Happy New Year, even though New Year's Eves are gonna suck until 2010

I really can't wait until 2010, when they'll have to stop making these goddamned things.

I mean, I suppose they could theoretically still be made with a 1 blocking out the person's left eye, but they'd likely look so completely fucking moronic that even the crappiest of New Year's Eve specials would refuse to zoom in on crowds of morons wearing the things.

"The new year has already arrived in many cities around the globe! From London to Bombay to Dubai, idiots went around with no depth perception, tripping over ice sculptures, fireworks barges and fried dough stands or local equivalent!"

[Photo shamlessly stolen from some random person's Flickr.]

There's something wrong with a country that labels some marriages as "fraudulent," yet denies marriage to perfectly legitimate committed couples

I heard this story last night on NPR, which talked about recent sting operations that have caught people arranging "fraudulent marriages." The marriages in question are so-called "marriages of convenience," in which a foreign national pays a U.S. citizen to marry him or her in order to obtain a green card and an easier path to citizenship.

Why exactly is this illegal? Sure, some of the stories they mentioned involve U.S. citizens having engaged in multiple marriages, which I understand is illegal (and enforceable -- either you're already legally married or you're not, provided you're an opposite-sex couple). But in the other instances, why is it the government's business to judge these couples, and better yet, why are they spending my money to do it?

(Yes, emphasis on my money, since they seem to be fine taking my taxes and making me file federal taxes as single but not letting me and my spouse have any of the 1,138 federal rights that married couples are supposed to be entitled to.)

What law is being broken here? The story emphasized that many of these couples had met on the same day they were to be married. Since when does that break any U.S. law? Arranged marriages are practiced as a cultural norm by many people, including U.S. citizens, and I've never heard of anyone being arrested for marrying someone chosen by their parents and/or their community.

The story also emphasized that the U.S. citizens had received money for agreeing to these marriages. As far as I know, receiving money such as a dowry as part of a marriage agreement is also not illegal in the U.S., and is certainly practiced by some subgroups here. And I'd like to see the U.S. government try to tell me that no "normal American" ever marries for money or possessions. Riiight.

So, what law is being broken here exactly? The way secular American marriage laws are set up, any consenting opposite-sex couple is allowed to marry for any reason they choose. There are no laws governing the reasons for marrying, the length the couple has known each other, or the way the couple and their families do or do not exchange material goods during the process. There are supposedly laws stating that the intention of marriage is that the couple loves one another, but there's no way to measure that. Especially given that it's legal in the U.S. for a married couple to live apart, to not have sexual relations, to have separate finances, and so forth. Really, there are no enforceable rules regarding marriage in the U.S. aside from "one marriage at a time" and "one man, one woman." The government is not interested in denying marriage to opposite-sex couples who are both citizens. The government is interested in discriminating against non-citizens and queers.

If the government really wants to ensure that marriages only be granted for "proper reasons" or whatever, we should abolish secular marriage and move to a system in which religious bodies grant marriage licenses. I absolutely don't mean a situation in which one state-sponsored church is the only body that can grant a marriage. I'm thinking more like a system where any denomination that fulfils certain criteria -- including things like athiest communities -- would be able to sponsor a couple who wishes to get married. If a couple's community of choice backed the couple as being a "real" relationship, the community could bless (or nonbless, or whatever) the marriage.

Personally, I think this hypothetical system also has tons of flaws -- and I'm not sure I like the idea of unseparating church and state -- but this system at least illustrates a more just alternative to the current system of "anyone can marry except for queers and fore-in-urrs." Clearly, we either need: A) a system in which absolutely any consenting couple can marry, or B) a system in which some sort of fairly objective process is used to assess whether a decent amount of reasonable people view the couple as valid to marry.

If you really want to talk about morals as relate to meat...

The FDA has decided that eating meat from cloned animals poses no risk to humans, but is not going to allow it to be sold quite yet, largely given people's moral objections and other concerns. NPR's Marketplace reported that "the Gallup poll shows that over 60 percent of Americans think it is immoral to clone animals."

Wait, so, based on statistics*, at least 55% of Americans think it's immoral to take some genetic material from an animal and play around with it in a test tube, yet think it's acceptable to kill an animal and eat its flesh.

People don't do a lot of thinking.

*Based on the high-end estimate of 5% of Americans not eating meat, and the "at least" being based on the option that some non-meat-eaters could be pro-cloning

The RMV sucks, but we knew that

This post is dedicated to how much the RMV sucks. No amusing stories, no analysis of the problem, no thoughtful suggestions for how to improve the place. Only suck, suck, and more suck.

OK, so it's not completely baseless. Last week, I went to the RMV to change my name on my license. Which makes me wonder, why is it the Registry of Motor Vehicles? Why can't it be a department like it is everywhere else? Why does everything in this state commonwealth have to have some weirdass name? I suppose it could be worse; they could be one of the departments that insists on being called the Authority of whatever, as if we needed reminding that there is no free market when it comes to turnpikes, subways, ports, educational financing, redevelopment, or water resources. So, I went into the non-authoritarian RMV to change the name on my license. I waited for my cryptic letter-number combination to be called, and went up to the counter. The person didn't even look at the documentation I'd brought in, but just asked me to spell my new name and entered it into the computer. Then he told me to stand against the blue thing to take a new picture.

D'oh, what?

I asked him if my old picture was still in the computer. He said it was, but there's a state law that they can't reuse it when there's a change of information because "everything's gotta match." I assured him that I didn't look any different, and I really liked my old picture. I mean, really, how often does one get a decent-looking ID picture?

He told me they couldn't process it without a new picture, because it's a state law and they aren't allowed to reuse pictures if there's been a name change. This seemed too stupid to even be a state law (nevermind that we're not in a state), so I asked if there was anyone else I could talk to. He told me I could either take the picture or not change my name. So I took the stupid picture. Then I went back to my office, where I checked with others who said that they hadn't had to take new pictures when changing their names. The RMV website also doesn't list this as a requirement:

So, I ended up with this stupid-looking picture:

At least I managed to get the old one back, since I pointed out to him that the paper license says "not valid for ID" on it, and I planned to need ID during the next 7 to 10 business days. He told me that "they're supposed to accept these as ID" and the RMV people aren't supposed to give it back. Which is probably the policy, but I've gotten them back before, usually by a clerk who flat-out tells me I better take the old one since I don't look 21. So I pointed out that I'd been hassled before with the paper licenses, since I don't look 21, he agreed that I might have trouble and gave it back to me.

In defense of safe spaces

This started out as a response to a pointless LiveJournal argument, but I thought it warranted doing more with it.

I've long been a defender of [blank]-only spaces in general. Most of the safe spaces that are created for any reason other than "to make a point" accomplish some pretty great things. I don't even agree with the argument that their creation should be limited to minority-only or oppressed-only groups, as long as there's a thoughtful reason behind why the space was started. For instance, I would support a forum provided for white individuals to talk about issues of race. There are certain things that can be said and done in such a group that can't happen in a mixed group (or worse, in a group that ends up with whites greatly outnumbering people of color). I wouldn't of course support a whites-only country club or somesuch, for obvious reasons.

I also don't think that the organizers of said safe space should have hard-and-fast rules regarding who gets to define as eligible, or should personally determine who is [whatever]-enough to qualify. A friend, who is biracial, once told me about being in a people-of-color meeting in college, seeing a white-appearing woman come into the back of the room to use some journals, and seeing the group leader tell her "sorry, this is people-of-color-only space right now." I don't think that sort of thing is appropriate, because it isn't the place for the leader to assume that the woman couldn't be biracial, or white Hispanic, or have some other entirely respectful reason for being there. I could understand if the woman had come in at the beginning and maybe looked confused about which meeting it was, that someone in the group might approach her apologetically, explaining that they didn't want to assume or to define her, but wanted to make sure she was where she intended to be. After that, it isn't up to anyone else to decide that she isn't "of color enough" to be there (Michigan Formerly Transphobic Womyn's Music Festival, anyone?). Unless, of course, she's coming in and explicitly stating that she's white, doesn't identify as being a person of color in any way, but still feels she should be included. Which brings us to my main reason for defending safe spaces:

Someone who's never drunk alcohol and never thought about doing so wouldn't be kicked out of an alcoholics-only AA meeting, but most of us would wonder why exactly they were there and/or implying that they define as an alcoholic. If they're sitting there stating that they never drink alcohol but just want to make a point that AA is discriminatory, others are surely going to feel that they don't have much of a place in an alcoholics-helping-other-alcoholics meeting, and might feel offended and violated. Not because non-alcoholics are bad or unsafe people, but because you gotta question why someone would want to come to an alcoholics-only meeting and state that they don't drink and don't intend to. If the person is just interested in helping alcoholics, they can become a counselor or volunteer at a detox. If for whatever reason they wanted to just sit quietly and listen and be supportive and state that they're an alcholic but not share anything more than that, no one's going to mind. But if they insist on stating that they don't drink, they're really kind of violating the space that alcoholics have created for themselves.

Same with someone who goes to a queers-helping-queers program. If they want to explore the queer community and are comfortable stating that they identify as queer but not sharing much else, that's fine. They won't even be asked why specifically they're queer -- just being there and being respectful is all that's expected. If they feel that they're queer because they sometimes have thoughts of feeling not-manly-enough or whatever, no one's going to tell them they aren't "queer enough." But if they go into a queers-helping-queers program and tell everyone that "hey, I'm not queer, and I want to make sure everyone knows this, but I want to be part of your queers-helping-queers program anyway," you gotta wonder why. If they just want to help queers, they can become a counselor specializing in working with queer people or they can volunteer for a civil rights group or GLSEN or something.

(Please note that this is not in any way to imply that being queer is analogous to a disorder -- just an attempt to explain why many creators of safe space view it as creepy to violate it in certain ways.)

Kills HIV on contact!

Our agency's Sysco disinfectant/deodorant spray stuff (kills HIV on contact) seems to have been phased out and replaced by a Clorox spray.

Which also kills HIV on contact, says the label.

Shouldn't that be, like illegal or negligent or something?

Sure, it seems quite likely that the spray does kill HIV on contact. Um, so does water. So does just about everything that isn't bodily fluid, since that's the only place it can survive. It's a really fragile virus. Unless you have a moist pool of blood or semen or vaginal secretions or Cowper's fluid sitting around somewhere, you don't have live viruses. If you get a smear of blood from a tissue or something on the counter, and you wipe it up, you've killed any HIV that might have been there. Yes, you should use some sort of disinfectant to kill other germs that aren't so fragile, but HIV isn't one you need to be worrying about on surfaces and so forth.

I wonder how many people have become all germ-phobic by reading the spray and inferring that they could contract HIV from unsanitized kitchen and bathroom surfaces. Or worse, if anyone has inferred that they can prevent HIV transmission by spraying the stuff on their arm after they shoot up or spraying it oh-I-don't-want-to-know-where-else.

Really, there's no reason for the spray to say that. And now at least two brands are saying it. People who know when and how to use disinfectants are already doing so. It isn't like they need to encourage its use with their HIV scare tactics.

Put on your yarmulke, it's time for Chanukah...

Original photo courtesy of Jodie and a lot of beer. This particular incarnation courtesy of images stolen from the internet and a lot of coffee.

The holiday season(tm) makes me more bitter than usual

Listen, Boston Metro, I've long noticed that your stupid feature where you ask three people what they think of something usually involves people who are carefully selected to be demographically as unrelated to the issue as possible, but now you've really gone over the top.

The first time you asked "What do you think about City Hall moving to the Southie waterfront?" you asked three 20-year-old college students. Who I'm sure frequently go to City Hall to pay property taxes, represent their neighborhood associations, fight local zoning proposals, apply for business licenses and get building permits.

This time, you asked three people who DON'T LIVE IN BOSTON. One even lives outside of 495. Granted these people might own businesses in the city or otherwise do business with the city, but I can't see why in fuck's name you would pick three out of three people who don't live in Boston to ask about City Hall. The most brilliant part of it is the quote from Clayton Perkins of Norwood, who says, regarding whether the Silver Line would be sufficient for accessing the proposed new City Hall, "Yeah, it's a brand new line. They might just need more trains."

Yes, they'd need a lot more trains. And they'd also need to first install tracks for them to run on, since the Silver Line is A BUS.

Yeah, Clayton Perkins, you're clearly REAL qualified to give opinions on the infrastructure of Boston.

Cats are dumb. And sometimes they become communists.

I've been worried for the past few days that Molly's cat is a communist. Usually I just worry that she's psychotic and stupid. Actually I don't worry, because there's pretty convincing evidence.

So anyway, she's developed this habit of sitting around staring at me when I'm in the kitchen and going "Mao." She doesn't move when she does this, or approach me, or blink or anything, so there's just this perfectly still cat with a glazed facial expression sitting over there going "Mao. Mao. Mao."

It's creepy.

Last night I decided she at least needed some new vocabulary if she insisted on sitting there and be a zombie like that.

psychotic cat: Mao.
eeka: uh...
pc: Mao.
e: Dammit...
pc: Mao.
e: Mao?
pc: MAO!
e: Mao.
pc: MAO!
e: Mao?
pc: MAO!
e: Moo.
pc: MOO?
pc: Mao?
e: Moo.
pc: MOO!

Bush administration hates gay people, brown people, old people, sick people, and now blind people

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration on Tuesday asked an appeals court to overturn a ruling that could require a redesign of the nation's currency to help the blind.

Justice Department lawyers filed the appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on behalf of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

The appeal seeks to overturn a ruling last month by U.S. District Judge James Robertson, who ordered Treasury to come up with ways for the blind to recognize the different denominations of paper currency.

(And really, Associated Press, can you not read your own stylebook where it says not to use marginalizing terms like "the blind"?)

Welcome to One Smoot, where 0.91% of posts mention paper shredders

Our agency is in the process of developing and implementing a plan for saving energy.

I just suggested we replace the paper shredders with gerbils.

Reply from MGH

Clearly you would be eligible in regards to the birth control criteria. The intent is to try to prevent anyone in the study from becoming pregnant. We could discuss the language of the consent form and the most appropriate way to phrase the language but in the end we are primarily concerned with the safety of the participants in this study.

I'd be happy to discuss this further with you if you'd like. Please give me a call at your earliest convenience if you are interested in participating in the study.

Of course, in the meantime, I discovered that I'm no longer overweight, at least according to BMI number thingies. (I highly recommend developing gross intestinal diseases as an efficient means of weight loss. For all other purposes, I advise strongly against pretty much anything involving the intestinal tract.) So I can't do the study even if I wanted to. No foamy condoms for me, I guess.

You do realize what the point of shredding things is, right?

Attention humanity: when you have a document that's in landscape layout for Godknowswhat reason, and you put it through a typical shreds-in-one-direction-into-strips shredder, it often makes strips of completely readable text.

When you look into the shredder bin and you can clearly read names, addresses, diagnoses, and entire sentences about people sitting there in the shreds, your shredding wasn't very effective, now was it?

In case this is too hard for you to figure out independently, folding the paper in half and shredding it perpendicular to the lines of text, as God intended paper to be shredded, will solve this problem.

I suppose I could use a female condom, but...

MGH Weight Center
50 Staniford Street
4th Floor
Boston MA 02114

To whom it may concern:

I was just reading over the consent form for the lorcaserin study, and I noticed something I wanted to bring to your attention:

In the section about acceptable forms of birth control, "condom plus spermicidal jelly or foam" is listed as an acceptable form of birth control. Later in the section, it says "abstinence (no sexual intercourse), and a partner who cannot get pregnant/father a child are not acceptable methods of birth control for this study."

I am female and am in a monogamous married relationship with a female. If I were to take part in this study, what method of birth control could I use? My partner is not able to get me pregnant or become pregnant by me, but as this is not an acceptable method of birth control, I would need to use one of the acceptable methods, such as "condom plus spermicidal jelly or foam." I guess I would need to know when exactly I would use said condom plus spermicidal jelly or foam. I also ask the same question of an abstinent person. A friend of mine, who is a monk, does not engage in sexual activity. Since this is also not acceptable, she would need to use aforementioned condom plus spermicidal jelly or foam. When would she need to use this in order to meet your requirements?

I recognize that my examples are a bit ridiculous, but I think this points to a logical flaw in your requirements. I understand that these requirements may have been written based on the knowledge that penile/vaginal intercourse often occurs without having been anticipated and/or wanted. However, the fact that condom use is listed as an acceptable method of birth control does not address this, as condoms, unlike hormonal methods of birth control, require planning in terms of their availability and require consent on the part of both partners.

If condom use is acceptable (which I presume refers to its use during penile/vaginal intercourse), why would absintence or sexual relations that cannot result in pregnancy not be acceptable? Based on your logic, my form of birth control would only be acceptable if I additionally agreed to always use a condom and spermicidal jelly or foam during my female/female relations.

Thank you,

More fun with internet filtering

My agency has started using FortiGuard to filter our internet. Other than a few blips (www.haleyhouse.org was blocked due to being "pornography" until a few days ago), it seems to suck less than most filtering. As with most internet filters, the only sites that have been blocked were ones that I legitimately needed for work purposes, yet it's quite easy to pull up any number of illegal and inappropriate websites.

I didn't actually do so, because, um, number one, I'm at work, and number two, it's easier just to go to the filtering company's website and see how they have sites categorized. My workplace is only blocking pornography, weapon sales, gambling, and malware sites, which I suppose is reasonable if they're going to filter at all (see "I can still access porn, but legitimate sites are blocked, op cit).

Massresistance.net and Massresistance.org are listed as "advocacy organizations." So I filled out a request that these sites be reviewed and relisted as "racism and hate."

Here's FortiGuard's description of the category:

Racism and Hate: Sites that foster racial supremacy or vilify/discriminate against groups or individuals by race, colour, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, etc.

Yep, that would be accurate. The only reason these organizations exist is to target GLBT folks. The sites are full of slurs ("sodomite marriages," anyone?) and clearly express that we don't deserve equal rights.

There are some sites (you know, those alleged "pro-family" sites) that I personally believe are hate sites, but which at least present information in a somewhat professional manner and contain a good deal of content not related to promoting discrimination. I wouldn't ask that an internet filtering company list these sites as being "racism and hate." I would prefer that they only use "advocacy organizations" for more neutral causes like illnesses. I don't think everything I disagree with needs to be called "hate," but I do think that sites that only exist to promote discrimination should be labeled as such. FortiGuard specifically lists "sexual orientation" in their description of what constitutes a hate site, so it totally fits.

So, I got an automated e-mail thing back, saying they'd reviewed the sites, and they've recategorized them as "homosexuality."


Homosexuality: This category features subject matter on Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals, including non-pornographic related links such as personals, dating, and on-line shopping.

Dating, on-line shopping, and, uh, being called obscenities and told our families shouldn't have civil rights?

I wrote back and told them that I found this new categorization even more offensive, and explained again that these sites are full of slurs and exist only to advocate discrimination. They wrote back again and said that they're now categorized as "personal websites." OK, so that's acceptable, but still. At least godhatesfags.com is categorized as "racism and hate." I wonder why they can't see that Massresistance is really the same stuff with just slightly less profanity.

Spam isn't spam when it's done in the name of the Lord

I got this e-mail this morning:

Dear blog author:

We recently came across your site, 1smootshort.blogspot.com, while searching for fellow christian bloggers.

A small group of us have started a new site called Christian Bloggers. Our prayer and intent is to bring Christians closer together, and make a positive contribution to the Internet community. While many of us have different "theologies", we all share one true saviour.

Would you be interested in joining Christian Bloggers? Please take a few minutes to have a look at what we are trying to do, and if you are interested, there is a sign up page to get the ball rolling. We would greatly appreciate your support in this endeavour.

May God Bless you and your blogging efforts. We look forward to hearing from you.

Craig Cantin
Christian Bloggers

Please note: you will receive this email only once. You can join or visit Christian Bloggers at any time, but we do not believe in spam, and will not intentionally send this invite more than once. If you have any concerns regarding our anti-spam policy, please do not hesitate to contact us.

So, I sent the following reply:

This absolutely is spam. It's very clear from reading my site that I am not Christian. I'm having trouble believing that an actual person read my site and decided to send me this.

What would Jesus say about combing websites with bots and sending dishonest e-mails?

Jeeves, have you seen my civil liberties?

When you pour hot liquid into this mug from UncommonGoods, lines from the Bill of Rights start to fade away. Pretty cool. I'm not sure though what's up with the catalog description advocating that the purchaser "drink your decaf" from the thing. No one should ever drink decaf. Our founding fathers surely didn't.


This is from monistat.com*:

And no, the site doesn't actually explain anywhere what that's supposed to mean.

*In case anyone's curious, I was on monistat.com in the first place looking for some joke fodder, but ended up finding something much funnier than what I'd gone there looking for.