Thursday, August 19, 2010

On the Morning Denouncements

Okay, so in the White House press room...

“... the most recent priest scandals in Boston and Chicago, and the hostage situation at that bank in Reno. This being the first Monday of the month, of course I’ll renew my denunciation of the Inquisition and of Timothy McVeigh. I’d also like to take a minute--if I may--to give a shout-out to former parishioner Daniel Munroe on his birthday. Daniel is currently serving time in Allenwood for aggravated assault, which of course we also denounce.”

A smattering of applause.

“Thank you, Father Bailey. And next we have... Rabbi Berman?”

“Thank you. Good morning, everyone. It’s always nice to see such a great crowd out on a rainy day. On behalf of the First Reform Congregation of Hoboken, I’d like to denounce the following deplorable acts by our fellow Jews for the week ending September 3. Locally, Jacob Levy stole a box of Raspberry Zingers from a convenience store and Mark Rothman assaulted a homeless man outside of a bar early Saturday morning. Nationally, we’d like to denounce Rebecca Weinberg’s role in that cheating scandal at Princeton and her recent attempt to publish a plagiarized young-adult novel, and we’d like to denounce Jon Stewart’s recent interview with that guy who wrote that book, because he was unnecessarily mean and that just didn't seem appropriate. As always, we’d like to denounce Adam Sandler. And that’s really it for denunciations this week. Quiet week.”


“Thank you, Rabbi Berman. Next up is Imam Haddad.”

“Haddad isn’t here today. Ramadan.”

“Oh, that’s right.”

“Priestess Moonstone said she’ll read his denunciations when she does her own.”

“Oh, well that’s nice of her. Then that brings us to... Brother Kosal.”

“Thank you.”

“Keep it short this time?”

“Yes. Still sorry about that. On behalf of the community of the Mahayana Buddhavihara Temple of Greater Akron, I’d like to denounce the following deplorable acts by our fellow Buddhists for the week ending September 3...”

Peaceful Wiccas pls refudiate.

On the L-word

Okay, so "Dr." Laura Schlessinger has announced her merciful intent to step down from radio when her contract is up at the end of the year. (She says she wants to "regain her First Amendment rights," which are apparently being violated by her national radio platform from which she can say pretty much anything she wants.)

Her assertion that her Constitutionally protected right to free speech has been violated rises from her most recent scandal, in which she drops the N-word a full eleven times in a five-minute period--during a call with an African-American woman who just called in to ask a question about a few, well, racist comments from her husband's friends. After that show, people were pissed off, which is censorship for some reason


What I don't get is why everyone wants to say the N-word. That's what situations like this devolve into every time--some people get to say it, and so other people want to be allowed to say it. "Rappers get to say it all the time. Why don't I get to say it?" Like it's the awesomest ride at Six Flags, but you're stuck on the ground watching everyone else have all the fun. So either there's something super-extra-special-cool about the N-word that I'm just not getting, this linguistic Batman: The Ride, or you just want desperately to use this really hurtful racial slur because you're not supposed to (which is totally mature). Or you're genuinely racist. Regardless: Stop worrying about what other people "get" to do and recognize that it's not okay when anyone does it. And get over yourself.

When we were little, my brother and his best friend used to run around the house yelling "pantyhose!" because that was the naughtiest word their little six-year-old brains could conceive of. This is basically the same thing, but blown up to truly dickish proportions.


All of this attention to the N-word completely misses the fact that the call in question wasn't about the N-word. The caller, Jade, who is African-American, called in with concerns about her white husband's friends. Her initial complaint wasn't about the language they used--it was about the questions, the "Do black people like this?" and "Do black people do that?" And of course as a white person, I can't speak to Jade's experience, I'd imagine her thoughts would be something along the line of, "Well, I don't know. Why don't you ask all of them?"

Those questions point out two things about the questioners: One, that Jade being black is seriously significant to them such that they notice it all the time and see it as something that sets her apart from them and makes her different. And two, that the black population is so monolithic and hive-minded that what "they" like and what "they" do can easily be condensed and reported on by one black woman.

Jade's response to Laura's comments, of course, are hard to discern because Laura rolled right over her as soon as she got her head. But a few words made it out--"stereotype," for one. And if she only got one out, that was a good one. Because that's what Jade was dealing with--stereotypes from her husband's friends. And racial stereotypes are, well, racist.*

But for some reason, a white woman doesn't see it that way. From her fully applicable experience and perspective as a white person, Laura is able to determine that the comments aren't racist because "sometimes people are hypersensitive" and black people voted for Obama and black comedians say the N-word and her bodyguard is too polite to call her a dumbass to her face. And also, "chip on your shoulder" and "too much sensitivity and not enough sense of humor."

And that's the real problem with Laura's barrage of N-bombs during that call. She certainly wouldn't have gotten nearly this much attention--if any--had she not said the N-word eleven times. But now that it's in the public eye, those N-words and the ensuing controversy are obscuring something even more troublesome--that Laura is (shockingly) completely tone-deaf* on the subject, completely disregarding this woman's legitimate concerns with accusations of hypersensitivity and a chip on her shoulder--because if it doesn't bother her, if it doesn't bother Laura, it must not be important. And if Jade didn't want to be treated this way, she shouldn't have married outside her race.

But yeah, it was the N-word that was the big deal.

P.S. Oh, and Laur? Telling your black bodyguard, "White men can't jump; I want you on my team"? Whether or not it was racist, referencing an overplayed 18-year-old Woody Harrelson movie is definitely not funny. Take some time during your sabbatical to dig up some new cultural references.

*Does saying a racist thing necessarily make you a racist person? Opinions differ; I happen to think no, but other factors frequently come into play. Check out Evil Fizz's take on it over at Feministe and a pertinent video by Jay Smooth.

Monday, August 16, 2010

On what it means to move on

Okay, so this actually started as a couple of comments on a friend's Facebook post, but then they were getting really long and wordy (long and wordy? Me? Noooo...) and so I decided they needed their own blog post.

The subject at hand was the misleadingly named "Ground Zero mosque." It's a misnomer because the structure in question isn't really a mosque, and it isn't really at Ground Zero. It's a Muslim community center, basically a Muslim YMCA, that will have a mosque in it, and it will be built two blocks from Ground Zero such that you can't see it from Ground Zero or Ground Zero from it. The location is currently the site of a defunct Burlington Coat Factory, now apparently considered hallowed ground due to its proximity to the WTC and the piece of one of the planes that crashed through its roof.

That hallowed ground stands in the shadow of a strip club; a stone's throw from two liquor stores; and if you make the mistake of turning left instead of right out the front door of the proposed community center, you'll find yourself passing a roadhouse and a reportedly pathetic nightclub with periodic lingerie parties on the five-minute walk to Ground Zero. (The New York Daily News counts a strip club, a lingerie parlor/peep show, 11 bars, 10 shoe stores, and "17 separate salons where a girl can get her lady parts groomed" within a three-block radius of Ground Zero. Oh, yeah, and a mosque.)

So let's get that out of the way right from the start: Objections to this project aren't because a two-block radius of the World Trade Center is hallowed ground. Feministe's Jill--a New Yorker herself--points out that while the footprint of the WTC is hallowed ground if there ever was any, your average tourist treats it like EPCOT, so it's kind of disingenuous to be wringing hands about a community center--built in the spirit of neighborly relations, civic participation, social justice, compassion, education, and engagement, those bastards--a respectful two blocks away and completely out of view.

That's my statement on the whole "hallowed ground," "show respect" argument: It's bullshit, because the only reason you think this is disrespectful is that they're Muslims and thus all responsible for 9/11 and should keep their heads down and their eyes averted any time they wander south of Canal Street. So there's that.

And now I change gears to address more generally the spirit that keeps this debate going, now that it's been manufactured from whole cloth by one particular super-right-wing nutjob blogger. It's the spirit in all of us that won't let it die a graceful death.

At this point, I say something that could make me so deeply hated that I'll have to leave civilization and build myself a yurt, but that's never stopped me before: It's been nine years, people. Nine years. Most cars don't last nine years. Most Great Danes don't last nine years. The average first marriage doesn't lasts nine years. But we can sustain a near-decade-long hate-on for 1.5 billion people because 19 of them committed a horrific act of violence? "Sorry, the entirety of the world's second-largest religion. We're all about religious freedom and whatever, but you shouldn't build your community center on the site of this old Burlington Coat Factory because it's rude and we kind of hate you"?

Those 19 men killed nearly 3,000 people, and that will never not be a big deal. And we absolutely need to honor their memories. But how are we honoring them by saying, "No, one-fifth of the world's population, it's heartless of you to build a Muslim-thing within walking distance of Ground Zero because 9/11 was your fault, each and every one of you"? "You make me uncomfortable by your very Muslimity, so get the hell out of Lower Manhattan"?

Screw that noise. I'm all about compassion, and I hope the families of those 3,000 can find peace, but objection to this center isn't even universal among those families--some have gone so far as to come out and say they have no problem with it. And I'm definitely not all about letting some politically motivated wackjob 'winger and her mindless devotees manipulate those families and their grief to their own ends because it's important that we not forget to hate Muslims. Take a deep breath, drink a glass of wine, and go volunteer at a soup kitchen, for Christ's sake.

And this isn't me saying "move on." I mean, praise God, I've never been personally touched by anything like that, so far be it from me to tell anyone how long those wounds should take to heal. I just wonder how long we, as a country, have to pull out "Well, 'cause 9/11, that's why" as an excuse for everything we do or don't do. How long the footprint of the WTC is going to sit vacant while the entire country disagrees on what should go there. How long every Muslim cleric will be called upon to make a statement every time a Muslim somewhere kicks a kitten. How long a 9/11 will be a unit of measure to quantify the tragedy level of tragic events.

I remember how right after 9/11, people all over the country and all over the world were coming together and supporting each other and being compassionate and generous and people kept saying, "Wow, I hope we never forget what this is like." Instead, we "never forget" what it's like to be fearful and suspicious. Is there ever a point where we say, "Wow, that was really, really awful. It's a good thing we're a brave and resilient people who can grow together from the experience and come back stronger than ever"?

So I say, build the hell out of this community center--not as a defiant middle finger to a world still reeling from 9/11 but as a way to truly create community and bring people together in that same spirit we felt right after the towers came down. It's obvious our current approach isn't doing the job; maybe it's time to try something new.

On Mashup Monday: Pop-Tart edition

Okay, so they're hot, they're blonde, they've got adorable kids, they're sane--wait, hold on. Sorry. Three out of four ain't bad.

Gwen Stefani/Britney Spears - Tick-Toxic

It's nice to look back on the days when Britney could rock a bedazzled body stocking. Best of luck to you, kid.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

On strong medicine

Okay, so I want a mean doctor.

Well, I don't want a mean doctor. Nobody wants a mean doctor. But given the choice between a doctor who's nice and a doctor who's good at doctoring, I'll take the latter.

What sucks is that it seems that lately, I actually kind of do have to make that choice. My recent experiences with the medical profession have been generally unsatisfying, due largely to the fact that apparently, I have to choose between bedside manner and medical knowledge. My current doctor--who shall remain nameless, because anything else notwithstanding he's a nice guy--is, to put it plainly, lousy. My experience with him, universally, is ten minutes of face time followed by what amounts to a big shrug and a promise to refer me to a specialist (which he may or may not remember to do). He's a nice guy, friendly, very sympathetic, but, oh, hey, have I mentioned that I'm sleeping twelve hours a day?

Contrast this with the nurse practitioner who was my dear and my darling from the moment I met her until the moment she left the practice. This woman was hard to like. She was brusque. She was brisk. She never bothered to warm up the stethoscope. She would harangue you for missing any aspect of self-care. I once suffered through a [VERY PERSONAL MEDICAL EXAM] that would have been a crowd-pleaser at Abu Ghraib. But you know what? She was good. As a diagnostician, as a clinician, she was the inarguable bomb, and I would gladly suffer through her drill sergeant-esque bedside manner to have her find out what was wrong with me and fix it.

I begin to think that physicians like my dad--ones who have both the medical knowledge and the compassionate presence--are becoming few and far between. I've had nothing but positive experiences with doctors of his generation, but get any younger, and they seem to have slept through crucial parts of medical school. What has changed such that I kind of have to get pushed around a bit to get the treatment I need?

I know (as a person who's spent a lot of time writing about it in a professional capacity) the focus lately in medical school has been on the medical humanities and the importance of positive interaction between physician and patient. And yes, that's important. A patient who feels comfortable opening up to you will give you more clues as to the causes of her condition. A patient who has a positive clinical experience is more likely to return for followup and future care. Spending that two extra minutes in the exam room could give you a chance to pick up something you'd otherwise miss.

But have we crammed those courses in at the expense of Maybe It's Stress-Related 1102? Let's Get You Some Muscle Relaxants Until That Referral Comes Through 2110? Intro to I Should Keep a PDR Around if I Can't Remember Drug Side-Effects off the Top of My Head? Wow My Med Student Asks Smarter Questions Than I Do (lecture and lab)? (Not to mention This Will Probably Work Better if We Don't Lose Her Labs and Referral Information Honors Seminar, which would benefit the entire office, thanksmuch.)

Should I have to choose between Dr. Benton and Dr... I don't know, was there a doctor on ER was really nice but not good at his job? It was so long ago. Dr. Carter, early on? Anyway, the point stands. I know there are a lot of people who aren't comfortable at all in health-care environments and need a softer voice, a gentler approach, and a little bit of hand-holding. Save the nice doctors for them. If I have to choose--and God knows I don't want to--you can keep Dr. Cuddlepants, and I'll be in here with Nurse Practitioner Ratched.

Monday, August 02, 2010

On my stuff, dammit

Okay, so on Thursday, the U.S. Copyright Office made a call that I've been wanting someone to make on some subject pretty much ever since Apple launched its iTunes Store in 2003. Their badass ruling was that no, Steve, jailbreaking an iPhone is not illegal. Other rulings guarantee--and the Wired article linked above says "give," but I'm going with "guarantee," and I'll go into that below--the right to copy videogames for the purpose of researching the security measures and turning your ebook into an electronic audiobook.

Here's the reason I think the ruling is a long time in coming (still has a ways to go), and the reason I used "guarantee" instead of "give": It's my stuff, and I should already have the right to do what I want with it. If I'm not using it to break the law, why do you care what I do with it for my own amusement? If I pay you money for a song on iTunes, why does it matter how many of my own computers I put it on? It's my song. If I want to have an ebook on my phone and my laptop, why the hell not? It's my ebook. It's like telling me I can read my paperback on the subway but not on a plane. It's my book, and if you didn't want me to read it where I want to, you shouldn't have sold it to me.

If your concern is that I'm going to break copyright by sharing it with someone else, sure--find a way to keep me from doing that. Do a little bit of hard work, break a little bit of a sweat, to crack down on that. But don't keep me from ripping a DVD to my own hard drive or putting an mp4 on my own cell phone because some people do that and then break the law. Punish me for a crime I haven't even committed, and you may well lose my business, iTunes, who DRMs your content while Amazon is happy to sell me mp3s that I can do with as I please.

I, of course, don't have an iPhone; I'm all-Android, so I have a lot more freedom as to which apps and other content I want to put on my phone. And that's as it should be. If I've dropped a metric assload of money on your product, don't tell me that I can't play with it as I see fit. If I choose to turn it off and never use it, that's my call, and if I choose to drive over it with my car, that's my call, and if I choose to hack it? My call. It's my thing.

Apple says that legality notwithstanding, jailbreaking an iPhone voids the warranty. And why not? They shouldn't have to pay for your screwup. Android 2.2 has a feature that bricks the phone if you try to hack it, and you know what? That's fine. I'm free to try to hack it, at the risk of it becoming useless. Same thing with my car--I try to fix it, I screw it up instead, it's my fault and my problem. But Volkswagen doesn't get to come and arrest me just for popping the hood, and neither should Steve Jobs.

So if I spend this evening burning all of my iTunes music to CD and ripping it back to mp3, whilst scanning all of my paperback to my hard drive to have in case something happens to them, whilst recording The Big Bang Theory to DVR, kiss my ass, Steve Jobs, and I hope your turtleneck gives you a rash.

P.S. Don't forget to click through to the article for a handy list of the next rulings on the Copyright Office's list, I'm sure of it. Highlights include "downloading movies for "bad movie night," provided that at least three cups of popcorn are thrown at the screen over the course of the showing."

What rulings would you like to see from the Copyright Office? I'd personally like to be able to download all those mp3s I had that got eaten when my iTunes crashed, Steve Jobs. Your suggestions in comments. Oh, and your feelings on DRM and property rights and whatever.

On Mashup Monday: The most ominous Ken doll ever

Okay, so I'm a huge Pixar fan. There's not a lot they can do that's not excellent in my book, in both animation and writing. And I'm a big Toy Story fan (although I haven't seen the third one, so no spoilers). And I'm a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan. So this was right up my street.

Toy Story/Inception - Dream House of Nightmares

I was never a really big Barbie fan, but now I might be.

(h/t Underwire)