For the lulz

I remember being at a friend's house once. He was making a phone call for some reason, and realized that he had dialed a wrong number. So he left a prank message on the wrong number's machine, and hung up. I was horrified at this, and wanted to know why he would do such a cruel thing. After all, wasn't using the phone terrifying and awkward enough, without the fear that the person on the other end might deliberately try to deceive you? All he could say was that it was funny.

In elementary school, I was known as the person who really liked cats. So people would approach me at school to tell me stories about how they had tortured or killed cats, because it was funny.

In middle school, I had crushes on girls. So people would approach me to tell me how ugly the girls I liked were, or otherwise insult them, in order to get at me, because it was funny.

It's still somewhat surprising to me that, as someone who probably matched so many of the stereotypes in a public school in Mississippi, I don't remember ever encountering specifically homophobic harassment. It's possible that I did, and just didn't know enough about the topic to recognize it. Or maybe they just never needed it, since they had plenty of other ways to laugh at me. Whatever the cause, I'm certain that nothing I encountered in school could really compare to what Tyler Clementi had to deal with. Certainly I've never felt that my sense of self had been so completely violated for the sake of someone else's entertainment that the only option was to jump off a bridge.

But I think I'm at least somewhat qualified to understand the motivations of the people who did this to him.

It's tempting to say that they did this because they live in a culture that hates homosexuality. But I think it's misleading to call this an act of hate. It's sometimes said that intense hate is hard to distinguish from intense love, and there's some truth to it. In my view, to deeply hate something is just to deeply love that which it threatens. Someone who really, fundamentally hates homosexuals is someone who loves God, or the traditional family, or his own self-perception as heterosexual, and sees homosexuality as endangering that which he loves. People have been known to do terrible things out of true hate. But hate, like love, is a response to sincerely held values, and that gives hate a kind of integrity that one just doesn't see in the sniggering, petty maliciousness of juvenile pranks.

When I read the tweets sent by Clementi's roommate as quoted in the article above, I don't see hate. I just see amusement and apathy.

Hate is just the other side of love. This sort of thing is the real absence of love. It has nothing to do with valuing anything. It's just the desire to tear down what other people value. It's a disdain for the very idea of having any values. Because to be "cool" means to be unaffected by and unattached to anything. No one I knew in school actually hated cats, or the girls I liked; they just thought it was funny that I valued them. Just like these people thought it was funny that Clementi valued his partner, or his privacy, or his sense of self. It's a moral calculus in which concern for other people is so completely omitted that even the momentary amusement one gets from an act of cruelty is enough to make that act worth doing. That's what it means to be truly without love.

For all the good that it has done for youth unable to find a sense of community in their real-world lives, the Internet has also become another powerful weapon for these people to use. The promise of a temporary fame to anyone who creates a sufficiently amusing YouTube video is a significant exacerbating factor. So much of the social landscape of the Internet has devolved into an arena for competitive schadenfreude, and it's impossible to quantify the hurt that has been done by it, since so much of it occurs on a much smaller and less dramatic scale than the case of Tyler Clementi. But it needs to be called out, and people need to think about what it is that they're laughing at when they start browsing YouTube. There is absolutely no excuse for using the Internet without love in one's heart.
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Oil and water

Ship Island is one of the barrier islands off the Mississippi Gulf Coast. There is a commercial ferry that brings tourists to and from the island twice daily to swim on its beaches, walk through its dunes, and explore historic Fort Massachusetts.

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(no subject)

Saw this on marinshellstone's journal. Looked like something to keep me occupied for a half-hour or so.

1. Choose 12 books that you like.
2. Write down the first sentence or so of each of those books.
3. Let other people try to figure out the titles.
4. Cross off books as they are guessed, let us know the correct answers and who guessed them.

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Further adventures in gendered advertising

So today I happened to be comparing the packaging on Schick's Quattro razor with trimmer, which comes in two flavors—the kind "For Women," and the "Titanium" kind for everybody else.

They have, of course, the obvious differences—one is conveniently colored bright pink and green so that women will squee over the pretty colors, and the other is colored a safe, docile black so that men won't accidentally squee over the pretty colors and suddenly start liking penises. And, in the event that buying a razor with attached trimmer still makes men feel vaguely insecure about their sexuality, it even comes branded with the likeness of that paragon of manliness, Wolverine, with manly claw marks all over the black packaging.

There is, however, another difference you'll encounter if you happen to be wondering if the razor comes with batteries or not. From the respective bottom right corners of the packages:

That's right. Just in case, after having their attention directed to the correct product by the color-coded package, women happen to still be confused, the package designer eases their minds further by not requiring them to read those difficult word things.

Seriously, this seems straight out of The Handmaid's Tale.

(In fairness, the package designer would probably justify this difference by pointing out that the bright pink package happens to be bilingual, and using visual icons is a more compact way of illustrating the contents in a bilingual way. I'm not sure that's really a good justification, though.)
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A quote

From Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals:

I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect I never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that's when I first learned about evil. It is built in to the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.

Lord Vetinari is awesome.

Today's xkcd

My first reaction: Yes! It's so true! xkcd is so awesome!

My second reaction: Wait, isn't the artist, like, enabling male entitlement or something by suggesting that, obviously, that cute girl on the train focused on her laptop must be just waiting for any guy next to her to start flirting with her?

My third reaction: Meh, it just goes to show that gender roles make this all just too complicated to deal with. I'll be happier if I just don't worry about this whole interacting with girls thing. I get almost everything I need from being with my friends already, and I'm perfectly content with that. Why keep hurting myself by looking for or hoping for anything more than that?

My projected fourth reaction at around 3 AM tonight: omgz why am i so lonely????!??!!!!??!!11111 :-( :-(
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Why we can't stop consuming

This is an article that illustrates a very important point about the world economy.

Revealed: The ghost fleet of the recession

At issue is the fact that Western retailers are expecting relatively low consumer demand for the holiday season, and therefore aren't ordering as much stock. This means that the shipping industry, which historically has gotten crazy busy at this time of year, doesn't have as much to do, and therefore a large percentage of the big container ships that carry things like oil and consumer goods to the West are just sitting anchored somewhere out of the way.

Now, it's generally agreed that less consumption is a positive and necessary thing, since the West's rate of consumption is putting unnecessary strain on the world's natural resources. But consumption is so deeply embedded in the structure of the economy that removing it to any substantial degree makes everything else stop functioning as well. To consume less, we need to sell less, we need to produce less, we need to transport less—we need to work less. When consumption ceases, jobs disappear from the shipping industry, as well as from factories and the retail sector. And without jobs, people don't eat.

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(no subject)

You know, the more I hear about the health care debate going on right now, the more I'm reminded of this story I read once. It involved a protagonist who was trying to run a health care system that served its patients in the best way possible, on the basis of the best available objective scientific knowledge, but who was impeded at every turn by the pointless obstructionism of interfering politicians and the entrenched corporate interests who funded them.

Except that in the story in question, it wasn't a health care system—it was a railroad.

The interfering politicians of the real world are right—this is exactly like something out of Rand. Just not in the way they mean.
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Observations 3

Even Wal-Marts and storage places can be cool looking when the landscape forces them into an interesting terraced design.

Driving on the interstate is a lot less interesting than driving on highways.

There is no swirling energy vortex at the end of I-40. I always thought there would be when I was a kid.
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Observations 2

The bottlecap from the Jones soda I had at lunch informed me "You will succeed at your current plans." Given that all I was doing today was driving a lot without any plans, how is that applicable? Also, "except in bed."

There is not very much in southern Georgia.

Gas seems to get cheaper in the middle of nowhere. This seems counterintuitive.

I actually saw a dead deer on the road.

Mountains are pretty at sunset.

Twisty narrow roads through mountains at night are scary. Also, it is important to remember that you cannot drift and get blue sparks, and that Lakitu will not retrieve you if you fall off of them.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is very shiny at night. Also it has cute tourist girls.

Hotel rooms in Tennessee are surprisingly cheap.

I have no idea where I'm going tomorrow.
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