pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I thought this article by an feminist Orthodox rabbi grappling with the traditional daily prayer to thank G-d for not making him a woman was really interesting. I'm not big on observing tradition, but that almost makes me appreciate it more when other people spend a lot of effort upholding it. Both because I think there's some value in the continuity for its own sake, and because things often become traditions for reasons, and those reasons may still be around even if we've forgotten them. And there is something beautiful about submitting to something larger than yourself even when you disagree with parts of it.

OTOH, I think it's disingenuous to say "but tradition!" when you can see a lot of the social forces that formed the tradition, and they are things you claim to reject. Wedding traditions are the perfect example of this. Asking a woman's father for permission to marry her clearly arose from the tradition of women as property AND is clearly treating her as property now. I don't think there's a feminist way to do it. But even though engagement rings are descended from the same system, and I still think they're sexist and reinforce a lot of bad patterns and I don't want one, I do think it's possible to do engagement rings in an aware, feminist way that, if not ideal, falls well within the realm of compromises we all have to make to live in the world. And I will accept "yes, it's sexist, but the ring makes my life easier because men respect it far more than they respect the word "no"" in a way I wouldn't accept "yes, it's sexist, but it meant a lot to my dad".

On the third hand, it's not realistic to expect people to go from sexist to perfect. I want to give this rabbi points for thinking about these things even if he hasn't come to a conclusion I like yet, because just thinking about them is hard. I thought his first few paragraphs were really great, honest, explorations of the difficult choice in front of him. If he had just done that, I'd think he was pretty cool. But I found the second half, where he listed all the reasons the being a man was awesome and pledged to make that less true, really evasive. The blessing won't be any less traditional if sexism is solved, is he still going to say it then? All the things he lists are true, but they're also secular- is he working to diminish gender inequity of Orthodox Judaism in other ways? A lot of those are traditional too.

I came on this article via this response, via the author's blog where she talks about Judaism and gymnastics. I had no idea gymnastics could be so interesting.* Anyways, her response was basically "you don't get to tell women this isn't offensive", and more generally "you don't get to tell the less privileged what is and is not oppressing them." Which are very fair points, somewhat wider in scope than mine, and yet also reflecting that fact that the author (Jewish, formerly Orthodox) has much more invested in this particular fight than I (never Jewish) do.

*The Judaism part is interesting too, but that didn't surprise me.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I have a big thing for merit based distribution of anything, which makes the Christian concept of Grace a difficult one for me. The best I was ever able to do with the proverb of the prodigal son was that salvation is given for what you are, not what you did, but that just creates different unfairness of people who would have converted had they lived a week longer, but are now doomed to hell. I'm not Christian, so I don't need for grace to make sense as a concept, but it's been coming up a lot lately and I think it's relevant to me.

If you think about it, my relationship with my cats is, in many ways, godlike. I determine where they live, what and when they eat, what medical care they get. And they haven't really done anything to deserve it. I think I am in the top 10% of pet owners. Very few people would have adopted a cat that sneezed blood, much less spent as much time and energy as I did trying to heal him. Now one of my cats ha a weird inflammation or displacement of his third eyelid gland, and while I'm not definitely getting him surgery, it's not out of the question either. Lots of people- good people who love their pets- wouldn't (or couldn't) do that. And my kittens didn't do anything to earn that level of care, relative to all the other kittens in the world who don't.

But while the gifts I give them are unmerited, they're not impersonal. Intellectually I know that I would fall in and love and care for any cat I adopted (and of my two cats, I only picked out one. The other was whichever the breeder had left over), and yet I'm immensely responsive to them as individuals. It always shocks me when other people play with my cats, because they're so bad at it. Subconsciously, I've learned what they like best and do it.

I think what bothered me about grace wasn't it's perceived lack of meritocracy, it was its impersonality. You can't claim what I do matters if I receive the same rewards either way. But I am beginning to see a gap, where something can be responsive to you do and yet not earned. Maybe very strict merit-based systems are the impersonal ones, because they give everyone the same reward for each action regardless of what it costs them.

*Something Communist-identified countries seem to be especially bad an implementing.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Wikipedia before I got there:

In June 2011, Watson described an experience at a skeptical conference, concerning an approach by a man in an elevator, who invited her to his room for coffee and a conversation late at night.[19] In a video blog, among other things, she stated that incident made her feel sexualized and uncomfortable and advised, "Guys, don't do that".[20] Her statement sparked a controversy among the skeptic community.[21] Her critics said she was overreacting to a trivial incident, most notably Richard Dawkins, who wrote a satirical letter to an imaginary Muslim woman, sarcastically contrasting her plight to Watson's complaint. This in turn caused him to be criticized by those supporting her on the issue, including several figures in the community.[22][23] Watson announced that she would not buy or endorse Dawkins's books and lectures in the future.[22]

Wikipedia after I got there:

In June 2011, Watson described an experience at a skeptical conference, concerning an approach by a man in an elevator, who invited her to his room for coffee and a conversation late at night, after she had talked extensively about disliking being sexualized at atheist conferences.[19] In a video blog, among other things, she stated that incident made her feel sexualized and uncomfortable and advised, "Guys, don't do that".[20] Her statement sparked a controversy among the skeptic community.[21] Her critics said she was overreacting to a trivial incident, most notably Richard Dawkins, who wrote a satirical letter to an imaginary Muslim woman, sarcastically contrasting her plight to Watson's complaint. This in turn caused him to be criticized by those supporting her on the issue, including several figures in the community.[22][23] Watson announced that she would not buy or endorse Dawkins's books and lectures in the future.[22]

See if you can spot the difference
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
The most beautiful expression of Christianity I've ever read

Near the end of my shift, I watch in horror as a regular participant stabs wildly into his neck with a needle. He has been trying desperately to inject into his neck in order to find his jugular vein. When I intervene, he consents to letting me try to find him one in his arm. Midway through, however, he changes his mind and grabs my arm. "Don't!" he says. "I'm not worth it."

I look him in the eye. "Yes, you are."

He glares at me...and holds out his arm. I tie the tourniquet wordlessly and find him a much safer vein. He injects himself, and then gruffly thanks me, tears welling up in eyes that refuse to meet mine.

This is grace, manifest in care of desperate persons, flesh and spirit. This is harm reduction. And I do it because it is simply the Christian thing to do.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I am a pretty vocal critic of hormonal birth control. I recognize that it was a great leap forward for women when it was invented, but I'm angry that we've gotten stuck on it as The Anti-Baby Mechanism, and I see it as a symptom of our disconnect from our bodies in general and science's disconnection from women's experiences in particular. I've wondered out loud how Depo can possibly still be legal, when it has such horrendous side effects.

I'm an idiot. A privileged idiot.

This was driven home to me while reading Escape, which is about a woman's escape from a fundamentalist mormon cult. Her first or second pregnancy ended with a placental abruption, and every subsequent pregnancy (there were eight total) mandated bedrest and still risked death. And then her 7th child was born and required near 24 hour care and constant medical visits; her husband fought her when she took the child on her own. If she didn't have the mental energy to do that or the physical ability to follow through, her son would die. And while it wouldn't be quite as quick, her death or incapacitation put all of her other children at risk as well. Staying not pregnant was literally a matter of life or death.

But being caught with birth control could get her, or her children, killed as well. Contraception that was absolutely undetectable, and required as few doctors' visits as possible, was all that mattered. However bad blood clots and bone density loss are, they were first world problems, relative to a hostile uterus and rapist husband.

So Depo? I take it back. You're like that friend who is sometimes impossible to deal with but is absolutely there when you need them, and I respect you for that.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Spoilers for The Sparrow )

Meanwhile, I'm reading a really great book on introversion (The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, by Marti Olsen Laney ), that posits the following scenario: introvert goes to her daughter's soccer game. Other mothers are all clustered around talking, but the introvert sits by herself, and reads or listens to music during the game. The other mothers, who are extroverts or maybe introverts who have bought into the extrovert-written American value system, feel rejected and angry. They think the introvert is being alone at them. But her behavior really has nothing to do with them at all. This is true even if the introvert would have the energy and inclination to talk to a different group of people. The other soccer moms might think they're the independent variable, but really, it's a long chain of the introverts recent experiences, past experiences, and innate inclinations.

Which is to say; I think when we ask "Why?", we tend to assume the answer will involve us in some way. And that's just not true.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
In first edition Mage (the world of darkness RPG), the opposition group was called The Technocracy. As described to me by my best friend in my freshman year of college, their goal was to wipe out belief in magic, originally for benevolent reasons like "penicillin works better with fewer chances of turning you into a chicken" but eventually because they just hated magic. Unknown to them, succeeding would cause an end to all scientific progress as well, because they would have killed humanity's ability to imagine and accept something better than what already existed.

Reading God is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens, I feel like a mage reading a book by a Technocracy operative. He points to all the terrible things people have done in the name of religion, and sees a reason to banish belief in deities. But that doesn't gel for me: there's no reason holding different stories about why the sun rises in the east should cause people to kill one another. Hitchens would argue that it's because the stories come with instructions to do so, but he also spends a lot of time proving that those stories are human creations*. It seems to me like religion is simply the name we give to the category of things that make people that stupid.** Or, I suspect, to one of the effects of a deeper Thing, the destruction of which would have larger consequences than Hitchens imagines or has even bothered to look for.

It seems like Hitchens believes that if he could just prove to people that their origin stories (and by extension their deities) were obvious falsehoods, they would stop killing their neighbors in the name Huitzilopochtli and everything would be fine. My belief is that, as long as there are resources to compete over, people will form in groups and out groups to help marshall those resources for themselves. Put another way: Christianity was used by priests in medieval Europe to move resources from non-priests to priests. But belief in God and Heaven and Hell, was the tool, not the reason, for that theft. You might as well ban electricity because it was used to execute people.

*I'm a bit annoyed at how long he's spent proving that the Talmud, New Testament, and Koran were assembled by human beings from a tangle of conflicting accounts, decades or centuries after the events in question, and in many cases can be definitively disproven with historical data. I would have spotted him this without argument, both because it's obviously true and because the point isn't interesting to me. It's possible I'm simply annoyed at him for not writing on the topic I wanted to read, but it's also possible I recognize a grad student padding out the strongest section of his thesis to disguise the fact that the rest of it is so thin.

**I'm using stupid in a less pejorative than usual sense. Being too stupid to know something can't be done is how we do new things.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
There's a horrible demonstration idiots do in some abstinence only sex ed classes in which the idiot applies duct tape to a child (usually a girl, because you expect them to touch a boy?), and rips it off. "Ow", the child says quietly to themselves. Then they apply the tape to another girl, and note that it hurts less. After 4 or 5 girls, the tape doesn't stick at all. This is supposed to demonstrate how sex uses you up, and after a few partners you won't be able to bond at all.


Sex/kissing/romance/being wanted are all drugs. They are incredible rushes that can overcome a lot of intelligence and even wisdom. If you never manage to recreate the oxytocin rush of your first time that is to your benefit. Because what you lose is not the ability to feel that amazing or that deeply, but the burning need to do so with whoever is nearby. You become less like a duckling seeing its mother for the first time and more like an adult who will see the problem in the sentence "Everything in our relationship is perfect except..." before you send the letter in to Captain Awkward.

ETA: more interesting title
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I don't have a dog in the Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays debate, in the sense that I don't mind being wished either. But two things really annoy me:

1. People who don't care about being wished Merry Christmas and believe it is therefor wrong for other people to care.

Now, if you did a survey and the number of people who didn't like being wished Merry Christmas was statistically insignificant, that would certainly be an argument for leaving the store displays up. But my close friends have weirder and harder to remember preferences than this, and I still do my best to honor them, because that's what you do for friends.

2. People who say "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or whatever it is I'm allowed to say."

This is, I think, strictly worse than just wishing someone Merry Christmas. It demonstrates that you're aware of the issue, have given it some thought, and decided to do the bare legal minimum while making it very clear how arduous it is for you. We have a generic well-wishes for everyone statement, it's called "Happy Holidays", and while not everyone loves it, it deftly conveys "I'm trying to be celebratory and inclusive", which is a pretty good start.

*either because they feel it's an attack on Christmas (stupid), or promotes a false equivalence between Christmas and Hannukah (I can see the argument but I still think you need to give people credit for trying).
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
My post on Rick Perry sparked a conversation with a Jewish friend about whether Christmas is a secular holiday (my friend thinks it's not, I thought it either is, or is a trick pagans play to get you to celebrate our holidays), which sparked a conversation with a culturally Jewish friend about whether she thought it was, in which she (despite being 30 years older, non-practicing, having a different sect of origin, and growing up in a different state) said pretty much the exact same things. I don't want to overgeneralize from two people, but the fact that they said such astonishingly similar things makes it clear there is a major cultural phenomenon I didn't understand, and that Christmas is not secular.

As I left, the second friend wished me a Merry Christmas*, and I had sort of a dilemma. I knew she didn't like being wished Merry Christmas in return, because she doesn't celebrate it. And I knew she didn't like being wished a Happy Hanukkah, because it implied a false equivalence between the two holidays. So I asked what the proper response was, and it turns out that it's "Thank you."**

This goes against every instinct in me, all of which say "when given a gift, reciprocate with a gift of equal value, even if it's something as insubstantial as rote good wishes." But there was no gift of equal value to give, and any attempt would in fact be an insult.*** At first I just logicked myself through this, but I think there might be a more important point about the search for equivalence in general. It's the same thing we see when WASPs assume everyone would be happier with more education, extroverts assume introverts would be happier if they went to more parties****, or doctors assume everyone wants heroic care even though they themselves do not. Simply accepting a gift- or a compliment- is something we're actively taught not to do.

*Actually, both gave me some form of holiday well wishes, which is additional food for thought
**Obviously she's still not a spokesperson for all of Judaism, but I do suspect this with hold true for people besides just her.
**Said friend realizes that people wishing her Happy Hanukkah mean well, but given that I had just been told that it bothered her, I felt I should aim higher.
****extrovert privilege is the worst privilege because it's the best one I don't have.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Ferule & Fescue has said everything I ever wanted to say on Rick Perry, Christianity, persecution complexes, and homophobia. The parting shot is "According to Rick Perry, being a Christian means being part of a very special and persecuted minority on whom no real demands are ever made."
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
My favorite line from Ricky Perry's horrible new ad is:

"There's something wrong with this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our children can't openly pray or celebrate Christmas in school."

His facts are bad and he should feel bad. Kids aren't barred from praying or celebrating Christmas, they're just losing the ability to use school resources to do so (or compel others to do so). This really has nothing to do with the fact that soldiers are no longer required to lie about their sex life in off-duty conversations.

The only way it makes sense to me is that they're using some sort of ease-of-life score tracker. Gay people's lives just got easier, Christian people's lives just got harder, therefor gay people won, therefor gay people are winning. The fact that Christians started with way more points than gay people doesn't appear to enter into it.

This is what loss of privilege looks like. It feels like an attack, because you're losing something that, as far as you know, you were entitled to.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
People do stupid things. They just do. It happens, and everyone knows it. Despite this, humanity's first reaction to doing doing stupid is to double down, and do any number of vastly stupider things to save themselves from consequences of the first. See: The autobiography I'm reading of comedian Craig Ferguson, who drank in large part to avoid thinking about all the terrible things he'd done while drinking*.

The part of twelve step programs where you apologize to everyone is pretty well known (Ferguson wasn't in AA and it's not clear to me what kind of program he was in after rehab, but he was going back and making amends). Last year I learned about a part of Rosh Hashanah celebration, in which you seek forgiveness from people you've wronged. And it wasn't until this year that I saw the similarity to the rehab step, presumably because I'm listening to Ferguson's autobiography now.** My theory is that both Rosh Hashanah and AA are trying to make you pay whatever price you owe for whatever stupid things you did, thus removing the incentive to do more stupid things to avoid paying that price. As plans go, I think this is a pretty good one, and I'm giving a lot of thought to incorporating it into my own life.

I think this ties in really well with the serenity prayer. One thing you really can't change is the past,and trying to fight the consequences of it is doomed to failure (serenity to accept the things I cannot change). But it is equally flawed to say "it happened and I can't change it therefor nothing is required of me.", thus ignoring your obligation to make things as right as possible (courage to change the things I can). Knowing which one of these you're doing is hard, and it's so easy to fall off on either end.

*Also to avoid dying of the DTs. But some of it was blotting out past sins.

**Also because when my friend and I discussed this last year, it was in the context of how the Jewish G-d can't forgive you until the relevant person does, which blew my little Presbyterian-raised mind.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Everyone but the people involved have noticed that homophobia, or at least vehemence of homophobia, is correlated with the number of things you do that the bible tells you not to. It's like they think you can make up for lust in your heart, or you know, killing people, by making life miserable for some other sinners.

One of the tragedies in Angela's Ashes is the father's pride. I put his pride in three categories:

  • Pure bullshit. Example: forcing his pregnant wife to carry packages because it's undignified for a man to do so.
  • Even if you spot him the principle, bullshit in application. Example: telling his wife she needs to wait at home for him to bring the money, because it's shameful for her to go to his job/welfare office and take it from him. Even if you think that's shameful, he should have thought of that the first ten times he drank his entire paycheck while their children went hungry.
  • Sort of noble principle, still bullshit in application. Example: wanting to refuse charity and make do with what they have. There's some nobility here. But if it's so important to you that your children not accept boots from the church, don't drink the money you could use to buy them boots. Being generous with other people's suffering is not virtuous. Keep in mind that at this point in the story three of his five children have died, with malnutrition as at least a secondary cause, and he still views any money he earns as his to drink.

    This strikes me as a lot like the Christian right and homosexuality: a strong desire to be virtuous, but an unwillingness to give up anything they actually want. That's why having a gay relative works so well on them: suddenly their homophobia has a genuine cost.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I'm going to start this by saying I'm completely pro-marriage equality. In my mind, civil unions for everyone is a better outcome than marriage for everyone, but I'm not picky. I don't really understand why the distinction is so important, but it's clearly extremely important to a lot of people, so I accept it. I would dearly love to see a documentary showing why this word is so important to so many people on both sides.

8 didn't do that, or anything else that comes under the "portraying emotional truth" set that I think is documentaries' natural advantage. The gay couple that was unmarried by prop 8. had a nasty habit of conflating batshit crazy fears ("Gay Marriage jeopardizes national security") with fears that are well grounded in reality but that we think they shouldn't be afraid of (gay marriage + existing non-discrimination laws will force entities that rent wedding space or produce overpriced flowers to serve gay weddings as well).

And while the Mormons did pour a lot of time and money into anti-marriage equality initiatives, I can't help but feel they're getting a larger beatdown than any other church would because they're considered weird and unpopular, so gay marriage advocates can go farther in their attacks without fear of a backlash. This is an excellent tactic for marginalizing the anti-gay-marriage point of view, and I'm not sure the Mormon Church has any right to complain, given the number of logistically genius ethically suspect tactics they use themselves, for any number of things. But I like my side to meet certain ethical standards, and this falls just a tiny bit short.

Expanding further: I broadly fall under the category of "spiritual but not religions", although I don't use the term much because I feel like most people who use it are implicitly criticizing organized religion and universally look down on it.. I only look down on poorly organized religion.* If you want to be a loosely organized spiritual support center that encourages people to find their own path, do that. If you want to be an actual organized religion, I expect you to expect things of your congregation. The mushy middle ground taken by, say the Catholic Church, which demands a lot and then provides you with loopholes, bugs me. So I have a grudging respect for the fact that fact that the LDS really demands a lot from their congregation and come down pretty hard on people who deviate- including demanding copies of paystubs and shunning people with don't tithe "enough." It's not something I'd want to participate in, and I find that social pressure abhorrent in all other circumstances, but here... I dunno, I admire competence even when it's put to ill use.

I have no idea why I'm being so nice to the Mormons. Their ads stating that Prop 8 wouldn't revoke existing marriages make baldfaced lies everywhere blush with their lack of subtlety. And the organizational skills I so admire lead to people who can't explain their position beyond repeating (asinine) slogans. I just wish 8 had been more like Bible Camp, which was so true the subjects thought it was a compliment.

*Statement exaggerated for humorous effect. It was funny enough that I wanted to leave it in but potentially hurtful enough I wanted to comment on it
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Fall from Grace is a documentary on Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, better known as "the god hates fags assholes." As a documentary, it was pretty fail. Basically, I learned that Fred Phelps and his descendants are batshit crazy assholes and that people are hurt when assholes protest their loved ones' funerals. I didn't learn anything about the funding or logistics of the operation. There was basically nothing on how it got started or how it's evolved. We get a bunch of unbelievably frightening quotes from Phelps + Co about why they think they're protesting, but nothing about how the system they've created rewards their behavior*, much less how they created that system. No one calls them on their obviously self-contradictory statements. Contrast with Bible Camp, which did a pretty good job of conveying the reality the subjects lived in.

And I would have killed to hear them ask one of the bikers that runs interference between Phelps and soldiers' funerals if they'd ever protected an AIDS victim's funeral.

*I believe everyone lives in a system that rewards their behavior, at least on a micro level.


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