Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Thursday, 7 March 2002

# 9 PM

Warning: You are about to be subjected to a rant.

but first, some context

UC Berkeley has a program called "De-CAL" which allows students to create and teach their own courses, which count for units toward graduation. Some of these courses have been running for years. Two of the more popular courses are "Male Sexuality" and "Female Sexuality" (no surprises here) which by a sober account seem to be thoughtful and constructive.

About two weeks ago, the Daily Cal ran an exposé of the male sexuality course, in which it was alleged that some of the students, including some of the student-preceptors, arranged in class to hold orgies at a student's house after hours. It is not clear whether this actually happened. All the articles on the Daily Cal's website (exhibits A, B, C, D) are foaming at the mouth too much for me to consider them trustworthy sources. However, the UC administration has flipped out and is considering abolishing the entire DeCAL program, or at least subjecting courses to closer faculty scrutiny.

I'm sure you are all shocked, shocked to hear that college students are having sex, with each other even. What's the world coming to? To be fair, there might have been some power-differential abuses going on, and closer faculty involvement is probably not a bad idea. Still, it's pretty clear that the administration is over-reacting. But this is not what I'm going to rant about.

the rant

So today I'm walking through Sproul Plaza and there are a bunch of activists with megaphones calling for the abolition of the UC administration, the abolition of the nuclear family, and a complete socialist revolution. Because, you see, the wig-out that the administration has pulled is just a symptom of the fundamental brokenness of our culture, and we have to throw it away and start over.

Now this is complete nonsense. Understand that I am the last person to argue that there is nothing wrong with the society we've got. However, that does not mean we have to throw it away and start over. Let me draw a dubious analogy to the world of software engineering. It is common to discover that some chunk of code does not work. However, one then considers carefully before rewriting it from scratch. The only good reason to do so is if the design is fundamentally flawed, such that no change to the implementation will correct the problem. Even then, there may be no known algorithm which works better.

It's not possible to make a definitive statement that a culture is or is not flawed by design, but there are several things that might be diagnostic. One way I'd believe it would be if there were no mechanism to correct implementation problems. But look aroundyou; you will see plenty of them. The day before yesterday we had an election. Looking through the returns, I see that all of the propositions which were good ideas passed (the margin on the modern-voting-equipment bond measure is a bit disappointing, but it got through), and the proposition which was a bad idea was rejected. The proposition that was a dubious idea (stricter penalties for chiropractic insurance fraud) also passed, and some people who shouldn't have been re-elected (such as the mayor of Oakland) were re-elected. So there; three problems were fixed, one problem may have been introduced, a couple of existing problems failed to go away. On average we're doing fine.

Of course, there are plenty of problems that cannot be addressed with elections. In fact, the current cultural attitude toward sex is one of them. But the people on Sproul advocating the destruction of the nuclear family are part of the problem, there. Their attitude is that certain modes of sexual expression (i.e. heterosexual monogamy, with consequent children) are ungood, because they lead to negative effects on the society at large. Now suppose that I replace the above (i.e. ...) phrase with "homosexual promiscuity"; different target, exact same rhetorical position, exact same toxic effect on civil society.

You see, the problem with the current cultural attitude toward sex is not, at its root, that it stigmatizes certain modes of sexual expression. That's a symptom. The real problem is that sex is assigned a cultural importance which is way out of proportion to its true significance. We should be trying to make sex ordinary. It has consequences and side effects which require people to be cautious about when, how, and with whom, but the same is true of driving cars. People have different tastes, but the same is true of food, art, etc. Overall, it's just another thing that most of us do in the course of their lives.

Once that's done, then we can talk about whether family structures are oppressive, and if so which ones, and what ought to be done about it. Right now it's intractable to separate the society's sexual obsession from the question, so any argument is unconvincing.

a closing observation

Right next to the activists with megaphones was a man at a card table giving away free Fair Trade coffee, if you took a flyer too. I'd like to hold this man and his organization up as an example of positive activism. The Fair Trade people have identified a genuine problem; determined that it can be solved within the capitalist framework; and mounted a solid campaign to implement their solution. They're dealing civilly with people who propose alternate solutions. The man at the card table thought of a clever, effective way to advertise it. The crowd on Sproul were hurrying past the people with megaphones and stopping to talk to him.

# 2 PM


This was an interesting one on a couple of counts. I was reading a book, and "watching" the events of the book as one imagines doing while reading. The protagonist was some sort of a travelling bard, or in training to be a travelling bard, and one evening he found himself in a poetry circle with some Fair Folk. He recited a poem for them about the three kinds of love, which are iron, gold, and silver in that order, and they liked it so much they offered to take him under hill and teach him magic. He accepted.

There was then this funky scene transition involving riding a horse into darkness and toward a line-art face which grew to fill my visual field, bam, I'm walking toward the box office of a theater. Ahead of me in line is a woman who I went to high school with, name of Corey. She recognized me as the bard from the previous scene. I said no, I was just his simulacrum which he sent to take his place while he was under hill. She said she was a simulacrum too, for the same reason. Then we had a discussion about which tickets to buy; they ranged from about $10 to about $150, and somehow this had something to do with the aforementioned kinds of love. I discovered I only had three dollars in my wallet. Then I woke up.

I haven't seen Corey in going on seven years now. Wonder where she is.


By way of Forwarding Address: OS X, by way of Electrolite, comes a reference to Blosxom, which is, finally, my kind of a weblog automation script. You throw HTML fragments in a directory, one per entry, and it glues them all together in reverse order of creation date. You also get to write the header and footer. No muss, fuss, magic, or typing into p web forms.

The downside is that it's customizable only by hacking up the Perl script, which is nice and short but severely non-idiomatic (well, by my idea of idiomatic Perl, anyway; TMTOWTDI). I spent a couple of hours on it yesterday and it generates the right kind of HTML now, but in the process I broke the date-selection code.


Today is Piet Mondrian's birthday, according to Google.

Gav's girlfriend's name is Hanna. I should have thought to look at his website earlier.

# 5 AM

Today I am twenty-four.

It was promising to be a nice solid rainy day when I woke up, but now it's just overcast. Grr. We haven't had a good continuous several-days downpour all season.

Fixed some bugs for Wind River. Now to run off to NTL meeting.