blah blah Kim Kardashian blahdy blah

Dear everyone:

Can we all shut up about Kim Kardashian’s divorce for a second? Here’s the deal: Kim Kardashian is a free woman in a free country. She’s free to get married and/or divorced because she feels like it, or because she thought it was a good idea, or as a publicity stunt, or FOR ANY REASON AT ALL WHATSOEVER. Yeah, ok, it’s a publicity stunt. But so what? Number one, the joke is on you because you paid attention. Number two, I am so fucking tired of hearing BLAH BLAH SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE SMIRK. Well, ok, conservatives have been riding that pony since forever and certainly won’t stop on my say-so. But liberals should know better, and yet inevitably otherwise well-meaning people will trot out this horrible HOW CAN YOU NOT LET GAYS MARRY WHEN KIM KARDASHIAN BLARGLE FLARGLE.

Let’s get something straight (no pun intended): marriage, for everyone, is a civil fucking right. The case for allowing everyone to marry the person they love does not depend on whether or not Kim Kardashian lives up to your stringent standards of what constitutes a valid marriage. Going on about marriage sanctity makes you sound like a self-righteous dick with no legitimate case for self-righteous dickery. Marriage is not sacred; it’s a civil institution and people are free to take advantage of it as they see fit. If Kim Kardashian wants to be married for 72 days, well, shit, that’s her prerogative, and I’ll defend her right to do so even as I implore everyone to stop paying attention to her silly antics.

POSTSCRIPT: Just in case it’s not clear (due to departure from my usually overly prolix style) this isn’t about LEAVE KIM ALONE, it’s about STOP BUYING INTO CONSERVATIVE FRAMES ON MARRIAGE.

Lust for Life

I don’t know very much about the Troy Davis case. Even given that I’m someone with a tentacle in almost every corner of the internet, it somehow passed me by; these things happen. I have read a number of things both from official news sources and from people whose judgment I trust which allege that the convictions against Davis were based on the flimsiest of evidences, now discredited; I see no reason not to believe these allegations, given my general skepticism towards pretty much any criminal allegations made by agents of the state. The standard is supposed to be “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and from what I can tell that standard wasn’t met. Of course, on the morning of this writing, it doesn’t matter anymore for Davis, who was executed in Georgia last night. But maybe it might matter to others in the future.

There are two tragedies when a death penalty is enacted, and the most obvious and direct one is the possibility (or, indeed, sometimes certainty) that an innocent individual has been irrevocably deleted from society. I take it for granted that executing an innocent person is never acceptable, and have no interest in deploying arguments designed to convince anyone of this. Anything else turns the concept of justice into an absurdity. But the second tragedy of the death penalty, which operates even when it’s exercised on the obviously guilty, is the tragedy of what we become as a society when we condone (or worse, demand) the imposition of the ultimate sanction by the state.

There is a good dialogue on the death penalty between Justin Smith and Gerald Dworkin here. One of the notable features of this dialogue is the distinction between Dworkin’s relatively abstract philosophizing and Smith’s repeated appeals to the idea that the death penalty is incompatible with our stated societal goal of not being cruel. I’m not knocking Dworkin here, but I think it should be obvious where my sympathies lie. We have a certain notion of ourselves as a society capable of mercy, and not only that, but incapable of (or at least strongly averse to) cruelty (this tendency is so strong that even in circumstances where the treatment is obviously cruel, c.f. waterboarding, Bradley Manning’s confinement conditions, etc., the overwhelming initial reaction by defenders of that treatment is not to accept the cruelty as necessary but to deny that it’s cruel at all). And I side with Smith when he says that we can’t reasonably sustain those notions when we allow ourselves to employ the mechanism of the state to take the life of another human being, guilty or not.

Because in the end, I believe that a necessary condition of being a moral society is that we be a society that rejects cruelty and bloodlust, even for the worst among us. And when we allow ourselves to be ruled by that bloodlust, we take one step down the road that leads to a descent into barbarism.


A meditation upon buses

This morning, I decided instead of walking or driving to take the bus to work. It should surprise no one that this was a major mistake on my part, but it did give me time to do some thinking.

Consider: I left my house at a quarter past 9, and arrived at just about 10:15 in my office. That means that door-to-door my trip, which is about 1 mile and change in distance, took just under an hour. When I arrived at the bus stop 3 minutes after leaving my house, there were already 4 or 5 people there, which meant that I hadn’t just missed the bus. We waited for about 20 minutes before a fully loaded 61C passed us by without stopping, and I was treated to the wholly depressing sight of an elderly woman futilely banging on the bus doors as the bus driver basically ignored her (although it’s not clear what he could have done, since people were packed into the bus literally up to the very door itself). Then another 20 minute or so wait until a 61D picked us up and took about 10 minutes to get to the stop where I exited, and from which it’s about a 5-ish minute walk to the office.

This is clearly completely fucking stupid. I realize not many people know Pittsburgh’s layout, but the 61C and 61D traverse the Murray-Forbes corridor, which is a major artery that not only links residential areas to the two major universities (Pitt and CMU) but also takes people all the way into downtown. It makes zero sense to run buses through this corridor in such a way that people have to wait 40 minutes just to get on. What makes it worse is the total lack of coordination between the buses; last night, trying to travel essentially the reverse of this route, I was passed by 3 fully loaded buses before I managed to catch one, with buses showing up within minutes of each other followed by long stretches (usually a good 20 minutes) without any bus at all.

When I compare this with the time it would have taken me to drive to work (5 minutes to clear my car of snow, less than 5 minutes for the drive proper, 10 minutes walk from parking to office) it makes no sense for me not to drive. I don’t want to drive, and I don’t mind paying a 10-minute premium in time for not driving, but I don’t want to pay a 40-minute premium. That’s just absurd. Hell, I could walk that distance in less time than it took me to catch the bus today, although walking in the snow sucks.

But this isn’t really about me so much as it is about that grandma who was banging on the bus doors. Me, I’ve got options. For me this was an annoying inconvenience, but one that I can get around if I so choose. After all, I’ve got a car, and I’m also young and healthy so I can just hoof it if I want to. Grandma can’t, and shouldn’t have to. And when public officials undermine the transit system, those are the people that are going to get hurt the most: the people who can’t afford to drive or for whatever reason can’t walk.

I see this as a pernicious consequence of public transit being viewed by many Americans as something that exists “for other people.” Poor people ride buses; real Americans drive. And this leads to the creation of a public transit system that’s stupid and inefficient, and then that stupidity and inefficiency is used as an excuse to destroy the same system (which is still better than no system at all). Instead of having an efficient system that everyone can use in lieu of driving, we have a crappy system that no one really wants to use and which isn’t competitive with driving when viewed from the standpoint of time-efficiency.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends

I can’t stop thinking.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel that way. When I was young, I would eat breakfast while reading the backs of cereal boxes; not because the backs of cereal boxes were particularly edifying but because I was obsessed with words. I didn’t have a consciousness of this at the age of ten, of course. All I knew was that I liked reading the words on the back of the boxes. Later, for reasons now lost to the dusts of history, my parents took out a Time subscription and my limitless desire for words found a new object. And ever since a very young age, I’ve never been at ease when I’m not consuming or producing words in some way.

I’ve been consuming words for a long time now. That process has pushed so much information into my head that, mentally, I swim in it. One cannot, after all, get away from oneself; I find myself walking through airports and unbidden a thought comes into my head and then I have to process it in some way, torture it into a semblance of coherency. I don’t know how to turn that off and I certainly wouldn’t want to. But despite it I feel an inadequacy in my approach to the situation; it’s too undisciplined, too unbalanced. There aren’t enough pressures on me to put my disparate ideas into a structure that makes sense, and the nature of my work is such that, with the exception of those ideas that pertain to that work, I won’t find that kind of pressure there. Perhaps I’m insufficiently motivated to apply that pressure to myself. That certainly has been the case in the past: I’m irresponsible and undisciplined at the best of times.

Every year, we go through a farce we call New Year’s resolutions, which at this point are a comical performance we put on for our friends and families, while winking. I’m trying to do that dance this year, with a measure of sincerity. Arbitrary phases in the solar cycle may not mean anything, but we like to think they represent an opportunity to change something. This text is one step towards the things I would like to change. My goal isn’t as specific as losing a certain number of pounds or accomplishing a certain set of tasks, but rather to work on self-discipline, manifesting it in both physical and intellectual aspects. The end goal, I suppose, is to be swimming through that river of thought in the directions I want to go, rather than being carried along like a piece of driftwood. We’ll see how much I manage to get done in the course of the year, but now, refreshed by a nice little vacation, is as good a time to start as any.

Happy New Year, people.

It’s “Hear! Hear!” dumbasses

Not “here, here!” Does that even fucking make sense? No! “Here, here!” is what you would say if you found the treasure and wanted to let the other pirates know where it was. Or if you’re a forward in the Primera Liga and you’re making a run into space, and you’re yelling, “aqui, aqui!” to your holding midfielder to make the pass. But if you are trying to voice agreement with a particular statement, as though you might be encouraging people to listen to it, then it’s “hear, hear!”

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.