Friday, November 20, 2009


What looks the strongest has outlived its term
The future lies with what's affirmed from under.
Seamus Heaney

The quote above I stole from a report (Jaime Kalven's Garden Conversations) because it finally caused something that I've wondered about to click in.

The reason why we give back is because fate is a wheel - it's undeniable that we will not be permanent, and that someone else will come to power. That is the way of things. So when you give back to others and guide them, you make your world better and enhance the chances that the person at the top will not only be sympathetic to your causes but will treat you the same way you treated them and build in the way that you taught them. It's almost the same aspects as religious-type tenets, but more forward thinking than I've ever heard put forth. You literally build the world you live in.

Idealistic, of course. But it makes sense!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Walmart isn't the end-all of evil

I was just reading a post about a couple that was detained at Wal-mart and very crudely treated. Mind you, this isn't the only report of Big Business© causing issues with customers. United was spotted for their kerfluffle with a musician who decided to write a song about the affair - United Breaks Guitars , which has apparently actually caught their attention finally and prodded them to do something about it. There are probably only about several thousand stories such as these that I haven't read.
My point - now is not the time to mistreat customers, or to allow employees who do so to continue working for you. Unemployment is the highest it's been since the early 90's - find someone else to do the job you pay them to do, which is treat your customers with respect and dignity regardless of everything else. Any one who has worked retail/sales/etc. knows that there are complete jerks who come into the store just to abuse you and make themselves feel better about their shitty lives, but guess what? You're still paid to do the job of helping customers. Good clerks still find a way to do that and then mutter under their breaths or in the breakroom. It's the way of it. It's why you get an education and move to a job that doesn't require you to be looked down upon.
Also, Big Business©, you might think about treating your workers better and paying them more. Otherwise, it's your name that gets trashed, not the worker's name.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Detachable head

I've been watching the free TED talks today, which are fabulous by the way, and one of the talks struck me. The talk is by Sir Ken Robinson and it's about how schools kill creativity. (link) I think the title is a little broad for what he's actually talking about (and a little misleading as to the main point of the talk) but he says something about university professors to the gist of their bodies becoming transports for their heads. It's quite funny when he says it (the whole talk is very entertaining) but it got me - that's exactly how I feel now in law school.
I am not independently wealthy, no parental support, so law school is a reach for me. I am extremely lucky to have a scholarship that I hope I get to keep (it's based on scholarship, and law school is beyond competitive.) I work full-time as well, which is the only way I would be able to support myself. Some days are harder than others. I must honestly say this is the most homework I've ever done, and the most hours ever spent on class work. It's fun, sometimes, too; I suppose I'd be in the wrong school if it wasn't.
Consequently, I really have become a machine to move my head around. In the morning I wake up and go to work where I sit at a desk and let my head read lists for databases, talk on the phone, and snack on stuff that is terrible for me. Then I get in my car and drive my head to school, where it listens intently, instructs my hands to take notes, and generally tries to give a coherent answer to the questions in class. After that, I drive my head home where it hits the pillow and sleeps (hopefully.) If not, it reads a bit. On the weekend my head reads cases and does homework. Honestly, if I were to be changed over to a roofing job or some kind of physical labor, I think my body would die of shock - "What? You're using me? Gasp!" Which is not to say that I don't miss physical activity. I pine when it's sunny outside and I'd like to be out walking or hiking or something that requires a decent amount of effort. It would almost be wonderful to have a detachable head so that it could do all this reading and whatnot and my body could go do body-things like dance or lift things. Of course, body would need supervision, so that probably wouldn't work out as well as I'd like, but overall seems like it would be healthier.
Another thing that Sir Robinson spoke about was that education was built to serve industry - what the industry's needs were rather than our own as humans. Isn't that profound when you really think about it? You get one go on this planet and you're conditioned to serve in a system that doesn't serve you.
All in all, I can't complain. I have a lot of anxiety and a lot of sitting around, but my life is good and fulfilling for the most part. But ah the days when I wish that I didn't need structure and could just run away from it all...those days happen quite frequently now. Do me a favor and go to the park and just soak in the atmosphere - the green (or red) of the leaves, the grass, the kids going crazy. My head will thank you.

Monday, October 12, 2009

About Law School

Hello internet - it's been a while. After yet another personal infringement, I'm back. Details are not to be forthcoming because I feel my time is better spent looking forward, rather than backwards.
So, I'm in law school now. It's really got a lot in common with being in the military in that the best way they've found to teach you is to throw cases and law and questions at you until you learn to dodge or weave accordingly. It's a very good atmosphere at my law school, very positive and supportive. Perhaps this is because I'm in the evening program with a bunch of other people who have jobs and kids and everything else happening in their life as well. It's very challenging...this week moreso than others. I'm not as diligent in my 10 hours of homework this week. I will pay the price for it by being absent in class so that I can get another assignment done that's worth 60% of my grade, and by absent I mean sitting in the seat and marked absent because I can't brief 70 pages worth of cases before Tuesday.
Just thought I'd give an update. I hate coming here and having nothing to say, which I've done several times since the last post. I try not to be negative here; I look at this more of a place of intellectualism than feelings. However, it's been very hard so bear with me if it's a little at a time. The trust-building process is slow, and it will be a while before you get the real me again.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Information Security

Some random thoughts I wanted to set down about information security in the light of the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas:

Maybe information security is obsolete. People spout off information constantly. Listen in for five minutes at Starbucks while they yammer on their cell phone and you have their kids' names (and probably part of most of their passwords.) Make a J. Smith account at Facebook and add them, and you'll know their schedules, including when they leave for vacations. Information should not be what guards the gates to what we're really trying to protect - bank accounts, jobs, lives, etc. The more you make it the key to something, the more it gets targeted. The more you safeguard it, the more targets there are left out. There are too many thieves and too many easy ways to steal information. So far the key component has always been that - information, but in this overloaded age, it's not profitable to have to sift through information. If it was out there, then there wouldn't be this unfounded sense of complacency.
But how to protect what's important without resorting to passwords, PINs, etc? RSA uses a combination of private and public to make their keys impenetrable to most yet useful. How could we do this? DNA recognition? Fingerprinting?
The simplest way is to bring it back down to people. People are the ultimate in facial and voice recognition. It used to be common to arrange introductions. Problem is, people can be corrupted. People are sometimes less than competent on bad days.
Hiding in plain sight. The army of regular transactions that banks watch for anomalies. Perhaps giving people more vigilance over their transactions - no, that's been tried. People get bored of monotony. They forget or get busy.
It's troubling. There's got to be a way to make the information unguarded, and the important things still guarded.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Where's the instruction manual?

It's a beautiful Southern California night. It's almost worth the searing summer day just to be able to sit outside, a breeze blowing the cool night air, and listen to the airplanes fly overhead. The helicopters are annoying as hell, but tonight they seem to be on hiatus for the most part.
I'm two weeks away from changing my life. I've had to make decisions on my own and hope they were the best. People are moving out of my life. More will move in but for me everytime I love someone, the world gets a little smaller. I'm never able to open up quite as much again. I guess that's how it goes.
Here's to a quiet night marking the start of drastic change.

Monday, July 13, 2009

TV Tropes will Ruin Your Life!

I got my title from an actual page on TV Tropes. Before I link to it though, here is an excellent warning cartoon from Randall Munroe at XKCD:

And now the title:

Don't say I didn't warn you! (damn, I just got sucked back in...*click*)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Living (or dead) symbols

I'm sure everyone has heard about the memorial for Michael Jackson drawing so much international attention that they've had to resort to a lottery in order to distribute a limited number of tickets. This isn't the level of fame that most singers or performers achieve. This is epic levels of adoration - and for a man that a year ago was considered a bit of a joke and probably a pedophile.
The truth of it is that Michael Jackson, even while alive, was no longer a human to most people. He had reached the point where people didn't think of him as a person with needs, but as a flag, a banner that united them with music. Something a coworker told me today triggered this - she said that he begged for anesthesia from doctors just to feel at peace, and that they're looking into that as a trigger for his death. What price do we extract from those who are our symbols?
True fame is the transcendence of even being human and becoming a symbol. Look at Elvis - he wasn't the greatest singer ever or the best performer - but he was the symbol of those things, of sexual revolution, of something different in the merging of the white South and black music.
Once we lose those symbols, we mourn heavily. Perhaps now is the time to look past that though - to look at the toll it takes upon the people we turn into symbols and wonder if the cost is too high for those who must pay it.

I wrote this a few days ago and happened across an article on the Huffington Post that I think describes this as well. Here's the link:

Friday, June 26, 2009

Poem: Substance

Pleasant memories come to me
adrift on the wind like jasmine
to have loved and lost
and loved again
I turn my thoughts to the past
And nostalgia breaks over me like a wave
the hard lessons of never again

what does it mean to wish for the days to pass?
to be buoyed along by weekends and holidays
time is the substance of life
to waste it godlessness
to only have the memories of what has been
instead of the plans for what might be
and the reality of what is now

To be fully living is embracing the present
suffering, hurting, laughing
allowing the self to be violated
the brave path of truth
that I do not walk.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Frustrating (RANT)

I have an idea for an internet business. I am in an MBA program. You would think these two things would be compatible, but you would, at least in my case, be wrong.
For years I spent my life going through school doing things because it was what the school gave as an assignment, not because I expected it to apply to reality (hint: it didn't, most of the time.) So I got used to the idea that school work was, well, for school - with no other application. Then comes a Master's Degree, and one of the things I was told throughout my coursework was, "You should be doing things in mind for your Master's Degree project so that it's less work for you once you get to the project stage." What, more than one application, not just busy work? Hmm, I need to wrap my mind around this.
Now that I'm at the Master's Degree project stage, the bar keeps changing. I've been through 3 project ideas and 3 advisors. I dropped out for a year due to personal reasons. Now that I'm back and ready to kick this into gear before I start law school, the bar continues to change. I'm not exaggerating - I received a "conditional pass" on a document with the only note being that I needed to present it in Word...and today I was told I need to do a feasibility study to see if my project will work before my plan will pass. I wish I could convey to you in words how frustrating that last sentence is... here I am, after telling my idea over and over to people at the school even before I came back from my leave of absence, meeting with more than one advisor about it - being shunted off to do a "project plan" before anyone will even consider looking at my idea - and now being told to do a feasibility study. On top of the fact that I'm in the course that you're already supposed to be working on the project. On top of the fact that I've already had an approved project plan that didn't have any of this shit. On top of the fact that I greatly suspect this is motivated by a personal dislike on the part of the dean.
This is month 3 for me...could no one in 3 months take the damn time to tell me to do a feasibility study, or did they just dream this up? I've asked for examples - I get research plans, not project plans (until today of course! nothing ahead of time!). Plus it's been implied that I plagarized and/or had an inappropriate relationship with my teacher. I am at the end of my rope with this place.
Is it fucking fitting that I'm contemplating dropping out of an MBA so I can actually get something done? I hate this fucking school. My only link to sanity in the whole place is someone I can't talk to anymore without getting hatemail from their girlfriend.
Fuck the fucking fuckers.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nathan Phelps and the right of self

I just read the speech that Nathan Phelps gave the American Athiest convention in 2009 ( and I am stunned. It addresses a few things that I hadn't realized were present in my own life, such as the discomfort that Christians feel around a person once they know that they are not speaking with a fellow Christian, the terrible crushing feeling that he describes his own children having when they realize they don't want to go to hell, the questioning of why goodness can't just be a part of who we choose to be. The biggest one was letting go of the security of faith. That touches a lot of what I have faced in my life.
Often I have told my friends that I wish I could have faith because then I wouldn't worry. Why worry when you have a free ticket to the afterlife? What could be more reassuring that no matter how craptactular your life becomes, you will be in Heaven forever once you shuffle off this mortal coil? What is 80 or so years compared to forever?
I know this isn't as coherent as it should be, but the other thing that it touched on is my own unwillingness to associate with my own conflicts. I think the reason I can be an advocate for equality and free speech is because those concepts don't hit as close to home. The defense of athiesm promotes a strong reaction in me, probably because of the old guilt and shame associated with "turning away from God." Rationally, I'm at peace with it - if God exists, then he made me and understands. Viscerally, I'm not. Athiesm means owning your sins. There is no forgiveness, no blessings. Bad things happen to good people, and the best way to avoid most of them is not to single yourself out of the herd, not to become a target, yet that's what an advocate does is stand up for something that is not widely accepted. Even now, as I write this, I wonder how it will come to haunt me...if I run for a judicial position, will my agnostic beliefs ruin my chances? Will the fact of who I am keep me from who I want to be?
I don't think that other people should have to hide who they are. Perhaps its time I trust in that belief for myself.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A quick thought...

Everything seems to be working out for me today...I keep wondering if I'm going to die or something....if so, IT WAS ALL WORTH IT! ha ha :)

(Seriously though, I'm having a great day. I hope everyone else gets one of these.)

Bach and the floor piano from Big join forces

This is awesome!

It makes my childhood go, "Yay!"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Being a judge ties your hands

Forget all those "activist judges" - as if a judge has a real ability to make laws (nope, that's the legislation) or to even request that certain cases come to them (that's the will of the people/law enforcement), Californians are ready to hang the judges on the California Supreme Court for upholding Proposition 8. It's convenient to make the justices into the bad guys; after all, they didn't find for what was right (in my and many others points of view), they found for the procedure of the law. And as much as I dislike it, I have to agree.
52% of Californians voted for Proposition 8, and made it into law. Granted, it was an extremely well-placed blow, coming with the Presidential election that was guaranteed to motivate the traditionally-undervoting segments of society who also just so happen to represent the majority of the church-going, Bible-as-law conservatives. Three steps forward, two steps back. Had a marriage equality amendment been in any other election, it would have passed. Seriously - the people who vote in non-presidential elections are usually those with a dog in the fight, and I believe California is liberal enough to make that happen. Problem is that it can't be made into a religious choice, it must be a moral one - if Joe Voter walks into a booth and reads "Marriage Equality," he's going to vote yes. It makes him seem like a good guy - equality and all that jazz. Now, with that same scenario, after his church and the media and everyone else has said "This is against God" he's not going to vote against God, after all. Hence, Proposition 8 was passed.
Now if I understand it correctly, the challenge made on Proposition 8 was that the legislature should have had to approve it first. The court could not find that this was so without destroying the way the California Constitution functions.
That being said, why the hell didn't they pick a better argument? Get this - this is the next challenge:

Prominent lawyers Theodore B. Olson and David Boies filed a lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court on behalf of two gay men and two gay women, arguing that Proposition 8 violates the U.S. constitutional guarantee of equal protection and due process.

Olson said he hopes the case, which seeks a preliminary injunction against the measure until the case is resolved, will wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a former U.S. solicitor general who served in high-level Justice Department jobs in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations.

Jesus, couldn't they have done this from the beginning? Or were they too afraid of Republicans to want to throw the Equal Rights into the mix? God, I'm really beginning to disrespect liberals. They claim to want equality, but in reality they're too afraid of losing what they have to fight for the issues they claim to stand for. Instead they play watchdog over nomenclature and inane policy (I would put a citation in here, but I was overwhelmed when I looked for the thread...)

Don't get me wrong - I'm a filthy non-activist liberal preaching on my blog about the things that I think are right. But I'm going to law school in the fall for civil policy. I think I'm in a unique position to be able to do something once I understand the rules of the game. How many other lawyers were on free lunch, were a minority in their high school, put themselves through college (with the help of Uncle Sam)? I'd go on but it just seems like tooting my own horn...the point is that I still want to make a difference, and I'm gullible enough to believe I can be a hero in my own way.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Do things really move in cycles? The seasons come and go because we're in orbit around a sun, but is anything else really cyclical? Or do we just organize our lives in that way because it seems to make sense given our environment?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

John Donne

I've been on a John Donne kick, you know, in between fighting with my school and trying not to drive myself crazy, and the guy is really pretty interesting. He was derided by Ben Johnson for not keeping to meter, but I tend to really like his writing. He thinks about a lot of the same stuff that I do.

There's a good site to read his work:

This is a particularly good one that I hadn't heard of:
But he who loveliness within
Hath found, all outward loathes,
For he who color loves, and skin,
Loves but their oldest clothes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hip to be Angry (lots of swearing)

As a sociologist, I read a lot of blogs about...well, society. Not glamour pages or Hollywood - I read about race relations, cultures, and a lot of news. More and more I see the label "white" pasted across anything racist. Now hear me out - there is a lot of institutionalized racism. A ton. If you ever want visible proof, look at a map overlay of Southern California comparing race vs. income. There is no if, and, or but about it; blacks were put into ghettos and kept there by unfair housing, discriminatory wages, and hostile environments. The same seems to be true for Hispanics (I haven't studied it - sorry). That being said, I would also like to point out, you know - to the internet in general, that NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE ARE RICH. If you haven't noticed, yes, the Power Elite (as my beloved sociology professor likes to refer to them as) is mostly made up of white men. Again, not a coincidence. However, that does not make every single white person alive responsible for the system of racism put into place. As always, money talks. If you don't have money, guess what? You're everybody's dog. Irish, Italians, Polish, Persians, Jews... all screwed by the system. All considered white by Census standards.

I read on another blog that all white people... you know what,'s the quote that set me off:

Most white people are quick to agree that "we're all human." But they rarely see how, deep inside themselves, they actually consider people who are supposedly different from themselves, in large part because of their skin color, as less than human. As less than fully deserving of fundamental "human rights."


I wish there was a Chris Rock sketch for white people that does the same thing that his Black people vs. N*** did. Yeah, I don't use the word, and I don't get much titillation out of him using it. But he makes a good point - there should be a way to separate yourself from the stupid shit that people in your color do. Someone on your baseball team does something morally repugnant - you can quit the team. You can switch political parties if they violate your beliefs. You can't quit your skin color. So why the hell should it even be used as a judge?

At the core of it, when I read things like this and am as outraged as the next person (non-white person, according to the magazine article because whites totally don't think that human values are for everyone and hence wouldn't feel outraged) I feel betrayed. I feel like telling them - "You fuckheads! You screw up everything! Just when I feel like my race isn't a mark against me you assholes go and do something to make everyone who's watching roll their eyes and go, "Uh huh, whitey. This equality thing is all a lie and you know it." FUUUUUUUCK!!!

I just want to point out again that race is a bill of goods sold to the underpriviledged to keep them contesting amongst themselves instead of with the people who make the rules - the Power Elite. It's the magician's sleight of hand, watch while I conceal billions of dollars in bailout money and corporate kickbacks - look, illegal immigrants are taking your shitty less-than-minimum-wage jobs!! Outrage! Scorn! Guess what? He didn't take your job - the man in charge of the corporations decided to pay less so that you couldn't live on that wage because he knows he can screw over the immigrant with no legal recourse. Face it, the Power Elite are the ones who decide the policy, not you, not anyone else. After all, did you get to vote on that bank bailout? Fuck no - the ones in charge said it's for the best and we shrugged and said okay. Meanwhile, you'll swallow the bullshit they pass down to you that black men are more likely to be violent, illegal immigrants take up all the welfare, and whites are involved in a system to keep everyone down.

It's ignorance, not skin color that decides this. Look around you - we're all screwed the same way. We're all just trying to get by. That white person you see on the street where you live isn't puppeting the system because those kind of white people live in gated communities, put their children in private school, and wouldn't walk in your neighborhood because it makes them nervous. That white person is stuck the same as you, bitter the same as you, and you both probably hang out together and watch the game. If not, you should - the Dodgers are having a hell of a season.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Oh man...can't begin to tell you how many ways not to expect good things from the new Wolverine movie. It has it all: wooden dialogue, stating the obvious, all the good "normal" people in the movie dying just to give Wolverine a chance to feel anguish. It's like the entire movie was written to make Wolverine into The Woobie ( Other than that, I think Sabretooth was a little better characterized than in the movies and Gambit was a complete waste. All in all - don't go see it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Playing For Change

This isn't so much a post as a link to the, The BEST version of Stand By Me I have ever heard (perhaps even beating some live ones I've heard.)
Apparently it's by a group called Playing for Change ( they're about to release a CD to benefit their fund to build music and art schools around the world. Huzzah - I'm in!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Joshua Bell can't win

Here's a link to an interesting post in another blog about the time people don't take for beauty. In short, Joshua Bell plays in the subway station one morning and only collects thirty-something dollars. Little kids try to watch him, but everyone else hurries on by, missing one of the most popular violinist of the times playing a free concert on a priceless violin.
What's interesting to me is how quickly the comments under the blog catch on the to the flaw - it was rush hour. In the morning. People had work to get to, and schedules to keep. Little kids don't. Also, how many people really like violin music (other than violinists?) Plenty of people have an appreciation for orchestra but hey, violin by itself can be a little high-pitched for the ears. I certainly wouldn't stop for a piccolo player, unless it was to steal their piccolo so they couldn't play it anymore, and the violin pieces I've seen routinely get up into the stratosphere into that shrill dog-whistle range. They're also right about him playing in the subway and people using it as a qualitative marker. The only reason anyone has heard of him was not because he played in the subway, but because he's played the Met. To be honest, I hadn't even heard of Joshua Bell until he lost his damn violin and a taxi driver returned it, which to me was a black mark on him - who loses their instrument? Anyway, I probably would have been the lone person who stopped and listened - I always stop for string players. It's a solidarity thing, even if most of them are snobby.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stress management and Mozart

Alright, so anyone who knows me knows stress - I'm stressed often. It overwhelms me. It crashes on their beaches like an angry wave of bees sometimes. It's not something I'm proud of, and the stress of knowing that I stress out my friends stresses me out more, etc... You can see how this isn't a good cycle.
At any rate, I'm trying techniques to deal with stress. Fortunately, I'm also involved with choir right now (all that singing and oxygen intake is a great stress reliever) and we're doing Mozart's Requiem. Hence the lead in to the second part of this post: Holy crap was Mozart a troubled man! I don't have a good idea of his life; I've read the play Amadeus once and it struck me as weird. And that's about all I remember of it...don't know details of his life, haven't looked them up, but just listening to his music (and I'm not just talking about Dies Irae, either) it's so....complex and twisted. I believe art comes directly from the person producing it, especially when it's not tainted by marketing. His music shows a lot of strife - the way he transitions chords and structures his phrases; this man had a lot going on in his head. I'm not just saying this coming from someone who's used to Bach and his nice structured transitions. We sang Beethoven's 9th Symphony in choir about 3 years ago and there's just such a difference. Where Beethoven was powerful, Mozart muddles. Where Beethoven used emotional, stirring phrases, Mozart interrupts and throws phrases behind other ones. It's so strange; wasn't Mozart supposed to be the all-time musical genius? Perhaps we like him because he doesn't have a clear point.
It's certainly intriguing. It's also pretty compelling. Mozart was a genius, but as I'm coming to understand, that just means that he had more complex choices and more moral quandaries in life than most people can handle. Intelligence is definitely a gift and a burden - in what parts I don't know.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Life is not a zero-sum game

It's hard to know sometimes, as much as you try to keep other people's points of view in line, what is right. Philosophers have struggled with this question to no successful conclusion; we call it moral relativity and leave it at that. Religion and science both compete for this answer but neither one moves me as a person. Neither one will answer "Should I stay in this relationship or strike out for somethimg better?" or "Do I need to buy better work clothes?" Usually this type of input is left to friends and family, but what if those support structures aren't there? What if they perpetuate bad systems of thought like abuse or self-neglect?
We don't have a net for people who learn too late that the tools they've been given in life don't do the jobs they need. Supposedly, you're supposed to be able to figure this kind of thing out on your own, but I don't buy that conclusion, either. Life is too short to try and figure this out alone, yet that's really the only choice. Perhaps I just need to find friends at the same stage of life that I'm in, which is hard because I'm unmarried, no kids, and atypically smart. And whiney...did I mention that?

Monday, March 30, 2009

One more class to go!!

Wow. After working with the database at work for the past nine months to clean it up for a report for the entire department... and having this last class and being so out of the swing of getting my assignments done that I basically did them all in the last week, I am done with the last classwork of my degree.

Now I just have to complete my project...(if I passed the class! knock on wood)
Just a few more months...kyrie eleison, christe eleison, domine miserere....

The Atlantic chimes in

God, you'd think all I did at work was read articles (I promise it's not!) but I couldn't pass up the chance to link to yet another article framing the banking collapse as a class issue.

I haven't read the entire article yet, but it calls the banks plus government an oligarchy and suggest the real solution is to break up the relationship between the two. My first thought is "Why would that make a difference?" Power is a vacuum. As the old saying goes...

I'll switch gears soon, I promise. It's just that it fascinates me that we're acting like this is news. Who didn't know that corporations were in control of our government? Seriously, how can anyone in the Senate say they work for the people with a straight face? Our judicial system is much maligned for being "rogue" but to me, it's one of the saving graces of the United States government - people with experience and lifetime tenure deciding issues that matter. No, I don't always agree with them - I'm afraid of the consequences for women with a true Republican court - but it's better than the alternative. I wrote in my law school entrance essay that the law was the true record of society because it's the one that no one remembers to cover up with spin and rhetoric. Laws can be repealed, but they stay there, indelible, as a testament to the will of the times. They are slow-moving, resistant...the very frustrating things about law are also the same reasons it makes for a great history of society. At any rate, our laws reflect that we are not a government "by the people, for the people" at this current point in time. Bailouts, tax shelters, liability limits...cui bono?

Jubak has his say

Another hit in the news, this time aiming for Congress:

Unfortunately, I don't have time to comment on this article, but it is sort of strange for me to see the things I've been concerned about in the news because let's face it....most of the time the news is more worried about Angelina Jolie's next child than directing any attention at the government. Granted, Jubak is a financial columnist, so it's in his purview, but it's on so it will get some exposure. Now just to find some more hoity-toity sociologists that think the class warfare is on...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Let them eat cake

A quote from a vitriolic Rolling Stones article on AIG:

"In essence, Paulson and his cronies turned the federal government into one gigantic, half-opaque holding company, one whose balance sheet includes the world's most appallingly large and risky hedge fund, a controlling stake in a dying insurance giant, huge investments in a group of teetering megabanks, and shares here and there in various auto-finance companies, student loans, and other failing businesses. Like AIG, this new federal holding company is a firm that has no mechanism for auditing itself and is run by leaders who have very little grasp of the daily operations of its disparate subsidiary operations." (Source:

The point here isn't to debate bailing out the banks, which I fear I am not as far up the learning curve as I would need to be able to truly grasp all the details, but to look at the attitude that is being portrayed in the piece. By far this is one of the tamer quotes; another section calls Hank Paulson a "bald-headed Frankensteinian goon" and another talks about a "guy who acted like making huge bets with other people's money would make his dick bigger." Obviously very yellow journalism, but also very in tune with what the audience is feeling. If this had been my first article to read about the bank bailout, I could see myself falling into the trap the author lays, carefully layering facts and details with crass judgment. It's not necessarily misleading - there are very valid points about the lack of oversight and deregulation that should be taken seriously. The problem is that the article is not about AIG's deregulation - it's about class warfare.
No solutions are ever presented to the problem. The entire article is one big rant about how taxpayer money is being spent bailing out guys who are in an exclusive club, who caused the problem in the first place, and who expect to be catered to due to their lifestyle. In fact, the article takes the position that what the bankers are doing (working long hours, ulcers) and deliberately derides them for it - who cares since you guys caused the problem and have lots of money? Here's the quote so you don't feel I'm exaggerating:

The most galling thing about this financial crisis is that so many Wall Street types think they actually deserve not only their huge bonuses and lavish lifestyles but the awesome political power their own mistakes have left them in possession of. When challenged, they talk about how hard they work, the 90-hour weeks, the stress, the failed marriages, the hemorrhoids and gallstones they all get before they hit 40.

"But wait a minute," you say to them. "No one ever asked you to stay up all night eight days a week trying to get filthy rich shorting what's left of the American auto industry or selling $600 billion in toxic, irredeemable mortgages to ex-strippers on work release and Taco Bell clerks. Actually, come to think of it, why are we even giving taxpayer money to you people? Why are we not throwing your ass in jail instead?"

Here we find ourselves throwing anger not at the architects of the failure, but specifically at "Wall Street types", not at the government or even Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner's policy of bailing out AIG in specific, but workers which to most Americans are indistinguishable to anyone else who works in a suit and a tie. There is no clear idea of what a Wall Street type does - I'm assuming there are multiple jobs and tiers and involvement, yet we are to direct our anger at the mere image of wealth when we have none.

The reason I bring any of this up is because this is dangerous. It's the pendulum swing of anger and intolerance that continues to return in new incarnations every generation or so. Getting angry at Wall Street doesn't erase the degrees and hard work and moving up from the bottom level of the company that many of those (mostly) men have endured. Nor does it make them responsible for the situation we find ourselves in - again, the idea of the corporation, the segmented knowledge that one has working for such a place. Just because you have a desk there doesn't make you responsible for every move the corporation makes. Hell, the article pretty much admits that the CEO and Director had no damn clue what was going on yet directs its anger towards not the named, not those in charge, but the unnamed as well.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, it's unfair to everyone who's losing jobs and homes. Period. There is no qualifier that makes it right for the people caught up in this depression, no amount of blame cast about unqualified loans and union job bashing that will make up for the sheer scope of people whose lives were destroyed by this (and still will be - it's not over.) However, to frame this in an "us vs. those who get bonuses" argument is derailing the entire discussion from where it needs to be - how the fuck do we keep this from happening again? It's casting blame to a straw man while leaving the issue out of the discussion. Being angry about employees receiving bonuses doesn't regulate the business or propose solutions; in fact, it drives a wedge even further that began in the time Bush was elected - anti-intellectualism. Just because Joe Banker wears a suit and a tie and toddles off to Wall Street at dawn to put in a 14 hour day so he can pay off his Harvard grad school loans doesn't make him evil. We don't need to lose any more intellectuals; we just need to give them incentives not to screw us over.

What strikes me as interesting is that all this kicked off during the Clinton administration, and Clinton is not a dumb man. Granted, it was during the time he had a Republican congress who liked to naysay his policies, but all the same I would be interested to hear his opinion. Taco?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's the future!

I am writing this from a phone as I sit here amazed at the continuous innovation in mylifetime. Seriously, who needs a jetpack when you've got all this? Tiny keyboard aside, this is really a neat experience.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day post

Sybilla Masters, considered the first recorded American woman inventor, lived in colonial America circa early 18th century. Masters invented a type of mill that used hammers instead of grinding wheels to grind corn for use. Since British law at the time did not recognize the right of women to own patents, it was issued to her husband after Masters appealed to King George I himself. It might also be the first patent issued to a colonist. Sybilla went on to patent another invention through her husband a year later - a special weaving technique for straw hats using palmetto fronds. Her husband was elected mayor of Philadelphia, but did not take credit for his wife's invention, which is the only reason why we know the name of Sybilla Masters today.

Although perhaps not explicitly a woman of technology as we think of it today, without innovations like this, we would have not have been able to build to supercomputers and semiconductors. It's a good exercise for everyone to see when people aren't given rights, it doesn't reduce their value; creativity will always out itself. For all those patriarchal societies, you are keeping yourselves down when you keep your women uneducated and subordinate.


Ada Lovelace Day - Join in!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Leadership and the Pack Hierarchy

There will always be a ruling class. Democracy is just a way to try to control that, to make them respond to who they are subjugating without armed revolution. What it has turned into is just a farce - on the face of it, we still have elections, congressmen to write, and activism. In the reality, just as always, money funds it. Who has the money? Not you as an individual, even though (if you're American) your collective taxes fund the government with the largest budget in the world. Nope. Corporations have you beat in influence - after all, can you afford to hire lobbyists? The government is not a faceless mass; it is made up of individuals who like to be recognized and treated specially, who have families that they want to provide for all the things they didn't have. In short, they are people, and people have had the same shortcomings for as long as people have been around. To pretend that a collective noun (government, corporation, people) can be treated as an individual and counted on to act in the best interests of others is just delusional.

A couple of thoughts...

It just occurred to me - Patience is detachment. Is this considered a virtue because it keeps you from disrupting everyone else, or because you hurt yourself less with anxiety?

Also, I wonder if the perception of time follows along a reverse Fibronacci sequence? It sure as hell seems to speed up as I get older. I have no idea if things change faster or if that's just my perception at work, but fashion trends, ideologies, job turnover - all these things seem to be taking less and less time between real changes. It troubles me in an "turning in the widening gyre" sort of way.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Yes, and (part 2)

Anyone who has been in a theatre/improv class might recognize the title of these posts. It's the most basic rule of improv, sometimes the only rule of improv - if someone gives you something, you must respond "yes, and". Not literally necessarily, but with your actions. If in improv I tell you, "My god, there's a snake on your head!" the proper response is never "No, it's a ____" because then you just killed the momentum. It's perhaps, "Yes, it's the new style. Do you like?" or maybe "So that's where I put it!" Perhaps these are particularly non-funny examples but it demonstrates the ability to keep the flow going and developing, rather than stopping it.
The reason I chose this as the title is because I've known a lot of people for whom "yes, and" is a way of life. These people don't let fear or anger guide their life. They roll with the punches, realize that life is a mixed bag, and continue to be their best regardless of the situation. A friend of mine likes to flirt back with unattractive men; for her, it's not about fear of what she is inviting or an ego that says he is beneath her - it is merely taking the situation and saying "yes, and." She is a very courageous woman who has lived with a lot more hardship than I can begin to know of, yet she is fearless. I think the "yes, and" response to life tends to draw more out of life and lets you live more confidently. I often admire her and try to emulate her, but I live with a lot of fear. No excuse, just fact.
What does all this have to do with race? I think if it was applied to the lines we draw between ourselves, it would allow us to be a little braver. "Yes, I'm white, and..." "Yes, I'm Hispanic, and..." No stereotype of any race will ever be enough to hold the complexity and wonders inside a person. Losing cultural identity and becoming homogenous isn't a valid solution to being able to relate. This approach allows for bridges between what might seem like vast cultural divides. It gives people who might be trying to give up their prejudices something to work on besides just the skin color they can see. It's also a little more forgiving to someone who might be trying to change but is at the shaky beginnings.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A New Way Forward

I am dangerously close to rescinding my non-activist status:

I'm not an expert and I have no idea of the decentralization of banks could be beneficial, but it's a protest against those outrageous executive bonuses and I'm all for that. I've known too many people who do the real hard work so the executives can play politics and get treated to lunch and drive expensive cars, and those hard workers are struggling right now. I'm supporting them and their right to be Americans with dreams instead of indentured servants to a feudalesque upper-class.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Yes and...

An interesting article about writing without cultural awareness. Apparently there has been a big discussion on livejournal (which I don't follow - just sort of stumbled into it) about race and racism and reverse-racism, etc. There seem to be two sides: the 'we should treat everyone as if color doesn't matter' side and the 'you will never know what another race goes through' side. Both sides have valid points. It's not an easy problem by any means. Empathy can be taken for pity, rudeness for racism, and effort for privilege. I find it hard to write about this now without double- and triple-examining my words. It's certainly an awareness.
One of the life-changing experiences I had in college was diversity training as an RA. It was a week-long affair, and one that I probably learned the most from any job about people and priviledge and prejudice. One of the exercises separated the men and women - women talked about things that had been said to them based on the fact that they were women and wouldn't be said to men. I believe, "You shouldn't have worn that dress if you didn't want sex" and "You're just a bitch" were some of the examples; if not, they are in the vein of what was said. Then the women were told to pick two of the things that had been said to them and we followed our RC into the next room. The men were all in a circle with their eyes closed. We whispered the statements to each man in turn, walking the circle. It was really creepy hearing those words come from our mouths and telling them to people who, while we knew and laughed with, were not quite friends yet. After we were done, they told us what the men had been told: Think of a woman you respect and admire, someone you love, and hold them in your hand. Close your eyes and imagine, as each of us came around and said our statements, that those statements are being said to the woman you love. One of the RA men cried and I felt terrible, but also realized we shouldn't have been told those things either. I'll never forget the guy who cried - such a sweetheart who cherished his loved ones. It made me feel a warmth for him that I can conjure to this day to know there are people out there who you might not guess who hold such a deep love and are still vulnerable in a way that I tend not to be anymore.
Another training that we went through was for the room to be divided. We all started out on one side, and then different topics were brought up - people of color, children who were abused, women, GLBT, etc - and each in turn those who belonged to those minority groups were asked to step to the other side of the room. That side of the room was asked to talk to the majority, to tell them things that you wanted them to know. It was an emotional day, and it hurt sometimes to see the people I had begun to form friendships on a different side from myself. The one that stands out in my mind, and really the reason for this post, is the race one. I don't reveal details here too often for fear of alienating someone who is reading and making it my story, instead of a shared one (the smiley face theory from those who have read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics), but I am white. Perhaps that has come through anyway through that unconscious priviledge I've been reading about, but for the most part I tend to try and be equanimous. Back to the story - one person, a person I deeply respect for her intellect and her willingness to talk, said, "You will never know what it's like to be black."
As an empathetic person, at first I was appalled. It was like a huge line had been drawn between myself and her, as if the trust that I had given in our shared experiences was some kind of distant thing to her because of my skin color, that all of our time together had been me fully investing and her holding back because I was not "black". Suddenly our shared experiences were marred by the fact that I no longer trusted that I knew how she felt. I didn't like it, and the words she said stayed with me, and still do to this day.
Eventually though, after thinking about it for a couple days, I realized she was absolutely right. There is no way for me to know because I am not black. She was not invalidating our experience together by saying that; she was merely stating the obvious in her mind. Just as it amazes me that the men around me can walk into a job and tell someone they know how to do something and be taken at face value, she sees the discrepancy because that's how it is for her, just like I have to explain why I know how to fix computers whenever I say I can.
This idea came to ease in my mind because it does not preclude me from understanding a situation after taking in viewpoints; to me, it means that I will not inherently pick up on certain things and sometimes I might have to work a little harder to break down my own misconceptions. This does not mean I will ever understand it a prima facie, merely that I can accept it from that point of view. I put that in italics because to me it seems a very casual dismissal of all I have read to believe that I will ever have the experience to speak from that point of view (which implies understanding.) I believe that I can find it relevant, act on that relevance but to know it, to be it, is something else.
On that note, I strongly feel no one should ever tell me what I can't feel, and I find it coming from the same reasons that she did by saying, "You can't know what it's like to be black." There is a small but very important distinction between the two; telling me I don't know what it's like is absolutely valid - the only experience I can experience is my own. Telling me I cannot feel assumes you have some superiority and know what is my capacity for emotion and that your feelings are beyond it.

More to follow...

EDIT: This article seems like a good place to start...

Monday, March 9, 2009

The neighbors in your TV

If most people live life akin to the way I do (which is probably the most erroneous assumption I can make,) then they probably don't get to see their friends or family every day. If they do, then there is probably at least some amount of time dedicated to doing something else (work, school, chores, etc.) that keeps them from engaging in the amount of socialization that they would prefer. Sensory overload also plays a part: some of us go to the bar to meet new people because that is the acceptable place to meet new people. Passing on the street, in line at stores, all of a thousand other places we could potentially meet people but these are considered inappropriate places in the most common experience. It's common in cities to ignore others as they pass you as an attempt to give them some privacy and get some of your own in return. We are literally more surrounded by people than ever before (at least in world population terms, probably density as well but I haven't verified that) and yet there is still a sense of loneliness that pervades our world. We rely on electronic pacifiers to sate our need to connect - Twitter, blogging, Facebook, text messages, television. You name it, and most of modern technology is wired around that central idea of connecting to the humans that you know and maybe meeting a few you didn't know before.
Now enter the modern living situation. Fewer people own their own homes, especially with the current economic crisis. This will probably continue to be a trend with less and less home owners and more renters. Not surprisingly, this follows the current trend of separation of lower and higher incomes, often called the death of the middle class. If you have to be rich to own a house, then only rich people will own houses. The rest will rent. This can mean an entirely different perspective than the old-fashioned 'get to know your neighbor at the barbeque' approach to social interaction.
Having renters next door or in your own house is a mixed bag. Some are the sweetest people you can find, treating where they live as a home and taking care of it. Some are horror stories just waiting for a photographer to come in and document the stained carpet, holes in walls, and disgusting bathroom. Most are in the middle, treating the home for what it is - a transitory place that they do not own and will not be living in for the rest of their life. This can affect your house value if you're the neighbor next to the renters who don't mow the lawn or cause you to end up with vermin that don't belong to you from a neighbor's less-than-sanitary food habits.
How does all this connect together? Simple - as a population we need to recognize why we need TV. If the people next door move every year, or you move every year, the desire to have strong bonds with the neighbors is just not there for most people. Why invest in a temporary relationship that means compromise and getting used to another person's idiosyncrasies? Enter where TV comes in; shows are like neighbors that you can interact with on your terms. The most long-running shows are people-centric; the Simpsons (family that never really changes), Cheers (bar friends), and the aptly-labeled Friends are all shows designed with a need to interact and be involved with another person's life. Furthermore, they can be tailored to fit your busy schedule. Can't call your friends at 10 PM? Simple - watch some TV before bed. Get up too early for the rest of the waking world? Watch some TV. Even news falls into this; invest in a story for just three minutes and then grab coffee and leave for work. Instant social interaction.
The amount of disconnect from reality in this situation (which is probably a realistic situation for a lot of people) is disconcerting. I'm not trying to bash TV watchers or label them as antisocial, but overall as a society, what does that say about us as a whole? Where do we think the pressure on our teenage girls is coming from to be thin and sexy? For boys to be action heroes? It's not from TV programs per se - it's the ability to see TV programs as a normal societal interaction. With a group of friends, one can watch TV and laugh about the stylized choices. When TV is how you connect to people after a busy day, it becomes a lot less easy to differentiate.
Again, I'm not villainizing television or television watchers - just pointing out that TV is on the whole being used as a substitute for interaction, and that puts a lot of power in the broadcast corporations over society. We need to make sure to fulfil our need for social interaction with others in a meaningful way or risk taking on even more problems with our interactions.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why I am not an activist

I was reading about the Pro-Life movement on Newsweek on an article they had detailing a reduced abortion approach and it caused me to realize why I am not an activist - when you are an activist, you are only allowed one point of view at a time. Hold up a sign that says "Right to Life" and you aren't allowed to have any other opinions at that time. If someone comes by and skewers you because you're focusing on that issue and not one of a thousand others, you can't really have an identity other than that sign. Similarly for a Pro-Choice supporter; all of a sudden you take on the entire movement on your shoulders should you decide to speak up. Since I can't dictate the entirety of any movement, nor can I agree with all the speaking points of any particular party, I decline to take on that responsibility. It seems like a very irresponsible way to handle it, but I can bet there are a lot of others out there who would stand for a lot more if only it meant keeping your full identity when you did so. I don't want to become words on a sign.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Authors Beware

I clicked on an adwords advertisement from my gmail and just happened to go to CreateSpace. Now, I am hoping one day to publish a book, so self-publishers always interest me. There are some very good ones, and then there are draconian steal-your-work-from-underneath you sites like this one. Note that I visited two pages on the site: the main page and the terms of service page. No login or trial or seeing content. Note what I have now agreed to, according to their terms of service:

"PLEASE NOTE: If you visit or shop at the CreateSpace website, or any of our members' E-Stores, you automatically accept these conditions. Please read them carefully. In addition, when you use any current or future CreateSpace service or visit or purchase from any business affiliated with us, whether or not included in the CreateSpace website, you also will be subject to the guidelines and conditions applicable to such service or business." (Note - Bold is theirs, not my addition)

So just by being directed to the site, I am already subject to their guidelines, which include the right to email me at any time I'm assuming because I figure at this point if I click on the link that takes me to the Privacy Policy, I am further agreeing to this nonsense. But alas, legalese being what it is (thanks to the ridiculous EULAs we put up with by not reading them,) you'd think all this would be pretty boilerplate....except that you're on a bookpublishing site that has this in the terms of service:

"If you do post content or submit material, and unless we indicate otherwise, you grant us a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, and display such content throughout the world in any media."

Holy shit, what? Can you repeat that? If I publish or post anything here, I am giving them not only the right to publish my work in whatever form they see fit for their own gratification, but to make derivative works (like movies, games, etc) or to sell my rights to someone else to do the same? Really? What's the point of even retaining the right to the legal work? Why don't they just come out and say that if you make the mistake of putting anything up there of value, they can fully rip you off and there is no legal recourse?

Oh wait, that's right - because then no one would use their service. I hope they don't, for their own sake. There might be a lot of bad teenage poetry out there, but it doesn't need to be stolen from the author through a stupid TOS, either.


(Oh wait, google/blogger has the same shite - "11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services." Guess the author-screwing is an internet-wide sort of affair.)

Oh well, at least google isn't claiming itself a publisher...yet.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Blogging for Literacy

Hear ye, hear ye, o commentators of the internet. After extensive cries of "First!" "fail" and "ur an idiot" you have been heard. Yes, all your data has been correlated, discombobulated, and regurgitated. Every crappy study you used to verify your pernicious conclusions and to refute other pernicious conclusions have been put into cage matches until one was beaten almost unconscious and given a chair by its manager to come from behind in an underdog upset victory. It's true - we've found the cause of all mankind's troubles - war, disease, poverty, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or happyness if you're Will Smith).
By your actions on the internet we have determined that it doesn't matter - smart people, dumb people, people who read, people who go on hearsay, and people who lie through their teeth to seem impressive all have the same thing in common - they want to be right. This desire for rightness goes so deep as to ignore other opposing facts, ignore contradictions that exist (but only on the side that one has chosen - please flame the other side about their inherent contradictions) and to drive otherwise caring, average human beings into bloggers. The internet has given the rise that people care what you think, even moreso than being the hot girl who talks too much but guys put up with for the action. Reality - no one cares! In a sphere containing billions of people, your words do not affect their opinions. In fact, if you disagree with them, it will only serve to solidify their offensive against you and get you called Hitler or worse than Hitler. Even in somewhat reasoned exchanges that do not include the word "crap" it's useless to argue on the internet. People are not online to debate and have their mind changed - that's what TV and magazine articles and hearsay from a friend are for. People get on the internet to express their own opinions like firehoses aimed at Victoria Falls. All in all, only a place to pick out what it is that you want to know and disagree with all that does not suit you, just like the buffet at the Sizzler.
So therefore, bloggers, I will continue to blog for literacy, sit around on my couch for fitness in America, and express opinions in the hope that someday we can all just get along on my terms.

(A Modest Proposal, indeed. My modesty knows no bounds!)