Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Possible Prolonged Absense

See, here's the thing.

The new World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, was released yesterday. And I bought a copy.

And I'm going to play it.

A lot.

Which means I might not be reading, writing, eating, or sleeping for an indeterminate amount of time, probably starting tomorrow since today is my last day of work (from which I post most of my entries).

And not only that, classes start soon. Which means I need to get as much leveling out of the way as I can before then (I'm half way through 75, so it should be no sweat to hit 80 before December 1). Though my last two quarters at RIT will be lighter than usual, I make no promises.

Not that anyone's here reading my stuff anyway. Oh well.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

If the Shoe Doesn't Fit...

Since tomorrow is my last day at work, my team went out for lunch to celebrate getting rid of me (har har). The boss told us about a Halloween costume party he went to, and he told us about some of the costumes he saw.

One of them was a man dressed up as a woman. In fact, my boss had initially thought that the man was, in fact, a girl (not a woman, a girl).

At that, one of my co-workers muttered that it was probably the man's profession. Hopefully you can see what's wrong with this assumption, so I'll leave it alone.

Another co-worker told his own story about meeting a woman at some function, and, trying to start up polite conversation, asked her what her profession was. She responded with some embarrassment that she made women's clothes for men. "Excuse me?" he said his response was. "Like what?" Like dresses, braziers, et cetera. The same co-worker that muttered about the professional cross-dressing costumer muttered something else. The one telling the story tacked on, "Well, if it doesn't fit, you should take the hint!"

Now, I used to apply the same logic to things like this (although I've never believed that cross-dressers are inherantly bad or confused).

But, given the "hint," I arrive at a very different conclusion than my co-workers obviously did. They of course, believe that if the shoe doesn't fit, you shouldn't wear it.

Knowing that clothing is a man-made (woman-made is perhaps more accurate) strategy to keep us warm, I believe that if the shoe doesn't fit, then you should ask for a pair in your size. I know that, at one time in our history, it was unacceptable for women to wear men's clothes. When you remember that, it should beg the question, "How do you know the difference between men's and women's clothing?" My answer is that there should be no such thing as gendered clothing. Clothing, whether from the practical or the fashionable standpoint, is not inherantly gendered. A shirt is a shirt. In Utopia, men can wear pants and t-shirts, or skirts and high-heeled shoez (or all four at the same time!) and women can just as easily wear the same thing.

Currently, women can wear some men's clothing, but men most definitely cannot wear women's clothing. A man wearing women's clothing is automatically demonized, as anything woman-like is bad, particularly when a man is subscribing to it. A man wearing women's clothing is a pussy; he isn't a real man; his masculinity should be questioned; he's gay. This is a good example of why misogyny hurts everyone, not just women.

The Obama Administration and Technology

I am so excited to see what Obama does to revolutionize the way technology is used, not only in our government, but in our interactions with it too.

He wants to appoint our very first Chief Technology Officer, who will "improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens." This is so crucial, because we as a nation are becoming increasingly comfortable with our computers and the Internet - and the government should take advantage of that. Web sites like Facebook and MySpace show that connecting with people over the Internet is a worthwhile, highly popular, and groundbreaking endeavor. For example, the nation- and world-wide Proposition 8 protests were organized by Join the Impact, which formed on November 5, 2008. Three days later, almost entirely online, 49 states organized protests in 80 cities. And more than one million people actually showed up. Imagine - just imagine - what this could mean for our government provided similar ways to begin conversations about laws, elections, court decisions, appointments and more, so that our representatives could see it, could hear us as individuals. Obama hasn't even been inaugurated yet, and he's already begun a conversation.

And conversation is only truly possible if net neutrality is maintained and protected. Obama's Technology Agenda promises that "Obama will strengthen privacy protections for the digital age and will harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy." The Mac Observer says - and I agree - that that is "the strongest and most specific statement of support for [privacy] to have come from Washington in decades, if not ever." And, regarding sensitive material inappropriate for children - say, porn - Obama's agenda says that it will develop ways for parents to protect their children from it, which implies that such material will not be outlawed or suppressed.

However, net neutrality is irrelevant to those without quality Internet access in the first place. Obama wants to bring broadband Internet to every household, like past Presidents did with water, electricity, and telephone service. It's about damn time.

Brian Solis points out that there is no where yet for people to tell Obama why he did not receive their votes. He says that "if Obama [could] reach, listen to, and embrace the 46% who voted against him, he might be able to run a truly democratic term." This idea is truly astounding, and yet why hasn't it been done earlier? This is true bipartisanship. But Solis is right - if Obama truly wants to be their President too, then he needs to open up avenues for dissent.

But there are some problems to overcome. Josh Bernoff brings up the problem of scale: "how do you deal with 10,000 suggestions? How do you learn from them? How do you manage them?" And then he offers some suggestions. My favorite is handing moderation and management over to the electorate, Wikipedia-style.

Some other nuggets:
  • Bush stopped using e-mail the day of his inauguration.
  • Obama will be the first President in history to keep a laptop on the Oval Office desk.
  • Obama's Facebook page had 3 million fans to McCain's 618,000.
  • Comparing to McCain's 330, the Obama campaign published 1,800 YouTube videos, summed up to 110 million views.
Now this is progress.

Monday, November 17, 2008

WoW Sexism: New and Improved

As you might have heard, the new World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, was released a couple of days ago. While questing, I ran into these two charming characters:

Meet Olga the Scalawag Wench and Gerald Green. Olga is a pirate wench that serves booze (hence the wine bottle in her hand) off the coast of the Howling Fjord. Gerald is a farmer whose settlement on the Borean Tundra is under attack (hence the mace). Both character models are new; if we've seen them before, we haven't since Warcraft III, which was released some years ago.

Your interaction with Olga begins when you accept a quest to get some information out of a very drunk pirate, who is dancing on the table of Olga's establishment. When he refuses to talk to you, you go to Olga. She offers to sweet talk the guy into talking to you. So she walks over, flirts a little with him, gives him some free booze, and then you ask him what you need to know. He spills it, and that's it. While brief, I think there are some interesting things to take out of this.

While I could get in to the misogyny of Olga's profession, I think it's self-explanatory. What is important to mention though is that Olga is certainly not the first and only pirate wench in the game; there are plenty of thinner ones. She comes across as confident and sturdy. While I thank Blizzard for including a fat woman as part of their non-playable character set, I wonder if she couldn't have been placed in a better profession. I think being a pirate wench and flirting successfully with the drunk man reinforces some ugly stereotypes about fat women, including but not limited to "fat women are easy" and "you need to be drunk to find fat women attractive."

Gerald gives you many quests that involve the saving of his settlement. He is surrounded by two, thinner characters, a man and woman, both wielding weapons and looking determined. Gerald is impassioned about the saving of their lands. "If Farshire is wiped off the face of Azeroth, then at least let us be remembered as the first ones to defend our land and the last ones to give up," he tells you for one quest. What's great about Gerald is that he challenges the "fat people are lazy" stereotype. Not only is he not running in fear, he is leading the defense against the Scourge invasion. And, as a farmer, you know he couldn't be lazy anyway.

It's too bad that Gerald challenges the ugly stereotypes and Olga enforces them. But at least we have Olga in the first place. In fact, the only commenter on Olga's Wowhead entry says, "OMG! Could it be? A female character that doesn't haver a size zero waist?" Indeed.

And gosh, I do love her bra tan lines.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Penny Arcade Misogyny

Take a look at the Nov. 11 Penny Arcade comic. Cute, huh? It would be a lot funnier if the punch line weren't misogynist.

The goal is to "destroy this man." So who's the one framed, made to look like a slut, and is truly the biggest loser in this situation? The Penny Arcade dudes destroyed the guy's girlfriend, not the guy. Though he may be angry, he has taken no hit to his reputation. Not to mention the way that she is used as a tool to inflict pain on another man.

Had the situation been reversed - say, for example, that Gloria found another woman's bra or underwear under the bed - it wouldn't have been as funny, because men are perfectly able and allowed to cheat on their partners. But the justice would have been sweeter.

Shame on you, Penny Arcade.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Now See Here

I'm getting fed up with being told by the right why I, as a woman, hate Sarah Palin. There's a myriad of reasons - all as shallow and petty as could be - and they all stem from, guess what, sexism.

Basically, the women of the left hate Sarah Palin because she is:
  1. Sexy
  2. Thin
  3. Successful
  4. Confident
  5. A mother
Look. Those five things are all fine and dandy. Some people on the left may actually dislike her for those things, but I have yet to meet one. The thing is, I don't need stupid reasons to hate Sarah Palin. Just like you don't need stupid reasons to hate Joe Biden, or John McCain, or even - say it ain't so - Barack Obama. There are plenty of really good reasons to hate Sarah Palin. If the right would instead just admit that the left doesn't like her for her politics, which is really only one of the many reasons, I might not be posting this right now.

And I'm not even going to get in to the hypocrisy of the right calling me sexist for having good reasons to not like or support Palin.

That said, I really hope I don't have to deal with this woman again in 2012. My head might explode.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Comfort in Atheism

Within just a couple of days of each other, Rodrigo Neely of Edger and Greta Christina wrote two wonderful posts about arriving at atheism that complement each other in such a way that I was inspired to write about the relationship between the two posts. Greta says:
We spend a lot of time putting cracks in the foundation of religion: arguing why it's mistaken, arguing why it's harmful, arguing why the arguments and ideas supporting it are unsupportable.

But we don't spend as much time -- some, but not as much -- letting believers know that, if and when their faith does finally crumble, atheism is a safe place to land.

And we don't spend nearly as much time as we should actually making atheism a safe place to land.

She is very right, as she very often is. She ended with many questions to her readers, one of which is, "When you were making your leap of non-faith, what helped you feel that godlessness would be a safe place to land?" I'd like to try to answer this question as far as my own experience goes, and it has a lot to do with what Rodrigo says in his piece, "Lust for Life."

There is a real source of righteousness to be found in believing that human beings are the most important thing we know. You do not have to have your sense of ethics clouded by unproven commandments from what mankind dreams is above.

You can see that people in all of our messiness can truly be great. Humans can truly experience happiness, and spread that happiness through freedom, love, compassion, and understanding. Humanity is the best hope for humanity.

This is so much more elegant than I could ever be, and I agree with him. You do not need God or the promise of heaven in order to do great things, to love, to spread joy. You only need other people to do those things, as well as your own sense of what's right. And you know what is right not because of God or the Bible or your church leader, but because of your natural instinct. Our species succeeds when we help and love each other - that's how we've evolved.

And so, to use Rodrigo's beautiful rhetoric to answer Greta's question:

The greatest treasure in life is our loved ones, our friends, our family. The second greatest treasure in life is to spread that love as far is it will go.

Our greatest treasure is not God. For all the talk of loving thy neighbor and turning the other cheek, it is awesome (I use the word's literal meaning here) how selfish the religious can be. Many of the religious (not all) are driven to volunteer, donate, and love out of fear for the destination of their souls after death, not for the sake of the recipients of their good will. It saddens me, because it's so unnecessary and so oppressive. It is so Machiavellian: at least the end result is good, even if terrorism is used to get you to do it. But I know that I do not need the promise of eternal damnation to scare me into doing good things. I can stand on my own, take responsibility for myself and my fellow humans, and do good things for the sake of humanity, not for the sake of saving my soul.

And I, like Carl Sagan, find it easier to be awed by the world and the universe knowing that an all-powerful being did not create it. Though I am not very good at doing the legwork of science, it does not mean that I cannot appreciate its findings.

So, when I arrived at the word "atheist" and discovered what it meant, it was not a difficult leap. I was already in awe of the world. And, like Julia Sweeney said, "The world behaves exactly as you would expect it would, if there were no Supreme Being, no Supreme Consciousness, and no supernatural." The world looked no different to me with the assumption that God created it than with the assumption that He did not. I already had experiences equivalent to a theist's spiritual inspiration. If I had to pick the most spiritual experience I have encountered, it was not sitting in a Christmas sermon with my father and stepmother and sister; it is listening to inspired, beautiful, emotional music and allowing my mind to soar with it.

If there is a God, and if he truly is merciful, then would He really care if I believe in Him or not? Isn't the important thing here that I do good things and help my fellows, motivated by love for humanity instead of fear of hell? I would like to think so. And so I do not fear the (tiny) possibility that there might be a God, nor do I fear hell, mostly because I don't think it exists, but also because, even if it does, I don't think a truly merciful and loving God would put me there anyway.

I don't need God. I just need people. And music helps too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Men and Self-image

I ran across an interesting article on the fatosphere today, from Eat a Cheeseburger. Tiffabee talks about an article that suggests that "men suffer from body image issues after reading magazines just like women do." And not just magazines like Maxim. Women's magazines too. Why?
She reported that the main reason men feel self-conscious after reading a magazine filled with images of sexualized women is that they feel they have to live up to the same level of attractiveness in order to be worthy of the women they see in the magazines.
That makes tons of sense. And this is an excellent example of how misogyny - in this case, that which pigeon-holes women into stereotypical, too-perfect images - hurts everyone. Women's rights are everyone's rights. The feminist movement is a necessary and integral part of the humanist movement. That's why men should be just as interested as women in securing gender equality.

And so I'm also discovering that fat rights are a necessary and integral part of women's rights. Fat women are hounded - more than men - to diet, in order to be accepted by society. If a woman is going to be stuffed into the role of homemaker, mother, or wife, she needs to be thin to do it. The quintessential woman is a thin, beautiful mother that beckons to her husband's every call. And that's just not so.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Whenever I look into the mirror, I receive a shock. I am shocked by the way my body looks. The way I feel, the way I move, the way I look at myself from above (no mirror) is strikingly different from the way I look and move in the mirror, or on video. I've never felt like I move slowly or heavily, but I look so awkward when I'm able to watch myself. I don't feel as big as I look in the mirror. And so, every time I look, I'm jolted back to reality.

And so I avoided looking into the mirror, for a long time. Lately, I've been looking more and more often into the mirror, trying to find something to like. At first, I saw very little. For example, I like my eyes. I think I have pretty eyes. I like my nose. It's not too big, not too small. I like my mouth; I like the shape and color of my lips. I like my glasses, but I can't take too much credit for those. Didn't like much beyond those though. Very recently, I'm starting to get used to looking at myself in the mirror. I realized a few days ago that I like my skin tone: I'm not pasty white, but I'm no where near tan. I wouldn't even say I'm in the middle; somewhere between the middle and pasty white.

And so I've gotten to thinking. Why is there such a disconnect between the way I feel and the way I look? Am I really as big as I look? By whose standards am I judging, exactly? Is there a way for me to capitalize on not feeling so big as I look?

I'm going to take a shot at the first question right now. I think this disconnect was formed by our dieting, fat-hating culture. It has somehow created a gap, a gulf, between me and me. Me being the way I feel. Me being the outside, the way other people and myself see me. Somehow, me has remained untouched, but only sort of. I still think I'm fat, and I still have a hard time letting go of the idea of dieting. That part of me has been touched. But other parts haven't. (I'm probably not making any sense at this point. Bare with me. Or me.)

I don't know what my own standards of fat are. What I should say now is that it doesn't matter: there shouldn't be a standard at all. Probably true. But I think it's important to understand whose standards are whose so that I can identify what needs to change and whose standards I should begin to listen to. My own standards are probably best; the most informed, researched, and tested standards are probably even better. But I'm not sure that the latter exists yet.

Fat acceptance means that I need to start putting "fat" and "normal" into the same sentence more often. It's okay to be fat; it's normal. Just like it's okay to be black. Or female. Or short or tall, or blue-eyed or brown-eyed. It's normal, it happens, and its (mostly) outside my control. Short women can put on high-heels to get taller; men can get surgery to become women; anyone can put on a pair of contacts to change their eye color; and a fat person can overcome their weight if they are (1) lucky, (2) patient, and (3) unreasonably determined, perhaps to the point of obsession.

But I don't think weight is something to overcome. When I'm not looking in the mirror, I feel pretty good, for the most part. I should maximize this, so that the feeling spreads. I can do that by eating better, exercising more, educating myself, and learning to love my body. (It's so strange to type that - "learning to love my body." It shouldn't be.) Once I can appreciate my own body can I begin to push back on my culture's hatred of my body. Once I can reconcile the way I feel with the way I look - by learning that my fat body is normal and maybe even attractive - can I approach the rest of the world about it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner

This is a common phrase religion uses to patronize its subjects as well as outsiders. We've all heard it before. I don't want to talk about this phrase and what it means itself though; I want to apply it to the atheist movement (if you want to call it a movement).

Hate the religion, love the religious. The non-theist crowd often forgets that the religious are just as human as agnostics and atheists, passive or active, and that they are not inherently our enemies, nor are they inherently bad or immoral or ignorant. (It's very easy to start using religious language at this point - "the religious are just misguided; they need enlightening" - but I'm going to try not to. ) Active atheists and agnostics need to remember that the religious are not here solely to aggravate us. Tauriq Moosa of Edger stated this himself, in part 2 of his essay, "In Defense of 'Militant' Atheism":
People forget that the point is not just attacking and questioning and debating: but promoting the inherent humanity and the expression and longing therein to reach the numinous and transcendent as human beings.
It's especially important to remember this now that Muslims are so demonized in our culture. It's getting harder to tell whether a speaker is anti-Islam or anti-terrorist; in America, the line is blurring more and more every day. I read through much of a forum thread once, started by a very angry anti-Muslim user. He stated himself that he hated Islam more than other religions. I don't recall that he mentioned what his own religious leaning was. It was very difficult for me to determine if he hated the people behind the religion or just the religion; he seemed to bounce back and forth. He hated the violence that Islam encourages in its followers (a valid point), but he also seemed to attack the believers themselves, both the extremists and the "average" Muslim. Some of what he said was very valid and very informed (he was obviously well-educated in general); other things he said were hate speech. Other users challenged him, called him names, reported him, and his thread was quickly deleted by moderators.

As an agnostic/atheist, it gets very difficult for me to remember that religious people are, well, weaker than a non-believer. (Wait, let me explain!) It's hard to let go of God, there's no doubt about it. Some people need to have the comfort of the invisible friend in the sky, the promise of heaven, the scapegoat when things go wrong (instead of taking personal responsibility), the reason to be bigoted and prejudiced. It's nice to be able to say "God told me to do it" instead of saying you thought it was a good idea. As far as that comfort goes, it's difficult to blame the average believer for believing. It's just plain easier to believe. I went through a period in my life wishing for the same comfort that believers had (reason kept me from ever committing to anything). It's very human to want and need that comfort of something bigger than us. We as non-believers recognize that that comfort comes with high costs though, namely bigotry, orthodoxy, and rejection of evidence.

My aim here is not to discourage the "militant" or active atheists; I'm not trying to tell you to shut up and leave the poor religious folk alone. Quite the contrary. I just want to remind you that the religious are human. Most of the non-believers were religious themselves at one time in their lives; think back to how that felt - why were you a believer? What did you get out of it? Use that information to argue with theists. Empathy is a powerful tool in the atheist's toolbox. If we can relate to the religious, it becomes that much easier to "enlighten" them.

Because really - remember why you're non-religious, remember why it's important to "deconvert" the religious. It's for the greater good! (The greater good.) It's to fight the anti-intellectualism in this country, and in the world. It's to encourage scholarship and critical thinking. It's to discourage a culture of hatred, bigotry, prejudice, xenophobia, and ignorance. It's to encourage humanism and freedom.