Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Good news happens occasionally

Via io9: a judge has ruled that corporations cannot patent human genes if they discover them.

I would like to take a moment to reflect on the entirely fucked up system that would a) produce people who think it makes sense to patent human genes, b) produce a patent office that would allow this, c) lead to corporations feeling that they have the right to do this:
[Myriad Genetics, Inc.] had a patent on a gene which can lead to breast cancer. Refusing to license the gene to other companies, Myriad had a monopoly on tests for the gene, which meant many women were denied the ability to discover whether they had an increased risk for cancer.
and d) leave the whim of some judge someone appointed as our only defense against this blatantly evil set of circumstances. I could write a whole long post about just point d, how fucked up our judicial system is, but I won't right now.

Because in practical terms this ruling is a very very good thing. A relatively minor good thing, sure, a mere drop of fresh water in an ocean of shit, but that one drop is still something to be happy about.

If the rainstorm doesn't, we will!

Providence Journal headline: "The rainstorm doesn't discriminate."

The article is about two of our local business moguls, one a higher-up at a restoration company, one the president of Gem Plumbing, whose incessant ads you're familiar with if you've ever tuned on a radio anywhere but the far left of the dial even for a brief moment anywhere in southern New England. The restoration company guy only borrowed one of his company's pumps, "even though" they have thousands of them! And the president of Gem Plubming, why, how good-hearted he is to personally call his upper-class friends and see if they need any help!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I never, ever look at the Providence Journal website, because a) that newspaper sucks, b) their website sucks, c) their website sucks, and d) the newspaper sucks. But in looking for updates on all this frickin' flooding, I came across this headline:

Woman denies having consensual sex with officer

You mean woman was fucking raped, you asswipes.

OOPSY: That's not the Providence Journal, that's the Channel 10 news website. Whatever.


OK, people, so one of the reasons I like living in Rhode Island so much is that WE DON'T HAVE NATURAL DISASTERS.


Sure, as natural disasters go, this one isn't all that bad, but I mean really. They're evacuating neighborhoods adjacent to mine.

And worst of all:


If I could get some sympathy about this from four or five people I've never met in person, I'd really appreciate it.

Manly incompetence

I had occasion this weekend to go to an emergency room (everything's fine, no need to worry). Also there was a fiftyish married couple, to my eyes typical (to the point of being stereotypical for this area) in every way. As I observed them, particularly the husband, I got to thinking about traditional masculinity and how absolutely ridiculous it is.

The event that really triggered my thinking was when the woman checking him in (the husband was the patient; sprained elbow or something) asked for his insurance card. He did not have it--his wife carried it for him. The wife at first handed him her wallet, but he made her go through it to find the card for him. Whether this was because he didn't know what the card looked like or because he didn't want to touch a ladies' wallet in public, I don't know; my guess would be that both factored into it. Then, once he had the card in hand, he had to ask the wife to help him locate the insurance number. At this point I stopped paying attention for a moment, but when my attention settled back on them they were trying to locate another number on the card. "How do I know," the guy asked, irritated and condescending, and the woman said "Well what does it say?" She eventually had to look at the card herself and find it.

It was this irritated condescension that started me thinking. You're supposed to know this for me is what it said--That's what you're for. And it is by no means unique to this one guy--I've seen that exact reaction over and over throughout my life.

So this guy doesn't know how to care for his own health, because he's too much of a guy. I think it's a fair bet to say he probably doesn't know how to prepare his own meals, either. Or do dishes. Or clean his house. Or manage his money. Hell, a lot of the men like him that I've encountered don't even know how to answer the phone comfortably.

In other words, all of the functional aspects of maintaining life and navigating societal needs--these are women's work. Any realm of basic competency, with a few minor exceptions (car care, say), your real man is supposed completely ignorant of. Not just that: he's supposed to be proud of his incompetence, and insulted if he is called upon to display any kind of knowledge in these areas.

And then women are the ones who are labeled fragile and incompetent and emotional and weak and frivolous.

This is weird and fucked up.

Library socialism

Via The Comics Curmudgeon:

Wow, Hi & Lois, really?

Somehow this recent ladypoverty essay comes to mind, but I really couldn't tell you why.

Monday, March 29, 2010

20-year history

Let's take it for granted that it sucks that a bunch of people just died in Moscow. Because it really, really sucks.

You know what else sucks? In a way that directly contributes to continued violence of this kind? Every single sentence in that CNN article. For example: Vladimir Putin's immediate response:
We are providing Moscow metro with additional CCTV cameras. Today's events show we should not only continue this work but to make it more effective. Changes in legislation may be necessary.
Or this reaction from a bystander, which is totally understandable and it's probably bad of me to want to tell this person to wake up and realize that when people are willing to blow themselves up it's not for no reason, and that the perfectly valid question they're asking of the terrorists should equally be asked of their own government:
"It's disgusting," one witness said. "I don't know who did it and what they wanted. Life is so short. How could people commit such terrible acts?"
Or this link from the article, given the absurd headline "How Chechen rebels threaten Russian stability." Or the absurd notion, directly under where the article places that link, that there is only a "20-year history" of what they call "Chechen rebels' conflict with Russia." Absurd, absurd, absurd.

Right now I can think of no better proof of the continuity of empire than Chechnya. To my knowledge, Russia has been an imperial presence there continuously since the late 1700s. The czars, the commies, Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Putin. And Americans think switching from Bush to Obama is some kind of world-shattering change.

By the way, "Female suicide bombers blamed." Nice headline there. I'm not sure whether I'm more disturbed by the need to indicate gender in the headline or by the use of the dehumanizing "female," as if maybe suicide bombers (Explosionisis suicidensis? I don't know Latin) are some kind of newly described species. Luckily they can't produce viable offspring with humans.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Digby refers to a Red State post criticizing one of hers (if you suspect that I find her original post and the Red State response equally misguided and irrelevant, you get a prize!). The topic is the constitutionality of the HCR bill. At the end of her response post, Digby says this:
This constitutional question is whether the government can mandate that individuals buy a product from a private party simply because they are a citizen. If this person is a member of the Supreme Court (God help us) then perhaps he is in a position to render such a smug, tendentious final ruling that it doesn't. Otherwise, he's just as full of shit as that guy on TV the other day.
Uh, in other words, all of a sudden Digby thinks that unless you're in a position of power you have no business stating your opinion? What is she talking about?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea p. 7

(cross-posted from Commonplace)

The best thing would be to write down events from day to day. Keep a diary to see clearly--let none of the nuances or small happenings escape even though they might seem to mean nothing. And above all, classify them. I must tell how I see this table, this street, the people, my packet of tobacco, since those are the things which have changed. I must determine the exact extent and nature of this change.

For instance, here is a cardboard box holding my bottle of ink. I should try to tell how I saw it before and now how I1 Well, it's a parallelopiped rectangle, it opens--that's stupid, there's nothing I can say about it. This is what I have to avoid, I must not put in strangeness where there is none. I think that is the big danger in keeping a diary: you exaggerate everything. You continually force the truth because you're always looking for something. On the other hand, it is certain that from one minute to the next--and precisely à propos of this box or any other object at all I can recapture this impression of day-before-yesterday. I must always be ready, otherwise it will slip through my fingers. I must never2 but carefully note and detail all that happens.

1 Word left out.
2 Word crossed out (possibly "force" or "forge"), another word added above, is illegible.


What we just witnessed with health care reform was the reflection of a disagreement among factions of the ownership class as to how to pay for the health care of workers and consumers.
The rest. It deals primarily with explaining the psychology of lesser-evilism, and how this psychology breaks down when set against the real world. Very good.

The reason I single this sentence out to quote is that I would like to point out Justin's cleverness in using that word "reflection." Because we didn't see the "disagreement among factions"--we saw its distorted mirror image in the form of "the public option" and "death panels" and "It's a baby killer!" (possibly the most hilarious sentence ever uttered since the birth of language) and so on. The actual disagreement itself, while easy to infer if you have your eyes open, took place out of sight of the rubes.

Also, if you haven't seen it (I had missed it somehow) check out the comment thread at IOZ that he links to for some excellent performances by a democrathusiast on one side, and Justin and the always-delightful Rachel on the other. The democrat's sputtering incoherencies in response to Rachel's mention of Gingrich are a sight to see, as is the speed with which a liberal's fundamental misogyny is brought to bear on her.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Just out of curiosity

Does anyone understand why the US Census's ad campaign seems so deliberately aimed at only the demographic that's most likely to already feel positively about the census?

Monday, March 22, 2010


The other week I had to sit through endless training sessions about how to be sufficiently subservient to clients of the company I work for. "Empathy statements" and "vocal tone" and "to the client you are [the company]" and all that nonsense. Sometimes I suspect that by so extensively training their employees in specific ways to fake emotions they're trying to eliminate the real thing from us entirely.

Anyway, during these classes they would occasionally play us recorded interactions between people who have our jobs and the clients. Afterwards we were supposed to rate (and then discuss, which, ugh) how the "associate" did. Every time they read off the ratings choices, both my sense of elegant parallel structure and my sense of what words mean were struck to their core (my sense of dignity had long since departed). The choices were "exceeds" (as in, "the associate exceeds the client's expectations"), "meets" (as in, "the associate meets the client's expectations") and...."opportunity."

It actually took me a while to figure out what the hell "opportunity" meant. Eventually I realized that it was another word that corporate culture had redefined to suit its own twisted needs. Opportunity, in this case, means "the associate fucked up." There is opportunity to improve!

Once I realized this, I started seeing the word used that way all over the place. Bosses were saying it, stockbrokers were saying it, John G. Miller was tweeting it. And then I remembered uses like this. And I realized: when our corporate leaders refer to events like 9/11 and Katrina and other horrible life-ending disasters as "opportunities," they're not being soulless profiteers shock-doctrining their way into ever-greater personal wealth. They're recognizing exactly how awful these events really are: every bit as terrible as a call center phone conversation that doesn't go well.

SILLY UNTRUE THEORY ADDENDUM: Maybe this is why all the good liberals are so excited about the health care abomination. It's so terrible, it's an opportunity! This theory, while about as likely to be true as the one about Obama being a secret socialist with a Plan, at least has the advantage of explaining why all the liberals seem to think that this bill will lead inevitably, or at least more easily, to its exact opposite.

Don't have the energy to talk about it here

I'm amazed, and relieved, that I've gone halfway through the work day without any of my coworkers bringing up the health care thing. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Capital can flow freely

On news of the conviction of Peter Watts (for "refusing to comply" with border police by asking what the problem was; I believe he was found not guilty of assaulting their fists with his head), many privileged white people have grown outraged (I'm looking at the comments, most of which are made by upper-middle class white people though there is some diversity there), as they should, though their surprise is a bit tiresome.

One privileged white person, the sci-fi writer Charles Stross (whose novels I have never read but whose blog posts tend to be fairly well-informed), wrote this. I think it's pretty useful:
Capital can flow freely, but labour is in shackles world-wide.

If you don't see a very specific political subtext here (being sold to the voting masses on the back of crude xenophobia and racism), let me be more explicit: labour wants to migrate where working conditions and pay are best. Capital wants to invest for growth where working conditions and pay are worst.

By penning us (the labour) in, capital can maintain, for a while, the wage imbalances that maximize profit. (Take raw material. Process as cheaply as possible. Sell for as much as possible.) In the long term, it's unsustainable -- labour in the high-cost developed world is taking a hammering due to being uncompetitive, and wages will be forced down until it is competitive, while labour costs in the developing world are skyrocketing. It'll end when American and EU wages meet in the middle with Chinese and Indian wages ... unless American, EU, Chinese, and Indian wage-earners are forced to recalibrate their expectations against the DRC or Somalia.

Welcome to the future that globalized capitalism has bought for us (and see also the vital, pressing need for election funding reform in the USA, which is the pivot on which this whole mess revolves). I'm beginning to think that, regardless of his prescription, Karl Marx's diagnosis of the crisis of capitalism was spot on the money.

Anyway, crap like this is going to keep happening as long as we're workers first and citizens last.
I feel about Stross about the same as he seems to feel about Marx. If you keep his MOR liberal audience (and, to a lesser extent, his own MOR liberal perspective) in mind, ignore the typical caveating about Marx and his implicit faith in electoral politics and the "rule of law" and all that, if you disregard his conclusions and his prescriptions, it's a very good diagnosis of the problem.

Donovan, "Riki Tiki Tavi" (bridge)

(Crossposted from Commonplace)

Everybody who's read The Jungle Book knows that Riki Tiki Tavi's a mongoose who kills snakes. Well when I was a young man I was led to believe there were organizations to kill my snakes for me: i.e., the church; i.e., the government; i.e., the schools. But when I got a little older I learned I had to kill them for myself.

Riki Tiki Tavi, mongoose is gone. Riki Tiki Tavi, mongoose is gone. Won't be coming around for to kill your snakes no more my love. Riki Tiki Tavi, mongoose is gone.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I am SO blogging about this

BREAKING NEWS: Blogger upset about possible developments that may happen in episodes of a science fiction show that haven't aired yet!

Kenneth Johnson's original 1983 miniseries V (I haven't seen the rest of the original series) is far from perfect, but it tries in its charming way to be a thoughtful anti-fascist allegory. As allegory goes it's single-mindedly straightforward and simplistic, but that still allows Johnson to do neat little things from time to time. Like when the elderly holocaust survivor recognizes what's going on, despite the fact that the first victims here are a more amorphous group (scientists--a very clever decision, I think) than the Jews were. Or at the beginning of the show when he follows a lovely dedication ("To the heroism of the resistance fighters--past, present, and future--this work is respectfully dedicated") with a scene of the cameraman character filming footage of Salvadorian rebels fighting off government helicopters (it is never stated who bought those helicopters, but it doesn't take much thought to realize).

Like I said, it's not perfect--it aired on a major American TV network, after all--but for what it is, it's pretty admirable.

The new V, despite a surprisingly awesome performance from Morena Baccarin as the leader of the aliens, is in comparison an incoherent, turgid mess, or at least has been so far. It is impossible to interpret it in any way but as an allegorized (is that a word?) version of the popular right-wing reaction to the Obama administration. Which, you know, is boring and pointless and just reinforces this bizarre concept that Obama is some kind of a radical departure from his predecessors; whether one takes this as a positive or a negative, it's equally untrue. But there we have it; we even had an episode about the evils of universal health care, as if a) such a thing would be awful, and b) we had any chance of getting it any time soon. Where the original series was a critique of the very real threat of fascism, the new one is a critique of a cartoon version of hysterically imagined socialism--covering for the ever-encroaching fascism Johnson saw almost thirty years ago.

An additionally insulting angle on it is that the new series is intensely anti-science. Johnson deliberately positioned his scientists as oppressed heroes; unrealistic considering the actual position of science in our society, perhaps, but a nice vision nonetheless. The new series replaces the scientists with heroes from law enforcement and religious vocations, discovering in each episode another way that science is evil.

And now the show is coming back from its lengthy hiatus with a new showrunner, and I learn that it's poised to become even worse. The new showrunner has decided that "at its spine, (the show is) really about two mothers and how far they're willing to go to protect their children." I could puke.
To me, Anna is the mother of all Vs. ... One of the things that I wanted to make clear in my version of the show was that Anna is not evil at all: Anna is simply an animal. She's a mother and she just wants to protect her children, her species, and she doesn't have anything against humanity. She's not evil. ... We're just something that stands in the way of her children's future.
The "mother of all Vs" thing I was willing to let slide, reluctantly; whatever, they're aliens, fine. I'd rather something else, but fine. She's "simply an animal," though? I mean, yes, we're all animals. We're primates, the Vs are lizards, sure. But can we please have a storyline that involves women without invoking the maternal instinct?
In [that] way, Erica's the same. ... Even though it's just Tyler, her son, I feel, metaphorically, she's the mother of all children.
OK, shut up. I feel bad for Elizabeth Mitchell. She just left Lost, a show where her character, and other women, were allowed to have a few motivations unrelated to motherhood and men (though admittedly they often do have those motivations, too), and now she has to be "the mother of all children" just because she's the lead woman in her new show's cast? Sucks.

Convenient, too, that the male lead of the show is a priest, so I can't even object with a "Why doesn't he have to be the father of all children?"

Also in the first four episodes we already have a nonsensical interspecies pregnancy story, because having babies is what women are for, regardless of the biology. Why else would there be women in the cast? And it's a good thing they thought to cast more than one!
I think the pregnancy story is a really fun story and weird and twisted but also very grounded and emotional. ... And there will be multiple pregnancies. ... Val will not be the only one who's pregnant.
Kill me. I can't wait for when the dramatic tension really ramps up after the scene where all of humanity walks in on Erica having sex and realizes that she's not a virgin after all but really a whore!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Affection toward institutions

Jay Taber:
Disheartening as our absence of communal relations is in America, it does help to explain our persistent affection toward institutions, as well as our attachment to their recognition and acknowledgment in validating our self-worth--indeed, in bestowing on us the right to exist.

Unhealthy as this institutionalized relationship is for us, both individually and socially, it is understandable; institutions--for better or for worse--are presently the only enduring loci of collective memories for our rootless society, disconnected from the land and lives that surround us. Until we construct more functional alternatives, institutions--despite their repeated betrayals and systematic exploitation of every aspect of our daily lives--will maintain their grasp on our lonely psyches in this perverted exchange for a sense of belonging.
The rest is good too.


So via digby I see that Kucinich has not only given up his nominal opposition to the health care ridiculousness but also begun working hard to convince others to do the same. Obviously digby and I have different perspectives on this. I take back the nice things I said about him the other day. That'll show him!

“We have to be very careful that the potential of President Obama’s presidency not be destroyed by this debate," he says. Tell me why. And what the hell is that potential, anyway? Come on. How does this shit fool anyone?

OK, I know the answer to that. It's because all of the weight of multinational capital is behind tricking people into believing nonsense like this. But my god.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

RIP Alex Chilton

Sorry about the glitch around 1:20, otherwise I love this video. Chilton's (and the rest of the band's) behavior and facial expressions are utterly bizarre and wonderful.

QBQ! Chapter Nine: Don't Ask "When?"

In which Miller continues to drive me crazy by refusing to use parallel structure. The past three chapters were all titled after "Incorrect Questions" and now this one is a command not to ask one. Hmph. Anyway.

So I guess in recent weeks Markos Moulitsas tore into Dennis Kucinich for trying to kill the current health care legislation and, sensing a good bloodfeast, Salon's Alex Koppelman dove in (Chris Floyd points out the interesting timing of this attack). In Koppelman's awkwardly sneering post he points out that in the thirteen years Kucinich has held office, only three of his bills have passed and become law. And then he points out that these are all minor things (like changing the name of a post office) of interest only to his constituents (who, being from Ohio, are clearly not important*). He also dismisses all of the actually well-intentioned and potentially beneficial legislation Kucinich has introduced (like, oh, getting out of our fucking wars) because it hasn't passed. To me, and I'm sure to four of my five readers (four of six on days when John G. Miller googles himself), the idiocy of this is obvious. The only honorable thing to do on finding oneself in the congress of the United States is to oppose it at every turn. As Floyd puts it, "just think what a howling pig circus the United States Congress has been during Kucinich's 13-year tenure...Why would anyone with even the slightest speck of honor or decency want to be considered a major, 'savvy' contributor to such a legacy?"

So when John G. Miller says
Is any procrastination going on in your life? Most people don't hesitate to admit that procrastination is a problem for them. And if it's a problem for most people, it's also a problem for most organizations. What are the consequences? Putting things off means precious time is lost. Productivity suffers. The team may not progress toward its goal. Deadlines are missed.
do you understand why I have a different perspective on that? "The team may not progress towards its goal"...well, what is that goal? Is its impact more to the good or to the bad in a context outside of corporate concerns? Most likely it is more to the bad. So if we retard progress toward that goal, we are doing a concrete good.

Note also how Miller moves in the course of this paragraph from " your life" to "deadlines are missed" for the company. It's blatantly obvious who benefits from Miller's advice--and it's not the people he's asking to follow it.

After pausing briefly for a quip, we continue:
Procrastination also increases stress. As things pile up, we begin to feel overwhelmed, which takes the joy out of our work. Bottom line: Procrastination (sic) is costly to all involved.
I hardly know where to begin with this. What takes joy out of our work, John, is our jobs. That and the very nature of employment, of working for a wage. It is a fundamentally, deliberately joyless system. Joy is its mortal enemy. It is not surprising at all that you want us to define "joy" down to "not actively loathing our lives at this moment."

The structure of this paragraph is also very reminiscent of the first paragraph I quoted (so he is capable of using parallel structure!) with its skillful transition from the personal to the corporate. This one's a bit more subtle, though, because Miller uses a word that means very different things depending on whether you're talking about an individual or a corporation: "costs." We get stressed, we get overwhelmed, we lose our joy: these are personal costs. But "costly to all involved"? Between this and the other paragraph it's clear that "costly" here is very literal.

And anyway. Miller and the other enforcers of our contemporary form of capitalism work very hard to remove from our lives what I might kind of embarrassingly refer to as magic. This is something I thought about a lot this past winter, because in the winter (in my climate anyway) a prime example of it keeps presenting itself. In our society, when it snows...what do we do? Do we take it as a sign that we should slow down and appreciate that something beautiful has happened? Of course not. We don't even take the time to play in it and enjoy it. We immediately coat it in salt and chemicals to turn it into a sludgy, disgusting brown slush, and plow it to the sides of the road (without regard to whether this blocks walking routes), to enable ourselves to risk our lives by going out in it in our cars and rushing off to our jobs. Most of my coworkers react with puzzled horror when I say I like snow. You have to clean it off your car, they say, and then you have to drive in it to get to work. Yes, I say, but it's beautiful. And you can have snowball fights and build things out of it and go sledding. You can use it, in other words, for purposes entirely outside of economic utility.

Related: probably my favorite essay ever posted on Stop Me Before I Vote Again, conveniently posted while I was composing my thoughts for this post. A sample:
Pleasure -- idle pleasure -- wasted time -- is deeply suspect; everything has to have some utility -- every investment of time or effort has to show a return. Even vacations get filed under some such rubric as "recharging the batteries", so that the striver can come back with redoubled zeal to his weary corporate climb, and more than make good the time he lost on the ski slopes.
Anything that doesn't "show a return" is, to Miller and his ilk, "incorrect," unhealthy, unproductive. This is as clear a sign as we could ever hope for that it is exactly what we should be doing at every opportunity--as if we didn't know already.

*FULL DISCLOSURE: I mailed a package from that post office once in probably 2003 or 2004, I think.

QBQ! Table of contents

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Xe Part 2

Not Blackwater.

In the first part I mentioned that the awkwardness of the xe/hir construction was a major impediment to its ability to become unmarked. This brings me to my second feeling about the word, which is that I'm not sure how I feel about efforts, like this one, to normalize "deviance."

People who fall outside of our society's norms don't have many advantages as a result of their deviations, but a major one--one that, speaking as someone with a minority sexual orientation, I fucking love--is that it gives us a leg up in recognizing those norms for what they are (i.e., societal choices rather than natural law; often, impositions by and for the benefit of power) and rejecting them. To put it simply, we're already weird--we don't have to try. And given the absolutely untenable nature of the world as it is, we have to be weird--we have to reject it. All of us.

I'm a cisgendered man, so I understand that I'm coming at this issue from a position of considerable privilege. And I certainly think that these normalizing efforts are in many ways quite noble. Transgendered people are, obviously, people. People who, like everyone else, should have the right to not be exotic if they don't want to be. Just because I feel, strongly, that the world and all of its works need to be rejected fundamentally, does not mean that I have the right to demand it of other people just because they have non-standard bodies (or whatever else non-standard someone might have). And it must be really frustrating to go through daily life not even having a pronoun that comfortably refers to you. And I am well aware that frustration is the least of transgendered people's problems as they move through this crappy society of ours.

But I know that I'm extremely grateful* for my sexuality, because that aspect of my nature has been of great help in forming my view of the world. And for much the same reason that I'm ambivalent about gay marriage (it is of course ridiculous to have legal advantages available to some of the population but not all, but I'm not eager to hitch my sexual wagon to old-timey heterosexual patriarchal property transference procedures, you know?), I'm ambivalent about xe.

*Insofar as I can be grateful of something that no one gave me.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Xe is, as far as I can tell, currently the most popular constructed genderless third person human pronoun in English (constructed to serve a purpose not adequately covered by it, which only applies to humans in a pejorative sense, and the singular they, which is a natural development of the language of ancient vintage, but which is pretty much only usable when the individual person being referred to is non-specific, rather than in cases of a specific person whose gender is not being specified). The pronoun is used primarily in cases where a person's gender is unknown (to replace the sexist practice of defaulting to "he") or when the person's gender falls outside of the traditional binary.
I have two kind of opposing, kind of complementary, feelings about the word.
The first is that as a construction it's incredibly awkward. "Xe" does not look like an English word, and there is no obvious way to pronounce it (I imagine that most people on seeing it for the first time would eventually come to the correct pronunciation, "zee," but only after some puzzling, and there's still a bunch of room for error). The object form of the word, "hir," isn't much better, particularly since on analogy from "sir" and "fir" most people would likely come to a pronunciation identical to to "her," which of course entirely defeats the purpose. If the intention is to eventually create an unmarked pronoun, so that people of indeterminate or non-traditional gender can be referred to as casually as people of specified, standard gender, then these are huge obstacles. It is true that familiarity can render anything unmarked; no one stumbles over Xerox, for example, though it shares many of the same problems. The difference, of course, is that a brand name has millions of dollars behind it working to shove it into our faces at all times; transgender people and default-he-avoiding linguistic feminists don't have this enforced familiarity working for them. In fact, both uses of the word are efforts to familiarize and normalize simultaneously (I think it's safe to say that most people don't have everyday experience with genderqueer people--to their knowledge, at any rate--or with considering the impacts of gendered language on thought). This is a difficult enough task without using such strange words. I haven't even gotten into how the particularly combination of phonemes in xe and hir make them both slightly more difficult (time and effort consuming) to pronounce than the already existent third-person pronouns, which I suspect might be an even larger obstacle.

And no, I don't have a suggestion for a better pronoun. Of what I've seen suggested, the Spivak system seems the most natural, although even it looks awfully weird written down, and no one seems to use it anyway. The naturally occurring yo found in some Baltimore schools seems promising, though I haven't heard any news about it since 2007.

My second feeling about xe is more of an emotional reaction than a procedural one. I'll be writing about it soon, hopefully tomorrow.

Incidentally, my Firefox spellchecker doesn't know the words xe, hir, genderqueer, or even transgender. Long way to go. Then again, it doesn't know how to spell Rhode Island, either, so I guess that really doesn't mean much.

Bjork asks the Question Behind the Question

I can decide what I give
But it's not up to me what I get given
Unthinkable surprises
About to happen
But what they are

It's not up to you
Well it never really was
It's not up to you
Oh it never really was

-Björk, "It's Not Up to You"
Of course, Björk is encouraging us (and herself) to see the beauty in chaos, to welcome it into our lives and be delighted by where it takes us. John G. Miller, on the other hand, is the voice of Power and therefore of order and rigidity; in his ideal world, everything that is out of our control is in the control of our superiors, and we have no option but to acquiesce to it. Beauty, of course, is right out.

I promise that there will be further QBQ posting soon. I know I've said this before. Chapter Nine is about procrastination, and by procrastinating this long in writing it I'm trying to appease John G. Miller, to make him think he's right. Then I'll show him!!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Never-ending comedy hits

Makes sense:
Ronald Reagan deserves posterity’s honor, and so it makes sense that the capital’s airport and a major building there are named for him.
Ronald Reagan fired all of the air traffic controllers for striking, and so it makes sense that the capital's airport is named after him as a reminder to stay the fuck in line.

The article goes on to talk about what a great man Ulysses S. Grant was. Something to do with being born to "humble circumstances" and "swift and forceful action to restore order and legitimate government" and I'm sure Blacks everywhere should be happy just to shine his shoes, because even though "not himself an abolitionist, he recognized from the very start that the Civil War would cause, as he wrote, 'the doom of slavery.'" So really the jokes come fast and furious. Try not to laugh too hard because you might miss some.

First impression of I'm New Here

I'm listening to Gil Scott-Heron's new album, I'm New Here, and it's really blowing me away. My first, facile, thought about it is that it sounds like a Black William S. Burroughs doing Scott Walker's The Drift, but that sells it short by making it sound derivative (not to mention that it's calling it a Black version of white things, which is goddamn crappy of me). Scott-Heron sounds really old now, in the way that the older Burroughs or Walker or Johnny Cash sound old--sometimes to the point of sounding apocalyptic.

It's also a startlingly short album; under half an hour, it feels far shorter--it just ended as I'm writing. And this is short in the good way--it gets in, does what it does, and leaves.

Incredible music, and this is all without responding at all yet to his words. Words take a lot longer to sink in for me than sounds, and I may return to this album later to write about them, and if I do I will hopefully have something more useful to say about the music as well. In the meantime: highly, highly recommended.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


After a fruitless political discussion:
We both left annoyed at the other in lieu of being pissed off at everyone else.
This, oh yeah.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Classy comedy

Guantanamo detainees now enjoy unprecedented rights far beyond those afforded to lawful prisoners of war with full Geneva protections.
Seems unlikely to me that Guantanamo detainees enjoy much of anything, really, but it's still a great joke.
I've got two posts in the works, incidentally, so hopefully my semi-silence will be ending soon. I'm still adjusting to newly-exhausting work requirements.

Monday, March 8, 2010

two systems

bakunin once said that he preferred a republic to a monarchy because "there are at least brief periods when the people, while continuously exploited, is not oppressed, in the monarchies, oppression is contant." i am unsure i can agree with this statement, because exploitation through illusion is a continuous mechanism within a republic. the illusion of power is a slight of hand that can produce cover, through complacency, for injustices of varying magnitudes. this isn't to say that authoritarianism is transparent. it just seems to prefer a different type of exhibitionism.

i don't want no trash!

In which I pretend that the Oscars are actually relevant to anything

Kathryn Bigelow just won the Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker, making her the first woman ever to do so. I hate Kathryn Bigelow: Strange Days is one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and Near Dark ain't much better. I haven't seen The Hurt Locker, but it seems to be one of those Platoon-style "makes you feel what it's like to be there" war movies that are so good at making Americans feel better about their imperial adventures by feeling guilty about them, so, yeah, no thanks.

Looking at the credits, I see that there is one high-billed woman in the movie, Evangeline Lilly, who is quite famous indeed but who is still only billed seventh, after six men. Other than her, the women in the movie are Nibras Quassem, who is credited empoweringly as "Nabil's Wife", and Kate Mines, who is actually uncredited but whom imdb lists as "Soldier." Like I said, I haven't seen the movie, but what do you want to bet it doesn't come close to passing the Bechdel test?

What a victory! I think it's safe to say that we are now living in a truly post-feminist society.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Marxist feminist blug blug

I know at least 90% of the people who read this site came here through ladypoverty in the first place, but just in case someone sees this who wouldn't have looked over there, JR has written two goddamn brilliant pieces on the intersection of commodities and gender* and you pretty much have to read them. Part one and part two.

*If that sounds daunting, note that they're named after a Kelis lyric.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Corporations are weird

I just went to the The Weather Channel's website to see if tomorrow's supposed to be as nice as today (it is!), and noticed that in the field where you enter your location it says "Enter ZIP, City or Place (e.g. Disney World)". It occurred to me to see who owned The Weather Channel, figuring that the Disney World mention was because it was an ABC channel, but no: NBC owns it. I'm now guessing it's a paid advertisement.

Anyway, then on the wikipedia entry for NBC Universal, it says that it's 80% owned by GE, which I knew, and that it formed in a merger between NBC and Vivendi Universal, which I also knew. But I don't know much about Vivendi Universal, so I clicked on their entry.

Where I discovered that they've existed since 1853, but only got into media mogul-ship in the late 1970s and early 80s. Before that, they were a water company called Compagnie Général des Eaux, founded by an imperial decree of Napoleon III.

And now GE owns them and they make French TV and own the Universal Music Group.

I don't know, stuff is weird sometimes.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why I don't like snapshots of the zeitgeist

They're almost always stupid.

That's an essay guest-posted at the increasingly useless io9 by Bob Goodman, one of the writers of Warehouse 13, a Sci-Fi ChannelSyfy show I have never watched and don't plan on watching because it sounds unbearable to me. In it he describes what he thinks the show is about. It's interesting from a writers' standpoint; as an embarrassingly infrequent writer myself, I recognize the feeling of realizing what your work is about well into the process, and also of not knowing if anyone else feels the same way about it.

As a description of the world (which it also tries to be), it's, as I hinted at above, really stupid. Here's the most ridiculous passage:
I apologize in advance for invoking 9/11, but on that day at the start of the new millennium, a group of people still fighting the Crusades used airplanes to destroy a pair of iconic buildings from the 1970's, killing 3,000 people and shocking the West's financial system... and the way we fight them is by cutting off the opium trade.
I think I've said before that sometimes people say things that are so completely unrelated to reality that you can't even describe them as right or wrong any more than you could use those words to describe, say, JRR Tolkien's take on Sauron.

As fantasy, unrelated to the real world and what actually happens in it, we can argue about the literary merits of Goodman's description of 9/11. In the real world, trying to respond to it just gives me a headache. Hey, Bob: "the Crusades" were an endless series of wars of aggression against the various Muslim nations of the middle east and guess what that's still happening. And the way we "fight them"? More by slaughtering millions of completely unrelated people than by "cutting off the opium trade." And that's just a start. I'm too tired to go any further.

All of the nonsense about the internet as a fundamental game-changer rather than a delightful convenience, well, I'm way too tired.

UPDATE: Yeah, I was definitely too tired, because I never actually got to my point, which is in two parts.

1. Trying to reduce the motivations of the 9/11 hijackers to a kind of postmodern schizophrenic mish-mash is ridiculous; it only works if you assume that they could not possibly have had an actual motive. They weren't "still fighting the Crusades" because they just felt like it, or were too stuck in the past to move on; they were fighting it because, as I said, it's still going on. Their choice of the WTC has absolutely nothing to do with its being a 70's icon--after all, if that was the case, they wouldn't have also targeted the Pentagon (ded. 1943) and the Capitol building (built over a period from 1793 to 1811). Obviously the sites were targeted because of what goes on inside of them.

And, uh, so on.

2. Goodman's colossal misrepresentation of reality in this one teensy paragraph completely disproves his entire argument, or at least reveals that he has misunderstood it. Sure, Goodman, our lives are on shuffle. But they don't have to be. You've chosen to mindlessly believe a received narrative of 9/11 that falls apart under a moment's scrutiny. But you have the information available to you to make you realize that you've been misled, if you just chose to become aware of it. That you simultaneously are conscious that you have a wealth of information available to you and refuse to make use of it reveals quite a bit about you.

Michel Houellebecq, The Elementary Particles p. 29

(cross-posted from Commonplace)

He was less interested in television. Every week, however, his heart in his mouth, he watched The Animal Kingdom. Graceful animals like gazelles and antelopes spent their days in abject terror while lions and panthers lived out their lives in listless imbecility punctuated by explosive bursts of cruelty. They slaughtered weaker animals, dismembered and devoured the sick and the old before falling back into a brutish sleep where the only activity was that of the parasites feeding on them from within. Some of these parasites were hosts to smaller parasites, which in turn were a breeding ground for viruses. Snakes moved among the trees, their fangs bared, ready to strike at bird or mammal, only to be ripped apart by hawks. The pompous, half-witted voice of Claude Darget, filled with awe and unjustifiable admiration, narrated these atrocities. Michel trembled with indignation. But as he watched, the unshakable conviction grew that nature, taken as a whole, was a repulsive cesspit. All in all, nature deserved to be wiped out in a holocaust--and man's mission on earth was probably to do just that.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In case anyone cares, and I don't know why they would

I've started a new blog where all I'm gonna do is post quotes that interest me from books I'm reading. I'm not going to put any commentary on them, and they'll be interesting for different reasons (like, for example, I won't necessarily agree with the message). It's just a way to keep them all in one place and have them open to search engines in case anyone else finds them useful. It's here. Not much on it yet.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Monitor 1

The second recorded song by Fabrik, me and the Baronette's little musical project. This one's mostly her doing, with very minor input from me. I think it's one of the most beautiful sounds I've ever heard.

Listen here.


I find Johnny Weir pretty aesthetically unappealing, and I think the Olympics are a really enormous atrocity, but IOZ has a really good point and I hereby resolve that, going forward, I will admire the ridiculous little twink.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Great men

There are no great men. Just great challenges which ordinary men, out of necessity, are forced by circumstance to meet.

-Admiral William Frederick Halsey Jr.
I had an hour-long corporate indoctrination rah-rah meeting today at work. In it, we employees were treated to long, boring, pre-recorded presentations by a few of our owners on the subject of how much money we've made them over the past year, accompanied by shitty music (there was actually a mash-up of "Use Somebody" by The Kings of Leon and "It's the Same Old Song" by Four Tops, and of course liberal use of "I Gotta Feeling" by The Black Eyed Peas). These presentations were naturally accompanied by many insipid quotes like the one above.

I single that quote out for this reason: of the thirty plus people attending this meeting only four, myself included, were men. All of the recorded presentations were by men. Everyone else involved was a woman.

There are no great men.