31 May 2008

Help the Midwest Teen Sex Show

The Midwest Teen Sex Show needs your help.

It approaches sexuality (for teens, young adults, and us grownup types) with humor and information. I know how bad sex ed classes can get - and how much worse "abstinence only" classes can be. While MTSS isn't a fix for that problem, they are definitely part of the solution in getting people laughing - and talking.


All of us who say we want more than "abstinence only" education, all of us who say we want teens - and adults - to make more informed choices, all of us who like having some funny stuff every so often that's not corporate-sanitized pap... pony up $5 via the PayPal button on their website. I just ponied up $5 for each of my blogs (including SU). You can find $5 to help support this. I'm sure of it.

30 May 2008

There is nothing left to see.

In Serenity, the Operative is an otherwise nameless government agent set on stopping the rather protagonists. The relative merits of the systems - the Alliance's bureaucratic control vs. the Browncoat's libertarian bent - isn't the point here, it's the Operative himself. He is not part of the government, he is not part of the world he is helping to create and protect. He is a true believer in that better world - but is fully recognizant of his role as a monster in its defense. The Operative is - at least in his own perception - the immune system of that better world. He is not part of it, but is intrinsic to its survival.

It's not my place to ask. I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin...I'm not going to live there. There's no place for me there... any more than there is for you. Malcolm... I'm a monster.What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.


I was certain this was - while a bit of smart writing on the part of Mr. Whedon et al - not the given that it is taken to be. That social change does not inherently *require* those completely separate from it. That a better world can come about without the Operative - or his equivalents - to ensure that the old order does not wreck it.

And then I learn of the Deacons for Defense, who performed a similarly protective (though not prone to the Operative's excesses) role for the largely non-violent USAian civil rights movement. Their role has been played down - even outright ignored - by popular culture.

It appears that our popular culture has submerged the history of valiant, brave people to praise the mythology of non-violence. It appears that we have lauded passive struggle while ignoring those who made the passive struggle sustainable. When else, I wonder, has this happened? Gandhi? What about the Nazarenes and other militant Jewish groups of the time of Yeshua?

When do our heroes and protectors - our societal immune system - become monsters? What is the distinction between inflammation and autoimmune disorders, between sustaining peace and becoming a police state?

When is the world better *enough*?

29 May 2008

This is my weapon, this is my gun...

I've always been on the vaguely liberal side of the 2nd amendment debate. Roughly summed up, my opinion boiled down to: "Yeah, sure avatavistic hunters can have 'em, but most people don't need them. They're far more likely to shoot their friends or family by accident."

One can argue the statistics all day; what really made me stop and reconsider (I haven't changed my mind yet, I'm still considering) was a mention of the Deacons for Defense. In short, they were Black military vets who

generally limited their activities to patrolling black neighborhoods and protecting mass meetings, CORE headquarters, and civil rights workers who were entering and leaving town. In addition, the Deacons accompanied marchers from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi, in the summer of 1966...
(cite)

I can easily see how this organization not only did a noble thing, but saved the lives of many nonviolent protesters and workers - even if only through deterrence. Yes, the nonviolent protesters were ready to lay down their lives... but that doesn't mean they had to.

Such a group simply could not have existed with restrictive gun control laws. And let us not forget that the folks preying upon these nonviolent protestors were not just the KKK - but local and state governments.

That definitely puts a different spin on things.

28 May 2008

When NPR gave me culture shock

It's been crazy-making busy, so I present you with... another response paper like this one and this one. I'm tempted to rewrite the last paragraph. Identity politics is useful and necessary - but lately I've run into enough separate instances where stressing differences can drive almost-allies away that I think I'll let it stand.


I did not experience culture shock in Korea. Whether it was because I was insulated within the realm of US military bases for most of my year there, or because of the relative rapidity of change in my life at that time I do not know.
The greatest culture shock I experienced was from National Public Radio.

While there are no commercials on NPR, there are station identification breaks, along with recognition of "Day Sponsors"; those who have donated a sum to have a dedication read on a specific day. This one began: "Thanks to Day Sponsor Mark, who dedicates this to his partner of forty years. Congratulations to you two, Mark and George."

I nearly crashed the car.

I consider myself a relatively open-minded individual. I've partied with transvestites and transsexuals after watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Three of my better friends in college was gay (though one didn't admit it until later). I am fully in favor of gay marriage. Yet this dedication was so surprisingly shocking, that I'm still trying to figure out what that means about my internal framework.

It's important because of the Thomas Theorem (Parillo 36). What we conceive of as real becomes our reality. Whether it is the paranoid woman from Farmersville living in a constant state of imagined terror or the idealist believing we can all just get along, our beliefs shape our reality. Therefore, it's important to really take these beliefs, these emotions, and examine them. Are they what we *want* to believe? Do they serve to better us, and our situation, or do they keep us upset and angry?

Realizing the extent to which we truly believe our beliefs may explain the variance in attempts to use frustration-agression theory to explain prejudice (Parillo 85). This weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Darryl Fairchild, a local minister who has done a lot of work to further race and minority relations in Dayton. At its best, he realizes that Christianity should be a mitigating force in prejudice, but it is not always so. Perhaps it is the individual's beliefs that make it so. Christianity both has offset rewards (e.g. Heaven) and revised expectations (be thankful for what you have) to help reduce frustration, aggressions, and feelings of economic inequity. Yet if one is simply going through the motions of religion, and does not truly believe, then these rewards will not alter your behavior.

Of course, the Thomas Theorem also could be applied to both sides of the concept of "the Culture of Poverty" (Parillo 62). External forces limit achievement for minorities. Values stretch to reflect those "achievable" goals (Parillo 64). That mindset becomes reality via the Thomas Theorem. Then that mindset is transmitted to peers even as the external forces persist in thier prejudice, ensuring that the effect is never extinguished.

It is important, though, to recognize progress where it exists. Parillo makes a great deal of fuss about the persistence of stereotypes across generations (90). Yet the increasing reluctance of the respondents to ascribe those stereotypes is downplayed. This is unfair to current generations; while many are aware of the stereotypes of Fu Manchu, German Nazis, or even Polack jokes, that is not the same thing as utilizing or internalizing them. Conflating the two gives a much more dire picture than is realistic. Unfortunately, a less-than-dire picture tends to lead to complacence.

We must be vigilant, because prejudice has become more subtle than stereotypes would have us believe. Last week, four women sat at a round table near me in the cafeteria. The two instructors sat opposite each other at three and nine o'clock, the students at twelve and six. Throughout thier meal, I observed the instructors' have thier bodies oriented towards the student sitting at the six o'clock position - even while specifically addressing the student at the twelve o'clock spot. They maintained that orientation even as they got up to leave. The student at the twelve o'clock position clearly felt the exclusion. Her pained look was obvious, even though she tried to hide her discomfort. Something as subtle as body orientation indicated status (Johnson 55). Very clearly, one student was favored over the other. Both instructors were white; the student at twelve o'clock was black.

Yet we must be positive. Again, it is the Thomas Theorem. We must imagine ourselves as better than we are, or we will be stuck in our old ways. All of us can lapse into those old ways of thinking. Even Johnson has a failure of imagination in looking at appeals to fairness and goodness as a solve for prejudice (72). He makes the point that appeals to goodness rely on separating the givers from the recievers, on creating an us-and-them attitude, which carries the danger of morphing into an us-vs-them attitude (72). This need not be so. Army Emergency Relief (AER), an organization within the Army, is funded solely by soldiers for the aid of other soldiers who are in financial crisis. Rather than a us-helping-them attitude, it relies on an us-helping-us attitude, a sense that we are all in it together.

This kind of frame is an important one. By reframing our problems as helping fellow Americans (or humans), we reinforce our commonalities as people. It is here that identity politics can become harmful; by stressing differences, it is much easier to make minorities and other unprivileged groups into "others". Stressing commonalities does not need to be full assimilation, but can be encompassed by a sense of cultural pluralism (Parillo 49-50). That our melting pot may not melt anything, but instead cooks a really great, thick, chunky stew with lots of different flavors in every spoonful.

26 May 2008

100 Word Story - Jobs

Happy Memorial Day - here's this week's appropriate 100 word story.

Now.

PFC Fenti flinches, but there is no explosion. The driver glances at him, then watches the road again.

Now. Nothing.

Bullets fail to come streaking from the windows. Simmons lights a Camel - irony is cheap here - and blows smoke in Fenti's face.

Spielberg would consider that a cue; the insurgents do not.

Tense, boring minutes pass. A drip of sweat falls from Fenti's head onto his weapon.

Now.

No bullets. No IED. Nothing.

He says it: "Remember, it's not just a job..."

When the left side of the hummer goes in flame and shrapnel, it's almost a relief.

Now.


If you don't see the embedded link (I still don't know if I'm doing it right), the audio of me alone is here. And of course, you can read the rest of the entries and vote for your favorite(s) - I am Steven the Nuclear Man - at this website.

Watch Saving Private Ryan, or some old John Wayne movie for your Memorial Day. I'll watch this, thanks.

Shaped Freedom

A recent article: "The freedom to say 'no'" from the Boston Globe makes a startling assertion. The first few paragraphs state that women aren't in certain "hard" sciences for a simple reason:
An important part of the explanation for the gender gap, they are finding, are the preferences of women themselves.
This sound important, right? That means that feminists don't know what they're talking about, right?

Or it means that the reporter sensationalized and misrepresented science.Technorati Tags: , , , Allow me to direct your attention to this (halfway through the article and statistically guaranteed to not be read by 3/4 of the public) important paragraph:
It's important to note that these findings involve averages and do not apply to all women or men; indeed, there is wide variety within each gender. The researchers are not suggesting that sexism and cultural pressures on women don't play a role, and they don't yet know why women choose the way they do. One forthcoming paper in the Harvard Business Review, for instance, found that women often leave technical jobs because of rampant sexism in the workplace.

[emphasis mine]

So this reporter doesn't know the difference between correlation and causation, apparently. Sure, everyone picks on (and pays attention to, even in that article) discrimination. But that is not the primary social force.

When you have little girls "naturally" trained to play with dolls, and little boys "naturally" trained to play with hands-on equipment (trucks, science gear, etc), you get "choices" that aren't, really. When a young boy's peers mock him because he helps a friend having trouble in a game... you get trained.

Our society recognizes that others can affect you so greatly that you'll choose to help those hurting you... but our society ignores the pervasive effects of everyone around you, in a million little notes and pinpricks and gestures. Each one is innocent, harmless by itself. Practically none of them are actually intended as anything discriminatory. Yet they make up an overwhelming system of repression and oppression.

The quick test still applies: When in doubt, change the groups. If you had asked people why they weren't dating across race lines in the 1950's, they would tell you it wasn't natural. That it was their choice. This has improved - with interracial marriages doubling through the 90's, along with attitudes. Simultaneously (though a longer trend) you see more depictions of interracial couples on television. What happens to you when younger affects later choices too - for example, choosing a first sex partner across race lines is significantly associated with choosing a spouse across race lines. And they're more satisfied with their relationships, too.

So again, I'm not disputing that when you look at USAian women today, they'll prefer various sorts of occupations.

I'm just saying that it's our fault.

I'm asserting that our society trained them to be that way.

24 May 2008

Seeing Race - And Trying To Understand It


Another old paper from my Race and Minority Relations class. This was a kind of "response paper" - just a general reflection on what we had gone over so far. The first 'graph really points out how big of a change this was for me. I hadn't been "looking for race" before, and I simply missed it everywhere. I still think my model (that looking at race as another status marker) has more explanatory power - but I can also see where it doesn't feel that way to a person of color. Do keep in mind that my goal (as will come clear in the next old paper or two I put up) is in equality and heterogenity; that we move towards a world where people are different, and that carries no value judgement either way.

At the end of the Illuminatus Trilogy, after a thousand pages of paranoid ranting about the significance of everything 23 - from 23 skidoo to the Pentagon having 2 + 3 sides - a character reveals that the relationship has been there all along. It does not matter what number you choose - but once you start paying attention, everything relates to 23, 42, or any other number you can imagine.

Suddenly, race is everywhere for me. It is in the disproportionate coverage of women's murders, in the comments of girls on the bus, in the bitching of a co-worker, and in the defensive justifications when I point this stuff out online. Every news story has some relationship to race, ethnicity, or other people's reactions to it. With such a wide range of effects and contradictions, it seems an impossible mess to understand.

The videos, lectures, and readings from the first several weeks of this course could appear to present a confusing, complicated picture of race in the United States. But I believe that is because we are still missing the point. The dominant models of race and ethnicity in American society do not seem to fully account for reality.

The historical model of race - as discussed in lecture - is largely a social construct. Biology does not support any kind of empirical notion of human "races" (Illusion of Race, Parillo 16). Humans are as genetically dissimilar from those in the same ethnic category as they are from those outside it (Illusion of Race). This is reinforced by looking at the role race has played in our country. Even a brief historical perspective shows how the classification of "white" has changed at the whim of the majority group. Groups such as the Irish, Italians, and eastern Europeans were sometimes considered "white" and sometimes not (Bergdahl). Even during times where those racial categorizations were stable in one region, they might bear no resemblance to categorizations in another part of the globe (Parillo 16).

To believe that modern race relations are due to actual phenotypic differences between human populations requires complete purposeful ignorance of historical and empirical data.

Yet, this is how race is treated on all sides of the discussion. There are still lingering memes that physical and societal capabilities are carried along with the color of one's skin (Parrillo 16). Once that myth is dispelled, there is still the persistent assumption that there is an experiential difference that is based solely upon the phenotype of one's skin color. Even those who address inequality and discrimination in multiple dimensions explicitly distinguishes race from other social categorizations (Johnson xi). Even models of racial relations that view it as a continuum of difference seem to reserve a special strength and weight for this one socially constructed, artificial category (Parrillo 6).

It is not difficult to imagine the social, political, and moral compulsion to both treat race as a special quality and to accentuate the difficulties faced by those on the "wrong" side of the color line. The history of this country is a history of racially motivated genocide, slavery, and oppression. The atrocities waged in the name of race seem to demand a special category of sin to accommodate them. But that model of society does not seem to reflect the evidence before us.



It appears that race can be modeled as simply another social status marker. It is a strongly weighted marker and, unlike most, cannot be chosen or easily altered. Regardless, treating race as a social status marker appears to be the best fitting model available.

There are several clues that strongly support this model of viewing race. Friendship and interaction between people of different races reduces social distance (Parrillo 6). This is analogous to (if not identical to) the effect of "cross-cutting speech" (Mutz 9). Crosscutting speech - when people are exposed to those with differing political, religious, and social views - tends to increase empathy and understanding. That the same effect is observed with other social and status markers as well as race seems significant.

Definitions of race conveniently change to reflect the need to reinforce social and economic status (Johnson 7). This seems eerily similar to the ways that upper-class individuals change their behaviors - such as the names of their children - in order to distinguish themselves from the hoi polloi (Levitt & Dubner 167-188).

The method of using of reference groups to measure oneself is the same whether one is measuring by socio-economic status or race - though they are not lumped together that way (Johnson 36). Further, those who are privileged by race or gender but not social class will use those lower than themselves as a reference group in order to feel powerful (Johnson 36). I frequently see this at work; a white lower-working-class co-worker will make disparaging comments about black, brown, or homeless people in an obvious attempt to distinguish herself from them. If those do not work, she effortlessly switches gears to mocking those who have other status markers - education, vehicles, and vacations - that are above her own.

Johnson convincingly notes that children's fear of differences is learned, not inbuilt (Johnson 13). This reflects my own experiences; my oldest son was largely raised in a highly multicultural environment, and had multiple black friends and daycare providers during his youth. While visiting St. Louis one day, I had to stop at an unfamiliar grocery store for some band-aids to treat a cut. We were the only white people in the rather large store. While I was very aware of the fact, and rather uncomfortable, he was completely oblivious of the racial disparity.

Finally, treating race as one of many status markers has vast explanatory power in regards to both lower-status whites and higher-status people of color. Exceptions are frequently trotted out by apologists who claim that racism is no longer a factor, since there are poor whites and rich blacks. These exceptions are well understood by a model that looks at skin color as part of an array of status symbols.

It appears that even our most honest conversation about race is still a layer or more away from the truth of our interactions with each other. Privilege is often invisible to those who have it (Johnson 22). We must point out the mechanisms of that privilege as clearly as possible, to tear down the imaginary walls of difference that keep us from seeing the common humanity in each other.

23 May 2008

What's Race Got To Do With It

I stumbled across some old bits from my "Race and Minority Relations" class. (Old bits. Heh. Five months old - it feels like forever...) Anyway, one of the extra credit assignments was to go to a public viewing of this film (and following workshop) and then write about it. It's interesting to see the themes that still preoccupy me starting to be developed here.

The film What’s Race Got to do With it? was a documentary of fifteen weeks of an unusual undergraduate course at UC Berkeley. This course - with presumably handpicked students for such a diverse population - was facilitated by two professors. Facilitated is the applicable term; there was no required content shown, no required reading. Instead, the facilitators would ask starter questions if needed, providing the framework for these students to have a dialog about what race means to them, their experience, and their ways of life.

The basic "liner notes" summary of the movie would not contain any surprises, nor are there any major "plot twists". People talk, occasionally get upset by overgeneralizations about the ethnicity they identify with, and slowly come to a greater understanding of each other.

The film’s students must have been handpicked by the facilitators. As one black student noted, she was one of two black students in an African Studies course - something that was exactly the opposite of what one would expect. From the students' reactions, the class filmed was easily the most diverse class on the campus.

This kind of handpicking makes sense in a relatively homogenous environment, especially when one of your goals is to illustrate the difference between diversity between groups and diversity within a group. Still, it was interesting to see that these hand-selected students conformed to basic generalizations about race identity. The whites came from upper middle class families, and the people of color came from impoverished homes.

Regardless, the white students had the unpleasant realizations that they did avoid people unlike themselves, that they did have advantages that non-whites lacked, and that they could not pretend that it was not their problem. They discussed the overwhelming whiteness of UC Berkeley, and how many applications were denied every year - and how the two hundred or so affirmative action slots did not make a real difference either in one's chances of getting in UC Berkeley or in the actual numbers of minorities on campus. They explored how the Greek system was overwhelmingly white, and you could see the white student's taking the lessons from the class and applying them outside and in their lives over the course of the fifteen weeks.

While powerful and moving - both as an observer and for the students documented - this is not the portion of the film that takes it beyond an after school special.

David, a self-identified Mexican (though born in the United States), was the most dramatic example of this change. David said that he was in college so that he could eventually go back to his community and help them. David clearly saw his mission at school to be arming himself to aid in the struggle against forces keeping his "people" from succeeding. David also began the fifteen weeks wearing "identity" shirts proclaiming his difference. Though none were offensive, they were clearly meant as a self-labeling device, to proclaim his difference.

Then there was a turning point. David had said "The white man is the enemy", and Mark - a white male - pointed out how hard it was to not take that personally. David quickly changed his comment to white POWER that was keeping him down, and Mark was fine with that. From that moment on, David's dress began to change. His hats and shirts became less stereotypically "Mexican" and more like the other student's.

There were no pat answers for the students; most of them actually expressed a degree of confusion at the end of the class. And that is exactly what you would expect to see in any situation where there is a lot of crosscutting speech. That discomfort may make them less of an activist - which is what happened to David - but will allow them to see the commonalities in others rather than the differences.

The film - and the class - is not radical enough. They question the justice of their current situation, but fail to wonder how things got set up that way. They look at inequity in college admissions without considering the greater inequity in grade school funding, or the percentages of people of color in fraternities without examining white flight. They explore the dialogue between themselves - and do not ask why their experience does not occur elsewhere, or how it can be shared with others outside the university setting.

Still, both as a film and as a class, it is a wonderful, powerful first step in beginning the deconstruction of the myth of race.

The crowd who attended the film was interesting for both who they were as well as who they were not. A few black students, a slightly larger number of white students, and then a number of much-better dressed facilitator. The facilitators were themselves a diverse group, including the director of Freshman experiences and the head of campus security, though all presented as white-collar professionals for this event.

After the screening of the film, there were roundtable-style facilitated discussions. Unfortunately, many of the attendees did not stay for the discussions. Still, in my group there were quite a few school officials, a student from Sinclair, a black student who had seen urban decay happen in his neighborhood, a woman from Costa Rica and her mother in law, and apparently the only Indian (sub continental) woman in WSU's English department. This was also fascinating, hearing an honest view of the diversity - or lack thereof - on WSU's campus. It was also interesting hearing about the commuter student problem from the angle of a non-commuter student, as we thought about how to get Wright State's student body more involved.

22 May 2008

Theorist Trap

It seems that theorists - particularly in the social sciences, but not exclusively - have a particularly insidious trap laid for them. This trap seems to have caught and limited the greatest published minds in history, and perhaps retarded the growth of human knowledge more than any other effect.

It is hubris. It is the thought that one's own theoretical framework is not only correct, but the *only* correct framework for understanding reality.

I was reminded of this as we watched Lord of the Ants, a NOVA episode that profiled Wilson. He developed sociobiology, which has as its basic premise the conceit that biology informs social structure. Not influences, mind you, that it informs. The episode showed a clip of Wilson watching monkeys and musing that their social structure (biological in origin), because it appears like that of humanity, must imply that humanity's social structure is likewise biological in origin. (I am aware that not all sociobiologists take this stance today.)

Excepting, of course, that there's such a thing as convergent evolution. Or that such requires the presumption that monkeys cannot derive social structure themselves through cognition. And so on. It reminds me of the strong inductive assertions that "all swans are white". That assertion of universal truth worked just fine for the Europeans... until they ran into black swans Down Under. At which point they were forcibly reminded that their descriptions of reality were, inherently, incomplete.

So many theorists have accurately described some portion or aspect of reality and humanity. And then, through a blind faith in their own theory, have tried to cram all other observations into it, no matter how poorly they fit. Rather than allow the imperfectness of their theory, evidence or alternate explanations was (and continues to be) ignored. This is most grossly (and popularly) seen in the nature vs. nurture "debate". Nature? Nurture? Why not both, simultaneously, in differing degrees?

In the social sciences, there seems to be an unfortunate tendency to want our theories to be perfect *descriptions* of reality and human situations. They are not, nor will they ever be. It is in this - not in methodology, not in reductionism, but in this - that the social sciences (no matter how positivist) veer away from the physical sciences.

George Mead seems to have recognized this, at least in part. As our world and societies become more complex, we will need to ensure that our models of them - our understanding of other people - become more complex as well.

21 May 2008

Nyquil (tm) Zombie


There is a kind of desperate madness that overtakes one when one begins to penetrate the veil. It is the madness alluded to by Lovecraft, al-Hazred, and boilerplate horror pulps, the non-Euclidian horror that the nihilists pretend to in their cults of personality and goth angst. It is the veil of meaninglessness. It is the realization of how much of our world, our daily experience, is consensual illusion. Our lives are games played without rules, with shifting markers of scorekeeping, and no final endpoint, only the shifting jockeying for position.

When all is arbitrary, when all is illusion, then what strength and value has convention?

Ia! Ia!

It's the cold medicine, surely. That is all, just the cold medicine. Your money is worth something, your depictions of gender and race and social class actually have some relevance. Those who admit they play real-world games are fools, while your job, your life, your career - those mean something. Those are real.

Ia!

Much madness is divinest sense...

Anger, Diplomacy, and Hurting America


In brief reply to Melissa McEwan's assertion that anger is understandable – and even necessary for change. (It probably isn’t directed at me, but I’m sure someone could think it so, and it very well could be, so let me act as if it is.)

Melissa is absolutely right. Anger is an absolutely understandable and rational response for minorities - or any oppressed group. All members of all oppressed groups have every reason to be angry. Anger is even necessary. But rational anger will help.

Rational anger is not the same as acting like those you condemn. Rational anger is not alienating those who can aid you.

And anger – rational or not - is not always effective.

The choice all oppressed people – and especially leaders of oppressed people – face is: Are you going to use your anger, or are you going to let it use you? How will you direct that anger? Will you use it to get vengance, or to effect change? To vent or to make a difference? To convince and persuade or to alienate?

Sometimes anger - especially unexpected anger - can be enough to shock someone into questioning the systems of privilege that surround us. Sometimes that anger - especially if it's used to label - causes the other to embrace that label. A few months ago, I saw the documentary _Farmingville_. It's an excellent film, showing the turmoil in a Long Island town as it copes with a sudden influx of immigrants. One woman sticks out in my memory; she became a full-time activist against the immigrants. At first, she was shocked as people labeled her racist for her (obvious to me) racist views. That did not fit with her self-image. But as the labeling and anger continued, she grew to embrace that label. "If what I am is racist, then I don't mind being a racist" (paraphrase).

I have to believe that perhaps, just perhaps, that initial anger and labeling was tempered instead of continued, she might have changed her views. Now, though, she is beyond reach. Sometimes anger works – and sometimes it makes the problems worse. I would call myself a feminist - but would you let me, because I sometimes disagree with your style?

I know that restraint isn't fair. I can know it's not easy.

But sometimes unexpected restraint can create as much change as unexpected anger.

Required listening: Stephanie Summerville's story from the Moth podcast. (link leads to an MP3)

Edit: Dutchmarbel says it better than I in the comments thread.

Edit #2: Ironically, this wonderful Jon Stewart clip against divisiveness is reposted at Shakespeare's Sister today.

The Greatest Good

Bjorn Lomberg has a brilliant essay up on Project Syndicate. In it, he argues that the Kyoto protocol (and upcoming agreements) are a lot of expense for little good. That sentence is nothing new; we've heard global warming denialists and business interests arguing that same point for decades. Unfortunately for them, however, Lomberg doesn't stop there.

His point is not that "it costs too many jobs" or any such twaddle; it is about getting the maximum return for the minimal expense. He's not a priori against reducing carbon emissions - he just wants to do as much good as efficiently as possible. This kind of economic thinking is unfortunately rarely exhibited among the chattering and political classes. A failure to think leads to stupid and ineffectual "security laws", people being scared of flying on planes instead of driving, or worrying more about side effects than the diseases prevented by a vaccination.

Or thinking that Mother Theresa has done more good than a politician, economist, teacher, or childcare provider.

The calculation of maximum good for individual effort is going to be different for each person. Some people could more effectively teach than build habitats for humanity. Has the inventor of the polio vaccination done more good than Mother Theresa, or should he have dedicated his life to doing what she did?

This American Life recently ran a story about a group of nuns "who chose to leave the Catholic Church in the 1960s but still stay nuns, more or less
". What they quickly found was that it was nearly impossible for them to effectively carry out their aid to the poor in Appalachia without external funding and support.

All this goes to reinforce and illustrate my prior assertion: That some degree of selfishness or profit maximization can be a good thing - as long as that surplus goes to aid others. Bjorn Lomberg is not upset that the world may spend too much fighting global warming; he's upset that it might be spent ineffectively. Pursuing our own self-interest is only good for society if we keep society's common goals before us at the same time.

20 May 2008

Lay it out in the sunlight


Openness is blasphemy in both our personal lives and in business. Workplaces shudder at the thought of routine employee meetings becoming public, families shudder at their "dirty laundry" being exposed to the outside world.

We learn that our expectations and values - what we measure ourselves by - is from the media and environment around us. This is why - rightly - we have worked to promote diversity in the media, why we have striven to have a rainbow of colors represented among toys. But it is rare that we see dysfunction.

Realistically, corporate espionage is pointless for 99% of all corporations. Your competitors already know what you're doing, can guess what you're doing, or will find out soon enough. My employer had some plans inadvertently exposed when they had to file permits with the city. Given this, why not build rapport with your customers (and, most probably, neighbors)? Be forthright and honest with them. Be transparent and genuine instead of trying to hide behind a corporate PR shill.

We judge ourselves against others, even though our parents always tell us not to. We look at sitcom families and the way our neighbors appear, and see how happy they look. We see how well-adjusted they look... and we find ourselves lacking.

As I tried to cope with S's deterioration, I talked with a lot of my co-workers, classmates, and friends. Nearly all had some similar family experience. Whether it be a cousin who contacted Children's Services, a sibling who rebelled a little too much, or things even worse, I was stunned by how many of the people around me had "abnormal" family situations.

We were not abnormal - just regular folks with troubles. Just like everyone else. The only things that were truly "abnormal" were the fake plastic ideals we measured ourselves by.

It is time that we stop measuring ourselves against families who can solve any problem in thirty minutes. It is time that we realize that all our families - black, white, brown, democrat, republican, independent, whatever - have problems. None of us are perfect - and we should not have to lie to pretend otherwise.

By doing so we not only hurt those who need our support, but we hurt ourselves.

Open Letter

I understand that you are the victim of racism.

I understand that you have been - and continue to be - objectified for your appearance.

I understand that minorities cannot practice "reverse racism" because, by definition, it can't resist.

I understand that you've shown the same prejudice that you rail against.

I understand - or at least I think I understand - why.

I am still saddened.

19 May 2008

Greeting Cards of You





More personal stuff. Feel free to skip. Again, S, if you're reading this, nothing new here. Surprise.

I ran across this card today while cleaning. I didn't remember it at first, but it quickly came back to me.

This card was for my bio son, S, the one who has all the problems. My maternal grandparents sent it to him, full of hope and faith and love.

We found it like this, hidden. Examine the hatred on the last page, see the pain. But remember: It wasn't for us to find, it wasn't for us to see. This wasn't some kind of "cry for help"; this was pure sheer rage.

One of the hardest things about seeing this rage consume the kid that could have been was the utter and complete lack of support for us during the process. The reaction of my grandparents was typical. He just needed more support, more love, more caring, more tolerance. We, both by implication and explicit accusation (thanks sis!) weren't doing a good enough job.

We keep this card to remember. That this is what love, caring, and acceptance broke against when it reached my biological son.

We like to believe that there is no-one we cannot reach, that there is no situation that cannot be fixed. That all we have to do is just try a little harder, understand a little more, pray a little better, give a little more. And sometimes - perhaps rarely, but sometimes - nothing will be enough.

Regardless of what he thought - or thinks - we did love him. We cared. We tried, at great mental, physical, financial, and social cost to ourselves. We're still paying the price - both in lingering aftereffects and social workers still pushing for "reconciliation".

We had a choice to make, and we made it.

We can either break ourselves against that kind of hate, or we can pick ourselves up and help those we can.

Sketching the Invisible Hand


Serious inspiration can come from folding clothes and computer games. This is often overlooked in creative endeavours; very little is actually new, it's all re-imaginings or applying old things in new and different ways. To be able to create this kind of Hegelian synthesis (which, finally, I have a real honest to god term for the kind of creativity I do) requires taking in massive amounts of data from a huge diversity of sources.

Or put another way, no, looking at popurls.com can really be research. Of course, so can folding clothes.

My household has a situation similar to too many USAians: We have too many clothes. We can identify what each set of clothing is for, why we don't want to part with it. Sentimental reasons, social norms, seasonal changes and job requirements all meet in an unholy fusion of accumulations of styled fabric. Not to mention things like shirt.woot's shirt collection, my own personal weaknesses. But largely, it's because accumulation is so strongly linked to doing well in our social (and perhaps even biological) consciousness.

Regardless of the reason, we have been able to accumulate - and until now, deal with - these clothes because we've passed the buck on them. The real costs of creating the clothes has been shifted to lower and lower paid workers, as has the quality of the materials. (Regardless of the price you pay in the store - that's a different matter than the cost of making the clothes.) While this leads to a down-the-line problem and a bottom limit to economic accumulation, it illustrates the ongoing USAian problem with having "too much stuff" and having to invent storage solutions for all the stuff we accumulate.

And that's where computer games and internet trends come in.

Most 4x games (Civilization, Starships Unlimited, et al) have maintenance costs. As you develop all the cool stuff - and build it - you have to pay an annual cost in money. That cost isn't readily seen in the USA, because most of us can't pay for it. We can't afford maids, butlers, personal asisstants, and the like. The market has tried various ways of making that possible (Maids-R-Us), but as Nickled and Dimed points out, the wage floor there is practically already reached.

Most of us, though, end up having to pay in terms of time and sweat equity. It's an opportunity cost - and we have reached the point where the opportunity cost has become too great. Hence the simplicity movement. Its roots can be seen in the executive arena, with all the productivity trainers - but GTD (along with some prominent internet adherents) broke through to a wider group of people. People who weren't executives. Now I hear my wife talking about some of Flylady's tips - which in many ways are similar to David Allen's principles, but reworked for a non-executive market. This meme continues to take over our national consciousness, expressed in an appreciation for well made and useful things and reducing the stuff in our life.

These expressions are largely being driven by our inability to pay the opportunity cost of taking care of all this stuff. Maintenance is BORING; eventually one has to either submit to it or reduce it. And so we are.

The reason this is so fascinating? Though you might quibble with my timeline, the amount of information out there allows us - perhaps for the first time - to see the individual actions that make up the "free hand" of the market. Sketched out - in very rough detail - is one aspect of the market working. Hopefully, this illustration allows us to both understand how the aggregate of individual actions can become market forces - while retaining the realization that *all* things we do, from folding the laundry to playing video games to protesting Wal*Mart - are legitimately part of the market's invisible hand.

18 May 2008

Weekly Challenge #109 - Jimmy Buffett

Weekly Challenge #109 - Jimmy Buffet (100 Word Stories)

It is another week and another 100 Word Story Weekly challenge. Be sure to stop by and vote for your favorites! This week's theme was "Jimmy Buffet"... Please don't encourage the punsters. Please. My story - as Steven the Nuclear Man - is below. It's dedicated to the memory of my son's parakeet, which died last week. (No, really.) Anyway, remember to go vote for your favorites!

The rain patters cold on my shoulders, the post hole digger, the body of the bird wrapped gently in a Sponge Bob pillowcase. Sarah's soft sobs are muffled by Martha's torso, my daughter's arms tightly wrapped around her mother.

I am finishing when Sarah touches me, the last clod softly packed down
with my booted foot.

"Daddy, is Heaven something like Margaritaville?"

I look at Martha; her look away and the mention of Bob's favorite song says more than a strange man's jeans in the wash.

"No," I say, crying with her as Martha goes inside, "It's nothing like that."

16 May 2008

Ant vs. Grasshopper

I woke with something like (but not quite) a mild night terror two nights ago. It blended somewhat with the bizarre ass dream before it. As a result, I woke and *saw* boingboing's mascot Jackhammer Jill wielding a chainsaw kneeling on my chest, ready to take my head off. I was, in the manner of night terrors, unable to scream or move.

Luckily for my wife.

It's been about fifteen years since I wrote a retelling of the ant and grasshopper fable. My ex-wife liked it, but for the opposite reasons than I did. To her, it was a justification morality tale, to me it was a warning.

In that spirit, let me just suggest this:



Army ants will kick your grasshopper butt.

15 May 2008

Check your alignment!


There is a concept in Dungeons and Dragons - along with some other old pen-and-paper roleplaying games - called "alignment". For anyone unfamiliar, this is a matrix with Law and Chaos on one axis (with Neutral as the midpoint) and Good and Evil on the other axis (again, with Neutral as the midpoint). It's a flawed system, with presumptive definitions, but it has its utility.

The main straw arguments against its utility are essentially from overly narrowed classifications. "What about unjust laws? A lawful good person would be stuck!" Um, no. Please reference Yeshua of Nazareth about the Sabbath day. And not all people with the same classification would behave in exactly the same way, either. These are extremely rough and broad categories, with fuzzy edges.

A better argument against it is the categories themselves.

Few dispute the dichotomy of Law (or Order) vs. Chaos, with Neutrality being a balance between them. Good and Evil, however... that's a different story. There's a lot of (absolutely valid) contention that Good is contextually defined. Part of this, I believe, is a conflation of Good and Law. The USAian slavery and jim crow laws are frequently mentioned in this context, as is Nazi Germany.

This apparent contradiction disappears when Good is simply defined as selflessness. Our depictions of Good - and I'd welcome corrections here - are ultimately selfless. They are helping others, or at least attempting to do so. Obviously, from my point of view, intent counts.

The largeness and vagueness of the categories is important, too. Lancelot - the archetypical Lawful Good paladin - has an affair. Does this selfish act suddenly make him Evil? No. Does it shift him around in our matrix? Yes. Does intent matter? Absolutely.

I think this categorization - like many other models of behavior, personality, or society - has its flaws and lossy bits. But it also consists of a really quick and useful shorthand for getting the ballpark measure of a person - or at least where *that person* thinks they are.

This is, if nothing else, a good way to point out the fallibility of any sort of categorization. It doesn't matter if that categorization is of gender, politics, religion, race, sexual preference, whatever. It's all fallible in the same way that the concept of "alignment" is fallible. Yet they're all useful in their place and time.

Unsophisticated players will sometimes say things like "Oh, I can't do that, it's against my character's alignment." Nobody - nobody - is 100% perfect. Sometimes we confuse the model with reality. The concept of alignment can help remind us of that.

You can, of course, test your alignment online.

14 May 2008

Biology and Gender

Let me take a try at this gender vs. biology thing.

I'm reading Paradoxes of Gender, and it's an interesting book. At least at the beginning (which is all the farther I've gotten so far) I've read the sentiment that biology doesn't apply when it comes to gender. Perhaps it's my simplistic reading, or the influence of simplistic feminists I've heard before. They say that biological gender doesn't matter.

This is a perfect example of a statement that is true and false.

We *know* that hormones affect mood, personality, and mental abilities - for good and ill. Biology affects all those things in a myriad of ways; I'm horribly crabby when deprived of caffiene or carbs for too long. So *biology matters*.

So isn't that the same as saying that "boys are different than girls?"

Well, no. Turns out that gender is a crappy way of grouping biological differences, especially when those differences . In best-case scenarios, there are many individuals who fall through the cracks (roughly akin to a small standard deviation, if I remember stats class right). In worst-case scenarios, socialization is informing biology.

Neither biology or sociology is alone, they're in a dialectical conversation. We literally inscribe our habits and training in the patterns of our neurons. Our socialization can effect our biology, which in turn is used as "proof" that our socialization is justified. Yet there are biological differences, and physical scientists are rightly horrified at statements like "biology doesn't matter".

But it might be irrelevant.

Even if we could unravel the threads of socialization and biology, we may find that biology is *effectively* irrelevant in outcome. That is, we need not be hampered by whatever biological tendencies are there beforehand. We have the ability to abstract away from whatever "natural" might be and to define what we *want* to be.

Anyone with a family disposition towards a biological trait (especially supposedly negative ones) is well aware of it. They need not be one's destiny. Have a predisposition to alcoholism? Heart disease? There are very concrete steps one can take to lessen or completely mitigate the effects.

So if men are really emotionally broken (instead of being socialized that way), they can become aware of that. Being aware of those negative predispositions is the first step to overcoming them. Ultimately, that biology is irrelevant because you've averted or minimized its effect. But it is still a real force, and something that cannot be dismissed naievely out of hand.

[Later edit - Lorber does get considerably more complex with her treatment in the next chapter. Yes,I have, once again, anticipated the next chapter of a text.]

13 May 2008

We're not all Archie Bunker

Note to Shakespeare's Sister , and everyone else who is (correctly) pointing out the anti-woman sentiment being pointed at Sen. Clinton from others on the left.

Hi. Not long ago, I would have been one of those people. Reading your blog - along with some classes I've been taking and books I've been reading - have helped me understand exactly how horrifying the characterizations of Sen. Clinton are. And I thank you for that.

I have to wonder how I would have reacted if the timeline was different, if I was not as far along on my awareness of feminism.

I know it's not fair. I know you've been putting up with it all your lives, and I'm ... well, still *not* putting up with it. I'm still a guy, and while I empathize, and speak out when I can, I'm not actually experiencing it myself like you are.

I think I would have written you off six months ago. I would have dismissed what I now am able to see as very real and very pertinent complaints. Not because of the content, but because of the style.

The me of six months ago would react very differently to these two statements:

"I'm sure you didn't mean it that way, but did you realize how sexist that is?"


and

"God, what a fauxgressive you are for saying such sexist things!"


Because here's the thing: All the -isms are, by definition, bigger than individuals. They are systems of oppression. Yes, a sexist or racist or heterosexist or ableist statement *might* mean that person is prejudiced. It might also mean they're part of the bigger system, and totally unaware of how thier actions are part of sexism, racism, et al. I really credit Privelege, Power, and Difference with helping me to understand that difference - which has in turn allowed me to not take it as a personal attack and get automatically defensive when someone points out my mistakes, my gaffes, and my reinforcing of the privelege system.

Privelege, Power, and Difference should be required reading for all white males, but it isn't yet. Those of us further along in our understanding - whether by study, experience, or a combination of the above - have to remember what the point is. Is it to change behaviors, or simply to condemn those who don't (yet) have the same understanding as we do? Archie Bunker (or substitute your TV talking head) wasn't going to change, or even understand our point of view. Wil Wheaton, Oliver Willis, and other foks labeled progressive just might. They are imperfect progressives, yes, but progressives just the same.

So yes, point out where the sexism is. Absolutely.

Just remember, amid your frustration, that although you're up to your billionth explanation, the person you're talking to may just be hearing their first.

12 May 2008

Weekly Challenge #108 - Gold (100 Word Stories)

It's that time again - 100 Word Story Challenge time! This week, the topic is Gold. My entry (as Steven the Nuclear Man) is below. Go vote for my story, MCJC's, or any others you think are worthwhile!

Gold

The machine goes ping and she stifles a laugh. They loved that movie.

His hands are cold in hers, so she is not surprised when the rhythmic
ping changes to a whine, then to the chaos of nurses and doctors
performing a full code. She allows herself to be ushered out to the
sterile comfort of the waiting room.

Couples fight silently overhead, the trash tv thankfully muted. Her
fingers caress the worn gold of her ring. She wonders if she will
wear it once he has gone.

She sees the doctor in the doorway, and stands to meet him.

Remember to vote!

10 May 2008

Pictures of You

[Note for the sensitive: I just stirred up a lot of really deep stuff. Nothing deep and generalizable here, this is all personal. Read if you like, it's my catharsis. Skip if you'd rather. Just so you can keep actors straight: Renee is my ex, and the mother of S. My wife now is the mother of C. S, if you're reading, there's nothing new here. Read or not as you care to. You may want to have your therapist handy, though.]

I am, for a family project, looking through old pictures for certain relatives. I can't believe I did not think about the ramifications. I am looking through my old pictures...

...which inherently means running into pictures of my son.

Not the son I talk about now, that's C. I'm talking about S. He's fourteen now, and in a foster home. That's because he assaulted myself, my wife, and C multiple times. Multiple. Both C and my wife are effectively (if not officially) PTSD because of the continual emotional abuse this child visited upon them.

You would never guess it from the pictures. And they hurt to look at.

Some are over a decade old. I am younger - though you can mostly tell because I'm fifty to eighty pounds lighter, and my parents look different. Then, we didn't know how bad it would get. We didn't know how bad it had gotten, when he had been with his birth mother, before he was with me.

I can see it in hindsight. I can see the over-flamboyant posing. I can see the beginnings of the egocentrism that ended up with feces on the wall when he didn't get his way. I know the subtle clues to look for now, the warning signs that are so specific to him.

I also know what is not in the pictures. I know that five minutes after one where he's smiling naturally at a scenic rest stop he flooded the seat with urine. I know that two hours into each and every one of the activities, zoos, museums he would simply melt down.

In hindsight, I know that was due to his brain being miswired early on. That it is due to being neglected so often by his birth mother that he could not accept and deal with it when things went right. I know that effect was multiplied a millionfold when my wife and C came into the picture - because suddenly everything was really, finally, okay. My wife had worked with children with problems before, and had successfully helped them. So she worked overtime to make it okay for S. And the more it was okay, the worse his behavior got.

But still, those five years of hell aren't completely enough to destroy the fun at playgrounds, or very real good times that happened. It isn't enough to obliterate the memories of Mother's Day presents he gave me. They made them at school, and we hadn't heard from his birth mother for months.

It's not quite enough to destroy those memories, but I wish it were.

I haven't seen him for most of a year. I haven't spoken to him for a few months; when we did speak, it was largely subtle taunting and bragging about how he was breaking the rules there.

I don't miss what he became. I miss who he was. I miss what he could have been.

Missing hurts - but it doesn't hurt as much as living with who he became. It's been thirteen months, and we're just now starting to heal. Luckily, guilt is not one of my problems. Don't get me wrong. I didn't do everything - hell, even most things - correctly.

But I know who set the stage for his problems. I know who deserves the guilt.

Happy "Mother's" Day, Renee. You screwed his life up so bad that he couldn't accept love and caring.

I don't wish any harm or bad upon you. I just want you to know.

That all the bad stuff in his life has come directly from you. That you screwed that sweet kid over into becoming what he did. I want you to remember that every last time someone says "Happy Mother's Day" to you.

09 May 2008

Virtual Us


Virtual Reality Could Explain the Fermi Paradox « Michael Graham Richard
I’ll add my 2 cents to this discussion by saying that there’s a possibility that any civilization that becomes advanced enough discovers that physical reality can’t hold a candle to virtual reality and makes the transition (alien transubstantiation, to coin a phrase). This could explain why they haven’t colonized the galaxy, or why we aren’t bathed in their radio communications.


Well, yes. Of course, to losslessly model the universe you'd have to have the computational power of... well, the universe. (crap, I've lost the link, but I think it was Kevin Kelly who quite elegantly made this point) So, if this really is a virtual world, then either it's a pointless one or one that's lossy. So how do we find the proof? We find the lossy artifacts, like the edge artifacts in a JPEG. Find those, and soon you'll have the suited guys saying "Please come with us, Mr. Anderson."

Didn't someone write that story already?

You didn't choose that, because I said so.

Quick preface - I really do think like this. All the time. So far, all evidence points to a vast majority of people not only refusing to do so, but actively demeaning those who do. Therefore, when I say "my culture", I mean *me*. Not because I'm the smartest or the best, but because I know that I'm actually thinking about it. If you think about it as much as I, then you'd probably be included in "my culture" too. Please note that it's the thought, not the conclusion, that counts here. Okay, on to today's thought.

"I might sound like a cultural relativist, but ultimately, I think that my culture is best."

Yeah, that's an awkward construction, isn't it? I was attempting to express the distinction between total relativism ("Why, sure, your belief in genocide is as valid as mine of world peace!") and ethnocentrism while at work today. There's not an elegant way to do it - at least, not in English. "I respect all traditions as long as they preserve individual choice"? Rather wordy, isn't it? Probably the closest (and catchiest) is "Do what thou wilt, save that you harm none other."

Yet even that - and the libertarian variants are even worse on this - ignores that we are all creatures of our cultural upbringing. Take, for example, the standards of beauty and sexual conduct for men and women. They may not be as extreme as foot-binding (though I'd almost argue differently with some of the stilletto heels I've seen), but we still ritually modify ourselves and our actions based on an external standard of beauty. "Macho" behaviors are still accepted as the norm for men, though a certain coarseness is thankfully gone. These things are embedded - so our desires are in large part culturally formed. What we want is no longer free will. A student at my workplace kept talking about how she couldn't learn things - but she's been a quick learner, and is now as good a worker as anyone else there. Empirically, she is a lot smarter than she gives herself credit for, but her upbringing has still programmed her to not believe in her own ability.

So you can have people of all types and colors *actively choose* the behaviors and societies that serve to repress them. There will be women choosing to bind their feet because it makes them "pretty". You have people "doing as they wilt", despite it actively harming themselves... because that's what they've come to learn. And for many of them/us, it may already be too late to change those inbuilt patterns of behaviors.

Our behaviors change our brains in a dialectic conversation. What you do changes your biology which changes what you do. These things we've learned, these cultural artifacts are now literally hardwired into every adult and adolescent brain. (There's a good deal of evidence from women's studies that there is a real paradigm shift at adolescence.)

This puts us in a dilemma Max Weber would have appreciated. We have the ability to transcend all of these cultural artifacts, to treat each other as humans. We have, through individual psychotherapy, learned the tools of helping ourselves and each other to climb out of the collective Stockholm's syndrome that we are imprisoned in. But the very cultural traditions we wish to overcome are those that perpetuate the problems. We have *cultural momentum*.

This might be the greatest (and largely unrecognized) promise of the technological Singularity; a chance to become truly posthuman, to truly transcend the cultural baggage of generations of apes struggling to survive.

08 May 2008

Pre Post-Scarcity Blues

We live at the end of an age, the end of a time of almost post-scarcity. Those of us who have grown up in this time have an ahistorical view, one where scarcity barely matters.

That is, those of us in the middle class and up in the global North and West.

While the privileged have long exploited others for gain, this has been done to an unprecedented degree in the last seventy years. What it has lacked in depth of oppression, it has more than made up for in terms of width. Entire nations have been under the thrall of the global North and West.

And as Jeffrey Sachs has pointed out in The End of Poverty, this has largely been a good thing.

The balance has been this: While workers in the developing world have been exploited in comparison to those in the West, they have benefited in real economic terms. This situation was tenable - and morally defensible - as long as three conditions held. All have failed, or are in the process of failing.

1) Workers continued to benefit comparative to their prior status. This condition has begun to fail; corporations are increasingly unable to find cheaper workers (especially when including other long-run expenses). Without advances in robotics and machinery, this means that we're reaching a labor market equilibrium, and profits (and surplus) are going to narrow rapidly, soon.

2) Workers did not compare their status to those elsewhere in the globe. Our exportation of our media industry has been counterproductive here. Most global citizens know how citizens of the global North and West live - or at least believe that they do. It is blindingly obvious to them that there is inequity between their output and conditions and those of the "post-industrial" nations. Even if they are not personally able to travel to where their work is worth higher wages, the perception is there. Frans de Waals' experiments with primates have indicated this is a Bad Thing; other studies have shown that relative changes in inequity are key in determining civil conflict (if you're really curious I'll re-access the journal articles...).

3) The surplus created by the earlier global situation was then used for innovation. That this surplus was not merely bread and circuses, but was reinvestment that worked to further advance humanity towards a postscarcity society. To imminatize the eschaton, to bring forth the singularity. Technological advance tends to correlate with available surplus in a rough approximation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. When we (collective and individual) are not focused solely on immediate survival, we are able to *play*, that fundamental human behavior that leads to *experiment* and improvement. The kind of happy mutant play that leads to patent clerks having the leisure to wonder about the nature of light, for example. I think it is highly arguable that the global West and North has squandered this surplus on pure leisure and satiation, thus robbing it of moral justification.

It is possible that the age of surplus is nearing its end. If this is so - or even possible to be so - then our choices are clear. We can wait for a global market equilibrium. This will - and I mean *will* - mean a reduction in the real standard of living for the global North and West. Or we can rededicate the surplus we have remaining towards further improvements, towards finding ways past scarcity. Not merely to eke the last bit of oil out of the ground, the last ergs of work out of the peasants, but to find ways where one's work is no longer coerced, where energy is renewable, and we are truly free.

Self-Evident Conceptualizations

I'm having a hard time writing anything for here, simply because it seems so self-evident. For example, I've been thinking about how we conceptualize things in words (inspired by Dorothy Smith:

It's not just what you say, it's how you say it. It's how you think it, which reflects how you conceptualize it. Too frequently, this means that once you've locked into a model of something - ANY model - then you've accepted its limitations. It's limitations in appraising reality, that is. Reality's limitations aren't a function of your conceptualization. Obviously, you'd want to use a conceptualization with as few limitations as possible.

Yet *all* conceptualizations have limitations. It's like languages - each language has its own concepts that are effectively untranslatable. Even routine translations are frequently "lossy"; the information of nuance disappears. The obvious solution to that problem is to become multilingual. The obvious solution to our conceptual problem is to recognize the modeling nature of our conceptualizations.

I do assert that there is an empirical reality, that it's not just some "idealized" Platonic form, but there's a physical reality out there external to the observer. However, our conceptualization (even in the supposedly empirical sciences) has limitations. Understanding that these limitations exist can signal us when it is time to switch to a different conceptualization in order to bring ourselves to a close understanding of our external reality.

The other month, my wife and I were trying to discuss a quality of "being" - someone *is* X, Y, and Z. We were at a sticking point until I said - "Not ser, estar!". The two types of "is" in Spanish carry extra information that simply isn't there in English. Running against that limitation clued us in that it was time to switch languages briefly, and then we merrily went on in English again.

So this brings us to modeling - not an methodology, really, but a meta-methodology. An understanding that "you use a model that brings you closest to reality until it doesn't - then you use a different model." This sensibility is peculiar to us in this time. The positivists missed it in their assurances that they were right, the postmodernists missed it in their assurances that everything was relative and mutable. This way - a non-synthesizing synthesis of what has come before - may allow us to take the best of the past and move boldly into the future.


... Okay, so that's a little more than I thought it would be at first. Still, it's self-evident, right? If history is any judge, I've just written about (and conceived) something that another has already described ad nauseaum elsewhere, and I just haven't heard about it yet. Do let me know if this is the case.

06 May 2008

Better Minds Than Mine

Three interesting links. Data density ahead!

Econbrowser: Gasoline prices: consumers and politicians respond
Analyzing the consumer and politician responses to gasoline prices - and showing how an effective summarizing title is written.

Kids and Congress - Freakonomics - Opinion - New York Times Blog
Ebonya Washington, an economist at Yale, has a great paper that was just published in the American Economic Review called “Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers’ Voting on Women’s Issues.”

She looks at members in the House of Representatives and looks to see whether their voting patterns change. She provides interesting evidence that, “conditional on total number of children, each daughter increases a congress person’s propensity to vote liberally on reproductive rights issues.”

The Perceived Returns to Education and the Demand for Schooling : The Watson Institute for International Studies
Using data from the Dominican Republic, we find that while the measured returns to schooling are high, the returns perceived by students are extremely low. Students provided with information on the higher measured returns reported increased perceived returns several months later. The least-poor of these students were also significantly less likely to drop out of school in subsequent years.

The Power of TV: Cable Television and Women's Status in India : The Watson Institute for International Studies
This paper explores the effect of the introduction of cable television on gender attitudes in rural India. Using a three-year individual-level panel dataset, we find that the introduction of cable television is associated with improvements in women's status.

Recognizing Racism in Tuskegee

[A foreword: Yes, I'm well aware that Mr. Goldberg is actually writing this to try to keep Rev. Wright in the news. Which makes this particular op-ed of his an even more gratuitous example of douchebaggery. Yes, I said douchebaggery.]

Do I really need to tell anyone that Jonah Goldberg doesn't know what racism is? I mean, aside from Jonah himself.

In his op-ed titled Liberals should stop telling tall tales about Tuskegee , he rightly points out that the Tuskegee "experiments" did not purposefully infect Black men with syphillis. Fair enough. He accurately points out that it involved a "callous disregard for the humanity and integrity of the patients. They were told they were getting 'treatments' when they were merely being studied. They were lied to, treated as objects rather than citizens."

So the subjects - all Black - were treated as outside the Hippocratic oath. They were allowed to suffer from a treatable disease.

They were treated as subhuman.

That, my friends, is racism.

That is racism that was perpetrated and defended by the U.S. government.

Mr. Goldberg hides behind the statement "Among the scholars who've studied Tuskegee, there's a lot of debate about how much - if any - racism was involved in the experiment." That sort of oversimplified analysis - assuming that racism is the same as individual hatred - is sickly ironic, as it strikes at obvious examples while leaving structural racism wholly intact and excused.

After all, those doctors were just following orders. Right?

We deserve a more intelligent discussion of racism. We cannot forget that racism is systems and processes, not just people. Over at Resist Racism, there's a timely post quoting Michael Omi expanding on this very point much more elegantly than I. Take a few minutes and read it - at the very least so you don't make a fool out of yourself like Mr. Goldberg has done.


Edit: [Cute - after alleging that Tuskegee was part of the New Deal in his syndicated column, he now recants that online. Contact your local paper and have them print that too.]

Apologies to JP Withers

(subtitled: Is JP vanity googling? Will he see this? We wait on the edge of our seats...)

My apologies to JP Withers: My musical tastes haven't changed.

Fifteen years ago (give or take a year), he predicted that my taste in music would widen and expand. That I would no longer be tolerant of the metal, punk, or goth music I liked then. He was wrong. Sort of. It's like blogs.

Nevermind that blogs didn't exist fifteen years ago. I've found my tastes in blogs (with the marked exception of the eclectic boingboing) changing. It's not that the blogs have changed, it's that my ability to understand them has. Originally, I didn't grasp much of economics beyond a basic primer's level. Now, indepth analysis of Fed rates and commodity markets almost - almost! - makes sense. Simpler analysis simply doesn't seem worth spending my time on.

My tastes in music have progressed similarly. While I've expanded - most notably allowing myself to like some bluegrass, ambient, new age and mashup - my main standbys are still metal, "light" goth, and pop-punk. Now, however, my tastes are more selective. Rather than just energy and intensity, I now also look for professionalism, quality, and just plain talent.

I still like the same styles of music as I did when I was younger. I just recognize now that most of it's crap.

And a slightly associated thought...

I don't mean that most *bands* are crap, or most *albums* are crap - I mean most of the *music* is crap. Disturbed, for example. IMHO, 10% great songs, 60% mediocre songs, and 30% crap. Some - no, most - bands are worse. Slipknot and Korn are great examples of that: one song an album that's great, the rest suck derivative ass. In the past, albums meant something. I remember bands - say, David Lee Roth era Van Halen - that released damn near every song of 1984 as a single. And each song did rather well - as did the album. Now, it's common for more than half of an album to be of far inferior quality than the highly promoted tracks.

Perhaps this was a profitable strategy for a brief period of time, but that era has been dead for a decade. I can - and am - exposed to music from all over the world. It is too easy to find good examples of any genre. Perhaps they aren't *popular* artists, but that says nothing about the quality of thier work.

It does make it hard to discuss music, though. Imagine this scenario:

"Oh, hey, you're listening to Slipknot? I've got all thier stuff! What did you think of the rest of that album?"

"Uh... it sucked. Pretty bad."

"Oh. Right."

Really happened. Or this scenario:

"That's a pretty cool song. Who is that?"

"He's Simon Slator. He's an ambient artist out of the UK."

"Where can I find his CDs? At the store?"

"Ummm.... No. Just at Jamendo. Online, y'know?"

In time, I'm sure such conversations will become more accepted and common, that we'll develop the mechanisms to trade specific information and tracks. Or we already have, and I'm old enough to have missed it. ;)

05 May 2008

The AfterMath



So, the day after a building hit our car, we stopped by the same restaurant to grab some donuts. There was a small change to the construction site since the day before. See if you notice...




Why, yes! There's caution tape! And orange cautionary fencing! You would never guess that it took dropping a building on a car to figure out what to put there.

04 May 2008

Weekly Challenge #107 - Chair

Yes, it's time again for the 100-word story weekly challenge. My entry (Steven the Nuclear Man) is below; be sure to stop by 100 word stories to read the rest and vote for the best! This week's theme is:

Chair

It first creaked as she rocked in summer's heat, waiting for the baby. Dad fixed it, but she wouldn't sit in it until he made it squeak again.

She rocked through my breastfeeding and tantrums. I showed up once
with teenage bravado and a cigarette. She stopped. I put the
cigarette out and heard the rhythmic creak again.

I missed it when I left for college. Squeaks lulled me to sleep when
I returned for Dad's funeral.

It's silent now. My wife asks if I'm okay.

The wind moves the rocker, and for a second I pretend that I am.


02 May 2008

Building vs. Car

Do you want to know why there's those stupid bureaucratic rules that seem redundant and assume that you've got the brains of a two-year old? (No offense to two-year olds...) Let me tell you a little story, then. A love story.

It was a story of a love not meant to be, for even the merest touch of the building damaged the car, and she wasn't into that kind of kinky stuff.

No, really.

My wife called my work today. My supervisor answered. "Perhaps you could help me," my wife said. "I don't know how to tell Steve this, but a building fell on my car."

"Hang on," my supervisor said. "I want to see his face when you tell him that."

And yes, it was true. My wife had parked her car in a local restaurant lot, gone in, and had almost finished her sandwich. That was when my son said: "Hey mom, I think they're knocking down that building." That was quickly followed by "Hey mom, I think that building fell on your car!"

I got there about forty minutes later. The police declined to respond, and after playing middleperson between our insurance company and the construction company's, the tow truck was called. And I started taking pictures.



Notice anything? The complete and utter lack of cautionary markings!?!! We were told that one of the construction crew's employees was supposed to make sure that nobody had parked there. Good thing they'd told the restaurant... oh, wait. They didn't. How did we know? The franchise owner was mighty unhappy that her parking lot was jacked up, and was commiserating with us.

In fact, after the tow truck had been called, and pictures taken, they insisted we move our car so they could start clearing away rubble. So I did, and they started to clear away the rubble... wait a second...



There still isn't any caution tape! It wasn't until shortly after the above image that the guy who owned the property (and had hired the construction crew) deployed one, sad, ribbon of caution tape.


That's it. No more than that. Really.



So, unwarned, our poor car suffered the rough touch of a building. She didn't even know what a safeword was.

I am inspired by the success of the Midwest Teen Sex Show. Perhaps there's a market for the Midwest Transportation Sex Show?

(Seriously: Everyone's safe, the car's in the shop awaiting estimates. It could have been a lot worse, and lot less funny. I'm concerned that both the construction crew and property owner seemed so laid-back about safety. Guys, those OSHA regulations are pointing directly at you.)
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