17 December 2007

Thank God for Winter Break

So I'm sure I have no readers left out there...all 3 of you have probably long given up, but I just have to say that I am so happy that it's December 17 and I handed in at 5pm today my final final paper of the semester! The last 3-4 weeks have been absolutely grueling, but they're done! Don't get me wrong, I'm loving grad school, but one of the best parts about writing a paper is handing it in, and I'm so ready for a break...now if I just didn't have this pesky job to go to, haha.

In any case...reflections on my first semester:

1. Grad school ain't easy. When they say read, they mean read; and when they say read 300 pgs by next Weds, they don't just mean the first 10 and the last 10. I think I read more pages in the last semester than in my 4 undergrad years combined. And writing...let's just say it had been a while since I'd put pen to paper (ok, no one does that anymore, but you know what I mean) and it took a while to get back into the swing, but it wasn't all that bad...

2. Being a research assistant is interesting...sometimes. But when the prof you're working for buys a new edition of SdB's The Coming of Age that just so happens to be numbered COMPLETELY differently than the previous edition and she's already read and taken notes on half the book...well, finding quotations and writing up page numbers is not the most thrilling thing I can think of. Besides that little charade it was definitely a great learning experience, and I'm glad to take it on again next semester...but w/ a prof who's focus is Ancient?? Parmenides is not quite my forte, but we'll see.

3. The quirky prof who teaches pomo thought...there's a reason his office is actually a closet. He wears a jacket to class and complains that it hot, a hat w/ ear flaps, and busts a sag. Not to mention the key ring that he must have inherited from the janitor who passed away last year... But he is an interesting fellow w/ some thoughts....just don't ask him "What's up?" when he gives you a strange look across the room....his answer: "Is that a trick question?"

4. As an undergrad, everyone feared how the prof would react to their final presentation to the class. As a grad student, everyone fears how the girl who seems to know exactly how to tear every argument, even her own, to shreds might react. The black knee high boots w/ too high heels add to the persona.

5. Reading for fun...hahahahahaha! It took me an entire semester to get through Restaurant at the End of the Universe! It took me one and a half days to read Hitchhikers Guide...hmmm.

Now it's on to semester two featuring:
1) Marx's Critical Social Theory - used to love him, still like some, some's in question...guess we'll see.

2) Current Issues in Theory of Knowledge - a focus on Alvin Plantinga...lotta catching up to do in this one and it hasn't even started.

3) Philosophical Figures: Hume - they say I have to take a modern course...

These three should play nice together...well, except Marx...always gotta be one troublemaker.

01 December 2007

Thoughts on Women's Rights as Human Rights

How is one to envision the body of ideas that constitutes international human rights in terms of both the universality of human rights and the particularity, or plurality, of various cultures, religions, nations and tribes vying for their right to self-determination?

Not more than twenty-five yards from the door to my office is the entrance to the Embassy of Pakistan – Interest Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This office handles all visa, passport, student, and cultural affairs for Iranian citizens residing in the Washington, DC, area. At any time during the day I might walk down toward the elevator and see this scene unfold: a woman steps into the hall in average American dress. She may be in jeans and a t-shirt or donning a business suit, but inevitably, draped over her arm is a long, concealing coat. As she steps off the elevator, she will slide her arms into the sleeves of the coat, reach into her bag and unravel a scarf. As she walks toward the door of the office the scarf is wrapped about her head, concealing her dark hair. She dare not enter the Interest Section with any evidence of a female form visible to the eye. If I happen to step out a while later, I may catch this same woman leaving the building and shedding her makeshift burka as she enters back into her Western life.

Daily, I ponder the ritual of these women. Such a stark contrast exists between the lives they live, and those which they must portray in front of their own government officials. How is one to understand this divide? This, admittedly, is a mild form of the rift between what a Westerner would consider the universal human right to self-expression in dress and what an Islamic state would consider its particular right to cultural self-determination, but it is a ready example of a much deeper issue that I would like to explore – the gap between the ideal of universal human rights and the ideal of cultural diversity.

“Pluralism envisions a state that allows a thousand flowers to bloom (180).” These words of Coomaraswamy describe the vision of a heterogeneous society in which many traditions are allowed to flourish side by side with respect for one another’s differences like the flowers of a colorful garden. The pluralism, though, that is revealed in such a garden at once and always conceals. Hidden within this ideal of diversity of traditions is the hegemony of each culture which consumes the pluralism of individuals within itself.

Another formulation from Coomaraswamy: “If all women are equal, then why do Muslim women have different rights from Hindu women, or Malay women from Chinese women (180)?” Defining human rights contingently in relation to cultural norms seems inherently problematic if one is to call them human rights at all. The term human, though not historically inclusive, in this iteration seems an attempt at a radical inclusiveness, an attempt to define us all as having this one trait in common – our humanness. The term “human rights” then seeks to endow each of us in our humanness with some certain set of rights that on the basis of our humanness cannot be denied. It seems inherently a universal concept.

Of these various rights, though, a few that seem near the pinnacle are that right of self-determination, that right of religious freedom (but freedom to practice, freedom to cede one’s freedoms to it? freedom here seems already problematic), and that right of a community to band together and define itself as a culture. And should not the culture or the religion that rises as a result of these rights be respected by those outside of it? It seems to follow. But if this culture or this religion demands that members forgo certain of their rights as necessary to the rite of membership, and say that certain of these forgone rights are of the nature of what have been called “human rights,” then does the community outside have a cause to protest? Do the human rights of the individual or the rights of the culture or religion to which the individual originally ceded their rights take precedent here?

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’s universality clause, as the result of much negotiation reads:

While the significance of national and regional peculiarities and various historical, cultural, and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of states, regardless of their political, economic, and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This ambiguous declaration leaves one still with the lingering question of universality or particularity. Particular histories “must be borne in mind” as the state carries out its duty to “promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” What does this “borne in mind” mean? Should the state punish murder unless it is in the form of religious ritual? How far does the particular, the peculiar, extend into the universal? How much of the relative is submitted to the universality of human rights? This declaration seems to be utterly empty of practicable meaning.

Women’s rights groups have thought out other solutions to this dilemma through a discussion of consent. Coomaraswamy writes: “Women and men should be given the right to choose which law should govern their private lives. If they wish to be governed by Muslim law, that is their prerogative; but if they wish to be guided by general secular law, that should also be a right granted to the individual (181).” This voluntarism is problematic in a couple of ways. At the same time as one recognizes the right of a religion to determine itself, one denies the very same right to a state. At what point is this line drawn? Should a village traditionally of a certain culture that precludes certain rights of the individual be asked to also find room within it for those individuals who would not submit to the cession of those rights? If the individual should decide she would prefer the secular law to govern her actions, must she move from the village? From the state? Does this not place undue burden on the individual if she should prefer a different life than that allowed by the culture, the religion, the village, the state?

Even without this undue burden, even if the village must make room for the individual, there is the question of what kind of choice really exists. Do not traditions by their very nature hold on to individuals? To ask it another way, is it not the case that one is indoctrinated into a tradition, a culture, a religion, in such a way that makes it, in many cases, extremely difficult to leave, even if the illusion of this freedom exists at the surface? The consent to be governed in a way that would preclude one’s human rights seems to be an impossible consent to withhold in many situations, and such a system appears to leave unanswered the question of where space must be made for the individual who chooses to live outside of the dominant group.

Why not whole-hearted universality? Born of the Enlightenment, universal human rights hold within them an inherent bias. It is claimed by the Third World that these rights are Western, not universal (168). These rights are formulations born of a particular lived situation, and cannot be applied to all particular lived situations. It is rightly the case that these universal human rights are of a Western imagination rising out of a modern epistemology which seeks to objectify in order to know and to universalize the entirety of its knowledge. At the same time, these human rights were not universal to all in Western society in their initial instance. The exclusivity of the term “human” has been relaxed; bringing far greater numbers into the set to which these rights apply. Indeed, the women’s movement has had great influence in opening up this term. Also, the term “rights” has undergone many alterations. The universal (Western) human rights have been expanded to include rights of women that were never imagined by the framers of the Enlightenment. Does this tell us something of the nature of human rights born of the Enlightenment that is of importance to this debate?

It seems that the particular of the Western idea of human rights is one that is inherently subject to change via the re-iteration of a certain type of dialog. The constant reverberation of reasoned and rational dialog that is inherent to the Western modern epistemology brings about a constant re-evaluation and revaluation of human rights. The ideas and ideals contained within the term are continually open to re-examination. New ideas and ideals are packaged within the borders of the term as old definitions are left by way. Open, honest, and rational dialog, then, seems of utmost importance in the debate. The particular of Western (Enlightenment) human rights may not be universal, but it opens itself up to the type of dynamic change that allows it to continually grow in that direction.

Does this lead, then, to a universal human rights that consumes the particulars, the relative, of local cultures? It seems not to be the case. To say that it is assumes local customs, culture, religions, and the like to be static, un-evolving constructions. All systems are subject to change, to evolution. There is an incessant interplay between world cultures that unfolds at a feverish pace today. We are not confined to our villages, but, instead, it seems more the cases that the world is our village. To say that cultures around the world are becoming Westernized is to miss the dialog that is happening. Local cultures are not now the same as they were a hundred years ago and they will not be a hundred years hence what they are today. The same can be said of human rights.

The women down the hall have stepped outside of their particular culture and into the realm of the particularly Western iteration of human rights. They still must don the cloak of their culture for certain of their interactions. Only a continuing dialog, a critical dialog, will discover what balance between those stark contrasts will unfold tomorrow and twenty years from tomorrow. We, today, are obligated to keep alive that very dialog.

18 September 2007

Redefinition and Wollstonecraft’s Dilemma

Since the inception of the liberal-democratic state, woman has found herself buried deep in the depths of the institution’s patriarchal structure. She is confined to a sphere outside the sphere where individuals are seen to interact economically, politically, and even socially, to a greater or lesser degree. We find her as an ideal in the kitchen, the nursery, the bedroom of our archetypal home, not living life as the free and social being she, like man, is. For well over two centuries now she has fought within the theoretical framework of the liberal-democracy – and especially within the framework of the welfare state – for her emancipation from this house arrest. Working within these bounds she has encountered many obstacles, but one of the greatest dilemmas she has faced is that the patriarchal, fraternal structure of the system precludes in its basic assumptions the possibility of her ever being something even so basic as an individual, let alone a full citizen. Each and every time women try to rise out of this culturally imposed role of the second-tier citizen and assert themselves as full citizens of the state they encounter the paradox that “women in civil society must disavow [their] bodies and act as part of the brotherhood [in order to be seen as citizens] – but since [they] are never regarded as other than women, [they] must simultaneously continue to affirm the patriarchal conception of femininity, or patriarchal subjection (Pateman 52).”

We must, first and foremost, keep in mind that liberal-democratic theory and, hence, the liberal-democratic welfare state have developed not in a vacuum but hand in hand with Western capitalist society (Pateman 145). This recognition is of vital importance because it allows us to realize, in a sense, that liberal theory is not solely revolutionary in nature (though one must also recognize that it is a reaction to the paternalistic governments of the time), but is, instead, a justification of the status quo of the capitalist market economy. The theory, in essence, provides the groundwork for the myth of the citizen through its championing of ‘universal’ enfranchisement. If all are provided the opportunity to vote, the idea goes, then the political elite will be held to the public will by the myth itself (Pateman 147). It is granted from the beginning that the elite will be the only true political actors in society, rotating in power, but never ceding it. Rawls goes so far as to say that while the well-to-do, active in political life have a “political obligation” to the state, the masses simply have a “natural duty to obey” (Pateman 67). Part of this natural duty is a resignation to the tedium of daily routine and political inactivity for the good of the state.

The idea presented here is that the majority of life unfolds in the private (with a lowercase “p” which will be discussed later) sphere. The masses are consumers above all else, paradoxically both the drivers and passengers of the market economy. They purchase and sell, work and play, sleep and eat in the private sphere with little regard for the politics of the state (the sphere of public life), but all the while, by virtue of simply ignoring the political and going about their business, the masses consent to this political realm and fulfill their civic duty. Locke referred to the acceptance of the institutions of the state as “tacit consent” in his voluntarist framework (Pateman 63). What is neglected in this picture is the fact that this private sphere, the home of the individual, of Homo economicus, all the while, through all these activities, resides to some great degree within the Public sphere.

We have created two dichotomies where theorists had once seen only one. The capital-P Public sphere, once the sphere of man, of the individual with political and productive power, has cleaved to reveal the little-p public and private spheres, the spheres of government and economy, which are found at the locus of most discussions of the public versus the private. Governments are asked to stand out of private matters such as the exchange of goods and the growth of business unless some grave concern should arise. This shift has left another conversation by the wayside. The capital-P Private sphere has all but been ignored. Yes, we hope the government respects our privacy by not listening to our phone calls, but this is as much a private (economic) concern as a Private concern. Only in discussions of child rearing and sexual relations does the Private sphere assert itself in the face of the Public.

The Private sphere is where we finally find women obscured deep within this liberal-democratic structure. Nestled here in this realm, women have all but been pushed out of the conversation since the time of Locke through the late 19th to early 20th century. Here in this realm is where we begin to see the depth of the questions facing feminism and the hurdles standing in front of women in doing something so seemingly simple as asserting themselves as individuals.

Throughout the history of the welfare state (named as such in 1939, but really throughout the history of liberal-democracy) the Private sphere has been largely ignored as relevant to the political state yet has also been the focus, paradoxically, of many of its policies (Pateman 179). Men have been seen as the breadwinners (citizens) and, hence, the contributors to the welfare state. They produce value through their labor in the private-Public sector and pay taxes for the public-Public good. By virtue of this contribution, men are also the seen as the rightful recipients of the welfare state’s goodwill. It is assumed that women benefit only through their benevolent husbands and fathers (Pateman 188). Women, hence, are not provided the opportunity to do that which is central to the idea of citizenship in the welfare state: work. Women are not seen to be owners of their own persons, and are not able to bring their persons to market in the form of labor (Pateman 186).

Women have, however, through various feminist movements, brought many of their needs to the attention of the state. They have taken the place of the majority in regards to the receipt of welfare (Pateman 180). In their place in the home, women are seen to provide, in some sense, welfare to the state as welfare to the family. They are caregivers of children, the elderly, and the infirm, and, as such, have asserted their rights as, at least, formal citizens of the welfare state and demanded some compensation for this work. But this, as we shall see, has only added to the paradoxical place of women as citizens.

Pateman, in her essay The Patriarchal Welfare State, provides us with a useful idea in what she terms as Wollstonecraft’s Dilemma. Women have sought, as was laid out by Wollstonecraft, two routes to citizenship which both turn out to be “incompatible” with the very structure and nature of the patriarchal welfare state. The first route is to insist that “the ideal of citizenship be extended” to include women as full members, full individuals, of the state (196-7). This can be best exemplified in the woman as worker ideas of Marxist revolutionaries, but it must necessarily fail both by virtue of the definition of the term citizen and by the fact that it fails to recognize that there are differences in capabilities (such as bearing a child) between men and women.

The second route is to demand that the currently unpaid work of the woman in the home be recognized as productive and, hence, contributive to the welfare state. In doing this work, women are fulfilling their duties within the role of citizen (Pateman 197). This maneuver fails to address the dual dichotomies of public and private, and relegates women, still, to the Private sphere of the home where, in spite of any laws or economic remuneration, they will continue to be seen as the perpetual second sex.

Wollstonecraft’s Dilemma and attempts by women to traverse the paths laid out by it have both highlighted and ignored the fundamental, underlying problems of the liberal-democratic welfare state. The current structure does not even allow us the language with which to conceive of a new arrangement of life within the state. A radical redefinition of the terms citizen, private, public, and welfare must accompany a move away from the ideal of full employment (of white men) and the wealth accumulating goal of profit-seeking.

A legitimate candidate for the next step in this process of redefinition is the restructuring of employment law and norms to both better recognize work outside of the confines of the office and the factory as valuable work and afford both men and women equal opportunity and incentive to take part in that work. Men are just as well suited as women to be caregivers to their children, to clean the house, to prepare the meals, and to do the laundry. In essence, such a restructuring is a redefinition of the current ideal of citizenship. Work on the open market (the masculine ideal) would no longer be the only valuable form of work. Breaking down the barriers between Private and Public, between work (as a physical place) and home, allows both men and women to readjust their positions in the state in a positive way.

Recently we have seen pushes toward the mandated availability of both maternity and paternity leave of equal lengths. While some progressive workplaces do offer this ideal, it is still very far from the norm and will not be accepted without a fight by industries. This type of legislation would stand in stark contrast to the business friendly norm that allows employers to be profit-seeking entities for the good of wealthy shareholders and to the detriment of employees. Legislating paternity and maternity leave, or even commanding it, would bring more equity into childrearing and the work of the home while allowing mothers and fathers both to have a job to come back to; allowing both to be breadwinners.

This type of sharing of labor across the Public-Private divide is a necessary step in redefining citizenship. The welfare state plays a crucial role, even while in question, in that state support would be necessary to relieve market pressures on businesses to release mothers and fathers from employment. While many obstacles stand in the way of measures like this, it seems as though we have no choice but to move forward, to persevere, in this project of redefinition.

--The source cited in this text is Carole Pateman's "The Disorder of Women" published in 1989 by Stanford University Press--

14 September 2007

The Means to Transcend Biology as Destiny

My first attempt at re-entering academia goes something like this (be forewarned, it's a weak attempt):

What is female and what has caused her always to be the second sex? These two fundamental questions are at the heart of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and provide the frame which we must consider in a reading of the first section of the text, Destiny. Three projects are laid before us, each of which provides a lens through which we can begin to discover some insights into these questions. Biology will provide us with the grounding idea of female as one of a pair necessary for the continuation of the species in many living beings, but not all. Psychoanalysis will offer the Electra complex as a mirror of the Oedipus in an attempt to parse down the description of woman to one essentially of sexuality. Historical materialism will place woman as the victim of the progress of the idea of private property.

While each of these projects will offer up some guidance, none alone can completely elucidate the situation of woman; however, of these three it is biology that today is still most often advanced as a reason, a justification for her Otherness. While the other two ideas have fallen out of fashion, biology remains a potent force entrenched in our mores and enshrined in our laws. Biology, though, finds its teeth only through perception, only by way of our existence as beings in the world. By virtue of this, biology is not a prison for woman but a project. Woman can transcend biology as we understand it today by resituating herself in the world, by redefining our common experience through a reworking of our laws, advancement of our tools, and a reexamination of our common goals.

In biology we find woman as the female of the human species. In this role she, as the female of all mammalian species and many others, is subjugated not only to the male by virtue of her muscular weakness and the prevailing social norms, but also to the species itself. She exists for biology as a body, a conglomeration of systems - more or less complex - that ingest, digest, respire, perspire, ambulate, and procreate. The body functions to maintain the individual in an effort to extend the species temporally. As such, woman is bound by biology to the reproductive role.

Where man transcends via his biology and reproductive organs, woman finds hers alienating. At puberty, her body changes to something she cannot immediately recognize as herself. From this point on to menopause (when nature returns her sovereign body to her) woman is at the service of the species. The ovarian cycle ties her to a monthly period that at times in history has been considered everything from unclean to vile to evil by man. Not by man’s perception alone is her period subjugating, though, as it can also be extremely painful and is accompanied by hormonal shifts. The monthly cycle may be interrupted by pregnancy which is the ultimate exertion of the species’ autonomy over woman. Not until the child is born and weaned do nature and society return to her small piece of her autonomy.

The trick played here by nature is that woman, as the most developed female in nature, both is bound most tightly to it and suffers it the most, as she alone among females has a nature of transcendence. This transcendent nature of the human being is in stark contrast to the subjugation by the species and makes woman feel this subjugation more strongly than any other female. As Beauvoir says, “The individuality of the female is opposed by the interest of the species; it is as if she were possessed by foreign forces – alienated (25).” But biology alone cannot explain fully the second sex for it ignores woman’s own perceptions of herself and her activity in the world outside of procreation.

The psychoanalytical view provides first for us the idea that the body exists not as the physical structure described by biology, but only in so much as it is a “body as lived in by the subject” (Beauvoir 38). Woman is not just the biological partner of the male of the human species; she is defined by her experience of the world and the objects she encounters in it. Not defined solely by biology, woman is also not bound only to her biological functions but also to her perceptions of the world and of herself as an emotional being. The psychoanalytic description of woman falls short, though, in that it is not one of woman as herself but, instead, a description of woman which mirrors its description of man. “He [Freud] declines,” Beauvoir states, “to regard the feminine libido as having its own original nature, and therefore it will necessarily seem to him like a complex deviation from the human [read male] libido in general (39).” Woman defines herself not as subject meeting the world but in relation to the sovereign subject immediately as Other. The Oedipus complex advances the idea that the boy defines himself in relation to his desire for his mother. He both fears and identifies with his father through this desire, and in doing so is able to define himself as a subject. The Electra complex, an inversion of this idea based still on the idea of a masculine libido, posits that the young girl’s desire shifts from mother to father. Her identity as a sexual being is bound up in this shift and manifests itself always as a desire to be dominated. So we find that while the ideas of body in the world are useful, psychoanalysis neglects to define woman as herself and as a subject.

The project of historical materialism presents for us a world in which the proletariat, the downtrodden masses, finds within its history the possibility for its own salvation. Only parallel to this greater drama is the manifestation of woman as subject able to unfold. Beauvoir elaborates that “the fate of woman and that of socialism are intimately bound up together” within the framework provided by Engels and others (55). Woman, like the proletariat, was bound to otherness by the advent of private property. Man seeks alienation, to see himself in something other than himself. In this quest he discovers himself in ownership of property, as the master of land, of slaves, of woman. Woman cannot, by virtue of her biology, carry the weight of man. She is not strong enough to wield his tools, the tools of subjugation. It is in light of this that she can only transcend her otherness through the realization of the socialist economy. As part of the force of production, as one of the many workers, she can come into her own being. But this ignores that woman is woman. Historical materialism focuses on the productive force of woman but ignores the reproductive force. When it must be reaffirmed, it is done so not as a project of woman, but forcefully by law and mores as in the Soviet Union’s paternalistic laws requiring femininity, banning abortion, birth control and divorce, and firming up the institution of marriage. The project of historical materialism provides us with a more concrete idea of the project of becoming. The existential framework of transcendence is devoloping, but woman is still not examined as such.

Looking back toward biology through the layered lenses of psychoanalysis and historical materialism, we can begin to recognize woman as the biological female who is transcendent in nature, capable of self definition, and in need of a means by which to realize transcendence and self definition. Woman is in need of economic freedom as pointed out by Engels’ project, of a means of self definition all her own not tied to man’s as Beauvoir’s critique of psychoanalysis elucidated, and in need of means of breaking free from her subjugation by the species. All three of these needs, it seems, are intricately intertwined within economics, politics, and science and technology. Woman is not confined by her femaleness, for it takes on meaning “only in light of the ends man proposes, the instruments he has available, and the laws he establishes (Beauvoir 34).” These needs constitute a project, a portion of the project of feminism, a project that can come and is coming to fruition today.

In the scope of changing laws, in economics, and in technology we have already seen great advancements for woman now defined as an equal in the eyes of the government from suffrage to employment law and beyond. She has entered the workforce with full force and taken up projects beside man. She has begun to break the economic grips of man on her autonomy. Woman has also begun breaking the grip of the species through advancements in birth control (now capable of allowing a woman even to forgo her period for a time) and women’s health in general.

So we see that there are hurdles being overcome in laws and in instruments that have allowed woman greater degrees of autonomy from both man and the species, yet she has still not been defined as herself and as a subject. Woman still is, at this time, defined and self-defined often in relation to the species and to man. One area where the project beginning to take shape in this early section of the text has not advanced is in a redefinition of “the ends man proposes.” It is in redefining these ends and taking equality and similarity over differentiation, social good over personal gain, accumulation in the public trust over personal wealth, humility over strength, and compassion over power that we can continue to further this project. By creating a living situation in which man and woman take equal responsibility for child care, care of the home, economic well being, and care of each other as well as a society which is willing to forgo miniscule losses in production and wealth for the good of its citizens woman can take another step toward defining herself as the One. She can stand face to face with man each One the others Other but on common and equal ground.

06 September 2007

Reading Beauvoir

We’re reading, in my Feminist Theory class, The Second Sex as our first text of the semester. Last night we discussed the Intro, the Independent Woman, and the Conclusion of the text. One paragraph elicited some heated discussion, and I want to take a bit of time to try to work through some of my thoughts on the following from page 712:

Woman is in any case deprived of the lessons of violence by her nature: I have shown how her muscular weakness disposes her to passivity. When a boy settles a dispute with his fists, he feels that he is capable of taking care of himself; at the least, the young girl should in compensation be permitted to know how it feels to take the initiative in sport and adventure, to taste the pride of obstacles overcome. But not at all. She may feel herself alone in the midst of the world, but she never stands up before it, unique and sovereign.

What we have here, at face value, is Beauvoir providing another example of how her situation prevents woman from transcending, from realizing herself wholly as Subject. In the final sentence she says woman “can feel herself alone” as an individual in the world. She can feel herself unique, but she cannot feel that she can take charge, that she can project herself onto the world, that she can change the current state of reality; she feels herself incapable of boldly standing up to the world as sovereign Subject. Beauvoir implies that woman’s lack of “lessons of violence” contributes to this position in relation to the world. She has not felt that she can “take care of” herself, and for that reason, she does not.

What’s interesting here is that throughout the Independent Woman Beauvoir is making the case that woman simply playing man is not sufficient, is not transcendence. Woman must succeed on her own terms and in her own right. She provides phenomenologies of women imitating man, but falling short or remaining unfulfilled. She is constantly aware that physical differences in the sexes do exist, and that this in itself is not a hindrance and to acknowledge it not a wrong. In this paragraph, however, the patriarchal value of violence seems to prevail. Why is it that Beauvoir neglects to tear down, here, the lofty place of physical force in our collective weltbild? She seems here to simply accept that physical force (be it in the form of violence, sport, adventure, etc) is in some way necessary to the realization of oneself as the One, and not that this is just another construct of the masculine weltbild of which we are heirs.

One could argue that physical force is such a thing; that it is a necessity in this realization because it is such a tangible and accessible representation of ones ability to transcend. If you can move the impediment from your path with physical force you can at once witness your ability to affect reality; you can at once realize your sovereignty.

I think that there is something much more subtle going on here, though. The distinction between masculine violence as the “boy settles a dispute with his fists” and the girl who “takes initiative in sport and adventure” is purposeful. This distinction is not solely in place to say that this might be what society would allow at this given point in time given the situation that woman finds herself in, for if that were the case then what would be the point of the entire text, the entire project? Beauvoir constantly pushes that line, why would she hold back here. I think the distinction is a subtle reminder, actually, of what I said earlier…that the author recognizes the real differences that exist and that woman, once again, must, even in physical force, find her own way and not the masculine way. Woman must learn from the outset to use the body she has to overcome physical obstacles, and in doing so the young girl, as the young boy using his fists, can feel herself to be in control, capable of affecting reality. She can feel herself “unique AND sovereign.”

20 August 2007


Wow! Did this summer fly by! I can’t believe classes start next Wednesday. I can’t believe I’m buying books right now, or that I have an orientation at GMU this Thursday. Where did my summer go? Where did my trips to Great Falls go? Where did Sunday morning perusing the local farmers markets go? How is it that my summers are always packed full of weekends traveling about the Northeast, but rarely do I seem to have time to enjoy them? I look forward to summer, I build it up, I have more expectations than can possibly fit into that short span between April and September. It’s not that it hasn’t been great fun. It has. It’s just that there’s always so much more I wanted to do when these chilly days of fall start coming upon us. I know I’m jumping the gun here, it’s only mid-August, but DC had one of those fall days today. It’s football season now, the leaves will change soon, and it’s time to go back to school…for all intents and purposes, summer has passed.

I’m developing a new framework as of late to understand how the psychology of all of these expectations works. Developing is a lie…I’m reading a book called Stumbling on Happiness, and, though it’s far from an academic treatise, it helpfully lays out the research of how the mind imagines a future, only summarily filling in the blanks. How we imagine our tomorrow’s much like our todays but with little regard for time, for reasonable expectations. Our imaginations are so far from exact tools. I imagined a summer of endless weekends spent at the beach, in the woods, meandering the streets of DC, and cuddled up with my baby. I imagined more into that summer than time could possibly allow, but in my temporally inept imagination, it all fit nicely, sequentially on my timeline. Oh well, one can’t lament, I suppose on such a summer spent. I did have fun, I did see old friends and go to some great parties. I saw the ocean once again, and spent time in my baby’s arms. Now it’s almost fall…and I love the changing of the leaves, the chill in the air, the Steelers on TV. I’ll try not to make the same mistake…to imagine an impossibly wonderful fall…but aren’t we optimistic creatures? I’m sure I’ll fall victim to the same trap and write this same post again on the first snowfall of the year…but so be it.

19 August 2007

Amusement Parks – A Marxist Oasis (At Least They Used To Be)

I spent the day yesterday at Six Flags America with my roommate. It was great…no crowds, perfect weather, hit every coaster in the park twice. Superman is one of the best steel coasters I’ve EVER ridden; just plain awesome, but I still love the classic wooden coasters the most. There was just one thing that bugged me throughout the day.

Standing in line gave me some time to reflect on this new phenomenon that Six Flags refers to as the Flash Pass. Maybe it was only by virtue of the annoyance caused me by being cut in front of on numerous occasions by “Flash Pass Riders,” but this seemed to me not just dumb but an egregious affront to the communist social contract that riders and amusement park operators enter into once said rider has paid admission into the park. Yes, yes, I know that the capitalists have already taken over the front gates and the food stands…oy! for crying out loud, the food stands! But besides paying for my $8 diet cola, $4 hotdog, and a scrumptious $5 fried, gooey, powder-sugared, goodness known as a funnel cake, I expect lines! And I expect all to be on equal footing in those lines! I expect every rider to understand that she will patiently (or impatiently) wait in the hot sun, moving one foot every 5 minutes, bumping butts, elbows, shoulders, and whatever else gets in the way with the guest in front of, behind, and beside her, enduring the screams of dehydrated and bored children until she finally reaches that joyous moment when she is at the front of the line waiting for that gate to open so that she may slide into that seat, lock down her harness and bask in her 45 seconds of ecstasy that is an amusement park ride. She should not, after waiting all that time in that hot sun be told that “this is a Flash Pass Train, please step back and allow Flash Pass Riders to choose their seats.” She should not have to wait for the next train, it’s her turn!

The capitalist pigs are making an inroad into this amazing little oasis where we all stood once on equal ground, all stood together waiting on queue for our piece of the pie. No longer…now any impatient schmuck with a little disposable income can jump to the front of the line. Soon everyone will buy a pass, and then there’ll be a Flash Pass Line to wait on, and we’ll have two trains…one for Flashers and one for the poor bastards who couldn’t afford it. We’ll have a two-tiered amusement park society! A Six Flags apartheid! But the Flash Passers won’t want to wait in line, so there will then be tiers of Flash Passes with auctions to set the prices. The haves will be paying $100 extra per ride, just to jump to the front! WAIT YOUR TURN! I say. Give us back our little communist refuge in this die hard capitalist world. Take away the Flash Pass before it ruins us all!

31 July 2007

Markets and Electorates

Perusing the internets today (it was a long and slow day in the office), I came across the page of Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at GMU (a hotbed of Austrian free-market folks on the US scene). It appears that Prof Caplan has a new book out called The Myth of the Rational Voter, in which his central thesis seems to be the idea that the average member of the electorate not only is ill-informed in regards to economic policy, but actually makes irrational voting decisions even based on the information s/he has. He bases this on a survey of average voters as compared to economists and highly educated non-economists. The results show that economists would be more likely to vote for stronger free-market outcomes than average voters, a boon for the Libertarian Caplan, and that economic policy may be best left in the hands of the “experts” as average voters affected by certain biases actually skew policy instead of reaching the best possible outcome through the “miracle of aggregation.” (Note, please, that I have not read Prof Caplan’s book and am certain I am doing neither his argument nor his research justice.)

This started me thinking (and be forewarned, this is mere musing not backed by any evidence beyond the anecdotal and likely not properly reasoned) democratic principles at work in politics versus those at work in a market, and the shortfalls of both. Markets serve a number of purposes, but two above all else. The first is the setting of an agreeable (not equitable, not rational, but agreeable) price at which a commodity might be passed from one actor to another. Markets are unquestionably efficient and successful at this task, and are also self regulating by virtue of the fact that the commodity simply will not change hands if the price is not agreeable to both parties. Markets are also conveyors of information through the act of price setting. The manager of the steel mill knows how much to produce for all of the various buyers by virtue of the price. If prices are rising s/he knows to produce more as there is greater demand. If prices are falling, there is a surplus on the market and the manager should hold back production. This can change day to day across millions of markets for billions of commodities, more than any person or computer can track efficiently, yet markets are able to make these on-the-fly corrections because they convey the knowledge of the person-on-the-street through interactions of supply and demand. Towards these two ends, price and information, markets are unmatchable, but notice that I say that markets set agreeable prices, not equitable or rational prices.

Markets, I think, don’t account for the greater good. Their outcomes are geared towards creating exchanges at prices agreed upon by buyers and sellers, but these buyers and sellers are, as Caplan says the electorate is, both ignorant of their true needs/desires and acting irrationally. Perception of needs and desires are skewed by greed, among other factors. The lust for money (i.e. profit seeking, in econ-speak) has created an entire multi-billion dollar industry around manipulating buyers’ desires. How has the market reached a equitable outcome when you can drive past a dilapidated home in need of numerous repairs with a Lincoln SUV with rims worth a few grand sitting in front of it? How has the market reached a equitable outcome when the upper echelon of society sees it’s income growing exponentially while the middle-class and impoverished fall further behind? These are clear examples of ignorance, by the market, or the greater good. But what of rationality in decision making? Even actors acting on incorrect information about their own needs are not acting rationally. For evidence, just look to the stock market bouncing to and fro on the whims of investors. Fear, arrogance, and caprice, not rationality, are market driving forces.

So maybe Caplan is onto something, that economists, not the electorate, should determine economic policy, but at least the electorate wears its ignorance and its irrationality on its sleeve, and doesn’t hide it behind fanciful explanations like the market does. Democracy doesn’t bring about the best of all possible outcomes, but like the free-market, it brings about an agreeable one.

25 July 2007

Reflections on a New Experience

For the past six or seven months I’ve had a headache. It’s fairly constant, fairly consistent, but far from severe or debilitating. At times it flares up, others it subsides, and from time to time it seems gone entirely. I think of these little nuggets of time as moments of clarity, of sorts. They’re times when I can think and act without the constant wondering of what’s causing this bit of pain at my forehead, nose, and teeth. In any case, these headaches aren’t terrible, but they are annoying, and I’ve seen a GP, an eye doctor, and an ear, nose, and throat guy in attempts to figure out what’s causing them. I’ve heard explanations from high blood pressure (now under control) to sleep apnea, but none of these explanations with their solutions has panned out.

So, on Monday, I did it. I left work early, drove out to Annandale at the suggestion of a cousin, and visited an acupuncturist. Now, Eastern medicine, mythology, religion, and philosophy have always deeply intrigued me, so this was no far reach for me, but it was interesting to measure it up to my long held expectations. I’ve considered yoga before, studied Eastern philosophy, and do meditate and practice breathing exercises (though not as often as I’d like), but have never sought out the aid of a “professional.” I expected something holistic in his methods and demeanor; maybe an older man or woman taking the time to discus my problems, my lifestyle, her thoughts on my condition, and potential treatments or lifestyle changes. I expected a slow, but practiced and sure progression into treatment and a rational setting of my expectations.

Wow, was I off base! Entering the office was interesting in itself. The walls and shelves were lined with boxes labeled in Chinese, large jars with roots of some sort or another suspended in liquids, other jars with ground substances, and all enveloped with a distinct earthy odor. To this point my expectations remained intact. I filled out a questionnaire about myself, answered a few other questions and was led into a room. A few moments later a 30-something year old man in a while lab coat entered and shook my hand. He reminded me more of the chiropractor I used to visit than of a practitioner of some ancient form of medicine. The man briefly scanned my questionnaire and asked me where my headache was centralized. Within seconds he had me on my back tapping needles into my stomach and face. Fifteen minutes later I was in the bathroom wiping the little beads of dried blood from my cheeks, not quite sure what had just transpired. Talk about misconceptions! He gave me only a bit of advice, “Don’t overeat, and no cold drinks,” “Don’t worry so much,” and “Your sinuses are very tight.” He then asked me to come back on Wednesday and Friday. On my way out, the young receptionist charged $30 to my card and sent me on my way.

In this time when complaints abound about the lack of time doctors spend with patients, forced by insurers to move us in and out one of after the other like an assembly line of medicine, I expected something different here. I failed to realize that these practitioners are a part of the same system, operating in the same constraints. They have bills to pay and mouths to feed and the way money is made is by a constant flow in but also out of the door. We leave no time in our lives for questioning, for explanation. The quick fix is the American way.

Even so, I went back today and will again on Friday. The experience is one of incredible relaxation for that short time left alone, lying perfectly still, listening to your own breathing with no distraction. That solitude, that time of release, of freedom of the mind might be worth $30 alone. I don’t know if acupuncture is working for me, but I’ll give it three or four weeks and see if there are any results. In the meantime, I know not to expect much from my acupuncturist beyond a few needle sticks and a brief massage.

18 July 2007

Glimpsing Beyond the Bubble

Thinking about solutions, thinking about change. I often find my mind stuck inside a paradigm, like a bubble not allowing me to see, to understand, to imagine, to intuit the changes that might be possible. I can think of change within my bubble; how we might do this thing or that thing differently, and how it might affect my life, your life, their lives. The bubble, though, always constrains my imagination. I can think only right up to the edge of it, to its shimmering surface, but the light strikes it just so, and I can’t see beyond.

Think of a billiards table. A number of balls strewn about, and a cue ball in hand. There are any number of shots I can play within the rules of the game…inside this bubble. Every one of them a chance, a change, with a number of predictable outcomes. But you’re constrained by the rules to play only certain shots, and with only once cue ball, and with only one cue, and to only strike certain balls, and to only play on one table, and on, and on. But what if those rules can change? What if you can push them, bend them, twist them? Now your possible shots and possible outcomes have changed…possibly grown, possibly become more appealing, but definitely changed.

Sometimes I catch a glimpse beyond my bubble. It doesn’t pop, but a shadow passes by and allows me to see possibilities if I could just stretch the edge of my bubble a little bit farther. If we could just bend, twist, and push some of these rules, some of these assumptions, so many new possibilities lay just outside our understanding. A little fracture opens up in the paradigm, possibilities become visible that had never before been grasped.

Think about maternity and paternity leave. Think of the absurdity that these are a luxury. Why? Because they negatively affect productivity. Time, as the saying goes, is money, and money is king. Productivity equals gains at the margin, and this is what drives a capitalist economy. We must always consider the almighty margin lest we fall behind our competitors, lest we flounder and fail. But look around and tell me what you see. Cars, sometimes 2 or 3 or 10 to a person; I see houses larger than a family of 4 might live in for a couple alone; boutique stores, high end grocers, expensive restaurants; I see wealth and abundance all around (though not equally shared). Outside this bubble that constrains me to the capitalist mindset, I see the possibility of wholesale change. We cannot provide more maternity leave for the new mother inside this paradigm because it is a paradigm of constant competition, not cooperation. I can argue easily why it is inefficient to grant more time, why it will cause failure. But outside of this paradigm, outside of this bubble…we have the capability to produce beyond our wildest dreams, and should we choose to share it there would be abundance for all. Outside my bubble, I can see maternity and paternity leave as a basic right granted to all because we’ve forgotten about scarcity, about price, about the margin. But I can only see it. The bubble hasn’t burst, and the shadow passes, and my view is obstructed once again.

12 July 2007


Embarrassed, disgusted...these are the words that come to mind watching this video. The first time a Hindu has offered the opening prayer in a session of the US Senate and this man is interrupted by the shouts of the Christian Right. TPM Cafe has a good synopsis of the event here as well as an...ummm....interesting?...press release from Operation Save America.

I really don't even know what to say about this. How are we to have a meaningful dialogue, a meaningful political discourse, a civil fucking discourse, if we can't even allow each other the decency of listening? This is not mutual respect, this is pure and ugly hatred.

I showed this clip to my roommate and after a few minutes of silence he said, "Well, a little foresight and anyone could have seen this coming." My first reaction was anger at his simple dismissal of the actions of these three 'protesters.' After a little reflection though, I have to admit that I wonder if he might be right. An open Senate session with an advertised "first," it seems rather obvious that some crazies will come out. This, though, says something so much more horrible about our society than his initial statement lets on. If we are to expect the worst of people, if we are to expect that intolerance will always rear it's head, always rise to the occasion...well, another reason to walk away shaking my head.

09 July 2007

My Theory of Actual Reality

Because reality just can’t hold their interest, some have turned to the virtual world…even for a source of income. I’m not talking programming, networking, and internet commerce here. No, I’m talking about this. “Gold farming” is the practice of harvesting virtual goods in an online gaming environment and then selling them for real cash in the real world.

This is what capitalism leads to? It’s time to enter the real economy, produce in the real world. When “commerce” that is confined to the universe of an online game requires real world legislation to govern it, it’s simply gone to far. We have real problems affecting real people all over the real world, and it just seems utterly wasteful to me to have millions of dollars a week changing hands over virtual goods. It also seems a monumental waste of legislative time (not that governments around the world don’t find thousands of other ways to waste this time) to have to create laws to govern this little economy. Some things just make me walk away shaking my head.

06 July 2007

Only PG-13???

Hurrumph! Apparently I haven't been angry enough lately:

The stats: 4 hells, 2 bitches, and a fuck.

05 July 2007


What a crazy ride is life. I haven’t yet become too reflective over how it is I’ve found my way to this point in life, but looking forward to the next couple of months I’m expecting an insane whirlwind of activity. Decisions to be made, moves to be undertaken, classes will start, writing again, working still, time for a life?

Most of you already know that I’ve accepted an offer in the philosophy MA program at George Mason University. Classes that I’ll sit down with the grad studies director next Tuesday to choose will begin on August 27. I’m excited and anxious to dive back into philosophy as a full time student. I’m afraid there’s a lot I’ve forgotten. I know my writing skills are rusty and my research skills unpracticed. I have absolutely no idea what will be expected of me or what to expect of the program. That being said, I can’t wait! I’m ready for something new, something interesting. For too long I’ve had a routine, and it’s time to mix it up a bit.

By the time classes start I’m hoping to have moved. I’ve both found a place and am looking for one at the same time. A college roommate has been offered an apartment near American University and has asked me to move in with him. For a long time I’ve wanted to live in the city, and this will place me only minutes from my office and about a half hour from school and from BL. I wish I could be closer to her and closer to school, cutting traveling time out of my life is going to be a big part of making this new schedule work, but in all likelihood I’ll be taking this apartment. The location, the roommate, and the rent are just too good a combination to pass up.

I’ve mentioned I’ll still be working; the plan there is to cut my hours by as much as possible while still keeping my benefits. I’ve got a great boss who in turn has a great boss who both have agreed to help me toward this end. It looks like I’ll be “working” around 30 hours a week. Some of that time will be spent working from home, and I’m sure a bit of it from time to time will be on the good will of my bosses and coworkers. A new twist, however, in this little scheme is that one of the VPs of our little company, even knowing that I will be a fulltime student come fall, has approached my boss about moving me into a new position…as a manager. This VP’s international sales pipeline is being backed up because of a logjam in the implementation department, and he would like me to come on as a second implementation manager to focus on his new clients. I love that this opportunity is being presented to me and that they think this highly of me, but I just don’t know how to react. A big part of me wants to jump at it. I love the idea of more responsibility, of taking a leadership role and making things happen instead of begging others to push the ball along. This is the kind of position I would thrive on, but I just don’t know if I can truly handle the time commitment come fall. There will be some discussions over the next few weeks to see if we can actually make this work.

Thinking about all of this tonight I’ve realized what it is that has me really and truly excited to be on the cusp of such uncertainty and potential craziness. Throughout high school and college I always considered myself a bit of a renaissance man (yes, I’m modest, I know ;-)). I always had a multitude of different activities between classes, sports, musicals, work, and play, going on at the same time. My days were full to the brim with very little down time in front of the TV or lounging around. Since graduation I haven’t had this. It’s been up in the morning, drive to work, sit at a desk all day, drive home, cook dinner, watch the tube, read and sleep. Occasionally the gym slips in there or some time with BL. Sometimes I have a happy hour or other event to get to, but not the same level and variety of activities I had in my past lives. I miss those activities, and I think what has me most excited is the possibility that my days will once again be filled. I’m sure I’ll bitch that I have no time to rest, that I’m stressed and don’t know how I’ll meet this or that deadline, but I strive on that level of intensity…I’m ready to have it back in my life. So here goes…I’ll keep you all updated on whether or not my head explodes.

02 July 2007

It's a Meme!

Wow, so it's been almost two months since I last posted ANYTHING. I'm pretty much a terrible blogger at this point. SteveG and Spaz, however, have coaxed me out of the shadows by both tagging me on this meme. So, for the Oxymoronic Philosopher's 100th post, here it is:

First we have the rules:
  • We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
  • Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

8 Random Facts or Habits about 71.

  1. This is the first meme I’ve ever been tagged on :-)
  2. Growing up I wanted to be everything from a Secret Service Agent, to a garbage man, to an Orthodox Priest, but philosopher never entered the mix. It’s funny looking back and trying to trace all the steps I took to get here. Even entering college I was planning on a health and exercise science major with a focus on athletic training…somehow I ended up with degrees in Econ and Philo.
  3. I’m starting grad school in the fall at George Mason University where I’ll be working on an MA in philosophy. I’m both excited beyond belief to start something new and scared shitless that I barely remember what philosophy is.
  4. I worked for the US Secret Service for two years during college. The job was awesome, but the coolest part by far was when some co-workers got me into a Capitol Hill bar underage by flashing their Secret Service commission books.
  5. Ok, I lied, that wasn’t the coolest part of the job. The coolest part was when they sent me to Vegas on an all expenses paid business trip for two days and two nights to set up a video camera and tape recorder for an interview. Yes, my friends, your tax dollars at work.
  6. From the time I was in elementary school through middle school, I collected those little collectible spoons you find in tourist trap gift shops. I had about a hundred of them in a rack on the wall in my bedroom, and every time I’d close the door half of them would fall. I hated those things…why did I ever collect them?
  7. I was the coolest little kid. Ok, maybe not, but I, honest to god, got to play w/ Reagan’s dog Rex in the Rose Garden, and that’s gotta make me pretty damn cool. My mom’s cousins worked at the Service (and dated in the Service), they used to hook me up in so many ways. I even have a picture of myself behind the podium in the press room.
  8. Even though I’m turning into a rather progressive oxymoronic philosopher, I’m still a country boy at heart. I refuse to give up hunting, as it’s one of the few pastimes I share with my dad, and I love being out in the woods. I also am finding it hard giving up my pickup, I just can’t see myself in a little teeny tiny car. I hope I’m not the only one who often has trouble giving his/her rational beliefs with the life I live. It’s something I’m constantly working on.
Now...if I only new 8 other bloggers to tag on this...hmmm. I guess I'll just go with some of the Gburg bloggers, know them or not:

Effie Jones at Brown Girl in the Ring

Maynard at Creative Destruction

Ping right here

quaker j at resounding peace

A Stranger at A Stranger in a Strang(er) Land

Matty at Matty's Blog

Ok, honestly, six is enough...man this is hard work.

04 May 2007

The Give Me a Break Article of the Day

From the Toronto Star:

$65M lawsuit over lost pants

May 04, 2007 04:30 AM

Lubna Takruri

WASHINGTON–A missing pair of pants has led to one big suit.

A customer got so steamed when a dry cleaner lost his trousers that he sued for $65 million (U.S.). Two years later, he is still pressing his suit.

The case has demoralized the South Korean immigrant owners and brought demands that the customer – an administrative law judge in Washington – be disbarred and removed from office for pursuing a frivolous and abusive claim.

"They're out a lot of money, but more importantly, incredibly disenchanted with the system," said Chris Manning, lawyer for the owners. "This has destroyed their lives."

The customer, Roy Pearson Jr., who has been representing himself, declined to comment.

According to court documents, the problem began in May 2005 when Pearson became a judge and brought several suits for alterations to Custom Cleaners in Washington. A pair of pants from one suit was missing when he requested it two days later.

Pearson asked the cleaners for the full price of the suit: more than $1,000.

But a week later, the owners said the pants had been found and refused to pay. Pearson said those were not his pants and decided to sue.

Manning said the cleaners have made three settlement offers to Pearson: $3,000, then $4,600, then $12,000.

But Pearson was not satisfied and expanded his calculations beyond one pair of pants. Because he no longer wanted to use his local dry cleaner, he asked in his lawsuit for $15,000 – the cost of renting a car every weekend for 10 years to go to another business.

The bulk of the $65 million demand comes from Pearson's strict interpretation of Washington consumer protection law, which imposes fines of $1,500 per violation, per day. Pearson counted 12 violations over 1,200 days, then multiplied that by three defendants.

Much of Pearson's case rests on two signs Custom Cleaners once had on its walls: "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and "Same Day Service." He claims the signs amount to fraud.

The case is set for trial June 11.

Sherman Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association, an organization that fights what it considers abusive lawsuits against small businesses, has asked that Pearson be denied a renewal of his 10-year appointment. The association has also offered to buy Pearson a new suit.

Chief Administrative Judge Tyrone Butler had no comment on Pearson's reappointment prospects.

Melvin Welles, former chief administrative law judge with the National Labour Relations Board, wrote to The Washington Post to say that if he were the judge in the case, he would throw out the lawsuit and order Pearson to pay the dry cleaners for their legal expenses and their mental suffering. He also called for Pearson's ouster and disbarment.

"The manifest absurdity of it is too obvious to require explanation," he wrote.

03 May 2007

He Apalls Me

This from CNN.com this evening:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House has threatened to veto a bill passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday that expands hate-crime laws to include attacks based on sexual orientation or gender.

Under current law, hate crimes are subject to federal prosecution only if the acts of violence are motivated by race, religion, color or national origin. Federal prosecutors get involved only if the victim is engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting or participating in interstate commerce.

The White House says there is no need for the expanded bill because state and local laws already cover the crimes it addresses, and there is no need for federal enforcement.

In addition to allowing greater leeway for federal law enforcement authorities to investigate hate crimes, the House bill -- which was passed on a 237-180 vote --provides $10 million over the next two years to aid local prosecutions.

A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate, but no date has been set for a vote.

So, he'll veto the bill because it's redundant? I love this logic because, you see, it's very well aligned with the way we've written laws to this point. There's absolutely no redundancy in US federal and state laws.

Come on, man! Why would you veto this bill? It sets out a firm protection in the law for two additional groups of people who are targeted by others simply because they are members of these groups. That's what sets these crimes apart. Not only is an individual targeted, the group as a whole is targeted. These crimes are perpetrated to make a statement, to intimidate, and, for this reason, they should be highlighted in our laws. When we allow the actions of some to cause entire groups of people to live in fear of having similar crimes committed against them only because they are a member of the group we are allowing an egregious injustice to go on occurring. This bill would be a small step in the right direction...a codification of our moral outrage against the perpetrators of these crimes. To simply say that they will spend their lives in prison for committing these crimes is not enough, we must condemn not only the result but also the intent and the motivation of such heinous crimes.

As for this argument from Rep. Feeney (R - Fla):
"What it does is to say that the dignity, the property, the life of one person gets more protection than another American. That's just wrong," he said.

GIVE ME A BREAK! It says that we will not allow groups of people to be made targets, simple as that. We do just fine putting up the barriers the Representative is speaking about without codifying them in laws...

Mr. President, don't veto this bill.

The Shiites Have Hit the Fan

BL forwarded this quote from WaPo May 2, 2007, "Democrats Recall an Anniversary Bush Would Rather Forget:"

"Today is the fourth anniversary of the president of the United States announcing 'Mission Accomplished,' " Rep. Stephen Cohen (D-Tenn.) proclaimed on the House floor. These days Bush "has been channeling Warren Zevon, who said, 'I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. Send lawyers, guns and money,' " Cohen said, paraphrasing the rest just a little: " 'The Shiites have hit the fan' "

02 May 2007

To the Dad at the Gym This Morning...

Listen, man. I know you think it's great that you've got your 10 year old in the gym with you. It's father/son bonding time. You're teaching him about something that's important to you. You think you're preparing him to be a stellar athlete. But you've gotta put a little more thought into this.

First of all, I know you're true motives. You're like reading an open book. You're wearing a Maryland Wrestling t-shirt and an old pair of wrestling shoes, but you don't look like you were a state champ back in the day. You don't have the build and you don't have that unmistakable fire in your eyes. You've got your son decked out in a t-shirt with the slogan "Wrestling: Sanctioned by God" across his back and an image of Jacob wrestling the angel on his chest. You can't live through him, man. It's not fair to build yourself a little state champ because you feel like you didn't work hard enough or want it bad enough when you had the chance. Let me tell you what will happen.

First, you're getting your kid up at 6 am to hit the weights. This is fine for a grown adult, but the kid needs his rest and needs to grow. 10 is the age for learning technique. He's still figuring out his body (and will be for the next 6 or 7 years). He's not sure how to control those limbs, keep them in tight and practiced motions. This is what he needs to be working on as a kid...if he even needs to be practicing as intense a sport as wrestling at all.

Kid's burn out. I could see it in his face, he wasn't enjoying your regimented workout, your constant critique of his form, your pushing him to the edge. He's going to resent the sport, it's going to become a job to him before he ever has the chance to blossom. And worse...he's probably going to resent you.

The way I see it, we each get about 10, maybe 12, years to play the more intense sports (unless we go pro, but at that point it's a job, it's a livelihood). Any more than that 10 years and our bodies start to break down, our intensity starts to wane. I've seen too many great junior high athletes never make it that next step because they just don't love the sport anymore. Don't do that to your kid. Let him play, let him wrestle, let him have fun and be a kid. Don't push him yet. He'll learn the value of hard work in due time. He has years of growing to do and plenty of time to pack on muscle. Just let your kid...well...be a kid.

At least...that's my opinion. Dad at the Gym, I just don't want to see you run your kid away from the sport you love and a sport I love, too. Let him be a kid for now, and maybe someday you can be proud of YOUR SON'S state championship.

01 May 2007

A Compromise?

On this, the 4th anniversary of our victory in Iraq , our Congress of the people of these United States sent down from the Hill a bill of emergency funding for the war.

Now...am I the only one who thinks this is really fucking strange? They just wrote and passed a bill to fund a war that ended four years ago. What the hell are they smoking....ummm, what the hell are we all smoking?

Ok, we all know the game that's being played. Congress passes a bill to authorize emergency funding and attaches to that bill the stipulation that we begin a redeployment (an odd term to me) of our troops in Iraq. Shrub gets the bill and, as promised, immediately vetoes it this evening. It's political pageantry. It's making a statement. It's a little stronger vote of no confidence in the administration than that which was issued a few months back. Now we go back to the drawing board and come up with something in the middle...but honestly, what does that look like?

Bush has offered up a solution. We set up (once again) benchmarks that the Iraqi government must meet in order to maintain an American presence. Now, this seems somewhere between defeatist and ridiculous to me. Benchmarks will obviously not be set up outside of the reach of what the Iraqi government is immediately capable. They will be meaningless...pointless, just another example of feigned progress. I see this move as essentially admitting we're going to be there for a very long time and probably see very little progress.

For a very interesting and quite sobering perspective on this whole debaucle you've got to have a listen to this piece from the CBC's "As It Happens" April 30, 2007, show. It's an interview with Michael Bell, former Chairman of the International Reconstruction Fund for Iraq. This is quite honestly the most realistic and honest prediction I have heard to date.

26 April 2007

Einstein Once Again Ahead of His Time

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them. – Albert Einstein

I’m not sure if Einstein was wearing his scientist hat or his socially/politically active citizen hat when he coined this quote, but, wow, is it ever poignant today. What we have here is the idea that when we make a significant mistake, we create a hefty problem, or we find ourselves engulfed in a grave situation (usually of our own making) we simply and absolutely must think our way out of that situation with a different mindset than that which got us into it in the first place. The actions that stemmed from our original level of thought created this situation; the actions that will untangle us must necessarily arise out of a higher level of thinking. If they do not, won’t we just continue to dig a deeper and deeper hole? At the very best we’ll stagnate.

Now, in all honesty, this seems to be a fairly simple principle and one which can easily be followed. After all, we should be learning from our mistakes. Whatever got thinking got us into this problem created obvious actions and, probably, obvious reactions. We pinpoint those, we ruminate on those, we grow from those, and we think/act our way out of the mess. Or…at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

So tell me…what the hell happened? When did we decide it was good idea to just keep plugging away with the same thinking, the same actions repeated time after time? No wonder we’ve created a “quagmire.” What else could have possibly happened? We haven’t grown, we…fuck that, not WE, the Bush administration…hasn’t learned a darn thing. They just keep plugging along with the same broken logic, the same flawed worldview. When are they going to start thinking on a different level and get us out of this mess?

24 April 2007

How to Respond…

Came across this article yesterday on CNN.com, and I just don’t know what to think. It seems that Turner County High School in Ashburn, GA, had never had a school sponsored prom before this year. In the past parents put up the money for students to hold dances off of school grounds. This is all well and good (I mean, sad that they didn’t have a prom, but not too bad) except for one minor detail; the dances have been segregated. That’s right, the white students had their dance, the black students had theirs, and no one went to the other. Separate but equal…give me a break. Even this year with the “integrated” school sponsored prom the “white prom” still went on.

Nichole Royal, 18, said black students could have gone to the prom, but didn't. "I guess they feel like they're not welcome," she said.

It’s not a race issue, it’s just tradition, another student espoused. No, that’s not a race issue…they just “feel like they’re not welcome.” Hmmmm…I wonder why? What is the one defining feature that separates the “welcome” from the “unwelcome” at this dance? Skin color! Sure, economic status may play a role, but let’s be honest (and slightly stereotypical)…in this town, that’s likely a function of race. How about attitude? Do the black students not feel welcome because of the way the perceive themselves to be treated? I would be willing to bet that this plays a roll…but what lies beneath it? Race.

In any case, the new school prom was semi-successful at starting to close this rift in the school. But I’m still not sure how I feel about this article. I’m horrified and appalled that this “separate but equal” idea has endured in such an institutionalized fashion for so long. At the same time, I want to say kudos to those students who FINALLY pushed for a change. Is it a bright light for the future, or just another sad truth of our present day?

29 March 2007

Karl Rove is the Worst Dancer in the World

As if things weren't bad enough for Karl Rove, he had to unveil his dance skills, or lack-there-of, at last night's Radio & TV Correspondents' Dinner last night in Washington. Now that's funny...

26 March 2007

Going Home

On Sunday BL and I made our first of hopefully many summer trips out to Great Falls. It was absolutely gorgeous out, the first true shorts weather of the season. If you’ve never been to the falls and you live in the DC area, you don’t know what you’re missing. A season pass is only 20 bucks, $5 for a day (I think). There are plenty of hiking trails meandering between the Potomac and the C&O Canal as it makes its way toward the city along the MD/VA border. There are some more treacherous, rocky trails for the slightly more daring, or the tow path for the everyday walk or jog. There’s even a newly built working canal boat and a few locks for the history buff. People watching opportunities abound on a beautiful spring day. You’re guaranteed to see the spectrum from tiny tots bundled and strapped to daddy’s chest to grandma and grandpa out for an afternoon stroll. We came upon at least one second date…that’s our guess judging by the conversation…and quite a few dog lovers. As we strolled and chatted we were absolutely blown away by the thought that the first time either of us had been there had been together…10 years ago! TEN YEARS? Granted, we were only in middle school at the time, but wow! It’s hard to believe we’ve even known each other that long.

The thing that struck me about the falls 10 years ago is still the very same thing that strikes me today. I didn’t have words for it then, and I only have a fleeting comprehension of it now but the best words I can muster to describe the beauty, the power, the smell, the overwhelming calming effect of watching the waters of the river rush by me are these: God lives here. I’m not a conventionally religious person, but I shudder at the cliché, I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. It’s hard for me to describe what I believe about the great unknown besides to say that there is some amorphous, incomprehensible, ineffable something out there that is bigger than I. However, when I come upon a place like this, there’s an overwhelming awe. Not an awe that strikes me back as in the sight of a massive building or amazing machine, but an awe that draws me in…calms me…grounds me…allows me to feel like and be me again. I feel the same way floating on my back in the Atlantic, watching a thunderstorm roll in, or gazing upon the rolling mountains of the Allegheny Plateau. I feel at home. I feel wrapped in the arms of some greater existence.

I need these experiences that I can’t quite explain, I can’t quite describe. I long for them. It’s been a long winter, my life is totally and completely up in the air right now. This weekend, though, this one short day strolling around the falls, has grounded me again. I’m ready again to go along for this crazy ride until the next time I get the chance to go home…

22 March 2007

Penn State Women's Basketball Coach Resigns

Embattled Penn State women's basketball coach Rene Portland resigned today, just a month after settling out of court a discrimination lawsuit filed by former player Jennifer Harris.

In 2005 Harris filed a discrimination lawsuit against Portland and Penn State, alleging that Portland discriminated her on the basis of sexual orientation and race. Harris claimed Portland had a strict "no lesbian" policy-- not the first time the coach had been accused of discrimination in her 27 year tenure-- and said she was ostracized and eventually asked to leave the team because "she needed to look more feminine." The incident caused an uproar on the Penn State campus and with the ACLU, as student groups, including the LGTBA and the Black Caucus, petitioned for Portland's firing.

Portland's resignation has to be seen as a victory for civil rights. Public institutions like Penn State should not and cannot tolerate bigotry at any level, let alone a position as visible as the head coach of a major sports team. It's a shame that the university stood behind Portland for so long, even after investigating her and ordering her to take professional development course on diversity.

19 March 2007

The Birthday Dinner

BL took me out for an amazing dinner Friday night at Indique Heights. The chicken chettinad was absolutely killer, and the atmosphere was more than I expected from a place in Friendship Heights. If you like Indian, it's definitely a place worth checking out, though admittedly a little on the expensive side.
BL and I were entertained this evening by a combination of our observations and our dorkiness, as usual. Since she was treating and I was being lazy, she chose the bottle of wine, and we waited to see how it would be presented. The waiter, true to the decade in which we live, presented her the bottle and poured her taste, then poured me the first glass. We both smiled. Dinner was rather uneventful, but definitely wonderful, and when we had finished, our waiter brought the check, and, once again, handed it to BL. This guy's good. He pays attention and he doesn't make the assumptions that are often made at a dinner for two. The assumption that the man will pay, that the man will choose and approve of the wine. It always pleases me to see that every once in a while that mold's broken.
But then, of course, the egalitarian bubble was popped. Another waiter came by and picked up the check from our table with BL's credit card inside. He ran the card, brought the check back, and...yep...you guessed it, handed the check with her card inside directly to me. Eh, you win some you lose some, but it's always interesting to watch.
Just as a little aside, I wonder how much age affects this phenomenon? Our waiter was young. Probably mid 20s. The second waiter was a bit older, probably mid to late 40s. Have we broken these assumptions somewhere in that 20 years in between?


This has probably been circulating for a while, but BL sent it my way today at work. I'm all about breakin the mold, shakin up the status quo...check this out:

14 March 2007


Ah, yes. The brackets are all filled out. Most of the online pools lock at noon tomorrow. Some are scurrying through their last minute research while others, like me, just wing it...just in it for the fun. It's NCAA March Madness time and it seems appropriate that we hear some words of wisdom from the illustrious Frank Deford.

Anyone have any favorite picks this year?

12 March 2007

On Dealing with Intolerance

How does one handle the intolerance of others, especially when those others are ones oldest, dearest friends?

A couple of weeks ago I was in Pittsburgh with my girlfriend visiting some college friends. One of these friend’s best friend from high school, who I’ve also come to adore, is gay (we’ll call him A). A is quite open about his sexual orientation and quite comfortable talking about it and often cracking jokes about it. Let’s just say A makes no attempts to lead you to believe he is anything but exactly who he is.

So Saturday afternoon, we meet an old friend of my girlfriend for lunch. We have a nice time at a little Lebanese place. He tells us he’s going to be out in the same neighborhood we are Saturday night, and we leave saying we’ll try to call and hook up later in the evening. As we drive back to our friends’ house we start to discuss the lunch and the coming evening, and my girlfriend tells me that we can’t meet up with her friend if A is going to be with us… “it would just be awkward.” Apparently, he’s not comfortable with A’s sexuality. This got the old wheels spinning…what is the reaction one ought have to a friend, a dear friend, who maintains this worldview that simply will not jive or mesh with one’s own?

I suppose the moral highroad would be confrontation of some sort, a sort of coaxing in the direction of tolerance. I’m sure that our friend, and many of my friends from the small town I call home, would warm to the personality of A, who is just a riot to hang out with. I would love to be able to say that given this situation I would invite my friends along without a mention of A and force them into a friendly interaction…force them toward change. But this is just my head in the clouds. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if simply exposing someone who leans toward closed-mindedness to a variety of people would open them up? I fear that what would truly happen is defensiveness, a closing off of avenues of conversation, a willful avoidance of commonality. But then again, what if, by some off chance, all would have a good time and get along famously? Is it worth the risk?

Unfortunately, the path my girlfriend chose and the path I often do choose with many friends in this and other morally sticky situations, is the path of compartmentalization. I find it exceedingly easy to say to myself, “Yes, self, your old friend is flawed in his thinking and has done some wrong, but he’s still your friend and he still has many good qualities and he is still good to you.” Its so simple, the bad things, while acknowledged, are tucked away neatly in a little box and set aside…the good times roll on. The ease with which I do this, the ease with which I see my friends do this, regularly is, to be quite honest, somewhat frightening. Does this loyalty behoove either party, or is it actually one of the many problems of human interaction? We can, it seems, set aside almost any dastardly deed if we can find some redeeming quality…even if that quality is just that he’s a good drinking buddy. Or is this just immaturity? Does this fade with time, or does our daily tolerance of intolerance go on?