Monday, July 31, 2006

I Bring You Tidings Of Great (Nay, Rapturous) Joy

I’ve already told you how during my formative years I suffered exposure to a strain of Christian fundamentalist that hallucinated miracles from time to time, which left me with interesting psychological scars including the tendency to think it’s funny when people expect the world to end any second now. Therefore, even though I strive to be this freethinking skeptical scientifically based atheist type of person, I still wish the mainstream media would treat Left Behind author Tim LaHaye as a bona fide pundit. And they have! As mentioned in Media Matters for America:

ABC's Good Morning America joined CNN in featuring a segment on the potential coming of the Apocalypse, as indicated by current conflicts in the Middle East, by hosting the authors of the Left Behind Christian book series to discuss the issue.

The link has a description and a video clip of the interview, with co-host Robin Roberts asking hardball questions that boil down to: “the world's really ending! Am I right, guys?”

“Tell me a little bit about the Rapture.”
“we’re reading about this. This was not a surprise for some.”
“as my mom often says, better get right. Better get right in these times that we’re living in.”

Meanwhile, there’s file footage of apocalyptic stuff like post-Katrina New Orleans, generic palm-swaying hurricane winds, the 2004 tsunami and a glacier calving icebergs.

I. Love. This. Stuff. Having lived in God’s country (the South) during the first Gulf War, I remember mainstream local newspaper articles talking about how Saddam Hussein might be the Antichrist, because ancient Babylon is in Iraq! Alas, Babylon! It’s mentioned a lot in the book of the Revelation, you know. I have even (unwillingly) committed to memory chapter 8, verses 10 and 11 of that book

10 The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from the sky, burning like a torch, and it fell on one third of the rivers, and on the springs of the waters. 11 The name of the star is called "Wormwood." One third of the waters became wormwood.

because of the 1,836 separate incidents where people explained to me that a star is basically a nuclear reactor, so the star burning down from the sky is radioactive fallout as the poetic ancients would describe it, and do you know what the Russian word for “wormwood” is?

Chernobyl. Dude! And its fallout contaminated one-third of the water in the world known to John of Patmos. Seriously! Whoa.

Biblical prophecy is an excellent way to train a child to smoke lots and lots of pot when she grows up, if that’s what you want for the kid. By the way, the book of Jeremiah says the Messiah will come back once the Jews return to Israel. And that happened in 1948! Dude! Of the people alive during the founding of the modern state of Israel, at least one will live to see the Messiah return. Seriously.

Newsweek also has an interview with LaHaye this week, which isn’t as credulous as the Good Morning America bit. Reporter Brian Braiker asks tougher questions to which LaHaye responds with bold generalities:

How do you interpret what’s happening in the Middle East? Are you seeing signs that these are the end of days?
Biblically speaking, the very nations that are mentioned in prophecy—and have been mentioned for 2,500 years as occupying the focus of the tension of the last days—are the very nations that are involved in the conflict right now. That may be one of the reasons there’s a sudden interest in bible prophecy because all of a sudden they realize end-time events could possibly take place and break forth right now.

But first-century Christians believed that the end of the world could come during their lifetime.

We call it the belief in the imminent return of Christ. It’s a motivational factor to serve the Lord and not let the world be so much with us that we don’t serve the Lord in the spiritual environment.

That’s how LaHaye gets around Jesus’ telling people 2,000 years ago that he’d return within their lifetimes. This turned out to be not-true, but the Messiah will return within the lifetime of the people (at least infants) alive in 1948.

In fact, while I don’t want to become one of those navel-gazers who blogs about her own blog, I’m proud to say that the Messiah has already arrived and a few weeks ago announced His coming right here on my own comment board. First post!

I don’t fully understand His argument but it has something to do with Hurricane Katrina, the number of days in a Hebrew year and why it’s good to be a Leo. I am both honored and humbled that the Messiah chose mah li’l ole postin’ spot to announce His arrival to humanity, and Ah want y’all to know that His message, like LaHaye’s, is very important and (as Robin Roberts’ mama said) y’all need to get right in these times that we’re livin’ in.

(I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to talk all Southern like that. Childhood flashback — I’m fine now.)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

They Captured My Soul With Their Clicky-Box Thing

I spend far too much online time over at Reason Hit and Run or its breakaway site Grylliade, and on July 22 (temperature: 95; relative humidity: 99 percent) some of the sites’ regulars from the New York area got together in Manhattan’s Revival Bar. Since I was having the worst hair day of my life there were of course plenty of cameras there to capture images for posterity.

EDIT: My significant other, who posted the page I linked to, took it down and replaced it with an insulting message. This is not directed at readers here; it's because when the page was also linked to at Hit and Run the comment thread sort of devolved into a series of catcalls directed at fifty percent of the planet's female libertarian contingent (i.e., the three women there). And a few jeers mixed in with the shout-outs, too. So while the link now leads to an online "screw you," it's not directed at y'all personally.

And no, none of the pictures qualified as pornographic or anywhere close.

This Is Not Helping

Washington, DC has decided to solve its crime problem by expanding the definition of “criminal” to include “anyone age 16 or younger who is outdoors after 10 p.m.”

A police crackdown on curfew violators in the District -- more than 830 this month -- is about to get even tougher under a plan that has sparked annoyance among youths and a measure of hope for police and city officials trying to curb a crime surge. Starting tomorrow, children 16 and younger have to be off the streets and out of city hangouts by 10 p.m., two hours earlier than the current government curfew. The ban will continue until Aug. 30, although it could be extended.

How many thefts or assaults can be prevented in the time it takes to pick up and process 830 youthful curfew violators? I don’t know; I never was good at math. But when cops routinely criminalize teenage behavior that’s perfectly legal in adults, the teens can always see through it:

"I don't think it's really going to do much," said Jake Tempchin, 14, of upper Northwest Washington. "The shady characters are going to go where they're not going to get caught. The people just walking down the street, it seems they're more likely to get caught than the people who are a threat. It really doesn't seem that much more dangerous after 10 than it does before 10."

It isn’t. But just for the sake of argument, let’s assume you support the idea of a youth curfew. The police are still taking this one too far:

on the western side of the river, Officer Terrance Nesmith was dealing with two violators -- ages 16 and 14. Police had picked them up as they hung out on a friend's front stoop in Southwest, drinking soda and munching chips.

Note to rural and suburban readers: a “stoop” is what city kids have instead of a yard. It’s where you can go outside without leaving your property. These kids were picked up for the equivalent of sitting on their friend’s front porch, committing flagrant acts of soda-drinking and chip consumption.

I wonder if these kids had air-conditioning in their respective apartments? DC is far enough South for nights to get unbearably sultry in July. But anyway, here’s the aftermath of their bust for after-hours outdoor sitting:

As Nesmith filled out paperwork [note to non-cop readers: “filling out paperwork” is something cops do where they can’t look for criminals while they’re doing it] on the youths at the 3rd District police station off 16th Street NW, Officer Ebony White entered the room and slammed a green ledger on the conference table, startling the teenagers. As she called their sleeping mothers, the two youths looked on with glances ranging from worry to near desperation.

I’d be one hundred percent on the side of these cops if they’d picked the kids up for trespassing, vandalism, stealing, assault . . . but sitting outside on a stoop? That kid’s mom must have been furious when the cop called her.

"He's violated curfew, so you're going to have to come to 1620 V Street in Northwest," the officer told the 16-year-old's mother.
White said the woman responded that her son was on probation for a gun charge and was under court order to be home by 8 p.m.

Oh, damn it. You know what the problem is with libertarian causes? A shortage of good poster children.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Happiness Lessons From A Libertarian

For most of my childhood I lived in a crackerbox ranch house on the edge of a neighborhood that got worse every year. At sixteen my family moved to a leafy suburb and bought a palatial (by our standards) two-story on a big lot filled with shade trees. My parents were thrilled with their new home, but if Bill Gates or Donald Trump had to live there they’d probably become suicidal over how far they’d come down in the world. I suspect a lot of modern McMansion dwellers would, too.

So would living in that house make a person happy or unhappy? There’s no firm answer, of course; happiness is relative, subjective, and every other –ive that makes a hard-science major shake his head and say “can’t be quantified.”

But that never stops guys with job titles like “analytical social psychologist” from trying. Thus, thanks to Scott Stein, I read this article about an A.S.P. named Adam White who claims he can not only measure happiness, but determine that Denmark is the happiest country on Earth, with the United States coming in at number 23. (Patriots will be happy to learn that we soundly beat the French, at number 62.)

The main factors that affected happiness were health provision, wealth and education, according to White.

Sounds sensible at first — who’s going to argue that sickness, poverty and ignorance lead to happiness? There’s probably a minimum material standard you must meet in order to be happy; I doubt you’ll find much happiness amongst those currently starving to death. But can you take raw data consisting solely of healthcare, income and education levels, and make any accurate predictions about a person’s level of happiness?

What about friends? Family? Lovers? Any human interaction at all? What about political freedom — is there any correlation between happiness and the fear that your government’s secret police will take you away?

"Smaller countries tend to be a little happier because there is a stronger sense of collectivism and then you also have the aesthetic qualities of a country," White said.

Oh, I see — what leads to happiness isn’t wealth, health and schooling, but collectivism and a country’s aesthetic qualities. What glorious news for an eccentric misanthrope who was chronically unpopular in high school and then grew up to continue the trend by becoming a libertarian! If I want to be happy all I have to do is learn to love the aesthetic qualities of popular artists like Thomas Kinkade and then bask in the collective’s warm embrace of a thirtysomething female who never bothered to get married, have children, or read any book with the words “for women” in the title.

Investment Tips For Women! A Guide to Politics For Women! Rules of English Grammar and Composition For Women! Speaking of aesthetics, the words “for women” are always in that damnable pink or lavender script guaranteed to grate the nerve endings of a woman whose primary wardrobal philosophy is “if all your clothes and bedsheets are dark it’s easier to do laundry that way.”

I’m sorry, I shouldn’t go off on a rant like this. Besides, I’m getting upset over nothing since White himself later demolishes his “happiness via the collective” theory:

"We were surprised to see countries in Asia scoring so low, with China 82nd, Japan 90th, and India 125th. These are countries that are thought as having a strong sense of collective identity which other researchers have associated with well-being."

China is happier than Japan?

China, which loses out to Japan in the categories of health provision, education, wealth, small-countryness and intellectual, political and personal freedom (assuming those matter at all) — China is happier than Japan?

Maybe. But if so it’s due to a factor not mentioned in White’s study, the factor which determines how happy you’d be with my parents’ house in the burbs. Ask the average person: do you think you’re better or worse off than you were ten or fifteen or twenty years ago? Those who say ‘better’ are probably happier than those who say ‘worse.’

Now ask about the future: will things be better or worse for you then? The happiest people will be the most hopeful as well.

Once you’ve met the basic material requirements for existence, I don’t think you can say “I will be happy so long as I have X.” Because once you get X you realize it isn’t so much unless you also have Y, which requires Z as a catalyst and then you’re right back to the beginning of the alphabet. Happiness doesn’t exist in the present on its own, but only at a certain angle relative to the future and the past. But this is too subjective to be measured with any accuracy between individuals, and certainly shouldn't become the basis for strengthening the power of the collective or enforcing any given aesthetic ideal.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I Have Been Unfaithful To You

We need to have a talk.

I’ve kept something secret for awhile now. Not for my own sake, but because I didn’t want to hurt you. But I can’t keep living a lie so I’m going to come right out and say this: I blogged with another man.

It only happened once. It was late, and I was drunk, and this guy Brian, who has a blog talking about Playboy, asked me to write an essay giving a woman’s perspective on the magazine.

Yes, I know, “I really like your writing” is the oldest come-on in the book, but did I mention I was drunk? So I pounded something out (with none of the foreplay that makes what we have so unique and irreplaceable) and I’ll show it to you here because I don’t want you to find out from somebody else.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ask Me No Questions

I found an article on an anti-abortion site talking about a recent court ruling in Missouri. Not a bad article at all, by journalism-school standards. The writer followed the basic hard-news rule about getting the most relevant and important facts down in the very first paragraph:

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that the state of Missouri must allow pregnant prisoners to get abortions. The judge said the state not only has to allow inmates to get abortions but must provide state taxpayer-funded transportation for them to get to the abortion center from prison and back.

Then came a couple of short paragraphs discussing the background of the case, and how the ACLU sued on behalf of a pregnant inmate who was initially denied an abortion. Nothing sympathetic to the inmate, of course, not on an anti-abortion site, but neither does it contain any “baby-killing harlot” language. It’s all quite matter-of-fact.

Then comes the response from the losing party in the court case:

A representative of Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon would not say whether he intended to appeal the decision, but Gov. Matt Blunt, who opposes abortion, wants him to do so.
"This ruling violates our traditional Missouri values and is an affront to everyone that values the sanctity of human life," Blunt said in a written statement, according to AP. "I urge the attorney general to fight this ruling that prevents the state of Missouri from protecting innocent human life."

If the writer were lazy he could’ve stopped there and had a perfectly respectable little news story. But no; he went so far as to find out just how many people will be affected by this ruling:

ACLU lawyer Tom Blumenthal said that about 35-50 women are pregnant in the Missouri prison system at any given time.

The story ends with information about similar cases in other states.

All in all, a very informative and remarkably unbiased little bit of journalism, especially considering the overall bias of the site. But there’s one thing I want to know here that the article didn’t tell me. “Of course it wouldn’t mention this,” I thought, “not on an anti-abortion site.”

I did some Google searches, and found more articles, to try and find the answer to my one little question. Some articles had a definite pro-choice bias and included commentary about why this court decision is a great thing for women’s rights. Others were anti-choice and discussed the immorality of the court. But I couldn’t find a single article that even asked, let alone answered, my question:

How the hell are inmates in an all-female prison getting knocked up, and why is nobody talking about the male guards?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

No Girl Is An Island

Deep national debt, enemies throughout the world, increasing economic and military dependence on an oil supply largely controlled by religious fanatics who hate our guts — lots of problems here that America needs to solve. So imagine my relief when the Senate passed a bill making it illegal to help a girl cross state lines to get an abortion without her parents’ consent.

Polls suggest there is widespread public backing for the bill, with almost three-quarters of respondents saying a parent has the right to give consent before a child under 18 has an abortion.

I don’t think everything “under 18” is necessarily a “child,” but skip that for now. I wonder if the results would be different were the question worded like this: should parents have the right to force their daughter to carry a pregnancy to term if she doesn’t want to?

Where do you draw the line between parental consent and daughterly rights? There are some things that fall well within the no zone — you can’t have sex with your daughters, choose not to feed them, or amputate their limbs just for the hell of it. What about forcing your daughter to have a baby when she doesn’t want to? Or forcing her to abort it, for that matter? I’d say no in both cases.

For Senators like Tom Coburn, the issue sounds more like a matter of sticking it (pun intended) to the girls who dare have sex:

Abstinence is the best way to prevent teenage pregnancy, responded Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. "How many people really think it's in the best interest of young people to be sexually active outside of marriage? Does anything positive ever come from that?" Coburn asked.

I’m sure he’ll do his best to ensure nothing does. But I’ll list one positive thing: reduction of the likelihood that lust-nutty young people confusing that for true love will rush into an early marriage where they have nothing in common except a mutual sex drive that won’t sustain a relationship for long. (Unrelated coincidence: divorce rates are higher in Bible Belt states where people get married young.)

The bill makes no exceptions for the daughters of abusive parents:

Democrats spent the day trying to carve out an exemption for confidants to whom a girl with abusive parents might turn for help. It was rejected in floor negotiations .… Ensign rejected a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to protect from prosecution such confidants as grandparents, clergy and others to whom a girl might turn for help.

I’m guessing the argument was that it would be too easy for a girl with non-abusive parents to use that as a loophole. So if the daughters of abusive parents must make sacrifices, at least it’s for the greater good.

There’s something else to consider: even if you support a parent’s right to control or at least be aware of issues involving daughterly pregnancies, how far do you suppose this will go? Buying a girl a bus ticket, driving the bus on which she rides — considering our government’s historical fondness for mission creep, I can see this spreading to cover any action which does anything to make it possible for a girl get an out-of-state abortion (even if such help is unintentional).

Meanwhile, I guess there will no longer be any reason for teenage girls to confide in their boyfriends. At least the boys are better off.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Its Glory Is All Moonshine

Not long after we invaded Iraq I started seeing stories which suggested that life for everyday Iraqi civilians actually got worse after we liberated them.

But it used to be you couldn’t say that without being shouted down by patriotic red-staters who accused you of being a Bush-hater who opposed the war from the get-go. And in my case such accusations are true. So I stopped talking about it after awhile. Hell, by now I probably wouldn’t say anything bad about the lot of Iraq’s civilians even if there were death squads roaming the streets of Baghdad murdering said civilians.

But I don’t mind quoting the U.S. Army:

U.S. commanders in Baghdad are focused on cracking down on Iraqi death squads responsible for killing hundreds of citizens in the capital in recent months, a military spokesman said Monday.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

La Petite Difference

I keep my nails short so they don’t bother me when I’m typing. I don’t polish them either, and I don’t wear rings. The other day I was at lunch with two men from work and at one point chanced to notice our three pairs of hands resting on the table, all with ringless, unmanicured fingers.

Despite my complete lack of the decorations or frills you will often find on a woman’s hands, there’s no way anyone would have trouble guessing which ones on the table were attached to a female body. And it’s not just that my hands are smaller, either — subtle differences in things like the contours of the fingers would still have made it obvious even if you altered a photograph so that all hands appeared the same size.

The same holds true for the arms, legs, throat, even feet — these are completely gender-neutral, non-sexualized parts of the body, yet men and women still get different models. Clearly, sex hormones don’t just affect the naughty bits but every bit of you.

Some people insist that the brain is the one exception to this rule.

Okay, when I say “some people” I actually mean “those moonbat-style feminists who insist on giving a Harrison Bergeron flavor to the phrase ‘gender equality.’” You know the ones I’m talking about: The only reason there are any differences at all in the way men and women behave is because of culture and upbringing. If you give your son nothing but Barbies to play with he’ll grow up to be a warm and nurturing kindergarten teacher, and if you give your daughter nothing but toy cars she’s guaranteed to be a politically emancipated lesbian.

God forbid you’re ever in the presence of one of these feminists and utter some generalization like “Men are stronger than women.” They’ll swell up like a poison puffer fish and snap “Jill Mills is a woman and she can squat-lift over six hundred pounds! You could never do that.”

The only way you can talk to these people is to tack disclaimers onto every comment, as in “Although men in general tend to be stronger than women, there are many individual women who are stronger than many individual men and I fully support a woman’s right to lead her own destiny and women only want to be wives and mothers because the patriarchy tells them they want to and I — I envy women their ability to create new life.”

Anyway, I found an article about a neuropsychiatrist named Louann Brizendine who’s going to have a lot of second-wave feminists yelling at her next month when her book The Female Brain hits the shelves:

Women and hormones has long been a marital minefield and the subject of innumerable off-color jokes, but Brizendine has made it her medical specialty. For 20 years, first as a medical student at Yale, then as a faculty member at Harvard Medical School, then as director of the Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic at UCSF, she's been developing what she describes as a female-centered strain of psychiatry focusing on the complex interplay between women's mental health, hard-wiring and brain chemistry.… Brizendine realizes she's going to take some heat. "I know it's not politically correct to say this," she says, "and I've been torn for years between my politics and what science is telling us. But I believe that women actually perceive the world differently than men. If women attend to those differences, they can make better decisions about how to manage their lives."

Certain psychiatrists who would never deny that brain chemistry creates things like sadness and happiness and arousal and fear still have no problem insisting that even though men and women spend their lives with their brains drenched in completely different hormones, these chemicals lead to no, I mean no, differences in the way men and women think.

[Brizendine’s] ideas are certain to spark controversy from some doctors and social scientists who think books like this undercut women and reinforce old gender stereotypes. Examining the biological underpinnings of gender difference is bunk, these critics say, because there aren't many. Last year prominent psychologist Janet Hyde examined decades of studies that compared the emotional and behavioral lives of men and women and concluded that most differences between the genders were statistically "close to zero." "There is no gender-difference phenomena to explain," she says.

The article goes on to discuss some of the advances in neuroimaging and neuroendocrinology that Brizendine describes in her book, but when worldviews are at stake, science must be discarded:

Dr. Nancy C. Andreasen, a psychiatrist and neuroimaging expert at the University of Iowa's medical school, says nurture plays such a huge role in human behavior that focusing on biology is next to meaningless. "Whatever measurable differences exist in the brain," says Andreasen, "are used to oppress and suppress women."

Ah, yes, oppression and suppression. That’s what the anti-science hysteria (pun intended) boils down to here: fear that scientific proof of gender differences will lead to legalized enforcement of gender differences.

And let’s admit that’s a legitimate fear. To deny that women historically got the short end of the gender-relations stick (and still do in many parts of the world) is as bad as to deny that women and men might have any differences at all.

But proving “women are more likely than men to want to raise babies” doesn’t have to cause “every woman's required to have a baby.” For that matter, saying “men are more likely than women to be aggressive” doesn’t mean “every man's going to be a bully.”

We probably still have a long way to go before we have a world that grants fully equal legal status and opportunity to two unequal (as in ‘not the same’) types of people. But we will never get there if we deny facts we don’t like.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

What Can Ayn Rand Teach Us About Sex?

No, this isn’t an excuse to poke fun at the masochistic overtones in Rand’s sex scenes, but a serious question that a reporter from Nerve magazine asked patrons in New York’s Fountainhead Café.

Now, I’m a libertarian, not an Objectivist, but a lot of people can’t tell the difference so anything that shines a good light on Objectivists is bound to reflect well off me, too. Thus, via Thoreau at Grylliade comes this (possibly not safe for work) article, Sex Advice From Objectivists.

It’s not often that you hear “Ayn Rand” and “healthy sex life” in the same non-ironic phrase, but the Randian patrons of the café had some good advice to offer. A 28-year-old man answered the question “What can Ayn Rand teach us about sex?” with the following:

It's hard to reconcile the way she describes her own fantasies in her books, which are very violent. But there are some things she can teach you. The thing I took away from her was that the people you're sleeping with mean something, and sex is the most honest form of expression that's out there. If you're a slut and you're sleeping with anything that walks, there's a reason for that.

And from a 33-year-old:

That it's not just a meeting of bodies, but also of minds. Find someone you can admire personally as well as physically. The sex will be sexier and you'll feel better in the morning.

Amen, brother. There were other questions as well, answered with a humanness which belies Objectivists’ (and by extension, mellower libertarians’) reputation for inhuman coldness:

I over-analyze sex while in the midst of it. How can I stop thinking and enjoy the moment? Spend more time in teasing and foreplay, building up your sexual energy rather than thinking about how to get somewhere. Don't have sex until you're absolutely crazy with passion. Once you do, look right into your partner's eyes so there's no escaping the meaning of your connection together. Move slowly, and forget about the orgasm — it'll take care of itself.

Then, of course, there were questions whose answers were exactly what you’d expect in a joke article titled “What Can Ayn Rand Teach Us About Sex?”:

My boyfriend wants oral sex. The act doesn't disgust me, but I don't love it. Should I give him head just because he's my boyfriend? Yeah, probably once and [sic] a while. If you have a pretty good understanding of economics, you can certainly arrange some kind of mutually advantageous trade.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What Convinces Is Conviction

A state judge has ruled that North Carolina's 201-year-old law barring unmarried couples from living together is unconstitutional. Hooray! This results in a net increase of freedom because: [you already know]. I found the story on the front page of CNN, so it’s big news and by tomorrow there should be plenty of interesting commentary about it. As for those who talk about how wonderful this is, I completely agree.

But the AP account has this one paragraph I keep stumbling over:

[An ACLU spokeswoman] said that since 1997, the law has spawned about 36 criminal cases in North Carolina. State officials have said the number of people actually convicted under the law -- formally known as the fornication and adultery statute -- is not clear.

If you walk up to a state official and ask him some out-of-the-blue question like “How many drunk-driving convictions have there been in your state since 1997,” I won’t hold it against him if he can’t tell you.

But a controversial law before the state Supreme Court, with big media outlets like CNN coming down to see what happens, and furthermore the law’s only spawned about four criminal cases per year anyway — how the hell do you not know how many convictions there have been?

The law was a class 2 misdemeanor before it was overturned. A conviction could result in a jail sentence, although if you asked state officials how many people did time for breaking this law they’d probably be unclear on that, too.

Actually, I think the state officials know damn well how many convictions this law’s racked up, but in light of its being overturned they’re probably embarrassed. So do you think it's because the conviction rate has been so high, or so low?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Who Knows But The World May End Tonight?

I was watching a show where this guy went spectacularly insane and became convinced the world would end any second now. So he moved into an underground bunker he’d stocked with supplies, and prepared to spend the rest of his life awaiting Armageddon.

The thought occurred to me: wouldn’t it suck if he were right? I’m not even talking about the end of the world so much as the idea that if it ended this second, the only people left with the chance to repopulate Earth and recreate civilization would be the guys currently cowering in bunkers stroking their gun-barrels with a creepily sexual intensity and muttering “I toldem this was comin but the bastuds wudden lissen.”

And so this short story formed in my mind. Like many of my stories, this happens to have a rhythm and a rhyme scheme but it is absolutely not a poem. Poems, as I have explained before, are written by clinically depressed teenagers, or navel-gazing adults who have a superiority complex based on the fact that their feelings get hurt more easily than yours. I do not want to be known as “that woman who posts her poetry on her blog” and besides, navel-gazing is bad for your posture and leads inevitably to boob saggage. To hell with that.

Commenter Kitty suggested I call what I write verse, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to say “I write verse” without sounding kind of pompous. The fault lies entirely with me, not with her suggestion; it’s something to do with my accent, I think. Anyway, if y’all can think of anything better I’d really like to hear it but meanwhile, here’s a story-which-happens-to-rhyme-but-is-not-a-poem.


When first I moved into this neighborhood
I figured that I found an awesome deal.
The house I bought was gorgeous and low-priced
in fact, at first I thought it was a steal!

But then I learned why local real estate
cost so much less than anyone would think:
my neighbors all were hardcore doomsday guys,
quite certain that the world was on the brink.

They claimed it would be ending pretty soon
(although they disagreed about the way).
And thus they hoarded various supplies
so when the time came, they’d live out their days

in post-apocalyptic luxury.
That’s why they all disaster-proofed their homes.
The guys were creepy but I didn’t care
since (for the most part) they left me alone.

The Spacerock Guy said one day giant stones
would crash into the earth from outer space.
He claimed that space rocks killed the dinosaurs
and one day soon would kill the human race.

A Cold War relic, Nuclear Guy was
who still used phrases like “the godless Reds”
though he feared godful terrorists as well.
He’d say things like, “That bomb’ll kill us dead!”

I never could stand Global Warming Guy.
It’s not just that the world would overheat:
he’d swear the weather would get so insane
all plants would die. There’d be no food to eat.

Peak Oil Guy feared economic doom.
He’d say the world would soon run out of gas
and that would halt the motor of the world
and cause complete societal collapse.

The Bible-thumping Rapture Guy would swear
the Antichrist would soon have seven years
to make life hell on earth, ’til Jesus Christ
made hard-core right-wing Christians disappear.

Nova Guy feared cosmic radiation;
the thought of stars exploding made him scared.
Pollution Guy? A toxic future world
with poison in the water and the air.

Virus Guy discussed the bioweapons
he insisted soon would decimate us,
while Orwell Guy’s policemen ran around
doing all they could to subjugate us

or something like that. He was kind of vague.
But I thought: so? They’re all just paranoid.
And yeah, they were, but they got one thing right—
somehow, the whole damned world has been destroyed.

The basement is where I was when it came,
in search of books I’d stored beneath the stairs.
The earth shook first, and then my house collapsed
to its foundations, trapping me down there.

So how long was I pinned down in the dark?
I’m not sure. I was far too terrified
to take note of time’s passing. But at last
I heard men shouting: “Help has now arrived!”

“I’ll save you!” someone else said. “No, I will,”
a third voice shouted out indignantly.
At last, I saw a few thin rays of light
and then a dozen hands all grabbed at me.

My neighbors, in their bunkers, all survived.
And for some reason, once the shaking ceased
the guys all made a beeline for my house
and worked to pull me out of the debris.

That’s when I saw destruction, everywhere—
all things made out of brick or stone collapsed.
All things made out of metal, melted down;
all things made out of wood reduced to ash.

Then Rapture Guy said, “This was our first sign.
Repent, for Armageddon is at hand.
The beast draws near to conquer wayward souls
and will spare no one — woman, child or man.”

And Nuclear Guy said, “They dropped the bombs
and burned the world! We’re lucky we survived.
Those goddamned Commies! Or those Islam freaks!
We’ll have to fight them all, to stay alive.”

Then Spacerock Guy said, “No. It’s asteroids.
Now particles of dust will block the sun
and our whole planet will get dark and cold.
A five- or ten-year winter has begun!”

“The government will set up martial law,”
said Orwell Guy. “And turn us into slaves.
“And once the corpses rot we’ll all get sick,”
said Virus Guy. “Get buried in mass graves.”

I said, “I guess I should’ve copied you
and planned for Armageddon all along.
Who cares, that once I had a nice career?
My home, my job, my world — they’re gone. All gone.”

Peak Oil Guy spoke first and let me know
why I had been rescued from the rubble—
some primal motivations which I feared
potentially would cause a lot more trouble.

“We’ve heard the news on shortwave. Things aren’t good.
The sky’s on fire. Most cities are destroyed.
There’s hardly any people left at all.
The planet’s trashed, and yet I’m overjoyed

“to see at least a woman has survived.
And you’re still young! And really pretty, too.
You might have to repopulate the earth.
Humanity’s survival’s up to you!

“So why not come and stay with me awhile?
My bunker can hold two as well as one.
And since our world is ending anyway,
we oughtta have ourselves a little fun.”

“No way!” said Global Warming Guy. “My place
is nicer. A much better spot to stay.
My bunker’s air-conditioned, and it has
enough room for our future kids to play.”

“You can’t have children now!” said Rapture Guy.
“Not since the Tribulation has begun.
Get on your knees, my dear! Pray to the Lord.
Together, we’ll seek guidance from the Son!”

Pollution Guy said “You should stay with me.
My bunker’s clean, and I’ll keep you well-fed.”
“No, live with me,” said Nova Guy. “Because
with me, you’ll have an awesome time in bed!”

And so forth. This is what I had to do:
find some safe way to tell survivalists
(who just might be the Last Men on the Earth)
that I had absolutely no interest

in having sex with any of these dudes.
That’s when I noticed that they all wore guns
and big grins, and it hit me: they liked this!
The world was dead — and they were having fun.

I wanted just to lie down somewhere safe
and (for a bit) forget my shattered world,
not be surrounded by these scary guys
who thought they’d never see another girl.

My voice broke, just a little, when I said
“I need to see if Mother’s still alive.
I’m sure that things are fine out where she is,
soooo . . . . I’ll be going now. Uh — thanks, you guys.”

They all closed ranks so that I could not leave.
“I don’t think that you understand, my dear,”
Pollution Guy said in a quiet voice.
“You will not leave. I’d rather keep you here.”

“You’ll find no food or water on the way,”
said Nova Guy. “So you could not survive.
I’ll keep you here, but it’s for your own good.
At least with me you know you’ll stay alive.”

“The fallout will destroy you if you try.
My bunker, though, is fully lined with lead.”
So Nuclear Guy said. “The world’s not safe.
If you don’t stay with me you’ll wind up dead!”

“If you leave now the Beast will own your soul.
I cannot let that happen. You must stay,”
said Rapture Guy. “But not make babies, though.
I’ll only keep you on your knees to pray.”

I backed away from him, but all that did
was put me in the arms of Orwell Guy,
who kissed me ’til I tore myself away
and then somebody grabbed my inner thigh.

I screamed, which didn’t do me any good
since no one who could hear was prone to help.
But Nuclear Guy grabbed my arm and said
“She’s mine, dude! Keep your damn hands to yourself!”

I got to her house first,” said Nova Guy.
“Nuh-uh!” said Virus Guy. “I was the one.”
“Like hell,” said Orwell Guy. “I get to keep her.”
“The Lord wants me to train her for the Son!”

I don’t know which guy drew his weapon first
but suddenly the guns were everywhere.
All hands released me, and I hit the ground
just as the first shots fired through the air.

I cowered as the guns banged overhead
and bloody bodies thudded next to me.
Then there was sudden quiet, and so I
tried getting up. The ground was slippery

from all the blood, and so I fell again.
But none of the survivalists survived.
I took their weapons, and their bunker keys,
and said a prayer: “Thank God, I’m still alive.”

Monday, July 17, 2006

After The First Four Years The Dirt Doesn’t Get Any Worse

My significant other is really, really into comics. And I’m really, really not.

Now here’s a hypothetical: suppose he started complaining because (he said) I haven’t been doing enough to keep the household comic collection in proper shape. “I’m trying to take them out of alphabetical order and move Swamp Thing next to Promethea because it makes more sense that way, and Jennifer’s not doing a thing to help me!”

Truth is (and I don’t mean to sound callous) I don’t care how his comics are organized. He could put them in boxes at random and I would think no less of him as a man.

He feels the same way about my collection of 50-year-old View-Master reels. And I feel the same way about women who complain that their husbands don’t do enough housework.

Where housework is concerned I possess perfect insight into the stereotypical guy mind because mine works the same way: housework, like life itself, is an unwinnable battle against entropy. It’s a battle you must fight anyway, but don't let unnecessary skirmishes sap the strength from your main force.

The key word is unnecessary. If you have kids you should probably clean them as soon as they poop or throw up on themselves. And when you drop food on the floor, cleaning it up is a lot easier than dealing with the resulting bug infestation if you don’t.

But most housework is just hyperventilating into the wrong paper bag. If you must push a few books aside before you sit on the sofa, does this detract from the subsequent sitting? It does not. And so long as you’re conscientious enough to vacuum the spot whenever you knock over an ashtray, over the course of a month or so you’ll wind up vacuuming most of the rug anyway. Make sure you buy one of those hand-held vacuums that plug into the wall.

My significant other, by the way, has very different cleanliness standards. For example, he does most of the laundry because if I still have something clean to wear I just don’t notice details like a dirty-clothes pile that’s grown taller than I am.

Whenever he gets into one of his unaccountable housecleaning moods I usually feel vaguely guilty about relaxing while he’s doing all this work, so I’ll wander around in an attempt to help. But the place always looks fine to me, and I just wind up getting in his way so I retreat into my office until he is done, playing music loud enough to drown out the vacuum cleaner.

Ms. magazine would be appalled by my attitude if I were a man, and explains why in this article, a review of a book called Get To Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World by Linda Hirshman. The book decries those women who gave up lucrative and rewarding careers to raise kids at home, arguing that such behavior degrades women everywhere. That topic is worth a debate in itself, but Ms. takes for granted that its readers agree and uses the review as a springboard to leap into a rant against men who don’t do enough housework:

Once a year Americans celebrate their independence from government tyranny with parades, apple pie, the beach, and family get-togethers. We don’t think too much about personal independence – being free from various mini-tyrannies in our own lives, be they personal or vocational . . . .
. . .Quit taking responsibility for all or most of the housework, the scheduling, the driving, the worrying, or as [Hirshman] puts it, “managing the butter.”
This is good advice. If the “choice” to stay home is so great, why don’t more men choose it? Why is the laundry “women’s work” anyway? Is the floor cleaner because a woman wields the mop? It comes down to our national belief that men own the jobs, and women own the kids and all the clutter of life outside the workplace. As long as we believe this, we’ll never be equals, and equality starts at home.
So this July 4th, ditch the guilt and declare your independence. Read Hirshman’s book with a beer in the backyard while he assembles the picnic, finds the beach towels, gathers up the dog, and makes sure the kids have their flip-flops and sunscreen. And when it’s all over, sit back and enjoy the game while he unloads the car, launders those beach towels, bathes the kids, and checks on overdue homework.

Whose idea was this picnic? If the man really wants it he’ll make sure it happens. If it’s your idea, what gives you the right to insist he do it? And if your kids got in trouble for overdue homework a few times, maybe they’d learn more from that than they do from you hovering over them.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

How Many Boats Can We Afford To Build?

The ethics question known as the “lifeboat dilemma”: say there are twenty people on a sinking ship, and the lifeboat only has room for fifteen. How do you decide who gets on the boat? An infant or a 60-year-old man? What if the man’s a medical researcher close to making a great and important discovery? An elderly saint or a young criminal? Lots of tough questions. Here’s another: if a storm has trashed the whole neighborhood except for a single storm shelter, must you let a potentially dangerous person in? What if you just don’t have what it takes to accommodate him?

Mentally ill hurricane evacuees were often discriminated against during relief efforts last year, to the point of being banished from shelters or institutionalized against their will, a government report says.
The National Council on Disability said Friday it was common practice after hurricanes Katrina and Rita to segregate people with psychiatric problems. The council called the segregation hurtful and illegal.
Some lived outside relief shelters. Others huddled in corners behind barriers and away from other people. Some were shipped to nursing homes, jails or mental institutions.

The article goes on to mention volunteer organizations like the Red Cross who are targets of the NCD’s ire:

In its report, the council also cited shelter conditions that were often "crowded, noisy, confusing, and sometimes violent, all inadequate circumstances for a person with psychosis, anxiety or depression."

I wouldn’t call “crowded, noisy, confusing and sometimes violent” adequate circumstances for the mentally stable, either. As for such discrimination being illegal — maybe it is when they’re criticizing a government agency like FEMA. But can you make such criticism of a volunteer organization? Can you tell a volunteer “you are not doing enough, and unless you do even more you’ll be breaking the law?” And suppose the Red Cross does in fact manage to build enough quiet, spacious, comfortable shelters for the mentally ill: doesn’t that discriminate against the healthy people forced to stay in the noisy, violent hellholes?

Now assume, for the sake of argument, that it’s the government’s job to make sure everybody’s taken care of when a storm comes through. Disasters like Katrina have shown that the government’s not doing too well. Clearly, improvements must be made. But resources are limited. What should it do first: improve the miserable shelters used by the majority, or invest in specialized accommodations for those whose mental disabilities leave them even more vulnerable than the healthy people?
Rapture Possesses You When You Have Taken The Scrape

Have I told you about the time I was thirteen and my mother grounded me after I threatened to sacrifice my Sunday-school teacher to Satan? Not my regular Sunday-school teacher, mind you, but the substitute who took over the teenage class when our regular teacher was out having her baby.

Every week Mom dragged me to that church, attended mostly by level-headed Methodists who, to their credit, knew the difference between miracles and hallucinations: miracles happen in the Bible, while hallucinations happen to you.

Then we had Mr. Pseudonym. Everybody knew he took his religion a lot more seriously than most. But when he became our substitute Sunday-school teacher, we teens were the first ones to learn just how seriously he took it.

“Sometimes I read my Bible in the closet with a penlight,” he’d solemnly tell us. “That’s what we’ll all have to do, once the Antichrist takes over.” As for the religious tolerance mainstream Methodism embraced at the time: “non-Christians will tell you stories about the miracles their gods have done. And they’re right, except those are really demons pretending to be gods, to mislead people with weak minds. Remember: Satan is the Father of Lies.”

On one level I fully appreciated the nuttery this represented. On the other hand — well, I did believe in God. And if Jesus could rise from the dead, why couldn’t fallen angels do magic, too? Besides, Mr. Pseudonym was a grown-up. A teacher, no less. A bona fide authority figure. I’d already met idiots in all three groups, but was still naive enough to think they were just bad apples rather than the majority of the orchard.

Also, those little demon spook stories made Sunday-school a hell of a lot more interesting than discussion-group topics like “If someone offers you drugs, why does God wants you to say no?” So my impressionable young self spent a few weeks in this contradictory twilight zone that was half scientific rationalism and half mystic Christianity, until Halloween.

Every year the church held a Halloween party for the kids, and we teenagers who were too old for trick-or-treating converted the darkened Sunday-school classrooms into a haunted house. We used refrigerator boxes to make a series of tunnels the kids would crawl through to reach various drugstore tableaux that were moderately scary, I suppose, if you were seven years old or less.

I dressed like a witch, and when the kids crawled to my rocking chair I recited a rhyming story (which was not a poem) that I wrote about zombie jack o’lanterns coming to life on Halloween to get revenge on the children who’d turned them into pies. In the story’s dramatic finale, I jumped out of my chair, yelled “Now listen up! What I say is true! The jack o’lantern’s coming, and he wants YOU!!” and chased the squealing kids into the next room.

I repeated this performance a few times, and then the party ended and the chaperones gave us teens the standard good-job talk. Except Mr. Pseudonym, who waited until next Sunday to tell us what he thought.

He understood we all meant well, he said as he paced solemnly back and forth across the Sunday-school classroom. We meant well, when we dressed like ghosts and vampires and other evil spirits, and put pictures of witches on the walls of God’s house. But we must never do it again, because “the next day I had to spend the entire morning casting out the demons that entered when you did that.”

I was just starting to think “if cartoon ghost pictures are all it takes for Satan to possess God’s house then humanity is pretty well fu—” when Mr. Pseudonym turned to me.

“And Jennifer! Where did you get that poem?”

Ah, that’s more like it: an adult about to compliment my work. “It was mine,” I said proudly. “I wrote it last week.”

To fully reproduce Mr. Pseudonym’s response would take far too much space but here’s the gist of it: “blah blah despicable blah blah disgusting blah blah cannibalism blah blah souls of the children and what was I anyway some kind of a Satan worshipper?”

That did it. I drew myself up to my full height (4’9”) and snapped “Yeah, I’ve sacrificed goats to Lord Satan before, but I could always use a jackass if I had to. So watch out.”

Next thing you know he’s dragging me down the hall to the adult Sunday school, with me yelling at him and him screaming at me and neither of us listening to a word the other said until we came boiling into the room where my mother sat.

“Mrs. Feralgenius!” Mr. Pseudonym boomed. “Your daughter just threatened to sacrifice me to Satan!”

“I. Did. Not!” I insisted in the piping-high child’s voice I still had. “I called him a jackass!”

So there's one of the events which eventually turned me into the princess of mellowness I am today.

Meanwhile, Israel and Lebanon are at war, and I have no idea what it is: the latest chorus of the Middle East crises that have been foreign-policy background music for America since before I was born, or a twenty-first century archduke’s assassination. But here’s what Mr. Pseudonym thinks of this whole mess.

Today (July 15) The London-based Arabic language newspaper Al-Hayat reported that “Washington has information according to which Israel gave Damascus 72 hours to stop Hezbullah’s activity along the Lebanon-Israel border and bring about the release the two kidnapped IDF soldiers or it would launch an offensive with disastrous consequences.”
Unless somebody blinks soon, this crisis has the potential to escalate into the fulfillment of Isaiah 17's Oracle against Damascus. . . .

"See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid. (Isaiah 17:1-2)
. . . . Some believe the phrase "cities of Aroer" refers to Aramean territory east of the Jordan River around the Arnon River, which flows into the Dead Sea in southern Jordan. However, the Jewish Encyclopedia claims that this phrase in Isaiah 17:2 is probably translated incorrectly, because of its geographical distance from Damascus. While they say it's possible that there may have been another Aroer near Damascus, it is more likely that the passage should be rendered "the cities thereof shall be forsaken." If that's the correct translation, it would include the Hezbollah stronghold in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, which was part of Aramean territory in Isaiah's time, and is in a direct line between Beirut and Damascus.

It goes on like this for several paragraphs, explaining several more Bible verses, and ends thusly: If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah.

Ahhhhhhh, wonderful stuff. Memories of childhood come flooding back. I went looking for more, but found a strange dearth of Lebanese Armageddon news. I mean, nothing. What was wrong? Where are Mr. Pseudonym's friends? War in Israel — why isn’t the Left Behind community freaking out about this?

A quick look at some message boards shows I’m not the only one concerned:

Daniel: Checking out some other Christian boards I was kind of surprised to see that some of them have no or hardly any mention of the situation in Israel. I think it's a pretty good indicator of Bible inspired groups and churches vs "Sunday morning social clubs". For all we know we could be wathcing WW III start, yet some of these other so called Christian boards aren't even discussing or addressing it, pretty sad. I'm starting to think right along the lines of something Eric posted, he said there's going to be a lot less people raptured than a lot of people were expecting. I'm starting to think that way too.

Homesick: I've suspected for quite some time that the rapture is going to be nothing like it is portrayed in the Left Behind books. I read the first one when it came out and my first thought was, "boy they sure do think a lot of people are going!" When I look around me every day, I can't see the rapture being all that huge percentage wise. While I'm sure a lot of people will 'go missing', the number compared to the amount left behind is going to be small. In the book they portray it as virtually everyone left behind has 'lost' a family member, IMHO there will be a lot of people who will not lose one person they know personally. Which leads to the question of what about all the "christians" left behind? I wonder how many of them are going to realize the truth then and how many will not? Sad thought.

Sad indeed. I hope that at least Mr. Pseudonym gets raptured. He’ll be heartbroken if he’s not.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

So I found some fear-of-fat stories posted in the "Health" section of the ABC News website today:

“Can Air-Conditioning Make You Fat?” Of course it can. Otherwise they wouldn't do an article about it. In fact, air conditioning

is just one of many potential factors that could be driving America's obesity epidemic, said David Allison, director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Center at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

Damn that obesity epidemic for getting caused by everything good in life. But maybe there’s hope: KFC Sued For Fattening Menu because they fry their chicken in a type of fat that’s very very bad for you.

So how much Kentucky Fried Chicken do you suppose was consumed by people who eventually went on to get gastric bypass surgery? There’s a lot more people getting that surgery these days, by the way. Obesity Surgery Increases By 600 Percent, according to ABC. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing; turns out Gastric Bypass Might be A Smart Move For Teens:

while the surgery has its risks, its benefits (mainly reducing the risk of obesity-related diseases like heart attacks and diabetes) seem to outweigh the dangers, raising an important question: What about adolescents? Is teen obesity serious enough to warrant the surgery, too?
New research seems to suggest that the answer is yes.

It’s impossible to go to the “Health” section of any news website without seeing stories about how Americans are fat, and it’s dangerous and unattractive, and somebody ought to do something about it. Hell, it’s so damned commonplace and boring that I hardly know why I even bothered blogging the topic.

By the way, here’s another health story ABC currently has posted:

“Kids Getting Thinspiration From Dangerously Skinny Stars”
Research shows 80 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat, and many of them are getting "thinspiration" from the growing list of young Hollywood celebrities who seem to be shrinking before our eyes. . . . More than half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys adopt unhealthy weight-control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.

Now why do you suppose kids today have such an obsessive fear of being fat? Beats me. Must be one of those mysteries mankind is destined never to solve.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Old Enough To Itch, Not Old Enough To Scratch

In Victorian times the age of consent for a young girl was as low as thirteen. Yet girls matured much later then than they do nowadays; menarche was around sixteen or seventeen. Marrying girls off before puberty! It shows yet again that the more sexually repressed a culture, the more perverse it actually is.

We do the exact opposite of the Victorians — early maturity and late ages of consent. It’s another example of the infantilization of teenagers. Treating a fifteen-year-old as the equivalent of a six-year-old has no basis in logic but plenty of basis in law. We don’t let teens have any responsibilities, and then complain that they’re irresponsible. We don’t allow them to have mature friends, then complain when they act immature.

Check out this advice column I found:

Dear Prudie, I am a 16-year-old girl in love with a 26-year-old man. This isn't the problem; I love him and he loves me, and he's never abused or coerced me into anything. We haven't had sex, even though I wanted to; he wants to make sure that I'm not doing anything I don't really want to. . . . I am tired of keeping our relationship a secret, but I will if revealing it would get him in trouble. That leads to the other part of my question—if I have to keep it hidden, how do I respond when people ask if I'm involved? I don't want people to think he's a predator, because he isn't.—Not a Victim

Full disclosure: As a teenager I generally preferred the company of older people. And I dated my share of older men, too. Hell, it wasn’t until I hit about twenty-five that I began to enjoy the company of people closer to my own age.

So far as the letter-writer is concerned, I certainly hope she doesn’t want to get engaged to this guy — but that’s just because I think sixteen is far too young to settle down. Of course, I personally am not planning to marry until I’m at least seventy-five, and only if I can figure out a way to commit tax fraud by doing it, so maybe I’m wrong when I say sixteen’s too young for marriage. But I doubt it.

Now here’s the columnist’s response:

If Hamlet is still taught in high school, you've probably heard the phrase, "The lady doth protest too much." When you write about how great your boyfriend is, it's hardly reassuring to hear your protestations that whatever it looks like, he's not a sexual predator. . . . if you agree to have sex with him, he won't get arrested. But I wish the fact that you are worried he could be makes you realize you should run from this relationship. While this guy sounds like he only has half a brain, at least he's using it because it's kept him from taking advantage of you so far.

“The fact that you are worried he could be?” No, it’s “the fact that you are worried your friends and family will think he is.” Perception, not reality, is this girl’s problem. And why, exactly, does everybody make the default assumption that whenever a girl below the age of eighteen has sex she’s being taken advantage of? I was capable of amazingly complex dirty thoughts at sixteen (and I was a late bloomer, too). As a former teenage girl I demand to know: why did the law restrict me to fumbling inexperienced boobs for sex partners? Why should it have been illegal for me to be with a man who knew what the hell he was doing? God knows I didn’t.

Whoops, I’m going off on a tangent. Let’s get back to that advice column, only with a couple of words changed:

Dear Prudie,
I am an American woman in love with an Arab man. This isn’t the problem; I love him and he loves me and he’s never tried to hit me or force me to wear a burka or anything. I don’t want people to think he’s a misogynist, because he isn’t.

You've probably heard the phrase, "The lady doth protest too much." When you write about how great your boyfriend is, it's hardly reassuring to hear your protestations that whatever it looks like, he's not a misogynist. . . . But I wish the fact that you are worried he could be makes you realize you should run from this relationship.

Now I know the many ways the Arab analogy doesn’t hold up. Still: knowing nothing about the girl except what’s in the letter (and misinterpreting a good bit of that), there is no reason to assume this girl would be better off dating an eleventh-grade boy than a young man of twenty-six.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Appealing To The NASCAR Dads

I once had a job with a now-defunct publishing company that produced “collector’s guides” about those overpriced ceramic things you find in mall gift shops. To get to my desk I had to walk past an extensive Precious Moments display and a Christmas village inhabited by Cherished Teddies. Then I began my day’s work researching and writing about collectible NASCAR stuff. Think “hell with pink frosting” and you’ve pretty much captured the ambience.

But at least the job had a certain honesty. I wrote the truth — NASCAR does trace back to bootleggers trying to outrun the law. Those porcelain wall plates really did have images of key moments in Dale Earnhardt’s life painted on them. And the 1:64 scale models of race cars were — well, race-car models scaled at 1:64.

Granted, there were things I didn’t mention. “Don’t buy this new because it’ll be on eBay for less than half price in a few months” is something you’d never read in the books I helped write. But it’s not like I had reason to agonize lest my inaccurate portrayal of NASCAR memorabilia promoted evil in the world.

Unlike the woman in this story, an (admittedly anonymous) account of the obstacles that reporters embedded with the military in Iraq find between themselves and what’s really going on:

over the years, she has worked closely with the French army, NATO troops in the Balkans, and UN peacekeepers in covering war and conflict, but she said had never faced the sorts of restrictions imposed by the Pentagon on journalists in Iraq. “I was,” she said, “a mouthpiece for the American military.”
In Tikrit, she was based with U.S. troops at a military compound established at one of Saddam's former palaces, where she provided pool coverage for Reuters TV and AP TV (which was fed to other media outlets). When insurgents attacked civilians, she told me, the American military would rush her to the scene so she could record the carnage and get shots of grieving Iraqis.

Among the guys we’re fighting are some very evil men, and our military would never stop an honest reporter from letting the world know this. Freedom of speech and all that. However:

when this producer wanted to pursue a story that might have cast the war effort in an unfavorable light, the situation was entirely different. Every few days, she said, she would receive a call from the Reuters bureau in Baghdad and discover that reporters there had heard, via local news reports or from the bureau's network of Iraqi sources, about civilians being killed or injured by American troops. But when she asked to leave the compound to independently confirm such incidents, her requests were invariably turned down.

It wasn’t just civilian deaths she couldn’t cover, but any story the military wanted the world to ignore.

The producer said that it was impossible to pursue stories frowned upon by the military—for example, on how the local population viewed the occupation and American troops—because she was not permitted to leave the base on her own. The height of absurdity came when the Tikrit compound came under serious attack one evening and the producer was asked by the Reuters bureau in Baghdad to phone in a report on the situation. “We couldn’t find out anything [from the U.S. military],” she said, so Reuters had to cover the fighting from Baghdad, despite having a TV producer and reporter on the ground at the compound in Tikrit.

The good news is, at least one thing American forces have tried to do in Iraq has gone according to plan:

During her 45 days in Tikrit, she told me, she didn't file a single story critical of the American project in Iraq.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Russian Women Want To Meet YOU

If anything happened to my significant other I’d never date again, because I’m not giving up baby-back ribs for anybody. Check out this quote from an article about a bunch of guys discussing the women they’d just gone out with:

“Well, I took out a money girl,” he confessed. They had gone to T.G.I. Friday’s, a popular date venue . . . for her main course she had made what everyone in the group agreed was the distinctly unfeminine choice of ribs.

These guys are a hell of a lot pickier than any man I’ve ever dated. And did I forget to mention they’re Americans searching for mail-order brides in the Ukraine?

“These are not American women,” our guide was telling us. “They do not care about your age, looks, or money. And you are not going to have to talk to them for half an hour and then have your testicles handed back to you! Let me tell you: over here, you’re the commodity; you’re the piece of meat. I’ve lived in St. Petersburg for two years, and I wouldn’t date an American woman right now if you paid me!”

Guys like being called “a piece of meat?” Interesting. Must be one of those "Mars-Venus" difference things I keep hearing about. However, these guys plan to be very domineering, take-charge, in-control slabs of manly Martian meat. Here’s what the various foreign-bride services all have in common:

Wherever the women come from, such websites as A Special Lady, Chance for Love, and Latin Love Search tout their traditional values, their submissiveness, their willingness to put husband and family ahead of themselves.

This attracts its share of creepy sociopaths, of course, though not all the guys fell into that category. But according to the author, there were certain traits they all shared:

Every one of the men I spoke with said they planned to restrict their future wife’s involvement in their finances, and radically so. “You don’t ever let them touch your money, bottom line,” said one, to vigorous agreement from the rest of the table. “Set them up with their checking account that they use to pay all of the household supplies. You cover the core of the mortgages and the car and everything else. Never give them joint access.” When I remarked that the arrangement sounded more like an employer/employee relationship than a marriage, the group went a little quiet, and I suddenly found myself being accused of cultural intolerance—this at a table where “bluegums” appeared to be a perfectly unobjectionable way of referring to African Americans.

I actually don’t blame the guys for not wanting joint accounts in this situation. When a marriage is basically a business transaction it’s best to treat your finances that way, too. But a lot of these guys sound like they’d have the same attitude even with American women (which may have something to do with their wife-hunting in Asia):

[One man] told me he wanted a genuine partner, but with the caveat that on the big issues—house buying, for example—he must be in charge, for the good of them both. “A ship cannot have two captains,” he insisted. When I suggested that he and his hypothetical spouse might eliminate the need for a “captain” by simply shopping for a house they both liked, he went silent for a moment before he managed both to concede my point and to reframe it entirely: “Actually, that’s an important thing you just said, because for a woman, she would take a lot of pride in her house. The kitchen area, the living-room area, the entertainment area, she’s got to be compatible with that. So that’s something I would gladly defer to a woman on.”

Another thing the guys all share in common is a belief that we American women have it a lot better than we do. As their guide-pep coach told them at the beginning of their tour:

“Now, take everything you know about dating and throw it away. After a few days, you guys are going to become like American women! A woman you would have killed to have lunch with back in the U.S., she’ll be wanting to go out with you, but you’ll start noticing little faults—her ankles are too big, you don’t like the shape of her earlobes. And you will throw her back, because you have so many choices.”

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Refugees From Drury Lane

A friend sent me this link a few days ago, and I still haven’t figured out if it’s real. It’s called the “Prairie Muffin Manifesto,” which sounds like a downhome Midwestern cookbook. But no—Prairie Muffins (if they really exist) are women who

choose a quiet life, diligently pursuing our biblical role as women and protecting the innocence of our children. Some women have been caricatured as denim jumper-wearing, Little House on the Prairie-worshiping, baby machines who never trim their hair or wear makeup. Like the Americans who bore the name Yankee Doodle as a badge of honor rather than be cowed by the enemy who used it in a derogatory way, the name Prairie Muffin is meant to convey the message that we are sticking to our convictions despite the silly labels people try to stick on us.

Okay. If a woman wants to be a stay-at-home mom and her husband supports that, good for her. And if she’s partially motivated by religious incentives, well, whatever makes her happy. I think the name “Prairie Muffin” is kind of stupid, personally, but they’d say the same about “Feral genius.” Anyway, here’s the start of the manifesto:

Whereas we Prairie Muffins believe that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, knowing that we are not our own but belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, we affirm many (if not all) of the statements in this manifesto, declaring our joy in serving Christ in the role He has given us and delighting in our distinctives.
1) Prairie Muffins are committed to obeying God's law in every area of life, as they are aware of its application to their lives and circumstances.
2) Prairie Muffins are helpmeets to their husbands, seeking creative and practical ways to further their husbands' callings and aid them in their dominion responsibilities.

This goes on through your standard good-Christian-housewife stuff: obey God, be a good mom, keep obeying God, continue being a good mom, and don’t let the home fires grow cold:

9) Prairie Muffins do not reflect badly on their husbands by neglecting their appearance; they work with the clay God has given, molding it into an attractive package for the pleasure of their husbands.

Well, I still take trouble with my hair and makeup, so I suppose I can’t criticize . . . of course, I don’t tell myself that it’s some holy religious sacrament . . . oh, look, here’s more husband stuff:

17) Prairie Muffins place their husbands' needs and desires above other obligations, arranging their schedules and responsibilities so that they do not neglect the one who provides for and protects them and their children.
18) Prairie Muffins are fiercely submissive to God and to their husbands.

Okay. Okay. I get it. I swear, if the author hadn’t already made a point of saying she wasn’t some drudge who “worshipped Little House on the Prairie” I’d think she was a total drudge who . . . oh. Here’s why she doesn’t like Little House on the Prairie:

19) Prairie Muffins appreciate godly role models, such as Anne Bradstreet, Elizabeth Prentiss and Elisabeth Elliot. They do not idolize Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) or Louisa May Alcott (Little Women); while they may enjoy aspects of home life presented in their books, PMs understand that the latent humanism and feminism in these stories and in the lives of these women is not worthy of emulation.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: radical feminist.

I’d like to post more Prairie Muffin outtakes here but unfortunately I don’t have the time — I must perform my womanly duty of reminding the man of the house that he needs to do the laundry.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Great Orange Famine Of Aught-Six

Uh-oh. Apparently the crackdown on illegal immigration means Florida might not be able to harvest its orange crop.

Growers have reported difficulty finding enough workers. Industry officials say labour problems got worse in the middle of May, when a large segment of the Hispanic labour force seemed to leave the state.
They said reports of an immigration crackdown made it difficult to find Hispanic workers, who make up much of Florida's farm workforce.

Thing is, the reports seem to be false. Somehow, the Hispanic community has been hearing things that sure as hell haven’t been making it into the media I’ve been reading:

word had spread through the Hispanic community that they should return home if they wanted jobs in the US in future. The workers were told they could get deported if they remained in the country, he said. But if they returned home, they would become eligible for a guest-worker programme that is part of the immigration reform bill.
"In reality, the current guest-worker programme bars anybody who has been in this country illegally," Mr Carlton said. There are still tens of millions of oranges on Florida's trees, according to the US department of agriculture, one of the highest totals on record, he added.

So who started the rumor that sparked this mass exodus? It would be funny if it turned out to be a pro-immigration rights activist who figured out a fiendishly clever way to make Americans realize illegal immigrants aren’t really the cause of what’s been ailing us.
So What Compels A Fish To Not Have Sex?

The other day I was watching this documentary on deep-sea life and learned the following fact about fish: if they made porn it would be nothing but money shots. Turns out fish don’t have body-contact sex, the way humans do when we’re lucky. Instead, a bunch of fish just sort of congregate in this relatively small part of the ocean, and release their various eggs and sperms into the water, and some of them come together and thus begins the Miracle of Fish Life.

And that’s it. The clam plate orgy’s over until next mating season.

I don’t want to think too much about the sexual habits of fish because that’s probably not healthy, but I can’t help wonder: why do they even bother? We have sex (which sometimes leads to babies) because it feels good. Do fish get any similar good feelings out of being within a few yards of each other?

This all somewhat ties in with an interesting article, by an evolutionary biologist named David Barash, called “Sex is Essential, Kids Aren’t.” It starts by mentioning that in Germany, 30 percent of all women were childless—and by choice.

Demographers are intrigued. German nationalists, aghast. Religious fundamentalists, distressed at the indication that large numbers of women are using birth control. And evolutionary biologists (including me) are asked, "How can this be?" If reproduction is perhaps the fundamental imperative of natural selection, of our genetic heritage, isn't it curious — indeed, counterintuitive — that people choose, and in such large numbers, to refrain from participating in life's most pressing event?

I’m one of those people. Kids are cute but I don’t want any. I understand that somebody needs to keep the human race going, but it’s not going to be me. So is this a problem?

intentional childlessness is indeed curious — but in no way surprising. It is also illuminating, because it sheds light on what is perhaps the most notable hallmark of the human species: the ability to say no — not just to a bad idea, an illegal order or a wayward pet but to our own genes. . . . People are inclined to eat when hungry, sleep when tired and have sex when aroused. But in most cases, we remain capable of declining, endowed as we are with that old bugaboo, free will. Moreover, when people indulge their biologically based inclinations, nearly always it is to satisfy an immediate itch, whose existence is itself an evolved strategy leading to some naturally selected payoff. A person doesn't typically eat, for example, with the goal of meeting her metabolic needs but to satisfy her hunger, which is a benevolent evolutionary trick that induces the food-deprived to help out their metabolism.

At this point the article talks about how sex and birth used to be pretty much connected until the invention of contraception. Then it goes on:

Behavioral ecologists distinguish between what are known as "r" and "K" strategies among living things. Thus, "r" strategists — such as mice and rabbits — breed early and often, producing large numbers of offspring that suffer high mortality. "K" types — such as elephants and whales — breed later and relatively rarely, producing fewer offspring (with lower mortality) and investing more in each. Neither elephants nor whales send their children to college, although they indulge in the animal equivalent.

Pretechnological human beings are comparatively "r" in their reproductive style. But with improved socioeconomic conditions — especially, better educational and vocational opportunities for women — comes the demographic transition, whereby "r" gives way to "K," and infant mortality plummets along with birthrate. There also arises a tendency to take especially good care of the fewer children one produces, as well as a greater inclination to look out for No. 1, sometimes — horror of horrors! — by producing no children at all.

I don’t have kids. Nor am I going to. I know some people are offended by the idea of a willingly childless woman, but y’all should be happy instead. After all, with my kid out of the picture, yours has a better chance of getting into college.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Right To Life, But Only In The Right Place

So there’s this idyllic little town in California, with an old farm that someone wants to turn into a housing development. Nobody in idyllic little towns welcomes new development these days, so the residents got all upset until suddenly — imagine this! — someone discovered an officially endangered flower growing on the old farm:

Bob Evans, a 72-year-old retired elementary school principal, says he was walking with his dog last year when he came upon the tiny white flowers of Sebastopol meadowfoam poking from shallow pools of water in a grassy field.The former bean farm happens to be the planned site of the 20-acre, Laguna Vista housing development. Evans and other opponents of the project seized on the discovery of the federally protected species in hopes that it would force the developer to scale back plans calling for 145 houses and apartments.

But state wildlife investigators determined that the flower had been planted there illegally. Can’t cancel the development over that. Then new flowers sprouted the next year. Still, the wildlife department said it didn’t matter:

Schellinger said the new plants grew from seeds scattered during the "original criminal act." Fish and Game agreed and wasn't inclined to reopen the investigation.

Here’s where their logic escapes me: if you assume that this law is necessary, and plants like the meadowfoam need protection so they don’t vanish, then of course you’re not going to be impressed by a flower transplanted live from somewhere else. But these new seeds have sprouted on their own! Why doesn’t that count as a victory — the meadowfoam making a comeback! How are these seeds any different from seeds arrived via a more ‘natural’ method?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Suffering For Her Art

So what’s the proper moral stance to take in regard to deliberately tormenting children so you can photograph their torment? Not child pornography, but deliberately making children cry to take close-up shots of their tear-streaked little faces.

There are some who consider it acceptable so long as the children aren’t actually being hurt. Besides, it’s in the name of Art. This piece in Slate talks about Jill Greenberg, an LA-based photographer who currently has a show:

The show is titled End Times, and it consists of a few dozen large photographs of infants and toddlers throwing tantrums: sobbing, red-faced, staring furiously. Fair enough. But they're not meant to be read as mere baby pictures; they're meant to be a statement. As Greenberg herself explains in the gallery's press release, "The first little boy I shot, Liam, suddenly became hysterically upset. It reminded me of helplessness and anger I feel about our current political and social situation." "As a parent," she continues, "I have to reckon with the knowledge that our children will suffer for the mistakes our government is making. Their pain is a precursor of what is to come."

Oh, bleah. And here’s what she does in her quest to be a politically relevant Anne Geddes:

It turns out that Greenberg doesn't just hang around her studio waiting for one of her toddler subjects to melt down: She induces the tantrum, by, say, giving the child a lollipop, and then suddenly taking it away. . . . On the other hand, Greenberg isn't Leni Riefenstahl, either. Small children, as she points out in the PopPhoto interview, often have tantrums, and they usually blow over quickly, and are just as quickly forgotten.

Certainly what Greenberg did wasn’t as bad as beating a child. But consider the various underlying assumptions of Greenberg’s justification: suffering doesn’t really count if it’s only fleeting and minor. Since children will have tantrums anyway, provoking them isn’t so bad.

I say it doesn’t matter how minor it is. You have no right to inflict distress on someone for a situation which is entirely to your gain, and none at all to theirs.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Fountains Are Unnecessarily Decorative Anyway

I am an outcast among outcasts. Being a libertarian is marginalizing enough these days, but even among libertarians I don’t fit in because — well, because I just don’t like Ayn Rand. I'm sorry.

I mean, she made some brilliantly wonderful points. That bit about the factory that decided to run itself according to Communist principles was genius. But I don’t have time right now for a balanced and objective look at her strengths and weaknesses, so I figured instead I’d post my old high-school class notes from The Fountainhead:

1. People who design or live in buildings with decorative flourishes like Greek columns or Victorian moldings are evil freedom-hating statists.

2. A rich babe who inherits all her money from her father is the best person in the world to criticize people who are poor because they never do anything to earn money.

3. Lots of women are poor because the dumb sluts keep having kids they can't afford. However, when babelicious heiresses have sex without contraceptives back in the days before abortion was legal they never get pregnant anyway so this doesn't apply to them.

4. If you can afford it, you should buy a beautiful, irreplaceable piece of art and then destroy it, because most of the people who would otherwise look at it don't deserve to look at it the way you do.

5. Although it has already been established that unnecessary decorations destroy freedom, when a wealthy heiress marries a sexy rapist architect with high principles and then visits her husband at work on the last page of the book, she should wear high-heeled shoes to the high-rise construction site. (In case you were wondering, wearing high heels on a makeshift board elevator going hundreds of feet up in the sky is perfectly safe so long as you "plant your high heels firmly on the board," as the book describes.)

This is no way contradicts the "form over function" meme of the rest of the book.

6. Here is how to have a healthy, rational sex life. First, get yourself raped by the guy you eventually marry. (Your role models here are Luke and Laura on ancient General Hospital reruns.) Later, agree to have sex with a newspaper magnate, but tell him that you will not enjoy it one bit. This will challenge him to try things that will actually arouse you.

By the way, while you read this you must not think “Hmm, I’m detecting a theme here. The woman never has to know how to actually do anything, bedsportwise. Think about it: lying there like a corpse, beating a guy with your fists—neither one requires much in the way of sophistication, though under the right circumstances they can be portrayed as such."

Corollary: even if God forbid you’re depraved enough to notice such themes, and detect a clash with what you know of Rand’s personal life, do not allow yourself to envision somebody with a Natasha Fatale accent saying to her husband: “"Listen, you altruistic marry-me-so-I'm-not-deported vool, I vant you to dominate and subdue me like a real man. Right now! If you don’t vorce me to surrender to your superior male vill in ten minutes I'll vucking emasculate you. Stop cowering!"

Second corollary: at least don’t picture her husband looking like Boris Badenov.

7. Never say anything in one page if you can stretch it out to seventy. No, wait, that's from Atlas Shrugged.

Speaking of which, here is something my friend Dr. Thoreau (one of the bloggers at Unqualified Offerings) had to say once about Atlas Shrugged:

is it just me, or is Galt's project a microcosm of the LP?
-There's a guy whose job involves guns and secret raids and evading law enforcement. (That pirate guy)
-There's some guy who insists that he can solve all of the world's energy problems with his secret invention, but that would mean he'd have to pay taxes on his profits, so to remain pure he's devoting his time to some strange ideological project. (Galt)
-There's a guy who insists that he became fabulously wealthy in his spare time during college, but he's most famous for a spectacular business failure. (the copper magnate)
-Their guru claims to be a great philosopher, but he won't work in academia because the world just doesn't appreciate his genius.
-*There's a woman with interesting sexual tastes and a serious attitude problem.*
-There's a genuine self-made innovator, yet for some reason he hangs out with these freaks.

*As one of libertarianism’s token females, I just want to say that I, Jennifer, have no idea what Thoreau is talking about here. Clearly he’s been misinformed. That bothers me greatly, but otherwise the piece is spot-on.

Now I really do have to get back to work. And then I’ll check my premises. I promise.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The “I Don’t Have Time To Post” Post

The good news is, I just landed a very lucrative freelance gig writing some quirky weird stuff for a certain cable network. The bad news is, in the next 36 hours I have to actually produce said quirky weird stuff, in addition to doing my regular job, and I should probably sleep and take a shower at some point, too. Bottom line: I don’t have time to write an actual post.

So instead I’ll show you a little short story I wrote some time ago. (Not a poem. It’s bad form to say “I write poetry” these days, because people assume you mean this pointless free-verse whining about how you’re so sensitive that you can’t even look at a dead grass clipping without thinking of some horrible metaphor concerning human mortality, and I cannot stand that sort of thing. So I never write poetry; I write bitchy short stories that just happen to rhyme. Also, I have enough problems without being known as “the woman who posts her poetry on her blog.” God, no.)

Just a word, honey

A word about the girl next door—
she makes my life a living hell.
I think she juggles ten-pound weights
but doesn’t do it very well.
I know she doesn’t bathe too much
which probably explains the smell

that permeates throughout this place.
She’ll wander through the halls each night
in search of God knows what, and then
she’ll pounce on all within her sight.
Except, what she sees, isn’t there.
She’ll often try to pick a fight

with all the voices in her head
and scream (while outside in the hall)
“Stop thinking for me! Go away!
You mess with me—I kill you all!”
Then BOOM! She slams against my door
and pictures crash down from my wall.

You see now what my life is like.
She vacuums quarter after three;
all other hours of the night
sound fills the air from her TV
and anytime I cross her path
she screams her random thoughts at me.

My landlord will not break my lease.
So I must live in constant dread
as she breaks lightbulbs in the hall
a single thought pounds through my head:
I cannot take much more of this.
I have a gun. I WANT HER DEAD.

I have tried going to the cops.
They say there’s nothing they can do
unless she tries to murder me
in which case, they say, I can sue.
But otherwise my hands are tied
so that is why I turn to you.

It seems I lack the guts it takes
to carry out my gun-based plan
and that is why I’m dressed like this,
you sexy, gorgeous hunk of man.
You always say you’re here for me
so please, take matters in your hands,

my sweet, my darling one true love.
My life is such a sad affair.
You always say you love me, but
that doesn’t get me anywhere,
I only ask for one small thing—
just knock her off, to show you care.
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