Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Rest of a Letter

A few people have said to me this week "Hey, I saw your letter in the Mercury!"  My response has usually been "Um... thanks.  Yeah.  Thanks."  Or something akin to that.  I'm quite happy to be in the comments section of a local newspaper defending the ranks of nerd-dom, but I didn't think they'd actually publish it.  The original letter was comically long and verbose, and I wrote it on a whim as something of a silly fan letter.

For those of you who said "Hey, I saw your letter!", though, here is the overly long original:

I normally enjoy One Day At a Time, Ann Romano's highly neat column.  While reading it, I usually experience a feeling that approximates joy.  It is with great regret, then, that I write this missive regarding her column of August 19th, 2010.

"Avoid nerds?"  Really, Ms. Romano?  That hurts.  That hurts deeply.  When your slings and arrows are directed at the effete elites of "Hollyweird" (as you so call it) I can do nothing but root for your trenchant and bitchy commentary.  I imagine you bringing the mighty to heel with nothing but a sneer and an insult, devastating and deflating the puffed-up and the arrogant whilst you sip a martini poolside like the magnificent she-bastard that you undoubtedly are.

But... Nerds?  Us?  You've used your powers bitch-smack to us?  We who have suffered so much already?  Really, Ms. Romano, that is just cruel.  While it is unfortunate that Adrianne Curry dressed as Slave Leia was groped, I can assure you that it is not generally representative of nerd behavior.  You insinuate that we are so sex-starved and perma-horny, that of course we are going to grope, fondle, caress, and otherwise boorishly handle any and all examples of the unclad female form that we happen upon.

I can assure you that, the vast majority of the time, just the opposite is true.

You see, Ms. Romano, we are a timid folk.  We generally live in awe and fear of the opposite sex (or the same sex, if that's what we're in to) and I can guarantee you that most nerds who like ladies are far more likely to comport themselves as gentlemen (or gentlewomen) than other segments of the population.  Jocks and douchebags will gleefully slap an ass at the slightest provocation.  Hip-hop enthusiasts will proclaim their approval of a lady's gyrations with boisterous enthusiasm.  Your average male will exhibit all manner of sexism and gropiness after a few beers.

Not so with nerds, though.  As a nerd who has dated other nerds, I can assure that the behavior you wrote about was not at all representative.

Oftentimes, our social awkwardness acts as a sort of anti-harassment shield.  Faced with the possibility of any intimate contact, we stammer and freeze, overthinking the entire situation.  We wonder what we should do, and fret about whether we are coming on too strong.  We try to read our opposite number, and wonder if they feel the same.  We start sentences, and then don't finish them.  For nerds, foreplay often begins with awkward hugging.  Then, if the hug goes well, we'll wonder if we should try and kiss the other person.  This usually leads to a lot of dodging around of the faces and perhaps a chaste peck.  While other social groups would interpret this as license to, for example, kiss harder and deeper, nerds will still be fretting at this point.  We will wonder whether or not tongue would be an acceptable addition, and whether or not it would be uncouth to affectionately run our hands over our partner's back.

At this point, male nerds will become anxious about whether they have an erection, or even half of one.  We are well aware poking a lady with an unwanted boner is quite rude, and will oftentimes strategically shift out of the way.

All of this needs to be sorted out well before any groping happens.  Even after sexy activity is achieved and a good time is had by all, nerds will often go home, wonder what it all meant, and the cycle of fretting and awkwardness will begin anew.

So, Ms. Romano, I can assure you that the incident you described was a horrendous anomaly.  On behalf of the vast majority of nerds, most of whom are entirely un-grabby when it comes to ladyparts, I apologize for what occurred.  I also promise that neither I, nor any other well-meaning nerd, will grope any of your various feminine bits.

As for the existence of juggalo nerds...  Such cross-pollination is necessarily impossible.  Nerds are defined by their intelligence and juggalos by their lack thereof.  Such a hybridization would be as absurdly freakish as, for example, a gay Republican.  That hypothetical hybrid would soon implode under the weight of their own fundamental contradictions.

Here's hoping that in the future the awesome power of your bitch-ray will be more tightly focused on more deserving targets.

Live Long and Prosper,

-Joe Streckert

Friday, August 27, 2010

I Have No Idea What These Are

I saw these costumes at Last Thursday on Alberta.  The majority of it was comprehensible to me- various bands set up at regular intervals, drum circles, people on stilts, fairy wings.  Normal stuff.  One particular performance, though, was rather mystifying.  I saw the figures pictured below, and found their presence genuinely enigmatic.  They were dancing, and, later one, stood utterly still.  I wondered if they were some sort of traditional costumery, or merely an invented weirdness.  Are the below-pictured a thing?  And, if so, what nature of thing?  I was perplexed.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Certain Mosque

The issue of the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" has been greatly distressing.  All manner of bigotry and nastiness has surfaced on the right, of course, but what I've found quite distressing is that leftists have been quiet on what seems to me to be a clear-cut issue of tolerance and liberty.

When Obama said that Muslims definitively have the right to build their community center on private property, my heart fluttered a little.  I was immensely pleased and got a little bit of the "Yes We Can!" vibe again.

Then he backpedaled.  He said he was not commenting on the "wisdom" of the Cordoba Center's construction.  My heart fell.

This issue should not even be a controversy.  At all.  This is the U.S., and one of the best, most admirable things that we've ever done is institutionalize freedom of religion.  No one is compelled to belong to a state church or religion.  No one is required to believe anything that the state tells them to.  Citizens are free to assemble, discuss, and believe whatever they like.  That is, really, quite profoundly incredible.

I'm an atheist- I don't believe in any kind of god or gods, and that philosophical stance is immensely important to me.  However, I think it would be massively deplorable if even atheism was enforced as a state religion.  The state should be utterly neutral in these matters.

That neutrality is not exciting or sexy.  It is not amazingly compelling.  It is, really, massively boring to have one of the most powerful entities in the history of humankind (the U.S. government) not take stands on issues such as religion.

That unsexy boredom, though, allows for so much else to transpire.  The U.S. is a stew of religions and philosophy, of mutually contradictory worldviews and outlooks.  That pluralism is utterly fantastic.  As fervently as I cling to my own philosophy, I would never, ever, want the state to enforce it.  Not even my philosophy is worthy of a breach of state neutrality.

This is profoundly important, and I really do believe that having a government divorced from any religion whatsoever (even mine!) is very, very important to maintaining a civilization.  The very idea that we should prefer one philosophy over another (on private property, no less!) is cause for distress.

I keep hoping that someone on the left will express this.  I keep wishing that some Democrat will take a principled stand and inform America that religious liberty is one of the most fundamental pillars of our free state.

But, I have my doubts.  Right now, I can't identify any admirable leftists in government.  I wish I could, but there's no one.

That distresses me far more than anything Gingrich or Palin says.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Awesome Thing: The Truth is Sticky

Jenny isn't real.

What's fantastic is how quickly we all knew that.

Just this morning, pictures of her and her dramatic quitting were zooming around the Series of Tubes, being shared as if they were fact.  By this afternoon, the full scrutiny of the Internet was on them, wondering who this woman was, where she was, if she would grant interviews, what the specifics of her job were, etc.

Soon enough the truth came out, that the photographs of a woman quitting her job and accusing her boss of being a sexist Farmville addict were, indeed, a hoax.  As nice as the mini-meme was, I was more excited at how quickly the collective intelligence of everyone was able to ferret out bullshit.  Sure, not in terms of something truly important, but the world very quickly found the truth.

And the truth stuck.  People didn't keep believing the meme because they wanted to.  Reality surfaced, and the pleasant illusion was let go.

I might sound a little idealistic here, but this makes me very happy.  More people than ever before have access to accuracy, truth, and good information.  More people than ever are able to look up and find what is, in fact, real.  More people than ever before illuminate that which is real that that which isn't.

And, when faced with the truth, it's wonderful to see people discard illusions, even little ones.  Yes, this is an inconsequential issue, but I felt rather good today knowing that our collective intelligence can, indeed, overthrow pleasant unrealities.

Ross Douthat is a Bigot

If I spent all of my time railing against right-wingers with whom I disagree, I would have no breath left in my lungs.  However, I recently came across a column I thought was so subtly nasty, that I was compelled to write about it.

Like most snooty American liberals, I read the New York Times editorial page.  Paul Krugman is probably my favorite avuncular bearded economist, and I find Thomas Friedman sort of amusing, as he usually gets quite enthusiastic about issues that broke five or so years ago.  (I recall him being very excited about cell phone cameras in the mid 2000s.  It was cute.)

Yesterday at dinner my friend L asked me if I'd read it that morning, and I said that I hadn't.  She alerted me to a piece by Ross Douthat, the NYT's resident token conservative who isn't David Brooks.  Douthat's column was basically a screed against gay marriage, but not for the reasons that you'd expect.  He does not seem to oppose gay marriage for religious reasons or because it will lead to polygamy.  He says, basically, that heterosexual marriage is special because:

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.

Again, this is not how many cultures approach marriage. It’s a particularly Western understanding, derived from Jewish and Christian beliefs about the order of creation, and supplemented by later ideas about romantic love, the rights of children, and the equality of the sexes.

This is utter sophistry.  This is ahistorical dreck.  This is nothing but thin apologetics for bigotry.  A few points:

1:  Douthat's last section, about "equality of the sexes" is particularly laughable, especially when juxtaposed with Christian and Jewish beliefs.  The ideal of sexual equality is new, and we don't have religious traditions to thank for it.  Thank the feminist movement.  Thank women's liberation.  Thank Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem for that.  Prior to that, wives were pretty much property.  You're actually going to claim that "later ideas" "supplemented" religious beliefs?  No.  Just the opposite.  These later ideas overturned religious beliefs.

2:   He is also equating marriage with monogamy.  Admittedly, this is most people's expectation, but it is entirely possible for married couples to have any array of sexual arrangements open to them.  There are plenty of happily married non-monogamists out there, and their marital unions are as legally binding as anyone else's.  Marriage, really, is about whatever the people in it say it's about.

3:  Douthat also brings children into the equation.  Aside from the fact that the children of gay couples tend to be just fine, who says marriage has to be about children?  Matrimony doesn't equate to kids.

4:  Heterosexual marriage, says Douthat, is distinctive.  All relationships are.  Heterosexual relationships are distinct from each other, and homosexual relationships are also distinct from each other.  For instance, an elderly couple who get married late in life and can't have children will have a very different relationship than young people who pop out tons of kids.  Both relationships, though, are worthy of legal sanction.

Douthat ends his column with this bit of semi-coherent vileness:

[I]f we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

"But based on Judge Walker’s logic — which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American — I don’t think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea

Douthat obviously thinks highly of heterosexual marriage.  Great.  Wonderful.  Good for him.  However, we're not just talking about how we feel about people's relationships, here.  We're talking about the law.

We're talking about health care and inheritance, tax breaks and hospital visitation rights.  We're talking about partner benefits and unique legal protections that apply to spouses.  We're talking about a whole array of privileges that come with marriage.  Very real privileges that translate into rights, money, and legal recognition.  For that state to deny such things just because "lifelong heterosexual monogamy is a unique and indispensable estate" is indeed "bigoted and un-American."

The state, in matters sexual, really ought to be neutral.  We would balk at the government taking official positions on religious beliefs, political parties, or journalistic entities.  Theoretically, the state is neutral with how it treats with all of those in their various forms and kinds.  It should be likewise so with sexual behavior.

I would not be nearly so incensed about this if it weren't in the New York Times.  Not because the NYT is a liberal newspaper, but because it's serious one with standards, an editorial board, and all that.  Even though they carry Maureen Dowd, I still expect them to maintain a certain degree of intellectual cache.

Douthat would be a more honest person if he just said his thesis directly- that he does not like the idea of gay relationships.  He is, I imagine, uncomfortable with the idea of two men having sex.  Such queasiness is not the basis for law.  I'm uncomfortable with the idea of two fat people having sex, but I still believe they should get to have their relationship sanctioned.

There is nothing left for the opponents of gay marriage.  No argument that carries any sort of serious weight.  Nothing for them to say that is at all persuasive.  On every meaningful philosophical point, they have lost.  Douthat and others like him are grasping at straws, and those straws are slipping away.