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Mon, Jan. 11th, 2010, 02:51 pm
Sophisticated Sophist Is Moving (Again)!

I will be moving this blog from LiveJournal to Blogger today. I've never been truly happy with LiveJournal's lack of features and openness, but the layoffs last year have sealed the decision due to lack of progress around here. Besides, I don't actually use LiveJournal's social networking features anymore anyway and nearly everything I do is in some way tied to Google. So why not just consolidate the one last component of my online life. My new blog, when it is imported, will be at http://deriamis.blogspot.com later today. See you all there!

Tue, Dec. 22nd, 2009, 01:58 am
Fair's Fair?

Perhaps you don't pay as much attention to politics as I do, but you might have noticed how the Republican Party is taking their role as loyal opposition a bit too seriously. More specifically, you may have observed that in the Senate, the Republicans have done everything in their power to slow and obstruct major legislation. Why? Well, the political reality is simple: if the party in power fails to pass needed/wanted legislation, they will be seen as ineffective and power will shift towards the party currently in the minority. This is the same tactic Newt Gingrich used to bring about the Republican Revolution and the tactics are every bit as effective today.

This was all made possible by Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat from Virginia, with the cooperation of the 94th Congress (specifically, the Senate). In 1975, Sen. Byrd introduced the concept of "dual-tracking" the filibuster, which allows the Senate to move on to other business if legislation is being filibustered. The idea was innocuous enough: the Senate is a busy group and needs to get things done. They had already reduced the number of Senators required to invoke cloture from 67 to 60 to speed along the process, which had so far not been successful in moving along legislation at a satisfactory pace.

Unfortunately, Sen. Byrd's great idea had unintended consequences. Soon enough, savvy politicians - like the aforementioned Newt Gingrich - realized that merely threatening a filibuster could allow the minority to effectively table legislation indefinitely. When Byrd originally conceived of his idea, the idea of "minority rule" in this manner would have been anathema; it just wasn't done. Surely no self-respecting senator would throw out all sense of propriety and reduce fairness to a simple calculation of political power! But, of course, he and the other members of Congress at the time failed to consider the fact that throughout human history, whether a thing can be done is frequently considered to be more important than whether a thing should be done. The idea that fairness is in the eye of the possessor may be an alien concept to those of you with blood flowing in your veins, but Newt was a firm believer that power was a justification of any means by which it was obtained. If those who gained that power believed themselves to be just and righteous, then the means by which it was gained were automatically correct.

Now we have the opposite situation that Sen. Byrd faced in 1975 but with the same results: now that the power to move forward with legislation rests in the hands of the minority, political maneuvering has become the rule of legislation rather than the byplay. Whereas before the filibuster allowed "limitless debate" on the topic at hand to allow Senators to reach a fully informed decision, it has now become a means by which to silence all debate and criticism. As of this date in December of 2009, it is not possible to bring forward legislation on any controversial issue in the Senate with any assurance that it will even be debated. Hence, our current position on health care reform in this country; whether you agree with the concept of health care reform from a liberal standpoint or not, you should at least be able to recognize that not much meaningful discussion on the issues has revealed itself. Instead, we get obviously laughable talk about "death panels" and equally ludicrous concessions to purveyors of such scuttlebutt.

Of course, the question must be asked of why the filibuster rule as envisioned in 1975 still exists today. Obviously, the problem we face now wasn't entirely sudden; indeed, except for the sudden spike in filibusters when Democrats and Republicans switched places in the leadership of the Congress in 2008 (shame on you, Mitch McConnell!), the rate of filibusters has gradually increased since the 1975 change, with more recent years seeing a sharper upturn. A reasonable person would expect that at some point, a group of Senators would have noticed the trend and would have done something to fix it. And if you'll believe that, I have some ocean-front property...

Indeed, it is highly likely that Senators noticed what was happening and either through apathy or deliberate inaction did not fix it. Again, the desire for power and the belief that intentions can justify actions probably had a large role in our current predicament. After all, why would you remove an advantage you possess in promoting your agenda? A thing is only unfair if it is to your disadvantage, they probably said to themselves, and even if we are currently in power now, we must recognize that eventually we will be the minority who wishes we had not been the ones to get rid of a potential advantage over the majority. I'm half sure some Senators may even have convinced themselves that the procedural "dual-track" filibuster even represented a sort of check on majority power in the Senate. In any case, as long as that power to check the majority was not misused, it allowed the minority to remove objectionable legislation from the table when the majority became too haughty. Ostriches hide their heads in the sand rather well, in my estimation.

The basic misunderstanding here isn't about unintended consequences, the ability of intentions to justify actions, or even about the political ramifications of power. No, the problem here is fundamental - so fundamental, in fact, that any kindergartender could explain it: what's fair is what you would find acceptable when you are the one at a disadvantage. Or, more simply, "treat others as you would want to be treated." Just because you can do a thing doesn't mean you should. Every kid on a playground at some point learns how to make rules in a game: make the game fun and challenging but still allow any team to win by playing the game, even when they are the one behind in "score". The current filibuster rule violates playground politics because it allows the losing team to take their ball and go home while at the same time declaring themselves the winner. How does the team formerly in the lead now win when the loser just declared victory by fiat? But the rule never changes because the winning team wants to be able to be the spoiled brats when they're losing, too.

Something obviously needs to be done about the filibuster rule, but for that to happen the entire Senate majority party, and some of the minority (that's 67 votes for you bean counters), would have to be convinced to do so. Given the current political climate, I don't hold out much hope of such a circumstance arising without rather extreme persuasion on the part of their constituents - a likelihood I hold to be even less probable given the current record of voter apathy. Nonetheless, I still believe that something should happen one way or another to convince the Senate that fairness is much more than what works for one party at a time. Hopefully, one day, our politicians will learn the wisdom of watching playground politics the way we watch theirs.

Wed, Dec. 16th, 2009, 05:45 pm
In memoriam Buford II

Some time between 12:30pm and 4:30pm today, December 16, 2009, a small life passed into the endless night. Buford II, possessed of a will to live outstripping mere rathood, succumbed to the ravages of time far later than most other rats - more than five years passed on this Earth during his short stay here. Alas, as is true of all life, his is no longer with us.

Buford II never did like humans very much; most of the time he barely tolerated people touching him and he never did learn how to take food from anyone's hand without biting. He never exercised, either: wheels and hamster balls scared him too much. But Buford II certainly loved to eat, and he would climb to the top of his cage for every meal.

Even so, Buford outlived two other rats who died of disease early in their lives. Buford soldiered on alone in his life, preferring the company of his rat pellets, water bottle, and cage stuffing. Sometimes, he would even annoy the Hell out of me at night by rattling the top of his cage to get an extra treat or by noisily drinking water out of his bottle for five minutes straight at 3:00am. I loved that little rat, though. His quirks were endearing in their own way.

Buford II was my husband's rat, though neither one of us considered ourselves to be his owner. Still, I will miss him. Requiescat in pace, meum parum amicus.

Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009, 06:19 pm
Open Letter to President Obama

I try to do my part to influence politics from time to time. If only I had some assurances that my message will actually be read by someone who influences policy.

Mr President, I have recently become aware of a disturbing trend in your political behavior of late. While I am relatively satisfied with your progress on issues facing the American public, at least in terms of past presidents, I have noted with growing concern that your political motives seem to be increasingly prominent in your policy decisions. I hope, if this message is read by either yourself or an influential member of your staff, to do my part as a citizen of this country in helping you to realize your goals as President.

Firstly, let me remind you that it was the people who elected you into your current office. I know that historically this was not always the case for your public office - and that even today there is a great deal of indirection via the electoral college - but the fact remains that the influence of the voting public on your election was particularly large. Please do remember this fact, for it is very important to the political career of any elected official in this new century.

Second, I remind you of the promises you made to the people that marked your name at the ballot box. Specifically, you should remember that you promised the repeal of DADT, the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (or at least a reduction in our involvement), financial assistance to families affected by the recession, and an overhaul of our healthcare system. While you have not been absent nor idle on any of these issues, you certainly have not been particularly active on any one in particular. You are now widely perceived as a President with too many goals and a lack of an ability to accomplish them.

From what little I can tell, you seem to be following the conventional Washington wisdom that ensuring your further political career is important to public service. That wisdom was never quite advisable and is now poisonous to your efforts. I recommend that you remember that your people need you right now and that if you do right by them, your political career is assured. If you need an example, look to Barney Frank, who is outspoken and even at times rude to his constituents and yet is still consistently re-elected to office by wide margins. Trust the people who elected you to stand behind you at the ballot again; show that trust by forgetting what you know of Washington politics to demonstrate your strong principles where your people can see them.

Wed, Nov. 4th, 2009, 09:58 pm
I Don't Hate You

I don't hate you
Your hair is too red
Damned Mick!
Get down the street
We don't serve your kind here
Get a job
But renounce your Pope first

I don't hate you
Your eyes are too slanted
Damned Jap!
Get down the street
We don't serve your kind here
Get a job
But wash my clothes first

I don't hate you
Your skin is too dark
Damned nigger!
Get down the street
We don't serve your kind here
Get a job
But pretend you are White first

I don't hate you
Your hair is too long
Damned hippie!
Get down the street
We don't serve your kind here
Get a job
But cut your hair first

I don't hate you
Your wrist is too limp
Damned fag!
Get down the street
We don't serve your kind here
Get a job
But pretend you are straight first

I don't hate you
But you are different
All people
Have differing rights
Equality is ephemeral
And only for those like me.

Wed, Nov. 4th, 2009, 02:44 am
Question Answered

The passing of Question 1 in Maine is a serious blow to supporters of gay marriage, it is true. Likely, many people I know are feeling intense sadness and bitterness at the outcome of the vote. But let us all remember that the voter turnout was very low during the election. The results reflect that a minority believes that gays do not deserve the same rights others have, and that the minority was allowed to have power. Do not let yourself be convinced that the question is answered definitively; only what those people who voted have answered is known.

For that matter, spare a thought for the people for whom this question was not asked. Many more people still live without the right to marry the person of their choosing because of another's belief. We aren't done with our work, and we must press on. Bitterness is not excused by defeat when there is still work to do. Shed tears for the loss for a time if you must, but keep asking the question until people understand that rights for us is the same as rights for everyone.

Tue, Nov. 3rd, 2009, 11:26 pm
Money and Power

There is an old saying: if you want to know who has the power, follow the money. Never was a more true thing spoken from one person to another, for this truth echoes throughout nearly every interaction between people. Would you like to know who has power in your life? Consider what happens if you don't pay your mortgage or your car note, or if you don't pay the power bill. It's amazing to consider that the price of freedom seems not to be only vigilance, but a thinner wallet.

As easy as those who hold power over your everyday life are to identify by looking over your own finances, less easy is it to see who has power in government. The reason? Nobody has to clearly identify where their money comes from when explaining what influences their decisions in public office; we do not have any way to identify who holds power over those the voters choose to serve, so no person, save those directly involved in the exchange of money, may clearly know who the true masters of society are.

The problem is that our founding fathers were right for the wrong reasons. While it is very important that power be checked in its exercise, balanced with opposition, and always distrusted, a complete picture of who holds what power and where was never considered important to the framers of our nation. The fact that money and power follow similar paths was well-known even in the late eighteenth century, but the influence of money over elected office was not an important concern. What we forget in our modern year is that in the year the constitution was ratified, power was almost exclusively wielded by landed gentry; having money was strongly associated and correlated with a strong education, and those were the people who were not only best-considered for office but were also likely best-suited for it. The few exceptions to the rule are remarkable as examples of the American Dream and of their rarity.

But the political landscape of the United States of America is far more complicated now than it was then. The large transfer of wealth to the corporate sector over the years, coupled with the rise large media conglomerations has concentrated the amount of power those with money possess. It is far easier now than ever before to color the perception of a political candidate and to influence his or her vote once in office with the promise of funds for re-election - or with the promise of money after office through lucrative professional associations. Only recently has the trend begun to change with the Internet providing some clarity on various obscure issues through the power of independent bloggers, but the Internet is inherently unreliable on the quality of any information gleaned; while facts provided by bloggers can be checked, the time and money to do so has not been adequately dedicated to the task. Worse, those in power have discovered the cheap media outlet that is the Internet and are using it to their advantage.

The solution is obvious: reduce the effect of money in determining the acquisition of power; one could as well wish for the sky to turn pink with purple polka-dots as expect such a thing to happen. Implementing reforms to repair the oversight of our founding fathers would require the cooperation of those benefiting from the situation to change it. The best we could expect at this time are half-measures, platitudes, and promises to think about working on the problem. For what reason would any person making money by holding power ever give up that power? For what reason does any person benefiting at the expense of another suddenly decide to step down off his fellow's back and lift him up to a proud countenance? Only two possibilities exist: appeals to the conscience or making those who profit responsible for the outcomes; as Upton Sinclair discovered, the former is as rare as the Warren Buffets and Andrew Carnegies of the world.

The question is, then, of how we make those truly in power responsible for the results of their influence. Answering that question is where those with conscience fail because any sense of justice is inevitably hampered by the subjective sense of fairness. Do police officers responsible for the protection of the public pay restitution to those they fail to protect? Are prosecutors held responsible for failure to punish only the guilty and are defense attorneys responsible for failure to protect the innocent? No. We allow atrocities to go unpunished out of a sense of fair play to those who may not be responsible - as it should be. True justice would be too cruel to uphold, and we instinctively steer away from making possible what may end up punishing us at some point in the future.

But perhaps there is an easier way to free ourselves from the power of those who wield influence over us: we take from them that which gives them power. With simple attention paid to those to whom we give money, and with enough information about who holds power over us, we may gain some advantage over our masters. We can make money a double-edged sword, striking down those who would profit from our suffering. Yes, with vigilance - the only price of freedom - we may regain what we lost to the mega-corporation and the well-funded political party. But therein lies the problem: if vigilance is the hard work that must be done to secure our freedom, who will take the first watch?

Edit: I should mention that I do not advocate for either major political party, nor do I specifically advocate for the electorate to shift its vote in any way. What is missing from political discourse and legislative action is not some subjective measure of conservative or liberal ideology. No one person or political party owns the whole truth; good ideas and consciences exist in all parts of the political map. What I ask is for people to watch their elected officials and find ways to ensure that the power remains with the people. There is no reason that we should allow only politicians and those who fund them to determine the course of our nation.

Tue, Sep. 15th, 2009, 02:27 am
Eyeliner and Go-Go Boots

Women have boobs and men have pecs. Men have penises and women have vaginas. Women wear makeup to work, and men stop at moisturizer. Men don't wear panties - women do. Women wear skirts, but men call them kilts.

Much of the language we use on a daily basis is centered on sexual the sexual and gender differences between men and women - even the terms "man" and "woman" are inherently gender-biased. It's impossible to separate gender from speech however hard we try to do so. But people do try and even more words are invented, such as "sexist", "feminist" and even "misogynist" and "misandrist" to explain the differences between how different people come to differing interpretations of the same words.

I was recently accused of being sexist - or at least of using inherently sexist language - and I find myself confused by the label. I don't consider myself to interpret human beings in terms of anything other than physical and behavioral characteristics displayed by individuals. Even the somewhat racist ideations I have at times are produced by this - how difficult is it to not form an opinion of a black male who is dressed like a thug? Similarly, what opinions should I not form about a woman who burns her bra, calling them the shackles men impose upon them? What about the women who prefer to be called "womyn" instead, as if inventing a new term should increase understanding?

Speaking of which, I should define the terms I use, just in case someone out there is prepared to misinterpret what I have to say:

the attitude of discrimination on the basis of sex.

the belief that women are inferior to men; the belief that women are by default sexist; discrimination against women.

the belief that men are inferior to women; the belief that men are by default sexist; discrimination against men.

the physical characteristics of an organism that determine reproductive roles.

culture-specific behavior norms, normally but not necessarily, associated with one’s sex, and/or the state of acceptance of those behavior norms irrespective of sex.

indicating a desire for forming life partnerships with members of the same sex or gender as oneself.

any specific ideal of gender and sexual equality with an emphasis on the role of females in society.

You may not have the same definitions, but this is the way I see things and it's how I will be using these words from now on. Besides, it's my blog and I get to have things my way here.

I should note at this point that I am not a feminist. I can't be; this is not because I do not consider females to be the equals of males but because I am not female. I have neither the organs nor the psyche of a female. I cannot have a specific ideal that emphasizes a feminine role because it would be presumptuous of me to speak for women who define their own roles in society. I do have my own biases and beliefs about the roles of males and females (which I shall share), but I can in no way speak of that which I cannot possibly understand.

For instance, I believe that females can perform nearly any task that a male can and vice-versa. I do not, however, believe that men and women are equivalent in the tasks they perform, mostly due to the physical differences between men and women. I also do not believe that men and women have any specific roles in society except the ones dictated by the reproductive processes; women bear children and have the breasts to feed them and men do not. All these distinctions should not be taken for an endorsement of any gender being superior to another - they are merely distinctions dictated by obvious facts.

Where I think things go wrong in the relations between males and females is a misunderstanding of equality. As one of my favorite childhood authors, Madeleine L'Engle, put it so wisely, "Alike and equal are not the same." Just because two people are equal does not make them alike in any respect, nor should they be considered or made to be so. This is obvious to most of us in politics - or, the reasonable among us at least - when we discuss differences in government policy. Just because conservatives and liberals hold differing views of how governments should be run does not make them unequal. Similarly, the fact that males and females have different plumbing or accept different gender roles should not imply inequality in a society. And whether males and females are equals in society also should not suggest that they will be alike in gender roles or mentality.

But now add in gays to the equation: where should gays fit into the societal boundaries of gender when they seem Hell-bent on pushing the envelope for what it means to be a man or a woman? Ladies in flannel and men in eyeliner and go-go boots seem to challenge both the stereotypes and sexual roles of males and females in our society. It would seem neither necessary nor sufficient to argue that males and females should be defined merely by sexual and gender roles, unless we would also like to make the case that gays are the "exception to the rules" we hold for everyone else. Since I seek a unified perspective on sexism, I will work towards a perspective with as few exceptions as possible.

Also, I am gay. I don't want to be an exception; I just want to be who I am. It would not be fair to hold myself apart from being equal to other men, as I so not believe that the stereotype of a man should necessarily include his reproductive role.

I don't want to become too specific here, since this is a first, broad-brush overview of the problem our society faces when considering the feminist movement and the reaction to it from members of a society. So I leave you to chew on some brain food for the next time I address this topic: what gender roles should men and women serve, and are they dictated more by society or sexual necessity?

Next time: The Rise of the Feministas and the Fall of Machismo.

Mon, Sep. 7th, 2009, 12:52 pm
The Decision is Made

I have decided that I will be moving back to Houston after all. I just don't think I can deal with the stress of living in a town without many friends and no family while I chase after money that may never come. I've hit my threshold of pain on this one. So, I'll go back to Houston and take what I have learned with me to make a success out of myself.

Also, I will be analyzing sexism and whether or not I am a sexist, due to my little confrontation on my favorite blog not too long ago. I don't really believe I am a sexist, but I think the situation is worth a little analysis for clarity. Besides, I could be wrong. Remember, I found out not too long ago that I can be somewhat racist at times. I think it's better to be honest with myself if I find parts of me that I don't like.

And yes, I will actually be doing this series. It's time we (and I) confront this issue head-on.

Thu, Aug. 27th, 2009, 05:50 am
And None Too Soon

I am really glad I am going on vacation for an extended period this Friday. I've noticed for some time now that the stress I have been under has been affecting my behavior: my moods have been erratic, I've been waspish, and I have tended to ignore the personal details that matter because I have trouble seeing past my own nose. It's something I've coped with many years now; it's the primary reason I am led to believe I have Asperger's Syndrome, as my difficulty in interacting with people is a primary stressor in and of itself.

As if I needed any evidence, I just behaved like a perfect ass in the comments section of my favorite blog, Pharyngula. And it was in the comments section of Ted Kennedy's eulogy, no less. You'd think I had a complete lack of class by reading it.

What happened is that I called a woman a bitch (because she had made some very ugly and irrelevant comments), and I was called down for the gender-based insult. It wasn't that to me, but rather than calmly explain it and apologize for the misperception I had created, I decided to be snarky and insulting in return. Granted, I wasn't being helped in my behavior by people arguing that I should be censored for the use of one fucking word because it was somehow an inherently sexist remark, but I can only blame myself for continuing the problem and becoming more insulting and disgusting as the thread progressed. All the while, I had not addressed the original problem of the insult in question, and I thereby allowed other people to form their own misbegotten opinions of me.

I created the problem and I encouraged it. I won't blame anyone else for myself for what happened because I always had the ability to stop it. I'm not sure why I didn't. All I know is that this vacation could not come soon enough. I need the time to retrain myself and tame the attack dog within me again. I really, really need to do something about this sometime.

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