Friday, May 16, 2008

Dear Tradition, You Suck

and other responses to the California Supreme Court's decision on marriage.

1. I am getting married. On labor day weekend. Save the date all 0 people that read this blog. I will then (or rather, starting now but continuing until November and beyond) have to fight to keep my marriage legal. You will not take this away from me.

2. Doing stuff solely because some other people did it that way is dumb. Didn't your mama ever tell you that? (Now, Jimmy, if all the other kids jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?)

Okay, sure, I like some traditions. I like the Kentucky Derby. I like this one thing my sister and I do every year where we make each other one gift for Christmas, which is always more meaningful that whatever purchased crap everyone else buys for us and each other. I like Summer Pride season.

What I don't like is Tradition. Capital T. Our past has value, sure. Connecting with your ancestors and whatever is great. Being able to learn things from other people instead of each of us having to figure out everything through personal trial and error is a monumental part of what makes us, as humans, cool. But when you want to excuse all kinds of abuses and oppression and crap because your parents did it, or your grandparents did it, or some sheep herders in the desert 3,000 years ago did it, fuck you. Fuck you, FGM fans. Fuck you, racists. Fuck you, hegemonies. Fuck you "family values" dummies who don't think my family counts. Fuck all of you.

3. Traditional marriage is polygamy. Everybody likes to bleat about how gays and "activist judges" (also known as judges who don't agree with you) are redefining marriage, pretending that marriage has been a stable institution across time or that it has always meant what it means to you.

Helloooo in there. Across time and space, polygamy - pretty much FLDS-style, child-raping, wife-beating, rigid gender roles, whatever the local answer to gingham is polygamy - wins out as the standard of "traditional" marriage. Go take an anthropological survey course. Go read your own damn Bible.

One man one woman marriage? It was a redefinition of marriage. Also, marriage being something related to love rather than property rights. Also, everything that makes marriage something that gay people actually want to "redefine" rather than run the fuck away from.


What Freedom of Speech Is (and What it is Not)

Hi dummies! I am getting really tired of some of you misunderstanding what the phrase "free speech" means in the context of U.S. law, so I wrote this post to help you out. For those of you who missed/forgot what you learned in civics class, here is the text of the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

For those of you who lack basic reading comprehension skills (but Madison, what big words you have), here is the part that deals with free speech.

Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech.

Note the word "Congress". (Now, we can have a legitimate debate about whether or not Congress actually obeys this amendment - Hell, 11 years after they ratified it, they passed the Sedition Act, and then you've got "fire in a crowded theatre," obscenity laws, defamation laws, speech restrictions in public schools and so on - but that's not why we are here.) "Freedom of Speech" means that the government is not allowed (sort of) to restrict your right to express yourself.

It does not mean that you can say whatever you want and no one is allowed to care.

Case 1: Ryan Sorba and The Born Gay Hoax.

Mr. Sorba wrote a book called The Born Gay Hoax. I slogged through about half of the advance version before I got tired of the tortured prose (this guy writes like a blog activists...hetero-repugnant-homo-narcissism...). From what I gathered, his basic thesis is that because the term "gay" and the widespread notion of an identity centered around same-sex love are relatively new constructs, gay rights are bad.

Now Mr. Sorba was giving a speech at Smith, den of liberal iniquity that it is. A bunch of lesbians disrupted his speech by shouting and otherwise making noise. He had to stop giving the speech, because the atmosphere had become too loud for anyone to hear him. Subsequently, a bunch of anti-gay activists trumpeted this supposed "free speech violation" to the world.

Newsflash, guys! Smith lesbians are not "Congress" (as much I may personally wish they were). While it may have annoyed you, the Smith protest was not illegal and it was not a violation of free speech. Nothing and nobody got hurt here except perhaps Mr. Sorba's ego. Certainly, we can have a legitimate debate about whether this protest was the best option available to Smith students, or whether or not it was the neighborly thing to do. However, for those of you who've forgotten, the 1st Amendment says "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech". The 1st Amendment does not say "You must sit down, shut up and listen to pseudoscientific propaganda from people who fell asleep in class when everyone else what discussing Foucault."

The reason why the 1st Amendment does not say that it because that, my friends, would be a restriction of free speech.

Case 2: The Firing of Crystal Dixon

Crystal Dixon was formerly an associate vice president of human resources at the University of Toledo (which is a state university, so all that government stuff is relevant here). Ms. Dixon was in charge of carrying out the school's policies on diversity.

Now, Ms. Dixon wrote what has been variously described as a letter or a column in the Toledo Free Press (the distinction is immaterial in this context) in which she outlined her views on gay rights. Ms. Dixon does not believe in gay rights. (In some sense, she does not believe in gay people - being gay is a can change...Exodus...PFOX...).

In light of this expression of her right to freedom of speech, Ms. Dixon got fired. Subsequently, a bunch of anti-gay activists freaked out about the firing. I know some of you might have gotten confused, what with Bush's track record on nominees for government positions (see David Palmer, Michael Leavitt, Bill Pryor, etc.) and all those not having to do your job if you don't like it laws for pharmacists and stuff, but being able to do your job is actually an important criterion for your retention at said job. Ms. Dixon stated, publicly, her contempt for a central tenant of her position at the University of Toledo. She was offered another position at the University, one that would not require her to uphold the rights of gay students/staff/prospective students/staff. She chose not to take it.

Let's take this out of the context of gay rights. Let's say I work for Coca-Cola. Let's say I'm in charge of marketing my company's product to schools. Now, as a private citizen, I publish an article (or a blog post, or a letter, or whatever) indicating that I think Coca-Cola is an evil product of the corn conspiracy, contributing to the decline of health and the rise of obesity in children, and that marketing Coca-Cola to schools is wrong. The next day, I have to clean out my desk. I had every right to my opinion and the expression thereof. Coke had every right to fire me.

Of course, the Coca-Cola corporation isn't the government (well...not exactly...) but this applies to publicly funded/controlled stuff too. If I work for a committee in charge of implementing the Violence Against Women Act, and I have publicly stated my opposition to the very act I'm supposed to be implementing, I should lose my job (or rather, never have been given it in the first place) no matter what President Bush may think about it.

Once again, that's: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech."
It's not "no employer may fire an employee for publicly expressing contempt for the job function they are supposed to perform."

Case 3: Calling You a Bigot

Sally Kern made a speech. In this speech, she said that gay rights are a greater threat to this nation than terrorism (which is probably true if by "this nation" you mean "white male Protestant privilege" but otherwise not true). A gay rights group filmed said speech, and made portions available on YouTube. Many people got upset. Subsequently, anti-gay activists got upset because Ms. Kern was "labeled a bigot."

Do we need to trot that Amendment out again? Sally Kern has every right to say that gays are worse than terrorists. She has every right to characterize this statement as "not anti- and not gay bashing". In short, she has the right to be a bigot. She has the right to be wrong. She does not have the right not to be called a bigot. She does not have the right not to have her statements criticized, her resignation called for, and her reelection opposed. That would be a violation of freedom of speech. "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech." Not "No one is allowed to get angry or upset at you for saying stupid crap."

Sorry. You have a right to say homophobic things. I have a right to call you a homophobe for doing to it. Too bad for you.

So stop whining about your free speech rights being violated when they haven't been. Just in case you missed the point of this post, the previous statement was not a violation of your free speech rights, even though it told you to shut up.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Howrse as a Reflection on Real Horse Breeders

So I've been playing as "edaselro" on this free (kind of) web browser game called Howrse for a little while. Despite the fact that it is a truly terrible game with little to no effort put into making it, you know, good, I keep playing it because it's such an interesting psychological study into the minds of would-be horse breeders. First, a little background on this game and how it runs. You begin with a lump of money and your very own horse or pony to train, take care of, compete with, and, eventually, breed. Of course, you can't really compete in this game unless you spend an exorbitant amount of real money to buy "passes" that in turn buy special items that give huge boosts to your horse's stats. As there are a very large number of children on this site with their parents' credit card numbers, and, inexcusably, a number of adults with nothing better to spend thousands of dollars on than a poorly-made browser game, this site makes a killing with very little effort. That so very many users are this dumb is perhaps indicative of the kind of person who is drawn to horse breeding in real life, but I digress.

The game also has certain interesting features like rare, hard to breed unicorns and a "Safe Haven" which will pay YOU to take away horses you don't want anymore. Forever. So with a functional slaughterhouse in place, I think we have all the dynamics necessary for a simulation of the real-world amateur horse breeding operations which are, sadly, so abundant.

The unicorns provide the most interesting study, I think. You have to breed two unicorn parents and exactly the right time in the game for a 1 in 6 chance of getting a unicorn baby. This is rather similar to people breeding for color in real life, although breeding a color isn't quite so difficult (although perhaps it seems that way if you don't know anything about genetics). The result? In real life, lots of horses will come out that aren't the color you're after, and because you are breeding for color without any regard to conformation, skill, soundness, or anything else that's actually important, you have a bunch of worthless horses that, far more often than not, end up in a slaughterhouse. And in the game? Its auctions are flooded with "no horn" unicorns that are basically useless, as there's no such thing as a "recessive horn" in this game. They are all labelled, "PLEASE BUY! This or Safe Haven!!! :(" and they have no skills to speak of. You would think in the confines of a video game, where you are playing with lots and lots of fake money and time is sped up dramatically, you'd eventually figure out that this wasn't working, and maybe you should at least be breeding GOOD unicorn parents together and be making a profit on the babies no matter how they came out. The problem is, just like in real life, people want a novelty and will pay for it, even if it sucks in all other regards. It turns out to be very profitable to breed trash in hopes of getting that useless horn (or color).

And then there's the Safe Haven. There are many users in this game who will flame you to kingdom come if you even suggest that the Safe Haven is a slaughterhouse. Their conscience won't allow for it, even for a horse made of ones and zeros. You would think that this would carry over into real life, when real lives were at stake, and yet thousands end up in the slaughterhouse every year. What gives? I think it's a combination of the fact that selling a horse for slaughter (like sending it to the Safe Haven) pays you (money is the ultimate motivating factor), and that sending a horse through the auctions and telling yourself that they are just going to end up in a "Safe Haven" allows a certain degree of denial. In that sense, maybe including the Safe Haven in the Howrse game isn't just a retarded way to bail out stupid, irresponsible breeders. Perhaps it's in fact a very astute observation on their part...