Thursday, September 28, 2006

My grandparents (paca)

For some reason I wanted to start this post by saying that I had 4 grandparents. Then I thought, "well, that's silly, everyone has 4 grandparents." But both of my parents and both of N's parents are remarried, so B has 8.

I had 4 grandparents.

As you can tell from the tense, they are all gone now. Perhaps the best order in which to talk about them is the order in which I lost them.

Papa (pronounced PawPaw) was my mom's dad. He was a doctor in Houston. Apparently, he was a proctologist - at least I think so. He also worked for some 50 years as the doctor at Rice University athletics, putting athletes back together. Everyone says he was a kind man. My uncle is a poet and has a lovely poem about his dad staying by his side hour after hour to nurse him back to health. I lost Papa when I was in grade school or junior high, so I only knew him as a child. My favorite memory remains sitting outside the Houston town house widdling. He would gather fallen sticks after a storm and turn them into canes. Or Jack Jack sticks as they were called, since he put a small plaque that read Jack Jack # on each one, named for himself and his son. I had Jack Jack 19 and it was my lucky stick. I had to hold it when I played the llama and my brother in Risk. Eventually, Jack Jack 19 broke and I don't know where it is now.

Flash was my father's father. This set of grandparents lived in the same town as myself, so I inevitably knew them better. Flash liked thing his way and he didn't care what anyone else thought. As a child, this worked just fine. It probably wasn't always great for everyone else. When we went out to eat at Brown's Landing, Flash made up his own menu. He would tell the waitress exactly how many pieces of catfish and how many hushpuppies he wanted. They'd bring it out, but of course he always ordered the same thing - to the hushpuppy. He also decided he preferred Sunday School to the church service, so every week he'd go to Sunday School and then take off before the service started. This was one of the ways that I spent time alone with him. He would pick me up for Sunday School and then drop me back off afterwards. Sometimes he'd go pick up fried chicken and bring it to our house. We'd also do Sunday drives together sometimes. Supposedly, he once did Sunday drives with the llama's grandad, but I don't really remember that. On a Sunday drive, sometimes you'd go up to the farm and drive around the cattle, then go home. Sometimes, you'd drive to see the Mississippi levees and then go home. Flash died when I was in 9th or 10th grade and away in New Jersey.

Smoochie was my dad's mom and the grandparent I knew the best. I got to know her the best around 6th to 7th grade. I would take the bus from school to her house a couple times a week. There was a set routine. Smoochie had horrible osteoporosis (sp?) and due to broken bones lived in her chair for at least a decade. So, I would open the door as quietly as I could and then slowly creep through the house. I'd crawl behind the plaid sofa, then dart behind Flash' big blue chair. Next it was behind the sofa covered in plastic until I jumped up behind Smoochie to scare her. This could take up to half an hour and worked about 10% of the time. After this, I'd sit in the wheelchair next to her chair and we'd watch Jeopardy or another game show, competing to answer the questions. Finally, I'd proceed to the kitchen to eat Fritos that were always kept in the freezer and drink bottled cokes, which they got because the Coke bottlers rented a warehouse from Flash. You can't ask her anymore, but if you went to her house for many years, she'd tell you this story in these exact words, changing the names, "And Paca just got so disgusted with his brother who kept picking at his food that he said, 'Smoochie, I'lllll eat ANYthing." Later in life, she'd tell that story several times in the same meal. Smoochie lived to the age of 90. She hung in there and hung in there until her big 90th birthday party, and then a week later we were all back for the funeral.

Mimi. Obviously, my mom's mom. The only city girl of the group. Born in Houston and lived there all her life. Even though she made it the longest in my life, I knew her the least. I don't know why that's the case. With all the other grandparents, the times I remember were the alone times - just me and that person. All my memories of Mimi, however, have other people in them, too. My own mother is reading this blog now, so perhaps she will correct me. I remember Mimi worrying a lot, wanting to keep us safe. I remember the world's best roast beef that she would purchase for me at Nielson's deli, though she wasn't amused when I would eat the whole purchase at one sitting. She prepared lunches for us to go to the Houston zoo and natural history museum. I was stunned when I learned as an adult, that it's a 15 minute drive away. I thought it was in Botswana or something the way we prepped for the expedition. She also made sandwiches for us for the drive back from Houston to north Louisiana. Do other people remember the times when you prepped a cooler for a drive? Mimi was Christian Scientist, and when I had a serious sickness once, she called the Reader to help me. I still don't exactly know what that means, but I understand that she was praying for me. That meant a lot then and it still does. Mimi passed away right around the time B was born and so I missed her funeral, attending to the first and only great-grandchild.

That's how I remember my grandparents.

Fighting the good fight or blowing hot air? (paca)

Somehow I let myself get drawn into a debate on gay marriage today and yesterday. As all such blog debates go, I persuaded no one. However, I do think I sharpened my arguments a good bit in the attempt. Pretty much everyone who reads this blog knows my point of view here, but it might be interesting nonetheless. My reasoning gets sharper as I go. If you don't want to read all my detailed reasoning, you might find my moral appeal at the end of interest. Participating in this debate reminds me that I should tackle tough issues more often here on the blog, as writing is where I get to really focus and see what I believe.

The debate:

This is from The Moderate Voice political blog (see link on right) where one of the co-bloggers posted about "the bigotry vote" where, as he sees it, when the Republicans are having a hard time, they always like to pull out the favorite boogieman to get the base pumped up, namely gay people. Most commenters agreed. Then one commenter, who is quoted below, argued that you didn't have to be a bigot to disagree with same sex marriage. That was my jumping off point. I put in bogus names for the commenters, but there are several people going. When people quote each other, it's in italics.

Blogger 1:
So everyone who opposes gay marriage is a bigot?

That would include not only the religious right, but the majority of the American public. I'm an agnostic, and while gay marriage is hardly the most serious issue out there and while I have no doubt that it isn't going to destroy society if we allow it, I still think the onus is on gay marriage supporters to answer why religious people who do oppose gay marriage should have to subsidize it in the way they would straight marriage in the private workplace.

Frankly, I think employers shouldn't be hampered with any sort of anti-discrimination legislation, be it on grounds of sex, race, religion, or sexual preference. I believe that if a group is offended by an employer's hiring or benefits practices, they and their supporters should simply boycott the business. Few mainstream businesses would dare offend a potenial target demographic. Those few who would, however, should be free to do so. Hooter's should not have to hire men and religious people should not have to provide benefits to homosexuals who marry.

It is (or, at least, was) a free country, after all.
9.26.2006 11:10pm

Is it possible to have a stance that forbids gay marriage that isn't based on bigotry? Probably. If you believe that the state should not perform legal marriages at all, then that would probably work. So no legal marriage for any one. That would be a non-bigoted opinion. Perhaps if there was some sort of scientific verifiable evidence that gay married couples caused harm to others. Of course, there is no such evidence, just a lot of trumped up evidence) and it's hard to imagine what such evidence would look like. It would have to say that gay couples living together doesn't cause any harm, but as soon as they marry, it does. That would be really weird.

To address your bigger point, if an opinion is bigoted, it remains bigoted no matter how many people believe it. If there is a God, then there is a God whether or not 5% of the people believe in such an entity or 95%. The stats on support for gay marriage seem to move with the polls and the exact question asked, but there is no doubt that some substantial percentage of Americans oppose it. But that doesn't change whether or not the belief is right or wrong. The vast majority of Americans opposed interracial marriage until fairly recently. They were always wrong even when all their friends agreed.

I take bigotry to be a belief about a certain group that has no basis in fact. The reason that most people oppose gay marriage is that they believe certain things about gay couples or their effect on society that have no basis in fact.
9.27.2006 12:30am

Blogger 2 (mail):
Yes, Blogger 1, they pretty much are. Why bother denying it? I believe it was Senator Hatch who during the Senate debate on the proposed Constitutional amendment just acted shocked that someone might think that a majority of Americans might be bigoted. This could only be shocking to someone who has completely forgotten their American history. Huge numbers of Americans have at one time or another been prejudiced towards the Irish, Italians, Jews, Catholics, blacks, Native Americans and Chinese. Now it is still acceptable to be bigoted against homosexuals because after all the Bible says it is. Ask anyone who knows the history of those groups how free America was for them at one time or another.
9.27.2006 12:31am

Blogger 1:
I take bigotry to be a belief about a certain group that has no basis in fact. The reason that most people oppose gay marriage is that they believe certain things about gay couples or their effect on society that have no basis in fact.

Well, I don't believe it will have a substantial effect one way or another. However, I'm a conservative and I err on the side of caution and don't care to open the flood gates to a continuous "redefiniton" of marriage in the future. I can almost guarantee you that other groups will eventually argue that since we've redefined marriage once, we can do it again. By itself, it is of little importance, but nowhere in history has the institution of marriage ever been considered to encompass homosexual couples and I see no compelling reason to start now.

After all, what arguments are gays or lesbians introducing that could not be equally applied to polygamists, for example?
9.27.2006 11:14am

Blogger 3:

After all, what arguments are gays or lesbians introducing that could not be equally applied to polygamists, for example?

Blogger 1, simple. Two consenting adults. Beyond that, all I'll say on the topic is that I believe state controlled legal marriage has resulted in government getting too involved in religious ceremonies. Let the church take care of the marriage issue as it sees fit and have government allow some form of legal contract (along the lines of a civil union) for granting legal rights and protections to any two consenting adults.
9.27.2006 11:34am

Blogger 4 (mail):

After all, what arguments are gays or lesbians introducing that could not be equally applied to polygamists, for example?

Very good question. From a purely sexual standpoint, all the acts involved, if between consenting adults, are legal (at least, in some states).

I view marriage as a legal issue. Judges and religous representatives can perform legal marriages in this country. It involves taxes, health care, inheritance. In those aspects, I see no reason to deny the gay couple the title of marriage.

On the social scale, separate is not equal. Giving one type of couple a "marriage" and another type of couple a "civil union" sends everyone the message "Group A is better than Group B."

If we, as a society, accept gay couples, (I see no good reason we shouldn't), it seems unreasonable to deny them marriage.

So, back to the question.

After all, what arguments are gays or lesbians introducing that could not be equally applied to polygamists, for example?

The only difference is that society is more accepting of gay couples than they are of polygamy, at this point in time. It's utterly arbitrary.
9.27.2006 12:36pm

Blogger 4 again (mail):
Well, and polygamy is illegal...but I was trying to avoid the (il)legal issue since gay marriage is illegal in some states.
9.27.2006 12:52pm
pacatrue (www):
I disagree with Bogger 4 that the difference between polygamy and gay marriage is completely arbitrary. As Vlogger 3 already said, the difference is as obvious as counting: two people vs. more than two people. Done. Same as the bestiality argument against same sex marriage. Adult person versus sheep. That slippery slope just isn't that slippery. Remember any two people can live together right now.

Also, you will not find any single definition of marriage in the history of the world. Some marriages in various societies have been about a single man and woman being legally joined in which the man is the dominant power; some have been a single man and woman where the woman was the dominant power (this is rarer, but we don't have to look too far off to find such a group; A lot of African-American families, especially during slavery, revolved around a stable woman who owned the home and transient men who came and went either by choice or not; there are many other matriarchical societies as well.) Some societies have endorsed patriarchical polygamy, and some have gone for the matriarchical version. I can't remember the group right now, but there's an Indian society where traditionally the Aunt is in charge in a very confusing way. The reason this is relevant is because marriage is very often a legal institution about property and ownership, and in each of these societies, the ownership arrangement was therefore very different.

Moreover, we can toss out that it is always clear exactly what marriage is. Frequently in history a church has only recognized its marriages as true marriages; sometimes whenever two people sleep together, they are declared married on penalty of death or exile; sometimes marriage is only about legal ownership and has nothing to do with love or religion; sometimes a marriage is just when two people move in together and the elder shakes a stick at their hut for a minute.

There is no single religius, legal, or social institution that has existed through-out the world that can be called marriage. So instead of trying to divine truth from history, we should look at marriage as it is defined in the U.S. today.

In the U.S. today, marriage has four components, at least.

1) Personal - two people wish to dedicate themselves to each other. I don't want the government deciding who gets to love who.

2) Social - it's a declaration of union to family and friends and society at large. Again, I don't want government getting involved in this. If my mom wants to hate me, because the girl I like isn't to her liking, that's our family business. If I wanted to marry a man and my mom thinks he's great, that's also famly business, and not the government's. (To make those examples clear, I am male.) Friends and family should be free to adore or reject a couple without government interference.

3) It's a religious institution. Again, I definitely don't want government telling a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple what their religious views of marriage should be. Some Christian churches currently marry gay people; many don't. I think that's the churches' business. Since my sister-in-law's Catholic church couldn't or wouldn't marry my brother to her, since he's not Catholic, I assume that church could refuse to marry my sister to her as well.

4) It's a legal institution. Here government is involved, by definition (Of course, they could get out of the marriage business all together, and I respect that opinion, though I haven't thought much about the pros and cons.) When you are talking about a legal institution, you have to talk about legal equality. For most of the history of this country, there have been some basic legal rights that have been restricted from various groups - the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to enter contracts. Legal marriage is simply a contract that two people are allowed to establish and nothing more mysterious. All of these basic legal rights have been withheld from various people based usually on gender or race. Women for instance could not vote for about 150 years. But eventually America does seem to decide that every one who is an adult should be allowed to have the same basic legal rights as everyone else - or at least gender and race should not be factors that are used to restrict access to these rights.

In the case of same sex marriage, it is exactly gender which is being used to restrict people from entering a marriage contract. It is not sexual orientation really. A gay man can go marry any woman he wants today. A lesbian can marry any man she chooses. But two men are not allowed to enter into a marriage contract exactly because they are men. Remember we are only talking about legal contracts here, which is all the government should be involved in. Adults should be allowed to enter any legal arrangement they wish (that doesn't remove rights they cannot abdicate; for instance, you cannot choose to enter slavery) and their gender should not be a barrier to this.

In many ways this debate reminds me of the Taiwan / China debate. In that debate, Taiwan is already a sovereign nation, independent of China. But if Taiwan ever says out loud the obvious fact to all - that they are independent - China is going to bomb the hell out of them. We kind of have that here among many both proponents and opponents of same sex marriage. The couple can already live together. They can already perform a ceremony dedicating themselves to one another before their family and friends. There are already some churches which will marry the two partners. But if anyone recognizes reality, instead of sweeping it under the rug ... well, that's just crazy!

OK, that was long. Sorry. And I edited, because there is more to say!
9.27.2006 2:50pm
Blogger 1:
Blogger 3,

Blogger 1, simple. Two consenting adults

That is like saying marriage is simple: one man and one woman joined together in matrimony. Simple. Hardly a convincing argument. Furthermore, polygamy actually has more a historical claim than gay marriage does.

If you don't allow polygamy, aren't you just discriminating against people who's religious or cultural beliefs may allow for more "complex" family structures? Many people might be happier in a polygamic relationship? Why are you trying to prevent poeple from being happy? Don't you care about people's happiness?

Aren't you just being bigoted?
9.27.2006 3:09pm

pacatrue (www):
The reason that two people versus three people makes a difference, Blogger 1, is because we are not talking about happiness, we are talking about law. There is already a law on the books which says two adult people can enter a legal contract called marriage which has certain rights and responsibilities. When you refuse to allow two men to enter this contract, you are not applying the law equally to all citizens. There is no legal contract in existence today which allows marriage between three people, and so the law applies equally to all. In short, the laws against polygamy apply to all Americans; the law against same sex marriage applies only to some Americans.
9.27.2006 4:35pm
Blogger 1:
The law against same sex marriage applies to all marriages also. No American can marry a partner of the same sex in vicinities where same sex marriage is not recognized.

If you argue that not all people desire a same sex marriage, then laws against polygamy are similarly selective: not all people desire polygamy, either.

You may be getting somewhere though, clarify your position and keep arguing....
9.27.2006 5:44pm
pacatrue (www):
LOL, Blogger 1, I'm glad (seriously) that we seem to be attempting to talk with each other, so I will try again.

1) Think of marriage as a legal contract, because I don't want government in any part of marriage other than the legal side of it. As an example of contracts in general, perhaps I want to buy your house and you want to sell it to me. It is something we both agree to and now we want to sign the relevant legal paperwork. In the U.S., anyone is (now) allowed to sign such a contract. It doesn't matter if I am a man, a woman, black, white, etc. As long as we are adults and legally able to make our own decisions, then we can sign this contract. If we wanted to do this and a judge stopped us saying that we could not sign the contract because I was left-handed, then we could appeal and fight the judgement based on the idea that being left-handed is not a legitimate reason for two people to be forbidden by law to sell a house to each other. Even if our state passed a law forbidding people from selling houses to left-handed people, we could fight it on the grounds that such a law violates the basic principle of legal equality.

Now move it to marriage. Two adults wish to enter a legal contract that gives them rights about tax filing and hospital visitation and such. A judge now steps in and says that, no, you cannot sign this contract because you are men. And we say, what does that have to do with our ability to sign legal contracts? We are adults of sound mind. There is a contract between two adults that everyone else can sign, but the two of us can't, because of our gender, which is already forbidden to be used as a basis of legal discrimination.

To make the point more quickly. There is already a set contract of marriage between two people. Same sex marriage lets all American citizens sign this contract. There is no contract of marriage between three people. It would be inventing a new contract and is categorically different than letting all citizens sign the same contract.

2) I really don't see the connection between same sex marriage and polygamy. The argument is supposed to be that if the government cannot forbid two men to marry, then they cannot forbid anyone to marry anything at anytime. Somehow this can seem to make sense, since I once bought it myself, but it doesn't.

To make the point, I will take another example. Let's say that there was a long tradition that blonde-haired people cannot marry brown-haired people. One day (most frequently after meeting a lot of people with different hair color that they like just fine), some people in such a society begin to say things like, "that's unfair; people of any hair color should be able to legally marry whomever they wish."

Upon hearing this, however, a bunch of people stand up and say, "Look, I have no problem with blondes and brunettes being in love, and it's really not a big deal to me if they do marry, but, you know, as a matter of legal principle, this scares me. The government has to have the legal right to forbid this, because if they don't then the next thing you know my daughter will have seven husbands or my cousin will be able to marry a sheep."

And people just stare because the speaker seems crazy. What does allowing people of different hair color to marry have to do with polygamy and bestiality? Nothing. The slope isn't slippery. And so, what I am arguing here is that the same thing is true with same sex marriage. There is no greater connection between some guy I know marrying his boyfriend and polygamy as there is a connection between that guy marrying his girlfriend and polygamy. Polygamy has nothing to do with same sex marriage.

We move no closer to polygamy due to a gay marriage than we do due to an interracial marriage. Two separate issues.

3) I re-read your comment and perhaps this is another way to express my different view. You mention that same sex marriage is already forbidden for everyone, and, therefore, there is legal equality. But it is not clear there are two legal institutions, one of which is hetero marriage and another which is gay marriage. Instead there is just marriage. It's a contract that allows you to file taxes jointly, inherity property, and visit your dying loved one in the hospital among other things. Since there is just one institution, and we are forbidding certain people to participate in it, then the law is not treating its citizens equally. It's kind of like the right to vote. In the 19th century, women were not allowed to vote. It's not because there was a separate male voting legal right and a separate female voting legal right, and both laws applied equally to men and women. Instead, there was just one legal thing - voting - and people of a certain sex were not allowed to participate in it. Same thing going on with marriage.
9.27.2006 8:15pm

Blogger 1:
There is already a set contract of marriage between two people.

To more be more specific: there is a set contract between one man and one woman. Any man and any woman in this country can engage in that contract. Two men cannot, two women cannot, and two women and one man cannot. No man is forbidden from marrying any woman and no woman is forbidden from marrying any man. Every citizen can conceivably engage in such a contract

The problem with your argument in support of gay marriage as opposed to polygamy is that you continuously appeal to a more traditional definition of marriage as being of two people to justify allowing gays to marry, but not allowing polygamy. The problem is that the traditional definition of marriage is between one man and one woman. You are attempting to rewrite this traditional definition while simultaneously appealing to it to justify preventing polygamy. I'm telling you, without a solid reason to rewrite the definition of marriage, you are opening up a can of worms.

You might still have an argument, but I think you need to find a different tact than the strictly contractual one. The contractual argument is very arbitrary. The traditional definition of marriage has advantages in that it has been a hallmark of western civilization for many centuries. Overall, it has worked well. Gay marriage doesn't have the weight of tradition behind it and extending marriage rights to gays opens up the whole definition of marriage to being rewritten at will. Traditional marriage has tradition behind, gay marriage doesn't and by the time we find out whether or not there are serious problems with having tinkered with this instutition, we will likely be too late to reverse it.

My problem is that I know how these things tend to work out in the end. Gay marriage reminds me of what is occurring in New York: a few years ago we were all assured by the anti-smoking advocates that banning smoking here, there, and everywhere, would not lead down the road to banning other harmful things like fast food. That would be ridiculous. The Nanny State would never go so far. Now trans-fats are under attack in New York. Where will it stop? Who knows? The genie of Nanny Government has been unleashed. Government interference has been elevated to an entirely new level as a result of the anti-smoking crusaders' successes. If you think that gay marriage cannot potentially lead to polygamy, I ask you to consider the fact that even 15-20 years ago, most people would have considered the idea of gays marrying to be unthinkable and absurd. "It could never happen," they would say. Here we are.
9.27.2006 11:09pm

OK, let's try a different tact. Can you tell me why allowing a white man and a black woman to marry, which was illegal in many places for years and years, does not open the door to polygamy, while allowing one man to marry another man does?

I am guessing you will say that is because men have always been allowed to marry women, and so interracial marriage follows in that tradition. However, here it seems you are slicing and dicing history to tell the story you need it to tell. White men and black women could not marry once, and when that was determined to be a violation of legal rights, marriage was redefined so that it was more fair to all. But, it seems, under your view as I understand it, that that wasn't a real redefining of marriage, since gender is more important than race. Isn't that just ignoring all the redefinitions that have happened through-out history in order for this one possible redefinition to be completely different?

Of course, I am putting words in your mouth. So, if you accept the challenge, I want to know why a decision to let people of different ethnicities marry doesn't open a door to losing all control of marriage, while marrying people of the same gender does.
9.27.2006 11:33pm

One more thought that might be useful is that it seems the case of anti-smoking legislation is the exact opposite of what's going on with same sex marriage. Namely, with smoking laws, the government was passing laws preventing citizens from acting of their own free will (rightly or wrongly). In the case of same sex marriage, the courts are saying that the goverment cannot prevent people from acting of their own will. One is a government law imposing on citizens' freedom. The other is a court saying that the government cannot impose on its citizens' freedom. Surely, that is a non-arbitrary difference.
9.27.2006 11:44pm
Blogger 1:
OK, let's try a different tact. Can you tell me why allowing a white man and a black woman to marry, which was illegal in many places for years and years, does not open the door to polygamy, while allowing one man to marry another man does?

Well, in part, because miscegnation and similar laws are very artificial. They did not exist throughout most of history. I'm not even certain if they existed in every single state in this country at any time. (They certain varied, from state to state, as to exactly what races were prevented from marrying what others. In some states in Indians were prevented from marrying whites, in others just whites and blacks.) Furthermore, race is clearly a more fluid category than sexual orientation, especially when it comes to marriage. Preventing all instances of gay marriage is clearly a lot easier than preventing all instances of miscegnation and racial intermarriage. Miscegnation laws and laws preventing interracial marriage lack a large measure of enforceability when compared to laws preventing gay marriage.

Namely, with smoking laws, the government was passing laws preventing citizens from acting of their own free will (rightly or wrongly).

Yes, but it all depends on your perspective. The loss of freedom of the individual is the gain for the government. Gay marriage has not fared well with the American public when offered in the form of a referendum. Where gay marriage has prevailed, it has been by it being dictated to the people by government officials. The government is granting itself the right to define appropriate health habits and the right to define marriage on behalf of a particular section of society. Christian employers who may not agree with gay marriage will be forced, by the government, to extend benefits to homosexuals even if they don't approve of homosexuality or, otherwise, drop benefits altogether. The power of that employer has been restricted by the government.
9.28.2006 12:20am

Blogger 4 (mail):
Do we live in a country with mob rule, or in a country that attempts to represent democratic rule without subjecting the minority?

It's an interesting philosophical question.
9.28.2006 12:36am

Well, I follow your argument, Blogger1, but I am not sure it is historically accurate, really. In truth, marriage is an extremely fluid institution and the only way we can make it seem unified is by picking and choosing what's important about marriage. I.e., if we decide beforehand that we will only count certain things as real marriage, then lo and behold, only those things are found in our historical analysis of marriage. If instead we let history speak for itself, then we see people's idea of marriage and its importance changing continuously through-out time. Since that is the case, I think we should look to the here and now.

I'm probably going to move on at this point, but I do want to make one more argument. This one is not a philosphical question or a discussion of legal equality and the like. It's a moral and emotional appeal. You and I, assuming you are straight, have the luxury right now of sitting back and debating these issues from our arm chairs. If I am hit by a car tomorrow, my wife can come see me in the hospital with almost no paperwork, just by saying she's my wife. If I were to die in that hospital, she and my son will inherit the little money I have with relatively little trouble. No one would try to take our child from her.

But there are a lot of American citizens out there for whom this is not the case - right now. If 5% of Americans are gay, that means roughly 12 and a half million Americans do not have such simple legal rights. In this example of a car wreck where I am dying, if I had a male partner and had been the biological parent of our child, someone might try to take our child away from him. Perhaps my partner would not be allowed to see me in the hospital, while my parents sat around the death bed. Can you imagine if your wife of 20 years were dying and you were not allowed to be with her unless your father-in-law said so? That would be intolerable. After death, perhaps my partner would not be able to inherit the money I have and would lose the home. I am sure there are ways to set up special contracts so that this does not happen, but two people should not have to fight for such basic rights. They should be virtually automatic - if not for basic decency, then for the social reason that we are supposed to support families, not try to destroy them.

Frankly, misgivings about corporate benefits pale in comparison to supporting families at their most vulnerable moments. These are real people - friends and family. Some of these people are so much wiser and stronger and smarter than myself. I have a few people in mind as I write this that I admire tremendously. Since we already have an institution - marriage - designed to support the union of two people, why not let all American citizens receive its benefits?

I think it is an insult to the millions of American citizens who are gay to even vote on such basic matters, as if showing people equal respect is something we get to grant and take away with the number of votes we have. This is family and supporting family that we are talking about. There is real harm being done now. It seems misguided to continue to do known damage to other people because of vague worries about the future that we cannot substantiate.
9.28.2006 3:01am

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Day In The Life (Llama)

KBox responded to an email that I sent out with the comment that she liked blog entries that talked about everyday affairs. Given my general dryness of life these days, and my renewed commitment to avoiding political issues that I cannot impact, everyday affairs is just about all I have to share. So, rather than just keep quiet, here's a bit of what I do every day.

My job is quite relaxed as far as work schedule goes. I can show up pretty much anytime and go home pretty much anytime. Usually I wake up between 7:30 and 8:00, though if I've stayed out late that could push to 8:30 or even 9:00. I go home between 4:30 and 6:00. So I tend to work an 8 hour day. Rarely do I stay longer.

For breakfast, its milk and cereal. Usually a muesli of some brand, though last week I was enjoying honey-flavored wheat biscuits. About 1/2 the time it seems I'm either out of milk, out of cereal, or running late, in which case I'll wait till I get to the office before purchasing a couple of personal boxes of Corn Flakes, some milk and yogurt. That costs about $1.50. I'll pour them into a super-sized coffee mug that belongs to Vi (when she's here) and munch at my desk.

Work usually involves me working on something computer related. These days I'm updating my software to fix bugs and implement suggestions from the Bangladeshies, or building an Access database that contains all of the survey data from all of our countries with completed data sets... Thailand, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

Go to lunch around 12 or 12:30. We have a few spots around the neighborhood we frequent. But our most popular destination is this outdoor seafood place called "La Mer." We don't call it that, though. We call it Versaces. You see, there's a ton of tailors around this area that will make you a suit or two for $99. Some of them pattern themselves, or at least their name, after famous fashion designers. One of those places exists on the corner of Sukhumvit Rd. and Sukh. Soi 7. This fellow has a huge sign out front that reads "Versaces" (not "Versace", mind you). Our lunchtime restaurant is just about 50 feet down the soi from this sign.

"La Mer" is not the only restaurant at Versaces. It's an outdoor food center, in a way. There's 5 or 6 independent restaurants, all sharing the same seating area, and each one fixing pretty much the same stuff. We stick to "La Mer" because we are friends with the serving staff... this one girl in particular, named Paew (pronounced "Bow", as in "bow wow"). Lunch runs about $2.50.

Whether we eat at Versaces or not, lunch ends anywhere between 1 and 2. A 2 hour lunch is not unheard of, which is nice. Then back to the office. I may stop off to buy strawberry/bannana smoothie on the way back for about $1. Then work the rest of the afternoon.

What happens after work ends varies. Yesterday I stayed around the office till 7:00, playing "Stubbs the Zombie" (it's an OK game, not great though). I had to call my student loan provider and extend my deferment till January, when I can finally start paying it off. I have to commend The Total Higher Education Loan people... they have always been extremely helpful and friendly. So I talked to them and got the extension... I just have to fax in some paperwork. Paid some more bills online, then went home about 7:30. I had some fried rice with chinese sausage and huge fruit salad for dinner ($2.50). Sat down with a glass of white wine and watched two episodes of Entourage on HBO. Then, about 9:00, I crawled into bed with book 9 of The Wheel of Time. Read for about 90 minutes, then lights out.

And that's my day!


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Simple green curry (paca)

A week or two ago I had some random vegetables I wanted to use up, and, suddenly, I remembered that I had a can of coconut milk. Here's a really easy Thai-esque green curry that I though was really yummy, if I do say so myself. It's simple, but you do have to have a kitchen which has these ingredients lying around.

Take some sort of medium sized pan and line it with aluminum foil.

Preheat the oven to 400. Chop up some onion, green onion, carrot, zucchini (julienned is best, but whatever really), and a can of mushrooms and toss them all in. Add some chopped up meat. I had a piece of salmon (fillet), which I plopped in. Beef, chicken, and tofu should work. Dump a can of coconut milk over everything. Add some broth. Chicken or beef or vegie. Like a third to a half a cup. It should get close to covering everything, but not be a soup. Get a couple teaspoons of a Thai curry paste that you can find now in a lot of grocery stores - at least Tennessee had it - put it in and stir it around. Ideally, you'd toss in some stems of fresh basil here and some lemongrass. Those are good, but I didn't have them, and you'll be OK. Put some more aluminum foil on top to seal and then bake it for a half hour or so. Probably be good to stir once about half way through.

It'll be good. It functions kind of like a stew or gumbo. You can toss in whatever vegies and meats you have around. The coconut milk and curry paste will conquer all.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Right and wrong for a three year old (paca)

B is still a He-Man fanatic, and it is sometimes interesting to watch it with him. He has no idea of good guys and bad guys, just good actions and bad actions. One can play with Skeletor later just as much as with Battle Cat. When someone attacks someone else, he frequently calls them "naughty", no matter whether it was the good Teela or the bad Beast Man who does the action, completely disregarding the fact that, well, Teela's good and Beast Man is bad.

It's not completely clear that he's wrong on this.

Friday, September 22, 2006

School pictures (paca)

Ahh, school pictures. I remember them fondly. Sitting in front of a tarp or screen in a shirt I hadn't worn in 6 months holding a large book, or frequently, a prop of a book. Well, now it is B's turn. If you want to see B's first school pictures, you can follow this link here. B is the one in the 5th (and 6th) row in the sort of plaid shirt with blonde hair. There are a couple other kids, right around him, who are close to blonde, but B is the fairest (in hair, and ok, he is the cutest of them all, but "Anue-kan" is pretty cute too, as is "Anue-Lee, J5"). And if you are wondering what "Anue" is, Anuenue is B's class name and means rainbow. Oh, and B's last name is spelled wrong, but you can probably guess the error.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Smackdown on the paca (paca)

I had a meeting with my prof in Info and Computer Science today. She definitely ran me through the ringer. We spent a lot of time talking past each other, wrestling to communicate with our very different backgrounds. She (physics, math, theoretical neurology); Me (linguistic theory, intonation, phonetics). In the end it was a very good meeting because she seems to desire to help. But, boy, I haven't felt so dumb in a long time. Bizarrely, the hardest parts were answering questions about linguistics. Life would be much easier if we didn't ever have to speak to knowledgable people. I was very content in my little world where classmates come to me for assistance.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Happy Feet (paca)

I have these grandiose plans to take the Pope's recent speech about faith and reason and insert comments on it. However, it takes so much work and actual thought that I keep putting it off. So instead we have a guest post from B. He would like to share his favorite video with you. Oh, and you do need sound for this. Without sound, there's no point.

Try this one first:

If it fails, try the link here and then click videos, then trailer one. Trailer one is what you want.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Drugs or sex? (paca)

B and I were playing on a baseball field in a park on Saturday. B was face down in the dirt near the pitcher's mound making dirt angels (or dirt swimming if you will) when I saw an interesting transaction take place. A man on a bike with a loaded basket came from one direction in the park towards the public restroom there. Another man from a white van came from the opposite direction. Without a word that I could hear (and they were a good ways away on the other side of a large fence) Man 1 rides his bicycle right into the bathroom, while Man 2 walks in right on his heels, or err tires.

I largely forget about them at this point, because hey two men going to the bathroom isn't very interesting. B keeps exploring the crevices in which he can smear red dirt onto his body.

About 15 minutes later, maybe 20, B and I are playing "toss the ball, watch it bounce, and go 'ahhh' in a high pitch each time it hits the ground" together, and I look up, and here come the two guys out of the bathroom together. Man 1 rides off in the direction he came from and Man 2 goes back to his van and leaves.

I have only two ideas for what I saw - drug deal or a little sex on the down low. I can't really imagine a drug deal taking 20 minutes, so I'm going with the sex idea. However, I never really thought of random bathroom sex taking 20 minutes either. 20 minutes sounds at least friendly, if not loving, and this looks like a quickie except for the time.

So what are the votes? What did I witness? I guess trading sex for drugs is always a possibility. What are some others?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Principle of Foreseeable Effect (paca)

Several years ago I was listening to some sort of British quiz or comedy show on the radio, and the host asked each of the expert guests to give something they wished had never happened. One of the guests came up with something like, "I wish America had never been discovered." There was a lot of laughter and hooting, because it is always good to get in a good U.S. joke. (This was before 9/11 and current political climates; has nothing to do with that.) The guest explained that he actually hadn't meant the joke that way. What he thought was sad was that the discovery of the American continents by Europeans had lead to the destruction of all the civilizations that were there previously. That was a tremendous loss to the world.

Most of you probably know about the Basque people and their language, spoken on the border of Spain and France. Basque as a language is known as an isolate, which means we have no evidence that the language is connected to any other language. It is not a Romance language like Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Provencal/Occitan, or French. It's not Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, or anything Indo-European. So how did these people end up speaking Basque when everyone around them for hundreds of miles (OK, don't cross the Mediteranean for this) speaks an Indo-European language? The best bet is that western Europe was once filled with all sorts of unrelated languages, and Basque was only one of a vast number. Then the Indo-European speakers moved in and if they didn't wipe out the peoples, they did wipe out the languages. Basque somehow is still hanging around when the rest are all gone.

The same story happened in China. The Han people, speaking the Chinese language, started off in the Yellow River valley and did not cover a tenth of what is considered China today, but their civilization and power grew and grew until vast territories that had always been independent and separate became Chinese. This is quite clear with places like Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang today, but a place that everyone considers Chinese now - like Canton or Hong Kong - in fact wasn't Chinese for much of Chinese history.

This same trend continues around the world. Japanese civilization is wiping out the Ainu on the Northern islands (and perhaps long ago all of the Japanese islands). The great mix of Asian and European ethnicities that makes up modern society in Hawaii is built on the fact that the islands were essentially siezed from the Hawaiian people a hundred years ago. I know native American groups moved around quite a lot and surely there was warfare and destruction and starvation due to loss of land along the way. We are all living on the graves of the peoples who lost.

What does this mean for us though? Does it mean that Spain and the United States and Mexico and the state of Hawaii and China are all horrible entities that should never have existed, as they would not have been possible without stealing and killing and taking from others? The problem is that all of those places are quite wonderful places as well, despite the bones which they sit on. American culture has contributed enormously to the world. These places all have in their way. Do the end results - the cultures and places that do exist - justify what happened?

Both answers seem wrong. We cannot either condemn all of the things that have been built on top of destroyed civilizations due to that destruction, and we cannot say that the world is better because those civlizations were destroyed due to the fact that many good things later sprung up. So what's the answer?

I think the main problem in deciding the value of civilizations, peoples, and cultures is that we silly humans just aren't capable of doing it. Those questions are too big, and any judgment we make is hopelessly muddled and parochial. Is the world better because the indigenous goverments of southern China are no more, replaced by the northern imports for 2000 years? Who the hell knows? Would the world be better if the U.S. never existed so that all the older peoples could have developed on their own, or do the American contributions of the Declaration of Independence, jazz, and the Apollo 11 mission make up for it? I certainly don't know. The questions are just too big with far too many unknown variables. The entire history of the world would be different without the discovery of the American continents. Would the European economies have developed differently? Would there have been colonialism stretching across the globe? Would democracy have become the model? Would science and technology have proceeded differently? Would the Qing dynasty be the dominant power without the Western challenge? Who knows?

What does this all mean for how we act then? This is where we get to my Principle of Foreseeable Effect. We have to admit that we can't make decisions based upon grandiose beliefs about the nature of the world 300 years from now. Instead you have to act locally with what you do know and what you can reasonably foresee. If you are an American official in 1846, you know that breaking treaties is wrong. Act on that. Yes, it is possilble that something necessary and good will come from what is an immediate bad act. But we very rarely can know that with much certitude. Yes, there was that episode of original Star Trek where Kirk had to let this woman die in order to prevent the Nazis from winning later, but Kirk knew that was the case. At that point he could make an informed decision. But how often do we know that sort of thing? So act on what you do know and let the rest fall where it may. And remember to use your ability to make moral judgements, don't give them up in a fit of despair, but when using those abilities, keep in mind how silly you are and how little you know.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Good news and bad (Llama)

Life of Llama Update...

As you know, my contract here at TASC is nearing an end. Originally it was set to expire in October, but the guys here agreed to extend it till December (for tax purposes). In the mean time I have begun my job search, sent out a couple of resumes, got some useless offers from Monster, and scanned the local paper and the internet for job opportunities.

I've always said my first choice is to come back to the US, but that I wouldn't limit myself to that. My second choice would be to stay here in Thailand. I didn't really think I'd get asked to stay on here at TASC because the work that I've been doing isn't really the kind of work that they, and I, expected to be doing. I thought I'd come here and do some research and data analysis, maybe publish a paper or two or three. The first six months I was here I did that... minus the publishing, but I was very much involved in statistics. But since them I've basically become the tech guy. I'm not responsible for maintaining the office network or anything, but I do alot of data management. This program I wrote for Bangladesh is part of that. I figured that once I got the program finished and installed that they would be happy to send me on my way and bring in someone more scholarly, but I was curious about how they planned on supporting the stuff I've installed for them after I was gone.

About two weeks ago I was approached by Ross (the guy that is the chief adminstrator of the organization) asking me if I would consider extending for at least 6 months, probably longer. They'd "give me more money and a trip back home in December." I had previously told him that I wanted to be home for Christmas. He wanted me to tell him how much money I wanted to stay.

So I thought about, continued to research on the internet for what I could expect to get if I move back home (not as much as I had hoped, to be honest), and came up with a number. I'm now pretty much working for peanuts, although 50% more peanuts than I originally got :) But to stay here longer I wanted a real salary. I settled on a minimum amount. Its less than what I would want in the US, but it's all net... not taxes, so it balances out. I then decided to tack on a few more thousand dollars as a starting bargaining position. I felt pretty sure it would be a no-go because, even though it's not much compared to what Ross and Mike are pulling down, it's still alot more than what I'm making now, and I doubt TASC has much money to pay another full salary.

As we are walking to lunch today, Ross brings it up again. Mike is pressuring him to find out what I want to stay. Ross brings up a "starting point" of double my current salary, exclusive of rent. I am suprised, because that is much more than I thought they would offer. In fact, it's exactly my minimum amount that I had decided on. I told him my starting offer... he thought that was too high, but we negotiated down to double my current salary, inclusive of rent... which is actually closer to my staring position than my minimum one. It's the first time I have actually negotiated salary like that and had it come out in my favor.

So, anyway, Ross is on board and knows what I want, now he just has to present it to Pete and Vi, who hold the purse strings. They may or may not bite. I expect they will, though... they like me and don't get hung up on dollars too much.

All this is to say that, if it comes through as Ross and I have talked about, I will be staying on here for another 6 months at least, probably a year or more. I won't be a fellow anymore but an actual employee. I will, for the first time in years, have a real income... tax free. I will be able to make a good dent in my student loans, maybe even pay them all off (if I'm here for two years). I'll have about two weeks around Christmas in the US, and then come back to work.

I miss everyone in the US, and I do not make this decision lightly. If I was debt free, I don't think I'd even consider staying over here. But it will be much easier for me to reduce or eliminate my debt living over here than in the US. I'd pretty much have to double my salary in the US compared to here to have the same net income, once you consider car payments, insurance, gasoline, taxes, and increased rent and food prices. And this job has been offered... it's a bird in hand, not one in the bush. So, if Pete and Vi agree to the amount, then it's decided.

So that's the good news, and the bad.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Straight outa' Bangkok (Llama)

A couple of pictures for you guys. I've been carrying these around with me for months and never got around to dumping them from my phone till now. But they were taken with you in mind :)

First off we have good 'ole Ronald McDonald. When I got here I found this curious, and other people have commented on it, so I present it to you. What's interesting about his is that Ronald isn't waving, like he does in the US, but Wai'ing, which is the traditional Thai form of greeting. Don't think that just because this isn't the US that McDonalds are any less prevalent. True, Ray Kroc has yet to open one in your average rural Thai village, but they are everywhere in Bangkok. And each one has a Ronald. KFC is everywhere too, with the Colonel. He doesn't wai, but I'm sure his eyes are more slanted than in the US. The only Western establishment more common that KFC and McDonalds is Starbucks. To my knowledge, I am within about 5 minutes walking distance of 4 different Starbucks. I say to my knowledge because there's probably at least one more that I haven't yet discovered. The old joke is true here... I can stand at the door of one Starbucks, look across the street and see another.

Second up is a picture of King Rama V... the most beloved of all Thai kings, and that is saying alot. Rama V is the one that fostered good relations with the West at a time when all his neighbors were being occupied by colonial forces. By giving up a little land here and there, and playing the colonizers against each other (I think the French and Dutch were the main ones...), he managed to make Thailand the only country in South East Asia to have never been under foreign rule. He's also the one that is portrayed in 'The King and I', which I haven't seen, but I understand is somewhat denigrating. Anyway, here's an old picture of him.

What I like about it is that it shows him cooking.... not exactly the typical image one sees of kings. He's got his shirt off, even. But he still manages to appear wise and fair-minded.

This picture is framed and hanging outside a food stall that I frequent.

Anyway, just a couple of small details about life in Bangok.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Amazing coincidences and imagination (paca)

The most amazing coincidence in my life was probably high school. As most of you long-time listeners, first time callers might remember, I went to a boarding school in New Jersey for high school, maybe an hour from Manhattan. As part of an arts program, I once went on a field trip too see the musical "Into the Woods" on Broadway. While hanging out with several hundred other people during intermission, I looked over and saw my uncle and grandmother - from Texas. My uncle was an associate dean or some similar title at UT-Austin for many years and he lead alumni groups on arts trips around the world. And so they were there in New York, at this show, standing near enough to me to be seen, on the same day, just by chance.

Today, I had another great stroke of good fortune. I take B home most days on the back of my bike. On Wednesday, we got home and one of his shoes was gone. I looked outside the door, but no dice. The good news is that they are cheap shoes and we can get another pair. So today - Friday morning - B and I are headed to school, and what's lying right in the bike lane (a bike lane we were not in on Wednesday, but at least it was the same street)? So now we have both shoes back.

In other news, I was just walking from my employer's office to mine with a small knife for cutting cheese. I saw two women walking towards me on the walkway and I suddenly felt a bit weird going towards them with a knife in my hand. So I sort of flipped it upwards to conceal it. Then it felt stranger because I was a 30-something white male (read, serial killer) standing there concealing a knife. I could only imagine it being one of my 1:00 AM nights and me with a chef's knife for some reason instead. They would've ended up screaming and running away to hit the blue security light, or I would have ended up with a can of mace shoved up my....

As it was, I was just going to slice some Brie with an active imagination.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Me and Bobby McB (paca)

Did you know that freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose?

It's clearly been light blogging of late, but things are going on in my life. The big change right now is that N is in Las Vegas from Tuesday to Friday, so it's just me and the B (who is not named Bobby). N will be happy to know that B has officially started missing her - about one hour after he completely ignored her on the phone, depressing her to no end. But during his bath, he called out for maman to come wrap him up in the towel, but there was no maman to come. He explained to me that she was working, which is pretty much right, since she's at a conference.

But we are doing fine. I'm actually supposed to have babysitters tomorrow night. A fellow student who just turned in her dissertation today that I have been helping with editing (and really just explaining what her profs are saying in their comments), and her visiting mom, are going to hang in the apartment from 7:00 - 9:00 tomorrow, while I go to a cafe with a book. The student says she has never watched children much, so I wonder how she will handle the potty trips? Hopefully the mom can deal with pulling a child's pants up and down without too much embarassment. We've actually had our greatest social life in a while with this pair. I invited them to dinner here a couple weeks ago, and then they treated us to a Korean restaurant on Sunday, followed now by babysitting. Go me and my social self.

Here's a completely frivolous note. The less acculturated (is that a word?) someone from Asia studying or working in the U.S. is, the more concerned they will be at a meal about whether or not you the American are capable of using chopsticks. I think this comes from the fact that they still see large differences between their culture and the visiting culture, and so they assume me as different will not be able to use chopsticks. When the same student feels very at home in the U.S, they start forgetting about cultural stereotypes. While the hopeless chopstick users is frequently a fair assumption with American tourists in Korea or Taiwan (the homes of my amazing sample of two people), it is not a good assumption at all in Hawaii. B is three and picks up chopsticks periodically, though they are mostly spears for him at this point.

Paca's wit and wisdom of the day:

The difference between a good parent and a bad parent is 8 hours of sleep.

So I'm headed to bed now. I've got a book on Information Theory, so I'll be out in 5 minutes.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Fiction is so subjective, yes! (paca)

As I've mentioned before, I read several publishing industry blogs. I spend most time probably on Evil Editor's blog. He is an anonymous editor who makes fun of author query letters and drops some useful hints along the way. There's also Miss Snark and Kristin Nelson, who are literary agents. On almost all the blogs, it will come up that judging fiction, or just judging writing, is pretty darn subjective. Some things that might appeal to one agent or one reader just won't appeal to someone else. Usually, this is viewed as either a damnation of literature or just an annoying fact that we all have to live with. However, upon reflection, this is not only a fact to deal with, it is critical for fiction to be worth anything.

Authors write for a lot of reasons, of course. Sometimes it is for fame and fortune; sometimes it is to look good at a cocktail party; sometimes it's a form of personal therapy where the author gets out what's on their mind; but more than any of those things, authors usually want to connect with readers. That's why they seek publication other than to earn a living. They want their words to create a certain experience in another person, usually just for the person to enjoy themselves, but it could be far more as well.

But if the purpose of writing a story is to connect to another person, then almost by definition, writing is going to be subjective. Each reader is different and brings different experiences to the story. The only way to make writing "objective" would be to remove the reader from the equation. Of course if you do that, then you have removed the purpose in writing in the first place.

So literature is subjective and if it weren't why bother writing?