when the status quo frustrates.

The Lonely

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Inspired by Dear Leader, who’s been sharing favorite old Twilight Zone episodes, I’m going to share one of my own. I first saw “The Lonely” when I was, I think, about twelve. I was in a phase of my adolescence where I would stay up all night long just to see what it felt like being awake the next day. Around midnight, I’d sneak downstairs and spend the hours until dawn watching old TV shows which originally aired in the 50s and 60s. To me, The Twilight Zone was by far the best of the lot, and an episode called “The Lonely” left one of the strongest marks on me of all of them.


A Quick Experiment

Monday, July 6th, 2009

I’m going to name various categories. For each one, I’d like you to mentally note who is the first famous person to pop into your head. Please answer all of these for yourself before hitting the “Continue reading ‘A Quick Experiment’” link.

Who is the first famous person you think of when I say…

  • sexual harasser
  • rapist
  • domestic abuser
  • spouse murderer
  • child molester

Did a face or name pop into your mind for each of them? Okay, now you can read the rest.


Welcome to the Jungle

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Probably this is the wrong place to ask this– I should really visit some horticulture forum or something — but what the hey, it’s more fun to do this here, and see what kind of secret green thumbs we have reading this blog.

When I moved to my new place in Fukuoka, Japan, I was all excited because I actually had a real back garden. Not a huge one, but considering I was right smack dab in the town center, it was a pretty lucky coup. I had these grand ideas of starting a vegetable garden in there, despite the fact that I have exactly zero experience with gardening.

My apartment is on the ground floor of an apartment building with 11 floors. Only the three ground floor apartments have a back lawn, and most apartment buildings don’t have lawns, period, so again, I stress my crazy luck. I was warned before I moved in that the previous tenant didn’t take care of the garden, but they offered to clean it up for me once before I arrived. And they did that.

In April, I finally saw the garden with my own eyes. I was a bit disappointed to discover that the lawn area was surrounded on all sides by multilevel apartment buildings. Whatever grew there would probably be sick for sunlight. But still, it was my own little patch. The lawn was mainly clover, with a couple of little patches of some kind of green stalky plant with thick roots that had recently been cut, and which had grown to 2 or 3 feet high. I was also secretly pleased to see that both of my neighbor’s lawns were untended and overgrown. My perfect little veggie garden was going to kick their ass!

(I wish I had taken a picture when I first arrived, but I did not.)

As any of my real life friends could have predicted, knowing what a lazy cretin I am, I did not immediately do what was necessary to plant a vegetable garden. For one thing, I had no idea what to do. So I decided I must research. Yes, research was key. No internet yet? Oh well. Off the hook.

This is what the garden looked like a month later. You can see that the green stalky thingies had grown a bit. Evidently my fears about lack of sunlight were overrated. I estimate they were 4 or 5 feet tall here.

Quin's lawn May, angle 1

Here it is from another angle.

Quin's Lawn May angle 2

Now, from roughly the same angle, but taken just this afternoon. As you can see, they’ve grown a bit more.

Quin's Lawn July 4

I shit you not, that tallest green stalky thingy is nearly 8 feet tall!

I actually  kind of like looking out my windows and seeing so much green out there. Especially because the view, otherwise, is drab apartment high rises. But for one thing, I kind of do still have this fantasy of growing vegetables out there. And for another, the mosquitos are unbearable out there. To go hang up my laundry, I need to put on a hooded sweatshirt and long jeans. And it’s getting HOT now. Mind you, maybe the mosquitos are just as much from my neighbors’ untended lawns, or from some standing water just around the corner or something. But can I just say how maddeningly clear of giant green monster stalky things my neighbors’ lawns are? Obviously this is just something indigenous to my own garden.

So, consider this a plea for help. Anybody out there know anything about this stuff? What do you recommend? Giant pruning shears? A flamethrower? Prayer? Will it tear up the soil in some detrimental way if I just put on some work gloves and buy a shovel and try to dig out the roots? What, dear gardening hobbyists, would YOU do if you inherited this situation?

Goodnight Moon

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I’m not sure that this will mean anything to any of the readers here, but I was really bummed to learn that Moon of Alabama is calling it a day. They were my secret weapon, a great place I could always rely on for knock-your-socks-off analysis of international affairs, and links to all the important articles the other blogs don’t carry. Plus commenters so smart I always felt unqualified to say anything there myself, though I did a couple of times anyway.

But all good things. Anyway, goodnight, Moon– I’ll miss you!

A little bit of slavery

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Red Queen points out a crucial missing element from the argument going on over here:

The question of when life starts may be fun to debate in a purely philosophical exercise, but it has nothing to do with the actual problem of women who are pregnant and don’t want to be. The real debate is who controls your body? You, your nearest patriarchal overseer, the assholes in navy blue suits who vote for our laws? If you believe that you are the only person capable of making decisions about your own body, then you believe that everyone is capable of making decisions about their own body. If you believe that there is ever a time when someone else gets to make decisions about a body not their own (which is slavery), then you better be prepared to line up for mandatory blood donations. If you’re okay with a little bit of slavery, it’s best not to assume that you’re going to be the slave owner.

The epithet “forced birther” may not win any friends with folks on the anti-legal-abortion side of the fence, but if you actually take their arguments at face value, that is exactly what they are. While usually making an exception for conditions which threaten the life of a pregnant mother (though mind you, they are the ones setting the risk level over which this threat is unacceptable), they are suggesting that our government ought to proudly step in and force women to give birth to children.

Now, forced birthers would choose to frame it differently, probably in terms of murder. This is why I, reproductive rights noob that I am, have only been tackling the ludicrous claims that zygotes have equal rights to adult human beings. Because this issue is cut and dried. There is no murder possible if there was never any sentience. But it’s been useful with me to engage folks like Neil and Theo, who believe this nutty view, if only to expose where their real priorities lay. They would sacrifice the rights of adult women on the altar of the (yes, human) zygote.

Why do they persist in valuing the “rights” of even a non-sentient one-celled organism to exist over the rights of a woman to have control over her own body, and thus the course of her own life? Perhaps it’s:

  • A religious belief that the zygote (but not the sperm) has a soul.
  • A desire to get off on controlling the bodies of other people.
  • Both of the above.
  • A fourth option which I am too close-minded and/or dense to comprehend.

Obviously different individuals may have different answers here. Forced birther zygote worshippers, I invite you to tell me your own answer. I’d really like to understand how one can even come to hold your perspective.

Now my passport photo sucks even more

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Jim Buck relates, in true urban legend style (friend of a friend), that having three stars on your passport photo apparently means you are of special interest to the U.S. government.

I went and checked my own passport. 3 stars. Woo hoo! Must be an enemy of the state. I did go to Pakistan once. Man that made it difficult to get in and out of the U.S. for a while. ALWAYS missed my connecting flights because Immigration wanted to quiz me. This annoyance finally stopped when I later updated my passport, thus removing the offending country stamp.

Does anyone else have 3 stars on their passport? Or know for a fact what the 3 stars mean? Google doesn’t seem to be cutting it for me on this issue.

Heroic embryo-rights firefighters make me so hot

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Not counting the comments in this old thread over the last two days, I have written exactly zero on the subject of reproductive rights. In my life. Guess I just figured other people had it covered. What a spineless coward I’ve been. Time to get out there and knock some heads! As I’m an RR noob, please forgive me if I come out swinging on an argument that has only been definitively kiboshed about a zillion times, namely the whole “life begins at conception” thing.

I won’t rehash what’s gone on so far in the thread, but suffice it to say that my right hand has been busy, and thus All Your Uteri Are Belong To Us (“us” being me and my gametes).

In one corner: me and Antigone (who kindly reminded me as to the difference between a gamete and a zygote).

In the other corner: Neil, a biblical literalist who in the last week has not only blogged a response to Lisa’s nearly year-old post, but also noted how gay pride parades are God-mockery and helpfully pointed out that Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett just might now be in hell (pretty classy, Neil!); and Theobromophile, a regular at Neil’s site. Neil’s blog seems to get decent traffic, so we may get some other new visitors too, but what the heck, I’m in the mood to add a few more kleenex to the pile.

The fight: Can the “rights” of a single-celled organism trump the “rights” of a woman? (I’d like to point out the first set of scare quotes are mine, and the second set Neil’s.)

Taking off from the last current comment on Lisa’s thread, by Theobromophile:

The scientific fact is that gametes are not human beings the way that zygotes, blastocysts, and embryos are. There is no right to life of a gamete, no more than your dandruff has a right to life.

However, conception changes all of that. From the moment of fertilisation, the egg changes; it develops a hard outer shell to keep out other sperm; DNA from the parents’ gametes mixes; and cell division begins. (Scientists can examine two-celled blastocysts and determine where the head will be.) The result is a complete human being at the earliest stage of life.

There is a tremendous amount of intellectual dishonesty required to pretend that foetuses (or embryos) are not living human beings. While I fully understand why most anti-lifers do not acknowledge this point – as to do so would be to admit that some humans in our society have a right to life, but the smallest, most vulnerable, and unwanted ones do not – it is, nevertheless, antagonistic towards basic biology.

Theo, considering you would apparently gladly risk the life of a real woman with a lifetime of experiences just as deep as your own for the sake of a non-sentient single celled organism that happens to have a hard outer shell, you really oughtta reconsider who you want to call “anti-life” here.

Wanna argue with me about about late term abortions, sure, we’ll still disagree, but at least I’ll feel like we might be able to have something approaching a rational conversation. Arguing in favor of a single cell is pure kookiness. Now you can claim “INTELLECTUAL DISHONESTY!111!!” all you want, but you’re not actually demonstrating exactly how I am supposedly being so. Let me instead show you your own.

You and Neil and others like you make the argument that because the scientific establishment classifies a certain parisitic single-celled organism as “human”, this somehow also proves, scientifically, your faith-based ethical belief that this non-sentient microscopic life form is morally equal to (or perhaps higher than) the life of the host human off of whom it is currently leeching. What we have here is a (yes) human single cell which has precisely as much awareness as a monkey zygote or a cat zygote or a mouse zygote or a gamete or an amoeba or a rice krispy. Your position seems to be that since a human zygote has a chance of growing into a self-aware homo sapiens at some much later date, it has already got some magic quality which makes its worth equal (or better) than the life of an adult woman who has it. But… why? Unfortunately, you guys are missing any kind of middle steps in your intended chain of logic.

This is intellectual dishonesty. Though I’ll give y’all the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re being just as intellectual dishonest with yourself as you are with me. I really can’t understand why anyone would hold your point of view, except with the theory that you are only getting so hot and bothered over this issue because believing this confers on you moral superiority and thus the right to control other people. Like, women.

Speaking of hot and bothered, here’s a challenge to Neil, Theobromophile, and to any other pro-zygote anti-woman’s “rights” lurkers out there. (Remember, that’s Neil’s scare quotes, not mine.)

Let me pose you a simple question. A variation on one I’ve read somewhere before, wish I could remember where. Anyway, please answer directly, as it may clarify a lot for all of us.

First, imagine that you are a heroic firefighter. (Who knows, maybe you really are one.) 

You’re passing by a fertility clinic when you notice it’s burning down. Being the brave and plucky embryonic-rights crusader you are, you leap into the fray to save as many frozen embryos as you can. You’re just lumbering out of a burning lab, loaded down with a refrigerator full of potentially hundreds of frozen blastocysts, when you suddenly notice a child whimpering in the corner, trapped behind a fallen timber which you are sure that you, with your rock hard pecs, can easily move.

Now, you might be able to leave and then come back for which/whoever you left behind; but the fire’s raging pretty badly. You also might not. Do you…

(1) …drop the refrigerator to save the child, and take the chance that the blaze might destroy the hundreds of frozen blastocysts before you can return?
(2) …keep on going with the refrigerator, and take the chance that the fire might kill or maim the child before you can return?

Follow-up questions:

If you chose the child, why did you do so?

If you chose the refrigerator, does your answer change if you know that the refrigerator has only ten frozen blastocysts? Only one?

And finally, if you refuse to give a straight answer either way, what does this say about the strength of your convictions?

Memorial Day

Monday, May 25th, 2009


Just a harmless theoretical scenario.

Let’s imagine that the worst fears of many liberal conspiracy theorists come true. A staged terrorist attack leads to a fascist coup, and in the confusion Dick Cheney becomes President of the United States. Of course, not everybody takes this lying down, so Cheney turns the military and police directly against the people of America. Civil war. Within a couple of years, a million Americans are dead– about two thirds of them adult men, the other third women and children. Millions more are injured, maimed, or shell-shocked by the destruction of all they held dear; roaming the land, squatting in burnt out suburbs, dispossessed, starving, homeless. Bodies of the dead line the highways.

After a while, the situation stabilizes some. Cheney steps down, but his neocon coterie still control the guns. Quasi-democratic elections resume, but the winning parties always serve at the pleasure of the military. Resistance and even peaceful dissent is dealt with mercilessly, with imprisonment and torture, er, ‘enhanced interrogation’ of the offending parties. There are frequent whispers of rape and race-driven arrests, and the only judicial oversight is in the form of rubber stamp kangaroo courts.

If you were a civilian in a situation like this, would you be one to “Support the Troops”? If people you knew had been killed by the military? Friends? Your parents? Your children?

After all, it’s not any individual soldier’s fault what they are commanded to do. And many of them, as young men and women, had no other path forward out of economic misery. A large percentage joined up before the military coup and thought they were just going to be defending their own country in a more traditional manner. Perhaps you have friends or family who are soldiers, not just victims. Does it really do any harm to attend parades celebrating the troops? To simultaneously wear black armbands to remember the dead, and yellow ribbons to give moral reassurance to the ones who killed them?

Let’s leave fantasy land and come back to reality. The real question is: Does revering the troops no matter what only serve to uphold the status quo?

If not, why not?

What Can I Do?

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

I’m looking for ways to volunteer in my community. The catch is, I live in Fukuoka, Japan, and my Japanese language skills, while functional for my daily life, are really not at a level where I can be useful in the same ways I could in an English-speaking country. Which is to say, I talk like a four-year-old. At least I can talk at all, but still, options. Kind of limited.

My vague thoughts on the matter run like this. I’ll get Japanese friends to help me research, and see if I can find a worthy oppression-fighting organization, and then offer my services by:

1. giving free English lessons to their activists (if it’s a group for whom this is helpful);
2. helping with childcare, if their activists rely on any kind of volunteer childcare– maybe I could even lead some free music or English classes for the kids, since, after all, teaching English to Japanese kids is my regular day job; or
3. doing anything else they think I could helpfully do.

I’m a bit stymied by my language restrictions. I’m afraid any kind of proper activism is beyond my means right now. I mean, I guess I can just ladle out soup to the homeless if need be…

Please share any other ideas you might have.

The Light, It Burns

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Nosferatu Being Destroyed by Sunlight

It was my intention to get caught up on current events this week, it really was. But I kept on finding myself sidetracked, drawn to articles that were weeks, months, even years old. I guess I am getting caught up, just not on current events.

A few of you may have gleaned by now that I tend to stay away from writing about gender and race issues. I thought this was because, to me, there were more important things to write about— American imperialism being top of the list. That is certainly very important, especially as the US under Obama shows no sign of parting ways with his predecessors on the mass murder of brown people front. But I am starting to see that my disregard for other more social issues is a direct result of my white male privilege. And cowardice. A blindness afforded to me because I don’t need to look. (And speaking as an experienced white guy, I know that I just lost the interest of about 90% of my white male readers by using the phrase “white male privilege”. Oh well.)

In terms of internal thought processes, it’s been a challenging week for me. I feel closed and shuttered, like a vampire living in a cave, preoccupied with shadows, comfortable, powerful, unfulfilled, and incapable of real empathy. That part isn’t actually new. What’s new is that I’m only just starting to understand that this may, in fact, be a problem. It would really be for the best if I could change this, even if only for the sake of my own personal wellbeing. But when I try to grapple the question of why I might feel this way, my thoughts recede from me, and I feel the strong urge to go play piano, or play a web game, or read just one more blog post, or masturbate. Or all four at the same time.

Apologies if this is getting too personal.

I don’t know how to talk about race. There’s no way I’d qualify to be Field Negro’s white friend– in all of my friendships with non-white people, if the subject at hand ever turns to race, I just sort of clam up. That way lies safety, you see. There’s no chance of exposing something about myself that might make me look bad, or, y’know, change me.

I certainly avoid talking about gender. The only time I’ve myself even brought up feminism before on this blog was a passive-aggressive screed in which I tried to tell feminists what they really should be thinking about. Strangely enough, that’s the only post I’ve ever written which received any kind of approving linkage from other bloggers. White male bloggers, I am nearly certain.

So, this is it. I’m coming out of the cave. Now we’ll see if I have the strength to actually open my eyes and see anything. To, you know, figure out if I can really approach other human beings with humility, respect and love, and not just the skilled appearance of humility, respect and love, which I’ve gotten all too good at. Who knows, maybe I can’t. The curse of privilege is that you never have to change. My existence may be just too comfortable. I do hope I can do one better than the vampire tourist of my little allegory, but really, only time will tell.

Socrates Nosferatu

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

This story is not about vampires.


Hello, again

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Insomnia blogging. The sleeplessness is my own fault, can’t seem to get myself on a steady sleep schedule.

It’s been a month since I moved from Tokyo to Fukuoka, Japan. My big honking project that I’ve spent the last six months of my life on is over. I wrote about 750 pages of curriculum for the school I work for. That’s nearly a Michener novel. It’s good to be finished!

As for Fukuoka, I like it for many reasons. Probably most important is that it’s not Tokyo. There’s lots of ways I love Tokyo, but it’s good to have a breather. Obviously, there are quite a few fewer people here. I can step on a train without imitating a tinned sardine, and I can ride a bicycle without taking my life in my hands. The people are super friendly here, too. I already have about four local food establishments vying to be my “local” since they’re all staffed by such friendly folk who seem to genuinely enjoy talking to me, even with my limited Japanese. And my living situation rocks. My place is big. I have my own garden and a real piano. At my job, my new position is rewarding and not too terribly time-consuming. In short, life, for me, is good. I’m one of the lucky ones, and I certainly appreciate my good fortune.

On Monday night I finally got internet again. A month ago, I was really jonesing for my series of tubes. My circumstances, between my new job and all the busywork attendant with a big move, made any meaningful connectivity more difficult than it was worth. Then, suddenly, about a week into my cold turkey, it ceased to matter. Life presented itself with other things to fill that void, and nothing felt lost. I was a bit surprised by this development. Part of me was even a bit disappointed when I got hooked up again. (The other part of me, of course, was really grateful to be able to get caught up on “Lost”.) But if technology were to suddenly fail us on a wide scale and all computers and televisions were to stop working, have no fear, we’ll be fine. Thus speaketh me, anyway.

True story: Lisa K, you got me in trouble! While I was living blog-free, there was a brief bit of excitement at my company due to a manager who didn’t like me trying to get me in trouble for this here little blog. Probably foolishly, I include the address to this blog in my e-mail sigs, and as per normal I left my sig on an e-mail which another boss happened to forward to a bunch of teachers. The next day, I get this phone call: “So, Quin, I was just looking at this website– this ‘Punk’ ‘Assblog’…” –(yes, he actually went out of his way to pronounce it as though he’d never heard the work “punkass” before)– “…and well… what’s this about anal sex?” He claimed that one of the teachers was terribly offended by it and had contacted him over it, an assertion I find highly suspect. So terribly offended by an article which hadn’t even been on the main page for, like, three weeks. I later heard that he tried to raise a big fuss at head office over it, and everybody there was just like “whatever”. Eventually the manager above him just called me and asked that I not include the blog address in my sig anymore. No sweat!

Strangely enough, aforementioned prudish manager resigned from the company two weeks later. Or perhaps I should add scare quotes and say “resigned”. (And to think I made that voodoo doll of him as a lark– who knew those things actually worked!)

Despite that piece of fun fun fun, I still haven’t quite gotten caught up to speed on what’s going on in the real world, or even just this blog. I see that our little dysfunctional Punkass family has increased by one. A belated welcome, Jad! Looks like your presence has been stirring the pot a little. Hope that’s a good thing.

Right. I’m going to go try to get to sleep again in a minute. First, though, to celebrate my glorious reappearance here, which will surely change all of your lives forever, I’d like to share another song. When I originally created it (for an electronic music class I once took) it was on a crystal clear impeccably mixed DAT tape, but alas the only version that has survived through the years is from a 2nd generation audio tape copy. Also, it’s saddled with the generic title “Theme Du Jour”. Still, it’s one of those ones that gives me a warm glow to hear every now and then. Hope you like it, too.

(Download link)

Creative Commons License

Theme Du Jour by Quin Arbeitman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.