Tomorrow's Times Magazine (I'd link if I could figure out where it is online) has an article on the ubiquity of Disney Princess toys and the like for little girls. (Disney is apparently planning to introduce a sexier competitor line for tweens called Disney Fairies, including such wonderful items as panties with the words 'Tink's Dark Side'. The mind reels.) And this stuff is ghastly. It's not so much the sparkly pink stuff, which is fine if that's your taste, it's that if you go into a toy store, pretty much everything for sale is unambiguously coded boy or girl -- nothing's just a toy. And while the boy toys cover the whole spectrum of human experience (maybe a slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean) the girl toys are solely about gender reaffirmation -- it's pink, it's sparkly, it's feminine, and so playing with it makes you feminine, and that's the only concern you should have in life.
The penalties for being a rebel on this stuff are pretty low on an item by item basis-- no one's going to shun a little girl for playing with Hot Wheels. But no one who isn't being self-consciously feminist is going to give them to her either. My freaking mother, who raised me on Marlo Thomas and gender neutral unpainted wooden toys, found a GameBoy at a yard sale for a couple of bucks, and gave it to Newt rather than Sally without even thinking about it -- after all, it's a GameBoy. And fascinated as Sally is with Pokemon cards, they're coded male only in her social group -- the girls don't play with them, and the boys don't play with her. None of this is making her particularly unhappy right now -- she plays with her friends, and with the sparkly pink toys they play with. But man, is she firmly learning her place, and what it's normal for her to be interested in, and like most small children do, she's going along with it happily.
And I'm sitting here watching it, and I don't know what to do. If I get all nuts about 'None of that nonsense is entering my house, you'll play with your chemistry set and like it", I send her a message that girl stuff is bad, which is not something I believe at all -- my objection to all of it isn't that it's feminine, it's that it's only concerned with femininity, at the expense of the whole rest of the world. The problem is that 'girl stuff' is what's for girls, and, you know, the remainder of the universe is what's for boys. And if it works, I turn her into a freak, which I'd rather not do -- I've been there, and I'm still getting over it.
So I sit here and watch as being normal and fitting in with her friends and with other grownups pushes her into a role that I'm seriously not comfortable with. I do what I can without pressuring her too much -- she knows that while I don't object to her playing with all the femmed-out crap she wants to, it bores me to tears, and that I'm much more interested in anything that she builds, or makes, or does. But it's hard -- letting a kid be normal is so valuable to them, but what do you do when you think normal sucks?
I'm about to head south for the weekend, and will be computerless until Tuesday. Happy holidays, everyone.
Any other nominations for the official Mineshaft Christmas carol?
While I wait for my mom's delayed flight, and after Standpipe reminded me of the caterpillar I cruelly killed when I was a boy, I can tell you about something else I feel guilty about, even nearly 20 years later: my night as a hoodlum.
I have a cousin who is a little bit crazy—a little bit sociopathic, even. One night, when I was about 14 (he was in college at the time), he and I and a couple of other cousins who were in town at the time all piled in a car, with him promising to show us a good time. The plan, as it turned out, was this: He would drive, my cute female cousin would sit in the passenger seat, her brother sat in the back with me, and I manned the fire extinguisher that my crazy cousin had stolen from somewhere. We'd drive around until we found some poor, unsuspecting stranger, then my cute cousin would sweetly ask for directions and BAM! I would let loose with the extinguisher.
I know, really, I know. It was a terrible thing to do. I think we got about five people before we called it a night. I'll never forget one guy, dressed in a denim jacket, who had such a hurt "aw man, why you gotta go and do that?" look on this face, even as I was squirting him. I'm sorry, denim jacket guy. You didn't deserve that.
Anyway, on the way home, we got pulled over. The rest of us were about to soil ourselves, but sociopath cousin played it cool, and when the cop asked why, precisely, we were strenuously trying to hide a fire extinguisher with our feet, my cousin explained that it was for his dad's office and we were simply transporting it. I don't know what we'd been pulled over for, but the guy let us go.
Mamas, don't let your sons grow up to squirt innocent people with fire extinguishers; they'll feel really guilty about it, even if they still can't help laughing when they remember.
This, via all over, is too good. Todd Shriber was an aide to Congressman Danny Rehberg (R) of Montana. Shriber tried to get hackers to break into his alma mater's system and raise his GPA. They had no intention of doing it, but they never told him that.
[This post redacted as probably inadvisable, given the limits of pseudonymity and all.]
After reading this paranoid-sounding comment,
I remember David Brooks gushing about Obama in 2004. Now he's getting all this free media buildup. This was all already fishy, but the Peretz quote is the clincher. Obama is considered reliable by AIPAC.
I used to know Obama when he was my state senator. I met him several times in different contexts, and he was often very progressive about Israel-Palestine. He attended fundraisers in the Palestinian community, one in which the keynote speaker was Edward Said. That's what really made me believe in him at first. But then it all went out the window when he started his climb up the greasy pole. I wrote about this a bit in the book [One Country, an argument for a binational state in all of former Palestine], and how disappointed I was to see him basically adopting AIPAC positions. I went to see his legislative staffer in DC a couple of weeks ago and left a signed copy of the book. I got an email, ostensibly from Obama (I am sure people write these things for him), thanking me. Basically the guy has calculated that pissing off the lobby is not the way to the top, so I will eat my shoe (like Tucker Carlson) if he ever says anything remotely useful about Palestine. He is a master triangulator.
If that's true, it's not triangulating, it's selling out. A look at Obama's website turns up several vague but generally pro-Israeli-government statements. Grrr. At least this will make it harder to convince people that he's a Muslim.
You know how people are always complaining that the end of each NBA game is a "parade to the free throw line," or, conversely, that "you only need to watch the last two minutes"? Why not just ditch the game clock, keep the shot clock, and play to 100 (win by 2)? Then, if you had a game that was 90-70, for example, instead of watching the tenth man getting garbage points, you'd see the team that was down playing their asses off. The game would get more intense as it wound down. I can't believe I haven't thought of this before. The only downside I can see is that some coaches would ride their starters too long, and we'd get more injuries and weird playoff outcomes. So play to 80, whatever. Write your Congressman, let's make this happen.
Check out the picture up at Kriston's blog.
Barack Hussein Obama, baby.
From the Times, questions couples should ask before they get married. Bwahahaha. Each one is a minefield for discussion, but as a list, it's not so bad. Good to know whether the other person wants kids before you get married. Also whether they have a lot of debt, and what kind of religious tradition they want to raise the kids in. Then there are ones that are kinda odd. Are there some things you're not prepared to give up in a marriage? Aren't there lots and lots of things people don't want to give up? Friends, hobbies, family, etc. And at least one that strikes me as poorly presented: what does my family do that annoys you? Put it that way and you might as well say, "Shall we throw down, dear?" Maybe better as "Are there things about interacting with my family that I could help you with?" Anyway, long story short: don't get married, go have a drink with John Emerson instead.
So Christmas dinner around here has a tendency to collect random waifs and strays, and this year we've got a young couple (early 20s) who I don't know at all, beyond having met them once last month. (Friends who usually come for Christmas know them, and they don't have family or other friends to go to.) I hate to open presents without having something for all the guests -- can anyone think of something nice but little that would make a decent present? For some reason I'm drawing a blank.
(If I knew them even a little better, I'd go for a bottle of booze, but I don't even know whether they drink.)
I've been wanting to link to this clip of Derek Jeter running around in tights, but I knew you'd be all "objectifying! sexist!" so I hope linking to this roughly similar clip of Jessica Biel makes it ok.
(Great line from a commenter on the Jeter clip:
i've wanted to bang him since i was like five.)
Dsquared's I shit on the progressives of this planet: required reading.
Plenty to disagree with, of course, but anyone with a "solution" ought to be forced to start by addressing these points.
Even if it's true - especially if it's true - do not set your AIM Away message to "CAT scan then dr. for more tests".
He wants to increase the size of the Army. The words that spring to mind are 'a day late and a dollar short'. According to the article, an increase in the size of the Army from 484,000 soldiers to 514,000 was authorized right after September 11th. In about five years, they haven't managed to quite add all of those 30,000 -- they're hoping to get there real soon now. If we can't add soldiers any faster than that, the Army isn't going to get big enough to handle its mission in Iraq without crippling strain this decade, or in the first half of the next -- what I've been reading suggests that we're more like well over a hundred thousand, rather than tens of thousands, soldiers short of what we'd need to pacify Iraq. And this doesn't even consider what increasing the size of the Army like that is going to cost.
I'm restating the obvious here, but we just don't have the capacity to control what happens in Iraq without actually putting the US on a war footing, which we aren't going to do. All of the Army we have now, strained to the breaking point, was enough to destroy the government Iraq had before we invaded, but it's nothing like enough to end the chaos that replaced it. There's nothing useful we're doing by staying there -- it's time to end our involvement.
Today New Orleans is celebrating the fact that, almost 16 months after Katrina, the St. Charles Streetcar has started running again. It is limited service -- only the 1.2 mile loop between Canal Street and Lee Circle is running and only 2 of 17 cars are in service. In order to get the streetcars back in operation, they have had to restring the overhead power lines. They hope to have the full route restored by the end of 2008.
In May 2002, a little more than 7 months after September 11, service on the 1 and 9 subway lines was restored to Lower Manhattan. In order to get the subway back in operation, they had to rebuild 1,300 feet of subway tunnel that had been crushed by the collapse.
I always enjoy the letters page of my local paper because it's sure to contain a few missives from the land that ratiocination forgot. The distinctive prose style of the insane gives it away:
The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.
Yoda girl was at the pool today, looking quite nice in a new bathing suit. I inquired as to her post-collegiate plans and we chatted amiably for a while before I swam away. Then, as she got out of the water, 50-something frat guy said to one of the lifeguards, "Man, she's got a nice unit on her." Yes, I think this is gross and reprehensible, but the issue today was "Unit...unit...that must mean her ass!" And if unit=ass then, indeed, unit=nice. But the Urban Dictionary tells me that "unit" means "penis." Uh oh.
...Imagine it. Imagine that a big flood, a city-eating flood, came through the Sacramento Valley. Yuba-Marysville, which sits at the confluence of the Feather and the Yuba, gets knocked out; Natomas in north Sacramento is under twenty feet of water; and the Pocket in south Sacramento meets its inevitable fate. The flood collapses several Delta levees, making it impossible to send water south; Southern California has a six month supply of water south of the Delta before it needs to find some other source....
...A massive flood comes along and takes a chunk out of several cities in the Sacramento Valley and disrupts drinking water to Southern California. What would happen? Well, the Flood Center would do their best to minimize the damage. I don't think we would get the loss of life here that we saw in New Orleans, simply because there is higher ground closer and floods are easier to forecast. Reporters would cover dramatic rescues and show poignant images of horses and dogs going under. There would be lots of pan and zoom shots of rooflines under water and levees eroding. The waters would subside, hopefully without causing an epidemic. The country would declare a national disaster and vow to rebuild and keep living our Sacramento way of life. Neighborhoods would be uninhabitable wreckage. It would cost billions....
...What if floods were just one part of it? I mean, the guys at the Flood Center don't sleep at night, but if you want to know who is freaking the fuck out, they're over at the California Department of Forestry, wondering how they are going to keep a third of the state from going up in flames as artificially dense forests die from less moisture from early snowpack melt. What if Los Angeles burns during the months that the California Aquaduct is down? What if they have to choose between fighting fires in Malibu and reserving a month of drinking water? What if the nation would like to help, but it was a particularly nasty hurricane/tornado/blizzard season and has been for ten years?
Here's the thing. I think these problems are real and imminent. I wish we would solve them in advance, but I can't see how that will happen. Smart people are trying and the system is too heavily weighted in favor of shortsighted self-interest. So I wonder what it will really be like. Will there be debates in the Legislature where they decide they can't afford another disaster declaration? Will they warn would-be returnees that they purely will not get help the next time? Will cities in stupid places ebb by default, 'til the only people left there live in 19th century self-reliance? What will we do when three big disasters in ten years leave us too poor to respond to the earthquake? What will the big picture look like? What will seem normal to us?
Emerson has a couple of posts expanded from his comments in the thread below, The Chiefs of Staff aren't buying Bush's lame bullshit:
One thing that has to be repeated and repeated, and I think that this is what is motivating the generals: there's no way that a 10% increase in forces, with no significant change in strategy, can change anything militarily. I don't know where the slogan "one last push" came from -- from the media or from the administration -- but the word "last" is a dead giveaway. It cues you to ask "And after that, what?" (To my knowledge, not one in the administration has disavowed the "one last push" meme)...
...Bush's actions have partially discredited the principle of civilian control of the military. Behind that principle has always been fear of a military coup d'etat, or of free-lance military aggression by loose-cannon generals, but there have also been times when generals have been accused of fighting too timidly. McClellan in the Civil War is the example neocons always use, but WII Germany on the Russian Front is more apropos today. We're hoping that the military will restrain and neutralize an incompetent Armageddonist Commander in Chief....
Click through and take a look, particularly at the second of the two.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are apparently unanimous in finding the idea of a "surge" of 20-30K additional troops in Iraq a completely pointless idea, in the absence of any idea of how to use them in a manner likely to make any difference. And good for them, giving advice about the military practicality of policies is exactly what they're there for.
I just wish I didn't have to think: "Great, if the Joint Chiefs are saying it's a stupid idea, liberals can't be blamed for stabbing the Army in the back when it doesn't work." I hate feeling as if I have to worry what side the military leadership is on politically -- I don't like it whichever side they're taking. It's not the Joint Chiefs' fault; they haven't done anything wrong. But they should be technical advisors, not leaders of a politically influential faction, and they're getting treated in the media as the latter rather than the former.
Now that I'm back swimming, I'm back in the locker room, and that means one thing: hairy dudes. Whenever I see a hairy guy, I think, "geez, that is just not attractive." The joke, of course, is that I'm hairier than most of the guys I see, except for a few of the truly bearish Russian dudes (I don't know if they're really Russian, but that's what I like to think). One of those laws of logic is probably whispering that I should be mortified and self-conscious about this state of affairs, and I was self-conscious, back in my younger days--I remember once out shooting baskets, shirtless, with a friend when I turned to grab a rebound just in time to see one of the young women walking by making "ewww, so gross" face to her friend, and I'm pretty sure I'm right about what that was for. But this was before the days when I realized that what we enjoy and appreciate in the abstract and on strangers is only tenuously connected to how we react to people we like and interact with. Of course I could be wrong, but I don't think any of the women I've been with have been secretly mortified, and I doubt that beforehand they were ever thinking "mmm, give me a skinny hairy dude any day." (Although, no doubt, variety being variety, someone is thinking that.) And, of course, this goes for all those physical flaws that we're all so self-conscious about: be decent and engaging and don't worry about them, and neither will the person you're with.
The old thread is getting creaky. If there's more to say, let's move it here.
Some of our conversations veer into personal and intimate topics about sex, family, money, etc. I think regulars who have a one-off thing they'd like to share that requires anonymity should be able to use the name "George Washington" (e.g., a wig for their wig). That way, we know it's a regular and not a n00b, nobody gets accused of sock-puppeting, and people can share things they wouldn't have otherwise. I would only ask that people use this very infrequently and only for times that really require discretion. And I can't keep the sitemasters from looking up your IP address so you won't have total anonymity.
Today's atrocity is at least American on American, if that makes things any better. An American working for a private security company in Baghdad realized that they were stockpiling and selling weapons, and turned them in to the FBI (which I'm mystified by: I had no idea the FBI had any jurisdiction in Iraq). The Army followed up on the tip, confiscated the weapons and imprisoned the guy for months in an unheated cell where the lights never went off with no access to a lawyer. They don't appear to have physically abused him, which counts for something I suppose.
The thing which gets me about this is its entire lawlessness. Leaving entirely to one side the fact that this guy appears to have been trying to do the right thing here, there are frighteningly little controls on what we can do to people in Iraq. US laws (other than military regulations which don't apply neatly to people who aren't prisoners of war) don't apply, and while the Iraqi legal system should apply (that is, this guy was suspected of what should have been a crime under Iraqi law -- illegally selling weapons), it has no capacity whatsoever to reach into US military detention. (And, of course, the Iraqi legal system is hardly functioning.) So even if no one means to be doing anything wrongful, there are no meaningful controls on what can happen to you once you're suspected of wrongdoing.
Oftentimes I or one of my friends will be kind of "so-so" about a dude, and after sleeping with him and finding out that in bed, he's incredibly attentive, adept, and both confident and alert to signals, she or I will have a vastly improved impression of the guy. Sometimes, when I'm attracted to someone, it's in part because I imagine, through whatever strange series of conclusions I make in my mind, that they are a good and careful and perceptive lover.
I was wondering to what degree this translates across genders, and what it is that men look for in women, as lovers. Do they ever have the conversations that I've had, about how awesome their girlfriends are in the sack, and how great this is for them? I think certainly not as much. And why? Well, as I was lying in bed and almost falling asleep, I was thinking that it's because other things have become more important in men's sexual satisfaction: to wit, the physical appearance of the woman they're sleeping with. I think women have been forced into this passive sexual role, where sex is something that's done to them, rather than something that they do, or at least that what the male half of the heterosexual partnership does is more significant, more determinative. Yet, men still have to have some way to evaulate their sexual partners and their sexual satisfaction, and so they translate it into their visual responsiveness to seeing that person naked: the more it turns you on, the better the sex is, independent of any thing that naked person actually does.
What I hope is the dumbest gayest video that makes me say "Huh, I've done that."
I would not have done that with this guy.
The closest thing to justice outside movies and the Kingdom of God.
During the halftime show, they announce that Brett Favre has just broken Marino's career completions record. Marino says, with painfully forced gusto and a salute, "Congratulations, Brett!" They begin the transition to commercial, leaving us to ponder just how much Marino didn't mean it, when co-host Sterling Sharpe yells out, "He doesn't mean it, Brett!"
I just sent an Evite out to everyone I remembered RSVPing to UnfoggeDCon with more information. If you didn't get the email, please say so in the comments here or email unfoggedcon - at - unfogged - dot - com and I'll put you on the list.
And because I have another excuse to run this picture:
Oh, look, it's Peter Singer saying exactly what you'd expect about giving money to charity. (Is anyone else bothered by the opening question "how much is a human life worth?"?)
Also in the magazine, a strange question for The Ethicist:
Last Christmas, I took my grandchildren to "The Nutcracker," a ballet I love. My enjoyment was severely marred by the appearance of a black snowflake and then, even worse, a black Snow King...The entire ballet was spoiled...Does this make me a racist?
Gosh, let me think. The next question is even more chilling:
My mother is an amateur...breeder who sells undocumented Persians.
I shelled out for one, but all he does is blog. What a scam.