Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I made a video!

It's my first one ever, so be nice. Or send it to people mockingly, so that my viewcount goes up, either works.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

the slope really isn't so slippery

Ah, election time approaches. A time for Indecision and Decision, youth activism, and feelings of importance (rather unwarranted) mingled with despair at the futility of it all (more on-target).

This is the most wonderful time of the four-year span for logicians. I am not a logician, but I love advocating for logic. People hate me for always wanting a reason, but even more so for constantly asking, "What exactly do you mean by that?" which is the main weapon for a student of philosophy.

This brings me to the fallacy I hear most and which I consider the most ridiculous: the slippery slope.

The main context in which it is used against me in an argument is in regards to my secular tendencies. The claim is that without religion, there would be no morality, and the world would degenerate into anarchy. One problem with that is that the theist definition of morality and what morals are most important is usually quite different from the construction of humanist morality. The Ten Commandments are a great example, since all of the Commandments are considered highly important.
1) I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
2) Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; Thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; And showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.
3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
4) Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath in honour of the Lord thy God; on it thou shalt not do any work, neither thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
5) Honour thy father and thy mother; in order that thy days may be prolonged upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
6) Thou shalt not kill.
7) Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8) Thou shalt not steal.
9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

So, essentially, the Judeo-Christian theist perspective is that worshiping something besides the Hebrew God, creating art that depicts living creatures, cursing, working on Sunday, dishonoring your parents, murdering, cheating on a spouse, stealing, lying, and being jealous are all on the same plane of badness. Leaving aside the fact that most Christians violate at least one of these, I really can't believe that worshiping a non Judeo-Christian god, creating art, cursing, working on Sunday, or thinking jealous thoughts are truly crimes. Besides, how would the last one be regulated? Additionally, I don't think that adultery and murder are really on the same plane of evil, and American law is on my side, as adultery cannot be prosecuted.

More simply stated: the vast majority of the world's population claims to be religious, and yet not only does man-made evil exist, but certain reprehensible acts are committed using religion as a justification. Secularism only causes immorality if you define immorality via dogmatic instead of rational means.

Another example of the slippery-slope model is one argument that has been adapted by homophobes. Some claim that without religious injunctions against homosexuality, the human race would die out because everyone would "turn gay" and would no longer participate in procreative sex acts. Three simple facts call this assertion into question: the world is overpopulated as it is, modern heterosexuals can live non-procreative yet sexually fulfilled lives, and some LGBTQ community members engage in occasional procreative acts (or turn to artificial insemination) in order to have children. The funniest part of such an argument, to me, is that it would suggest that every person, or at least a majority of people, would "turn gay" if loosed from religious bonds. I love asking people who use this argument if they would "turn gay" if they weren't religious, as they tend to flounder or avoid the question with a great measure of awkwardness.

Some more slippery slopes that aren't accurate:
- Having sex at a young age leads to other socially deviant behavior.
- Marijuana use necessarily leads to the use of harder and harder drugs.
- Legalizing euthanasia would lead to the disenfranchised seeking out death.

BS Factor:
The steepest street in the world (Baldwin Street, Dunedin, New Zealand)

It has a grade of 35%. Impressive, no?

why Bollywood doesn't suck.... much

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I'd recently seen the Indian movie called Fanaa, and it sparked a lot of thought re Bollywood in my mind.

I watched the movie with some people, and one of them was displeased with the film for a number of reasons, reasons with which I agreed in the past and have by no means ceased to comprehend. I will describe her main three reasons.

Firstly, the portrayal of Muslims in the film is distasteful. All the main characters are Muslim, including the protagonist, who has sex with the hero (whom she has known for but three days) in a night of agreed-upon no-string-attached frolicking before they decide to marry, and the father of the protagonist, who falls into alcohol as a cure for his grief after his wife dies. Such portrayals are propaganda that normalize such un-Islamic behaviors as premarital sex and the consumption of alcohol.

Secondly, the signature song of the movie utilizes the Islamic phrase "Subhanallah", which can be translated as "Exalted is Allah." To hear a phrase used to worship reduced to what can be essentially described as a pick-up line is jarring to the Muslim ear and mind.

Thirdly, the melodramatic plot-line of the movie is utterly unrealistic. They fall in love, have sex, and decide to marry within the span of a few days. The next day, she gets eye surgery whilst he carries out a terrorist attack (which is not portrayed as a Muslim thing, thankfully, but a Kashmiri freedom fighter affair). Seven years later, he just happens to get injured close to her house. The implausibility causes unrealistic expectations.

All of these are valid concerns, and I have shared some of them and still do.

As for the first, i.e. the portrayal of Muslims, it is true that seeing things in movies does tend to desensitize people to them. I'm not sure, however, if a film like Fanaa could be counted as "propaganda," as that word is defined by Merriam-Webster as such
1 capitalized : a congregation of the Roman curia having jurisdiction over missionary territories and related institutions
2: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
3: ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect

Definition 1 is easy to dismiss, and the third is a very political definition. #2 is probably the definition used in the criticism, with the damaged party being Muslims. Viewed in a vacuum, the movie could be seen as deliberately designed to hurt the image of Muslims and Islam. However, viewed in the broader context of Bollywood, it follows a formula in which are inserted Hindus (and, to a lesser degree, Parsis and Christians) as well as Muslims. Of course, Muslims are a minority in India, and thus more prone to stereotyping.

As for the portrayal of pre-marital sex, it might not be so disparate from reality as many Desis would like to believe, as Nita J. Kulkarni blogs.
No matter how much parents rave and rant about the evils of western influences, and the decline of Indian culture, the facts are that the desire to interact and romance the opposite sex is natural and has always existed in India! By denying the existence of such natural feelings parents are alienating their children. In fact I did not include an interview due to a lack of space, that of an eighty year old gentleman. He told me that too much fuss was being made about premarital sex. It was not a modern affliction, he said, it existed in his day and age too. He lost his virginity at age 17 he said, several years before marraige and it wasn’t with a prostitute. This was the first time he was confessing it to anyone though. The only change now (he told me) is that sex has been dragged out into the open and youngsters do not pretend its wrong. This is a good thing according to him because it could be the beginning of the end of hypocrisy.

What the old man calls hypocrisy is, actually, so embedded in the Desi community (including the Desi diaspora of which I am a part), especially the Muslim Desi community, that a young Pakistani who drunkenly murdered a white man in 2005 actually said, in reference to drinking and being a in a premarital romantic relationship, that "In our religion you don't tell your parents. They might get upset." He didn't say that drinking and romance prior to marriage were forbidden in the religion, he said that talking about it was forbidden. This, to me, represents the embedded gag order under which Desis, especially Muslims, live. Taking the dichotomy of appearance (i.e. "we don't talk about that") vs. reality into consideration, the criticism is a poignant example of cultural synecdoche.

Alcohol is perhaps even more stigmatized than sex, but even that is changing. The consumption of alcohol by young Muslims is called a plague here, and yet the stigma is still real, as Austin Cline details in several interviews with young Muslims.

The second criticism, that of the use of Islamic phrases in Bollywood soundtracks, is not an easy one to tackle. I've heard other Indian songs use the word "Allah" and found it jarring. Theologically speaking, it's irreverent, but I know of no one who regularly watches Indian movies who cares. It could simply be a desensitization on their part, or a lack of exposure to Bollywood on mine. In any case, my knowledge of Hindi is not enough to know whether or not Islamic Arabic phrases are used in day-to-day life in a manner to which I am not accustomed.

The third criticism is easily answered via a quick glance at Bollywood. All the movies are ludicrous and over-the-top. Every single movie is a romance or is romantic in nature in a society in which most of marriage is arranged (more than 95% according to this, and 80-90% according to this). Bollywood films are intended to be romps in escapism more than a realistic depiction of reality.

In the end, no matter how much I might dislike Bollywood, there is a flip side of the story. Even though media portrayals might deride true feminism, there was a movie that sent an empowering message for women, and Indian soap operas seem to help rural Indian women develop more feminist attitudes. India's feminist scene is also quite vibrant, with groups such as the Gulabi Gang taking matters into their own hands. I suppose that since Bollywood is here to stay, even "haters" like me would better serve others by offering constructive criticism instead of hoping that Bollywood stops making movies, or completely revamps everything.

BS Factor:
The number of bangles I own...

I'll admit it, I imagine myself as graceful as some of the Bollywood actresses when I wear Desi clothes. Also, this is an old picture. I own a lot more bangles now.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

why Bollywood does suck

Last weekend, I watched a Bollywood movie (this one is called Fanaa) for the first time in four years or so. The last movie I'd seen before that was Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, during the summer in which I spent a month in London with relatives. Not only did I fall asleep three quarters of the way through it, I only saw the part of it I did because I was resting in the room in which the other girls were watching television. The last movie I'd seen before that was probably sometime during early childhood.

So, it goes without saying that I am not exactly a big fan of Bollywood movies.

Firstly, they're all inevitably musicals. I hadn't developed an enjoyment of Western musicals until my senior year of high school, and then I quickly tired of the clichés of musical theatre. I do like some musicals now, but I'm quite picky as to the ones I'll sit through with any measure of enjoyment. Bollywood musicals are even worse than Western ones as far as clichés go. For example, each song must include scene shifts that incorporate the Swiss Alps (although that might presumably be due to the fact that the Alps are less troubled than the similar-looking Kashmir), many outfit changes, and endless posing, culminating with what a friend of mine once dubbed the infamous "affectionate hug:" where a Hollywood film would put a kiss between the leads, Bollywood uses its supposedly-chaster substitute. At least in Fanaa, the movie was set in Kashmir, so the gorgeous setting (if actually the Tatra Mountains, not Kashmir itself) was justified plot-wise.

The hug brings me to my second point: the seemingly arbitrary censorship of sexuality in the films. Fanaa's pivotal love scene involves a lascivious (no other word will do) dance in the rain, followed by a scene where the hero and heroine kiss each other all over the neck and shoulders and then are seen lying in bed together. It's obvious what has happened, especially considering the fact that they essentially agree to no-strings-attached love in the scene before and they agree to marry in the scenes to come (not to mention the kid she has later on, but that's not the point). Aside from the very sexy dancing that occurs in Bollywood films, the costuming is quite sultry as well. Fanaa's heroine is a blind Muslim girl and so is usually quite conservatively attired, but in other movies, skimpy attire is often the rule rather than the exception. Here's the kicker: kisses on the lips are not considered "decent" and so are almost banned from Indian cinema. So, writhing around in revealing little outfits is OK, but not even a brief liplock is allowed (of course, all this is changing)? Mmkay.

Thirdly, in spite of the implicit (if flexible) ban on displays of consensual affection, the thwarted rape scene is a standard of Bollywood cinema. It goes something like this: a girl is nearly raped by the villain and is saved by some male hero bursting in. She usually falls in love with the man who saves her. A woman screaming for help as she is about to be violated by a mustachioed man leering over her nubile form isn't obscene, but a kiss between two happy people in love is?

I'm sorry, I was puking a bit there. Onward, since I think the point is made.

Stereotyping is the fourth reason I dislike Bollywood films. Hollywood does this too, but in the flat fantasy world of Bollywood films, it seems more heavy-handed somehow. Suketu Mehta writes in his article:
Growing up in Bombay with the movies, I had come to understand Muslims as lovable, Christian girls as flirtatious, Sikhs as loyally martial, Parsis as endearingly cracked. The movies trafficked in broad stereotypes, but they were, for the most part, good-natured stereotypes.

As many a sociologist has pointed out, even a "good" stereotype is actually bad. The harm in stereotyping is not so much that it casts a particular ethnic, racial, religious, or other group in bad light, but in that a stereotype is an over-generalization that can be true or untrue depending on the individual. Additionally, the descriptions that Mehta describes are all of minority groups within India; the majority group in India in general is Hindu. Thus, Hindus are cast as the norm whereas minorities have labels thrust upon them, similar to the way in which white heterosexual maleness is the norm in Hollywood against which all difference and deviance is measured. Fanaa, for all its flaws, doesn't seem to do this much. The demureness of the heroine is more attributable to her blindness and sweet nature than to her religion, and, oddly enough, her father is portrayed as a drunk (or at least a drinker) in the latter half of the movie.

Fifthly, the sexism inherent in the Bollywood film industry is unsettling to me. Siliconeer put it very well back in 2001:
Bollywood is nothing if not sexist. Male stars can grow old but can still cavort with adolescent nymphets, but just let a female star get married and tongues are wagging. Some wonderful female stars have managed to buck this double standard with the sheer heft of their talent—Dimple and Rekha, for instance, but the double standard is well and truly alive.

Shahrukh Khan, an actor who's been in the industry as long as I've been alive, still gets cast as the "hero" in recent films, whereas older women in Bollywood (as in over twenty five) are left, as this blogger says, "playing elder sisters or spinster aunts, relegated to the background where younger (but talentless) leads steal the limelight. Roles for women are much better now than they were a decade ago, but sexism and marginalization still exist." It's a reflection of unfortunate reality: women are valued in Desi society mainly for their beauty and youth prior to marriage, since such attractiveness leads to marriage and motherhood (i.e. further propagation of the culture).

Last, but not least, I dislike the sheer predictability of the movies. Their plotlines are as follows, according to this Facebook group:
1. "I want to hook up with this girl but she's rich and I'm poor and our families hate each other."
2. "I want to hook up with this girl but she's Muslim and I'm Hindu and our families hate each other."
3. "I want to hook up with this girl but she's already in love with my best friend."

Pretty accurate, if you ask me.

BS Factor:
All the back-up dancers that no one ever sees again (pretend Aishwarya Rai isn't there)

Coming soon: a response to a conservative Muslim's criticism of Fanaa and, by extension, other Bollywood portrayals of Muslims or why Bollywood doesn't suck

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

a good one for once

People are gullible. This is an indisputable fact if you've ever been on the Internet. When I first obtained an Internet connection, I was eleven years old, and was immediately met with a barrage of FWD: emails. The worst volumes and volumes came from people who were a) bored and b) older. In fact, in class (the class for which I started this blog), Dr. Losh mentioned that some of her fellow faculty members believed that the Bonsai kitten hoax was real. Although I very rarely if ever receive hoax emails anymore, Myspace bulletins have become the new urban legends battleground.

Remember, kids: the Urban Legends Reference Page is your friend.

Which is why this bulletin was absolutely refreshing to me.

I must send my thanks to whoever sent me the one about poop in the glue on envelopes because I now have to use a wet towel with every envelope that needs sealing.

Also, now I have to scrub the top of every can I open for the same reason.

I no longer have any savings because I gave it to a sick girl (Penny Brown) who is about to die in the hospital for the 1,387,258th time.

I no longer have any money at all, but that will change once I receive the $15,000 that Bill Gates/Microsoft and AOL are sending me for participating in their special e-mail program.

I no longer worry about my soul because I have 363,214 angels looking out for me, and St. Theresa's novena has granted my every wish.

I no longer eat KFC because their chickens are actually horrible mutant freaks with no eyes or feathers.

I no longer use cancer-causing deodorants even though I smell like a water buffalo on a hot day.

Thanks to you, I have learned that my prayers only get answered if I forward an email to seven of my friends and make a wish within five minutes.

Because of your concern I no longer drink Coca Cola because it can remove toilet stains.

I no longer can buy gasoline without taking someone along to watch the car so a serial killer won't crawl in my back seat when I'm pumping gas.

I no longer drink Pepsi or Dr. Pepper since the people who make these products are atheists who refuse to put "Under God" on their cans.

I no longer use Saran wrap in the microwave because it causes cancer.

And thanks for letting me know I can't boil a cup of water in the microwave anymore because it will blow up in my face...disfiguring me for life.

I no longer check the coin return on pay phones because I could be pricked with a needle infected with AIDS.

I no longer go to shopping malls because someone will drug me with a perfume sample and rob me.

I no longer receive packages from UPS or FedEx since they are actually Al Qaeda in disguise.

I no longer shop at Target since they are French (not really) and don't support our American troops or the Salvation Army.

I no longer answer the phone because someone will ask me to dial a number for which I will get a phone bill with calls to Jamaica, Uganda, Singapore, and Uzbekistan.

I no longer buy expensive cookies from Neiman Marcus since I now have their recipe.

Thanks to you, I can't use anyone's toilet but mine because a big brown African spider is lurking under the seat to cause me instant death when it bites my butt.

And thanks to your great advice, I can't ever pick up $5.00 I dropped in the parking lot because it probably was placed there by a sex molester waiting underneath my car to grab my leg.

I can no longer drive my car because I can't buy gas from certain gas companies!

If you don't send this e-mail to at least 144,000 people in the next 70 minutes, a large dove with diarrhea will land on your head at 5:00 PM this afternoon and the fleas from 12 camels will infest your back, causing you to grow a hairy hump. I know this will occur because it actually happened to a friend of my next door neighbor's ex-mother-in-law's second husband's cousin's beautician...

Have a wonderful day....
Oh, by the way.....

A South American scientist from Argentina , after a lengthy study, has discovered that people with insufficient brain activity read their e-mail with their hand on the mouse.

Don't bother taking it off now, it's too late.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

bitching, or why the word is being reclaimed

Some people take issue with the feminist reclaiming of the word "bitch." Let's define the word first, courtesy of Merriam-Webster:

1: the female of the dog or some other carnivorous mammals
2 a: a lewd or immoral woman b: a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman —sometimes used as a generalized term of abuse
3: something that is extremely difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant
4: complaint

Definition #1 can usually only be found in kennel-speak. #3 is a colloquial usage that I often utilize myself, as is #4. #2a just smacks of antiquated sex-negativism towards women, often Christian (as Judaism is pretty sex-positive in general) in its roots. Why is a sexual woman always a bad one? God says so. Oh, okay.

But sex-negativity is a whole other issue. The definition with which I take issue is #2b. Because femininity is often defined via traits such as passivity, bashfulness, quietness, sweetness, nurturing, caring, motherliness, and sacrifice, what makes a female "malicious, spiteful, or overbearing" is often different than what would deign a man so. The exhibition of the opposite of what is considered "feminine" (often many of the traits that are designated as within male territory) is what causes a woman to be called a bitch.

Want to call out the leering coworker on his lecherous comments?
Ungrateful bitch, only men were allowed to work before, shut your pie hole (or else).

Want to have sex?
Horny bitch, only sluts want to do the nasty, and guys fuck the slut and love the virgin.

Want to call the cops on the abusive boyfriend?
Loud bitch, what did you expect after dinner was cold?

Want to refuse a commitment foisted upon you at the last minute?
Selfish bitch, why don't you want to help other people?

Want to eat that scrumptious dessert?
Hungry bitch, you're going to end up fat and lonely.

Want to go in for therapy?
Psycho bitch, why don't you get yourself some friends; women are supposed to talk shit out.

Want to report a case of marital rape?
Frigid bitch, why else do you think he married you other than for constant sex?

Want to wear a cute top to work so that you'll get some attention for once?
Evil bitch, how dare you use your cleavage to overcome that glass ceiling and pay gap?

Want to put a family on hold for your career?
Cold bitch, don't you want to make cute babies; do you hate babies or something?

Want to put your career on hold and have a family?
Lazy bitch, who wants to bet your ass won't be able to work again after doing nothing as a mother?

Want to divide up housework because both you and your husband work?
Stupid bitch, don't you know you're lucky he lets you work at all?

Want to take back the word "bitch?"
Feminist bitch, you'll never be able to keep a man.

I've been called or considered a bitch for wanting sex, for not putting up with verbal abuse, for not keeping quiet when wrong was being done, for valuing my thoughts over my feelings, for sticking to principles instead of to blind loyalty, and most of all for being honest. In the majority of those cases, I wasn't confrontational or mean or hostile, just clear and straightforward. Oh, right, women aren't supposed to be forward, lest they be called bitches.

Bitch on, I say!

BS Factor:
10+ Years of Bitch Magazine

almost painfully funny

Well, actually painfully funny, as my stomach hurt from laughter after that last restaurant segment. Why doesn't the news cover this scam?

beauty is skin deep, ugly runs down to the bones

Scene 1: a young CHILD, probably a girl, is talking with her mother or some other older female figure (OFF) in her life

CHILD. I'm not pretty, no one likes me! I'm too fat and ugly.
OFF. Beauty is the eye of the beholder/plump is pleasing, more for squeezing/it's not what's on the outside, but what's on the inside/beauty is a fading flower/you can't judge a book by its cover/beauty is only a lightswitch away/beauty is only skin deep/beauty is a matter of taste.

Scene 2: CHILD is now confronting the BULLY that has been teasing her (or him, I suppose)

BULLY. Hahaha, you're fat and ugly and nobody likes you.
CHILD (more than slightly smugly, as she (or he, I suppose) has been waiting for this moment ever since Scene 1). It's not what's on the outside, it's what's on the inside!
BULLY. That's what ugly people say. Haha!

Almost every single female on the planet (and maybe some males) has gone through a version of these two exchanges at some point in her (or his) lifetime. A peer teases you about being somehow unattractive, you cry to the OFF in your life, you confront the peer, and guess what? Your cliché of choice falls flat, and you lose respect for the OFF in your life, realizing on a childish level that she is out of touch with reality.

It's easy for the "hot chicks" to go around comforting the not-so-hotties with the same platitudes first heard from the mouths of OFFs. Maybe beautiful girls don't get everything handed to them, but they sure as hell get more chances. Metaphorically and literally, more doors are opened for them.

Ever notice how when men talk about a smart woman who is also beautiful, the monologue will begin thusly: "Oh, I know her. Beautiful girl, so articulate too! etc." as if "beautiful" is superior to the attributes for which she actually worked? No, it's more important to them that she won the genetic lottery for looks; anything else is peripheral. See how the focus on looks not only causes the not-so-beautiful to be ignored, but also trivializes the accomplishments of women who happen to be beautiful?

Needless to say, I am one of those young women in the not-so-hot crowd. Children are cruel, and my male cousins, as well as one of my aunts, were the first to taunt me about my weight. All the clichés with which my mother would comfort me would be met with the devastating retorts that were simply variations of "only ugly people say that". I had latched onto Judge Judy's book title, Beauty Fades, Dumb is Forever, as my personal platitude for a while, until I realized that there were plenty of intelligent women with looks to kill as well. Those women are the competition against whom women like me just cannot measure. I was to quickly find that it doesn't really get any better when you get older, either. People may not overtly call you a fattie or some other slur or be as relentless in their comments, but the abuse continues in other ways. Of course, the gems amongst women and men work on their ability to not judge superficially and to look beyond the surface of the individuals they meet. I am not denying that phenomenon and am appreciative of it. It's just hard to ignore the facts about beauty.

1) To men, just looking at a beautiful woman is like giving a puppy a treat. No wonder hot chicks get into places, whilst not-so-hotties have to wait their turn or fight their way in. If they choose the latter option, of course, they run the risk of not just being ugly, but an ugly bitch.

2) Attraction might grow over time, but what about those who are never even given a chance? Maybe behind that sad, plain-looking girl's expression is a brilliant brain and an even more brilliant smile, but most men wouldn't even bother to talk to an "ugly."

3) Don't blame the girl in #2 for not smiling more, as the statistics are behind her misery. People stop to help beautiful women who need it, "cuter" babies get more attention (which has longer-term effects than most people realize), and hotter lawyers get more attention at trials. (source)

4) Fatness only hinders women. Fatter women earn less, fatter men earn more. More generally speaking, prettier people earn more.

5) Judge Judy isn't that comforting, really. Not all beautiful women are stupid. In fact, some of them are really smart. That means that the smart but not-so-hot women have major, major competition.

I remember when the Samantha Runnion case was big news; another child was kidnapped around the same time but received no attention, presumably because she wasn't a blond little white girl. The same goes for the JonBenet Ramsey vs Sherrice Iverson kidnappings. The blond little Ramsey girl, as a participant in the child beauty pageants that serve as pedophile fodder, got more attention than poor Sherrice. Being pretty apparently can help your chances against an abductor --- a life-or-death matter. The sad part is that I can hear a deep voiced retort in my head already, as the more uncouth amongst males might deign this "natural selection" against "uglies". It's so ingrained of a response, to hear that voice, that I can't tune it out.

None of us really tunes it out, and so the human understanding of other human beings remains superficial.

This is one of the areas in which Myspace bulletins are actually right. There was a popular one called "I'm sorry" that I've seen make the rounds several times, and I'm inclined to actually agree with its message. Girls are forced to measure up against an impossible standard, leading to low self-esteem; boys are supposed to act macho and only go for "hot chicks," causing them to not pursue the not-so-hottie in whom they might be interested. Low self-esteem is not attractive, feeding the cycle; unhappy relationships with people with whom you have nothing in common but physical attraction gets in the way of building something more lasting and more real.

This is the world as I find it, not the world I hope is out there. Pretty people only dominate without breaking a nail or mussing that hairdo only because the not-so-hot let them do so. We're all guilty of it, hence its existence.

BS Factor:
18 political women judged for their looks instead of their ideas

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Preying Using Prayer

Regardless of the religious beliefs of an individual, it's rationally impossible to prove in a testable, repeatable (and by those two adjectives I mean "scientific) manner that prayer really does help people. Why Won't God Heal Amputees is a website based on that idea, and essentially debunks the idea that prayer actually helps people.

By all means, if people have faith and feel better via prayer, they ought to pray. After all, one has a duty to oneself as well as to others. If prayer (or secular meditation, whatever) centers a person and makes him/her feel calmer and better, then it has a benefit. To claim that it helps those about whom the supplicant might be praying, however, can lead to a sense of dangerous complacency.

Perfect example: the recent wildfires. A relief fund that is accessible on-line has been set up, so people can help with monetary donations at their convenience. Various companies offered discounts and even waived fees to help the then-evacuees, now survivors who are trying to pick up the pieces.

Additionally, I have read and heard many, many stories of people who packed up their cars with the types of supplies needed and drove over to help the victims of the fire. Personally, I helped clean up the house of my boyfriend's business partner's family. The type of breather needed to prevent inhalation of dangerous fumes and particles was hard to come by even in Orange County, but I called every hardware store in the area until I found some. I took them south with me. It was the first time I had directly participated in such an endeavor, and I hope that it is the last (footage of the house and Dan's business partner's reaction can be found here).

Whilst people were mobilizing to help others in a solid way, others were content to merely sit and pray, or send out Myspace bulletins urging people to pray. My response was a bulletin of my own:
re praying for the California wildfire victims:
Don't just pray, do something. If you feel like prayer is good thing, then by all means do so, just don't try to convince anyone that you're actually contributing anything. Everyone prays for any number of causes, but there is no statistical reason to believe that asking your god of choice for help will help in this dire situation.

People who pray and then tell others to do so as well as if it's some grand gesture are lulling themselves and others into a false sense of complacency.

A friend of mine responded:
Maybe people should do both?

I'll tell you now, If I've been helping people evacuate and put shit out, and it comes a time where I can't do anything, I'm gonna pray. When someone tells another person to pray for victoms, it's not like they're saying "fuck doing anything else."

Not trying to step on you here. Just saying.

(He raps, check him out.)

I realized that I hadn't really defined what I was trying to say, so I'll say it here. The idea that prayer actually, directly, and significantly helps those who are the subjects of the prayer preys on the tendency of the average person to not get truly involved with helping others. No one but the supplicant actually benefits from the prayer; that feeling of having done something good in their own eyes is enough for most people, which is the reason I call BS on the Myspace bulletins (aka "bullshitins"), emails, and websites urging people to pray instead of showing them how to take action to help. Saying a quick prayer in a moment of despair or praying when there's nothing else you can do is one thing, feeling self-righteous and satisfied because you said some words for someone to a deity in which that person may not even believe is what is wrong.

BS Factor:
the safety gear that was my small contribution

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

OMG CASTLE!: Coverage of the California Wildfires

I was in San Diego on Sunday, October 20, 2007. I had taken the Amtrak Surfliner and was relaxing with Dan, my boyfriend. We glanced outside and noticed that it seemed dark; stepping outside, we saw the soot and ash that had covered his backyard. Obviously, there was a fire somewhere not too far off. We used online local news sources to find information, as well as called the official San Diego hotline. Neither yielded much besides a location for the fire, but that was better than what people were getting if they were relying on television for their information: nearly nothing. I went home back to Irvine that evening only to view the Santiago Canyon fire from the bridge over the train tracks.

Over the course of the next few days, I would find out that San Diego didn't matter. I was hungry for news of the fires just south of me for obvious personal reasons, but if that's what I wanted, TV wouldn't provide it. I started bookmarking webpages devoted to the issue, but the lack of coverage still bothered me. It was obvious from the start that the San Diego fires were going to cause more damage and were more of a hazard to residents than the Malibu fires, and yet the one that continued to get coverage on almost all news stations was still Malibu. It was only after FEMA was called into San Diego that US news sources began to pick up the story and provide updates for those concerned about those more southbound along the 5 Freeway.

Two instances stand out in my memory of the overwrought coverage of the Malibu fires, and can serve as epitomes. The first is a reporter standing in front of a hill, reporting on how the small flare-ups on the hill aren't threatening any people or property. She was talking about something of, very literally, no consequence at all as San Diego was burning down. The second is the incessant repetition of the Persian castle story. The person who owned the castle is probably quite wealthy and stated that she didn't care too much that some of her possessions had been lost. Why newscasters were endlessly reporting on the story of someone who was insured and wealthy enough not to care is absolutely beyond me.

Not so beyond me, actually. The news media caters to the lowest common denominator and show what sells, and for some reason, we Americans love obsessing over rich people.

BS Factor:
One burnt-down eyesore of a castle

FEMA: Doublespeak for The Ministry of Truth

I have always been an avid reader of dystopian fiction, or, as a not-so-literary friend of mine likes to tease me, "anti-Utopian" works. The first time I picked one up was during Banned Books Week at the local public library. The work itself, Lois Lowry's Newberry Award-winning The Giver, is well on its way to being everyone's first dystopian book. I have since read (and recorded) as many dystopian works as I could (see Dystopia - Goals Of Dystopian Fiction).

The one that has lent the modern incarnation of the English language the most words is, of course, Orwell's 1984. If the greatness of a piece of literature is based merely upon its long-lasting and quite popular impact amongst readers, 1984 is the foremost dystopian work ever written. From the titles of television shows to popular political discourse, Orwell's imagery and words are as much ours as his.

Which is precisely why I thought I was dreaming of 1984 on Wednesday, October 24, 2007m the day I was informed of the now-infamous news conference in San Diego. Slate parodied it, but for those of us that have yet to properly read either of the question lists, I have a little exercise: Discern the BS. Below are five questions for FEMA, some from the faked news conference and some are made up. Can you tell which are which?

1) What lessons learned from Katrina have been applied?
2) What type of commodities are you pledging to California?
3) Can you address a little bit what it means to have the president issue an emergency declaration, as opposed to a major disaster declaration? What does that mean for FEMA?
4) There are a number of reports that people weren't heeding evacuation orders and that was hindering emergency responders. Can you speak a little to that, please?
5) Sir, we understand the secretary and the administrator of FEMA are on their way out there. What is their objective? And is there anyone else traveling with them?

Are you ready for some answers? Apparently, FEMA wasn't ready to answer anybody's questions. All of the questions above were from the real fake conference (doublespeak again). FEMA gave actual reporters fifteen minutes' warning before the news conference. Fifteen minutes?! The 15 Freeway was closed down as well as parts of other freeways due to the fires that dotted the California landscape that day less than a month ago. California traffic is bad enough on a normal day, let alone when a disaster was happening.

John Philbin was FEMA's external affairs director when the conference happened, but he is no more a part of FEMA. It's a good sign that the man who is being blamed for this has been fired, but more must be done. The news conference required not only Philibin's planning power, but also the compliance of FEMA staffers, cameramen, and anyone else who was aware of what was going on. Massive complicity in the face of obvious wrongdoing is much more dangerous than the schemings of a single man, especially when the truth of a national disaster situation is at stake.

BS Factor:
Ought not to assess it, for...

Or, even worse:

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Blog Rules -- a pre/over-view

This post will serve as a way for me to establish the basics as to the purpose of this blog, as well as to give my potential readership some insight as to what it is they are getting into.

5 Main Rules:

1) In striving to stay true to its title and URL, In the Realm of the Rational will focus on issues related to rationality, sensibility, and just plain common sense.

2) The main focus of the blog will be on current events, if at all possible. The main topic at hand will be analyzed, and then assessed for its BullShit (henceforth known as "BS") Factor.

3) BS Factor may not be assessed solely based on political bias, religious preference, personal prejudices, or impulsive inclinations. Although all the aforementioned might influence the content of the blog, the main "calling out" shall be done in concern to aspects of the main issue that simply are wrong. Such wrongness might be ascribed to factors such as incredible bias (either to the right or to the left), ill-gotten information, deliberately misquoted statements and statistics, and other gross manipulations of what might objectively be called "the truth."

4) Posts shall occur as needed but shall not occur less than thrice a week. No more than one post a week shall consist of only a link and analysis.

5) Posts shall be tagged with no less than three tags each in order to help create more of a specific theme and a pattern for the blog.