20 March, 2017

The Illusion of Representation

I've spoken out against democracy in the past, because I'm not fond of the notion of majoritarian rule. Yet a lot of people insist (not inaccurately) that we do not live in a pure democracy, but rather a representative democracy. But I have my problems with representative government, too.

[Although, none of these things are black-and-white. I'm not interested in knowing what it takes to run a country, and I think it's neither practical nor desirable to expect every citizen to be involved in that. I have faith that there are people out there with the proper knowledge and motivation, who are better suited to the task of running these things. I just think they should be chosen by, say, grade point average (in fields of relevance) as opposed to public opinion].

The reason I don't feel like voting represents my voice is because I'm voting for people who are not me. And as far as I can tell, they're not like me. The moment somebody I can really identify with runs for office with a conceivable chance to win, I'll become involved in the voting process. Until then, I think there are far less futile ways to have my voice heard.

Elections will occur, and politicians will be elected. With a single vote, I have little influence over that process. The majority will have their way with the system whether I'm involved or not. Instead of giving my tacit approval to everything the particular representative I might vote for thinks, says, and does - whether I actually agree with it or not - a much better way for my voice to be heard is to simply be present in society. And I know - as a hermit, that's not my strong suit. But with even just a little bit of effort, the returns are enormous in proportion to being present at the polling booth.

Being out there in society - both in the real world and online (because though you can say a lot of things about the internet, you can't deny that much of it involves people having social interactions) - letting people see who I am and what I'm interested in, and hearing what I have to say (in my particular case, this is more true on the internet) affirms that I am a part of this collective culture, and that I can't simply be swept under the rug.

And I know that politicians - representatives elected by the public (mostly) - will continue to be the ones in charge of making decisions on important matters. But only a collective consciousness can wield power in an election, and I have more influence over that consciousness by making people aware of my existence and what my concerns are, than I do participating in an anonymous poll.

So don't be a voting booth activist (somebody who campaigns futilely for change only when an election is imminent, and then criticizes people for not voting, as if that's the only and most effective form of activism [note: expressing this opinion makes you look stupid to people who are actually smart - celebrities are not exempt from this rule, either]). Make your voice count in the real world!

14 March, 2017

Scoff Law

"The natural separation of the races is...an undeniable fact, and all social organizations which lead to their amalgamation are repugnant to the law of nature."
 - Supreme Court of Louisiana, city of New Orleans versus Willie V. Piazza (1917)*

I have no faith in the law to uphold such righteous declarations as "women are equal to men", "blacks are equal to whites", or "gays are equal to straights", only because public sentiment has, over the course of history, been shifting in that direction - when anyone can look back decades or centuries and find examples of lawmen justifying the prejudices of the time in the same language used today, which is disguised to look like reason, but in truth hides a wellspring of personal and public bias.

We can work toward shifting emotions - this is an effective strategy, and it is happening all around us - but I'd like to be able to trust in the belief that a competent application of logic will lead us down the path of virtue. Yet this is no more than a fantasy. Homo sapiens is and always has been ruled by its emotions. It is a highly illogical species that irritates me and tries even my patience. I'd prefer to have nothing to do with it.

Not that emotions are not valuable. But when they trump reason, then facts cannot overcome bias, and the outlying individual (along with his rights and freedoms) is swept away by the overwhelming (and irrational) tide of public opinion.

*Context: I've been reading this fascinating book about Storyville (which inspired the highly controversial film Pretty Baby), a unique social experiment in which, for two decades starting at the turn of the twentieth century, New Orleans attempted to establish a legal red light district. The result, while not exactly glamorous (despite how well-outfitted some of those mansions were), was actually a reduction of vice and corruption throughout the city, by keeping it confined and regulated, instead of allowing it to flourish beyond the reach of the law.

Unfortunately, the United States Navy (in its infinite wisdom) eventually stepped in and forced Storyville to close, upon threat of military intervention (because totalitarianism - not freedom - is the American way). But before that happened, the city attempted to produce a second district, so as to enforce racial segregation.

The case quoted here was the result of a complaint by one of the original district's leading personalities, whose business was to be uprooted by this new modification to the Storyville Ordinance, based solely upon the color of her skin. Most of the court's argument wastes time rejecting Piazza's complaint by emphasizing the city's right to regulate houses of prostitution, missing the point that if Piazza had been white, she wouldn't have been facing eviction in the first place - even as the owner of a brothel. But when the court does finally get around to the issue, their legal defense of the doctrine "separate but equal" starts to sound alarmingly like a KKK manifesto.

P.S. Additionally, the amount of weight that precedent carries in a court case bothers me. I'm sure the courts don't want to reinvent the wheel with every case they come across (although with the amount of thought that goes into these cases, I'm not convinced that they don't do exactly that, and are just citing precedent to legitimize their own derivations), but just because one dumbass court made a bad decision once before, doesn't mean that the next court should feel all the more confident in propagating that bad decision. It's inherently biased towards conservatism, and stands as a very real obstruction to progress.

19 February, 2017


Perhaps it's true - as I've gotten the impression from certain people throughout my life - that I possess a certain air of superiority, and a tendency to maybe look down on others sometimes. But I've never really thought of myself as being all that great, despite going through life having people constantly tell me so. It's just that I have such high standards - and I hold myself to them first and foremost. So if others can't always live up to my expectations, it's not untrue that I myself frequently can't live up to them, either.

Time and age and experience has given me some measure of perspective, although I suppose my personality will never change. But I wish I'd realized sooner the difference between my standards and level of performance compared to that of the average. Somehow, being consistently graded near the top of my class wasn't enough; this is one of those unforeseen disadvantages of growing up in a good neighborhood and being surrounded by brilliant people. You're pushed to excel, and provided plenty of examples of what a person is capable of with dedication and proper support. But, then, nothing you accomplish is ever quite good enough.

But if I'd realized sooner what low standards a goodly portion of the population is held to (and holds to itself), I might have learned to settle for what I'm actually capable of, and find happiness and contentment, instead of feeding my anxiety about not ever being good enough. Or, then again, maybe not. Maybe there's no escaping my fate of being unsatisfied. That's the curse of perfectionism. Driven to be better, at the cost of feeling worse. Idiocy is bliss.

14 February, 2017

Love Is

Love is love.

But that? You can't call that love.

(Kinda defeats the whole point of the message, doesn't it?)

29 December, 2016

A Minefield Tribute

"...a case of political correctness spun way out of control."
 - metro.co.uk on Steve Martin's tribute to Carrie Fisher

I support equality of the sexes, racial diversity, and gender and sexual minorities. I feel like that makes me progressive. But I am also a staunch defender of free speech. If you say something insulting or offensive, you are bound to receive criticism. Nobody is immune to that (unless you're in one of those "progressive" safe spaces, ironically). But there's a fine line between that and shouting people down to the point that the public becomes afraid to even talk about certain subjects, and express honest feelings without ill intent. It may not technically be "censorship" (until such time as it actually becomes illegal to be an asshole), but it is a chilling effect that is nearly as effective (more so, in the sense that people tend to over-censor themselves, without a clear guideline as to what is and is not permitted) at stifling the open communication of diverse perspectives.

Women are more than their appearance. By golly, they're human beings! But I'd be terrified to live in a world where we're not allowed to comment on a woman's appearance - even respectfully. I get that women are disproportionately judged on their appearance (compared to men) over other, non-physical qualities. We should indeed be working toward leveling that playing field. But there is nothing shameful about being publicly acknowledged as a "sex symbol", unless you're still clinging to conservative notions of moral purity, which fly in the face of human nature (as the reliable juxtaposition of prudishness and perversity apparent in religious and political leaders ably demonstrates), and contributes to the very stigma that makes sex workers' lives more miserable than they need to be. If sex-positivity is neither conservative nor liberal, then what exactly is it?

"Please be better than Jabba the Hutt."

Honestly, the fact that people are talking about this makes me like Jabba the Hutt a little bit more (although, disgusting as he is, I've always thought he was a cool villain). And let me tell you, I think this is a LARGE part of the reason why so many people like Trump. He's not a great poster child for the free speech movement (and there's plenty of room to argue the space between his public image and his true motives), but it often takes a doofus like him to dare to "sully" his reputation among progressives, who demand that allies fall in line with their ultra-PC mindset, at the risk of being labelled sexist or racist or whatnot (one of the pitfalls of wanting to please everyone). It bugs me that people are so caught up in this "us vs. them" rivalry, that they don't realize the flaws and virtues in each other's positions. They need to join together - consolidating the good, while dumping the bad - to form one perfect super-party.

It makes it hard for me to place myself on the spectrum. (I could call myself Libertarian, but is that actually conservative or progressive? Not easy to say). I guess you could call me a "Wonder Woman feminist" - someone who believes that a woman can be sexy and strong (and/or smart), and that her sex appeal doesn't diminish her other qualities.

P.S. Just saw this bikini, and damn! I wish I were a girl, so I could wear it...

20 December, 2016

The -Saurus

I think about this a lot when writing (and apparently I write a lot - just not fiction), so you might have heard this before.

I once read a quote by Stephen King, who said, "any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word." I've always disagreed with this sentiment vehemently. (I'd be more inclined to forgive it for being taken out of context if the next sentence wasn't "there are no exceptions to this rule"). I suppose it's aimed at "try-hards" who want to spruce up their vocabulary by using words they're not very familiar with. (Is there a word for people who are pretentious about being unpretentious? Because there should be). But my mind works in such a manner that I'll often have a specific word in mind that I want to use, but for some reason, I can't remember exactly what it is.

It's like trying to look at a dim star in the night sky. If you look at it directly, it disappears. But look to the side, and there it is, in your peripheral vision (this is due to the placement and sensitivity of the rods and cones in your eyes). I have a vague sense of the word I'm looking for, and sometimes I stumble onto similar-sounding words that ultimately have different meanings. Using a thesaurus is the best way for me to save myself some agony and potential embarrassment, while preventing me from having to use a synonym with an altogether different connotation, that sabotages the intended meaning of my sentence.

Maybe my vocabulary would be better if I read more (but who has the time? :p), but I never use the thesaurus to find words I don't already know. That's just not it's function in my mind. Although I do sometimes come to the conclusion that the word I'm looking for may not actually exist. Yet.

12 December, 2016

A Sangawa Experiment

The Sangawa Project is an 18+ anime convention held in Pittsburgh (the word sangawa is literal Japanese for "three rivers") as a companion to and partial fundraiser for Tekko. It's a considerably smaller affair (only a tenth the size of Tekko or less), with programming geared towards adults. This is the first year I've attended. It's usually held in December - which is an awkward time for a convention - in the weeks leading up to Christmas; and for the past few years it's been held at the hotel which Tekko used in 2008 (my first year) as a transitional stage before moving downtown to the convention center to accommodate for its growing size. The hotel was tragically small for Tekko then (and Tekko continues to grow each year), but it's the perfect size for the much smaller attendance of Sangawa.

You might be asking yourself, what are the advantages of having an anime convention strictly for adults? I had to ask myself the same question. You see, I'm against age segregation as a matter of principle (it's just another way the government or society makes decisions for other people without considering the individual), and I'm not bothered like some are by "annoying kids who can't stop talking about Naruto" (or as it was in my day, Dragon Ball Z) - I like seeing the fandom being infused with young blood. And, the truth is, there's nothing you can do at Sangawa that you can't do at Tekko (and on a larger scale). It's just that some of it is more out in the open at Sangawa. For example, although it tries to distance itself from the stigma of being labeled a "hentai con" (not that I think there's anything wrong with that - that should be one of its main attractions!), I have to admit I enjoyed being able to browse hentai without having to give someone a secret handshake, or being treated like a pariah.

As my experience with nudism has borne out, it's amazing how not a big deal things can be when you just relax and stop getting yourself worked up over them. (No, I'm not advocating "anything goes" - I just think rules should be informed by cold reason, not heated emotions). One of my favorite activities of the weekend was a hentai coloring contest, in which attendees could stroll in at their leisure to sit down at a table littered with crayons, and choose from a selection of sexually explicit coloring pages to work on (I chose tentacles!). And it was nice being able to sit in for the end of Perfect Blue, and be reminded of what a good movie that is - animation for the sake of art (not just Japanese cartoons), which is what got me into anime in the first place. That's easy to forget in the face of all that titillating violence and nudity, especially with a movie that has as sordid a reputation as Perfect Blue.

There is a not inconsiderable focus on drinking at Sangawa (in place of concerts and raves), although you might be surprised to learn (as I was) that the atmosphere is rather subdued compared to Tekko. I imagine that people at Sangawa are, for the most part (not withstanding treating the IntoxBox as an arcade game), relatively mature. Not being a drinker, I was more looking forward to a concentration of content geared toward older fans of anime, who may have trouble keeping up with all the new series the kids are watching these days. Maybe it's impossible to turn back the clock, but this con was not the time capsule experience I was hoping for. I would have liked to have seen more retro content (I know the new Berserk series is exciting and all, but I was hoping to wax nostalgic with the original series), but I can only reflect on the panels I caught (which, sadly, do not include the Old School AMV Showcase or Retro Anime Worth Watching).

The biggest disappointment of the weekend, however, was a last minute schedule change. One of the traditions of Sangawa (I hear) is their Cosplay Cleanup contest, in which they encourage fans to dress up as their favorite characters, as if they had just stepped out of the bath. In other words, it's a towel and bathrobe cosplay contest, which I thought sounded like fun. So I went and prepared a cosplay I've been wanting to do for years - Griffith at the well (who is technically supposed to be naked, but I compromised with a flesh-toned towel wrapped around my waist; this was also my first experience working with a wig). And then, just days before the con, the contest was changed in favor of a Cosplay Battle Royale, in which cosplayers are pitted against each other in order to - and I quote - "act out silly situations". Yeah. I saw only one or two other cosplayers in bathrobes or towels, and one of them was headed to the hotel pool. I actually saw more non-congoers standing around in towels that night...

Still, I braved the subfreezing temperatures to show off my cosplay. A few people recognized me, which is cool, but mostly it was people telling me I was brave, or asking if I was cold (like, duh?). I was hoping to see a lot more "sexy cosplay" at this 18+ convention. Maybe it was the weather (I brought two other cosplays from this past year's Tekko that I wanted to wear, but ultimately left in the trunk because I didn't want to change out of my warm clothes), but that seems to me like a critical flaw of holding this convention in December. As it is, my favorite cosplayer was a Rider from Fate/Stay Night, although there was also a smattering of sailor senshi, a Deadpool or two, and quite a few Pokémon - including a Snorlax, which you don't see often, and lots of Pikachus in cozy hoodies and onesies (oh, how I would have wowed them with my sexy Pikachu cosplay!). I noted that there was a decided lack of emphasis on taking people's pictures, though.

All around, I'd have to say that I had a fun weekend, but I wouldn't call Sangawa a must-attend convention. It's just not as fun as Tekko, and most of its biggest flaws are a result of its small size. Not enough variety in cosplay. Not a big enough "exhibitor's room" - what was there was good (I bought some melon bread and green tea-flavored mochi, and an issue of Megami magazine - which is the one stuffed with posters of moe girls), but there just wasn't enough of it. I don't think I'd go out of my way to attend in the future (at least not unless they move the con back to July or thereabouts), but I wouldn't turn down an invitation, either, and I definitely wouldn't discourage others from attending if it sounds like something you would enjoy. If you have the time and the money, and need a break from Christmas shopping to hang out with grown up American otaku for a couple of days in December, it certainly helps to tide you over during the long wait for next year's Tekko...

Speaking of which, I'll see you there! -_^