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It’s about rights, not helplessness

There’s a bit of a flap going on because a famous person named Cynthia Nixon said she’s gay by choice. (Full disclosure: I’ve never heard of her. I only visit this planet now and again)

Saying it’s a choice is supposed to be very bad because it falls into a “right wing trap.” Everybody must say gays are born that way, that they can’t help themselves, that it’s-not-their-fault-they-found-it-that-way. Otherwise wingnuts can insist that re-education could work.


Any kind of sex between any kind of people who can freely and knowledgeably consent is nobody’s business but their own.

The point isn’t whether you have a choice or not. That has nothing to do with it. The only point that matters is that nobody gets to tell you what kind of sex to have. Or not to have.

The only real “right wing trap” is granting the crazy premise that it’s okay to meddle in somebody else’s sex life if you can. Because that’s what the Aravosises of the world are doing. They’re saying it’s genetic, so they can’t help it, so give up already. Which means that if they could help it, then meddle away.

Again: bullshit.

People who freely and knowledgeably consent and are doing nothing to hurt others have a right to do anything they damn well please. Genetics and choice have nothing to do with the basic right to mind your own business.

Just because some gay people have made their stand on illogical ground is not Nixon’s fault. All she’s done is shine a light on it.

(I’d tell you to go read my chapter on Rights, but you know that already, don’t you?)

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Iran and nukes

I agree. Iran should not have nuclear weapons.

Neither should China, Russia, North Korea, Britain, France, the US, India, Pakistan, or Israel.

Hello? Those things are either bad, or they aren’t. What kind of quadruple standard are we using here? And don’t tell me that it’s different when sensible countries, who would never actually use mass death against civilians, have them.

Only one country has used nuclear weapons to mass murder civilians. And it currently has more of the things than anyone else and shows no sign of thinking that’s a bad idea.

Could we just tell the truth? Nobody wants Iran to get more power. Iran, on the other hand, does want more power. If you want to stop them, just say so. Enough of this sanctimonious dogwash.

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The anti-SOPA blackout that was

Almost more interesting than who participated was to see which sites mealy-mouthed their way around it. (Yes, Mr. Twitter, I’m looking at you.)

Big thanks to Wikipedia and Reddit for leading the charge.

Of course, Congress has only put the crap in a drawer for a while, and plans to bring it out again for their paymasters as soon as they think they can get away with it. Joe Brockmeier says the real message should be that we need more and more consistent awareness of what Congress is up to. I say that they make it much too difficult on purpose. They don’t want oversight. It just gets in the way.

Which leaves open the question of what we do next time they try to pull these stunts. And the next time. And the next time. And the time after that. We can’t keep on blacking out because then it would cease to be a protest and become a way of doing the “content” controllers work for them.

Do I have any bright ideas on tactics? Of course not. I’m terrible at tactics. But we need something that hits the four large music producers, five Hollywood studios, four multinational record labels, six global publishers, and their henchmen in Congress where it hurts.

A selection of screenshots from the day: Read more »

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The SOPA strike

As many of you already know, websites will be going dark tomorrow, Wednesday Jan. 18th, to protest the SOPA/PIPA bills in Congress.

These bills supposedly protect intellectual property. In reality, they protect the profits of a few megacorporations at the price of, literally, damaging the internet irretrievably.

They rely on methodology which is trivial for hackers to circumvent. (For instance, Google is blocked? Just use instead.)

They break domain name security (pdf).

They enable competitors, malicious people, the government, indeed anyone, to shut down any site because they make site owners responsible for all infringement on a site. That means someone could leave a comment containing a copyright infringement, report the site, and the whole site would be shut down. No court orders are necessary. Good luck getting someone on the phone to appeal the decision.

Actually, as of the last news I heard, SOPA had been removed indefinitely. Only the Senate version, PIPA, is currently on the active list, due to be voted on Jan. 24th. But many of us want to be sure that our concerns about these absurd bills are understood, that PIPA is also stopped, and that SOPA doesn’t re-emerge as soon as the House leadership thinks they can get away with it.

The blackout is going ahead to demonstrate how the internet would look if sites were blocked willy nilly. I’ll see you again on Thursday because so far we still have our free, open, and unblocked internet and I can say that with confidence.

If you’d like to keep it that way and you’re in the US, call or email your Congresscritters!

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Tablet, schmablet

(This started life as a comment over at Suburban Guerrilla, when it occurred to me that it’s really a post.)

Update, Jan 22, 2012: At SCALE 10x, I had a chance to see a couple of the late, lamented HP Touchpads running WebOS. They’re beautiful! They don’t have the idiotic virtual keyboard described below. They respond to taps properly, even when done by me. HP are a bunch of idiots for cancelling that thing instead of just pricing it realistically.

An iPad started it, but this is really about tablets in general. I’ve been using computers since the 1970s, when we had to do stat programs on punch cards and use Job Control Language. I l-o-o-o-ve computers (although not those JCL mainframes, to be honest), and I’ve always jumped on each new thing as it came along. I’ve had to face the fact that I’m a gadget freak.

Except tablets. They seemed pointless. Portable TVs, basically. Mobile-type things like checking contacts, phoning, music, or web surfing I can do on my phone without needing a ten inch pocket to carry it. Then I had to use a tablet yesterday because my local hospital has gone all iPad for their check-in procedures. Twenty questions that would have taken seconds on paper took about five minutes.

The legendary touchscreen takes forever to respond to a tap. (I have very dry fingers.) I needed an “a.” Tap … tap, tap … tap, tap, tap, tap, mash whole top of finger down and hold. Get a “z.” Start over. Breathe on fingers so they have some moisture on them. Tap. Tap, tap, tap, — tap! Finally, an “a.” And so it went. If I had a tablet, I’d need to carry a sausage to operate the stupid thing. commuters using cocktail sausages to tap their phones because they're wearing gloves in winter But my shortcomings were only the beginning of the problems. I needed an “@.” Tap special characters key for different keyboard, get the one character, tap key for a-b-c keyboard, tap-tap-tap out a few letters, tap special characters key for different keyboard, tap out two numbers, tap key for a-b-c keyboard, etc., etc., etc. What a total and absolute pain. And this is what everyone is raving about? I’d get frustrated just entering a password, forget writing a message. The bitsy keyboard on my Nokia N900 is easier to use (and I am not good at using it).

The graphics are okay, so as a portable TV it would work except that you have to hold the thing all the time. Hold one hand behind your back while you use a computer to see how it feels to use a tablet, unless you’ve already trained yourself on the things. (Yes, I know you can get stands, but that’s a workaround, not good design to begin with.) And one more thing. You want the screen tilted up for visibility without neck contortions and you want the screen flattish for input without shoulder and arm contortions. That’s a problem.

I know there are lots of much more coordinated people than me out there. And also people with more normal skin. But, believe me, tablets are worse than useless for some of us.

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Something is happening here, Mr. Jones

First you read about Nome, Alaska. It’s had such tough weather, a Russian tanker and a US Coast Guard icebreaker are painstakingly trying to deliver emergency fuel supplies. icebreaker in field of sea ice The icebreaker is facing backward because [T]he ice is under so much pressure, it closes up almost as soon as it’s broken. So the ship has to double back and re-break it. [Update: The view is from the icebreaker toward the tanker, which is facing forward. The icebreaker does double back, but that’s not what the picture shows. Sorry for the brain fart.]

You get the picture. Very severe winter in Alaska. They’ve declared a state of emergency and called out the National Guard. That’s in Alaska, where they are anything but pansies about winter.

satellite image of snow-covered Europe Now, a year or two back, Siberia and China had super-deep winters. Last year, Europe was in a deep freeze and showing up all white on satellite photos.

And then I remembered that the Europeans had connected their deep freeze with climate change. It works like this. As the Arctic sea ice melts, there’s more dark ocean to absorb the sun’s heat and less white ice to reflect it back. The overlying polar winter air is then much colder than the surface. Warm air rises, but the displaced cold polar air has to come down somewhere. And that place is south (and also north, I would guess) of the unnaturally warm zone. (It’s all horribly cold by our standards, but our standards don’t count.) So places like Siberia and Scotland get more snow and cold and the sea freezes thicker and harder. Maybe Alaska is just joining the club.

Isn’t messing with Nature fun? You never know what to expect.

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Zeroes don’t count: Politics 101

Whoever wins the vote in 2012, as Dak points out women have lost. The only thing politicians are arguing about is who can barter away more of women’s fundamental rights. It’s become a given that rights for female people are an optional frill, to be indulged only if there’s really nothing else that needs doing. They’re a “pet rock.”

Among the many brilliant discoveries by Douglas Adams, perhaps the most insightful is the one showing how to make anything invisible. It’s really easy. You just surround it with the Somebody Else’s Problem field. Something as vast as the inalienable rights of half the entire country can disappear almost overnight. Men are convinced it’s women’s problem. Women are convinced it’s poor women’s problem. Or teenagers’. Or somebody else’s. Anybody else’s. It doesn’t matter. That’s all it takes for invisibility.

The only way to destroy the field is to make it their problem, which, in this particular case, means making politicians pay a price when they try to turn women into fungible incubators.

Well, the only hold we voters have over politicians is our vote. Nothing else.

They’re convinced, and with good reason, that everything else can be bought. Advertising to try to get votes depends on money. Cushy post-government jobs depend on networking. Voters can’t influence any of that. The actual vote is the only thing a voter controls.

So it’s our one and only tool, our one and only leverage. Nor is it a minor thing. As madamab notes, “The bottom line is this: Women. Win. Elections. Not only do we make up the majority of volunteers for political campaigns in general, not only do we donate in droves, but we also vote. A lot. And wherever we go en masse, is wherever the winning candidate goes.”

But if you can’t withhold your vote from a politician, you have zero leverage. You don’t count.

If something else is more important, dead wedding guests to take Ian Welsh’s example, then you have to ask yourself a couple of things.

As a matter of practical fact, have the dead innocents stopped piling up under Obama? No. The talk is prettier, but the walk is the same.

The other question is whether ignoring your own rights actually solves anybody else’s problems. Does trampling women’s human rights result in a better world? Does it end war? Stop poverty? Eradicate ignorance? Stop global warming? Transition us all to sustainable energy? Provide prosperity and military supremacy? No. No, no, no, and no. So, by putting yourself second, nobody else gets a better life and everybody loses.

Trampling women’s human rights makes no sense in any universe. Not in principle, where compromising those inalienable rights leads only to greater compromises because trampling rights is habit-forming. Not in practical politics, where the extortioners take your vote but don’t have the honesty of a common criminal and don’t even hand over whatever mess of pottage your vote was supposed to buy.

So vote for Obama if you feel you have to because the other Republicans talk like bigger sociopaths, but do it without illusions. Things will continue to get worse. Your rights will continue to vaporize. However, otherwise things might become as bad sooner.

Or they might not. Some people might make feeble cries of protest when Republicans impoverished and killed people.

Or, maybe, the 2%-less-evil-Republicans (aka “Democrats”) will be the difference that saves us from the apocalypse. I can’t say that I see that last possibility myself. All I see is that voting for Obama means active participation in our own destruction. That’s worse than refusing to help. It’s worse even when the end is the same.

There is another choice. Own your vote. Refuse coercion, extortion, and hostage-taking. Vote third party or write someone in. Sure, we’ll lose this time. But if enough of us lose together, it’s the first step to not losing.

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