Capital Embarrassment

lunedì, 2012-10-22; 13:39:14

This November, Californians have a lot to vote for. The President, a senator, Congressional representatives, and many state and local representatives are up for election, not to mention the various measures and propositions on the ballot. Statewide, Californians have a huge slate of state initiatives to understand and decide on.

Before proceeding any further: if you haven’t yet registered to vote in California, do so now. Just last month, California started accepting voter registrations online here. Today is the last day to register if you want to participate in the elections next month. You have until midnight to submit the form.

Back to the issue at hand: of the statewide initiatives on this November’s ballot, the most important one concerns the death penalty, Proposition 34.

Like Proposition 8 four years ago, the meanings of “yes” and “no” are a bit confusing. Usually, voting “no” on a voter initiative preserves the status quo. In contrast, for a referendum, like Proposition 40 on this year’s ballot, a “yes” preserves a law that was already passed. Confusingly, both are labelled “propositions”.

With Proposition 34, voting “no” preserves the death penalty in California. Voting “yes” abolishes it. Here are three reasons to vote yes, and get rid of the death penalty.


Contrary to what you might expect, incarcerating someone for life is actually cheaper than putting them to death. Since balanced budgets are the concern du jour, this is one of the most potent arguments for voting yes this election season.

Why is it more expensive to put someone to death? Because of all the costs for all the inevitable appeals, last-minute stays, and procedures that the state needs to go through in order to finally get to execute someone. And this is how it should be: if we allow the death penalty, we should be absolutely sure that proper procedures were followed at every step of the way.

According to the Official Voter Information Guide of California, a fiscal analysis was done by the state on proposition 34, and here are the fiscal effects of voting yes:

In total, the measure would result in net savings to state and local governments related to murder trials, appellate litigation, and state corrections. These savings would likely be about $100 million annually in the first few years, growing to about $130 million annually thereafter. The actual amount of these annual savings could be higher or lower by tens of millions of dollars, depending on various factors including how the measure is implemented and the rate of death sentences and executions that would take place in the future if this measure were not approved by voters.


If money concerns don’t sway you, then the doubt in the system should. Even with all the appeals and procedures and wait time for putting someone to death, there is still a significant portion of prisoners on death row who are likely innocent.

The most well-known effort to exonerate innocent victims on death row is The Innocence Project. They primarily prove that convicted individuals could not have possibly committed the crimes through DNA evidence. Despite the availability of DNA testing for several decades now, many of these prisoners may have been convicted decades ago when it was not available to them.

Amazingly, even though DNA evidence is now readily available and can still be used for crimes that happened years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States only recently ruled that prisoners have the right to get DNA testing after they’ve been convicted. Many of these convictions were based on shaky eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence, and DNA testing could easily prove that they didn’t commit the crimes they were convicted of.

To date, The Innocence Project has cleared 300 people of the crimes they were convicted for. 17 of those were on death row. According to the Death Penalty Information Center and their fact sheet, there have been 1308 executions in the United States since 1976. 141 prisoners on death row have been exonerated in that time. That’s about a 10% error rate.


I don’t think it’s acceptable that 10% of the people that we execute are innocent.

And even when innocent prisoners are exonerated, they’ve been in prison for decades, and are barely able to cope with reintegrating into society. Exonerating them doesn’t give them back the decades of life they lost, and their future decades are often not that bright.

There are 3170 inmates on death row as of April 2012. 724 are in California. Statistically speaking, by voting yes on Proposition 34, you can save 72 people from being wrongfully executed.


This is perhaps the weakest argument of the three, but I believe there’s a moral imperative not to execute people, regardless of whether they’re guilty or not.

State execution is tantamount to giving up on a person. The (often missed) point of incarceration, fines, house arrest, or any other consequence of breaking a law is that it teaches that person that what they did is wrong. It’s not about revenge.

It’s such an important point that it bears repeating:

Justice is not revenge.

The state should not be in the business of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” justice. That is irresponsible and reprehensible. We should be committed to rehabilitating convicted prisoners so that they can be reintegrated into society, understand what they did wrong, and be able to function normally. Sure, that’s doesn’t seem to be the end result of incarceration today; we certainly have more to do on that front as well. But that doesn’t justify killing someone just because they killed someone else.

To be sure, convicted murderers shouldn’t necessarily be released from prison, ever. But the goal is still the same: to try and reintegrate them into society. To understand the circumstances in their life that led them to that event, and to prevent that from happening again.

Killing someone is the ultimate repudiation of rehabilitation, and it is wrong, no matter how you slice it.

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mercoledì, 2012-05-09; 02:26:27

Fellow humans, we need to talk. Take a moment, and read the following statement.

I’m on a diet because I’m trying to lose weight.

Does this describe you?

If it does, stop it. Shut up. You’re doing it all wrong.

If you’re worried primarily about weight, you have a body image problem, not a weight problem. Your primary concern should be your health, not your weight. Your weight is just an imprecise number, which, at best, only gives you a vague indication of how healthy you are. At worst, it is completely inaccurate.

You are in serious need of a recalibration of your priorities. It’s OK, many people think this way. I think this way sometimes. It’s hard not to, due to advertisements and social norms that profess a singular supposed truth: lighter is better. Thinner is more attractive. Get ripped and you’ll live ‘til you’re 200. But it’s just not true.

Being healthy does not mean being light. Being healthy means a number of different things. It means being happy. It means getting enough sleep. It means eating a balanced diet. It means getting enough food for your body. It means getting a moderate amount of exercise. It means that your blood pressure is normal. It means that your cholesterol levels are low.

It does not mean that your weight matches some magic number.

I’m on a diet recommended by my nutritionist.

No, stop it. Shut up. You’re doing it wrong.

“Nutritionist” is a euphemism for “quack who takes your money”. Your “nutritionist” is lying to you. Unless your personal physician, also known as a doctor, personally recommended you to a dietician, then they are fleecing you and your “diet” is dangerous.

Are you happy? Are you getting enough sleep? Do you have enough energy to get you through the day? If you answered no to any of these questions, your first stop should be your doctor. Not a “nutritionist”. Not a self-help dieting book. Your doctor.

I cannot emphasize this enough. Your doctor is uniquely suited to tell you whether you are healthy and the best steps to become healthy if you aren’t. Again, the word “healthy”. Health, not weight. Your doctor can test your blood pressure, your cholesterol, and can give you recommendations on your diet, as well as diagnose diseases that may prevent you from being healthy. There is no need to throw money at anyone else.

I’m on the Atkins low-carb diet.

No, stop it. Shut up. You’re fucking DOING IT WRONG.

The low-carb diet is dangerous. And dumb. And ineffective. I can refute the entire low-carb diet with two words:

Italy, France.

You know how many fucking carbs Italians eat? They eat PILES of carbs, at EVERY meal. Breakfast for Italians involves tea or coffee and some sort of brioche. That’s bread. Yep, that’s right, carbs! You know what they eat for lunch? Pasta. A literal pile of carbs. Oh, and copious amounts of bread to sop up the rest of the pasta sauce. Yup, more delicious, delicious carbs. And dinner? More pasta, more bread, sometimes potatoes. Yup, carbs at EVERY SINGLE MEAL.

I should know, I’m an Italian.

And then there’s France. Hooooly shit, these guys invented the croissant (yeah, yeah, fucking Austrians, I know that’s not true) and eat them for breakfast. CARBS. And then of course there’s the baguette, again ANOTHER CARB. Oh, and of course fatty, delicious Brie cheese and other delicious, delicious cheeses. Those aren’t carbs, but cheese isn’t something routinely recommended while on a diet.

What do Italy and France get for gorging on carbs?

That’s right, bitches, the French and Italians are some of the healthiest people in the world! In terms of life expectancy, France and Italy are ranked higher by the UN than the United States, the low-carb diet capital.

It is amazing to me how many people with great critical thinking skills fall prey to the low-carb diet. It is possible that for certain people, going on a low-carb diet would be good for them. AFTER consulting their doctor. But the notion that a single diet can be the miracle cure for all your problems is delightfully laughable, a wondrous delusion that afflicts a surprising number of well-informed people.

To be healthy, I need to stop eating foods that I like.

No, stop it, SHUT UP. You’re doing it wrong. Again.

Being healthy doesn’t mean you have to stop eating foods that you like. Being healthy means that you eat healthy. That you eat a balanced diet. Most of the time. A little deviation here and there isn’t going to hurt you much.

Yes, if you go to McDonald’s all the time, then you’re going to need a serious recalibration in the foods that you eat. And if you don’t like fruits or vegetables, you’re going to need to find a way to like them, because they give you an important set of nutrients.

But eating healthy doesn’t mean your whole entire meal consists of olive oil.

Eating healthy isn’t hard. Eating healthy means eating a piece of fruit every day. Strawberries are yummy. So are peaches, bananas, kiwis, pineapples, and apples. You don’t need to gorge on them. Just eat one piece. Every day. Eating healthy means eating a couple vegetables every day, some bread every day, and some protein every day. If you get a little bit of each, you’re doing fine. And if you fail every so often, don’t worry, it’s OK. There’s no need to feel guilty or discouraged.

I can guarantee you, no matter how picky an eater you are, you can learn to like vegetables. Maybe not all of them, but I’d wager that there’s some sort of healthy vegetable dish that you’d like. (Soups are one of my favorite ways to eat vegetables.) Keep looking, keep asking, keep exploring until you find a vegetable dish you like. And then find another one.

Enjoying vegetables is almost a delusion. But a delicious, delicious delusion. As a fake vegetarian (I eat fish and seafood), vegetables are more satisfying to me than any other kind of food. Once you learn to like some sort of vegetable, and everyone can, it gets easier to start craving them rather than recoiling in horror at the thought of them.

But it takes time. Keep at it.

Eating healthy takes too much effort.

Stop it, you’re doing it wrong.

There are two simple and easy steps that will go a long way to eating healthy.

First, cook. Make the meals that you eat. When you cook, you’re more aware of what goes into the food you eat, you’re in control of what goes into the food you eat, and you’ll be more informed about how balanced your diet is. You’ll know just how much butter and sugar goes into those cookies you love. And you’ll know exactly how much salt is put on your food. And how many fruits and vegetables are in each dish.

Cooking doesn’t have to be hard, or take much time. Salads are quick, easy, and healthy. I love salad with tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. It takes five minutes to make. Soups are pretty easy, too. They take longer to make, but usually involve a long period of time simmering on the stove, during which you can do other things. Pasta is easy and quick, too, and many yummy pasta sauces can be made in about 10 minutes. I love broiled or grilled vegetables: get some asparagus, potatoes, brussel sprouts, and throw them in a casserole dish with a little olive oil and garlic, and broil them in the oven or grill them for about 20 minutes until they start getting a little black. Mmmmm, so yummy.

Second, write down what you eat. There’s no need to look up the calorie count. Just write down what you eat, and approximately how much. Keep a diary with you, and take the thirty seconds to record your meals, at every meal.

The very act of recording your diet will be an incredible eye-opener, and will easily reveal what you eat too much of, and what you don’t eat enough.

I don’t have enough time or money to exercise to be healthy.

No, you’re still doing it wrong.

Everyone has time to exercise. Everyone. Being healthy means getting a moderate amount of exercise every day. It doesn’t mean that you have to bike 50 miles, or do 100 pushups, or run a marathon every day. It means around thirty minutes of doing something other than sitting.

Go out for a walk. Just for thirty minutes. You don’t need to walk fast, or uphill, or far. Just take a stroll for 30 minutes. Or hop on a bike for a bit. Or do some gardening, if you like doing that. Or stand. Or swim. You can do pushups or sit-ups if that’s your sort of thing, but it’s not required. Just 30 minutes.

There’s no need to spend money, either. Exercising at the gym is one of the most boring and unhealthy ways to exercise. People pay money, to congregate in the same location, to share exercise equipment and showers, to sweat and get germs all over them. Ew, it’s so fucking gross. And dumb. Get out! Enjoy the sun! Enjoy a walk in the park, or by a lake if there’s one near you. Find someone to walk with, and gossip for 30 minutes while you walk. But for fuck’s sake, don’t exercise inside a building.

Walking is easy, effective, and costs nothing. Everyone can walk. Pushups don’t require spending any money either. You can do them at the park! Biking requires a bike, but most people have a bike. If not, you can usually get a cheap, used one off Craigslist!

I’m not ripped, therefore I must not be healthy.

Ugh, you’re really doing it wrong.

Being healthy does not necessarily mean you have great abs. And having great abs does not mean you are healthy, either. Great abs are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for good health.

This guy is unhealthy. (Lololol, and he’s a total douche.) This guy is unhealthy, too. And his suggested meals make me gag.

I know the porn you watch shows people with great abs and all the great sex they get because of it. And a lot of advertising subtly suggests the same message, without quite as many explicit visuals.

Almost everyone thinks this way. I think this way. I’d probably be more attracted to someone who has great abs over someone who doesn’t, all other things being equal. But it doesn’t mean I only go for people with great abs. And neither does anyone else. Anyone who only dates people with great abs will never be in a healthy relationship. Don’t worry, you can get great sex without having great abs.

But you need to be comfortable with your own body. That is part of being healthy: a healthy body image. Depending on your genetics, it may even be hard for you to lose fat or get great abs. But that doesn’t mean you’re not healthy.

Your health should be the #1 thing you’re concerned about. Not your weight, or your abs. Everything in moderation, as the pithy and usually inaccurate saying goes. But when it comes to health, it’s spot on. Eat a little bit of everything, get a little bit of exercise, and worry only a little bit about the foods you eat.

Do that, and you’re doing it right.

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Control and Loss

mercoledì, 2012-01-04; 13:19:30

One night, while traveling in Goa, I had a dream about my brother. I don’t usually remember what happens in my dreams, and if I do, only little. Sometimes I experience a vague emotional feeling from dreams for a few hours, even if I don’t remember specifics. I once tried to keep a journal at my bedside to remember details before they slipped away during those first few hazy seconds of consciousness. I never got farther than three or four entries.

For this dream, the only detail I remembered was an observation I made to my brother. I said to him, “Wait, you’re not supposed to be here. You’re dead! This must be a dream.” It was a bizarre and sobering moment of lucidity. And then I awoke.

I was in a melancholy mood for the rest of the next day. I cried during an autorickshaw ride. I thought about him while walking with my friend along the beach in the afternoon.

I had that same feeling only once before, while moving out of the apartment that he and I shared for the one and a half years before he died. I moved most of the stuff by myself for the whole day, and for about six hours post-midnight. Almost finished, I sat down on the white rug in his ~100 sq. ft. room. I looked around at the full-length mirrors of his former closet, along the same wall as the door to his room, where his extensive collection of jackets, collared shirts, and shoes used to reside, and at the place where his old bed — an old wooden heirloom, almost 100 years old, which belonged to my great-grandparents at one point, now mine — used to sit, across from the closet. In the other corner opposite the door used to be a round, wooden coffee table that he used as his nightstand — also now my nightstand — and an old, white conservator’s light on a swing-arm. I can remember that round table for as long as I’ve been alive.

As I was sitting there, looking at the empty room, it felt like I was leaving him behind. Like this apartment — where we shared many laughs about the poorly-edited notices from the property manager, had drunk discussions with his friends about religion, and had “IMs” with each other on the kitchen whiteboard — would forever be the tomb for his memories. That the physical space where we shared those memories is where they are stored.

I’ve experienced the death of someone before, of a grandfather, an aunt, and a couple great aunts and uncles, but never with someone with whom I’ve shared the vast majority of my life. Gianni was there when I was a toddler, throwing balled socks up in the air to make me laugh. He was there when we launched model rockets with my uncle in Seattle, when the rocket stuck to the launch pad and burned a hole through it. He and I organized a party at my parents’ house when they were away, just a few years ago, when his friends and I made fun of him by dressing me the way he used to. Even when he was a pilot for a charter airline on the east coast, he would frequently return home, and I would pick him up from the airport in the beat-up 1986 Honda Civic we shared.

Experiencing the death of someone close is an intensely emotional experience. I’d always heard about the five stages of grief. For me, there was only one stage: sadness. First, sadness, at the hospital with friends and family, seeing everyone crying, not allowing myself the same luxury of breaking down. Then, extreme sadness, for the next few days, when his death really hit me, when I wanted to be by myself, away from everyone who wanted to comfort me. Then, less sadness.

Everyone is also quick to offer condolences, and I know they mean well. But it always comes off as being sad or trite: with some, I can tell they’ve experienced what I’ve experienced, and I know they’ve gone through what I’ve gone through, felt what I’ve felt. You can hear it in their speech, see it in their eyes. And that makes me sad, that so many other people experience this. With others, you can tell they haven’t yet experienced this, that they just don’t understand. So their words ring hollow. It’s an emotional reaction, but it’s how I react nonetheless.

The best way I have to cope is to be hyper-rational. It’s not my fault. I couldn’t protect him every second of every day. He lived for 30 years, short by contemporary standards, but, historically, long. And, most importantly, I was close to him for the last 1.5 years of his life. The last thing I said to him was, “You make breakfast, I’ll make lunch”, as we planned for Father’s Day the next morning. I watched him walk away in his motorcycle jacket for a few seconds, then turned around and went back into our apartment.

The most lasting feeling from my brother’s death, though, is the profound lack of control. It’s simultaneously extremely disconcerting and comforting. I fear the possibility of death more acutely now. I think about scenarios for my demise in everyday life. What if a driver suddenly loses control while I’m standing on the curb, and starts careening towards me? Which way will I run? What if someone pushes me on to the train tracks while the train approaches the station? How can I prevent it? How will I get out of a crashing plane? Would there be a parachute on board? When is the optimal time to jump out? I’ve actually thought about these questions.

But then I think about how long I’ve lived without even considering such events. How, for the most part, cars stop at red lights and stop signs to let me cross. How doctors agree to check my symptoms and prescribe me medications that not only aren’t harmful, but will cure my ailments. How I can do work, in exchange for money, which I can in turn exchange for food, clothing, and shelter. How society functions by certain rules that allows most of us — excluding, sadly, my brother — to live long, healthy lives.

Two days after my brother died, I went up to my friend’s house in San Francisco. Looking out over the city from his apartment on a hill, people were still walking to work, tall high-rises stood where they always have, the obnoxious, constant ringing of the cable car bells could still be heard as they passed by. Nobody noticed my brother’s death. Nobody noticed my grief.

Far from being painful, it comforted me. The city, a living entity, continued on, unconcerned with the death of one person important to me. Death is a normal part of life. It happens, we deal with it, and move on, keeping memories of events past. This is how it was, it is, and always will be.

So I keep the memories. And laugh when something reminds me of them. At the silly images and videos from the Internet that we would exchange with each other. At the way he would say silly things, mashing together two unrelated words that sounded similar, even from different languages. At his stories of playing practical jokes on flight attendants, asking them to bag lavatory “air samples” for subsequent testing, and of tying a small camera and battery pack to his pet cat in college, viewing the subsequent cat antics in real-time through the TV, in first-person view complete with cat ears. At how we took “butt run” pictures on top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

And he loved sports, playing soccer with my dad almost every week. And he loved literature that I have not yet spent the time to read, like Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. And he loved motorcycle riding. And cooking.

And my mom and dad and I, we remember him. We set up an endowed scholarship at his alma mater. In October, we spent his 30th birthday in Firenze, the first after his death. At Thanksgiving, we reminisced about the Thanksgiving-in-a-slice cake that he made a few years ago. And we ate dinner with his friends on the six-month anniversary of his death in December.

And funny cat videos are still traded and viewed by millions. And the apartment we shared is rented out to someone else, unaware of the memories that still linger in the air in his bedroom. And the bells on the cable cars of San Francisco continue their loud, obnoxious rings, oblivious that to one person, they will no longer be heard.

Gianni and Taddeo
Tomato Explosion Comment on Whiteboard
Gianni's Buttrun on the Leaning Tower of Pisa

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Mission Dolores Bell Tower, Contrail, Moon

sabato, 2009-11-28; 15:41:27

Picture of Mission Dolores in San Francisco

I took this picture on Thursday, while walking to BART to go to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.

I looked up in the sky and I noticed a nice airplane contrail with the moon nearby. I was near Mission Dolores at the time, so I figured I’d take a shot of the bell tower with the contrail and moon. My intent was to capture the contrail and moon next to each other, but I was moving out of the way of the tons of power lines, so I guess I managed to place the moon dead-on target. Looks pretty cool, IMHO.

I could crop out those last two power lines, but I think they actually make a nice contrast to the line of the contrail.

Also, there’s a big pause button on the side of the bell tower. That’s weird.

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Smoking Bans

domenica, 2009-11-08; 03:43:03

Recently, there was a minor kerfluffle between some Twitter-folk that I follow, regarding smoking bans.

It started when Fred Priese tweeted about a St. Louis County public smoking ban that passed. Geoff Pado, who I follow, expressed his dissatisfaction in response.

Since Twitter is terrible for these discussions, Pado wisely moved this to a weblog post once he got some pushback on his disapproval of the smoking ban.

I’d like to pick apart Pado’s argument.

Pado writes:

I don’t disagree that smoking is harmful to your health. I don’t disagree that secondhand smoke is harmful to the health of those who are around smokers. This is proven fact. But for the most part (I’ll talk about the exceptions later), exposing yourself to these are a personal choice. In effect, I disagree with smoking bans for the same reason I disagree with forcing McDonald’s to put “WARNING! HOT!” stickers on its coffee. If you’re dumb enough to constantly expose yourself to a smoking environment, that’s your fault. You should know better.

I’m glad that Pado recognizes the risk that secondhand smoke poses to other people.

But, seriously, he’s making the argument that exposing oneself to secondhand smoke is a personal choice? Did he really just say that? That’s like saying that it’s your fault when you get hit by a drunk driver, because you should totally know the dangers of being around drunk drivers.

It’s a completely ludicrous statement to make.

Disagreeing with smoking bans is completely different from disagreeing with “warning hot coffee” stickers. Completely different. When you smoke, you affect others. When you drink hot coffee, the only person that you can harm is yourself.

Pado continues:

However, the amount of people that smoke is large, which means that businesses have a financial incentive to support people who smoke. Many people who smoke enjoy the company of other smokers, leading them to places where they can smoke together. Bowling alleys, bars, and restaurants are just a handful of places where smokers are allowed to assemble and smoke together. Why should they not be allowed that right?

Because when a person smokes, it amounts to a de facto ban on non-smokers who don’t want to damage their health. I want to be able to enjoy going to a restaurant, too! Why should I not be allowed the right to go to a restaurant and eat some delicious food without having to worry about harming my health due to smoke?

The point is, your smoking habit affects others. It affects others in an adverse way. Your rights stop when you start harming other people.

But let’s get to a more pernicious myth. Pado says, “businesses have a financial incentive to support people who smoke”. Actually, smoke free ordinances have no effect on restaurant or bar revenues. The Centers for Disease Control did a study on smoking bans in restaurants and bars in El Paso, Texas, in 2002. The conclusion? “No decline in total restaurant or bar revenues occurred in El Paso, Texas, after the city’s smoking ban was implemented on January 2, 2002.” Read it for yourself. The WHO reached a similar conclusion in a study of California restaurants and bars between 1992 and 2001.


The counter-argument to that, of course, is that non-smokers are then unable to assemble in places that are free of secondhand smoke. But is legislation the right way to make more smoke-free places? Businesses are already free to set “no smoking” policies on their property, but many have chosen not to, because they don’t wish to alienate potential customers. If non-smokers want more smoke-free zones, they should reverse the incentive: boycott businesses that are too smoky, and (more importantly) make it known that that’s why you’re boycotting that business.

I’ve already shown that smoking bans don’t have an effect on business revenue, so “no smoking” policies won’t either.

But, more importantly, why is it that non-smokers have to stage a boycott in order to protect their own health?! It doesn’t make sense! Why should non-smokers have to actively protect themselves? Shouldn’t the health of citizens be protected by default?

The argument that we should somehow protect smokers’ rights to smoke in public places is disingenuous. Smokers are the ones with an unhealthy habit, one which affects others. You’re welcome to go inside your home and smoke it up all you want. You’re also welcome to go eat at a restaurant without smoking. But when you smoke in public places, you actively encroach into other people’s space and health. So you should be prohibited from doing that, just like you’re prohibited from doing other things that affect others, like harassment or physical altercations or theft.

Plenty of businesses have already made the decision to go smoke-free without a ban. For example, smoking is rarely allowed in movie theaters, a practice which was once common. Other businesses have limited the amount of crossover between smoking and non-smoking sections. A restaurant in my hometown of Union, MO has the two separated by most of the building. The entire kitchen is between the two sections. The only experience of smoky air by non-smokers is during payment, a process which takes less than a few minutes.

Citations desperately needed. Pado’s claim that “plenty of businesses have already made the decision to go smoke-free without a ban” is not supported by any actual data. Same with his statement that “smoking is rarely allowed in movie theaters, a practice which was once common”.

Besides, smoking bans are not there only to protect customers. They’re also there to protect workers. Are the waiters in that restaurant allowed to refuse to serve smoking customers? If not, then you’re still exposing some non-smoking workers to secondhand smoke. And don’t give me any crap about, “oh, well, then they can go work someplace else!” That’s called “discrimination”.

I’ll cite some actual data about smoking habits and smoking bans in the United States.

First: per capita consumption of cigarettes, from the CDC. Per capita consumption peaks in 1973. By 2004, per capita consumption has dropped to 1937 levels.

The CDC also has data on actual smoking among high school students and adults in general. Cigarette use has been falling among all adults since 1965, when ~43% of all adults were “current cigarette smokers”. In 2007, the adult smoking rate was ~20%. In contrast, cigarette use among high school students increased from 1990 (~25%) to a peak in 1997 (~35%), and has declined to a rate of 20% by 2007.

When were smoking bans enacted? I can’t find data on theaters specifically, but the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation (I know, consider the source) has a comprehensive list (PDF) of when 100% smokefree state or local laws were enacted for workplaces, restaurants, and bars, and the list starts in 1990. By 2009, they estimate that ~70% of the population of the United States is now covered by 100% smokefree laws.

Finally, UCSF researchers found that in communities where smoking bans were enacted, heart attack rates dropped by 17% after one year and by 36% after three.

From what I can tell, it’s true that smoking was on the decline well before smoking bans started to be enacted. But there’s evidence that smoking bans do help protect the health of citizens, and they have no effect on business revenues.

More importantly, cigarette use was still at a rate of 20% by 2007. That means 1 in 5 adults in the United States smokes. Without public smoking bans, there’d be a very high probability that I would be exposed to second-hand smoke every time I went out of my apartment. I shouldn’t need to have worry about my health when I go outside in public.

Pado (almost) ends with this statement:

But an outright [smoking] ban is bad for local business, and a slap in the face to personal liberty.

Bullshit. It’s not bad for local business, and it’s a slap in the face of people with unhealthy habits who have ridiculous expectations of others tolerating their harmful smoke. We’re talking about “personal liberty”, emphasis on “personal”. Your liberty is no longer personal when you start harming the health of others in public.

I honestly don’t understand why this is so hard to grasp.

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Twenty-Five Things

domenica, 2009-02-08; 02:21:03

“Write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you.”

Usually, I hate weblog memes. They’re meaningless, trite, and almost always reveal nothing about yourself. This, on the other hand, is the first weblog meme that intrigues me. Maybe because it’s freeform writing instead of just answering questions, or maybe it’s because the first time I saw it, the result was compelling. Either way, I’m breaking the rules and doing it anyway even though nobody has tagged me. Take that, internets!

Speaking of the internets, I have a conscious habit of making them plural, both in speaking and in writing, just to make sure that people remember how illiterate our former president was. Other than that, I’m a pedantic grammar nazi.

I love cooking, I think because I like eating. I would just as much prefer making something at home than going out to eat, if I am skilled enough in making the food in question. I have this nasty habit, though, of not wanting to use recipes, so I rarely end up broadening my cooking repertoire. I don’t know, using recipes feels like cheating somehow, like you didn’t take the time to actually figure out that certain flavors and textures go together. It’s psychologically easier for me to learn from someone than from a recipe book, like from my dad. I guess I need a cooking partner with whom I can share techniques and dishes.

On the other hand, it occurs to me that I have no problem at all with using recipes for baking. Weird.

One strange habit I have involves my hands and feet when listening to music. I like to walk in sync with the beat that’s playing on my iPod. It’s not the end of the world if I can’t (because some beats are too fast or slow), but it’s desirable. Similarly, I like to tap or drum my fingers on my pants or my bike handles along with the notes of the song’s melody. I do it with both hands, too, and I try to randomize the fingers I use between successive notes; sadly, I usually fail, because my hands inevitably become mirror images of each other while I’m tapping. Annoying.

If someone says they’re an audiophile, I tend to think they’re a liar until proven otherwise. Most people who claim to be “audiophiles” claim to be able to tell the difference between 192 kbps MP3 files and those of higher bitrate. I doubt their ears or their sound equipment are good enough to do so. And even if they can, they can’t tell unless they’re intently listening for subtle differences, which they would do in no other situation other than one in which they’re trying to prove they’re an audiophile.

I have two general areas of interest that currently dominate my life: geology, and Cocoa programming. I’ve chosen to pursue geology in school and programming as a hobby. There have been times in my life where I’ve considered if I made the right choice, since I write very little about geology and a lot about programming. Recent years have also seen a drop in motivation in my geology projects, as well.

I have concluded, perhaps not 100% to my own satisfaction, that both are in the right places. I have spurts of insight in programming, but they are not nearly enough in number to sustain me in a career. I sometimes go weeks and months at a time without writing a single line code. That means that I actually enjoy coding when I am actually coding.

I do have other interests, though, and it depresses me that I don’t have time to pursue them. I think I have some talent in both technical (i.e.: architecture) and freeform drawing, I’m passionate about politics, and I have a lot of experience in music and wouldn’t mind singing for people other than myself. I’ve also participated in a couple plays and enjoyed acting a lot. I wish I could get paid to do all these things.

I’m pretty sure “meme” (as in “weblog meme”) is pronounced mehm, not meem. It makes me cringe when people say meem. It’s probably because I took French in high school and “même” is pronounced mehm. Also, “memetic” is definitely pronounced mehm. But does “meme” derive from the French word “même”?

And more importantly, where did people get the idea that it was pronounced “meem”?

I’m an approval junkie, I admit it. Don’t get me wrong, I derive a great amount of self-satisfaction from finishing a project, like getting some code to finally work, or sieving and abrading rock grains to the correct size and shape for analysis, or even just cleaning the dishes. But I like it even more when someone else acknowledges my work somehow. I hate it when people patronize me, or say anything beyond a simple “thank you” or “good work”. It’s much more meaningful to me for someone to simply use my code as a foundation for a more complex product, or to link to my writing, or to mention work I’ve done in a presentation, and I appreciate it.

I am very conscious about judging people by their actions, not by their words. It irks me when people do little things like not being observant enough to tell the difference between unmarked recycling and garbage bins in the apartment, or don’t move a lane to the right while driving when someone faster is coming up behind you. Big things, like constantly changing what you want out of somebody, or not being open and honest about how you feel about a situation, will make me very much dislike you.

I don’t hate people. I rarely hold a grudge against people, either. It takes a lot to push me to the point where I will avoid any interaction with someone. It’s possible to get back on my good side, but extremely unlikely, because it’s usually not you, per se, that I dislike, but your actions. I will not hesitate to tell you what I dislike about your actions if you ask, either. But I will continue to dislike you until you change your actions.

No one who’s ever gotten on my bad side has yet done so.

I need a clothes shopping buddy in addition to a cooking buddy. I hate clothes shopping. It takes so long to look for clothes and try them on. And you’re likely to not find everything you want at one store, so you have to go to another.

The problem is, I do like to have clothes that look good, and I tend to keep clothes way past their shelf life. I need someone to make the shopping experience fun so I’ll do it more often.

My room is very spartan. I have few things on the walls; when I lived at home, my mom usually put up various works of art for me. Currently, I have a life poster and my M.C. Escher print enlargement that I made years ago and are waiting to be put up. The latter is too big to put up in my room.

I wish TV would die. Not the shows themselves, but the concept of you having to submit to the TV’s schedule, rather than the other way around. I suspect 24-hour cable news programs wouldn’t have much of an audience if people had to choose to watch them on their own time. Darn.

I am passionate about the little things, and passionate about the big things. Things of medium importance? Meh.

I frequently wonder whether the lack of genuine, long-term relationships in my life is a big factor in my recent lack of motivation and slight bout of depression. Then it occurs to me that it might not be, and that scares me even more.

Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re boring if you only talk about your career (± partying). I frequently find that conversation with other graduate students often gravitates toward their area of study or last weekend’s greatest drinking event. Yawn. Talk to me about the model rockets and trains you used to build as a kid with your uncle, or the trips around Europe that you used to have every summer including that one to the former Czechoslovakia, or the ridiculous props that Of Montreal used at the last concert of theirs you went to.

But for god’s sake, I really don’t give a flying fuck about how many people attended the event at the on-campus pub that other night.

There’s a difference between being smart, and being intelligent. The vast majority of Stanford students are smart, probably much higher than the proportion of the general population. Stanford students however, by and large, are not more intelligent than everybody else. Just in my experience. I’ve only met a few people every year with whom I enjoyed spending time and would like to keep in touch.

Yes, I sometimes come off as arrogant. Well, it’s usually after-the-fact that I realize I’m acting above everybody else. It happens less often among people I genuinely like hanging out with.

I’ve been happier as of late having succeeded at widening my circle of friends. Previously, I used to hang out exclusively with fellow graduate students. Now, in addition, I have a circle of old high school friends, friends from Boston, friends from Twitter who often happen to work at Apple and live in San Francisco, and then the person I’m dating who doesn’t really fit into any of those categories. I’m finding the group I least like to spend time with is other graduate students.

I like San Francisco. I think I would like to live in the city, but it’s infeasible to do so while I’m a student at Stanford. I’ve been going up more often, recently, though, and it’s been fun. I need to make more friends with people who live up there.

I’ve been considering moving out of the Bay Area once I’m done with Stanford. I’ve become increasingly impatient to do so, but it’s more that I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with Stanford rather than being dissatisfied with the entire Bay Area. I guess it depends on where I end up working or going to school after I graduate from Stanford.

Having a car puts a bad taste in my mouth. It’s very convenient to have one, and the one I have is a beater car so I’m not too concerned about it being stolen or wrecked or anything like that. (It has a gash in the right side; both right side doors won’t open.)

However, I’ve noticed that it’s taken the place of my bike. I used to bike to the grocery store. I used to bike to downtown Palo Alto if I needed to get something. I used to bike to Mountain View. Now, more often than not, I drive. It’s possible it’s because I inherited the car during the winter, when it’s much less hospitable to bike. I’ll see what happens when spring and summer roll around.

Twitter has become an outlet for random observations and thoughts that I would otherwise not write down, and exaggerated outrage that lets off steam about real issues. I like it.

Socks can often make or break an outfit. Black socks look terrible with tennis shoes and shorts. White socks don’t go well with more formal pants and dressier shoes.

Everyone judges people on first glance. It’s impossible not to. Don’t feel bad that you’ve made a judgment about someone just by how they look. Oftentimes that judgment can be spot on. Just be aware and open to the possibility that some people are a lot different than the first impression that they make.

You have reached the end of this entry. Consider yourself tagged to make your own.

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On Civil Rights vs. Gay Rights

lunedì, 2008-12-22; 19:13:23

In the aftermath of the passage of Proposition 8 in California, I’ve been reading a lot of articles dissecting the reasons why it passed, who’s responsible for its passage, and continuing discussions about the merits of gay marriage.

As I’ve said before, ideological convictions are next to impossible (if not outright impossible) to change. A political campaign takes place in a moment compared to how long it takes to convince people that their long-held opinions are wrong. So while it sucks that Proposition 8 passed, it’s good that people are talking about it. In that vein, I’d like to address some of the various fallacies keep popping up in many of the articles that I’ve read on Proposition 8.

On Blacks Handing Proposition 8 the Victory

In an article entitled “Is gay the new black? Marriage ban spurs debate”, Jesse Washington writes for the San Francisco Chronicle:

In the vote on Proposition 8 in California, which repealed gay marriage, about 70 percent of blacks favored the ban, according to an exit poll; Latinos’ close vote may have favored it, though the poll’s small sample left some uncertainty. In Florida, 71 percent of blacks and 64 percent of Latinos favored a similar ban.

And in a transcript of a discussion between Dan Savage and D. L. Hughley on CNN, Savage states:

Well, there is a lot of outreach that has to be done — that falls to the gay community, to do outreach to voters of color. But voters of color also have to step up and take some responsibility. It’s the responsibility of white people not to be racist. It’s the responsibility of men not to be sexist. And it is a responsibility of all of us not to be homophobic.

It strikes me as rather odd that in an election that resulted in the first African-American president, everybody would turn around and blame the same old scapegoat for the passage of Proposition 8: blacks. This isn’t blame coming exclusively from the gay rights activists, it’s coming from everybody. It’s practically “common knowledge” that blacks doomed the efforts against Proposition 8.

Only it’s completely false. Nate Silver from writes:

Now, it’s true that if new voters had voted against Prop 8 at the same rates that they voted for Obama, the measure probably would have failed. But that does not mean that the new voters were harmful on balance — they were helpful on balance. If California’s electorate had been the same as it was in 2004, Prop 8 would have passed by a wider margin.

Furthermore, it would be premature to say that new Latino and black voters were responsible for Prop 8’s passage. Latinos aged 18-29 (not strictly the same as ‘new’ voters, but the closest available proxy) voted against Prop 8 by a 59-41 margin. These figures are not available for young black voters, but it would surprise me if their votes weren’t fairly close to the 50-50 mark.

At the end of the day, Prop 8’s passage was more a generational matter than a racial one. If nobody over the age of 65 had voted, Prop 8 would have failed by a point or two. It appears that the generational splits may be larger within minority communities than among whites, although the data on this is sketchy.

Gay rights has always been a generational issue. Older people generally grew up during a time when gay rights wasn’t at the forefront of social issues, and when discrimination against gays (and blacks, for that matter) was more commonplace and didn’t spark as much outrage as it does today. So it’s unsurprising that people who grew up during times intolerant to gays are more likely to be intolerant themselves.

It’s not even really intolerance, per se, that breeds intolerance. It’s personal contact that breeds tolerance. When people have a family member or close friend who comes out, or has more personal experience with homosexuals, they’re more likely to realize that, hey, gays are often just like everybody else. That’s not to say that there aren’t gays who are flamboyant or quite in-your-face about being homosexual (which is fine, too, by the way), but that gays as a whole have the same desires, needs, emotions, and differences as the general population. And that realization, in turn, leads to the realization that you know, there are some pretty out-there heterosexual people, too.

Looking at Proposition 8 in this light, it’s unsurprising that it passed in California. There seems to be a myth that all of California is a radically liberal set of Democrats who are far out of touch with mainstream American politics. As a Californian, myself, that idea is just laughable. Outside of the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, most of the rest of California is just like the rest of America. The reason that the San Francisco and Los Angeles communities are more tolerant to gays is simply because there’s a higher likelihood of people in these places to have had personal contact with gays. And when that happens, people see that the world doesn’t come crashing down.

On Homosexuality Being a Choice

Washington in the Chronicle continues:

“I do not consider (gays) to be a minority in legal and adjudicated terms, the same way people who only like to eat broccoli with butter aren’t a minority,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “We can’t categorize things according to behavior. It’s based on ethnicity, on who we are rather than what we do.”

And D.L. Hughley has this to say:

I have to say, honestly, I don’t — I’m not particularly homophobic. But when I read the bill the way it was written, it was a little confusing. When I read it, it asked me to make a decision that didn’t — that I couldn’t quantify on the ballot. I can’t, for whatever reason, is it my religious upbringing, I don’t condone a gay lifestyle, but I also don’t condone the government being involved in two people’s affairs. So there was no place for me to vote. And I think a lot of black people I talked to found themselves in the same quandary. Had I been more religious, maybe I would have voted yes to ban.

If you’re straight and you’re still questioning whether being gay is a choice or not, ask yourself this question: when did you choose to be attracted to the opposite sex?

No, seriously, think about it. If you’re a guy, can you remember a time when you said to yourself, “You know, I’ve decided that I’m not attracted to guys.” Wouldn’t that be a pretty significant milestone in your life? You might say you’re not attracted to guys because you prefer looking at girls with smooth skin and long hair and smaller features as opposed to guys with muscles and facial hair. But that’s not because of you being attracted to girls, that’s an effect. You prefer some features over others not because you simply chose to favor them, but because you were intrinsically attracted to them in the first place.

My brother’s response to the question was, “It never really occurred to me to like guys.” And that’s the response that most people have when they really think about the question. They don’t know why they’re attracted to a certain sex, they just are. Because it’s not a choice.

So it’s ridiculous for Rodriguez to say that gays aren’t a minority because they choose to have same sex relations. That’s akin to saying that writing isn’t a legitimate profession simply because people choose to write. No, some people have an intrinsic affinity for writing and so they pursue that path, just like gays have an intrinsic attraction to the same sex and so they have sexual relations with the same sex. The “decision” to actually have sexual relations with the same sex isn’t the same as the purported “decision” to actually be attracted to the same sex in the first place.

And if you subscribe to the idea that being attracted to the same sex isn’t a decision, but that it’s a choice to actually pursue that path (i.e.: “gays do have the same rights as heterosexuals; they can marry people of the opposite sex just like heterosexuals can!”), think about it in the reverse. Wouldn’t it be ludicrous to suggest that heterosexuals should act against their own nature and pursue homosexual relationships, just because laws were framed in a certain way?

There’s nothing to “condone” about a gay lifestyle, as Hughley says. That implies that there’s something morally wrong or offensive about gay lifestyles, which (as far as I can tell) usually means that being gay is a choice. I think that most of those who don’t “condone” gay lifestyles perceive being gay as going against nature, since nature “obviously” intended for opposite-sex relations since that’s the only way to propagate the species.

But there’s a whole litany of assumptions that go along with that line of reasoning. One has to assume that being gay is a different sort of “defect” than being impotent, or being sterile, or having another genetic problem that precludes you from finding an opposite-sex mate and having offspring. If propagating the species is the ultimate goal of sexual relations, then shouldn’t marriages between seniors not be “condoned” either?

And gays being unnatural also implies that nature has an obvious end-goal, that species (and, in particular, humans) should propagate and continue to multiply. But nature has no such end-goal in mind at all. Species have died off all the time, genetic defects have existed in animals far before humans ever existed on the planet, and homosexual behavior in animals has been observed for decades even though evolution might predict that homosexuals should die off because they aren’t nearly as likely to pass on their genes.

The point is that homosexuality is a natural expression of diversity among a single species. That this particular difference happens to reduce the likelihood of that individual to pass on his genes doesn’t mean that the difference is “unnatural”, nor does it mean that this difference needs to be condoned or corrected.

On Obama’s Place in the Gay Rights Movement

Washington, in the San Francisco Chronicle:

And in some ways, gays see Obama himself as a symbol of gay progress — even though he opposes gay marriage.

Obama is in favor of civil unions, and during his victory speech, when he included gays in his description of America, it made them feel part of the historic racial milestone.

Let’s get this myth out of the way: Obama is not a progressive, not by any means. His positions on gay rights are decidedly centrist, just like his positions on many other issues. You’d be forgiven if you did think Obama is a progressive, simply because the last eight years have been dominated by such far-right politics that it’s easy to think that slightly left-of-center policies are radically liberal.

John Hodgman (linked from the Daring Fireball Linked List) does a good job of dissecting Obama’s positions:

BOTH WARREN AND OBAMA believe in a fallacy: that one can support equal rights for “everybody” (Warren) and for gay folks specifically (Obama), and yet not support a gay person having the same access as a straight person to the governmental special status known as “marriage.”

I KNOW HOW TEMPTING this fallacy can be: I am ashamed to admit that I half-fell for it myself until Massachusetts proved that the world would not end, and the semantic difference between “domestic partnerships” and “marriage” was so meaningless as to be offensive. I was wrong, I am sorry.

Hodgman continues:

THOSE OF US, however, who foolishly refused to take Obama at his word when he told us he didn’t support gay marriage OVER AND OVER AGAIN must now take him at his deed. He really, really doesn’t want gays to get married. SRSLY.

LOOK: my gut tells me that Obama likes and respects gay people and wants them to thrive in this country. I think he is tolerant by nature, as his patience with Wright and his embrace of Warren shows.

BUT AFTER MCCLURKIN and now Warren, it is hard not to conclude that Barack Obama is somewhat tone deaf when it comes to gay issues. And at this point, if he is interested in convincing us otherwise (and I’m not presuming he is), it will take more than a few words or a second pastor or some other symbolic gesture. It will take deeds.

On Proposition 8 Protests

Allysia Finley, in an opinion article for the Stanford Daily, writes:

Raucous rallies and vandalism at Mormon and Catholic churches have shrouded gay rights activists’ calls for tolerance. White powder was even sent mysteriously to Mormon temples in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Many Prop. 8 backers have complained that their houses and Yes on Prop. 8 signs have been vandalized. The backlash against Prop. 8 supporters is becoming nearly as radical as that of the far-left animal rights movement, which bombs clinics and houses of researchers who experiment on animals. My mom was even concerned about my publishing this article because she thought a violent backlash might ensue.


It’s incredible that Finley thinks that vandalism and white powder letters are indicative of the gay rights movement as a whole. All movements have their own extremists that carry out their agenda in radical and violent ways. Should we represent the all anti-gay rights activists by the Klu Klux Klan? Or how about the civil rights movement for African-Americans — anybody remember Malcolm X?

It’s disingenuous to suggest that only the gay rights movement has its radical factions, and that somehow all gays are radical anthrax mailers because of it. It’s also disingenuous to suggest that those who are pro-gay rights should somehow be “tolerant” of anti-gay rights activists, when anti-gay rights activists often don’t extend the same courtesy.


The same could be said of a Web site called Californians Against Hate, which posts a “dishonor roll” listing over 800 people and businesses who donated $5,000 or more to the Yes on 8 campaign. The Web site encourages people to boycott these businesses. Now imagine if pro-lifers decided to post a list of businesses and individuals who supported abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood and encouraged people to boycott businesses that hired women who had abortions. The horror! The horror of the liberal double standard.

Bahahaha. One simple Google search for “abortion clinic boycotts” turns up this CNN article as the top result: contractors in Texas refusing to do work to build an abortion clinic.

NEWS FLASH: conservatives have staged boycotts against abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood.

And, yes, “liberals” are “outraged” because of it since, again, it’s conservatives injecting their own personal views into other peoples’ business. How does someone getting an abortion personally affect you? Every time there’s an abortion in the world, do you personally feel a pain that shoots up your back? It’s just like the gay rights movement; how does two gays getting married personally affect you?

NEWS FLASH: it doesn’t.


Prop. 8 opponents need to take the high road instead of irrationally lashing out against those with whom they disagree. Discuss, debate, protest, challenge the decision in court. But don’t resort to barbed epithets, vandalism and bullying.

That’s what the gay rights movement has been doing! Discussions, check (this very article). Debates, check. Protests, check. Court challenges, check.

The gay rights movement is just like any other civil rights movement, and yet somehow Proposition 8 supporters charge detractors as being somehow intolerant. It boggles the mind.

On Invoking The Civil Rights Movement (Capital “T”, Capital “C”, Capital “R”, Capital “M”)


Yet even some gay leaders are reluctant to directly tie their fight to the African-American legacy. They acknowledge significant differences in the experiences of gays and blacks, ranging from slavery to the relative affluence of white gay men to the choice made by some gays to conceal their sexual orientation, which is not an option for those with darker skin.


“The gay fight for marriage has its own integrity, its own background,” said Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University. “The experience of blacks in the United States is very different. … I don’t think it helps the fight for equality to make that claim.”

Nobody denies the fact that The Civil Rights Movement for African-Americans has a different history than the gay rights movement. Nobody claims the experiences that blacks had are equal to the experiences that gays have had. Nobody denies that blacks were enslaved for hundreds of years in the United States.

But that doesn’t mean The Civil Rights Movement can’t be invoked to support the gay rights movement. The larger experience is the same: a group of people is persecuted for who they are.


It is nearly impossible to engage in a rational discussion with staunch Prop. 8 opponents without being called a bigot. According to gay rights activists, Prop. 8 supporters want to deny homosexuals “civil rights” and make them second-class citizens. They equate the ban on gay marriage to a ban on interracial marriage and the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. Strangely, most blacks who struggled as true second-class citizens for hundreds of years don’t see it that way. Unlike blacks prior to the civil rights movement, gays can vote and are not discriminated against in employment and education. Most Californians and blacks agree that gay marriage is a personal and religious issue, not a civil rights issue.

How is the ban on gay marriage not the same as a ban on interracial marriage? What is the difference? Two people who are capable of giving consent and agreeing to contracts are being denied the right to do so simply because of who they are. Does that not describe the situation before a ban on interracial marriage was struck down? Does that not describe the push for gay marriage equality as well?

And, by the way, “most” doesn’t mean “61%” anymore. It means “52%”. I think 48% of Californians would disagree with that statement; they probably believe that gay marriage is a civil rights issue. It’s pretty disingenuous to suggest that California as a whole supports a ban on gay marriage, when in fact almost half of Californians don’t.

Hughley and Savage:

Hughley: Here’s what I think. I’ve seen a lot of people, gay activists, make the comparison of basically equating their struggle with the struggle of black people throughout the civil rights era. And that hits me even me kind of wrong.

Savage: And me too.

Hughley: Because historically, millions of people died and they were disenfranchised. Some of them couldn’t have a name. This is about one segment, like to be married. And I think that that is none of my business. But I also think that what you asked — I’ve never met a black atheist. I never have, because we are so rooted in theology, we are so rooted in all these things, that even me, who — I’m not a regular churchgoer — had a hard time going, this is — this goes against what I was taught.

Saying that gays can’t invoke The Civil Rights Movement in support of their cause is fucking bullshit. No, gays weren’t enslaved for hundreds of years, but it doesn’t negate any of the struggles that gays have had. Gays have been murdered too. Gays have been persecuted around the world and in the United States, too.

And you know what? It enrages me when it’s suggested that The Civil Rights Movement somehow “belongs” only to blacks, as Hughley does here. It’s one of the worst things you could say about The Civil Rights Movement, because it completely throws the lesson of the movement out the window.

The Civil Rights Movement “belongs” to all Americans. It’s American history, not black history. All Americans bear the burden of having a country whose history is tainted with hundreds of years of slavery, with Presidents that owned slaves and widespread persecution of blacks. All Americans are taught about The Civil Rights Movement in school, not just blacks.

Because the lesson of The Civil Rights Movement is not that we should be tolerant of other races. The lesson is that we should be tolerant, period, full stop. The legacy of The Civil Rights Movement extends far beyond the bounds of racism. It extends to the persecution of anybody because of who they are, not just because of the color of their skin.

On Marching a Little Longer

Hughley concludes the interview with this choice statement:

Well I’ll tell you what, being black, I can tell you, you got to march a little while longer and then it might happen. I promise. Look how long it took us to get a president. I hope it works out for you. One thing I don’t understand is the government involvement in our bedroom. They can’t even deliver my mail.

Seriously? It’s a requirement to march in order to get equal civil rights? That’s the lesson that Hughley gets from The Civil Rights Movement? And you automatically know what it’s like to be persecuted just because you’re black?

And really, this whole “the government can’t even deliver my mail” thing is nonsense. I don’t think I’ve ever failed to receive a letter. Ever.

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Dear California

mercoledì, 2008-11-05; 20:56:38

Dear California:

Today is bittersweet. The majority of the nation, including you, celebrates the election of President Obama, and it’s hard not to feel a sigh of relief that the national policies of the last eight years will be put behind us in a few short months. I have to admit that even I stopped to watch Obama’s acceptance speech.

But while you helped elect President Obama yesterday, California, you also approved Proposition 8.

It’s hard not to take this as a blow to the stomach. It makes me bitter. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. Just five months ago, I thought we struck a bellwether blow for the gay rights movement. But yesterday, you decided to take it away.

Proposition 8 in California is symbolic. California offers comprehensive benefits for domestic partnerships equal to those offered for marriages. And California law cannot affect federal law. But there are still many who take the symbolic rights afforded by marriage very personally, and to take them away is sending a powerful message to those people.

California, you approved a doctrine that we thought was long behind us. Yesterday, you approved the idea of “separate but equal”. You approved of the fact that it is OK to separate partnerships into two groups in the eyes of the law, based solely on gender. It is hard to see how this is anything but subtly implying that one kind of partnership is inferior to the other. If everyone is afforded equal rights, why separate us out? If our own United States history is any guide, “separate but equal” is never equal.

California, I realize that the passage of this proposition doesn’t tangibly affect anyone’s rights. But it does affect some people themselves. Today I was unable to hold back my tears for a few minutes because of the subtle message of inferiority that Proposition 8 projects to everybody in California.

Arkansas yesterday banned gay couples from adopting children. Yesterday, Arizona and Florida also voted to ban gay marriage, but their state laws do not provide for comprehensive domestic partnerships rights as does California. And in yet another 33 states, same-sex couples do not have the same rights as opposite-sex couples.

California, does this sit right with you? You are OK with “separate but equal”, but are you OK with “unequal”? Because that’s the situation in those other states.

California, if there is anything I want you to take away, it is this: your symbolic vote could have sent a message to the country that unequal rights are not OK. You could have stood up for same-sex couples to help argue for their rights in other states. You could have stopped the alarming trend of relegating same-sex couples to second-class status across this nation.

To those who helped attempt to defeat Proposition 8:

I know it’s hard. You’re angry, you’re bitter, you’re sad. And we were so, so close.

But take heart. A little under a decade ago, California was asked the same question, with Proposition 22. California approved Proposition 22 with 61% support. Yesterday, California approved Proposition 8 with 52% support. Progress.

Change does not come easily. Change comes slowly, over decades and even centuries. Almost a century and a half has passed since the abolishment of slavery, and over four decades have passed since the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the African-American civil rights movement. Only yesterday did we elect our first African-American president. And so must change come slowly to the gay rights movement as well.

It is easy to be hostile and lash out against California as bigots. It is easy to blame Californians as being susceptible to false advertisements fueled by money and the Yes on 8 campaign, by pointing to polls that put Proposition 8 as failing in the double-digits in June. But I suspect that we never really convinced California of the necessity of marriage equality in the first place.

We, in California, are not fighting against bigotry, we are not fighting against dirty money. We are fighting the status quo.

Real social progress — actually convincing people that long-held convictions are wrong — is never made in the space of a single campaign. Deep convictions are next to impossible to reverse, and when they are, it takes years if not decades to do so. Can we really expect people in California to change their minds in half a year? It’s unrealistic. People, including those who worked hard to elect Obama, are way past tired of the past two years of campaigning. Can we really expect a political campaign to turn deeply-held opinions around when people are tired of listening?

Yesterday, I worked the polls in California, because I wanted not only to be a part of an historic election through voting, but also by assisting others to vote. And there are three encounters that stand out in my mind.

On Monday, a team of election workers, including me, helped to set up our precinct the day before yesterday’s election. Afterwards, one of the other workers, an elderly lady, probably in her 70s or 80s, engaged in a discussion about Proposition 8 with another of the poll workers and I.

This elderly lady was for Obama. She was outraged about disenfranchisement of African-Americans in southern states, tired of the lies coming from the McCain campaign, and just as anxious about hearing voting results from other states in the Presidential election as any of the rest of us.

But on Proposition 8, she didn’t understand. She didn’t understand why same-sex couples cared about marriage. She said that two people can live together for seven years and be recognized as a partnership because of that mere fact (a common-law marriage). She didn’t understand why same-sex couples cared about “a piece of paper”.

This lady represents one of those voters that we are still trying to convince.

On Tuesday, while the California polls were open, an elderly man of Mexican descent hobbled into our precinct, wanting to vote. He was from Santa Clara county, but at the wrong precinct, so he had to fill out the paperwork to file a provisional ballot. He couldn’t walk very well, and his hand wasn’t steady, so he had difficulty writing down his name, address, and signature. And then there was the ballot itself: two pages, one double-sided, with so many things to decide on. We gave him his ballot and had him go to one of the privacy booths to cast his vote.

But a couple minutes later he came back, confused. He pointed to the ballot, and in a halting voice said, “Obama?”

This elderly man took thirty minutes to fill out the paperwork, just to cast a vote for Obama. He represents one of those voters that have been convinced, that one thing is so important that he will dare to overcome all obstacles to make sure that thing happens. Not defeating Proposition 8, but electing Obama.

One of the other poll workers who also helped out at my precinct was a 17-year-old high school student, one who’s currently attend the same high school that I started attending a decade ago.

In talking with him, it was clear that marriage equality was something that is just taken for granted, much like ensuring the same rights for all races is something that almost everybody in this nation already takes for granted. He told me he has a family that’s ideologically split, with half being pretty conservative. He’s a Christian who attends church and, from what I could tell, participates in a lot of events through his church.

But it was clear that he took Proposition 8 seriously, he knew people who organized the phone bank at Stanford in opposition to Proposition 8, and he was unwavering on where he stood on the issue.

He represents someone of my generation, people who have been growing up during the modern gay rights movement, one who needs little to no convincing that marriage equality is important.

A political campaign does not convince the elderly lady at the polling place. A political campaign does not convince an elderly man to get to the polling place at all costs. A political campaign does not produce new citizens that take certain ideological shifts for granted. A political campaign is useful, but only for convincing those voters who are on the fence, to make sure that those voters who have a weak opinion actually go to the polls.

But a political campaign doesn’t change someone’s ideology. And marriage equality requires that change.

So feel dejected, feel shitty, feel outraged. Then continue to hammer away at the ideology that still supports “separate but equal” in California. Challenge ignorance about same-sex couples when you overhear it, show others that same-sex couples have the same great aspects — and problems — that opposite-sex couples do. Prove to others that all members of the LGBT community have the same desires, wants, needs, and should have the same rights as everyone else.

This takes time. It takes patience. We’ll get there, eventually.

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Elected Bodies Should Not Endorse

giovedì, 2008-10-23; 12:34:14

Yesterday, I attended a meeting of the Graduate Student Council at Stanford. I do this every week, even though I’m not an elected member, because I think it’s good to stay informed about what’s going on in the Stanford graduate student community.

Earlier in the week, the Undergraduate Senate at Stanford had approved a resolution opposing Proposition 8, and the same resolution was presented to the GSC at yesterday’s meeting, with the goal of having both bodies formally oppose Proposition 8.

Proposition 8, if you somehow haven’t heard of it, is a ballot initiative in California that will eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. The California Supreme Court recently ruled that a previous law on the books was unconstitutional, and Proposition 8 seeks to overturn that decision by enshrining a definition of marriage — as between one man and one woman — into the California state constitution.

As I said, I’m not an elected member of the GSC. But the GSC likes to vote on things by consensus, and anyone, even non-elected members, can object to a decision and force a vote by elected members.
I detest Proposition 8. I think that writing discrimination into a state constitution or even the U.S. constitution is wrong. I voted against Proposition 8 myself, and I hope that enough California citizens vote against it so that the ballot measure fails. Nevertheless, I objected to the resolution. (In a week, you should be able to listen to the discussion here.)

I’ve been thinking about this for the past day or so, and I want to write down why I object to this. Not because I feel slighted by the final outcome of the vote or because I think people misunderstand my position, but just to formalize my views for future reference.

A Monopoly on Civil Rights

One of the main arguments that was brought up in support of the resolution was the fact that Proposition 8 deals with civil rights. I agree. But there are many other decisions to be made on the California ballot that deal with civil rights.

Civil rights, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, are “the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality”. Proposition 4 deals with a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion or not regardless of the feelings or positions of others. This is “social freedom”. The government should not be in the business of telling a woman what she can and can’t do with her own body.

Proposition 11 deals with how the state of California constructs its districts, which determine which areas contain the constituents of state representatives, state senators, and U.S. representatives. Proposition 11 seeks to reduce the possibility of gerrymandering, which draws political lines creating districts that can minimize the effects of a certain portion of the population — blacks or latinos, for example — such that their views are not accurately represented in the state legislature or the U.S. Congress. This is “political equality”, i.e.: civil rights.

In fact, I would argue that the choice between McCain, Obama, and the numerous other third party candidates on the ballot is also a civil rights issue. Obama supports a woman’s right to choose, support’s equal rights for same-sex couples (even though he is formally against “gay marriage”), and wants to help equalize pay between the genders. These are social freedom, social equality, political equality, respectively, all parts of what is called “civil rights”. McCain wants to leave all three of these issues up to the states.

Why isn’t the GSC endorsing positions on any of these other issues? Why aren’t they formally opposing Proposition 4? Why aren’t they passing a resolution on Proposition 11? Why not endorse Barack Obama? Why focus solely on Proposition 8 if their reason for doing so is because of civil rights?

It’s an inconsistent policy, and, arguably, they’re taking a stand on the least important issue on the ballot — and this brings me to my next point.

Proposition 8 is Symbolic

Of the four decisions on the November ballot that I have cited above, I’d argue that Proposition 8 is the least important civil rights issue, despite it getting the lion’s share of attention by the media and by citizens.

California is one of the most progressive states in the nation, and already has passed laws that give same-sex couples the same state rights as opposite-sex couples. Sure, it’s defined under the term “domestic partnership” and not “marriage”, but the rights are, for the most part, there.

Furthermore, whether or not California allows same-sex couples to marry can not affect policy on a federal level. The Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996 under the Clinton administration and a Republican-controlled Congress. Same-sex couples can not file their federal income taxes jointly, and are not afforded the same rights as opposite-sex couples on the federal level. Preventing Proposition 8 from passing does not change this fact.

So if same-sex couples in California will still have no rights at the federal level regardless of whether Proposition 8 passes, and they’ll still have rights at the state level regardless of whether Proposition 8 passes, what’s the point of Proposition 8?


Separating same-sex couple rights (domestic partnerships) and opposite-sex couple rights (marriages) creates a situation similar to segregation in schools based on race that was prominent in the United States just a few decades ago. Plessy v. Ferguson, a decision made by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1896 supported the idea of “separate but equal”, in regards to racially segregated schools in Kansas. But in 1954, the Supreme Court reversed its previous position in the case Brown v. Board of Education; in Chief Justice Earl Warren’s own words, “We conclude that the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

The same thing applies to “domestic partnerships” vs. “marriages”. Practically, the state legislature must ensure that when it passes new laws, it needs to make sure that the language applies equally to domestic partnerships as it does to marriages, and inevitably a few laws will fall through the cracks. The execution of maintaining equality between the two will also not necessarily be ideal. Domestic partnerships will always slightly lag behind marriages if they are created as a separate category. (Yes Gov. Palin, I do know my Supreme Court cases.)

But this doesn’t change the fact that same-sex couples already enjoy the same rights that opposite-sex couples do, at the state level.

Proposition 4, in contrast, tangibly takes away the rights of many women across the entire state to have an abortion, without being pressured into a decision one way or another by anybody else. These are tangible rights that are being taken away.

Proposition 11 hopes to reduce gerrymandering, which typically reduces the voice of minorities by causing their votes to effect little change in their representatives. The most important right defined by the constitution of the United States is the right to vote, and Proposition 11 could materially impact the make-up of the state legislature or California’s group of U.S. representatives. These are people that will be able to materially effect change at a state and federal level, and accurate representation of the state is paramount.

And the candidate who gets elected to the office of the Presidency of the United States has enormous impact on how laws are enacted such that he will be able to protect the civil rights of all Americans, or not, if he chooses to drag his feet. This decision will strongly affect the rights and freedoms afforded to Americans.

Proposition 8? Not so much. It’s symbolic, and symbolic votes can have a material impact too, but in terms of actual rights and freedoms, Propositions 4, 11, and voting for President will actually affect things much more broadly and much more quickly.

So for the GSC to vote only on a resolution opposing Proposition 8 is actually pretty ridiculous. And now we come to the final, strongest point.

Citizens Elect Representatives, Representatives do not Elect Citizens

In our democracy, or representative republic, such that it is, citizens elect their representatives. Citizens tell their representatives if they approve or disapprove of their job by electing them or not. Representatives should not tell citizens how to vote.

Similarly, in partial direct democracies like California, where citizens can directly enact or reject bills proposed by both the legislature and by other citizens, representatives should not tell citizens how to vote either. Propositions on the ballot are decided by citizens, not by representatives.

Proposition 1A is different, because it was created by the legislature and is referred to citizens for approval.
Thus, for an elected body like the GSC to formally oppose Proposition 8 is analogous to the United States Senate formally endorsing Barack Obama for President. It’s analogous to the California State Legislature formally supporting Proposition 7. Elected bodies should not be in the business of telling citizens how to vote. Period.

Civil Disobedience

I know it sucks that 50% of the state can say whether same-sex couples can get married or not. I know it sucks that federal law does not recognize same-sex marriages. And I do not support Proposition 8, and am supportive of strong efforts to convince other citizens to vote against Proposition 8 as well.

Stand in public and make a case to passers-by about why they should vote against Proposition 8. Stage protests and events and invite everybody to come and learn about why Proposition 8 is a terrible thing. Make a line connecting the NO arrow for Proposition 8 on your mail-in ballot, and then convince others to do the same. Organize counter-protests at pro-Proposition 8 rallies. Publicly oppose Proposition 8 and talk to all your friends about why they should oppose it. Even elected representatives from the GSC can personally endorse a NO vote for Proposition 8.

But elected bodies should shut the fuck up. They’re not my mother, and they’re not anybody else’s mother, and they can’t (and shouldn’t) tell us what to do.

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Coming Out

giovedì, 2008-06-26; 04:03:00

My personal story

I don’t really know how to start with this entry. It’s something that I’ve wanted to write about for a while, now, but it’s still kind of weird to talk about. I guess there’s really only one place to begin.

I’m bisexual.

Heh, it’s kind of funny; my impression when I think about coming out stories, in general, is someone coming out as gay, not bisexual. I guess it’s not something that’s as prevalent in the mainstream social consciousness, so it probably doesn’t get as much attention. Of course, it carries many of the same implications and difficulties as coming out as gay.

Looking back on the past few years or so, I guess I started being attracted to guys in the second year of my undergraduate college career. I remember a guy friend of my sophomore year roommate who came to visit for a party one night, and I liked looking at him. During my junior year, there were a few gay guys living in the house; I distinctly remember wondering what it would be like to be gay and to have a relationship with the more flamboyant of the bunch. And in the first year of grad school, I took an art class and for the first time consciously realized that I was physically attracted to one of the guys in the class.

(Actually, I also remember having an IM conversation with an online friend who was also gay. I told him that I liked looking at guys, but not because I was attracted to them, but because they had some characteristic that I admired that I wanted to have as well. That conversation must have happened in high school, though, because I fell out of touch with this online friend during college. In hindsight, it seems that I’ve been attracted to guys for a longer period of time than I thought.)

You have to realize, throughout college I was also struggling with women as well. I had my first crush on a girl during my first year as an undergrad, and first experienced real rejection when she told me she didn’t reciprocate the feeling. (That was the first time I cried over somebody, too.) I had a crush on another girl during sophomore year, whom I decided not to tell since she was a friend. Junior year, I met another girl with whom I tried the traditional ask-out-on-a-date method rather than my tried-and-true be-silent-and-get-a-crush-and-then-profess-your-love method that had worked out so well for me in the past. It turned out she had a boyfriend already, so I ended up developing a secret crush on her anyway, which ended in some really awkward moments later on when I told her. (Yes, I was rejected by her, too.) Amusingly, it turns out she knew pretty much all along, and didn’t say anything even though it was obvious to her.

My track record with women was pretty much a string of failures. Being the computer nerdy type, I never really developed the social skills that it seems that everyone has that are required to successfully carry out the ask-out-on-a-date method of getting into a relationship. I still don’t think I really have those skills. I’m probably severely understating my social ability here, ‘cause I can cope pretty well these days with most social situations, but I still feel very uncomfortable at certain times. Aside from meeting potential people to date through friends, how does one start up a conversation with a random person that you’re attracted to? It’s a completely foreign concept to me. Or how about in social situations when you’re trying to join an existing conversation? Going up to a group and just standing and listening, especially if it’s a group of people you normally don’t associate with (say, at a geology conference, or even just a night at the local bar) seems like it would be perceived as hovering and rude. Or how about when you’re at a party where people are mingling, and the people that you’re talking to disperse? Is it OK to stand by yourself? It just seems weird to watch what other people are doing for a while until someone comes up and starts up a conversation.

But I digress. The point is that it’s not exactly easy to start even realizing that you have boy issues to deal with when you’re still trying to learn the ropes with girls.

So it was the first year of grad school when I really admitted to myself that I liked guys. It was kind of exciting to admit it to myself, really. It’s not very often that you find out something new about yourself. Plus, I could go ahead and look at guys and know what was going on inside my head. A revelation, I know.

But then the question became: well, then what about all those girls that you liked? Was I deluding myself, having feelings that weren’t actually my own, but that were partially manufactured by society’s view of what is considered “normal” and magnified by my own desires for a relationship? It also occurred to me that maybe being attracted to guys was a side effect of not having any success with women, and that I was trying to artificially extend the boundaries of the people with whom I was willing to have a relationship to increase my odds of success. (Is this a common thought that occurs to people during this internal coming out period?) I seem to have a fixation on guys at the moment, but I’m pretty sure that’s just because it’s new.

It seems appropriate to address where I grew up at this point. Being in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, arguably the heart of the modern gay rights movement, and also having grown up in an extremely liberal, tolerant family, I was going through this transition in a pretty safe environment. I had had several gay friends before; I didn’t really hang out with them all the time, but I’d happily participate in dorm events or go to the movies or the beach with these friends. I even have a gay relative in my extended-extended family (i.e.: the tree that includes my maternal grandmother and her siblings).

So it wasn’t as if I had had no contact with gays at all. In fact, my own liberal views on gay marriage were uncannily prescient of my coming out — I have always been staunchly in support of gay marriage rights, and was pretty sickened in 2004 when many of the states in the U.S. passed laws that outlawed gay marriage.

Also, in light of this environment, my questioning was not of the “guilty” variety. It took me a while to accept my bisexuality, not because I was ashamed of it, but because I was genuinely confused as to whether or not I was attracted to guys and whether or not I was attracted to girls at the same time. I’m not going to deny that there wasn’t any societal pressure, because by societal standards, it really is “normal” to be heterosexual, and “abnormal” to be otherwise. But questioning whether I was normal or not doesn’t mean that I felt guilty about it. In fact, as I said before, it was kind of exciting. I don’t like conforming to societal standards anyway.

Then, last year, while I was taking a year’s leave of absence from grad school, I started dating a coworker, a woman. It seems sort of strange to me that I would ask another woman out after 1) having had so many failures with women, and 2) having another gender option available, especially one that only just opened up. We had worked together for about five months before I asked her out, so I had gotten to know her (but not developed a crush) first.

The whole thing lasted about two months. I don’t think I could really even call it a relationship or her my girlfriend, because there were three major obstacles in the first place, one of which was me being bisexual. The whole relationship was already kind of dysfunctional because of the two other obstacles; and when I went away for a few days to a music festival, I decided to pile on to the number of problems in the relationship by revealing to her that I was bi.

Not surprisingly, that didn’t really help things. She’s a very tolerant person, but I imagine it’s not something that’s easy to take when it’s someone that you’re attracted to. Additionally, since she was the first person I came out to about being bi, she wanted to act as a friend, too. So she asked questions about the gay side of me, which included asking about which guys I liked. Answering these questions honestly was a big mistake: at the time, it seemed innocuous, but telling the woman you’re dating about another guy that you also like is akin to telling her that there’s another girl that you might like to date. It put her in a position to be jealous, something that’s entirely human. But in the context of me coming out to her, it not only put her in a position to be jealous, but in a position to feel extremely guilty about being jealous since she was also trying to be considerate about my bisexuality.

Understandably, things came to a head, and she broke off the relationship. Her explanation was that I hadn’t had a relationship with a guy before, and given that fact, she didn’t want to get into a long-term relationship if down the road I couldn’t overcome my curiosity of having a same-sex relationship. At the time I was devastated, because we had had some really good times together, but I was mad that she couldn’t get over the various obstacles to the relationship. Not only that, but for the first time I felt like I was unfairly being punished for being bi.

She was probably right to end the relationship. It’s a fair point that if I haven’t tried things out with guys before and had just come out, I’d probably remain very interested in seeing what it was like.

But the question remains: how does one come out to a potential girlfriend that one is bi? When should you do it? Should you preface the first date with that information in case she’s not OK with it, so that you don’t waste your time? Should you wait to see where things are going, and tell her when it looks like things are going to get steady? Or should you keep it a secret until well into the relationship, so that she’s invested and is more likely to make an effort to be OK with that fact? Telling this information to gay guys, in contrast, doesn’t pose any problem whatsoever, since being bisexual and homosexual are both outside of the norm.

This isn’t just a question of tolerance, of whether people are morally OK with me being bi. When we’re talking relationships, we’re talking health issues. It’s an unfortunate fact that the prevalence of HIV in the gay community, in particular, is higher. I’m pretty sure that a girl with whom I was having sex would be concerned about that, and would probably be a little resentful if I hadn’t told her that before we had had sex.

Personally, I think the information should be definitely divulged before any sex, but not on the first date. The one data point I have for this hypothesis, though, is not encouraging. Probably a better way to do it is to be open about my bisexuality in my circle of friends (which I am), and meet people through these friends so that when I do go out on a date, I know it’ll be with someone who’s already comfortable with it.

(While we’re on the topic of sex, I might as well just go ahead and violate the rest of the typical conversational barriers: yes, I have taken it up the ass, and yes, it feels good. And yes, I have given someone else a blow job, and it’s not that bad, either. What can I say? I love the cock, as they say in modern parlance.)

Another interesting thing about coming out was how the information was spread through my circle of friends. Most of them had already known me for a couple years already, but even so, it’s not like I went around and told each one of them personally that I was bi. I “came out” just by asking another guy, whom most of my friends also know and know is gay, out on a date. He told me that he told a few of his friends before we went out, I told a few people that I had asked him out on a date, and then I also specifically told two people that I was bi. (One of my friends asked me point blank if I was gay… that’s a hilarious story for a different time.)

Note the distinction between telling people that I asked a guy out, and specifically telling someone that I’m bi. Consider the game of telephone, where information gets misinterpreted and messed up along the way; a girl who might be interested in me could possibly hear about this, and then decide not to ask me out because she might think I was gay, not bi. Argh, it’s so complicated! I still don’t really know who knows I’m bi, who knows that I asked this guy out, and if anyone thinks I’m gay.

And then there’s the family. Coming out to my mom was easy because I needed a second opinion on my resentment toward the woman with whom I had recently broke up. Coming out to my dad and brother were more amusing, as I just kind of said it while we were riding home from the airport. (These were actually separate ride homes from the airport, the first just being my dad and I, and the second being my bro and I.) I believe my exact words were, “Sooo… there’s something that you need to know… I’m bisexual.”

So far, none of the extended family knows, although I expect that to change at the family reunion that’s coming up this summer. Verdict: I expect most of the adults to be very accepting, except two who might be a little uncomfortable with it. As for the cousins, some of them will probably tease me about it, but this really isn’t anything out of the ordinary, as they’ve always teased me. One of them in particular might have an actual problem with it, and I think a couple of them will probably think I’m “cooler” because of it. Eh, whatever, if they’re not comfortable, they’ll deal.

As for my relatives in Italy, that poses a much bigger problem. Whereas my cousins might merely be uncomfortable with me being bi, I’ve had discussions with my Italian gramma, and she says that she thinks it’s inhuman to be gay. So I’ve pretty much resolved not to tell her. My great aunt and her husband might be more accepting, but I can’t tell them without telling my gramma.

Does this bug me? Not really. Especially in my gramma’s case, she wasn’t really brought up in a tolerant environment where gays were a part of the community: think World War II in Italy. So in a sense, it’s not really her fault. And I think this is true of most people who are intolerant or uncomfortable with others being gay.

It’s actually kind of interesting to observe changes that have occurred with the friends and family to whom I’ve come out. After I had told my mom, she suddenly got a little more sensitive to certain issues. For example, if relatives asked her about me and whether I had a girlfriend, she suddenly felt like she was hiding something if she told them no. My brother, in turn, has always used the word “gay” in its derogatory sense, not because he’s intolerant (on the contrary, he has gay friends too) but because he thinks it’s funny. And it’s very amusing to see that he still continues to use it, even though it’s evident that it could be perceived as a sort of insult. For what it’s worth, I don’t really care if someone uses the word that way.

As for me, I’m a little more open to talking about relationship stuff with my mom because I’ve now discussed my previous issues with her, and because I think she’s concerned about my safety and health a little more since I’ve come out. And when I’m with friends and a girl comments on the attractiveness of a guy, I might approve or disapprove whereas before I wouldn’t really say anything. Actually, before, I probably wouldn’t say anything if a guy made a comment about the “hotness” of a girl, so I guess coming out has gotten me a little more comfortable with myself, too.

One other thing I’ve thought about is societal attitudes towards being gay: society seems to perceive being gay as abnormal, and that it’s a surprise when someone comes out as gay. It’s not actually that far from the truth. If you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, a species that was predominantly gay, or even half-gay half-straight, would need to expend significant resources just to keep the species going. A species is more likely to survive harsher conditions if most of its members produce offspring, something which a gay couple cannot do. It would be a waste to use resources on individuals who won’t produce offspring. So evolution tends to produce those which will be inclined to procreate and mate with another individual of the opposite sex, i.e.: heterosexual.

Therefore, to say that being gay is “normal” is kind of disingenuous. Gay individuals really are outside the norm. So the whole ordeal with “coming out” is something that’s really unavoidable, because it’s not unreasonable to assume that everyone is heterosexual unless proven otherwise: evolution favors heterosexuality for obvious reasons. It’s interesting if you think about it, though; shouldn’t homosexuality be eradicated by evolution? If homosexuality was genetic, then those genes wouldn’t be propagated to offspring, since gay couples wouldn’t be able to have offspring. (This casts aside the possibility of an individual being bi, and the possibility of gay couples having children that are genetically related to at least one part of the couple through in-vitro fertilization.) On the other hand, homosexuality isn’t purely due to environmental factors, either. There are gay individuals even in environments where there’s access to the opposite sex, and where homosexuality is frowned upon. I say “access to the opposite sex” because in situations where individuals are exclusively of one gender, like prisons, for example, homosexuality emerges out of necessity to satisfy sexual urges.

You can’t really choose to be homosexual or not, either, just like you can’t choose to be heterosexual. If you ask anybody why they are attracted to the gender they’re attracted to, they don’t tell you, “oh, because society told me to” or “because I think girls are prettier than guys”, the answer is “I don’t know, I just do.” (An amusing quote from my brother: “It never really occurred to me to like guys.” My response: “Well to me, it had, and I do.”)

So why does homosexuality continue to persist? There’s the argument that homosexual individuals tend to focus their energies on things other than rearing offspring, as is reflected in a higher proportion of gays in creative fields, enriching the life of the entire species. Or that a mother has a more intense “allergic reaction” with each successive offspring, and in the process secretes some sort of enzyme that causes the fetus to be more likely to be homosexual. This is supposedly bolstered by research that shows that individuals with more elder siblings are more likely to be gay. The body of the mother does this, supposedly, so that the gay child can devote resources to taking care of the parents in their older age.

But where’s the evolutionary benefit? Sure, creative pursuits enrich life and possibly make the species happier as a whole, but this would seem to be an argument that only applies to a species once it gets to the point that it becomes intelligent. Do other animal species with homosexual individuals also have creative pursuits that enrich the species? Probably not. And what good does taking care of the mother do, if she’s already had kids? In the context of evolution, the parents have fulfilled their duties once they’ve finished having kids, so there’d be no benefit to making sure they have a longer life.

But I digress. Getting back to the original point: saying that being gay is “abnormal” is not to say that being gay is “unnatural”. That’s a completely false statement, too. Being gay may be “abnormal”, but it is also “natural”. There are many instances of homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom: Wikipedia has a good overview of homosexuality in animals. And since we happen to be just another species on this planet, it’s not exactly surprising that individuals among our species will also be homosexual, too.

Oh, yeah, and then there’s the recent California Supreme Court ruling that suddenly made gay marriage legal in California. As a resident of California, this affects me. Am I happy about the ruling? Of course; I’m glad that progress is being made on this issue. But I’m not exactly ecstatic about it, either. I mean, I’m 23 for fuck’s sake. I don’t expect to be married for at least another 5 years, and most likely not for another 10. Gay marriage will come eventually. It’s inevitable. If you don’t believe me, simply look at the unavoidable march of progress in the U.S. The women’s movement came first, then the civil rights movement — which helped erase the taboo of the interracial marriage, and now, the gay rights movement. Progressive social issues always become accepted in society eventually. As I said before, it’s really simply a matter of growing up in an environment where you’re exposed to gays, or to interracial marriage. The current generation will be split in their views, but the next generation will by and large have no problem since they grew up with it. And once the current generation dies off, you have (almost) nothing left but tolerance.

So, yeah, the California Supreme Court ruling is cool. But when I’ll be thinking about marriage, a good 10 years of societal change with regards to this issue will probably make the issue relatively tame.

So… yeah! That was a rambling, train-of-consciousness, stream-of-thought path through what I’ve been going through for the past year or so. It feels good to shout this at the internets.

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