Friday, February 29, 2008

On definitions and synonyms...

I know I stepped in this before, but my opinion hasn't changed.

According to
Child - noun, plural chil·dren
1. a person between birth and full growth; a boy or girl: books for children.

According to American Heritage Dictionary:

n. pl. chil·dren
1. a. A person between birth and puberty.
b. A person who has not attained maturity or the age of legal majority.

According to WordNet 3.0

1. a young person of either sex; "she writes books for children"

The defining trait of all children is age. Child does not, however, mean a loud, irrational, destructive person with poor communication skills.

If you use "child" as a synonym for the above, you're using it incorrectly. Just as a misogynist who uses "woman" to mean something other than "an adult female person" is wrong.

EG is a fucking champ in that thread, btw.
You're uncomfortable around children? Fine. Own that. It's about you and whatever issues/perspectives you have. Making it about some supposedly "objective" assessment of children's behavior turns it into "children deserve my dislike--it's not me, it's them." And the assessments used are almost always assessments that can equally apply to adults.

Exactly right.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

*Good* video games news...

I realize that most of the writing I do about video games is to complain about the sexism or racism contained in a game, or to talk about the problems within gaming culture, and that there are times when people coming here must think "and this guy likes games?"

So, I want to thank Mighty Ponygirl for writing this post about libraries in my home state providing access to video games. It's a brief article, but very interesting. Some of the local libraries have started keeping video games as a part of their collections, and have even begun hosting competitions for games like Guitar Hero.

The same article appears in the Houston Chronicle, but allows comments. Which, as you might imagine, are less than enthusiastic. Of course, there's the manditory "what about people who go to the library for peace and quiet?" comment. I have to wonder when the last time someone who makes a comment like that was actually at a library. Many libraries have: computer and internet access, televisions with movie viewing, children's play areas, music listening stations, etc. None of those things have stopped the library from also having plenty of space for people who are looking for peace and quiet. Many libraries have specific rooms set up to allow for groups to meet or for allowing people to view videos or listen to music.

My favorite comment is probably the third one down:
And the degradation of society continues. Is the library system here actually dumb enough to think that by renting video games that the kids will actually maybe check out a book? No...all they are assisting in is the expanded breeding of zombies with no social or intellectual skills.

Ah, yes, the good ol' "Video games will rot your brain!" argument. That never gets old. First of all, is anyone else tired of hearing about "the degradation of society"? Because, really, I'm not seeing it. We hit bumps and snags, but you know what, I think, in the scheme of things, society gets better over time. At what point in time do these people think we were better off? The 80s? The 50s? The 1850s? When were so much more cultured and morally virtuous? We're by no means perfect, and we've still got a long way to go, but, really... we were better off when people of color and women were treated like property, most people in our nation didn't have indoor plumbing, and the average life expectancy was less than sixty years?

Oh, right, when people talk about how society is crumbling, they usually mean either "there's something new that I don't like, and it scares me" or "my moral values are being questioned and opposed, and I don't like it." My mistake.

But, seriously, what does this person think that the library is full of, right now? Nothing but Great Works By Important Dead People? Becuase, as MP points out, there are plenty of, shall we say, socially and intellectually bankrupt books in a library. I used to check out Christopher Pike books all the time when I was young. If Tales From the Crypt and Saved By the Bell got together and created paperback spawnlings, Christopher Pike's books would be the result.

Which is to say: they're total pulp.

Delicious, delicious pulp, but pulp none-the-less.

The points that writer was getting to are a pretty common, though. There's this idea of The Library that's currently at war with what libraries are becoming. It used to be that people thought of The Library as some kind of massive brick or stone structure full of Important Information. Like Ye Olde Hall of Knowledge.

I think that's why we have the stereotype of the librarian as a mean old woman with glasses who hisses at us to be quiet all the time, and why we imagine rows upon rows of old, dusty books on stacks up to the ceiling.

The reality is that the role of libraries has been changing for years. Libraries themselves are changing. They're not just those massive intimidating stone slabs, anymore- they're becoming more and more modern, all the time. Many put as much emphasis on technology and art as they do literature. Libraries are an archive, yes, but they're not just a text archive. They're also a social institution.

As society has changed, so has the function of a library. One of the greatest things about a library is the invaluable service that it provides a society. Libraries not only collect and archive the products of a society, but they provide access to information and services and to the people who would otherwise be unable to share in them.

There's a social benefit in providing access to things like computers and film and, yes, video games. Even if video games were a completely worthless pursuit (which they're not)... so what? I actually think that, yes, the mere fact of getting the kid into the library to play the game has the potential to get the kid interested in books. Especially if, as MP suggests, the staff are using the opportunity to cross-promote related books, like displaying music related books around are in the area where you're hosting a Rock Band competition.

I think that there's still a lot of discussion to happen about how, exactly, we see the role of the library- particularly in the information age, when it's starting to seem like everything is available online and in digital form. But I think that the concept of the library as the Hallowed Hall of Written Text and Knowledge is long over. If someone is completely offended by the idea of the library as community space, I suspect that they're not visiting enough libraries.

In other, related, news:

I mailed my graduate application today. Let the nervousness of Waiting to Hear Back begin.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Make Sure You Get That Sex-Work Slam In...

Jill just posted about the murder of a gender non-conforming teen. Simmie Williams is being described by most articles as "cross dressing" or as "a male teen dressed as a woman".

A kid is dead.

Thank gods that the Miami Herald is there to point out that he was "shot in a Fort Lauderdale neighborhood known for transvestite prostitution".

Wouldn't want people to be too sympathetic, now, would we?

Where Activism and Advertising Collide...

I just stumbled upon Osocio today. It's an interesting site that describes itself as being "dedicated to social advertising and non-profit campaigns." It's a blog that collects and links back to a variety of non-profit and activist advertisments.

They collect posters and ads from around the world- and there are some that I think are really interesting- like these DV ads. They're visually striking, and I think that they illustrate the point well (that the threat of violence doesn't always come from outside).

I also like these ads about teen romance, dating, and sex, advertising Real Life. Real Talk., which was initiated by Planned Parenthood, and seeks to "positively change the social climate in communities by creating more open, honest, and balanced talk about sex and health" and "reframe sexuality as a component of healthy relationships, instead of as a commodity, the way it is often promoted in popular media."

Anyway, it's a very cool site- go, check it out!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What white people like...

Yesterday, Jill, over at feministe, made a very short post about Stuff White Poeple Like, which is a blog, aptly, about the stuff that white people like.

There were a lot of different reactions to the site, both in the comments there, and at feministe. While some people thought it was pretty insightful, there were a number of people who thought it was offensive. And then there were the people who took the site as a call to act like racist idiots (which you'll see a lot of if you read the comments there). One of the biggest complaints seemed to be that the site, itself, encourages racist thought, or that it's bad because it encourages silly stereotypes about white people, and that this is divisive and harmful.

Initially, I was a little torn abo...
That is, I was...

Oh, damnit. Wait. I'm sorry, I'm just a little distracted. I just have to take a moment to recommend a few things.

First: If you haven't seen it, I strongly suggest watching Dr. Strangelove (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). It's absolutely brilliant- given how things have been going in the United States, it's hard not to see shades of General Turgidson ("I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed. Tops. Depending on the breaks.") in some of our leaders.

Second (and for much the same reason): I have to recommend the novel Catch 22, by Heller. In the face of stop loss, the absurd catch 22 of the novel* starts to seem disturbingly real.

Third: Have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy A Modest Proposal? Genius.

So, anyway. As I was saying, initially, I was a little bit torn about the site. I couldn't decide if it was just kind of stupid, or if there was something really good going on. When I read it, #71 (Being the only white person around) was at the top, and, well... I just didn't get it. I reread the post a few times, and thought "I must be missing the joke..." I kept reading other entries, though, and by the time I had read a dozen of them, I sort of got it. It wasn't really "Stuff White People Like" it was "Stuff (young middle/middle-upper class, college educated, 'hipster') White People Like". Understandibly, that doesn't have quite the same punch that "Stuff White People Like" does.

As I said, there were a number of commenters at feministe who weren't thrilled by the site, or who were made uncomfortable, or unhappy by it. There was a sense of feeling like there was some double-standard at play, or criticism about the narrow focus of the blog- that it claims to be "Stuff White People Like" but is really about a certain sub-section of the white population- that it conflates race with class, or that it misses a lot of other things that "White People" like- NASCAR, country music, etc.

Which is important, and very obviously deliberate. The point of the site almost certainly isn't just to list stuff that we, as white people, like. And it isn't a general criticism of white people as a whole; it's a criticism of a very specific group of people- generally, white liberals. That's why the comment about double-standards probably misses the mark. Unless the point of the site is to actually list the Stuff White People Like- which, again, I suspect it's not. The site is a criticism- but the criticism isn't that we actually like the things listed- I mean, really? Divorce? Difficult breakups? Lawyers? Not having a TV? No, I don't think that it's actually about "Stuff White People Like".

And if it's obvious that the point isn't what the site says that it is, it ought to make us question "Okay, so what is it really about?"

It seems to me that the point is less about the things that we, as white liberals, like, and more about social commentary. It's about, I suspect, making trying to make us uncomfortable with and more aware of our own racial blind-spots. And if that's the case, then it's important for the site to do exactly what it's doing- keep the "stuff" of a pretty limited nature. In order for it to work as satire, it has to take the forms of stereotyping that happens to other racial/ethnic groups, and subvert them, by applying them to a specific segment of the white population.

I don't think it's because, as some people suggested, that including these other segments (the stereotypical Republican, or "Southern red-neck", etc) would let hipsters pat themselves on the back about how cool they are or what-not. I suppose that could be part of it, but my read is more about who we expect to be racist, anyway. That is: given how frequently republicans or southerners are portrayed as racist assholes, is there a lot of value in targeting them? If the point is to make a group who generally think of themselves as "post-racial" aware that, "Hey! You're not there yet!", it doesn't make sense to target people who society already condemns as being racist.

So, yeah, the list isn't inclusive- it's not supposed to be. By conflating "white" with "middle-class liberal", the blog completely employs the all too common trope of conflating social traits with race. That, for example, "black" is the same as "low-income inner-city". And I think that the point is to make us uncomfortable with ourselves (assuming that we're middle-class white liberals, obviously)- we're supposed to recognize:

1. That we're guilty of some of these things.
2. That we're not guilty of a lot of them.
3. That it's a really unflattering picture.
and most importantly
4. That it's the same kind of thing that we're guilty of doing to other people.

And, honestly, a number of entries are pretty damned awesome in how close to home they hit. Take 18, for example:

An interesting fact about white people is that they firmly believe that all of the world’s problems can be solved through “awareness.” Meaning the process of making other people aware of problems, and then magically someone else like the government will fix it.

This belief allows them to feel that sweet self-satisfaction without actually having to solve anything or face any difficult challenges. Because, the only challenge of raising awareness is people not being aware. In a worst case scenario, if you fail someone doesn’t know about the problem. End of story.

What makes this even more appealing for white people is that you can raise “awareness” through expensive dinners, parties, marathons, selling t-shirts, fashion shows, concerts, eating at restaurants and bracelets. In other words, white people just have to keep doing stuff they like, EXCEPT now they can feel better about making a difference.

Raising awareness is also awesome because once you raise awareness to an acceptable, aribtrary level, you can just back off and say “Bam! did my part. Now it’s your turn. Fix it.”

So to summarize - you get all the benefits of helping (self satisfaction, telling other people) but no need for difficult decisions or the ensuing criticism (how do you criticize awareness?). Once again, white people find a way to score that sweet double victory.

I imagine that hits a little close to home for some of us. Which is not to say that awareness raising isn't important. Rather, that raising awareness should be a part of the journey, not the end of one.

Which is to say, if it's making you a little uncomfortable in places, that's probably good. That's part of the point of satire.

*Yossarian is trying to get out of a flying combat missions during WWII. He can't stop flying missions because they keep raising the tour of duty limit, which was 25 when he started, but is raised to 80 in little over a year.

However, regulations say that he can stop flying missions if he submits a request to his flight surgeon demonstrating that he is insane, and therefore unfit to fly. Regulations also say that any sane person wouldn't want to fly combat missions because of the dangers involved. Ergo, any person who submits a request not to fly missions is acting in a sane manner, and is thus fit to fly. Further, the regulations state that any person who expresses a desire to fly missions is clearly insane, and ought to be excused from flying, as that person is unfit to fly. In order to be excused from flying, such a person needs to submit a request to his flight surgeon demonstrating that he is insane...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It turns out, maybe I'm not from Mars after all...

h/t: Jessica

If there's one kind of study that's likely to make me want to pull out my hair and grind my teeth into dust, it's the typical "Men are from Mars, women are from Venus" studies. And they're everywhere. You can't walk through the damn grocery store without seeing magazine covers yelling at you that "women do X while men do Y!" or "learn how to think like your man!" or "25 secrets about the female psyche- what she's thinking!"

And isn't it just *so* convenient that almost every time, it turns out that the "secrets" that the study reveils turn out to reinforce the status quo? Oh, how very shocking- a study finds that women talk more than men! I know I've never heard that one, before. And, for extra points, the author of that study points out that "women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion, while men have a small country road." Thank you, Dr. Brizendine, for that completely gender-busting study.

Lucky for me, I'm a data-hound, and I stumbled upon this article in the APA website. It's about the findings of psychologist Janet S. Hyde, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It turns out, there doesn't really seem to be that much difference between the sexes after all:
Gender differences accounted for either zero or a very small effect for most of the psychological variables examined, according to Hyde. Only motor behaviors (throwing distance), some aspects of sexuality and heightened physical aggression showed marked gender differences.

So... men are moderately more aggressive, and can throw things farther.


I mean, seriously... wow. Throwing things... that's pretty awesome. I mean, I guess that's great. I should take up bowling or something. I could get angry at the pins and use my manly throwing powers.

And perhaps the most unshocking, but shockingly ignored, aspect of studies about gender:

Furthermore, gender differences seem to depend on the context they were measured in, said Hyde. In studies where gender norms are removed, researchers demonstrated how important gender roles and social context were in determining a person’s actions.

I mean, who would have guess that gender- a socially constructed and enforced attribute- would be at all impacted by the social context within which it's being measured. I mean, you wouldn't expect to find that expressions of masculinity are different in a controlled lab with anonymous participants than in a high-school locker room, right?

I also found a great article by Deborah Cameron, called "What Language Barrier? Remember how it turned out that women speak more than men?

If we are going to try to generalise about which sex talks more, a reliable way to do it is to observe both sexes in a single interaction, and measure their respective contributions. This cuts out extraneous variables that are likely to affect the amount of talk (like whether someone is spending their day at a Buddhist retreat or a high school reunion), and allows for a comparison of male and female behaviour under the same contextual conditions.

Numerous studies have been done using this approach, and while the results have been mixed, the commonest finding is that men talk more than women. One review of 56 research studies categorises their findings as shown here:

Pattern of difference found / Number of studies

Men talk more than women / 34 (60.8%)

Women talk more than men / 2 (3.6%)

Men and women talk the same amount / 16 (28.6%)

No clear pattern / 4 (7.0%)

· Source: based on Deborah James and Janice Drakich, 'Understanding Gender Differences in Amount of Talk', in Deborah Tannen (ed.), Gender and Conversational

Whoops. Looks like women aren't necessarily all that talkitive when compared to their male counterparts.

Cameron has a number of books out, including one released last month called The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do men and women really speak different languages?, that I'm thinking I'll need to pick up. (I'm also very interested in some of her other books: Verbal Hygience sounds interesting, and The Feminist Critique of Language: A Reader or Feminism and Linguistic Theory. Oh, and The Lust to Kil: A Feminist Investigation of Sexual Murder).

Friday, February 15, 2008

*sings* "And I don't wanna miss a thiiing"

I got a message in my e-mail this morning from a friend of mine- I'm passing it along without further comment, because... well, what more is there to say?

Um... Is George Bush really now literally stealing national defense strategies from movies? I wonder if he's booked Aerosmith to do the soundtrack for the military maneuver....

Don't wanna close my eyes... don't wanna fall asleep...

(okay, one comment: Seriously, 80%?! I mean, we're launching a missile at the thing, and we're only giving it an 80% chance of hitting? I'm not saying I've got a better idea, but, damn, that doesn't really seem that great.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In Praise of Judge Shalina Kumar

After reading a story about someone admitting to wrong-doing getting away with it, it's good to see a local story about an abusive monster getting a real setence.

48-year-old William Pattison was convicted of four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of pandering for sexually abusing his daughter, starting when she was only a child, and pushing her into prostitution by not allowing her to see her own child unless she complied with his demands.

All of this, and the man was a corrections officer.

The judge in the case- Oakland Circuit Judge Shalina Kumar- sentenced Pattison yesterday, to 40-60 years- despite sentencing guidelines calling for a minimum sentence of only 10-15 years. The judge said that the guidelines failed to account for various elements of the case, like his position of power.

Pattison still faces charges for allegedly abusing another relative, and the woman with whom he had another child.

Judge Kumar also setenced a Cleveland man, Timothy Jeffrey, to 25-40 years yesterday, for the kidnapping and molestation of an 8-year-old girl.

And, back in November, she ruled against Kid Rock, asking "What's special about him? Why does he get to violate a court's order?" She then entered a default against him in another complaint seeking damages.

In a time when I keep seeing report after report of judges dismissing or under-sentencing serious offenses, it's good to see a judge that appears to give these crimes the serious sentences they deserve.

Detroit and the Divine Right of Mayors.


And all this time I thought he was on assignment by the people who voted him into office.

I really like how Kilpatrick says that his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, resigning was "the right thing to do". It was the right thing for her to do... but not for him. He's "on an assignment from God", and, according to the article, he's "never been a quitter and doesn't plan to start now."

Not only is Kilpatrick not stepping down, he's planning to run again in 2009, saying that he will "make a case at that point, too, why [he's] the best person for the job."

I can't wait to see that.

This scandal alone has cost the tax-payers over 9$ million. That's not exactly a drop in the ocean. Kilpatrick has a long history of scandalous behaviors that reflect poorly on a city that desperately needs a turn-around. Now he's facing perjury charges. A former Detroit auditor general estimated that Kilpatrick charged in excess of $50k in personal expenses to the city, back in '05. Three former aides- two of them former classmates of Kilpatrick's- embezzled almost $50k from the mayor's petty cash account. And then there's the bad publicity the city received in the wake of the Tamara Greene murder and the Manoogian Mansion party. Or the lease of a Lincoln Navigator that cost the city $24,955 ($5 under what would have required city council approval- convenient, yes?), but that was to be used by Kilpatrick's wife and children. There's the blatant nepotism that Kilpatrick has repeatedly engaged in- placing family and friends in high-paying positions for which they have few qualifications. There's the fact that Washington D.C. police refuse to provide Kilpatrick's entourage with the level of police protection offered other mayors because of Kilpatrick's "inappropriate" behavior on previous D.C. visits. Or the use of almost $9k of a charity fund meant to improve the city of Detroit to take his wife, sons, and babysitter on a week-long vacation to the La Costa Resort and Spa in CA. Add to all of that the countless charges of physical violence that reporters and photographers have levied at Kilpatrick and his security teams.

The city is suffering- unemployment keeps going up. The housing market is tanked. The auto industry- the life-blood of the city- is slashing jobs. And maybe he can't fix all of those problems, and maybe they're not necessarily his fault... but he is responsible for his behavior, and for the people he puts into positions of authority. And he is responsible for being the public face of the city.

And if Kilpatrick is the best person for that job, I'd hate to see the worst.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Headline News: Video Games Blamed Again. In Other News: Generalissimo Francisco Franco is Still Dead

h/t Twenty Sided

I'd say I'm shocked... but, well, this kind of story is pretty common, now. Not the disappearance- although, that, too, isn't really shocking to me, either- but the fact that video games are being blamed.

The story: A former marine who was seriously wounded in a bomb explosion, and who witnessed his best friend be decapitated, disappeared last week, after he rode off on his motorcycle following a gaming session of Call of Duty. Apparently, the man had been hallucinating and having flashbacks, following his return to the States.

Honestly, I'm surprised by how softly games are blamed in the article. I'd have expected the headline to read "Video Game Traumatizes Soldier, Tears Family Apart" or something like that. As it stands, the headline and the story aren't completely inaccurate- it's true that the game may have sparked the disappearance, in that the game triggered what sounds pretty clearly like post traumatic stress disorder.

But it also seems pretty clear that the guy was having some serious problems way before he played Call of Duty. If you're hallucinating and having flashbacks, you're probably not in a good place to begin with, and while Call of Duty may have prompted an episode, it could have just as easily been a Rambo commercial that did it. Or a car backfiring. Or, hell, the smell of dinner cooking.

That's the thing about war stress- the things that can trigger flashbacks are limitless. Call of Duty didn't screw this guy up- being nearly killed in a bomb explosion that literally took his friend's head off did. Spending 13 weeks in the hospital recovering did. Being forced to spend extended periods of time in life-or-death situations, shooting at people and being shot at did. And all of this when he was 21 years old.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine (via this article.), about 20% of U.S. troops who face combat situations will return with serious symptoms of depression, anxiety, or PTSD. If 20% are coming back with serious symptoms, imagine how many are coming back with moderate or light symptoms, too.

But, hey, Fox News, way to miss an opportunity to talk about the serious issue of how little we're doing to help the men and women we're sending over to bleed and die for "freedom and country". I mean, it's not like we've got soldiers being stuck over there 2 or even 3 times as long as they were ever supposed to be, right? Of course not. It must be because he played a video game that he took off.

I see articles about how hard it is to be away from your family, and the pressures on the men and women who are serving over seas, being asked to do far above and beyond what they were originally told, or what was ever expected when they enlisted, but I see very little attention given to the serious problems that these men and women face when they return to the private sector. And, really, that's been the elephant in the room since, like, WWII. We've known for decades that war takes a serious mental toll on the men and women who fight, but very little is really done to help.

I hope that he's found alive, and that he can finally get the help he needs- he was released almost 3 years ago, and he's still having hallucinations and flashbacks. As someone who has friends and relatives who've served, and who lived with the ghosts of their time in combat, my heart goes out to this man's family. It's tough on both the soldier and the soldier's loved ones. But that's not as good a story as "Video Game Makes Man Dissappear", I suppose.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday Analysis...

Despite my bitterness about the primary (or lack thereof) in my state, I'm obviously interested in the results of Super Tuesday (which I always imagine being said in an echo-y booming voice, like a monster truck announcer). Pam Spaulding, at Pandagon, discusses the reuslts over here. She notes that this is a pretty close race so far, and that it's refreshing to see a primary that's actually a race, and not a quick coronation.

I was checking out the results on Salon this morning, and there were a few things that jumped out at me.

If you look at "Tuesday's results by state: Democrats", you see some interesting things happening there. As far as delegates won, Clinton is in the lead with 458 to Obama's 357. But, the breakdown of where those delegates come from is what was really interesting to me. While Clinton took the majority so far, in the places where she won, it was pretty close for the most part. In the 8 states that she won, she won by an average of 56.13%, with her biggest victory coming in at 69% (which was the only victory she had above 57%). She took 3 of the 4 biggest states, and both of the states with over 200 delegates (NY and CA).

Obama, on the other hand, has a number of states where he took an overwhelming majority, despite having taken fewer delegates, overall. The first thing I noticed was that Obama took more states overall- 13 to Clinton's 8. On top of that, in the states where he won, Obama tended to win by a larger margin, with an average win of 63.15%. His biggest win was a whopping 79%, with three wins coming in over 70%, and 8 of his 13 coming in at over 60%.

I'm not sure what, if anything, that means, but I found it interesting.

Things continue to be intersting when you start looking at the Republican results, too- The Republican vote is being pulled three ways, so, overall, the candidates tended to come out with lower percentages than the Democrats, but, right now, McCain is pulling the most delegates. This, despite the fact that he doesn't have a single result over 55%. Romney, even in a 3-way race, takes the single biggest win with 90% of Utah, and 60% of Colorado. McCain has a pretty strong lead there.

Also, Huckabee is the only candidate not to get a caricature illustration. Not that they could have picked a less flattering picture for the guy.