Monday, 29 June 2009

I'm already sick of today

I'm just going to have to stop reading the news for the sake of my blood pressure:

Overweight celebrities such as Gavin and Stacey star James Corden are making dangerous weight gain appear normal, a medical expert is warning.

Professor Michael McMahon of Nuffield Health says fat stars are seen as role models, helping to make being overweight acceptable.

He says it is akin to the dangers of skinny media images and anorexia.

For fuck's sake. There are about three fat celebrities, and they're all named in that article. And James Corden and Ruth Jones are famous for one show, and Beth Ditto's had one album. That's it, I'm seriously stretching to think of another celebrity who might credibly be called fat. Chris Moyles doesn't count, he's in radio. But apparently the danger of fat people not self-hating for five consecutive waking fucking minutes is so great that we must consider any deliberate portrayal of anyone larger than the accepted standard as a dire threat to the sanctity of our nation. How on Earth can a few fat celebrities possibly outweigh (AHAHAHAHA) the entire modelling industry?

The excellent Melissa McEwan of Shakespeare's Sister said it best:

If you're fat, you're not only meant to be unhappy, but deeply ashamed of yourself, projecting at all times an apologetic nature, indicative of your everlasting remorse for having wrought your monstrous self upon the world. You are certainly not meant to be bold, or assertive, or confident—and should you manage to overcome the constant drumbeat of messages that you are ugly and unsexy and have earned equally society's disdain and your own self-hatred, should you forget your place and walk into the world one day with your head held high, you are to be reminded by the cow-calls and contemptuous looks of perfect strangers that you are not supposed to have self-esteem; you don't deserve it. Being publicly fat and happy is hard; being publicly, shamelessly, unshakably fat and happy is an act of both will and bravery.

The patronising tone of this bullshit is just too much for me.

Researchers found many obese people refused to take any action about their situation with almost one in five not contemplating doing anything to lose weight.

Imagine that! As many as twenty percent of overweight people think you should shut your fucking gob about what you think is best for them!

Tired of this shit. I'm off to found a commune or something.

Say what?

In an article about the Metropolitan Police's botched handling of the G20 protests, something jumped out at me:

Chairman of the committee Keith Vaz said the public "clearly don't understand" the reasons for using kettling and other public order strategies.

"What's acceptable, what's within the police rule book - the use of distraction tactics, for example, slapping or hitting people - shocked the public," he told the BBC.

Wait. Unprovoked violent attacks on protesters is an official police tactic?

You're right, Vaz - I don't think the UK public quite understands that.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

This is interesting as hell. A Swedish couple are refusing to impose gender norms on their child, Pop.

“We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset,” Pop’s mother said. “It's cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.”

The child's parents said so long as they keep Pop’s gender a secret, he or she will be able to avoid preconceived notions of how people should be treated if male or female.

Pop's wardrobe includes everything from dresses to trousers and Pop's hairstyle changes on a regular basis. And Pop usually decides how Pop is going to dress on a given morning.

There seem to be two great benefits here. Firstly, greater autonomy for the child - avoiding all the "don't play with dolls unless they're soldiers" crap. Secondly and most importantly, a lot of people find that their gender doesn't match their sex, and I can only imagine that being raised without the weight of society demanding that your behaviour match what's between your legs helps in those cases.

The article quotes an essential psychologist who disapproves, but I don't buy her objection:

“I don’t think that trying to keep a child’s sex a secret will fool anyone, nor do I think it’s wise or ethical,” says Pinker. “As with any family secret, when we try to keep an elemental truth from children, it usually blows up in the parent’s face, via psychosomatic illness or rebellious behaviour.”

But what truth is being kept from Pop? They know what they look like naked - Pop knows hir biological sex. And Pop's gender is not decided, and wouldn't be decided even if s/he were being raised traditionally. We don't realise this because we expect everyone's gender to conform to their sex, and are totally shocked if our child turns out to be trans. But the fact that the majority decide their gender does match their sex doesn't change the fact that that is a decision. Pop's parents are taking the step of waiting for their child to answer that question in their own time. I think that's great.

Easy Pickings

In September I start my MA in History of Philosophy, and if all goes to plan I'll start my PhD in philosophy a year after that, meaning that in five, six years tops I should be a doctor of philosophy and looking for work. This is an intimidating prospect, for all that it's far off - competition is fierce for academic jobs given how few are available.

But here's a ray of hope - I could become Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto! I would certainly do a better job of it than Professor David Novak, the latest to tilt at windmills and try to make a secular case against gay marriage.

His arguments here are a rehash of long-debunked idiocies, with a patina of pretension. You've heard it all before: the point of the institution of marriage is allegedly to encourage, protect and to a certain degree control procreation and the raising of children. Ergo, vis a vis, concordantly, no queers allowed. I'll quote him directly:

If the public reason for the institution of marriage is to facilitate procreation and the exercise of parental rights and obligations as well as filial rights and obligations, then it follows that marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples. Only they are capable of procreation.

No, it does not follow at all. I have a knife that was designed to cut vegetables, but I am violating no moral law if I use it to open a package. The public reason for the institution of the playground across the road is for children to play in, but I can still have a go on the swings. This is the genealogical fallacy: marriage was "originally meant" for one man and one woman to raise kids in, and nothing can, will, or should ever change. As an aside, here, it's absurdly ahistorical to claim that this is marriage's Eternal Purpose. Control of virginity, economic domination of women, not ringing any bells here?

To the well-known objection that we commonly allow men and women to marry despite their inability or unwillingness to have children, Novak waves an airy hand and quote some Latin:

But I would answer that objection by citing the old legal principle: de minimis non curat lex, which could be translated (freely) as: The law is only made for what usually obtains. The fact is, the overwhelming number of people who marry are fertile and are of an age to be fertile.

But, given the comparative portion of straights to non-straights, this would still be the case given gay marriage.

And then, of course, in reality many gay couples actually do raise children together. But Novak thinks this is gross and mean:

First, consider surrogacy or artificial insemination. This involves a violation of a child’s natural right to have both natural parents raise him or her.

Oh, please. Yes, it is quite properly the assumption that a child's birth parents will raise them. But how on Earth does that become a hallowed right? Where is that right found? Novak barely bothers to argue for this very strange-sounding right, except by a lazy appeal to the presumed feelings of "overwhelming numbers" of children, a tactic eerily reminiscent of this hilarious and revolting NOM ad. Why should, of all things, genetic resemblance - because that is the only criterion for "natural parenthood" being invoked - create mind-forg'd manacles binding two people? That's Blake, by the way. See, we can all quote old things and sound smart. Novak's bizarre hostility to the idea goes so far that he calls it a "conspiracy ab initio to prevent the child so conceived from being raised by —often not to even recognize—his or her own natural mother"! "Ab initio" means "from the start", by the way - why Novak couldn't just say that, I don't know.

The paragraph continues on in that vein, all a hysterical condemnation of homosexuals and liberals based on phantasmagoric "natural rights". He even manages to slip an anti-choice message in there! That's a bonus.

What about adoption, though? Some bright-eyed moppet cruelly abandoned by the doubtless God-fearing heterosexual couple whose natural and decent copulation brought said moppet into this vale of tears, couldn't this kid be raised by Two Daddies? Novak grudgingly admits that it's probably better for an orphan to be raised by a gay couple than to labour their short life in some Dickensian workhouse, but het couples should still be given preference! Why?

That is because a heterosexual couple can better simulate—perhaps improve upon—the heterosexual union that produced this child and should be raising this child. It better simulates the duty of the natural parents to this child, a duty they would not or could not exercise. This, by the way, is not arguing empirically that opposite sex couples are necessarily better at raising children than same-sex couples. My arguments are based on the concepts of rights, not on the concept of utility. Thus my arguments are a priori, not a posteriori.

Because heterosexual parents look more like the kid's genetic parents! What an utterly specious bit of logic. It's a fun concept to play around with, taken to its logical conclusion ("Okay, apparently Timmy's mum liked Star Wars, how do you feel about that? And would you consider dying your hair? We're really trying to create as much resemblance as possible...") but an utterly silly standard for adoption. The logic here seems to be "heterosexual unions do produce children, therefore heterosexual unions ought to raise children". This involves two logical leaps in one bad argument - from "do" to "ought", and from "produce" to "raise"! Kids, try and colour in the blanks! Why a heterosexual couple's duty to children in their care differs substantially from a homosexual couple's duty to children in their care would seem to be the cornerstone of this argument, so it's a shame that Novak doesn't even bother to mention it.

This is illogical, insubstantial nonsense, which I strongly suspect is an attempt to justify a pretheoretical dislike of homosexuals. Surely someone, somewhere, can do a better job than Novak.