Friday, March 28, 2008

I ♥ (heart) things, Part II

6. Dinosaur Comics - I don't know why, but my love for this comic grows with each comic.

7. Go Fug Yourself - I'm sure I would appreciate this blog more if I knew anything about celebrity culture...regardless, the snark is 24k.

8. The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher - I was a fan of the short-lived tv series, and I actually picked up the books after. Detective fiction + humour + magic = highly readable.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Excuse me while I nerd out

io9, Gawker Media's rawther fabulous SF blog, offered up this treat recently: "Best Space Battle Smack Talk". It is, as the young folk say nowadays, made of win.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I ♥ (heart) things, Part I

  1. The Daily Show
  2. The Colbert Report
  3. Hamburger Helper
  4. LibraryThing
  5. my TTC Metropass

Suddenly wishing I was a voting American

I am posting this, in its entirety, because I think it's brilliant, and because these types of documents can become hard to find.

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part - through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.
And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.
I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.
Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way
But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters....And in that single note - hope! - I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories - of survival, and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about...memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild."

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.
Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments - meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.
A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods - parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement - all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.
This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American - and yes, conservative - notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.
That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today - a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.
She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

-- from

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I can hear "teen repellent"

You can hear the frequency of the mosquito teen repellent - but probably not for much longer!

The highest pitched ultrasonic mosquito ringtone that I can hear is 17.7kHz
Find out which ultrasonic ringtones you can hear!
...barely. I can feel it, more like. I can "feel" higher too, but it's...unpleasant.

Amusing Links FTW!

Okay, so I am still wiped from the Weekend That Never Was, so I am skipping my lone class to day to clean house and ready myself for The Horror To Come (a.k.a. three papers and an exam). In lieu of a real post, I offer you some of the links which have brightened my days of late:

In teh beginning


1) this is awesome

2) this is awesomer: Teh Holiez Bibul

Olde Englishe LOLz


xing your y tapestry

shopped tapestry

time of hammer

And my all-time favourite:

milkshake tapestry

Best news EVAR: you can make your own at:

"Beyond beyond beyond 'Beyond embiggens and cromulent'"

From Heidi Harley, contributor to Language Log, a lol-worthy annual compilation of linguistics jokes from the Simpsons ... going back to 2005!

The best, IMHO, from the 2007 list:

Euphemisms, codes

Henchman: (interrupting dinner) Boss! The Calabreses are here for the sit-down!
Fat Tony: (stepping outside) No sitdowns tonight! (gets out his Palm, checks it.) Again, this Palm Pilot has failed to remind me! I believe this needs to be hot-synched.
Henchman: (Snatches Palm from him, throws it to the ground, and pumps four shots into it, disintegrating it totally.)
Fat Tony: (outraged) What are you doing!?
Henchman 1: I thought you meant (draws finger across neck) hot synch it, you know how it is with us! Everything means 'kill'!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The International Criminal Court: ur doin' it wrong!

Museveni rejects Hague LRA trial

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni says leaders of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) should face local justice, rather than trial at The Hague.

Hmm. That seems incorrect, somehow...*flicks back a few pages* Oh, right, because:

President of Uganda refers situation concerning the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to the ICC

In December 2003 the President Yoweri Museveni took the decision to refer the situation concerning the Lord’s Resistance Army to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The Prosecutor has determined that there is a sufficient basis to start planning for the first investigation of the International Criminal Court. Determination to initiate the investigation will take place in the coming months.

President Museveni met with the Prosecutor in London to establish the basis for future co-operation between Uganda and the International Criminal Court. A key issue will be locating and arresting the LRA leadership. This will require the active co-operation of states and international institutions in supporting the efforts of the Ugandan authorities.

Enter the ICHC online Poker Cats Contest!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

More settlements = less peace

Via the Beeb:

Israel approves settlement growth

To which I say: Oh, crap.

Granted, it's hard to look at building houses on the one hand, versus opening fire on students on the other, and say "Oh yes, the houses are definitely worse than the mass murder." Of course not.

On the other hand, the mass murder is obviously crazy. CRA-ZY. And ordered by bloodthirsty ideologues who are either fanatics or profiteers. The settlements, on the other hand, are the considered plan of a democratic government to de facto absorb disputed territory. They put civilians on land that may not be theirs to justify putting soldiers on said land which obviously agitates the other claimants to said land who then attack the civilians and are killed by the soldiers. I fail to see what this does besides raising civilian casualties on both sides.

As a fun aside, here is some interesting data on the casualties on both sides:

Year Palestinian Deaths Israeli Deaths Palestinian Injuries Israeli Injuries
2005 216 (52) 48 (6) 1260 (129) 484 (4)
2006 678 (127) 25 (2) 3194 (470) 377 (7)
2007 396 (43) 13 (0) 1843 (265) 322 (3)
Total 1290 (222) 86 (8) 6297 (864) 1183 (14)


From the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the occupied Palestinian territory, via Wikipedia (numbers in brackets represent casualties under the age of 18).

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go find a non-partisan peacebuilding organization to which to give all my worldly possessions.

In which I tell Serbia to get over it

Dear Serbia,

You lost. Get over it.

Hugs & Kisses,


Okay, that's a teeny, tiny bit oversimplified. Nevertheless, I'm a tad bit baffled at the "debate" about the legality of Kosovo declaring independence, for a number of reasons.

1) This is really always a political question. I mean, we can dither about the legality of unilateral declarations, the Supreme Court can issue a decision on it (Reference re Secession of Quebec, [1998] 2 S.C.R. 217), but the fact of the matter is a state is a state if and when other states agree that it is a state, the anomaly of Taiwan notwithstanding. This is a political question, and you can't put the rabbit back in the hat later by saying it broke the rules.

2) As the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights puts it:

1. All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

And as the SCC noted in the Reference re Secession (at para. 114):

The existence of the right of a people to self-determination is now so widely recognized in international conventions that the principle has acquired a status beyond "convention" and is considered a general principle of international law. 

Self-determination is generally though of in two contexts, both involving the domination of a people by an outside force:

The right of colonial peoples to exercise their right to self-determination by breaking away from the "imperial" power is now undisputed...

The other clear case where a right to external self-determination accrues is where a people is subject to alien subjugation, domination or exploitation outside a colonial context. (Reference re Secession at paras. 133-34)

Clearly Quebec, which gets all sorts of free rides and special treatment from the Canadian government, doesn't fall under those categories. But I'm pretty sure Kosovo does.

Kosovar Albanians are a relatively homogenous national group living on a relatively discrete chunk of Europe who apparently cannot be part of Serbia without the two sides killing each other. Sure, there are examples of multi-ethnic states succeeding, but they have characteristics, like integration, or a supra-national identity, or most importantly, not killing each other. Both theoretically and functionally, Kosovo is a textbook example of why/how self-determination is so important.

3) How is this news to anyone?

Kosovo has been de facto seceded from Serbia since 1999, when the UN declared it a protectorate. Yes, there were attempts to negotiate a mutually acceptable status, but once they fell through, all bets were off. I don't think it says anything that the UN has yet to acknowledge Kosovo; I think they're basically being polite, to avoid the appearance of having instigated the whole thing. If I am surprised by anything, it is that it took this long for a declaration of independence to be made.

Monday, March 03, 2008

News of the ridiculous part II

Cal State University fires Quaker for inserting "nonviolently" into loyalty oath (via BoingBoing)

A Quaker math teacher at California State University East Bay has been fired for inserting the word "nonviolently" into the loyalty oath that state employees are required to sign. The woman, who works with young people who need remedial help with math, has always made this change in the loyalty oaths she's signed throughout her long teaching career, but the CSU East Bay administration fired her for refusing to pledge to violate her religion's tenets to in defense of the Constitution (a document that guarantees religious freedom).

News of the ridiculous

You have got to be kidding me.

Court bans veiled terror suspect (BBC)

An Austrian court has excluded a young Muslim woman from the start of her trial on terrorism charges because she refused to remove her full-face veil.

In which I continue pimping LANGUAGE LOG


Tautology of the day.

Oooooh, meta-humour

This xkcd is teh awesome.

But just as awesome is the follow-up Language Log post.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Those of Us with Our Panties in a Bunch v. Mock Trial

As my caveat lector (right) makes very clear, I am not afraid of a good argument. In fact, given my vocation and, some would say, pathological inability to keep my mouth shut, I am more or less doomed to a life of debate. One of the most delightful manifestations of my contrarian nature is my staunch opposition to over-wrought complaints of injured sensibilities and the arch self-righteousness of special interest wankery. If I am a feminist, I am a small-“f” feminist, thank you very much. As proof, I offer a complete list of the last three things that made me as teeth-grindingly angry as I have been for the last week:

  1. The militantly feminist politics teacher who told me that wearing makeup was a betrayal of the “cause” and suggested we move to consensus government because it was easier on women
  2. The guidance counsellor who demanded that I had an obligation to take math and computer science because previous generations of women had fought for my ability to do so (apparently I owed them some Cs and Ds, although why they preferred to be paid in the currency of bad grades I’ve no idea)
  3. The lit professor who insisted that (a) cannibalism was good, and (b) that anything any person of British extraction had ever done was inherently evil (particularly perplexing given that she was a white Australian)

In short, I am astronomically unlikely to find something “offensive to women,” let alone to raise the issue. There is, of course, one major exception: when those arguing the counter-feminist perspective (some of them, I’m sure, quite convinced that they are being excellent little third-wave feminists) are so obviously missing the point that I despair for the rhetorical and analytical skills of my generation.

Now let me clear (somebody has to, I suppose): I take no issue with Mock Trial. Not having seen it, I cannot take issue with it. I know that many people on both sides of the debate invested enormous amounts of time and effort into the show, which by all accounts was 90% unimpeachable, at least under the terms of this debate. I’m told it was amusing; I’m told it raised $10,000 for charity. This is commendable, and it has nothing to do with this debate.

My concern, the issue to which I am sacrificing so much precious dental enamel, is the cultish attitude of those who have equated criticism of Mock Trial with betrayal of Osgoode, nay, of freedom of expression itself. To them I have but one question: Seriously?

While I sympathize with distrust of censorship, some counter-arguments have gone so far as to raise the spectre of Osgoode turning into a fascist police state where all free expression is quashed. While I admit there are days when these hallowed halls of learning strike me as dystopian, it is clear that the school is too committed to being Kafkaesque to waste time being Orwellian. Plus—thankfully—law students are mouthy little brats who would never let that happen. This is yet another straw man argument that ignores the issues.

There are legitimate counter-arguments to the positions (a) that a strip-tease is an entirely inappropriate feature of an official school event, in that it furthers the acculturation of the virgin/whore dichotomy in the legal profession; (b) that depicting a specific and identifiable student as an embodiment of the worst stereotypes of (attractive) female lawyers, namely that we sleep our way to the top, is not only potentially defamatory and unquestionably injurious to the target, but also harmful to the student body as a whole; (c) that any attempt to address a breakdown of institutional standards must go outside that institution to challenge the defensive groupthink to which any school or organization is prone; and (d) that serious breaches of standards which take place in a public and highly publicized forum are properly addressed in an equally public forum. But I haven’t heard any yet. Instead, I’ve heard a lot of arguments so heinously illogical that they deserve to be broken down into their component logical fallacies.[1]

Regarding “Come join the Cabaret…”

Mock Trial is, I think, best defined as a cabaret show. Cabaret as an art form is generally a bawdy, funny, sometimes vulgar intertwining of performances of varying calibre and has also traditionally been a venue for social and political satire and commentary. Mock Trial is very much along this vein. It is a cobbling together of the efforts of many different people into a final product that is meant to be entertaining, humourous, and racy, while simultaneously satirizing Osgoode, the legal profession and various notable personalities both at Osgoode and in the larger legal community.

The comment begins with masterful examples of both the bare assertion fallacy and begging the question. Since mock trial = cabaret and cabaret = good, mock trial = good. This is also a nice specimen of the weak analogy. It then moves on to a simultaneous ad hominem attack/use of loaded language, by dismissing the complainants as part of the “legacy of melodrama that is Oz” who are “getting their knickers in a knot.” The mischaracterization of the debate continues, as we find out that the subject of the knicker-knots in the mere “’raciness’ and ‘inappropriateness’ of some numbers.” I would classify this as abuse of quotation marks. No one is concerned that some of the Mock Trial performers showed a little ankle, it is how they did so and the likely consequences that have our unmentionables all a-tangle.

The comment then moves on to a rhetorical device so rare I feel luckier to have witnessed than if a Spix’s Macaw landed on my shoulder. Having established—or rather, asserted—the Mock Trial-cabaret link, the article goes on to compare criticism of Mock Trial to censorship by the Nazis (the author’s disingenuous and exclamation-pointed demurral aside). Indeed, it is the rare reductio ad hitlerum, not seen in the wild since the mid-twentieth century.[2] Both a false analogy and an attack ad hominem, this particular logical fallacy is too frail to survive the arched eyebrows of its interlocutors. It demands the question, once again: Seriously?

The article moves away from Teutonics and on to a reaffirmation of the previously discussed bare assertion/begging the question: “At Osgoode, Mock Trial is one of the most apt forums in which to criticize the legal regime in which we find ourselves.” This neatly sidesteps the fact that, (a) if Mock Trial is that important to legal discourse at Osgoode, then perhaps we should take in our shingle and go home, and (b) that the impugned elements of the show had nothing to do with the “legal regime”. Then the article moves on to a fallacy of relevance implicating Jonathan Swift as a hypothetical supporter of Mock Trial’s right to say anything, however defamatory or sexist. My counter-hypothesis is that Swift is currently turning in his grave like Pulsar B1257+12. While the article may be right that “satire gets a point across far more effectively than the clearest analytical writing,” it sadly fails to prove that Mock Trial is satirical.

Satire must have an object. It must satirize something. It is a manifestation of irony. So then, what was the object of the satire in the impugned parts of Mock Trial?

**cricket noises**

Ah yes, that’s right, there was none. To its credit, the article does explain the use of non-satirical humour in cabaret:

In terms of non-satirical content, such as plain old “toilet humour,” gratuitous swearing, or sexually explicit content, I would like to point out three things. First, cabaret has always included these aspects of entertainment and humour – it is part of the genre. Second, the performers in Mock Trial are adults, who are capable of making decisions about what they are willing to take part in. They are not goaded, paid or tormented into participating, and what appears on stage is therefore not exploitive of them.

I would also like to point our three things: First, appealing to the authority of cabaret is unhelpful because no one has actually established that this is an apt analogy. Second, defending Mock Trial on the basis of the performer’s personal agency is missing the point by a margin of error comparable to New Coke. It is a non sequitur; nobody is arguing that the dancers or actors were forced to do something exploitative. The problem is the loss of agency on the part of other women in the Osgoode community. Third, while I’m glad to hear that Mock Trial doesn’t pay or coerce its participants, the point is irrelevant to the current debate.

In the last four paragraphs, the article moves into an analysis of the freedom of expression interest supposedly threatened by those of us with our lingerie in a barrel hitch. This is purports to be the crux of many of the arguments for Mock Trial’s impunity, and it is defeated only by its myopic hypocrisy.

I would agree that it is good advice to not “assume that because you were morally offended by something in the show that everyone was or should be offended.” However, it is likewise true that one should not assume that because they were not “morally offended,” no one else would be either. It is entirely true that “that kind of thinking that leads to moral arrogance as well as a lack of dialogue between divergent viewpoints.” Such moral arrogance could include the un-argued assumption that support of freedom of expression is a carte blanche for anything, no matter how harmful. Blackface? Punch and Judy? Snuff films? Why not?

Now, I clearly don’t agree with that point of view, especially in this context. The medium is the message, and if the medium is a school-supported, firm-funded, institutionalized performance which paints women as sexualized being to the exclusion of other traits, then the message isn’t “women are just sexual”—which would be bad enough—but “Osgoode and the firms agree that women are just sexual”. But perhaps I could “agree to disagree”, had the article not concluded with an admonishment that the complainants had expressed their discontent wrongly. In short, Mock Trial can say what it wants because freedom of expression is paramount, and if you don’t like it, shut your face. Charming. And that’s not the worst of it.

Regarding “The beauty of freedom and feminism”

This article avoids any particularly egregious rhetorical abuses by the simple use of wishful thinking, and a troubling misunderstanding of what it is to be feminist. It begins where the previous one left off by indulging in rampant hypocrisy, ironically by misusing the word “hypocritical":

The first issue is between the student and the producers. Anyone who has spoken on behalf of this student to other organizations or to the school newspapers is simply hypocritical in their actions. If this student chooses to handle the issue personally, then that should be respected. Using the student to advance your own grievances is discourteous. Regardless, the skit in question in no way TRUTHFULLY depicts any student in this school and is just a farce of a fictional situation.

From this I glean several troubling themes. We should not, apparently, support members of our community who have been maligned. We should also not use blatant and troubling evidence of a problem in the institutional culture of the school to illustrate that problem. I confess that following these suggestions would make it frankly impossible to be a lawyer, to advance cases and use evidence, particularly when I agreed with my clients and their cause.

Also, the statement that there was no targeting of a student is obviously untrue, however sincere the author may be. I can’t believe—or, perhaps, refuse to believe—that all or even most of those who contributed positively to Mock Trial were aware of the situation and untroubled by it.

The article continues:

The second issue a few people had with the show is the alleged “misogynist” depiction of women. "is is something that falls under the headings of “taste” and “censorship”. I would be dishonest if I said every skit showed women in the best light. However, that is my opinion. I am entitled to that opinion just as women are entitled to be smart and sexy, even overtly sexual if they choose. Women can even be bitchy and sarcastic in their skit, a la moi. This is the beauty of freedom and feminism! You can be want you want to be. You can be criticized, but you should not be stopped.

This is troubling, once again in that missed-the-point, fallacy of relevance way. First Wave, Second Wave, Third Wave, Post-, or reluctant feminist, there is one thing we can all agree on: that individual women have a right to self-determination. Women’s identities should not be determined solely by the external culture. Women should feel free to express their sexuality, their “sexyness” howsoever they choose. So, why then is it problematic for Mock Trial to feature stripping female lawyers and young women lawyers prostituting themselves?

Because the dance was a depiction of young female lawyers in general, and because the skit was a depiction of a young female lawyer in particular. It is not the behaviour that calls for criticism, but rather that said behaviour is a public representation of a stereotype that many of us have had to fight against. It is also screamingly ironic that the skit ridiculed that which the dance purported to celebrate.

In short: Worst. Third-Wave Feminists. Ever.

For those who were offended by the show, you are entitled to voice your own opinion. You could address the issue with the producers or in the Obiter, but to go so far as to contact corporate sponsors is preposterous! The sponsors come and see the show; therefore, they can personally address any issues they have with the producers or the school.

Again, it is interesting how Mock Trial should be immune from criticism, but its critics are not. We are “entitled to voice” our “own opinion”…at the time and venue, and to the audience, that is least likely to respond. Please read Committee for the Commonwealth of Canada,[3] then get back to me.

The article concludes on a morass of appeal to emotion (they’ll cancel our beloved Mock Trial!), ad hominem attacks (you hate charity!), and an amusing poison pill: “Seeing our peers’ talents is secondary to the charitable contribution.” Since that’s true, and since Mock Trial appear incapable of raising money without particularly unfunny and damaging portrayals of members of our community, maybe we should quash the whole thing and try for something less mean-spirited?

Regarding “In defense of Mock Trial”

I’ve read this article several times now, and while I am more than willing to point out its flaws, I shall make the caveat that, while I believe this is a particularly inept satire of the complainants, it may in fact be an incredibly clever satire of the respondents.

I have a disability. It’s genetic, so there’s not too much I can do about it. My doctor tells me that my chromosome five is abnormally short, and as a result I don’t have a sense of humour.

To begin with, this article could easily have kept its basic premise without invoking chromosomal abnormalities. I don’t find Le Jeune’s syndrome[4] particularly amusing, and I would caution the author that a quick Google might have prevented him from mocking an actual and tragic genetic disorder. I’m also discouraged that there was no fact-checking on the part of the editors.

Having begun with retards, the article moves on to racism.

Having this disability is usually fatal in most societies. I’ve heard reports that in some island cultures, children born with this disability are actually thrown off cliffs, to the mirthful approval of the community. I think they did this in ancient Sparta as well, although this is still a point of debate among contemporary academics. In other societies, those born with this disability and it impossibly difficult to mate with the opposite sex. As a result, they usually relegate themselves to living in caves. Surprisingly however, my disability has never been an obstacle for me in Canada – thanks primarily to our culture of ultra-political sensitivity.

Anhedonia and over-sensitivity are then conflated:

I’ve recently discovered that my disability is actually an advantage in many circumstances. By not being able to laugh, I have the luxury of finding offensive just about anything. Any mention of sexuality? Obviously sexist. Allusion to ethnicity? Obviously Racist. Satirical suggestion? Most definitely discrimination. I also find that most people are afraid to disagree with me. Those who are not, I usually like to portray as colonial supremacists. This usually does a good job of shutting them up.

First of all, this “joke” lacks continuity. Lack of sense of humour does not make one jump to conclusions like this. Again, the author could have claimed to have the fictional illness Hypersensatus politica without dragging people with serious medical problems down into the muck with him. Second, he paints the complainants as malignant narcissists who cannot abide any criticism.

The irony is so thick only Paul Bunyan could dent it. And yet the ad hominem attacks continue:

Being able to point out offensive material has now become second nature. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that doesn’t really require any higher cognitive function. I no longer ask myself why I am offended, I am merely comforted by the fact that I am. And besides, I find it’s a great way to get people into trouble, and also to set the bar so incredibly high that people around me are perpetually afraid of what to say. I like it when people respect my values. I call it a subtle form of coercion.

The complainants are apparently irrational (and possibly stupid), textbook cases of narcissistic personality disorder, and apparently dabbling in Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy or at least an overdeveloped sense of Schadenfreude.

Continuity breaks down again when the narrator states: “My latest pet peeve are school performances. I really think they just aren’t funny anymore.” Um, if you were born without a sense of humour, when did you know they were funny? When satire is good, it’s very, very good, but when it’s bad, it’s this article. I believe Jonathan Swift’s rotational velocity is approaching light speed.

I’ll spare myself the analysis of the next two paragraphs, which continue the theme of narcissism. The article then concludes with yet another bizarre mischaracterisation of the issues:

I also don’t see the point in opening up lines of dialogue with those who have offended me. It’s much easier just to tell on them. I guess this is something I learned from elementary school. If I can’t deal with an issue, I seek higher authorities to resolve the problem for me. It makes me less accountable. In truth, I’m not sure if I’m in it to change the opinions of those who I think are offensive. I’m more interested in my own emotional catharsis. It’s easier to complain than to explain.

To those critical of the way the complainants made their complaint as not “opening up lines of dialogue,” I’d like to point out in as few words as possible the flaw in your argument: it’s wrong. It’s just so, overwhelmingly, obviously wrong that it almost doesn’t bear analysis. The complaints didn’t move this debate from the private to the public sphere, because it was already in the public sphere. Even in the Excalibur article, both sides were given the opportunity to express their opinion, and it’s hardly our fault that some people just tried to bluff their way to a defence of the indefensible. To argue that Mock Trial should not be called on its errors for the sake of abstract and unanalysed claims to “humour” and “freedom of expression,” while simultaneously berate its critics for “telling on” it is so painfully illogical that I lose a few neurons every time I contemplate it. If Mock Trial is blameless, than complaints cannot harm it. But if Mock Trial is blameless, then why hasn’t their been a single articulate statement in its defense? If untempered freedom of expression is good, then why are we not free to express our problems with the show?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go batten down the hatches against the inevitable backlash.

[1] I won’t criticize any of the authors for their use of appeal to ridicule, since it’s one of my favorite rhetorical tools. I can’t blame anyone for trying to be funny—I can only blame them for failing.


[3] v. Canada, [1991] 1 S.C.R. 139.