Separate but equal is never equal

More than 1700 same-sex couples have been married under San Francisco’s little act of “civil” disobedience. Thousands more are continuing to line up before Tuesday’s hearing to determine whether the state’s ban on same-sex marriages is constitutional. Most are from the Bay Area, but couples are coming in from all over the country to get married.

That’s beautiful.

Most straight people who are together don’t want to get married, but look at how desperate so many same-sex couples want to get married and publicly declare their love and lifetime committment to each other. Someone should do a study, if they haven’t already, of same-sex couples in general or specifically, these newlywed couples and see how long they stay together after getting married, whether the legality of it sticks or not. I bet same-sex couples would have a much lower rate of divorce– you know why? When you have been denied a right for so long, you appreciate it when you are finally given it. The ban on same-sex marriage, if anything, has probably only made marriage an even more sacred and more cherished union to same-sex couples.

If the courts have now ruled that “sodomy” is no longer illegal, then the courts have declared that this type of physical interaction between members of the same sex is, for lack of a better word, “okay” (or at least the laws that make it illegal are unconstitutional and a violation of privacy). If we can recognize the “okay-ness” of the physical act, isn’t it only natural to extend that “approval” to the emotional and spiritual relationship that can accompany the act? How ironic that so many will revile homosexuals for their presumed promiscuity and unsafe sex practices, but they will not grant them the right to marriage and the opportunity to declare to the world that they are partners in life, committed and true? I bet through legalized same-sex marriage, many homosexuals will publicly disprove the negative stereotypes that have plagued them in this country.

I use to think that civil unions were the solution, but Massachusetts was right. Civil unions are not enough. We are thinking too small. Marriage, truly and completely, is the only real answer. Have we not learned that “separate, but equal” is rarely ever equal?

Fire

So, I’m sitting in a hotel room across the street from my apartment complex because of an electrical fire that started this morning around 7 am. I am thankful for the very nice accomodations and generous daily stipend the apartment management team has set up, that everyone is safe and the free high-speed Internet available at this hotel (although I can’t seem to connect to anything for work– perhaps for the best). Of course, given those things, I am very tired and more than a bit restless as I wonder when I can return to my humble abode and if there was any damage done, whether it was from the fire, from putting the fire out or complications with the electricity (oh Tivo, please be safe).

Despite the fire being out and the damage being seemingly contained, we’re still not allowed into the building because of the danger of asbestos. However, the firemen were nice enough to put on a whole lot of gear and go into the apartments to retrieve essential items so that we can get through the next couple of days (the price you pay for a fire breaking out on a three-day weekend). I made out my little list with all of the things I would like to have for the next few days, but then I prioritized and marked the items the fireman should actually bother with. Realistically, it would be easier for me to go and buy clothes than having a very large fireman searching through my underwear drawer for matching bras and panties. However, he did make a brave effort anyway to get some clothes and in the end, here is just a sampling of the weird items I have with me:

  • My (work) laptop
  • My briefcase with all important office keys, my new digital camera, and the bottle of nail polish from my last manicure (for convenient touch-ups)
  • Some clothes, including a not very useful assortment of underwear and a velour jacket I threw on when the fireman (woman, actually) was practically beating down my door to evacuate the building
  • Contact lenses plus related accessories as well as backup glasses
  • Almost the entire line of Dermalogica products that I had in my bathroom plus random hair care products that were with them
  • Disc 1 of the West Wing first season DVD set (happened to be in my laptop)
  • My (khaki) Coach purse
  • My watch
  • Random CDs in my car that I never listen to because I usually listen to my iPod
  • My wallet and my Blackberry, both of which I grabbed when evacuating the building
  • The plastic laundry basket all of this was carried down in

What I would also like to have (and would have gotten if allowed to get my stuff myself):

  • My iPod
  • My Blackberry charger
  • All of my clothes and shoes
  • My Tivo (I still haven’t watched the newest ER and I am almost physically incapable of watching live TV)
  • My brand new Tiffany Elsa Peretti necklace and my custom made ID necklace
  • My silver hoop earrings that I wear almost everyday in four of my five ear piercings
  • Some real luggage to put everything in

And while all of this is going on, one of my best friends is in the hospital with appendicitis! And here I thought it was going to be a quiet weekend.

Breastmania

Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Superbowl, Breast. See, our culture really is obsessed with breasts. The sad thing is that there is more press, outrage and intended investigation surrounding the allegedly intentional flashing by our beloved JJ and JT than there is about all of the allegedly misleading intelligence on WMD in Iraq and the subsequent decision to go to war. I mean honestly, John Stewart was right when he pointed out that there is something seriously wrong with the fact that the FCC launched an investigation into the incident at the Superbowl faster than anybody in the federal government has been willing to even talk about investigating the validity of intelligence on WMD in Iraq and our rationale for going to war. And if President Bush did lie to the American people, insisting that Iraq was an imminent threat, will he undergo the same kind of character attacks and scrutiny that President Clinton did when he lied about sleeping with a woman? There are degrees to every crime, people– even lying. And if President Bush is found to have lied, will he be encouraged to go on national television, tell the truth, and apologize– like Clinton and Jackson?

Whether it was a stunt or a genuine “wardrobe flaw,” looking at that picture (conveniently blown up for everyone at Drudge Report), neither one of them look very happy at that moment. Nevertheless, Janet and Justin have managed to get a lot of publicity over this and as they always say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. In my opinion, the real people who will be made to pay will be MTV— everyone seems to be holding them ultimately responsible and gone will be the days where MTV can be the “cool, young, hip” part of “mainstream media” (i.e., the major networks during primetime). No more half-time shows, no more grudging respect for their Rock the Vote campaign. Instead, I foresee a future where MTV will be relegated once again to the backwoods of cable TV where they will be considered a liberal, fringe media outlet that serves up sex and shock along with music videos and rock stars. This time, they may have gone too far and whatever respect they have managed to gain as a media presence has been severely tainted.

Personally, I could not care less about the “incident.” I watched the Superbowl on a 57″ television in high definition sitting about eight feet away and even with my well-trained eye, I thought she was wearing a pastie. And while that may not be a whole lot better, Lil’ Kim got away with that years ago.

Impostor

So, I went to the Apple store today to get a car charger and case for my iPod. Every time I’m in there, I feel like I’m perpetrating a lie. I feel like an impostor. I feel like somehow they’re going to know that I’m not really a Mac user. Somehow they’re going to know that I’m really a Windows user and that usually, I can be called on to defend Windows and attack Macs. Then, they’ll either try to convert me or maim me. I know Mac users are supposed to be the happy, think “different” people, enjoying their iLives to the fullest with their pristine white computers and matching peripherals, but seriously, they’re frightening fanaticism about Macs sometimes leads me to believe that if given the right provocation, they will attack.

Of course, there’s part of me that’s almost asking for it. I’m in there, I’m buying accessories, I’m blending in and then I have to shoot my mouth off as if to prove to anybody who might have thought otherwise that I am not a Mac fanatic or a even a Mac user. “Uh, iPod for WINDOWS please. That’s right– I am not a subscriber to your grammatically incorrect mantra of ‘think different’!”

Case in point: my conversation with the guy at the register.

“You have the old iPod, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, just making sure because these accessories only work with the old iPod.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m just trying to buy them up before they’re not available anymore.”

“I know what you mean, but hey, it’s okay. It still works right?” (smiles at me to communicate that it’s okay I have the decrepit, clunky, not-so-mini first generation 5 GB iPod as long as it still works)

“Yeah, it works. You know, my battery still works.”

I don’t know why I needed to point out (passive aggressively) that they’ve managed to screw over so many people with their shoddy batteries on the second generation iPods, but there you go, I did it. I can’t help myself. Maybe Windows users really are evil.

RIAA continues fight while new company tries paradigm shift

Here’s two interesting articles. The first is on the newest wave of lawsuits the RIAA has filed against alleged copyright infringers:

Music Industry Sues Hundreds Over Piracy

ISPs and the RIAA go head to head yet again. Interestingly enough, there hasn’t been much news about lawsuits against college students– and subpoenas for universities– lately. Perhaps picking on young, college students and non-profit educational institutions wasn’t doing much for the RIAA’s warm and fuzzy appeal?

The second article is on a new company called Magnatune. When you do a Google search on the name, you get their Web site as the top hit with the tag line “try before you buy MP3 music.” I swear to God I said the same thing the other day. And when you read more about the company, it gets even spookier:

Apple’s iTunes might not be only answer to ending piracy

Oh, and by the way, if the RIAA is losing so much money from illegal file-sharing, how do they have so much money to be filing so many subpoenas and lawsuits in so many different states?

Breasts

Pink Breast Cancer Ribbon Breasts. Our culture is fascinated with them. Small, large, real, fake. There are a thousand reasons by which we try to explain our fascination with them– our early attachment to the breasts of our mothers, our obsession with sex– but, how do you explain the special relationship women feel with their own breasts? As much as my own breasts bother me sometimes– they make it difficult to find clothes that fit, they make my back hurt, they often bring uninvited attention on me– they are mine and they are part of who I am, what I am. Whether fairly or unfairly, they have shaped who I am and what I am. On good days, I flaunt them proudly and rest assured in the fact that they are real and big and beautiful. On bad days, I cross my arms over them and hope that no one notices and struggle through back aches and the never-ending search for clothes that fit. It is a strange love/hate relationship I have with these silly breasts.

And in some ways, breasts really are silly. In this modern day of baby formula and bottles and plastic nipples, breasts are, for the most part, non-essential and most of the time, non-functional. If anything, society places an unwarranted value on breast size and beauty, encouraging both men and women to judge women (and the men they are associated with) by them and women to place their own self-esteem in them. They are, at the end of the day, purely cosmetic and yet, a woman’s breasts hold an incredible place in her definition of who she is and how she carries herself, whether consciously or subconsciously. And perhaps this is why the threat of breast cancer haunts us. While there are countless life-threatening diseases that affect both men and women, including breast cancer, the effect of breast cancer on women is such a peculiar phenomenon because of the special relationship women have with their own breasts. In America, a woman dies of breast cancer every twelve minutes– a tragedy that we must work and fight against because everyday, more and more women experience the shock of finding that first lump or the anxiety of having a biopsy or the pain of hearing an unfortunate diagnosis. Everyday, how many women are faced with the loss of one or both of their breasts?

Men have no real counterpart through which they may understand this phenomenon– this phenomenon of a cosmetic loss that can be so life-changing. Yes, men can and do contract breast cancer as well, but even after a mastectomy, the change is not nearly as pronounced as for women and a man’s breasts do not hold nearly as dear a place for a man as they do for women. And so, once again, we are reminded that men and women are equal, but still different.

Outside of the threat to our actual lives, when we are faced with breast cancer and the prospect of losing one or both breasts, we are faced with a greater loss than just to our physical appearance. Even if a woman was to opt for reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy and thus, not be faced with a significant change in physical appearance, the loss of one or both breasts is a deeply personal and psychologically traumatizing experience. It is the loss of a part of ourselves that has shaped how others have looked at us and how we have looked at ourselves and how we have defined ourselves, even if it is just to say that my body looks like this and this is how my body moves and this is how I move in my body and when you look at me, you see this. Suddenly, we are different and it doesn’t not affect us in the same way that losing a functional part of us would– if we were to lose a limb or a sense– but it does affect us deeply and truly.

Things I learned at MacWorld

I managed to make it to the final day of MacWorld in San Francisco and after a day of walking around and looking at all the exhibits, if I never see the new iPod mini ad again, it will be too soon. I mean, they only released it a few days ago, but somehow all of San Francisco is plastered with the ads. And the whole time I was at MacWorld, I never actually managed to see the stupid thing. (I personally think it’s a rip off– for $50 more and a negligibly larger footprint, you can get more than three times the storage capacity.)

But I did learn a few things after wandering around the exhibit halls of Moscone Center:

Apple Locks. If Apple is going to continue to target the education market, this is important. Higher education institutions (colleges and universities) face the unique predicament of providing public, but still secure computer clusters and because of Apple’s big love affair with educational institutions, many of these clusters are stocked with Macs. At Stanford, personal computer theft is extremely low (it usually only occurs when somebody leaves a computer out in the open with an invisible bow and sign saying “Take Me”), but public computer theft is a frequent problem. Universities all over the country have been hacking together solutions, from a combination of padlocks and bike chains to actual custom computer locks, but they often either A) don’t work that well and/or B) require damaging the equipment’s casing to attach them (by fusing metal plates onto the casing) and/or C) don’t secure peripherals. Stolen mice and keyboards are probably our biggest problem at Stanford, but there are plenty of cases where somebody puts in the sizable amount of time and effort to pry off metal plates and cut cables. These little Apple Locks are custom built for the Mac towers, securing each computer and the peripherals without damaging the case, and are relatively inexpensive as well.

Continuity of design. I usually believe that it shouldn’t matter what vendor/company you buy a particular gadget from– you should simply buy the best gadget for you and your price range. But, I have to admit that if you were so inclined and ended up buying all of your gadgets from Apple, while you’re home or office might look like it’s out of Space Odyssey 2001, you would have continuity of design. On top of the gadgets, you could also get come Mac-compatible furniture (when did furniture become platform specific?), like this desk for the new iMac.

Apple is still a little confused. They have so little of the market share in most of their product lines, but the people at Apple are still trying to make products for a thousand different markets– consumer electronics (iPod), personal computers (iMac), commercial servers (XServ), and more. I get that they’re trying to create this whole “iLife” concept (and can I just mention how much I am annoyed by things that are named after the medium through which they are delivered– “i” or “e” anything), but the whole conflicted hype around Mac OS X reflects their confusion. Macs have historically been appealing to the computer novice, the not-so-technically savvy, because they were, theoretically, supposed to be easier to use, easier to maintain, more secure (kind of), etc. With OS X, the people at Apple have basically thrown on a shiny new interface to Unix to make it accessible to everyone. While cool initially, people who appreciate and/or know how to use Unix end up opening up a terminal window or X session most of the time anyway and people who don’t know how to use Unix never end up using any of the useful Unix features and end up having to re-learn how to use a Mac anyway.

In any case, at the end of the day, I guess it’s nice to see that despite having less than ten percent of the market share, Mac users are still just so excited to be Mac users. Part of me believes that a lot of that enthusiasm is really just about rooting for the underdog. Nevetheless, even in the face of all that Mac-frenzy, I proudly broke out my Dell laptop in the middle of the MacWorld Internet cafe to check my email and surf the Web.

Trying before buying

The music industry really needs to realize that if they don’t start letting people try before they buy, give a little to get a lot back, people are just going to start taking. Case in point, everyone’s favorite topic: file-sharing. Now, some companies have tried to appease the file-sharing masses somewhat by offering music through services like iTunes, but that model relies on the idea that a) customers want to buy songs one at a time or b) customers want to buy albums, but without having to buy the physical media.

However, as much of a technocrat as I might be, I do see the value in physical media. With physical media, you get liner notes, album cover art, and preservation of presentation– the artist usually chooses a particular order in which songs appear on the album and there’s a reason for that. It will be a long time before all of these things become useless to the public (perhaps never) AND it will be a long time before the entire music buying public jumps onto the digital music bandwagon. The music industry needs to embrace digital music, file-sharing and everything they have to offer, but it also needs to come up with a workable hybrid model that marries the benefits of both the digital music world and the hard media world.

I’m not so arrogant to believe that I’m the only one who ever came up with this very general, non-constructive suggestion, but I was once again reminded of this challenge as I was listening to music in my car via my trusty iPod. To be honest, I only buy CDs when I KNOW I am going to like almost all of the songs on an album AND I have some type of long-term interest in the artist. So, even if I liked all the songs on the newest pop star’s album, I wouldn’t buy it unless I believed that the artist looked like s/he would a) make it past the latest episode of MTV’s TRL and b) I would keep listening and enjoying his/her music when s/he does. Unfortunately, this leaves me with owning and buying CDs by a very small number of artists that I started listening to before the digital music explosion and that luckily, I was able to discover, try out and come to love. It also leaves me with a few random CDs from artists that never made it past their first or second album or that I couldn’t stand to listen to after their first or second album.

Today, I add artists to that privileged list for which I actually buy CDs by trying before buying. Unfortunately, online music stores rarely offer more than very short clips of a few songs on a particular CD and I don’t have the time to sit there in the brick-and-mortar music store and listen to the whole CD (if I were lucky enough for the CD I want to buy to be in the listening kiosk). In fact, even if I did have the time, listening to just one CD isn’t enough, which is why I have random CDs lying around in my collection (which I will refrain from naming here). I want to listen to many CDs, listen to a “Best of” type compilation of a particular artist before I decide whether I’m going to sign on as a member of his fan club and start doling out my hard-earned money on some music, digital or otherwise.

Realistically, given today’s music sales model, the only way to really do this (without spending money) is a) listen to your friend’s CDs or b) download some digital music. The music industry needs to admit that trying before buying, not free music for everyone, is the model they are being pushed towards and the sooner they realize that and stop trying to punish their customers for pushing them, the sooner everyone will stop villifying them. The music industry should take a tip from drug dealers. If the music industry would just come through on the trying part, the public will come through on the buying part, but not before then.

Addendum: all of the above also holds true for the television industry. If I wanted to start watching a television show that had already been on for several seasons, I would want to catch up with all the previous seasons’ episodes. Considering the painfully slow speed with which television shows are, if ever, released on DVD or video, downloading them online is an increasingly popular option. However, if I’m not allowed to download them online (perhaps because of anti-copying locks on television broadcasts), I frankly will be less likely to start watching a show other than from the beginning. The television industry needs to come up with a new ad/commercial model to make television-on-demand a viable option because at it’s core, it’s a try before you buy model.

Exit row guilt

What you feel when you’re sitting in your roomy exit row seat and you watch the other passengers tiredly waiting in the aisle to get back to their cramped, not-so-roomy regular seats. This is only magnified by the fact that I am a small person that doesn’t really need that much leg room. I just wanted to tell all those people looking at me, “This is just the luck of the draw! And I had to sit in a middle seat in the back on the way to Newark from San Francisco! I have suffered too!”

On the road

I loved the movie The American President, so I don’t know quite why it took me so long to start watching The West Wing. But I’ve started and am catching up on all four seasons before this current one. And I’ve got to say, I love it. I can’t get enough. It’s one of the few shows, if not the only one that I can watch countless episodes back to back and never get tired of it. That’s the case for a lot of reasons, including a great cast, intelligent and witty dialogue, and compelling storylines. Yet, as I find myself three-quarters through the second season, I realize that one of the greatest reasons for enjoying the show is that the ideals the Bartlett administration works for resonate with me and it makes me feel good to see people, particularly politicians working to achieve those ideals. And of course, it’s a television show, a sugar-coated, dramatized version of how things really work, how things really happen, but I can’t help feeling like I wish I could be part of something like that.

And then I realize I guess I am. Despite all my frustration with work these past few months, with RPC hell and interdepartmental bureaucracy, working at a university and specifically at Stanford is extremely rewarding. In the beginning, I took the job with Residential Computing because in the face of a rapidly failing economy and tough job market, the university was offering a relatively interesting software development job with good pay and benefits. Then, after holding the position for a while, I was rewarded with the feeling of accomplishment and independence– I run my own software development program with relative autonomy and I got a lot done in my first year. But as I got the hang of the software development part, I became more involved in the staff part– being part of a staff that serves almost all students at the university and thanks to the people who work with me, serve them not only as a computing resource, but as advocates.

Technology pervades our lives more and more each day and today, it is what tests our social, political, economic and moral values. Today, and into the future, technology is deeply political and brings to the surface much deeper, much more essential issues. It’s similar to the AIDS epidemic– when we look at the problem of HIV and AIDS, we’re not just dealing with a medical problem. We’re dealing with a social problem, a political problem and an economic problem. There’s a reason why people of color, women, poor people– the same people often fall into these three categories– are suffering the most from the AIDS epidemic. When we look at the problem of AIDS, we would be remiss not to look at the problems of poverty, discrimination, and education. In the same way, talking about technology, working in technology is not just about building faster computers or getting everybody onto the Internet. It’s about looking at how technology can not only help our lives, but how it shapes our lives and ideals and what the way we use a technology or what technologies we pursue says about us as people.

My job isn’t just about writing code or building tools to help run the network better. It’s about building tools to faciliate and shape the educational process. It’s about being part of a staff that helps shape important policies regarding not just technology use, but student rights. The undergraduate experience at Stanford, partially thanks to the Residential Education model, is a truly engrossing experience and aims to provide learning opportunities not just in the classroom, but during your entire time at school and in all areas of your life while at school. And because technology is such an integral part of young people’s lives today, helping them learn how to use it more effectively, providing them with all the technology tools possible, and helping to influence University policy to ensure students are free to thrive in an open and encouraging environment is an extremely important and rewarding job. My college years are not so far in the past and being naturally inquisitive and having a thirst for learning as most Stanford students are and do, I remember how good it felt like, still feels like to be at a place like Stanford that is open and filled with rich resources of both technology and people to help me explore and learn.

Sometimes it’s frustrating and sometimes it feels like, as my friend put it, that I’m trying to drive a Jaguar on a go-cart track, but at least I’m on the road.