Tuesday, May 30, 2006

God/dess/less Part One

I am an agnostic. For those unfamiliar with that term, it means that I think "god" is unknowable, and therefore, not important. I'm not saying that a supreme being CANNOT exist, just that I feel it unlikely. I'm also unwilling to say that the scientific method will tell us everything (even though it does tell us a lot). I believe in the general goodness of mankind: we have evolved over time, and we will continue to evolve if we stay vigilant. People will do the right thing if given a real opportunity to do so. There's more to it, but that's the nitty-gritty of it.

Along the same vein, I do not believe in the Christian god: all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good. It is logically impossible to be all three in this world.

If you had known me when I was a child, you would be shocked that I am not a Christian. I was raised the first child of a middle-class, Christian Conservative family in the heart of North Dakota. I used to be a whole-hearted Christian: my allowance went to Africa every week; I would walk to church the days my mom couldn't drive me, in my white tights and pretty shoes, crunching over the white snow because I wanted to feel loved. The music would fill me; I sang my little heart out.

I knew I didn't have much to offer the church; I was small and didn't have a lot of money. But I tried my best: I made sure to learn my Sunday school lessons perfectly (to my Sunday school teacher's consternation: I asked too many questions and talked too much). I handed out drinks and cookies, serving myself last because that's what god wanted me to do, right? Every week, I would draw a picture for Jesus, which I put into the offering plate, until one of the adults in church (cruelly and publicly) informed me that the plate didn't go to god, it went to the church. And the church didn't need bad drawings.

There were a lot of things that gradually lead me away from the faith. First, there was how horrible people at church treated each other. My mom would come away from church snappish and unhappy. People told me things at church, like "Balloons don't belong at church" and "girls MUST wear skirts" and "Eve is responsible for original sin, so all little girls must be extra good to make up for it". These people were not anything like my friend Jesus.

The next few things were a result of that evil public education. Even though all of my teachers were Christian, and most actually went to my church, they still were teaching us critical thinking. I remember quite vividly my first grade teacher, Mrs. Gilge going "You should not just blindly follow the crowd. Think for yourself, don't be a mindless sheep." Then, that very Sunday, the pastor was telling us how Jesus was our Sheppard, and we should be willing sheep.

Then, we learned about our namesakes. This was partly my parents fault, and partly my school's fault, but mostly my "fault". My sisters, and most of my classmates, got good Christian names. I got "Cassandra": a Trojan princess who was also a priestess of Athena. When we learned about our names in school, I started to be fascinated with Greek mythology. I learned how different myths were translated differently. I learned about mythical evolution and how it corresponded to which tribes won which battles.

One day, I was reading about Perseus. Mainly, how he was the result of a god impregnating the virgin mother, Danae. "Hehe" thought I, in my 10 year-old self- righteousness. "Who would believe such silly stuff? A child being born of a virgin because "god" did it....wait..." I experienced a heavy moment of cognitive dissonance.

By the time I was hitting my teen years, I was having a full-blown crisis of faith. I couldn't talk to this to my parents: my mom by this time was a full-of-zeal born-again, and my dad was a don't-question Easter/Christmas Christian. I went to the pastor.

The pastor, Pastor Arlen, will forever have my respect. I was a confused, smart-aleck teen looking to someone to justify the universe. The pastor did this in the weirdest way possible: every two weeks, we would play chess. The loser had to pay the winner a dozen cookies. During these matches, he tried to explain his wisdom to me.

He tried his best with me, and I think he's one of two pastors I've ever had, (and I've had a lot) that ever gave a damn. And what ended up happening? He got fired from the church.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Immigration reform

President Bush ordered 6,000 National Guard Troops to the Mexican border to help combat what he called a "matter of national importance". Thinking that this may cause unintended consequences, but not being involved directly in immigration issues, I decided to interview a border patrol agent and get his view on the issue. Since this is a semi-public blog, this agent will remain anonymous.

How long have you been with the Border Patrol?
21 years four months and six days

During this time, where have you worked at?
Southern stations, 3 northern stations and details to San Diego and Fort Isabel

What are some changes you have observed after the Border Patrol was realigned under Homeland Security in 2001?
Priority is now terrorists and terrorists’ weapons. They have shifted away from immigrants

In the President's speech, he said that he increased funding for the Border Patrol by 66%. Has this been enough money to be effective, and what do you see most of the funds going to?
It’s not that effective. You have to be able to utilize the authority you've got; spending money looks good but it we were more effective 20 years ago with nothing than today with all our money and our hands tied.

President Bush also said that he was raising the number of agents from 9,000 to 18,000 by 2008. What are you feelings on this?
It's a lark, they are not training agents, it's just bulk and it doesn't work. You have to be able to enforce the laws. Without enforcement, it's just holding hands down the border

Do you think fences at the border in Urban Centers will significantly combat the stem of immigration?
No, they [this administration] don’t want to stop it. He's making it sound good, but he has no intention of stopping it. This is cheap labor for his campaign contributors

Do you foresee any trouble with the 6000 National Guardsmen that will help patrol the border for the next 2 years?
They have no power to arrest, and they were designed for national emergency. The immigration increase has been going on for the last 10 years. This is not a military problem, nor a national emergency: it's a growing crisis.

What ramifications do you see of the abolishment of the "catch and release" system?
It's all about money, they've turned over a country: there are too many illegals here. They may say that they're getting rid of it, but that's not going to happen. The other thing is it's difficult to tell where illegals are coming from. "Catch and release" came up because it's more expensive to ship illegals back to their home country than just to Mexico: you're going to find more agents just sending people we have suspicions coming from some South American country to Mexico because it's cheaper. This works well for the illegal, because Mexico is much closer to coming back in [to the US].

Shifting gears for a bit, what do you think of the recent bill to make English the US's official language that has recently passed in the Senate?
Look through your history books, see how any group that has had multiple languages has failed.

So you support the change?

Any thing else you would like to add?
No, I think that's okay

Interesting, is it not, that this is the feelings of a Border Patrol agent. By no means is this the only person in the Border Patrol who holds these beliefs, (although there are less conservative agents).

I disagree with most of the post. I think people who are so afraid of Mexican immigrants have a strong level of racism and fear of change. But, instead of going off on it, I'd just like to direct you to a few country, more specifically their languages and GDP.

United Kingdom
New Zealand

Now let's look at some countries that only have one official language.
Saudi Arabia
North Korea

I'm beginning to think that a country can thrive with more than one language, and having only one official language doesn't mean that it's going to benefit anyone.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Okay, I said on this comment thread that I would post an explination about "consent". But, seeing as it's now 10:30, and I'm just off-work and tired, I'm not going to tonight. Sorry anyone who wandered over and wished to rip through my argument. For the time being, here's an open thread for discussion. I will update when I have more time, as this is going to be a LONG post.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Jill at Feministe has a great post up about being a slut. I figure now is a good a time as any to talk about my own experiences with being a slut (reposted from my personal blog.)

When I was a child, I used to get teased a lot. I'd say I didn't develop my (limited) social skills until about my freshman year of high school. There were a lot of insults thrown my way, but the one that puzzled me the most was "girl".

"You're such a girl" he would taunt. "No I'm not!" I'd rebutt indignantly. But, I'd know that, yes, I was a girl. I had girl-parts, long hair, seemingly posessed XX chromosonal arrangements...I was a girl. But being called "girl" WAS an insult, it wasn't a compliment. I knew that as a child, even if I couldn't explain to you why it was an insult.

Later, the insult de jour would be "nerd". Eventually, I went "fuck it, hell yes I'm a nerd". I like literature (especially sci fi and fantasy), video games, role-playing games, philosophical discussions and pop culture aspects. I am a nerd. That term I was able to co-opt for myself and my friends: occasionally we joke that somewhat just earned "prestige levels in nerd", a phrase in and of itself reveling the speaker to be of the less mainstream persuasion.

Now, the insult that gets lobbed at me the most frequently (although, less in the school-yard taunting setting and in the more subtle version) would be "slut". (Although "bitch" would probably be a close second).

Slut. It's really a good insult word, from an aethetic sense. The sl makes a nice hissing noise, and the t and the end really closes it. "You're a ssssslllluT". A word that's spoken much like someone would refer to something disgusting.

It's interesting to note that I feel unable to co-opt word like I did with "nerd", and it's not something I can really argue with on a semantic level, much like "girl". A quick jaunt over to dictionary.com says that slut is defined as:

A woman considered sexually promiscuous.
A woman prostitute.
A slovenly woman; a slattern.

Okay, then. The second definition is wrong, seeing as I don't get paid in momentary means when I have sex. A slovenly women...well, I'm pretty untidy, but seeing as I don't smell, and am not dirty, I don't think that one counts either. So, the first one is the only one which could apply to me.

"A woman considered sexually promiscuous". The fact that the word "considered" is in there at all, means that it's a matter of subjectivity right from the get-go, but what the fuck is considered "promiscuous" anyway? Back to dictionary.com

pro·mis·cu·ous adj.
Having casual sexual relations frequently with different partners; indiscriminate in the choice of sexual partners.
Lacking standards of selection; indiscriminate.

Kay, the first one doesn't apply to me: I'm so not indiscriminate in my choice of sexual partners. They have to meet my standards, and I'm unwilling to compromise on those standards. Most of them have met standards ABOVE my base standard, so I'm not indiscriminate. So, ergo, I'm not promiscuous.

If I'm not promiscuous, then I'm not a slut. QED.

But, seeing as slut is defined as "considered promiscuous" then I can't use MY definition of indiscriminate, whoever is judging me gets to consider that. And, since I'm female, the people who feel they have the right to judge me is, hmmm, everybody. Damn, back to being a dirty slut again. Just like being a "girl" I can't logically throw back "no, I'm not".

So, what's a girl to do? In the nice, denotative sense, slut's not really that bad. So I've slept with "a lot" of guys, bfd? Just like girl, why is that an insult, and not merely a statement of fact?

Because no one says slut as a positive thing. Ever. Wheras pimp is frequently considered a compliment, a women is to have no sex drive at all. Slut is on the "whore" side of the virgin/whore dicotomy: virgin is pure, unsullied, untouched, restrained virtuous. "Virgin" deserves protections, respect and care. Whore, therefore, is bad. "Whore" means dirty, used, sinful. "Whores" do not deserve protection, respect and care: whores are just public property to be used and dismissed. Like the village bicycle, everyone's had a turn. And what's worse, if the village bicycle suddenly gets a flat tire, fuck it: just throw it out and get a new one, it's not that big of a deal. (and I'm going to stop now, this analogy is getting really strained).

And if the slut denies someone the "right" to use it, watch out. Now she's an "uppity slut". She is someone who needs to be shoved back into her rightful place, a lesser on the hierchy.

If someone says "slut" you can be damned sure that this person has, to some degree, internalized sexism. The thing with the virgin/whore dicotomy is neither have status as a human: one is a pedestal ideal, the other is something that is okay to be drug through the mud. Neither one reflects the whole spectrum of human experience: neither being perfect nor being a demon. This false dicotomy is destructive to any women who falls on either end of it, because both are a denial of humanity.

My sexuality is not lessened by having sex with one guy, or a million (maybe a million, that'd hurt, but you get the hyperbole), or by masturbating, or by having lots of sex with one guy. I'm not a pie, there isn't a limit to my sexuality. I'm not "used" after sex, I'm not selfish to enjoy an experience with someone else, and it's no less "significant" when I have sex because I've had it before. But mostly, my sexuality is my own. It's not for someone else to decide, to insult, to tisk away because of some belief on how I should act.

So, while the insult is a total non sequitar, it's still very much supposed to be an insult. It is supposed to be warning me away from my sexuality, because then I don't "deserve" the protections befitting a good woman. It is a way to force me into a mold that I don't fit, and is contridictory to my nature, for the simple reasons of asserting power.

Monday, May 01, 2006

UND Hockey Nickname

The University of North Dakota, like most universities, has a mascot; ours just happens to be contriversal.

UND is the Fighting Sioux. This has come under fire in recent years, with some people wanting to change it (with charges that it's racist), and others wanting to keep it (because it's part of the UND tradition).

For those of you unfamiliar, here's a quick timeline (for a longer timeline, here's a biased one in favor of removing the name:

In 1930, UND became the "Fighting Sioux". For the next 70 years, there is contention over this nickname. In 1990, more and more groups formed to get rid of the Sioux nickname. In 2000, it looked like we were going to change the name.

Then in 2001, Ralph Englestad gave 100 million dollars for a new hockey rink, with the condition that we had to keep the nickname. To make sure that the nickname "sticks", many logos were put into the arena, including being stamped right into the bricks of the building.

Now, the NCAA has issued that they will not allowUND (and three other institutions with Native nicknames) to host play-off games or use uniforms with the names or logo until the name is changed, citing the nickname as "hostile and abusive". UND has lost its final appeal with the NCAA, and now it has to go to the federal courts (right now, Sioux diehards are pleading either antitrust (since NCAA is a virtual monopoly), or discrimination, since other nicknames are allowed like the Fighting Irish). For UND alumns and students, there is a forumfor talking about it.

I've got to say, I didn't really have an opinnion about this. As far as I was concerned, arguing about this was missing the larger issue: namely, the fact that sports take up HUGE portions of my tuition unnecessarily. The fact that the state and community was racist, and specifically racist towards Natives, was a such a "duh" thing that I didn't think anybody disputed it. I figured they were going to spend more time and effort over the problems on the reservation with poverty and low health, the names of the cities (Devil's Lake, anyone?) and the budget cuts to the Indian Studies department.

Now that I've researched it, however, I think the logo has to change. I'm not thrilled with it: I dislike that I'm going to have a SERIOUS increase in my tuition. I dislike that the ONLY reason UND became open to having Native students and an Indian Studies program was because they entered into a thieve's bargin: UND uses the name, they get their department.

Some claim that the name isn't racist, that it's an "honor". Well, I'm not sure about that, I'm not Native, I can't know for sure. My first inclination is "I don't care about the Viking's logo, and that's my ancestors", but that's not the same.

A) As a white person, I'm priveleged in that I get to be the norm. People don't look at me and assume I'm a Viking. I don't have a "Viking culture" that I have any need or want to defend.

B) I believe that people should respect other people's wishes. The only thing that analogous is being a women: I don't like being called "baby" or "Miss". I don't like being wolf-whistled at. I've heard people say that I shouldn't be offended, because it's a "compliment", and look at all the women who are complimented by it. But if I'm not complimented, it's NOT a compliment, it's an insult. If the Natives are saying that it is offensive, I'm going to believe them; even if it's only some of the Natives.

This is not morally defensible. "Tradition" isn't enough to justify continued racism. We need to change the nickname, even though it is expensive.