that you’ve “started sharing” with them. In a way it feels backwards, most social networking sites let you say whom you want to listen to, this one it’s whom you want to talk to.

I don’t know how well that would hold up to large groups of people. In particular I’m thinking of people on Twitter who have over a million followers. Wil Wheaton might have trouble using this service if his 1.8 million tweeps wanted to share with him. I also feel it needs a way to “follow” someone, so that you’re keeping track of the posts they mark public without them having to add you to an aspect. In fairness that feature may exist, though I haven’t found it yet.

And perhaps that’s looking at it the wrong way, because it’s not Twitter and isn’t trying to be. It feels more intimate that most social sites, less of a broadcasting platform. I’m perfectly happy if it does its own thing, but I’m not sure what its own thing is yet and wouldn’t be surprised if the developers only have a hazy idea themselves at this point.

Diaspora is still in the Alpha stage of development, so I don’t want to judge it too harshly. It has some neat ideas, but what I mostly use it for right now is the connection to other social networks and the bookmarklet. It is a very convenient way to send a link to Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr all at once. Given time & development and the right amount of publicity it might manage to rival Facebook, but right now it has a long way to go.

It feels like it’s alpha, not just in the spartan interface but in the options available and also little things like how new notifications don’t show up until you refresh the page. Since it’s apparently been active for over a year now I’m assuming that most of the work done has been to the guts of the system, behind the scenes. Which would fit in with what little I know of the people behind it. But again, these weak spots are expected and normal in alpha and it wouldn’t be fair to complain that the homepage isn’t shiny enough when they’re still working on the API.

Overall, it’s really too soon to tell with this one. I’ll just have to wait and see how quickly it improves and what it turns into.

One last thing, Diaspora is a decentralized, distributed network in a very well done, transparent way. The unit of division is called a “Pod”, which matters when you sign up but seems invisible while you’re using it. Although there are pods that don’t require an invitation, the main joindiaspora pod does. I have ten invites and will happily send one to anybody who asks in the comments.

That’s all for now, I’ll see you next time!

Things I learned joining Tumblr

Last night I made a Tumblr thingy. I don’t actually know what half these social networking things should be called, which probably means I’m getting old or something. Anyways it looks like a sort of cross between Twitter & Facebook with a healthy dose of blog that’s set up to share damn near everything. I mean, it has actual predefined templates for posting quotes and chat logs among many others. I’m sure it won’t be long before someone invents something that Tumblr’s not prepared to share for you, but right now I can’t think of anything. Naturally, it’s filled with the most vapid, boring, pointless crap you can imagine. (No, even worse than this blog!)

Lately I’ve been joining social networks out of a sort of weird inertia, like I’m trying to dominate the web by sheer force of personality. (Stop laughing) So it’s unlikely that I’ll be using it to its fullest, but the future’s not yet written, perhaps I’ll decide that Tumblr is what I need and all other sites will take a back seat. (Poppycock! You’ll always be first in my heart, WordPress!)

Since I’m awake, (and my word-quota’s above five thousand again) I may as well discuss the things I learned setting up Tumblr.

While I was poking around for people to follow, just sort of browsing through the categories, I noticed that when I was looking at sites listed as “Political” there’s absolutely no trust there. I don’t just mean on Tumblr, either. Seems like anything that openly discusses politics is automatically viewed with suspicion by me. Claims of impartiality are sneered at instinctively. The only way I’d trust one now is if I kept careful track of it for a while and did some fact-checking & other homework, and who has time for that? Well, me, probably, but I’d rather spend it biking.

The politics sites are at least understandable, as many openly have an agenda. What was really depressing was when I got to the “News” sites and had the same reaction. I think I may be getting cynical. Actually I kind of hope that I’m getting cynical, the idea that such feelings are fully justified has implications that make me uncomfortable.

While I was reading the Privacy Policy (Yeah, I usually actually read those.) I noticed a bit that illustrates very well why my rather awesome pseudonym has more of an internet presence than my real name. I’ll just quote it directly:

“in some cases we may choose to buy or sell assets. In these types of transactions, user information is typically one of the business assets that is transferred. Moreover, if Tumblr or substantially all of its assets were acquired, or in the unlikely event that Tumblr goes out of business or enters bankruptcy, user information would be one of the assets that is transferred or acquired by a third party. You acknowledge that such transfers may occur, and that any acquiror of Tumblr may continue to use your personal and non-personal information only as set forth in this policy.”

I give them credit for being up front about that, and I appreciate the last clause that I quoted there. Things is, I don’t know how binding that really is. Even if the law very strictly states that people who buy databases, who never entered into any agreement with the people whose info is in those databases, must abide by the terms agreed to in the original policy, how enforceable is that? If, say, a spam company buys up a database and spams the hell out of every poor soul that’s in it, how will they ever be brought to account? It seems more like a civil matter than a criminal one, which means the victims must bring suit themselves. How will they know that such a contract was violated? spammers aren’t known for being up-front about their activities, (especially since that one was beaten to death by an angry mob in Russia a few years back.) and corporations rise and fall, and get bought and sold, and collapse and are parted out in auctions constantly. Even if all the facts are clear, that the “acquiror” really seriously broke the rules, how will anyone ever trace the events so that they know which spammer, with what database, that was bound by what contracts so that they can bring suit in the first place?

I’m just not seeing much incentive for the people buying the database to play by the rules, here.

I’d love to see a privacy policy that says something along the lines of “if the company goes bankrupt or otherwise becomes defunct, all personal information will be deleted” but as I understand it that would be actually illegal. It’s considered destroying a corporate asset which should be auctioned off for the benefit of the creditors. I wonder if one could start a non-profit to buy up and destroy such databases. Seems like a public benefit to me.

So here we are. I’ll mess around with this Tumblr thing and see if it’s worth using for itself or just becomes another clone of something else I actually use, like Google Buzz has. It has an option that really intrigues me: The ability to call in from your telephone to make “Audio posts.” My best guess is that an audio post is like a podcast, which is pretty cool. I set that up really quick, but couldn’t think of anything to talk about. I guess I could have said all this, but what would be the point of announcing I have a Tumblr on, you know, Tumblr?

Well, that’s all for now. Tune into tomorrow when I continue my social media junkie phase with Diaspora!

Walmart vs Women

Monday morning the Supreme Court decided that a sex-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart cannot proceed as a class-action suit. Here is the decision in pdf. When I refer to page numbers, I’ll be talking about the pdf page for simplicity’s sake. Buckle in, folks, this is going to be a long ride.

I should start with the usual disclaimer pointing out that I am not a lawyer, nor am I trained in the minutiae of legal language. While following the Prop 8 trial I read a lot of legal briefs and had lawyers helping me to understand them which gives me at least a general feel for how these documents work, but I am not by any stretch an expert nor do I pretend to understand the nuances of legal theory. (It’s also worth mentioning that many papers concerned with Prop 8, especially Amicus Curiae briefs supporting the Defendant-Intervenors, were completely insane. Seriously.) As such I’ll mostly keep my discussion onto parts I more or less understand, more philosophy than legality. On those terms, at least, I feel that I can show that Scalia needs a new title. I propose from now on he be known as “Little Janie Q Scalia”. Read the rest of this entry

True Blood Season 1 mid-season review

I’m halfway through the first season of True Blood, and that seemed like a good place to write about it a bit. Although the show did intrigue me a bit on its own, I’ve been pretty tired of vampires the last decade so I’m blaming this entirely on Renée.

SPOILERS AHOY! If you haven’t seen this show or read any of the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, you should probably skip this post. You also may want to skip it if you don’t want to read a stream-of-consciousness brain dump of my thoughts & opinions on the show. Seriously, I go on for like 700 words. Read the rest of this entry

On Death, Conspiracy Theories, and Wars on Concepts.

So Osama bin Laden is dead. When I first heard this, my reaction was “So what? Game of Thrones is on.” Clearly not everyone shared my apathy, and I really don’t understand why. Read the rest of this entry

Challenge 1: Spider Jerusalem Rant

So, my first challenge is to write a Spider Jerusalem style rant. I’m going to put that behind a cut, because it’s going to be long and vile. As a small disclaimer, I am not a professional journalist, so this rant is not well-researched and I cannot back it up the way Spider could. That said this will be honest, however wrong it may be.

Read the rest of this entry

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