Sunday, June 30, 2013

Women and the wanting of things

I spent some of this weekend reading What Do Women Want?  It is a book about female desire examining both the classic beliefs we see reflected in popular culture and the actual science that is being done to understand the topic.  It is a fascinating book, fairly short, and takes an interesting tack; that is, that monogamy kills desire and that our attempts to 'cure' the boredom and lack of desire that comes from long term monogamy through pharmaceutical aids or therapy are feeble at best.  I should note that much of what I say here is going to be heteronormative both because that is where the book focuses and because I can actually talk about it with some degree of personal experience.

There is an assumption made that what women need in relationships to kindle desire is intimacy, trust, cuddling, someone who takes an equal part in chores and childrearing, etc.  While all of these are good things I don't think that trying to fix a lack of desire in a long term relationship this way is actually useful.  The raw desire for someone else that occurs in a young relationship is powerful enough to demolish pretty near any kind of barrier that may arise and we know from endless examples that women don't suddenly go back there because their man decides to do laundry or snuggle.

The book doesn't present any sort of solution.  It outlines all kinds of problems with sexual desire in long term monogamy but never tries to tell the reader what exactly might be done about this.  It seems to me that the author simply recognizes that opening things up to a discussion of polyamory or open relationships is too much to just tack on.  Trying to cover that would be too much for a book that tries to focus on a smaller, more narrow topic but it does end up feeling like What Do Women Want? simply ends up concluding that everything sucks and you can either have endless short term relationships or just accept the end of lust and desire.

That isn't to say that monogamy is bad or that it will automatically leave people unhappy; neither is true.  It is certainly true though that the great majority of ostensibly monogamous relationships have cheating as people chase the rush they once felt.  It is also true that an awful lot of people desperately wish they could have sex the way they did at first and find no solutions.  I think this illustrates so clearly why we would all be better off if our culture presented monogamy as an option for those who find it works best for them instead of as the only morally acceptable choice.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Things were really, really better when I was a kid

I saw a wonderful video today which had an interesting illustration of a speech by Stephen Fry.  He talks about language and how people spend a lot of time and energy tearing down others who use language in an 'improper' way.  He has no patience for this; as long as the meaning is clear then there is no reason to be pedantic about split infinitives, sentences ended with prepositions, 'misuse' of less / fewer, or other common complaints.  Most of the time it is just a way to take a crap on people who have had less formal education or who did not learn English as their primary language and linguistic elitism really isn't a cause I can get behind.

It goes back to my rant last week about how people really want to justify the world they grew up in being perfect.  Their teachers back then slammed the rules of grammar into their heads and they want to do the same to others to feel better and more intelligent.  There is a certain rush people get from being the best informed person in a situation that is mostly derived from other people feeling inferior.  Leetspeak, while it can be confusing to someone who is not familiar, is actually a much more sane and reasonable way to write in most cases.  Through really should be thru, you should be u, and lulz is a perfectly fine concept.  However, because these things were not around back in the day it gets people up in arms when they are used.  If we change how we speak then anything could change; I might have to rethink my positions on things!  Madness!

Fry also talks a bit about job interviews and other similar situations where people in a position of authority have an expectation of specific speech usage.  I am a bit torn on this one; while I recognize that the ability to control one's speech patterns or to speak in a formal fashion is a useful skill an employer might want it is frustrating that the lack of those things is so often used to dismiss a candidate as unintelligent, untrustworthy, or uneducated.  I certainly alter my speech patterns depending on who I am talking to, as we all do.  I don't swear as much when talking to my grandmother as I do when playing poker with the boys, for example, and I naturally speak very formally in an interview situation.  I want both to be able to wield the English language proficiently and also not have others be degraded because they cannot do so to the same extent; this is probably impossible.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Lookin' confused

Yesterday I went to a new restaurant.  It is sort of a restaurant, sort of a bakery, sort of a coffee shop, and like many places that don't fit standard molds it wasn't exactly clear how things worked there.  It had a glass case with lots of different sandwiches and other food on display but I stood around unsure as to the procedure - should I walk up to the cash register and order?  Wait at the food counter?  Go sit down and wait for a server to come up and take my order?  It turns out that this place is best described as a coffee shop.  You tell the people what stuff you want, pay for it, and then you can sit at your table while they heat it up and then bring it to you.  The coffee shop descriptor isn't perfect but it is the closest thing I think; there is no ordering at the table and tipping does not seem to be required.

I find this sort of thing fascinating to watch because the first time in this sort of a situation people tend to be confused and nervous and it ends nearly instantly once they can shove the place into a convenient box.  Prior to that there is a lot of rapidly looking around trying to sort out how to not appear foolish.  It is, of course, a very simple process to acquire food at such a place and certainly if you do it wrong nothing bad will happen but that doesn't seem to mitigate our collective 'what if I do something wrong and look stupid?' subroutine.  It is sort of like when people fall down or stub their toe or some similar thing in public.  They first thing they do is look around and see if anybody noticed instead of checking the injury.  That desperate desire to not appear foolish, ill informed, or clumsy is very powerful.

In addition to confusing new people who don't know how to act they also have a fantastic patio with lots of shade from trees and make very nice pulled pork sandwiches.  Overly expensive pulled pork sandwiches to be sure but that the taste of them is excellent cannot be denied.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Capitalism, the source of all evil?

I read a lot of pretty hardcore left leaning blogs and articles online.  While I generally believe very much in the sorts of things lefties believe in I have some real issues with some of the things they say with regards to capitalism.  Never will I deny that our current global monetary situation has big problems; it does.  That said, there simply isn't any use in ranting about capitalism being evil as a whole.  For one, it isn't going anywhere.  For two, if it did go somewhere, what next?  I was talking with Rat Lady about this and her comment summed it up for me quite nicely.  "Sure, capitalism has all kinds of problems... but what exactly are you proposing to replace it with?"

It is fun and all to rant and shout about the whole system being corrupt.  That is easy and simple because you can bring up any injustice or problem at all and claim everything is hopeless and ruined on that basis.  It is fun, but it isn't *useful*.  Our society would undoubtedly be better if we did things differently like getting the money out of politics, taxing capital gains like normal income, introducing punitive estate taxes, and increasing government controls on corporate power and excess.  These would all help reduce inequality and improve things for the majority though clearly it isn't a comprehensive list.  The thing we aren't going to do and shouldn't do is completely tear down the very system of exchanging goods and services using currency.

Occasionally people talk about what we could do instead of capitalism but they inevitably end up with either pie in the sky dreams that crumble instantly on contact with actual people or systems that work for a village of one hundred inhabitants and no more.  We have a big world and the people in it want all kinds of incredibly complex things that require enormous systems to deliver.  Your cell phone does not appear out of thin air and neither the physical object, the software that runs on it, nor the phone and satellite system that makes it all work can be created on a small scale.  To have the things we have we need a global system of exchange and such a system is only sustainable under capitalism.

So by all means let us talk about how we can make the world a better place by curbing the exploits of some particular actors in the world economy.  Let us make major efforts to fix the issues we have including but not limited to inequality, abuse of the environment, and warping of politics.  However, while we do that we should not waste our time in pointless hyperbole or uninformed ranting; there are problems and there are solutions but they are complex and do not involve flipping the table and storming off.  They involve learning, work, and grinding out small changes one at a time.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When I was a kid things were perfect

xkcd has a wonderful post today listing a ton of comments from the late 1800s and the early 1900s talking about how everyone is stupid these days.  Not just stupid of course, but unable to read, unable to write, and with the attention span of a ferret with ADHD.  Society was much better when those folks were young; people took their time, did things correctly, wrote long and meaningful letters to one another, and venerated their elders.

This sort of nonsense exists throughout the world and throughout recorded history.  I think of it as a defence mechanism, a way for people to shrug off any criticism of their most ridiculous and deeply held beliefs.  The problem is that if the present is pretty much as good as the past then there is little reason to think that the values of the past are actually better.  As soon as you accept that the values you were taught as a small child might legitimately be questioned everything becomes a ton of work.  You have to think about decisions you make, figure out if the things you do are worthwhile, and examine the way you treat people.  This is all very challenging and might lead to regret so it is much easier to refuse to accept that it might be the right thing to do.

The solution we as a society seem to fix on is framing the times of our youth as a golden age.  The people were wise, the cultural norms were righteous, and the quality of all things was superior.  Life is good when you look at the world this way because you can just keep on doing the same damn foolish and destructive things over and over in the certainty that they are infallible.  The world is getting better.  In starts and stops to be sure, with backsliding all over, but the progression is undeniable.  This progression is not due to fixing some particular set of values and lifestyles in our minds and sticking to them; rather it is due to the constant willingness to change when a better course presents itself.

It ends up being about science.  The ability and desire to examine deeply held beliefs and discard them when they no longer fit the facts is critical.  The religious strategy of doing whatever it was some powerful dude eons ago said instead leads us to stagnation - there is a reason that religious folk are so strongly associated with ancient and abhorrent viewpoints.  The world long ago had its good points and bad points but there was no golden age; we are building that golden age now piece by piece.  The price of the golden age to come though is the hard work of accepting that we must question that which has always been taken to be certain.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Lost and alone

A while ago Wendy, Elli, and I were walking along the street heading to Elli's school.  While crossing the road we passed a lady who was looking up into the air, stumbling around a little, and talking to herself.  Her face made it clear that she was upset about something but she was acting very strangely.  The street was crowded and everyone was just passing by ignoring her on their way.  I was concerned that she wasn't getting out of the street and we stopped to watch to make sure she was going to make it to the sidewalk without incident.

Wendy walked away from Elli and I and began talking to the lady.  I waited for a minute and then Wendy offered the lady her arm and they began to walk in the same direction we were going talking to each other quietly.  A block later Wendy motioned for me to take Elli to school while she delivered the lady to her building.  I dropped Elli off and met Wendy and I met up again, this time without our charges.  Wendy told me that the lady was distraught having been through a terrible breakup the night before and having spent the entire intervening time drinking.  Once delivered to her building she wandered in of her own accord though, so presumably she is fine.

Wendy asked me "Is it okay that I did that?" obviously thinking that I might have been worried about her safety, or thinking that we should have just left the lady alone.  There is, I suppose, always some level of risk involved in walking up to a stranger, especially one who cannot keep themselves together enough to do simple things like crossing the street.  I think we greatly overestimate that risk generally.  Mostly people who act strangely aren't the slightest bit dangerous; I suspect in fact that the opposite is true.

My response was that of course is was okay, and in fact that action makes me damn proud.  Taking the time and the risk in stepping up to help is a wonderful thing and I hope very much that Elli takes that lesson to heart.  Seeing the world as a beautiful place and seeing people as being worth helping will lead to a happy life, I think, even if sometimes attempts to help do go a bit sour.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In defence of the right to not be offended

The Russian parliament is going off the rails.  They recently passed a bill that will make it a fineable offence to teach anything about homosexuality to people under 18, which would be crazy even if it would somehow work, which it won't.  They also passed a bill making it illegal to offend the religious feelings of the faithful.  That is to say if a church thinks it is offensive to eat a doughnut then eating a doughnut is now punishable by up to three years in jail.  Madness like this confuses me deeply; can't religious people see that this is going to be used against them?

Churches change and what is fine now may be prohibited by doctrine later.  Giving the power to make things illegal to any random religious official means that anything anyone does can be illegal and no amount of consulting the legal code or precedent can change that.  It is very much like freedom of religion in that while religions are all a big mess and are also fundamentally mistaken about reality it is critical that freedom of religion be maintained.  Not maintaining freedom of religion means that someday you stand a good chance of facing down the law just for the beliefs you hold no matter what those beliefs happen to be.

Unfortunately in a totalitarian state under a brutal despot like Putin there isn't much that can be done about it. You can protest but he controls the government; you can vote against him but he will cheat, you can fight but he controls the military.  Short of a bloody full scale revolution or Putin dying and some kind of serious reformer winning the next election (good luck, what with the system Putin has put in place) Russians are just stuck with disasters like this where the thought police are ready to imprison them for any disobedience.  Giving more power to the mad dictator is not going to make the gays go away and it isn't going to restore the 'glory' of the church.  It is just going to make it easier for the oppressors to wield their power to crush all those who might oppose them.

Monday, June 10, 2013


I never cultivated much of an appreciation for visual art.  I took art in high school up until grade 12 but although I was solid on theory and could do a mean still life I was hopeless at designing a new picture from scratch.  Every time I tried to do so it ended up looking utterly silly - somehow my brain is good at translating real views into pictures but my imaginary views simply don't work that way.  I never have nailed down why that is exactly.  When I end up in art galleries for some reason or other I generally end up unimpressed.  There certainly are paintings that require serious talent but Voice of Fire and its ilk always made me insane.  I never managed to cultivate an appreciation for art at least partly because of my exposure to such silliness.

Sometimes though I run into a piece of art that really stuns me.  I was at the Brickworks a week ago and found a gigantic steel sculpture that incorporates plants to create a map of Toronto.  Rivers in the real city are reflected by water channels in the sculpture and green spaces are reflected by actual plants growing out of the piece.  I love it.  For one it is really a unique approach to making a city map and for two is it stealthy - you don't necessarily realize what it is at first glance.  Until I looked at the bottom and recognized the shape of the Toronto Islands I was puzzled as to what was in front of me.  This is art worth recognizing.

We wandered around the Brickworks for a few hours getting thoroughly rained on.  Sometimes it surprises me how awesome random places are around the city that I have never visited or even heard about.  I guess in my mind I know what Toronto has to offer but it practice it is chock full of people and places I have no idea about whatsoever.  Apparently it is also full of aggressive birds; while we were walking the boardwalk a red winged blackbird flew out of a tree and smashed into my head.  I was undamaged but quite shocked... perhaps I came too close to its nest due to being tall?  Hard to say.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Armpit science

A year or two ago I decided to stop wearing deodorant.  I always hated the stuff viscerally and finally got sick of slapping chemicals on myself to change my smell.  It turns out that deodorant creates its own need; that is, having that crap on your armpits actually makes you smell worse until you slather on more of it to cover it up.  I wrote about this at the time and discovered that there are other folks I know doing the same thing.  It is a strange conspiracy where people all assume everybody else uses deodorant and yet it isn't truly necessary.  A win for marketing certainly.

Recently I have been noticing that I smelled a little more than usual.  Somehow, whether it be through temperature, habit, or simply awareness, I have found that there is a greater necessity for aroma suppression.  I did some reading on the subject and discovered that the reason armpit odour is a thing is bacteria living there.  Why exactly they hang out there and make such a mess isn't clear to me but I know what people do when they want to smash bacteria; they use alcohol based liquid in a squirt bottle and rub it on their hands.  The obvious question arises to the scientist in me - will hand sanitizer work as an effective deodorant?

Now you might not immediately set off to test this sort of question but I sure would!

The answer, it turns out, is that hand sanitizer is a damn good deodorant!  I tried slapping it on and despite being unable to hear the screams as millions of underarm inhabitants died drunken deaths it felt good to massacre the little buggers.  Just using it twice a week made a tremendous difference and did not have any unpleasant side effects like buildup and unpleasant manufactured scents that using regular deodorant once did.  I don't intend to use it constantly or anything but this seems like a very effective solution.  It makes me less of a purist I suppose but I am willing to compromise a bit on principle for stench reduction.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Alone at last

Awhile ago I talked about how Wendy and I had plans for what we would do if the other one of us died.  We both had a particular person in mind we would hit up and no hesitation about the idea of marrying somebody else.  Both of us, I think, are really far more comfortable in a relationship than alone.  Physical touch being a big thing for both of us is likely a part of this; I need the closeness that a relationships provides to get all of my feelin' loved time.  It should go without saying that both of us supported the other person moving on in whatever way they needed to.

Today I was talking with some folks who felt exactly the opposite.  I was actually stunned at the vehemence with which they denied any impulse to remarry if their current relationship broke down.  The attitude seemed to be that dating itself was a torturous thing to go through and that single life was the way to go.  This sort of thing wouldn't surprise me from people who were single for life, say, or people in the middle of a divorce, but it kind of took me aback from a group of folks who make family so much a focus of their lives.  I expected them to be of the mind that marriage is the place to be and they really weren't.

It makes me wonder if there is something obvious that causes that feeling.  Clearly it could be based on the particulars of the relationships we are involved in, the sorts of people we find attractive, or our love languages as I mentioned above.  We had all been married for comparable amounts of time so it isn't the age of the relationship that is the key.  There are very few things that I could do single that I can't do now so for me a relationship feels like pure win; I wish I could fathom exactly why others see the whole thing so differently.

Monday, June 3, 2013

My hat is gone

The Fun Fair at Elli's school is finally over.  The intense planning and preparation paid off and the event was a real success.  Of course we have lots of ideas to make things better next year but we certainly can't complain, especially because the rain that was forecast held off until just a couple minutes after the Fun Fair shut down.  When it did come down it came down HARD but mostly people were gone home already so I was able to sit there and say "Bring it on!" instead of worrying about all the stuff that was going to get wrecked.

I ran the book sale which was surprisingly good.  Part of it was a white elephant sale with lots of extremely random stuff that people donated.  There was a candle holder set, a green Christmas themed cone, a bunch of stuffed animals, 3 picture frames, and other junk all for 1 dollar each.  I was sure at the beginning that I would end up with all of it still sitting there by the end but somehow the great majority of the stuff walked away with people.  They all seemed really happy to buy things for such a trivial price even if they didn't really need them.  I guess people who have basements can afford to just buy things like that randomly and hope they come in handy some day.

Sadly the event was marred for me.  I put my Tilley hat down on a bench and while I was moving things inside the school somebody ran off with my hat.  I have had that hat for ten years; it has travelled all over to a huge number of parks and events and was still in excellent condition.  You have to hand it to Tilley - their hats are really expensive but they are absolutely tops in quality.  I guess the person who stole it decided that they wanted a nice wide brimmed hat to keep the rain off and figured stealing one from a school volunteer was a cool way to go.  It really frustrates me because my brain mashes everything together and it makes me feel bad for volunteering at all.  Rationally the two events don't need to be conflated in my mind but there is no getting around that bitterness.  I don't have so much money that I relish dropping another 75 bucks to buy a new hat even if the old one did put in plenty of time.

I figure I will run the book sale again next year.  I can't imagine I will be up for the job of actually running the Fun Fair but spending a day doing things for the school makes me feel good; I sure got my exercise carting chairs, tables, and books around and working with a purpose is a pleasant thing.