Thursday, July 29, 2010

This is why we can't have nice things

I started reading this, thinking "Wow, you're really missing the point." Then it developed into "Um, wow, you're a terrifying person."

It's about Mad Men, so I've checked for major spoilers, and luckily, it's light on them. A certain coblogger is missing out.

He starts off soft with #10, but let's take a few highlights:

No.9 - Sleep with the boss's secretary

Sleeping with your secretary is one thing, but going after your boss’ secretary -- that’s something even the ballsiest guys wouldn’t do today. When Peggy shows up as Don’s new secretary, Pete blatantly hits on her. Even though he’s rebuffed and even though he’s on the eve of getting married, he still goes over to her place for a booty call. She knows he’s a weasel, but she sleeps with him again in his office. Today, you can’t even call her a secretary, let alone call her a "dirty slut" in the heat of passion.

I didn't want to quote the whole thing, but man, this is creepy. He apparently wants to be as creepy as possible while still being able to have sex, AND be as mean as possible during. Obviously, anyone who writes this piece is going to, you know, be the kind of guy who watches Schindler’s List and roots for the Germans. But this is pretty early to just announce that he wants to yell slurs at women for sleeping with him, and he’s only interested in the ones who would object – you can call people anything you want if they’re into it; you just get in trouble for pissing people off. Secondary point: you’re completely free to sleep with the boss’s secretary in 2010. It was the kind of thing that would get you in trouble in 1960 more than the present, because remarkably, we don’t think of secretaries as the sexual property of their bosses any more. This guy just failed to get with his boss’s secretary.

No.8 - Make sexist jokes

While only the most misogynist among us wants to hurt women with our comments, there would be something great about being able to openly make sexist jokes like Roger Sterling.

We don’t want to hurt women, we just want to say hurtful things to them while not noticing if it does any damage!

No.6 - Orchestrate huge pranks

They spend work hours planning and executing pranks, like filling Pete’s office with a Chinese laundry service: “Who put the Chinamen in my office?” When Don hears about the prank, he doesn’t worry about harassment or "hate crimes.”

Um, hey, the thing about the prank that’s funny isn’t that it’s racialized. He just wants to shout ethnic slurs, apparently.

No.5 - Be politically incorrect

People in today’s society are so ready to be offended. They go looking for it by over-reading into every thing that is said about race, religion and sex. It’s getting to the point no one can make a slightly offensive joke. Mad Men just say whatever they want. Roger asks Don: “Have we hired any Jews?” Draper replies: “Not on my watch!”

Umm, what the fuck? I don’t think I’m oversensitive when I think it’s offensive that someone wouldn’t hire Jews. They’re joking about the fact that they hate Jews. And it’s not offensive in the way that curse words are offensive. It’s offensive because it’s the kind of thing that really makes life suck for people. There were neighborhoods my dad and his parents couldn’t live in in 1960 New York. Definitely couldn’t go to the country clubs where big business deals were conducted. It’s not a question of sensitivity. It fucking sucked that firms like Sterling Cooper didn’t hire Jews in 1960.

I’m not going to bother to quote #4, but he gets the name of the firm wrong (he probably thinks that 30 Rock is a hilarious sendup of life at the BBC), and then comes off as objectively pro-rape. Not even objectively – subjectively pro-rape.

The rest seems to be whining about Facebook and responsibility. Yawn. But seriously, this guy is terrifying.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Only a Republican could believe

Only a Republican could believe returning to the tax structure we had during the 1990's will destroy the economy.

Only a Republican could believe an organization that registered a few million voters stole an election that was won by a ten million vote margin.

Only a Republican could believe President Obama is both a reverse racist because of his white hating black Christian Church and a secret Muslim.

Only a Republican could believe temporarily giving $300/week people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own makes people stop looking for work.

Only a Republican could believe market participants will regulate themselves out of self interest in the wake of financial and environmental disasters that demonstrate the opposite.

Only a Republican could believe the key to preventing teenage pregnancy is to never give a teenager a condom.

Only a Republican could believe constructing a building of religious worship is anti American - a country built on religious freedom.

Only a Republican could believe acquiring information from terrorists works like it does on an action television show.

Only a Republican could believe Unions negotiate salaries and benefits that are too high and ruin companies, while CEO's only negotiate salary and benefits that reflect their value in the market.

Only a Republican could believe homosexuals getting married threatens heterosexual marriages.

Only a Republican could believe supporting the military means continuing to fight two simultaneous wars, not increasing VA funding.

Only a Republican could believe our current healthcare system doesn't need to be changed.

Only a Republican could believe the climate scientists working for universities around the world are biased while the scientists paid by major oil companies are speaking truth to power.

Only a Republican could believe the party of Reagan and Bush is the party of fiscal conservatives.

Only a Republican could believe the multimillionaire pundit/host on tv/radio doesn't have any personal bias when discussing taxes for the rich.

Only a Republican could believe having two dads is worse than having none.

Only a Republican could believe on online forum that empowers the community to monitor its own discussions is fascist and a single individual speaking to millions on tv or radio is empowering.

Please add your own in the comments.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fundamentalism and Religion

I was thinking about religion - partially in the light of idiots like this, but more just generally. And I think I can split fundamentalists into to camps.

First are the hard fundamentalists, those that believe the Bible is literally true (or whichever holy text: the distinction here applies equally to Christians, Muslims, and Jews). Literally true here means exactly that: everything described in the Bible actually happened, down to a great flood and a bearded man with two of every animal in his ark (and, surprisingly, 7 of some of them), seven-days creationism, and all the rest. These people are unserious and honestly, complete and total morons, and they get laughed off the stage by such radical anti-Christians as Benedict XVI. Jewish scholars tend to think this kind of fundamentalism idolizes the Bible - in a bad way. As in "idolatry" and other blasphemies. Let's ignore them.

But second, and far more dangerous, are the soft fundamentalists. While they'll accept that the Bible is full of parables and and fables, meant to teach a moral lesson, they still believe that every lesson in the Bible is morally sacred and must be followed. They don't say that the Bible means what it says, but they say that it means what it means. That means when the Bible says "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.," it means it. Honestly, I don't know how to argue with this people, because their arguments make a lot of sense once you grant the premise. If the Bible is a divine gift, how can it be wrong? Not symbolic, not metaphorical, but just flat-out wrong. There's a difference between lying and fiction, and if the Bible so obviously condemns homosexuality, it's either right or wrong. I really can't understand how this kind of prohibition is meant to mean something other than what it facially means, and how a list of commandments is meant to do something other than tell you what to do.

The conclusion of this is that the Bible is either morally supreme, or it is not. And if it's not - if other, non-divine moralities like tolerance for gays or even the abolition of slavery - where does that leave the holy text? This isn't to say that you can't view Jesus as an inspired or even divine teacher of course, but as far as the comparison between soft fundamentalist churches and mainstream churches go, it's tough to undermine the fundamentalist view without undermining the central tenets of faith. This is largely how I end up on the nonreligious side of the equation, because it seems like to go anywhere, you logically have to go so far.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rape by deception

This story is interesting from a lot of angles:

At first I really didn't like the idea of rape by deception. It seems like a dangerous slippery slope. I decided that a solid legal standard would be if the perpetrator tells a lie that s/he knows or should know will be a critical factor in the granting of consent. That's a fairly high standard, but we're talking about criminal law, if anything it felt potentially too low. We laugh at characters like Barney on How I Met Your Mother, when he lies his way into a girl's bedroom. Do we want to send him to jail?

Upon further consideration I've realized this is an odd social programming. There is a crime called 'larceny by trick.' If I lie to you in order to convince you to give me your stuff, I've committed a crime. If I lie to you to get you to consent to sexual activity, no crime. Shouldn't our sexually repressed culture be more concerned about chastity than things? I think I'll have to reconsider what is a fairly patriarchal view that boys lying and tricking their way to sex is just boys being boys.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My new Laptop

This comic from got me thinking:
Computer technology has both advanced at an impressive rate in the last 14 years and stagnated. I have recently purchased a new laptop. By all objective measures of computer performance, it is a vastly superior machine than the last one I had, and has the equivalent computing power of literally hundreds of the type of computer I owned in 1996.

Yet, somehow, it can't really do more, it just does better. What could I do with a computer in 1996? Play games, word processing, access the internet. These are the same functions I perform with my new, much better computer.

I actually think that we are on the verge of an actual technological breakthrough in how computers function. The ipad flirts around the edges of an actual breakthrough in what a computer does, not just how it does it. In my opinion it is clearly monitor technology, not computing power, that is the major hurdle to overcome. When my entire desk surface is a touch-screen monitor for a centralized computer, that I can also access from my fold-up pad, we might actually see a transition to something different.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sports Synchronicity

With the weekend upon us, I figured we could stand to have something trivial, and since I last posted about sports, I wanted to look into some statistical quirks: when do records/achievements line up between sports? Ignore the category of units, and you line up the chase. These are the best ones I could come up with after a little research. The list I'm looking at is below, but these are the highlights:

Brett Favre, at 497 passing TDs, is on similar pace to the MLB record for wins (511) by Cy Young. He could pass it this year.

The NFL receiving record, at 22,895 , isn't out of line with the NBA rebounds record, at 23, 924. That's basically one more top-flight season for Jerry Rice. Still, that's 6 more seasons above 1500 yards for Randy Moss, or ten more for the younger Andre Johnson. If only he hadn't suffered through David Carr.

Stolen Bases in a season (138) near receptions in a season (143). That stolen base record was set in 1887, and hasn't even been neared in my lifetime. However, it stood above all receivers efforts until Marvin Harrison 2002.

A season's rushing efforts top out at 2105, while rebounds maxed out at 2149. OJ Simpson, rushing for 2003 yards in a 14 game season, could have topped it if he had a modern 16 game season.

After that, it starts to become a real stretch. Remarkably, the scale of all of these records really remains out of sync.

NFL Records
Passing Yards
Season Record: 5084; Season landmarks: 4000, 5000; Career: 69,329
Passing TDs
Season Record: 50; Career: 497
Rushing Yards
Season: 2105; Season Landmarks: 1000, 2000; Career: 18, 355
Rushing TDs
Season: 28; Season Landmarks: 20, 25; Career: 164
Season: 143; Season Landmarks: 100; Career: 1549
Receiving Yards
Season: 1848; Season Landmarks: 1000, 1500; Career: 22,895
Receiving TDs:
Season: 23; Season Landmarks: 20; Career: 197
Season: 31; Career: 208
Career: 2544
Season: 22.5; Career: 200

Season Record: 92; Season Landmarks: 50; Career: 894
Season Record: 163; Season Landmarks: 100; Career: 1963
Season Record: 215; Season Landmarks: 100; Career: 2857

Batting Average
Season Record: .439; Season Landmarks: .400
Season: 262; Season Landmarks: 200, 250; Career: 4256
Home Runs
Season: 73; Season Landmarks: 50; Career: 762
Stolen Bases
Season: 138; Career: 1406
Season: 59; Season Landmarks: 20; Career: 511
Season: 62; Career: 596

Season: 2149; Career: 23,924
Season: 4029; Career: 38,387

Goals, EPL: Season: 60;

Friday, July 16, 2010

No Homo

Browsing the web I encountered something amazing:

Things like this astound me. I honestly can't think of anything gayer than feeling the need to proactively deny ones homosexuality. If a guy compliments my shirt I don't think he is thinking about my penis. If that same guy then goes on to explicitly say that he wasn't thinking about my penis, well, now I know that he was thinking about my penis. Saying 'no homo' is akin to complimenting a girl's necklace and following it up with a ramble about how you weren't looking at her breasts. Not that they aren't nice breasts to look at, they are, but really the necklace is just pretty, not that she isn't pretty, cause she is . . . You get my point.

The natural next step of the 'no homo' phenomenon is the need to put a disclaimer on the use of 'no homo' itself. So I'm going to be the first to coin the phrase 'no homo squared.' It both declares that the speaker is not a homo for whatever he just said or did, and that he is not a homo for saying 'no homo.' Of course this will lead to natural 'no homo' inflation, but we'll worry about that as a culture when we get there.

Thanks for reading as always, I love you, no homo squared.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Honoring the fallen,256229

I do feel conflicted about this, but my point is this, about being a Canadian: What it's like to be from a country that has more geographic features than fallen soldiers, so that when there's a dust-up over a more trivial naming, it's just a question of the order.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A picture of our cowardice

I have a standard list of websites that I browse when I'm looking for quick procrastination, something I find myself doing often while studying for the bar (the nice online lecturers tell you when to take breaks). Yesterday I came across this picture and it stopped me in my tracks:

The cost of war.

It's hard to offer commentary on such a powerful image. Everyone reacts differently to the costs of war. All of us are touched by it in different ways. Those reactions are naturally shaped by how we feel about a particular conflict. My reaction is one of anger toward our government; a desire to yell at Senators who seem oblivious to recognizing the costs of their actions. But, that's hardly helpful toward a discussion, so I offer the following list:

1965 - 1,863
1966 - 6,143
1967 - 11,153
1968 - 16,592
1969 - 11,616
1970 - 6,081
1971 - 2,357
1972 - 641
1973 - 168

Those are U.S. service member deaths in Vietnam during the era of the Vietnam War. At some point along that trajectory the relevant military leaders in the United States knew that South Vietnam was lost to the communists. We can be confident that this point of time was well before the 'fall' of Saigon in 1975. Such a point in time will come in our current wars. Not necessarily a point of 'loss' or 'victory', but a point when U.S. soldiers should be gone and aren't. A point when the tragedy of this picture happens without reason.

I am an expert in advocating on behalf of the devil, and I have entertained academic arguments for the value of wars lost. When I look at the picture I linked above, the very concept seems shameful. In 1973 heartbreak like that happened in the United States one hundred sixty eight times. To buy what? Dignity? Feeling like we didn't waste our time?

Currently we continue to fight two wars abroad. Two wars that are nebulous enough that I suspect neither will be won nor lost. I know that our soldiers kill and die abroad for our protection. There is little doubt that there are terrorists abroad who would like to kill Americans. Me and you. But, what risk is there of that, when weighed against the lives we know we are losing every day?

That woman's husband was willing to die for us, but where is our willingness to die for him? Where is our willingness to die for her?

When Robert McNamara said that Vietnam was a mistake he spoke not just of the futility of the military conflict, or the manner in which it was engaged. He said that we vastly over-estimated the threat. We were engaged in a global war on communism that had many fronts, but our fear caused us to over-estimate the threat of a communist Vietnam.

Today we are engaged in global war on terror on many fronts. Again, we have over-estimated a threat from a handful of geographic locations. The costs in those locations are astronomical.

It's a cowardly country that sends its heroes to their death so that we might feel the tiniest bit more secure in our world. And, I'm back to wanting to yell at Senators.

Here is McNamara telling us things we learned that we clearly didn't learn:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Praise of Inefficiency

As I watched Mad Men, I came to a conclusion about our economic woes: this country needs to be less efficient. We praise efficiency to high levels in a capitalist system; competition demands it. However, the more capitalism becomes truly in effect, the more efficiency turns from a positive force for development into a destructive force for individuals.

Everybody at Sterling Cooper has their own secretary, which is really remarkable if you think about it. There's no way those guys need that much help, so really, if the goal is maximizing profit, they're wasting a ton of money on a secretary who watches a door and fields a few phone calls. An efficient operation would lay off most of them, and there's the rub: inefficiency creates jobs. The less pressure there is on maximizing corporate profits, the more perks arise, and the more money spreads out. And it's not just expanding the service workforce: the copywriters drink all day and leave at 5. For every four guys you can keep until 7, you lay off the fifth and get the same output. His benefits package is pure savings, and moreover, if you stop the drinking, you get the same output from exactly four guys.

Better machines mean fewer machines, or less spent on machines. And those machines are built by people with jobs, who are going to lose them. Even things like a food budget helps: you're not going to lose much productivity if you stop paying for lunch, so it's a good corporate deal. But if you keep it, it's more money leaving dividend accounts and going directly into the economy. It trickles all the way down.

The flip side of this is that if you become inefficient, you start losing in competitions: other actors will start running circles around you. You can counter that by directly taking money out of the top, but in a corporate setup, that's impossible: you have legal duties in the other direction. Privately owned companies, not bound to maximize profit, will whimsically become inefficient and spend their own money on what is ultimately economic stimulus.

It applies to politics, as well: an efficient Republican party realizes that 100 Senate seats amount to a zero-sum game - each one they lose is one you gain. And there's only one presidency. This is clearly the game the current GOP is playing, and why shouldn't they? The success of the nation is inherently inimical to the opposition party, who will never get as much benefit from cooperating as they will from the failure of the majority. It's obviously in the GOP's interest to see Obama fail, and only patriotism would hold them back. But patriotism is whimsy in this context, inefficient. And of course, they ignore it. Sometimes Senate comity has prevailed in these situations, but that's bizarre and anachronistic at this point. And besides, if they really believe their dogma, two years of a botched economy followed by a political revival is probably long-run good for the nation. It's amazing politics went this long without open war between the parties.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Paternal Instinct

The last few years have seen me experience a new phenomenon in my life: a feeling of paternal instinct. This instinct does not manifest as a desire to have kids of my own. It's best described as feeling as if I could engage in hand to hand combat with a saber tooth tiger. I first noticed it around my baby niece. She was, and continues to be, absolutely adorable. But rather than a desire to hold her (terrifying), make cooing sounds at her, or have one of my own, I felt a desire to beat the tar out of anything that would try to hurt her. I'm sure we all want to protect our families; I'm certain I would also want to tar-beat anyone who tried to hurt anyone in my family. But, this was not an intellectual awareness, this was a noticeable increase in adrenaline and testosterone. A chemical reaction to the presence of baby.

I'm always interested when I experience something that I recognize as evolutionarily built into my brain. Whether I'm scared of an insect I know to be harmless, or spending time babysitting on the lookout for a charging rhinoceros, knowing that the instinctual feeling isn't relevant, or particularly helpful, doesn't do much to change it.

However, even more than my fear of spiders, sharks and zombies, this particular instinct feels almost completely obsolete. In fact, the more I've thought about it, the more I realize that the desire to keep a small child safe from physical harm through the use of protective violence is almost certainly harmful. The protector might be a very natural role for fathers in a more primal, evolutionary setting, but that role is far less clear in a modern world.

First, it's not available as a demonstration of love. Parental love appears to be a fairly important piece of childhood development.* I'm sure that most parents want their children to always know how much they love them, I'm sure I will. Yet, we are all aware of the image of a stoic, seemingly unemotional father figure, who loves his children with all his heart. That male is the centerpiece of many classic TV shows. In such stories this love might be demonstrated in a moment of sacrifice, or in the father's brave efforts to keep his family safe. Clearly culture plays a huge role in creating this particular father role, but I think it's also instinctual and desirable for many men. But, in the real world the opportunities to demonstrate your love for your child by protecting them from harm are few and far between. But, the desire, the fantasy, is going to live strong. I wonder if this creates a certain distance between some men and their children as the men struggle to demonstrate, or even understand, their love of their child and their role, and no opportunities to show this love through action arise.

Second, I could see this protectionism instinct as creating more actively harmful results. Most notably guns in the house. I think we can see the cultural and instinctual role of father as the protector when we imagine approaching a father and saying: "You need a gun in the house in order to protect your family from harm." In fact, it seems that certain advertising takes that exact tactic. Certainly, there are many men who scoff at such a statement, but I'd guess that even many liberals, even many Europeans (outside the gun culture) would balk just a bit. But, we all know that having a gun in the home creates more danger for children, not less. The reality is that when faced with danger in today's world it is almost universally better to contact the authorities than to react with violence. The desire to react with violence, or a bottling up of this protective instinct seems to have a great deal of potential for serious harm.

In all of this I don't mean to create a biological excuse for distant or overly protective fathers. Despite my willingness to do battle with a pack of wild hyenas every time I pass a playground, I don't plan on keeping a gun in the house. Also, I'm sure that women have similar feelings of protectionism around small children. I mostly point this out because these feelings have been unexpected and interesting. There are certainly 'fatherhood' groups out there that seem to be based on the idea that fathers are disenfranchised in today's society. I wonder if some of this feeling doesn't come from a feeling of uselessness regarding their most primal instincts.

I would suggest that we men need to understand that the modern world requires of us actions that are far different, and almost certainly far more rewarding, than the actions of a standoffish protector.

*I don't mean to suggest that source of this love has to be parents.