Wednesday, May 31, 2006




I hate this roadsign.

It means "lanes merging", but to me, it looks like it's saying "There are two lanes now, and in a little bit there will still be two lanes, but one of them will have moved a little bit closer to the other, so you don't really need to worry about anything." Bad User Interface.

I apologize profusely for the bad html and lack of pictures. But my blogging circumstances are less than optimal.

[edit: added picture]

Its true! I heard the hotel clerk say "aboot" several times!

I already knew this, but Canadians really do pronounce the word "about" differently than Americans. It isn't just a South Park joke. It's really true. It's funny when you encounter in the real world something that's used as a cliche caricature so often. It's like hearing an Australian say "mate".
 
The service here at the Fairmont Banff Springs has been wonderful, and it is beautiful.
 
How come every time I leave town my agent calls me with an audition? Sigh.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A pregant pause

Internal Monologue will be shifting to a slower pace for several days while my wife and I take a "Babymoon": our last vacation together before our son is due. I will probably have intermittent 'net access and may post here and there. I'm sure there is plenty of stuff out there on "The Internets" to keep you entertained in my absence.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Puritanism Kills People

Here's an article that talks about AIDS in Uganda. The prevention effort in Uganda had been quite successful, but the government dropped the condom part and things seem to have gone downhill. Of course, there could be other factors at work. But we shouldn't be surprised when something whose foundation is not based in reality doesn't work in reality. Of course, I'm not convinced that Christianists even want AIDS prevention to work. Better someone die than enjoy sex. When will we be free of these people? It's hard enough to combat a global pandemic without anachronistic superstition crippling our efforts. I used to be so contemptuous when hearing stories about superstitious resistance to polio vaccine and similar stories about Guinea Worm. But what our own government is doing by exporting abstinence-only ideology is just as stupid. Ooga Booga. We're just as blinded by anachronistic moral strictures as those benighted Neolithic tribes. Some say the Enlightenment was a failure. I say it hasn't even happened yet.

Lab grown meat will be our moral savior! Yum!

I'd known about this before, but when Andrew Sullivan talks about it I can trackback to his post and shamelessly steal a minute fraction of his readership to increase the pathetic traffic to my site! It's worked for me before. Isn't the Internet wonderful? Of course, once I put trackbacks on my own site (after I return from vacation) he can always do the same to me. And who knows? Maybe I've given him a reader or two.
 
Anyway, Lab grown meat. The idea is this: instead of raising animals in awful conditions, why not just grow the meat tissue in vats, disconnected from any living animal? This slate article Andrew links to has more. (Read the "Remarks from the Fray" at the bottom, especially the one about eating celebrity flesh!) Certainly, this would be more humane. It would probably also be more efficient, once the process was industrialized, since all the energy and ingredients could go towards making meat instead of building useless stuff like bones, brains, eyeballs, guts, skin, fur, etc. I bet it would be much better for the environment, too: animal waste is a huge source of pollution, and would be eliminated by a shift to growing it. (Of course, the growing process would probably have its own waste products to deal with.) And I bet they could make sure the NewMeat cholesterol content was low, that it didn't contain antibiotics, that it was nutrient rich, etc. So it would probably be better for you, too.
 
Of course, people are afraid of such innovations. Even just genetically modifying certain crops to increase their vitamin content to combat blindness in the developing world seems to generate a wave of "Frankenfood" vigilantism.  (The coiner of the term  "Frankenfood" must have read their George Lakoff.) It's understandable from a human nature perspective: We're rightly suspicious of messing with anything so fundamental as what we eat, especially via processes that are as intimidating as genetic engineering. And yes, the legal, business, and intellectual property practices of those who create genetically modified foods have often rightly come under fire. But it seems foolish to throw away the potential benefits of an entire technology just because Monsanto is exploiting people. This is one area in which I think a lot of my fellow lefties are on the wrong side. Regulate it, test it, make sure it benefits people, but please, don't get out the torches and pitchforks.
 
I, for one, am all in favor. More humane, better for the environment, cheaper, guilt-free meat? If I ever make a contribution to society as cool as that, I will be very proud of my time here on earth. Someone give the folks working on this a big, fat research grant.
 
 

We are Unitarian Universalists...

...Resistance is futile...You will be assimilated.
 
[WARNING: SHAMELESS PROSELYTIZING]
 
Why might you be assimilated? Because you may be a Unitarian Universalist, and just not know it yet! Take the good ol' belief-o-matic test and see. (I'm sure you've done the belief-o-matic before, it's been bounced around the 'net about a zillion times.) I'm convinced that UUism is highly compatible with the geeky demographic of my readership (all 6 of you, but there will be more soon!). To be fair, I suspect UUism comes ranked highly in many belief-o-matic results because UUism is compatible with a fairly wide set of beliefs.
 
Here are some Unitarian Universalist jokes:
 
Q: Why are Unitarian Universalists such lousy hymn singers?
A: Because they're always scanning ahead to see whether they agree with the lyrics or not.
 
Q: How do you know you've angered the Unitarian Universalist branch of the KKK?
A: You look outside one morning and find a burning question mark on your lawn.
 
A Unitarian Universalist died, and to his surprise discovered that there was indeed an afterlife. The angel in charge of these things told him, "Because you were an unbeliever and a doubter and a skeptic, you will be sent to Hell for all eternity -- which, in your case, consists of a place where no one will disagree with you ever again!"
 
Here are my results on the belief-o-matic:
 
1.  Unitarian Universalism  (100%) [Of course!]
2.  Secular Humanism (98%)
3.  Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (90%)
4.  Liberal Quakers (87%)
5.  Nontheist (72%)
6.  Neo-Pagan (69%)
7.  Theravada Buddhism (67%)
8.  Reform Judaism (60%)
9.  Baha'i Faith (58%)
10.  Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (57%)
11.  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (53%)
12.  New Age (52%)
13.  Taoism (51%)
14.  New Thought (50%)
15.  Sikhism (46%)
16.  Scientology (45%)
17.  Mahayana Buddhism (40%)
18.  Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (40%)
19.  Orthodox Quaker (34%)
20.  Jehovah's Witness (30%)
21.  Eastern Orthodox (23%)
22.  Islam (23%)
23.  Jainism (23%)
24.  Orthodox Judaism (23%)
25.  Roman Catholic (23%)
26.  Hinduism (23%)
27.  Seventh Day Adventist (20%)

Sexuality denial watch

In this post, Andrew Sullivan rightly chastises Christianists for denying the reality that gay people exist. This denial is absurd. I am an actor in the Bay Area, and I can assure all you Christianists out there that gay people do in fact exist. And they really are gay. You really have to go through some pretty absurd contortions to get around this reality.
 
But Christianists don't just deny that gay people exist. They deny that straight people exist, too. They deny the existence of any form of sexuality that anyone would recognize as human. Dan Savage has been constantly hammering this point in his columns (here, here, and here, and I'm sure there are more). Normal folk who just want to get responsibly laid every once in a while or even just have some hot, loving sex with their spouse are in for a big surprise. We think, "Those gay-bashers would never come after me! I'm a red-blooded man/womanly woman!" Well the evidence is pretty overwhelming that that is not the case. The New York Times Magazine recently had a cover article (I think this might require a subscription) on the war on contraception. Not war on abortion. Contraception. It was scary.
 
Gay people like Sullivan and Savage are alert to the Christianists' latest repressive fantasies, partially because the gay community has been punching bag for the puritans for so long. So when they say "Pay attention!", I think even we safely married hetero folk ought to start taking this very personally. Sit up and take some notice. This isn't just about fighting for the rights of gay people to marry. It's about fighting for the right of anyone to have responsible sex with anyone else.
 
One of the things that bugs me most about the Christianists is that they do not have a good answer to the following question: what should an unmarried person do with their sexual feelings? In the twisted view they put forward, people are supposed to abstain from sex until marriage. Now according to this Encarta article, in 1995 the average age of a woman at her first marriage was 25, and that of a man was 27. Now assuming puberty starts around 12 (something I gleaned from a cursory scan of this article on Salon), that leaves a good 13-15 years or more where a person is supposed to do...what?
 
Masturbate? I don't see the abstinence folks handing out lube, erotica, or how-to pamphlets. Maybe if they did they'd actually get somewhere. At least they'd show they were serious about providing alternatives to sex. It seems like they just want sexual feelings to go away during the very time that they are most intense. Do they want us to marry earlier? Is that a good idea? Are 16 year olds really in any place to get married and start a family if they want to succeed in our society? I don't think early marriage is a good idea. For one, I think it leads to higher divorce rates, which most agree is a bad thing. 
 
They just want reality to go away. (Is there a parallel to the administration's handling of Iraq? I think so.) Only bad people have those feelings. Those bad thoughts can be ignored, repressed, pushed away without creepy negative consequences. Why does anyone who has gone through puberty and felt the force of those horomones think that this is a viable method for dealing with sexuality? I do think sexuality needs to be controlled. Sex has big consequences. Some of them bad. But it's not like you can ignore those feelings for 10+ years. It's absurd. Let's start coming up with some reality-based solutions.
 
Anyway, readers of Internal Monologue know my feelings on these matters. Down with the puritans!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

If only geek-chic existed when I was in high school...

A fellow geek sent this along to me. Apparently this year, the Minnesota state high school quiz bowl tournament was broadcast on public television (i.e. real TV!). When my fellow geeks (Mad Latinist and Grishnash) and I made it to the final round of the state championship back in 1992, all we got to be on was the public school cable channel and a jazz radio station that constantly interrupted our games for traffic reports.
 
So yes, I'm a bit resentful that nerd-dom is more highly lauded today than it was durning my nerd-formative years. But then I get to say:
 
I WAS A NERD BEFORE IT WAS COOL!
 
And I'd like to think that my nerd- and geek-dom blazed a trail for the nerds and geeks of today to exist with less social stigma today than in ages past. Of course, a number of social trends have contributed to the "mainstreaming" of these once stigmatized sub-cultures:
 
  1. The ubiquity of video games. Once the province of uber-dorks, they now rival film and television for pre-eminence in popular culture.
  2. Bill Gates: He showed that being a computer geek can lead to being attacked by the government for abuse of monopolistic power and becoming loathed by huge swaths of the population. In other words, he showed it can be sexy. I really credit him with making geekdom a credible path to wealth and power in the popular consciousness. I also credit him for helping me make a tidy little wad of moula which subsidizes my current indolent lifestyle (of which this blog is certainly a part).
  3. The increased popularity of science fiction, comic books, and fantasy, particularly in film and on TV: X-Men, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Spider Man, Buffy, X-Files. What could be more geeky? What could be more mainstream?
  4. The Web. I had a website back in 1994. Now everyone has a frickin' website. We geeks have to retreat to some further corner of technology to maintain our special identity. Maybe I should declare that my primary world of habitation is Second Life or something, and start using that as my primary identity and insist all employers pay me in Linden Dollars. That would be geeky.
 
For more on nerds and geeks and the differences between them, see the post I link to from here.

Water: child brides.


I just saw the film Water by Deepa Mehta. It is a good film, and paints a very disturbing and sad picture of the fate of widows in 1930's India. These widows can be as young as 5 or 6. They can't remarry, can't wear colorful clothes, can't eat certain foods, and are abandoned by their families in squalid "widow houses". They are shunned and stigmatized in numerous ways. In the house in the movie, they are rented out as prostitutes by the head widow.

Unfortunately, both child marriage and hatred of widows still takes place, in India and elsewhere. These are deeply rooted things and seem to create a tremendous amount of suffering. Numerous laws have been passed banning these practices in various countries, but in rural areas the laws are often ignored.

I knew intellectually about these things before, but the movie really brought home the reality of what it might be like to be considered a widow in such a culture, even as a young child. It was incredibly sad. It boggles my sheltered and privileged mind to know that this sort of thing is still going on.

The picture above is of the main character, a young widow (from the Variety review).

Saturday, May 27, 2006

OOGA BOOGA! My tribe better, beat up your tribe!

Chris Bowers at MyDD has a series of articles on tribal identity and the American voter. His basic argument is that voters vote their tribal identity, based on factors such as race, religion, and gender. Socioeconomic factors, such as income, union affiliation, and education play a lesser role in determining a voters behavior. This shouldn't be too surprising, but it is still a little depressing that a lot of us are  basically waving our flags and saying "hooray for our side". (And what is this blog but a small but perfect example of that?)
 
But Bowers paints a more interesting picture than two rival tribes beating their chests, though. This is from the most interesting of the articles I linked to above:
 
One side considers itself the "us" in a battle between "us vs. them," while the other side is trying to destroy the notion of both "us" and "them" in order to end the battle. One coalition wins when the clash of civilizations is being fought, since its existence is predicted upon at least the visualization (if not the realization) of identities that fight such a battle, while the other coalition wins when the clash of civilizations ends or is at least sputtering, since its very existence is predicated upon the possibility of a world without "civilization identities."
 
The good news is that the camp most married to tribal identity is eventually demographically doomed if it can't base itself around something other than being white, male, conservative, and Christian(ist).
 
Digby comments on this subject and Bowers' article here. He poses an interesting question:
 
If you could write a country song about Blue State identity, what would the lyrics say?

The lefties pile on...to kick Joe Lieberman's ass

 More reasons we don't like "Joementum" Lieberman (the ostensibly Democratic Senator from CT who has a crush on all things Bush), from Atrios:
 
What a week it's been. Honored by his neocon pals, because they've made all the right decisions over the past couple of years, and now he supports "pro-life" license plates to support pregnancy crisis scam centers.
The first time I ever heard of Lieberman was when I was a computer game producer and he was making a ridiculous puritanical stink/cynical political play by bashing video games. He's been doing so for quite some time: here's something from 1997, and I bet if I wasn't so lazy I could find stuff even earlier. So I never liked the guy. I voted for him when he was Al Gore's running mate, but I don't think anyone on the left would hold that against me, given the alternative. Connecticut is one of the bluest states in the union. Can we have a real Democrat, please? MoveOn.org agrees.

Political term of the day: Astroturfing

A grassroots political movement is one that originates outside of established political parties, lobbyists, consulting firms, media outlets, large corporations, and major advocacy groups. An astroturf movement is designed to look like a grassroots movement, but is in fact the product of one of the above-mentioned groups. As usual, wikipedia has a good article on the subject.
 
According to this article, James Dobson's Focus on the Family (I decline to link, for fear of generating a bunch of wingnut ads on my blog) is spewing a bunch of astroturf opposition to marriage for same-sex partners. With Google and other 'net tools, astroturfing is easier to catch, but the same technology also makes it easier to accomplish. Because of this, you often can't take letters to the editor at face value, especially on highly controversial issues of national importance.
 

Friday, May 26, 2006

So what exactly is this Net Neutrality?

There's a little video on Crooks and Liars that is an excellent tutorial on what this issue is about. Of course, it's made from a pro-Net Neutrality perspective.
 
And I agree with this comment that "Net Neutrality" is kinda boring sounding and does not frame the issue well. Not the sort of thing a non-geek is going to take to the streets for. Or even contact their member of Congress about. So how about "Net Free Choice" or "Net Equality" or "Net Fairness" or "Not letting some telco hack block my access to Internal Monologue"? Get the focus groups going.

How DUMM is that disaster movie?

Grishnash has a handy scale for you.

2010: An Iraq Odyssey

Remember back on May 20, when I reported that Bush and Blair would hold a summit and announce troop reductions in Iraq? Well, the summit (really a news conference) happened. You can read about it here (if you register for the Washington Post. It's free.) and read a transcript here (NPR, no registration necessary). A reporter asked if US troop levels were in fact going to be reduced to 100,000:
Q: So the 100,000 figure --

PRESIDENT BUSH: That's some speculation in the press that I -- they haven't talked to me about. And as the commander in chief, they eventually will talk to me about it. The American people need to know that we'll keep the force level there necessary to win. And it's important for the American people to know that politics isn't going to make the decision as to the size of our force level. The conditions on the ground will make the decision.

So I guess the 100,000 figure was just some BS floated by somebody to get our hopes up. And then there's this (from the WaPo story linked above):

Bush at a previous news conference said it will be up to future presidents to decide when the last U.S. forces will leave, and an aide to Blair told British reporters this week that London hopes to pull out its last troops by 2010.

The British hope to be out by 2010? So when do we get to leave? Sigh.

What's our beef with the "mainstream" Dems?

One common misconception is that the lefty blogosphere represented by DailyKos et. al. (including your truly) is that we desperately want the Democratic party to become more liberal. This would be nice, but it isn't really our main beef with the likes of Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Diane Feinstein, the DLC, etc. Our main beef with them is that they don't stand up for the Democratic Party, and don't fight back against the Republicans. This article by digby paints a good picture of this frustration. It's ridiculous that Democrats are getting rolled, even on centrist issues where a majority of Americans side with them or could probably easily be persuaded to side with them. It's especially ridiculous when the Republicans are as unpopular as they are. The Dems in Washington seem so concerned about "maintaining civility", but that doesn't mean they have to give the Republicans a free pass as much as they do.
 
That's why we're supporting people like Ned Lamont in his primary challenge against Lieberman. I've contributed a small amount to this campaign, and I encourage others to do so as well.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

You know Net Neutrality has broad support when...

...the Christian Coalition and MoveOn.org jointly decide take out a big ad in the New York Times in support of it. The only people who are against Net Neutrality (which until very recently has been the effective law of the land) are the telecom companies like AT&T. The last thing I want is some cable company deciding which web sites I try to access will run faster than others.
 
By the way, according to digby, the House Judiciary Committee just passed enforcement for Net Neutrality 20-13. This is a major victory for grass roots activism that crossed the typical partisan lines. (Of course, titans like Google and Microsoft and Amazon were backing us up on this, too. Never hurts to have a few billionaires in your corner.)

You know Republicans are desperate when...

...they think Stephen Colbert is actually on their side. This, from Think Progress, is almost too hilarious for words. Stephen Colbert is a fictional right-wing blowhard who was originally on the Daily Show and now has his own show.  He recently savaged George W. Bush to his face in a jaw-dropping performance at the White House Corresponents Dinner, and his performance generated a lot of controversy in the blogosphere. We lefties loved it: see the video here and thank him here. (I agree it wasn't actually that funny; it was more than that. It was awesome.)
 
Anyway, on his show Colbert recently interviewed Robert Greenwald, creator of the Outfoxed documentary and other lefty films. Greenwald has just made a film documenting Delay's crimes, called The Big Buy: Tom Delay's Stolen Congress. And in this "interview", Colbert (who is a PARODY of Bill O'Reilly, remember) attacks Greenwald with questions like, "Who hates America more, you or Michael Moore?” and "defends" Tom Delay. Of course, what's really happening is that Greenwald gets to talk about the film while Colbert satirizes the arguing style of conservative talk show hosts.
 
So, Tom Delay's Legal Fund site (where you could donate to defend the crook, should you be so deranged as to wish to do so) is currently headlining that interview! Go there quick and look at it before they come to their senses and take it down! They actually think Colbert is doing a good job of defending Delay and taking down Greenwald!
 
In a way it isn't surprising. Some of these folks are so far gone that it is really impossible to parody them. If you don't find them ridiculous already, no amount of satire or mockery can break through the mindset.

Microsoft vs. Apple

I don't normally use the august platform that is Internal Monologue as a platform from which to link to silly videos on the web (well, OK, I've done it before), but this one is really good. It's an illustration of the contrasting styles of Microsoft vs. Apple packaging, at the expense of Microsoft. But according to this, it was produced by Microsoft designers as a piece of self-criticism or parody. Apparently, this video was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, but since they are cowards who hide behind a subscription wall (not to mention being a bunch of warmongering, Bush-toady shills, at least on their editorial page) they don't get a link.
 

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Follow up to the debunked Iran story

Well, the lefty blogosphere (of which I consider myself a member) has done a pretty good job in my opinion of linking the debunked Iran story (about forcing religious minorities to wear special clothing or badges) to the same crowd that pushed for an invasion of Iraq. A good summary can be found here. I'm glad we got on top of this quickly. As it is, I wonder how many people believe it.
 
Be on your guard for false memes unleashed for nefarious political purposes, folks! This is how the wingnuts move an idea from "unthinkably stupid" to "If you don't support it, you hate babies and God and Mom and America and Apple Pie."
 
The sad thing is, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when Iran looked like it was headed towrards moderation and reform. But high oil prices and Bush's "axis of evil" statement have put the kabosh on all that. (The despondent remarks of some anonymous State Department and CIA folks, including on Iran, are here.) How Bush could lump Iraq, Iran, and North Korea into an "axis" is ridiculous. Iran and Iraq fought a bitter, bloody war for 9 years from 1980-1989 (War Nerd calls it "The War Nobody Watched"). How could they be in an "axis"? Axis means an alliance, like the WWII axis powers.
 
Ironically, the administration now accuses Iran of meddling in Iraqi politics, and now has legitimate reason to fear an Iraq-Iran Shia "axis". It is ironic because we certainly had no qualms about meddling in Iraqi politics in a prett big way, and because our meddling (while it certainly did have some beneficial effects) made Iran's meddling possible.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Well, their lines aren't straight, so maybe we're OK.


A picture of one of the rallies referenced in the previous post.
(This image came from here.)

But it's a CHRISTIANIST blitzkrieg, so maybe it's OK...

(For a definition of Christianism (as opposed to Christianity), see this post.)
 
It appears as though an organization called Teen Mania holds rallies called BattleCry in various cities. Well, several lefties are freaking out about these events, such as this Daily Kos diarist, this one, digby, and plenty others (follow the links, there are pictures!). It sounds pretty scary. An excerpt from one account (from an admittedly hostile and somewhat snarky observer):
 

Indeed, it had a point, to recruit the future elite "warriors" in the coming battle against the separation of church and state. It turned dark and frightening on Saturday afternoon. After Franklin "Islam is a Wicked Religion" Graham came out to thunder against the evils of homosexuality and the Iraqi people (whom he considers to be exactly the same people as the ancient Babylonians who enslaved the tribes of Israel and deserving, one would assume, the exact same fate)  we heard an explosion. Flames shot out on stage and a team of Navy Seals was shown on the big TV monitors in full camouflage creeping forward down the hallway from the locker room with their M16s. They were hunting us, the future Christian leaders of America. Two teenage girls next to me burst into tears and even I, a jaded middle-aged male, almost jumped out of my skin. I imagined for that moment what it must have felt like to have been a teacher at Columbine high school. 10 seconds later they rushed out onstage and pointed their guns in our direction firing blanks spitting flames. About 1000 shots and bang, we were all dead.

I then followed the select group of Christian youth out into the corridor into the tent where we were told about Teen Mania's "Honor Academy" [link], some type of Christian fundamentalist boot camp designed to replace the first year of college for 600 dollars a month.

 
Now I know that Christian rock concerts and teen rallies are not new. But the explicit militarization is frightening. The conflation of Fundamentalist Christianity and NAVY seals firing guns makes this secularist very uncomfortable. And explicit support from the President of the United States is pretty freaky:
 
It began with fireworks so loud and startling I screamed. Lights and smoke followed, and a few kids were pulled up on stage from the crowd. One was asked to read a letter.

This was the letter that opened the event. Its author was George W. Bush.  Yes, the president of the United States sent a letter of support, greeting, prayer and encouragement to the BattleCry event held at Wachovia Spectrum Stadium in Philadelphia on May 12. Immediately afterward, a preacher took the microphone and led the crowd in prayer. Among other things, he asked the attendees to “Thank God for giving us George Bush.”

We've been able to get along in this country because however strong our religious convictions, we've always tacitly agreed on a "live and let live" modus operandi. I'm worried that this "great compromise" is unraveling, just as the slavery "compromise" unraveled before the Civil War.
 
Am I paranoid or does all this have the trappings of something very evil from the not-too-distant past? I am certainly not the only one to feel this way about it. Read the accounts I've linked to. Battlecry founder Ron Luce actually used the word blitzkrieg, according to the truthdig report. Is this just harmless bloviating or should I really be worried?
 
This stuff is wrong. Driving religious fervor in a military direction is wrong. It's ugly. It is a recipe for suffering and political disaster. If these reports are accurate, any politician who doesn't condemn this kind of activity is a craven enabler of something that looks a hell of a lot like fascism to me. Someone please point me to some reliable article that says this is a fringe movement, declining in popularity, and held in contempt by most evangelicals who are just decent folks who want you to let the love of Jesus into your life.
 
By the way, I just wanted to point a book, "The End of Faith", by Sam Harris. I'm currently reading it, and will discuss it more later. I thought his thesis (that humanity will have to rid itself religious faith (as it is commonly understood) altogether if civilization is to survive the next century) was rather extreme, but events like BattleCry make me think he's not entirely smokin' crack.

The angry right

At the bottom of this post about the McCain/New School affair, I complained that whenever the left speaks up, the wingnuts always complain about "incivility", dispite the constant stream of vituperation that spews forth from the wingnut noise machine. Glen Greenwald has a much lengthier, well-researched post on this phenomenon here.
 
Don't let fear of being labled "angry" prevent you from speaking the truth. Karl Rove used this trick against Kerry, and I think he fell for it. It's especially annoying when war supporters denounce war opponents as being "excessively angry". It is ridiculous for someone advocating the use of horrible violence (and war, even if justified, is certainly horrible violence) to accuse someone opposing violence of excessive anger. That is saying that heckling and chanting is somehow more impolite than bombing and invading. What a crock.
 
These smears of the anti-war movement are particularly laughable given that the majority of Americans think that the war was a bad idea. But much of the media still treat opposition to Bush and the Iraq war as some sort of crazy fringe thing. It is not. It's mainstream. It's normal. The Bush administration is now the wacky out-of-touch group. Not that majority support of something makes it right. It just means it isn't "fringe".
 
Keep your ears open for mainstream opinions presented as radical-left impositions (e.g. abortion should be legal) and screwball wingnut ideas presented as if the majority of Americans have always supported them (e.g. eliminating the estate tax). One of the favorite strategies of the right is to repeat an idea so many times from so many different directions that it sounds mainstream just because it sounds familiar. It may be just as dumb as when some pundit started floating it back in 1993, but it gains credibility through sheer force of repetition. But now you know about it, and so it won't work on you. As long as you stay alert. And read Internal Monologue. And tell all your friends about it. And make its author into an icon of the progressive blogosphere.

Puritanical Hypocricy Watch

Remember back when I posted about a friend who asked, "Which is more intimate, 'I love you' or sex?" For me, 'I love you' is more intimate than sex, and I suspected that this would be true for others as well.
 
Well, I got an update on my friend's informal survey today. It seems that when people were initially asked this question, they responded that they were more conservative with sex than with "I love you". This is the opposite of my own response, and the opposite of what I thought other responses would be. But when my friend confronted the people being querried with examples of their past behavior, many of them revised their assessment and "admitted" they were more likely to have sex with someone than say "I love you" to someone.
 
Now this is fascinating to me. The fact that people could be in such denial about their own sexual behavior that they cannot answer this question accurately the first time around is really frightening. But of course I shouldn't be surprised, given all the lying, revisionism, and denial our culture routinely engages in when sex is the subject. (For a prime example, see my post on virginity pledges.)
 
This kind of denial is highly entertaining to see exposed, and highly supportive of my view that puritanism rests on a foundation of hypocricy. But it causes real harm to real people. Puritanism kills. It kills people because it prevents us from fighting disease in the most effective ways. Yes, 100% abstinence is a perfect prophylactic against STDs. But this is not how people behave here on planet earth, even under puritanical regimes far more draconian than anything the American prudes would consider (or am I being naive here?). And my objections to the "war on sex" are not just practical. I don't think we should be asexual, even if we somehow somehow could be. I think the moral condemnation of sex is itself wrong. That is not to say that sex isn't dangerous, that it doesn't have enormous consequences. But that's why we need to educate people about it.
 
Imagine if we taught children about knives in the same manner that puritans want us to teach them about sex. Instead of telling them that knives are useful tools, and showing them how to hold and use a knife safely, and showing them what to do if they do cut themselves, we'd just tell them "KNIVES ARE BAD! NEVER TOUCH ONE, EVER! YOU DON'T NEED TO CUT ANYTHING UNTIL YOU GET MARRIED! THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID CUTTING YOURSELF IS TO PLEDGE ABSTIENCE FROM CUTLERY!" etc.
 
We cannot pin our hopes for social progress in the sexual arena (whether it be reducing AIDS, reducing teen pregnancy, or reducing the number of abortions) on the deluded notion that sexuality can be excised from the human psyche. I reflexively dismiss any social enterprise that does not take into account a human's need to have some form of sexual expression. It would be like trying to get to the moon without taking into account something called gravity. And yet much of humanity seems locked in this delusion.
 
As Dan Savage says, "This is some serious shit, breeders. You're being attacked. It's time to fight back."
 

Well, actually I have worked!

Jean Rohe fights back!
 
You assume that I have no experience making a living. I have been a full-time college student and have worked a job to pay my own rent and my own expenses for the past two years. You assume that I live in an "echo chamber" of liberal head-patting, when, in fact, I live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a neighborhood notorious for its cultural diversity and sometimes, conflict.
 
It bugs me that every time someone stands up and publicly rebukes some Republican warmonger to their face, the right-wing complains about the lack of politeness, and decries that our discourse has sunk so low. To me, it is a relief that people are finally standing up to the fetid combination of incompetence and immorality that dominates our governing institutions. Our public denunciation, stated forthrightly, is the least we can do.

Monday, May 22, 2006

You slackers have never worked a day in your life!

OK, for those of you who don't know about the whole John McCain New School Graduation speech/Jean Rhoe smackdown, here's a quick summary: McCain gets invited to speak at the very progressive New School, and plans to give the same speech as he gave at other graduations. Jean Rhoe, who is scheduled to speak before him, chucks her previously prepared remarks and, looking at the text of the speech McCain will give, rewrites her speech, attacking McCain and his speech before he even gives it. The progressive blogosphere makes a hero out of her. For some more info, see her "why I did it" explanation on Huffingtonpost.com.

Now apparently, McCain's chief of staff has replied to her and her classmates. The whole thing can be found here. This is the conclusion of his post:
Should you grow up and ever get down to the hard business of making a living and finding a purpose for your lives beyond self-indulgence some of you might then know a happiness far more sublime than the fleeting pleasure of living in an echo chamber. And if you are that fortunate, you might look back on the day of your graduation and your discourtesy to a good and honest man with a little shame and the certain knowledge that it very unlikely any of you will ever posses the one small fraction of the character of John McCain.

Mark Salter

Whoa! Way to ingratiate yourself there. Well, it's always been my life's ambition to "posses the[sic] one small fraction of the character of John McCain", but I guess since that is "very unlikely", I'll have to settle for possesing the one small fraction of the character of Wayne Allard (R-CO) or somebody else. Of course, I'm not a New School graduate, so maybe someday I can attain a small smidgen of McCain's character. So, was this some deceitful operative posing as McCain's chief of staff, or was it really "maverick" McCain's chief of staff lettin' one rip? Huffingtonpost has front-paged it, so their credibility is on the line.

It's too bad about McCain. He does occasionally fail to toe the line on the Republican talking points, but when it comes down to anything major, he puckers up to kiss King George's ass like the rest of them. This despite the savaging Karl Rove unleashed on him in the primaries before the 2000 election. And watching him suck up to the puritanical fanatics who control the Republican party is so sad. "Staight Talk" maverick my ass.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

We're starting to pull out of Iraq?

 

Blair and President George W Bush will announce that they are to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq at a summit in Washington being planned for this week to welcome the formation of a new Iraqi government.

The process has been carefully choreographed in an attempt to bolster the popularity of both leaders, which has been dragged down by the war.

The phased withdrawal will see British troop numbers cut by several thousand and American forces by up to 30,000 by the end of the year, according to a senior defence source.

Funny how it's happening right as the midterm elections come up. You read it here first. I'm looking for confirmation of this elsewhere.

If this is true, it's about time. I'm an atheist, but God help Iraq. I feel we owe that country so much more. But with Bush and Rumsfeld at the helm, I'm glad we're lessening our presence. They are incapable of seeing reality, and as long as this is true our military cannot succeed there. At least this means we won't be killing, and we won't be getting killed. It's pathetic that withdrawal seems to be the least horrible of the options.

Dangers of the blogosphere

One of the advantages of getting your news from the blogosphere is that you get your news about 12 hours before everyone else does. Rarely does something major on the front page of the Times catch me by surprise. But the blogosphere has its perils: it's easy to float a story and get it spread around before it gets checked. (Then again, the main stream media wasn't exactly rigorous in some of its Iraq reporting either.) Here's a prime example: a story that Iran was going to pass a law requiring people of non-Islamic religions to wear identifying marks on their clothing. Well, it turns out that it is probably false, but it is already so widespread that it will be hard to stamp out the rapidly spreading meme.
 
I was going to blog this item, and I'm glad now I waited (though I admit it was more due to laziness than skepticism on my part).
 
Andrew Sullivan asks the next logical question: who put this out there and why? There is evidence that it is war-mongering propaganda from the neo-cons. See this diary on DailyKos. If true, this is very scary. We must not be duped into yet another war by this gang of decietful incompetents.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Lolita

Read the book. Then read John Derbyshire's review, in which he is nostalgic for 1958 and uses rape statistics to justify his age preference in women. Then read Amanda Marcotte on Pandagon and see her disembowel Derbyshire, puree his intestines in a blender, and force him to drink it (as one commenter describes her savaging of his review).
 
Reading Lolita in Tehran is a good book; it is fascinating to see how women from Iranian culture react to this book.
 
The Stanley Kubrick movie version does not really feel much like the book, but it is interesting in its own right. Peter Sellers is great as Clare Quilty, and I think his appearances are the best scenes in the film. He is the exact right person to play that role. I think his recurring performances manage to capture some of the insanity that's there in the novel.
 
This subject has generated lots of commentary, and I don't have anything original to add. I just think it interesting that this book still provokes so much discussion. But then, Job was written 2,500 years ago or thereabouts and it still provokes a lot of discussion, too.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Freudian Scene

I just remembered this and dug it up from my journal. It took place in January of 1998 in the waiting area of an airport gate (presumably in the MSP airport, waiting to return to Seattle). I recorded it shortly after witnessing it firsthand. I reproduce it verbatim here. It is completely true.
A young boy climbing all over his mother repeatedly saying "I'm going to marry you." Then he says "Boys marry boys and girls marry girls." I don't know if this is an accidental or intentional inversion, but he finds it highly amusing and repeats it many times. Then it seems he realizes that according to this new mantra, he can no longer marry his mother. So he accosts his younger brother (his father is there too) and says he's going to marry him. The younger brother has not been following the earlier marriage declarations, so doesn't really know what to make of this. After repeating "I'm going to marry you" and "Girls marry girls and boys marry boys" to his younger brother, our protagonist loses interest in his unenthusiastic fiancé and returns to his mother. "I'm going to marry you." he begins to repeat while climbing all over her. But how does he reconcile this with his oh-so-amusing motto about same sex marriage? "I'm a girl!" he declares with delight. "Boys marry boys and girls marry girls. I'm a girl. I'm going to marry you." This continues in a most amusing fashion. Mother seems mildly amused and affectionate. Father is lock-faced, pretending not to hear. Younger brother is amusing himself in a different play universe.
A lot of Freud's contributions have been surpassed, overturned, or discarded. But he wasn't totally smoking crack. What strikes me in this scene is the ease with which the boy discarded his own gender in order to enable him to fulfill his marriage wish within the framework he had established. That, and the pleasure he takes in discovering a solution to his problem. I seem to recall the father had his face in a newspaper the whole time. And the younger brother was on the floor, plaing with a truck. This scene still amuses me when I think about it, over eight years later.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Deport the Attorney General!

Or maybe just  his ancestors. I, for one, would not be sorry to see Mr. "Torture  is OK" thrown out of the country. Or at least out of his current  post.    

Nerd vs. Geek

An important distinction. (Found via this post at Almost Infamous.) Here is my comment:
Thank you for your post. Nerd vs. Geek is an important distinction, and I think you elucidate it well.

I disagree with the specificity of your geek criteria though. While I think they capture exactly the flavor of geekdom, one must remember that people can "geek out" on different things. For example, I meet criteria 1, 2, 7, 8, and 10 with flying colors. I almost meet criteria 4. But 3, 5, and 6 not so much, and 9 not at all. Nonetheless, I consider myself a geek and score pretty highly on those geek inventories one finds on the net.

One can be a geek without playing Dungeons and Dragons or loving comic books or being an anime fan, as long as one engages fervently in mental activities of a similar nature and with a similar obliviousness to social consequences. That is geekdom to me. Using these more abstract criteria, it is possible to identify geeks from other cultures and other time periods.

OK, back to politics: Immigration meltdown!

It seems the right wing in this country is driving itself into a xenophobic frenzy. This guy claims in this post that mass deportations of 12 million people are in fact workable, because the Germans were able to do something similar to 6 million jews in WWII:
Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.
Andrew Sullivan nominated this guy for his Malkin Award ("named after blogger, Michelle Malkin - is for shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric. Ann Coulter is ineligible - to give others a chance.")
One right wing blog, Polipundit, apparently kicked all of his guest bloggers off for disagreeing with him on this one issue. There's even a movement on the wacko right to impeach Bush for being too soft on immigration! If you don't believe me, take a look at Michael Savage. Glenn Greenwald has more analysis on this subject.
I think the nativist rhetoric is getting way too intense. I just don't get it. I don't feel threatened by people coming here looking for work. (Maybe that's because few of them are actors.) Yes, there's all the blather about "those people" taxing our social services etc. But I think this is much exaggerated. And the amount of money involved is peanuts compared to our unnecessary war, tax cuts (or rather tax deferments--someone's gonna have to pay sometime) for the already stupendously wealthy, and the increasing costs of the main fedral entitlement programs. Some people are just apoplectic that someonee might get away with living here after having come here illegally. I'm like, well, uh, maybe we should have made it easier for them to come here in the first place. If you're contributing positively to society or are on your way to doing so, come on in. And vote Democratic.
The fun thing about this issue is that it is ripping the Republican party apart. The Republican base, whose rascist and xenophobic tendencies have been deliberately whipped up by this administration (to gain support for the ridiculously named "War on Terror"), has now turned this fury against the administration and the business wing of the Republican party. The base wants a huge wall, massive deportations, troops on the border, etc. The Republican business community either wants reform, so more labor can come into the country legally, or it wants to maintain the broken status quo, so labor can come into the country illegally and be more easily exploited. Either way, those who pay the bills of the Republican party are in direct opposition to those whose votes keep it in power. Poor Karl Rove is in a bind (even if he isn't indicted this week): if he caters to the xenophobes, the Hispanic vote is lost to the Republicans. Given the demographic trends in this country, that would be very bad and doom Republicans in the not too distant future. But if he doesn't toe the hard line and get tough (i.e. get cruel and stupid), the angry base will give them no end of trouble, and sit out the 2006 midterm elections. Also very bad for the Republicans. And people say that the Democrats are a circular firing squad. Back atcha, suckas!

Update: Darksyde makes a very similar argument on this front page post on DailyKos.

Which is more intimate, "I love you" or sex?

This question was posed to me by a friend, although not quite exactly in that way. The friend was having a disagreement with someone about this question, and was doing some informal research on what people thought.
 
Another way of putting this question is: who's the bigger slut: someone who has sex with three different people in one week, or someone who says "I love you" for the first time to three different people in one week? (Obviously, we're talking about the romanto-erotic version of that first declaration of "I love you". Saying it to friends and family doesn't count (barring the case of incest I suppose). And neither do hippie declarations of universal amity ("I love you, man!"), nor do passionless formulaic utterances ("Yes dear, of course I love you."). Now of course this form of the question presupposes that both of the above-mentioned behaviors are slutty, i.e. promiscuous in an unhealthy way. And we are, in the case of the three "I love you" statments, stretching the term "slut" away from its usual sexual meaning to a more general one. And maybe some people who are very comfortable with their sexuality or emotional selves could do these things three times a week and not have it be slutty at all. But then we only need to increase the number of sexual episodes and declarations of love to some number where it is unhealthy and re-ask the question. The point is not to draw a line between slutty and non-slutty; it is to use the "That's slutty!" reaction to get at the relative intimacy of "I love you" vs. the sex act.
 
We can of course, quibble about the definition of sex. Maybe "I love you" is more intimate than a blowjob, but less intimate than full "Clintonian" sex (i.e. sex as defined by Bill Clinton, which I guess in penile-vaginal intercourse.) But that is a whole separate line of inquiry.
 
So what do I think? For me, saying "I love you" for the first time is more intimate than having sex. I mean, which are you more likely to do on the 3rd or 4th date? I think this answer is true for the broader culture that I am familiar with, as well. People are freer with their bodies than with their hearts. And I think this is good, provided proper precautions are taken. My friend, who originally posed the question, agrees with me. What about you?
 
An interesting side question: does the use or non-use of prophylactic measures change the level of intimacy of sex vis-à-vis "I love you"? For me, I think it might.
 

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Prurient interest in Purity Balls

C'mon, admit it. You can't get enough Purity Ball porn! To slake your thirst for information on this very real phenomenon, I give you the vow the girl's father says, straight from the Focus on the Family website:
 
 I, (daughter’s name)’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.
 
Pardon me while I channel Butthead for a moment: "Huh huh... he said God is going to make people come...huh huh."
 
High priest in my home! Yeah, that's the ticket. Unfortunately, my unborn child is a boy, so I won't be able to participate in such a wonderful ritual. I'm still totally going to be the high priest though. I'm going to get a mitre and some incense and channel the Holy Spirit--oh wait, I'm an atheist. Damn. I can still wear a mitre, though, can't I? Maybe there's a Unitarian Universalist mitre (alas, Google didn't turn up anything). I want a staff and a stained glass window, too. That way everyone will know I'm the high priest. That would totally rock.
 
For those of you who want still more satire on this subject, I refer you to this Diary on Kos: Supercute Summer Fashion Guide for Good Girls.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Even some of THEM agree with me!

Remember back when I was complaining that "cultural conservatives" have a pathological model of sexuality? Well, a friend of mind pointed me to a blog, which according to my friend is written by an Evangelical Christian Fundamentalist: slacktivist. And in his (I think it's a he) blog he asks, why do Christians hate sex? And in his next post, he gives an interesting account of why this might have come about. It involves early Christianity's appropriation of certain neo-platonic ideas that denigrated the physical in favor of the ideal.
 
I am very happy to see this analysis coming from within the Evangelical Christian movement. Like a therapist, I believe improvements always have more staying power when they come from within, rather than imposed from without. (Witness the American South and the lingering resentments about the Civil War and forced de-segregation.) I think much of the puritanical hysteria we have been seeing recently (OH MY GOD!! IT'S JANET JACKSON'S NIPPLE!!! THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END!!!!) is happening because puritans feel the "loose morals" of the rest of us ARE being imposed on them: Condoms in schools! Porn on the net! Gay people being unashamed! Blowjobs in the Oval Office! Rampant Divorce! legal Abortion!
 
It's much harder to be a puritan without the forces of law and custom backing you up. Now that those props are falling away, of course they're freaking out. They want their crutches back. And they want the rest of us to walk with those crutches. Because every person who walks without them is a living reminder that it is possible to do so. Libertarians, hedonists, and liberals always wonder why puritans are trying to impose their morals on everyone else. It's no mystery: every healthy, well-adjusted, sex-positive person is a walking, breathing refutation of their worldview. And nobody likes cognitive dissonance. So the puritan must either change the behavoir of the sex positive person, or make them feel bad about being a sex-positive person, or depict the sex-positive person as being some combination of sick and evil.
 
At any rate, after reading slacktivist's posts, I will always be very careful in the future to differentiate "puritans" (the folk who embark on the futile quest to slay our sexual nature) from Evangelicals and Fundamentalists (who hold certain beliefs about Christianity and how it should be spread). Indeed, there are many ways to arrive at "the puritanical solution", many of which do not involve the big three monotheistic religions. I have heard that China, for example, has a very puritanical strain in its culture. And I doubt it came from Plato or Christianity. Maybe the thing that can unite atheists and fundamentalists is sex! After all, it is how most of us got here.

Oh, I guess Americans don't like be spied on after all

OK, maybe people don't want the phone company turning over their records to the NSA without a warrant. Turns out the WaPo poll I mentioned earlier isn't holding up too well. Here's another from USAToday via Atrios that seems to contradict it. Sorry I helped propagate the false meme. Even Internal Monologue can be duped by the hideously evil right-wing noise machine!

I guess people are getting a little more nervous about such things now that they've had a news cycle or two to think about it and learn more. Or maybe the earlier poll was biased in some way.
 
I must admit that I am taking delight in watching the Bush edifice collapse. Once it does, maybe liberals and conservatives can get back to arguing with each other again. Until then, liberals and conservatives are all converging on the "hold this looney loser in check" plan.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Corporations Without Faces: A Rant

(This is my first DailyKos diary)

"How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?"
-C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face -- forever."
-George Orwell

In this diary, PerfectStormer asks those calling the phone companies (to protest their cooperation with the NSA) to be nice to the call center reps they talk to. I certainly agree with this request. Certainly, one should be nice to people. I'm originally from Minnesota, after all. Being nice makes things more pleasant, and in most cases it's a better way to get what you want. Who wants to do a favor for an asshole? But something about this request for kindness brought up anger in me. I had the vague feeling that I was being had. Not by the diarist, whose earnest plea provoked sympathy. But by the circumstances which put a decent, innocent person in the path of my real and genuine anger. When we are angry with someone, we "tell it to their face", don't we? And what is a call center rep but the face of a corporation?

Now of course, I understand that when you finally get through on a customer service call, the phone rep you end up talking to is so completely disempowered and alienated from the actual decision that caused your anger that yelling at them makes no more sense than yelling at the paint on a chair on which you have stubbed your toe. Unlike a human face, which is connected intimately to a mind, a soul if you will, a corporate face is connected to...well...maybe a database of customer complaints that once a month gets summarized and read by a mid-level manager, possibly to be acted on in the next development cycle, blah blah blah. It's more a mask than a face. A blast shield to protect the institution from anger. And with the blast shield down, it can't even see. That's the point. And who cares if your shielding gets a little beat up or if it breaks? ("she was sitting at her desk with her head in her hands, sobbing", writes PerfectStormer.) That's what it's for. It's cheap ("We work hard for little money"). It's replaceable ("we can be fired at any time for any reason"). But the knowledge that it is useless and unkind to yell at call center reps only increases my fury. I feel like the hero who finally penetrates into the arch-villain's lair, ready for a climactic showdown, only to find that the arch-villain has left, leaving his endearingly handicapped six-year-old step-child there to plead his case.

I totally sympathize with people whose job it is to deal with dissatisfied customers who are often clueless and fundamentally responsible for the cause of their problem (e.g. not paying the bill). But it is incredibly frustrating for those of us who do have genuine problems that we have tried to solve on our own when a corporation hides itself behind these mazes of voice menus and long hold times. (A particularly humiliating version of this is when you call to get your Internet access working, and the on hold recording informs you that you can get service by going to their website.) When our own time is wasted because of a corporation's mistake, anger is a natural reaction. And the fact that the corporation never presents a real face to get angry at is only more infuriating. Imagine if your friend Bob were to do something hurtful to you, and when you confront him he were to say, "Please don't yell at me. I'm just the social interface of Bob. I didn't make the decision, that was Bob's management. I'm just trying to make a living. Bob doesn't even pay me very well, and will fire me if I don't play by his rules." It just makes you want to throttle Bob (and his "interface") all the more.

This is the situation of the individual in relationship to the enormous institutions which affect us: corporations and government agencies. If a huge institution does something that hurts us (cancels our plane ticket, loses our package, overcharges our phone bill, or in the case of Kaiser, prevents you from getting a kidney), our humanity and feelings mean nothing to it. Or rather, they are coolly calculated on some spreadsheet somewhere: how much can we annoy our customers before they leave in great enough numbers that it offsets the cost savings from our crappy service? Or, how much can I sell out the interests of my constituents before they wake up and vote me out? The decision makers within an institution do not have to see our suffering directly, or experience it on a human level.

But when the individual attempts to complain, to vent anger, to strike back, suddenly the humanity of the corporate or government representative is invoked! Oh, don't hurt the poor call center person (or the person answering the Sentor's phone)! See how she suffers in the face of your vicious onslaught! Take pity! Have empathy! That's a real person you're dealing with! The big institution uses the exploited worker as a human shield to protect itself from the anger that it itself creates, but refuses to face. The very realness of that poor person becomes a lie, because their realness is not the corporation's realness. Indeed it is a horrible, despicable kind of falseness. And that pisses me off. The C.S. Lewis quote I opened with becomes twisted into a smug leer of contemptuous invulnerability: "How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?" But they aren't trying to have faces. They will never give you anything real to hit back. The Orwellian stomping only goes one way: their boot, your face.

Yes, I believe that most people who call tech support or customer service are frustrating idiots. I've had friends who've worked in tech support and I've heard the stories. But my sympathies are not with those of you behind those phones. I pay my bills. I don't try to bilk corporations. I try to solve things on my own. (Indeed I go to great lengths to avoid making customer service calls, because in no other situation do I feel so powerless and humiliated.) But the call center folks don't know this. To them, I'm just another potential freak. And they have their scripts they must follow. They don't make the rules. So I get the usual run-around: "Have you tried this? Have you tried that?" How I long for the option, "If you are a reasonably competent person who has made an honest effort to solve this problem, press 3 and we'll treat you like you're not a moron." or better yet: "To send a painful electric shock to the genitalia of the person who is ultimately responsible for this colossal fuck up, press or say 5." I mean, what's the point of a Digital Nervous System, if not to send pain to the right place?

So to all you call center folks: You are not being paid nearly enough. You are being used. And you are being used to keep my anger from landing on those who have earned it.

(Based on a comment I posted on PerfectStormer's diary If you call Verizon or AT&T, PLEASE BE NICE. At the urging of mikenlola, I have expanded and edited it into my first diary. I will crosspost to my own blog, Internal Monologue, as well.)

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Well maybe this won't be the one...

...the "big one" that we who oppose Bush dream about: the outrage brought to light that inspires a tidal wave anti-bush sentiment. According to this article, 66% of people wouldn't be bothered if the NSA gathered records of personal calls they had made.
Of course, with the latest Harris Poll putting Bush at 29%, maybe there doesn't have to be a big one.
Meanwhile, Republicans pass more tax cuts for the rich. Isn't there a national debt of 8.3 trillion, a defecit of somewhere around 400 billion, and 2 wars going on? (Remember Afghanistan?) Of course, to a Republican a tax cut for rich folk is always good, no matter what the circumstances.

Update: Glenn Greenwald urges us not to take these first polls too seriously. Waiting a few days may give reality more time to sink in.

Update II: SusanG gives a list of talking points to help explain the yuckiness of this illegal NSA program.

Corporations without a face: a little rant

Here's a comment I posted to Kos. PerfectStormer posted a diary asking people to be nice to the call reps when complaining about having their phone records illegally turned over to the NSA. I agree one should be nice to call reps. Indeed, one should be nice under almost all circumstances. I am from Minnesota, after all. But this plea for sympathy provoked something of a rant from me:
 

I understand that when you finally get through on a customer service call, the phone rep you end up talking to is so completely disempowered and alienated from the actual decision making process that yelling at them makes no more sense than yelling at part of a chair on which you have stubbed your toe. And I totally sympathize with people whose job it is to deal with dissatisfied customers who are often clueless and fundamentally responsible for the cause of their problem (e.g. not paying the bill).

But it is incredibly frustrating for those of us who do have genuine problems that we have tried to solve on our own when a corporation hides itself behind these mazes of voice menus and long hold times. When our own time is wasted because of a corporation's mistake, anger is a natural reaction. And the fact that the corporation never presents a real face to get angry at is only more infuriating. Imagine if  your friend Bob were to do something hurtful to you, and when you confront him he were to say, "Please don't yell at me. I'm just the social interface of Bob. I didn't make the decision, that was Bob's management. I'm just trying to make a living. Bob doesn't even pay me very well, and will fire me if I don't play by his rules."

This is the situation of the individual in relationship to the enormous institutions which affect us: corporations and goverment agencies. If a huge institution does something that hurts us (cancels our plane ticket, loses our package, overcharges our phone bill, or in the case of Kaiser, prevents you from getting a kidney), our humanity and feelings mean nothing. Or rather, they are coolly calculated on some spreadsheet somewhere: how much can we annoy our customers before they leave in great enough numbers that it offsets the cost savings from our crappy service? The decision makers within an institution do not have to see our suffering directly, or experience it on a human level.

But when the individual attempts to complain, to vent anger, to strike back, suddenly the humanity of the corporate or government representative is invoked! Oh, don't hurt the poor call center person! See how she suffers in the face of your vicious onslaught! Take pity! Have empathy! The big institution uses the exploited worker as a human shield to protect itself from the anger that it itself creates, but refuses to face. And that pisses me off.

Yes, I believe that most people who call tech support or customer service are frustrating idoits. I've had friends who've worked in tech support and I've heard the stories. But I admit my sympathies are not with those of you behind those phones. I pay my bills. I don't try to bilk corporations. I try to solve things on my own. (Indeed I go to great lengths to avoid making customer service calls, as in no other situation do I feel so powerless and humiliated.) But the call center folks don't know this. To them, I'm just another potential freak.

So to you call center folks: You are not being paid nearly enough. You are being used. And you are being used to keep my anger from those who have earned it.

Internal Monologue SELLS OUT!

Oh no! Internal Monologue is now shamelessly whoring itself to Google advertisements! Formerly incisive commentary will now be watered down, corporate friendly, and anemic! The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Currency will demand I retract "coin fight" or they'll pull their ad dollars! To say nothing of how the Pace Foods company will react to "nostril salsa". Are there no independent voices left?

Net Neutrality

It's an issue that's brought together both the left-wing and right-wing blogospheres. And major computer companies like Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, and Amazon are on board. What is it exactly? I'll let the wonderful wikipedia provide a definition:
 
Network neutrality is a principle of network operational architecture. It means that the network is operated under the three principles of neutrality: non-discrimination, interconnection, and access. The principles can apply to any network. They govern the operation of the network, not the content or business practices of the network operator. Inherent in the definition is that network operations are distinct from the content side. Network neutrality is one way to describe the operational architecture of the global Internet. Nearly every nation operating a portion of the Internet, often by default, has adopted some form of the neutrality principle.
 
The United States does not have enforced Network Neutrality, and various telcoms would like to keep it that way so that they may charge differential rates to various providers. Those who could not pay higher rates might have their content delivered more slowly or not at all, at the whim of the telcom company. This would be bad for free speech, and bad for economic innovation, and those are two things I really like about this country.
 
Moveon.org has a petition related to this, here. I urge everyone to sign. You can also call your congressfolk.  By the way, signing up for Moveon.org e-mails is one of the best ways to become an "armchair activist". They send simple action items that are easy to do, and knowing that thousands of other people are doing the same thing helps motivate you and eases the sense of futility that sometimes accompanies such actions.

"Eeef you are eeennocent, you have nothing to feer, I assure you."

The Bush administration has claimed that it needs all these cool new powers in order to fight terrorists. And it assures us that us law-abiding docile citizens have nothing to fear from this. Well, a USA Today atricle tells us that the NSA has collected massive amounts of phone data from citizens not suspected of any wrongdoing:
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

Alas, this is not too surprising. But naturally, such trolling expeditions are pissing a lot of people off. How do we know that they're only going after genuine terrorists? Would we be stupid enough to believe that an administration would not be tempted to use this information against political opponents? Do you think the framers of our limited government constitution would trust an administration go on such wide-net fishing expeditions? Do you think this congress is going to provide sufficient oversight? Or that the Department of Justice will be able to investigate, when over a related issue the National Security Agency denies DOJ lawyers the necessary security clearances? (A secret agency controls the clearances necessary to investigate itself. And I guess the DOJ is OK with that. Fortunately, I'm not the only one who thinks this is weird.)
Could this be the overstep that finally wakes people up? I think a lot of people haven't cared about this evisceration of civil rights because they are sure in their hearts that nothing bad would ever happen to them at the hands of our government. Only those evil others, those of a different race, religion, and language. Not me, average Joe AT&T subscriber. (Atrios expresses a similar sentiment here.)
And none of this is to say that there isn't a real violent Islamist (as opposed to Islamic) movement. I believe it is real and that it is a violent threat. But that's no excuse to toss out the Constitution. And its not an excuse for the executive branch to ram through whatever it wants and ignore whatever it wants and call anyone who opposes its policies a traitor. ITMFA!!!