Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Not a special case

Romantic relationships are often thought to bring out the best in people.  True love conquering all and such.  I am not convinced that this is actually true though, and I think that more of the time they give people excuses for being awful than create good behaviour.  It is easiest to see in the case of serious physical abuse since we all know that when we see someone with a black eye the most likely reason they got it is a blow from their romantic partner rather than anything else.

That assumption that it is okay or normal to pull all kinds of crazy out on your partner certainly holds true when there is no physical violence though.  Jealousy in particular is something we often hold up as a virtue even though in non romantic relationships the idea of forbidding a partner to spend time with half of the population or demanding exclusivity would be shocking and bizarre.

This is kind of interesting when you consider it in the context of a monogamous relationship that is beginning to be polyamorous.  In that situation many people seem to become the worst partners possible, making all kinds of demands and feeling justified in exploding over the tiniest issue.  Ferrett wrote about this a bit and the very fact that he feels it necessary to clarify that being poly isn't an excuse to treat your partner like crap is very telling.  We shouldn't need to make it explicit that blowing up at people you love over small misunderstandings isn't okay... and yet it seems we do.

Being in love with someone is powerful.  It generates very intense feelings and those feelings can very easily be tipped over from adoration to hatred.  While I love being in love and I think that for me it is definitely great to be in lots of romantic relationships we should recognize that these relationships don't automatically make us better people.  Our feelings aren't magically correct and righteousness does not spring from romantic attraction.

Unfortunately we too often seem to think that romantic love removes the need for us to behave well and grants some sort of infallibility when instead it magnifies the need for consideration and good deeds.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A demon placated

I have often talked about my money demon.  I think about it as a tiny red monster on my shoulder that is constantly yelling at me to never spend money, to buy the cheapest option, to be paranoid about debt.  It doesn't want me to cheat anyone else mind you because it sees that as debt and as such it is a thing to be desperately avoided.  It has been there as long as I can remember but sometimes it is sleeping, dormant sort of.  I know it is there during those times but its exhortations are silenced.  Back when I was in university the demon was at full strength but it took a long nap while I was working selling beds as I had more money than I had any pressing need for at the time.

Over the past eight years the demon has been agitated, bouncing around and shrieking at full volume.  This month though Wendy finished her PhD and got a job and the demon took this as a cue to sit down, relax, close its eyes for just a minute, and finally nod off.  This has been a pleasant change that influences all kinds of small things in my life.  I don't worry about bus fares anymore and I go out and spend a little money to go to a movie or something like that without feeling tense about it.  Best of all though my desperate need to balance the books between me and everyone else in the world has faded dramatically.  I no longer worry about incurring debt quite the same way.

That shouldn't be taken to mean that I am now going to become a spendthrift that tosses money around like water.  Even in the years when I was working and making good money I literally spent one third of my take home pay and put the rest aside for later - I am always going to be frugal.  This change is just a small alteration in my habits, a pulling back of fear and doubt, worry and stress.  The demon going to sleep means I can do things that are well within my means comfortably and buy things I need without concern, secure in the knowledge that my bank account is on the way up.  It is going up slowly but the demon only really gets excited about the direction of the money vector not the magnitude.

Some people frame my discipline surrounding money as a laudable virtue but I don't see it that way really.  It has its advantages but others often don't see the cost of having a demon on my shoulder all the time.  There is a perfect middle ground where one makes ideal long term decisions about money but is not subject to lots of extra stress and I go far beyond that most of the time.  I hope now that the demon is slumbering once again I can be sensible and disciplined without all the monetary paranoia that has so often dogged my steps throughout my life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

An insufficiency of broadness

Sometimes when when people hop online and turn on the flamethrower they hit too many people by accident.  On the other hand sometimes they hit far too few.  I read an article yesterday talking about the issues with radical revolutionary left wing politics written from the perspective of someone who had once been an ardent adherent but now is much more moderate.  The author's viewpoints these days are very similar to my own - radical leftist social policies without revolutionary or communist viewpoints.  She spent time talking about all the issues she saw with her particular former brand of radical left politics, namely dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality, and anti intellectualism.

The thing to remember though is that these issues aren't something especially attributable to one branch of radical left wing politics.  They are present across humanity in pretty much every setting available.  People gather together with others who support their viewpoints, refuse to deem other ideas worthy of consideration, feel the desperate desire to convert everyone to their way of thinking, and dismiss any theory that speaks about nuance and situation instead of unequivocally supporting their position.

It isn't a crime to want to hang around people like yourself.  I don't exactly have a lot of close friends that believe in trickle down economics!  However, when in a group where everyone feels the same about something it is hard to avoid the tendency to dismiss all other opinions as ridiculous and that makes it hard to break away from a way of thinking even when it is sorely mistaken.  It is also very challenging for anyone to admit that they have doubts about the things their in group believes in because it will be seen as an attack on the righteousness of the group itself instead of a desire to refine and test ideas.

No matter if your group is held together by a love of pastries, communism, Tarantino movies, or Catholicism these trends are going to hold.  People will want to hear that their ideas are right, that anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong, that everyone ought to think this way, and that no theory is required to see the inherent rightness of their views.  When painting a particular group as problematic we really should take time to consider if the problems we see are unique to that particular group or if instead it is just that we have had more personal exposure to them.

So yes, the radical revolutionary left does have issues with dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality, and anti intellectualism.  Everyone else does too though so if we are going to criticize a movement let us criticize their specific beliefs rather than employing ad hominem attacks that can quite reasonably be applied to nearly every group out there.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The thing to do

People often want to help out, to make the world a better place, but it is a damn tricky thing to figure out what sort of help is best and how much help exactly you need to deliver to feel good about yourself and be justified in putting your feet up and relaxing.  If I volunteer at the food bank is it enough, or should I be working a second job to have more money to donate to educating young girls in developing countries?  This article has some great thoughts and the beginnings of answers and it got me thinking a lot on this topic.

Simply put there will always be problems and no matter what any individual does everything will not be fixed.  That leads to decision paralysis and people giving up because they can never reach the point of feeling like they have done enough - there is no obvious signal to tell you it is time to head to the bar.  What we do have though is the knowledge that if everyone gave 10% of their income to effective charities we could wipe out pretty much all of the world issues easily solved with money immediately.  So there you go, we have a straightforward, measurable, reasonably achievable objective.

More is needed than that of course because you not only need to help but also avoid doing more damage in the first place.  Donating a lot of money to charity is obviously not a licence to go about saying "Dude, that is just so gay!" as an insult while maintaining impeccable moral standing.  You need to listen, learn, and adapt your habits to try to do less damage with your passing.  Giving charitably is a wonderful thing but no amount of it can remove the need to not be an asshole.

I had a discussion with Pounder awhile ago on this topic and he asked how I felt about the moral implications of someone who makes a lot of money and donates a huge amount of it to charity (Example:  $100,000 salary of which $30,000 is donated) when compared to someone like me who spends a lot of time yelling about social justice and puts in a few volunteer hours here and there.  I think the clear answer is that the $30,000 trumps my contribution in terms of raw efficacy but that doesn't translate necessarily into the moral high ground - after all, I have much less money to give.

This really reinforces a very important point about trying to improve the world:  People will contribute in any number of ways and as long as they are in fact helping we must respect those contributions even when they are not the contributions we would choose ourselves.  If you can't figure out if you are helping enough or how you should help that simple benchmark of 10% is a fantastic guide.  It isn't as though is it objectively right but it certainly meets the standard of being plenty good enough.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Someone to lean on

I have spent a good chunk of time the last couple days visiting The Artist in the hospital.  Things are pretty rough for her right now and she needs extra moral support in a big way.  On the way home her husband The Steward and I were talking about who we end up leaning on when things in our life go badly.  There are some people in everyone's life who make things fun and who are entertaining to be around but when the shit hits the fan they fade away quietly.  Then there are others who step up and shoulder some of the burden.  The Steward thought that being polyamorous was a real help in that situation because there are likely to be more people with a lot invested in the person who is struggling.  His theory is that lovers are more likely than friends to show up and help when the worst happens.

I am not convinced.  In this particular case I think it holds because my relationship with The Artist only exists due to both of us being poly - I doubt I would have met her otherwise, much less be as close to her as I am.  In general though I think polyamory actually makes it easier for some people to ditch with a moment's notice when things go badly.  There is definitely a plausible deniability element to this because cutting off friendships just when a friend needs help is an obviously crappy thing to do but ending a romantic relationship abruptly is far more defensible.  You can't be too hard on someone who wants out of a relationship and needs space afterwards and unfortunately that offers a shield to the fair weather lovers.

When things go badly the main thing that poly relationships do is make things more extreme.  The people who will rush in to help will help more because the are more emotionally invested.  Those who would run away anyhow will run faster and further.  That doesn't necessarily mean that the reliable folks are better people to be friends with in the good times but living a polyamorous lifestyle will make it crystal clear who you can really rely on when disaster strikes.  I don't really feel like that is particularly an advantage or disadvantage but it is definitely different.

A lot of people talk about polyamory in general as if it is a high risk, high reward prospect.  That is, a new lover and the accompanying wonderful feelings and exciting sex are pretty great but everyone worries that there in an inevitable reckoning where jealousy, bitterness, and resentment will come home to roost.  I can almost hear the whispered admonitions "Yes, sure, sexing up somebody new sounds great and all, but what about the *consequences*?"

For some people it may be that way but it sure isn't for me.  In my life polyamory shrinks that all or nothing feeling rather than amplifying it.  If I go through a breakup that makes me sad I can still get my snuggles with someone I love.  When I need extra energy or attention from someone there is likely someone who can give it and when I have energy to spare likely somebody needs it.  In most of my life having multiple romantic partners smooths things out and moderates the extreme peaks and valleys.

In any case when life delivers a sucker punch it pays to know who will say "I wish I could help" and who will say "I will be there in 15 minutes".  Regardless of whether they are family, friends, or lovers those in the second group are the ones that keep the world from falling to pieces.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Not like this at all

I am not interested in random feel good fodder that gets linked on Facebook.  Most of the time those posts are just not very interesting but sometimes things like this crop up and it just makes me feel a nauseating combination of rage and sadness that this is meant to be heartwarming.

I find it hard to imagine how somebody would think that stalking children is not only necessary but even laudable.  Flipping out on your children, driving them insane, and being their worst nightmare is more of the same.  Whoever wrote this seems to subscribe to the school of thought that loving someone intensely justifies all kinds of abuse in general and worse than that they think that it is a necessary component of love.  It isn't okay as a lover, friend, or relative so why would it be okay as a parent?

It doesn't stop at the glorification of abuse though.  Anger, control issues, lack of respect for autonomy and privacy, and fear tactics are something that you must subscribe to in order to be an adult, apparently.  That is, until a child admits that they *wanted* the abuse, that the abuse was *required*, they are not to be considered a responsible adult.  Desperately trying to force someone being abused to claim the abuse was justified is sick.

The statement that no one else will ever love you the way this parent does is troubling in a similar way.  Again it is textbook abusive behaviour to try to convince someone else that the abusive relationship is the best they can ever expect, to try to make them believe it can never be replaced.  Parents have a tremendously powerful bond with their children but the assertion that their relationship will always be supreme sounds like desperate manipulation, not love.

Parents do have to do difficult things, and they have to say no.  Over the years there will be conflict, frustration, anger, and regret over mistakes made.  I have plenty of my own mistakes, no question.  But they are mistakes!  Flipping out on your child is something you should try to avoid, not celebrate.  Stalking is not fucking okay.  The knowledge that your parents want to 'hunt you down' does not make children's lives better.  My child has definitely screamed "I hate you" on more than one occasion and almost certainly will do so again.  This is not a vindication of my parenting technique but rather a sad but inevitable side effect of raising children.

You have to be hard sometimes as a parent.  You need to say NO and you need to try to keep your children from coming to harm.  That can be difficult, and acknowledging that even the best of us have done things we regret is valuable.  However, it is absolutely critical that you teach your children what a healthy, happy, loving relationship looks like and you do not do that by running through a checklist of abusive behaviours and calling it a necessary component of love.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Cataclysm of Data

I just finished reading Dataclysm by Christian Rudder.  He is one of the founders of the OKCupid dating site and the author of OKTrends, a blog about interesting facts he finds in the data OKCupid gathers from its users.  Being an enthusiastic user of the site and having really enjoyed the blog posts I was very interested to see what he would say when he had a whole book to say it in.  I was not disappointed, but I wasn't really surprised either.

The book is a good examination of the ways in which people talk about attraction and the ways in which they act - in particular it is interesting when these are not the same.  For example, most people agree that they would not date someone who was overtly biased against a particular race.  However, when we see who people actually send messages to and who they respond to the evidence is clear that people have very strong racial biases.  In particular asian men and all black people have a really tough time of it.  It isn't just a few brutally racist people either, but rather a consistent bias across the vast majority of people.  It is noteworthy that racial bias is several times larger in the US than in Canada and many other countries.  I wasn't quite sure what to conclude from that but it didn't exactly surprise me.

Rudder also talks a lot about the ways in which women and men behave very differently.  For example, women at age 20 tend to find 23 year old men most attractive and the ages trend upward together.  At the high end of the data 50 year old women find 45 year old men most attractive.  Men on the other hand find 20 year old women most attractive no matter what age the men are.  This drives message volumes in a big way - younger women get gazillions of messages whereas older women need to send messages if they want a good chance to connect with people.

The thing I liked most about the book is that Rudder acknowledges his biases and the ways in which his data is limited.  He makes it very clear that he understands that his source consists almost exclusively of single people and that he doesn't have enough data to make good observations for people above age 50.  Even though OKCupid is the destination of choice for polyamorous folks we are still a pretty small chunk of the population there - probably even smaller in numbers than the ostensibly monogamous cheaters who maintain their profiles without pictures.

Rudder also doesn't place himself above the users whose profiles he discusses.  When talking about racial biases he makes it clear that he thinks preferences in attraction in an individual aren't really something we can criticize but that there are clear problems when certain groups consistently run into bias against them.  He makes it clear that he thinks racism is unacceptable but that he almost certainly has unconscious biases he is not aware nor proud of just like most other people do.

I tend to place far more stock in someone who presents conclusions when those conclusions come with a huge helping of "We certainly cannot generalize to everyone" and "The data is very limited in this respect" because it shows that the writer knows their limitations.  Rudder does a good job this way and he treats his data as useful, which it is, but very carefully outlines the limits of what one can conclude from it.

The thing I wish Rudder would have included in the book is the statistics about gay relationships.  He does talk about that lack though and says that it would have bulked up the book tremendously but wouldn't have added much since the trends across genders were actually pretty much the same.  Fair enough, at least he considered it and rejected it for a decent reason.

Speaking of gender OKCupid is soon going to roll out more gender options than M and F and that is a good thing.  Most users won't really notice a difference but it will be a big positive change for people who want to identify as nonbinary or trans but will also let people like me become cis men instead of just men and I like that.  All of Rudder's data is strictly divided into men and women in the book because until now those were the only choices and I will be happy to read the next version that hopefully has data for other gender identities so we can take a peek into the Big Data there.  Of course it is possible that such a data set is small enough that strong conclusions will not be possible to draw from it; honestly I don't know.

At any rate I think this is a book worth reading.  It has lots of interesting data to look through, is well written, and doesn't try to overreach with conclusions it can't really justify.  I approve.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An object of concern

Recently Elli's school announced that the Extended French program is ending.  They will no longer be devoting extra resources and space to the program and it will be moved to another school.  The reasoning behind this is that our school is beyond capacity and hopefully the added flexibility combined with some students leaving to follow the french program will help us get class sizes down.  It all makes sense to me.

But some people are very angry.  You see, they are very concerned that French classes stay because then the high achievers can get even more out of their time in school while the rest of the students cram themselves into ever less space.  These parents, so worried about the loss of extra French training (which they could go get by busing their kids to another school if they are truly desperate) are going to converge on a special meeting tonight to try to demand that the school board reverse their decision.

I am driven to the very edge of bonkers and beyond.  It wouldn't rankle so much if parent council weren't so chronically short of volunteers for events but knowing that parents are happy to devote time and energy to fighting a good change that is already set in stone but won't show up to help when we are doing things that really need doing sets me off.  Opportunities to help everyone, or even to help those who need it most, are left in the dust while people swarm to complain that those who have it the best already need more stuff.

The school is overfull.  New condo buildings are going up and this situation is not getting better any time soon.  Changes to try to alleviate this must be made.  It would be wonderful if every child could have a battery of teachers surrounding them at all times but we must make do with what we have.  Suddenly being up in arms about a change that has been a year in the making and which needs to happen won't help the children.  I do know of some things that would help the children though, if people have free time they want to spend on improving the school.

It strikes me as unlikely that this renewed interest in public education will actually result in anything other than timewasting.  Frown.

Monday, December 8, 2014

You were wrong

The US is preparing for a violent backlash against their embassies and military posts around the world.  Shortly they will release information about some of the awful crimes the US government committed in the wake of 9-11 including admissions of some truly awful torture.  Apparently it will include stories of continuing torture on detainees even after the torturers became sure there was no more information to be gotten.  Torture is wrong as well as being consistently useless.  Even worse than useless really as it enrages the world and turns them against you as little else will.  Torture without even the pretense of security theatre goes far beyond wrong right into the land of cartoonish evil, the kind that requires a mustachioed villain with a plan to blow up the moon with a gigantic laser.

Reporting on this issue has made me so disappointed.  While I don't expect US networks to apologize for the crimes of the government (though I wouldn't turn it down) I would certainly expect them to admit that the things they did were wrong.  Instead all I see is a sea of people expressing their concern for US citizens and soldiers abroad, almost as though the backlash were unexpected and America is just an innocent bystander.  They try to portray the information coming out as neutral, just a description of facts, a historical document, while the violent response that we all expect is regrettable and wrong.

The anger that these revelations creates and the violence that seems likely to ensue is regrettable and wrong.  What it isn't is surprising.  Revenge is not the right course but it isn't as though it is a shocking and new development in human psychology.  If all of the talking heads on television want to help America and save American lives the tactic of absolving the government of responsibility is the worst way to go about it.  Report it as you would if it happened *to* Americans instead of being perpetrated by them.  Say it is wrong.  Express regret about the incident, not the fact that people are furious about it.

But that won't happen, in the mainstream at least.  Nationalism guarantees that anyone who criticizes the government is widely viewed as against the state, rather than simply against the violence the state perpetrates against individuals.  To wind down the cycle of revenge we need people willing to stand up and state that the acts of the government were wrong and we need public sentiment to support that.  Saying that torture is unquestionably wrong does not make you anti US.  It makes you pro joy, pro human flourishing, pro peace.  We should all be willing to be on that side openly, loudly, and proudly.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Rage, not despair

It is hard to avoid the coverage of the protests in New York surrounding the Eric Garner murder case.  A police officer choking someone to death while arresting them for a non violent crime is a tragedy in any case but the fact that the victim was black and that the officer will not be charged reinforces a terrible trend.  Last night I was hanging out with The Artist and The Steward talking about this and there was a real tone of despair there, a sense that everything is wrong and getting worse.

There is no need for despair.  It was not so long ago that the idea of a black man as president was ludicrous.  It was within living memory that black people were officially segregated on buses, in schools, and throughout their lives.  Lynch mobs murdering black people with practically no official pushback were happening only fifty years ago.  Things have gotten better.  There is every reason to think that will continue, not least because a bunch of white people in Toronto know about these incidents individually and are really upset by them.  People know more, they care more, and change is happening.  Too slowly for my tastes, but it is happening.

We need to push these changes to happen more quickly and to achieve that we need to focus our rage into action rather than fall into despair.  Changes for the better do not happen on their own; they are forced through by brave people willing to scream and shout and make a scene.  Pursuing goals of widespread societal change requires passion and that passion can be found in anger, in fury.  Anger uncontrolled can be a dangerous thing but there is much that can be done with the energy we can harness from it.

We know that the world can be improved, that it has been made better, that change is possible.  We know that injustice is on the wane and that we are trending towards a brighter future.  But we will not reach that bright future with despair, with giving in, with deciding that the problem is just too big.  There is no denying that there is a mountain of injustice in the world but it is shrinking every day, slowly giving way to billions of tiny blows.  It may seem beyond any one person's strength to affect but we can clearly see the billions of tiny chips that have been removed from it have shrunk it mightily.  We can and we will grind that mountain to dust and we will do so by getting people angry enough to take one chip off at a time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Collaboration over Confrontation

I found an article I liked a lot titled The Danger of Demonizing Male Sexuality that talks about the way that we talk about and understand hetero relationships.  The basic point is that as long as we continue to frame these relationships as men pursuing women and women fending off men we are going to perpetuate some of the big issues we see today like rape culture and sexual assault.  In order to combat these things we need not only to tell men that they need to behave (which we do, for a certainty) but also change the very way we all think about hetero relationships from a pursuit model to a collaborative model.

When we portray male sexuality as predatory and men as beasts while simultaneously portraying women as lacking sexual desire and as passive targets we set up everyone involved to fail.  I think dick pics are actually a great way to understand how this arises.  Women who are involved in online dating often complain that they are bombarded by pictures of penises.  The reaction to such stories is usually "Ewww, gross, who wants to see THAT?"  While this reaction is definitely understandable, especially from people who get a lot of pictures and don't want them, it should not be assumed to be universal.

The problem here is twofold.  First off, sending pornographic pictures to random people who may or may not want them is rude and unpleasant and people should stop doing that.  However, there is another problem on the other end when people suggest that in fact nobody would ever be attracted to a penis or that a picture of one could not possibly be arousing.  Plenty of people (not limited to women, of course, but that is the focus of this particular discussion) are in fact attracted to penises and some like pictures of them.  Telling people that penises are never attractive sends the message that straight cis men need to be aggressive and predatory because nobody is going to want to have sex with them unless that other person is forced, tricked, or bribed into doing so.

Demonizing straight male sexuality is actually a thing a lot of PUA and MRA  types yell about.  They often attack feminists using this as a strawman, claiming that all feminists just want men to disavow their desires and accept that they are wrong, bad, and immoral.  It isn't true of the great majority of feminists of course but these undercurrents in the way our society talks about male desire do exist and they matter.  We aren't going to fix all of the problems with PUAs or MRAs with any one change but I think altering the way we talk about male sexuality so that we aren't demonizing it and talking about relationships as cooperative ventures instead of competitions will keep some men from falling into these destructive groups, hopefully by helping them fall into good relationships.

The message that we need to send is not that men and male desire are icky but rather that particular actions are icky.  Unsolicited spam of pornography is icky.  Sending naked selfies to people who have indicated a desire to see said selfies on the other hand can be super sexy and that is true no matter who the sender and receiver are or what bits they have.  The message we need to get across is that people are all sexy to some people and not sexy to other people and this is true across all body types and genders.  We also need to make it clear that relationships and sex are about mutual desire, working together, and collaboration.  There is somebody out there for everybody though certainly some people will have an easier time finding partners than others.

Everyone is beautiful to someone.  Our desires are not wrong, no matter what they are.  What we need to focus on is finding other people to cooperate with to make our desires come true in ways that make everyone involved happy.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A dangerous drug

There is plenty to say about Ferguson and the riots going on there.  It is yet another sad entry in far too long a list of young black men gunned down by police with no credible reason to think they actually posed a threat warranting such a thing.  As I have said in the past police officers should all be wearing recording equipment because we know it drastically reduces incidents like this one and it makes it so much easier to either exonerate officers who were actually acting reasonably or prosecute them when they were not.  The thing about this case that really is getting me riled up today though is the way marijuana is being used as a tool to support police action.

Michael Brown had marijuana in his system when he died, about 12 nanograms worth of THC.  Not a huge amount, but enough that he was presumably feeling the effects.  If you read sites like this without thinking much you might conclude that this has some bearing on the situation at all.  Looking at testimony in the case you see experts giving very convoluted statements meant to imply that this amount of marijuana is somehow extreme or dangerous.  Law enforcement tried to use this to suggest that Brown was more likely to be violent or unpredictable.

This is all ludicrous.  Marijuana isn't some new drug that nobody knows anything about.  Whether you are a seasoned stoner or a medical researcher your conclusions are the same - marijuana makes people relaxed, reduces pain, gives them the munchies, and makes them slow and stupid in higher doses.  Suggesting that somehow marijuana is likely to turn people into ravening beasts is no more sensible than saying "Well, the victim did go to Starbucks a couple hours ago, and you know what caffeine does to people..." except that caffeine is probably a lot more likely to make someone confrontational and marijuana is only likely to make them sit down somewhere comfy and daydream about nachos.

It is racism, plain and simple.  There isn't any more reason for mentioning the THC in Brown's system than there is talking about whether or not he drank a venti latte recently but people are happy to seize on any reason to justify his murder.  They talk about him being a petty criminal (true, but shoplifting isn't punishable by being gunned down in the street without a trial last time I checked), about him being belligerent (disrespect of cop is not a crime), and about him being high.  It is all a smoke screen for the real story, which is a young man being murdered for the crime of being black.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Two victories

Two pieces of good news greeted me in my feed this morning.  First off serial abuser Jian Ghomeshi has been arrested and charged with several counts of sexual assault.  When his scandal began to break he led off by hiring a PR firm, launching a ludicrous lawsuit, and making a Facebook post that claimed a bunch of women were all conspiring together to smear him with sexual abuse allegations.  A lot of people bought into his story and defended him vigorously on the grounds that he is a popular and pretty cool radio host and someone like that wouldn't do anything bad, right?

Ghomeshi's PR firm has dumped him, his lawsuit is done, and his Facebook post is a subject of derision and disgust.  I hope in future people are clever enough to realize that when a man in a position of power says "Many women are claiming I assaulted them but I totally didn't, honest!" the smart money is on them being an abusive asshole, not on some ridiculous conspiracy theory.  I wish that people had not been so easily taken in by his bullshit assertions but I am heartened by the fact that the world has thoroughly turned against him and it seems Ghomeshi will face serious consequences for his actions.

The second thing that makes me happy is the latest on Julien Blanc, the pickup artist who was planning on hosting a series of talks in Canada where he would advise men on how to be violent, abusive, and downright evil to women in their pursuit of sex.  There was a big campaign to ban him from Canada (which despite my disgust for Blanc gave me some severe misgivings) but it seems that the campaign was successful without being successful.  That is, Blanc and his company have cancelled his appearances in Canada and are going with online education only.  

The government did not step in at all as far as I can tell and this decision was based purely on social and economic pressure.  A large number of companies withdrew their association with Blanc presumably causing his company no end of problems and they claim that the cancellations were made in order to protect the safety of their employees.  That might even be accurate as I know there are an awful lot of people who would quite happily take a swing at Blanc given a chance.  Regardless it makes me very happy to see pure civilian pressure having such a huge effect.  The crushing weight of disapproval and the accompanying dollars were sufficient to destroy Blanc and no guns were required, which is just the way I like it.

Society has plenty of evil people in it but as time goes by their evil is pushed more and more to the margins, slowly edged out by the power of numbers and changing standards.  It can be hard to remember that when we want so much for things to be better right now but it is important to realize that team good is winning.  Blanc, Ghomeshi, and those that defend them squawk so loudly because they realize that they are *losing*.  It is up to all of us to make sure that this continues to be so.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

V is for

It is November so lots of people are growing out their facial hair to raise money or awareness for men's health.  I already have a goatee and growing a beard isn't especially feasible because it gets insanely itchy and I don't feel like having my face be on fire for three weeks.  Instead I am going to do something much harder.  I am going to talk about my own medical history in an attempt to help destigmatize it, which is especially important in this case because my personal issue is among the most stigmatized ones around.

I suffer from erectile dysfunction.  According to WebMD, this is something that happens to about 5% of men in my age group and that number rapidly rises with age.  There are plenty of treatments for it that sound utterly terrifying to me such as penile injections, vacuum pumps, and surgery but thankfully my case is quite mild can be completely fixed with a low dose of viagra.  (Actually the off brand, but nobody would recognize the name.)  It is also one of those things that is associated with so much shame that nobody wants to talk about it even though we all know it is endemic - our spam folders are full of proof of that.

My case is also weirdly specific in that it only comes up when using condoms.  For anyone who isn't especially familiar with how condoms affect sex, imagine looking at a beautiful sunset... but with a giant latex balloon over your head.  You can still see the sunset of course because the balloon is translucent but it really does put a damper on the experience.  (Also it would probably really hurt if you got it caught on your ears on the way down - be careful with that.)  This only became relevant for me in recent times when I started practicing polyamory and had multiple sexual relationships simultaneously.  Condoms are amazing and wonderful as they make that situation drastically less likely to involve STDs.  Also condoms are awful and I hate them.

Talking about this sort of thing is hard because so much stock is put in the idea that a man is represented entirely by a giant throbbing erection.  This is a very damaging idea because some men don't have penises, some penises aren't on men, some of those penises aren't large, don't get erect, or otherwise don't fulfill the culture requirement of 'being a man'.  The fact that penises are so often referred to as manhood is testament to this destructive viewpoint.  It also places penetrative intercourse on a pedestal which is especially problematic for gay people but also for anyone else who has sex that isn't just a penis entering a vagina.

There is a lot of cultural pressure for men to not talk about their medical issues and just maintain a stoic silence.  This is doubly true whenever that medical issue involves sex.  The admission of sexual issues goes far beyond other medical problems and becomes about moral and life failure.  As if somehow a man has nothing to bring to the world if he doesn't have a permanent hardon.

In theory I know about how stupid and awful all this stuff is.  In theory I can ignore it.  But in practice when I have been having sex and had to deal with erectile dysfunction I was overcome with shame, guilt, and self doubt.  Staring at my groin thinking "You had ONE job, ONE!" and worrying that my partner was going to think that they did something wrong or that I am not sexually attracted to them (which has never been the case) made it all the worse.  No matter how much I want to be immune to such thoughts I am not; I am a product of the culture in which I was raised.

I use Viagra, and when I do it fixes a medical problem I have quite nicely.  Much like people use insulin for diabetes, or aspirin for heart problems, or bandaids for cuts I use viagra for erectile dysfunction.  Talking about it and trying to remove the stigma from it will be useful for other people like me and it might just help everybody else by eroding a lot of the terrible ideas our culture has about what it means to be a man.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Doctor Wendy

As of yesterday Wendy has completed her thesis defence and is a PhD.  She does not want me to call her Doctor Oakden because that is her father's name and that would be weird.  She has informed me that she wishes to be Doctor Wendy.  I am going to have to get used to this.

Yes, Doctor Wendy.
No, Doctor Wendy.
As you wish, Doctor Wendy.
Just so, Doctor Wendy.
I love you Doctor Wendy.
Oooh, just like that Doctor Wendy, yes!

It all feels a little bit ridiculous, particularly because I never felt much concern about the title in the first place.  We are both feeling amazing because the stress has been lifted, the struggle is over, the new phase our of life is nigh, but if that had come by Wendy quitting the PhD two weeks ago I would be totally fine and still so proud of her and what she has done.  Needless to say she wouldn't have been quite so enthusiastic.

Her public presentation went great and I was very pleased with myself that I followed everything and understood all of what she was saying right up until the fifth last slide.  I figure getting 80% of what is going on in a Medical Biophysics PhD talk is pretty good for a homemaker.  Of course following the outline isn't precisely the same thing as actually understanding what quantitative T2 really means, but I will take my small victories.

You might assume that we went and tied one on afterwards, celebrating wildly into the night.  Instead we went out for dinner and a couple drinks, came home, and were both asleep before ten o'clock.  Party animals we are not.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hypocritical dirtbags

I wrote last week about Julien Blanc, a reprehensible individual who teaches men to abuse women to get the sex they want.  Part of his usual defence when people call him on his shit is to shout about free speech.  However, it seems that when he is faced with other people talking about him critically his dedication to free speech evaporates in a real hurry.  He has elected to try to use meritless legal bullying tactics to try to silence people who criticize him and he has suddenly discovered that free speech applies to other people too.  Who would have thought?

Here is an article talking about how Blanc ran into a legal brick wall when he tried to pull his censorship bullshit on the wrong person.  I love it when people get righteously smacked down in their attempts to censor others and my delight is multiplied when the person in question is a hypocrite who has spent so much time trying to use free speech as an excuse for despicable behaviour themselves.  When that public humiliation is delivered to an abusive misogynist like Blanc it is a delicious cherry on top and I am the kind of person who loves those neon red cherries.

Schadenfreude is not an emotion I am proud of under normal circumstances but Mr. Blanc's tears are *delicious*.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why I swing left

My parents were visiting me over the last few days to help Elli celebrate her birthday.  During the visit we got talking about Canadian politics and my parents wondered how I managed to go from supporting right wing parties when I was a teenager to left wing ones now.  I gave some kind of answer that was true but not entirely complete and I figured I would talk a bit about it after some more thought.

I have always had a money demon sitting on my shoulder urging me to scrimp and save, to avoid debt no matter what, to live on the cheap.  That informed my teenage political choices to a remarkable degree and I mostly based my affiliation on what party I thought would run a balanced budget and avoid debt.  I was one of those single issue voters.  The Reform party (now defunct) made that a big part of their platform and so I found them very appealing.  I wasn't particularly party loyal though - I was all about fiscal responsibility and thought that was how to get it.

If you actually look at spending history in Canada and the US though you find that right wing parties don't do any better balancing budgets than left wing parties do.  Right wing parties tend to lower taxes and spend money on the military, police, and prisons.  Left wing parties tend to spend money on social programs, health care, and the environment.  Since I only get to pick what sort of ways the government is irresponsible with money I will happily vote for my money to go the left wing route.

More importantly though I broadened my horizons in terms of what I care about in terms of governance.  Right wing parties are strongly associated with religious groups, Christianity in particular, and I dislike that intensely.  People should of course pursue whatever religion (or lack thereof) they like but politicians should not use religion, especially one particular religion, as their guiding light when governing a nation full of people who do not follow said religion.  I don't like the way in which Christian worship is often infused into government and I especially dislike how it is often used as a justification for bigotry by those in power.

That bigotry is another troubling issue for me, religion or no religion.  Scapegoating immigrants, marginalizing queer people, and dumping on the poor are pretty standard features of right wing parties.  We don't need extra defence for wealthy, straight, white people - they are doing pretty well as it is.  As far as I am concerned government should not exist to enforce the current social hierarchy. Rather it should focus on creating as much overall happiness as possible and that goal is best served by helping the downtrodden, not by propping up the oligarchs.

In Canada in particular I don't yet know which party I do support, but it is abundantly clear which party I do not.  What my vote will look like next election will depend on what exactly the parties put up as their platforms.  After that my riding will go Liberal like it always does and my vote will be of no consequence, as it always is.  Democracy!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A rough job

I read an article written anonymously entitled "I Don't Like Being A Mother."  Reading it made me kinda sad because the reactions to it were so angry.  Plenty of people blaming the author for being unhappy and others making it clear that she must be doing it wrong because parenting is just *so worth it*.  The thing that is clear to me is that we really need to stop glorifying parenting and insisting that everybody who tries it made the right decision.  That isn't true.  Some people aren't happy as parents.  Sometimes that is because they just aren't suited to it, sometimes it is because their particular children aren't a fit for them, sometimes it is their partner that turns out not to work so well.

Parents all have good moments and bad moments.  There are crying times and happy times.  Unfortunately when we insist that everyone must agree that it is all worth it we make people feel terrible for any regrets they may have while lying to ourselves.  It is worth it for some people but as in all things our experiences vary greatly person to person.

I am one of those people that just doesn't have those sublime moments in parenting.  There are fun times, good times, but there aren't moments that just make me melt like other people seem to describe.  That doesn't mean I don't love my daughter nor does it mean I am going to give up on doing my damndest to be a good parent.  My coworkers are fine, it is just the job description that doesn't work so well for me.

I think a lot of people who are already parents feel like if they tell the truth about their experiences that others will simply elect to never have children.  They desperately want other people to make the same choice whether to validate their decision, to provide more rugrats for playdates, or just to have more relatives around.  Some of course truly do love bringing up children and want others to share in that but unfortunately there is just too much desperation for that to be the only reason for the push to procreate.  Nobody pushes other people to try a particular job that is just super fun the way they push for children.

I am happy for people who do truly love parenting, truly.  I want them to share their joy with others.  I just want all of those to respect that other people don't have that experience and that doesn't make them wrong, flawed, or even bad parents.  It just means they have a job that they are doing their best at even when they don't like it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A standard trope

Being caught in an elevator while it is stuck between floors is a regular trope in TV and movies.  It is an easy way to put people in an unusual situation where they can't get away and have nothing to distract themselves.  Plus, it is always great to have someone go into labour at just that particular time to generate an instant disaster.  Last night I got to try out being in an stuck elevator and it wasn't nearly as much fun as media would have you believe.  No revelations or sudden plot twists at all.

The really ridiculous part is what happened outside the elevator.  The Artist was over for dinner and had popped out for five minutes to get a coffee.  Elli and I rode the elevator downstairs to send off a friend of hers and then proceeded back up... only to stop on floor 8.5 with a jolt.  Mere seconds after our elevator stopped The Artist came back inside, rode the other elevator up to our place, went in, and discovered that we were missing.  She sat around our condo wondering where in the world we could have gotten to - my phone was even sitting on the table and I would definitely have taken that if I had to leave for an emergency.  So much confusion!

Meanwhile Elli and I were in the elevator thoroughly bored out of our skulls.  I told the concierge to go to my room and tell The Artist what was going on and he said that he would do so but he clearly failed.  Unfortunately we were screaming at each other through an elevator door so misunderstandings are understandable.  Elli and I played Steamroller which is a game in which I roll back and forth across the floor of the elevator trying to squish her and she jumps over me.  Then we played Go Fish with imaginary cards (she won), sang songs, tried to nap, counted to 200, and told stories.

Finally after an hour of lying on the floor of the elevator the technician showed up and opened the doors.  The floor of the elevator was about a meter and a half above the 8th floor so I had to hand Elli down and then jump down myself.  Elli was quite excited about getting to see the bits between the floors through the open elevator door.  We took the stairs up to my place because both of us were thoroughly *done* with elevators for the night and found The Artist crashed on my couch.  She was much relieved to see us, as you would expect.

One trope down, one thousand to go.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Freedom to be an ass

Julien Blanc is big news this week.  He is a pickup artist who holds seminars, writes books, and does online coaching to teach men how to pick up women.  He is a raging misogynist asshole who advocates aggressive pickup techniques, both social and physical.  The guy is scum.  This week there is a campaign going to try to get him banned from Canada to make sure he can't give some planned seminars here.  While I think Blanc is an awful human being and I am damn sure he has done a bunch of terrible things I am not comfortable with this campaign.

The trouble with the government stepping in to revoke someone's access to the country like this is that they will inevitably use that power wrongly in future.  Free speech doesn't mean that only the people who you agree with can speak - it means that everyone can.  In particular the government isn't stepping in on the basis of something he said or even something he did but rather they are basing this action on something they think he might say.  Imagine that a speaker was coming to town to give a speech on a subject near and dear to your heart and the government banned them because they might say something the government disagreed with.  In my case I imagine a speaker coming to talk about polyamory at a conference getting denied entry to Canada because the government disapproves of nonmonogamy.  (Which they do, in a big way.)

Now there are plenty of actions against Blanc that get my heartfelt approval.  Picketing the hotel where his seminar will take place?  Great.  Writing angry emails to any organization working with his event?  Super.  Screaming on your blog about what a shitcanoe Blanc is and how you will boycott every business that works with him and unfriend everyone who gives him cash?  I approve!  But I am deeply hesitant to get behind government officials stepping in to decide who gets to come to Canada based on what they may or may not say when they get here.  People and businesses can feel free to take action because they aren't backed by the power of guns in the way the government is.

If Blanc does show up and say things that fall afoul of our hate crime laws or our laws against encouraging criminal behaviour then by all means arrest his ass and park him in a cell.  I will be cheering from the sidelines if that happens, mark my words.  Even so, I don't like the idea of officials banning him based on a social media campaign and his reputation.  A ban on the basis of a criminal record, proven in court, okay, but this isn't the case here.  I liken this to capital punishment.  Sometimes we all know a murderer is guilty and feel like they should die, but the cost of letting the government execute people is that innocents will sometimes die and that is too high a price.

Friday, November 7, 2014

I Love You

The way we discuss and understand love in our culture is hugely influenced by our standard monogamous relationship model.  I think this is the sort of thing that people often forget because it is easy to go about thinking that our cultural norms are a baseline for everyone and fail to examine them critically.  I read an article talking about how terrifying confessing love can be and how important it is and while saying "I love you" for the first time packs a wallop no matter what sort of arrangement you have it is very different in polyamorous relationships vs. monogamous ones.  Exclusivity changes the tone of "I love you" (ILY) in really important ways.

The primary issue at hand is the necessity of love being reciprocal.  If you can only have one relationship it makes sense that you really want love to go both ways and thus ILY sets the relationship up for an immediate crisis - all in or fold are the only options, no checking allowed.  That situation is entirely different when both parties can have other relationships because unrequited love isn't necessarily a problem.  Certainly people generally want their feelings returned but if they can have a mutually loving relationship with someone it is usually (not always!) perfectly fine to be in love with someone else who doesn't feel the same way.  Sometimes it is only a matter of time, of giving the other person the weeks, months, or years they need to find those feelings too but even if that never occurs you can still go about your life and get all the things you need.

I have been in the situation of being in love and not having it be returned, being loved but not returning it, and being in a mutually loving relationship.  I like the third the best obviously but of the first two I would rather be in love over being loved if it isn't going to be mutual.  I can handle my own feelings even if they are intense and challenging but it is much harder when I have to worry about hurting someone else.  Perhaps it is my sales experience or maybe dating online as a man but in both cases I have learned to deal with regular rejection.  Rejecting others on the other hand is *hard*.  Not a fan.

The second thing that stands out is the lack of a relationship escalator in polyamorous relationships.  You don't have to get on and ride all the way to the top to marriage and permanent partnership so ILY isn't a commitment or statement of intentions but simply a description of a current state.  If I love someone now I can simply say that because it is true and I don't have to worry that long term plans are being made around that statement.  Polyamorous folks don't necessarily need to agonize over what exactly ILY means or worry about where it is going to the same extent because they aren't necessarily grappling with the followup question of "So, when do we take the next step?"

It isn't all advantages for the poly folk though.  What we gain in flexibility we lose in scripts and clear guidelines.  When a relationship could be anything from a occasional hookup to a lifelong partnership and there is no agreed upon set of expectations at the beginning it can be challenging to figure out what ILY is going to mean.  How much are you going to be willing to lean on each other?  How often are you going to be able to be together?  These questions are much more complex when there isn't an end goal and a recipe for getting there.  I like that freedom a lot but it does come with extra reflection and negotiation built in.

The first time Wendy and I said those words we were both in a bit of a panic.  It was very much like a traditional romantic comedy ending; a sweaty, twitching, desperate, terror-filled scene that turned into radiant joy and one HELL of a kiss.  I wasn't expecting ILY but I could sure as heck tell something was up and my response was instantaneous and heartfelt.  That situation had plenty of other baggage involved because we were roommates and had our relationship blown up there wasn't a place for everyone to sleep but honestly the real thing that had me so terrified was not the logistics.  I had already decided I was ready to marry her and hearing those words meant my dreams were on their way to being fulfilled.  I was shoving every chip I had straight into the middle before the words were even fully out of her mouth.

With Val on the other hand it was very different.  For starters I hadn't already settled on marrying them for a variety of reasons.  Our spouses, knowing each other for only six weeks, minor details like that.  Val got out a handmade fortune teller like the one you see above and got me to pick colours and numbers till I arrived at the choice between 2, 4, 6, and a set of hearts.  At that point I realized that the hearts would definitely have the words I love you written beneath them and I chose them without hesitation.  Val gave me an out by confirming that I wanted to choose the hearts but I knew I wasn't going to back away even though I had no idea yet how I would answer.  As expected the hearts had ILY underneath it and then my mind went into overdrive.

Well this is good.
Val loves me, okay.
I am happy about this.
But do I love them back?
I know they are super and I *like* them a lot.
I am definitely getting fall in love feelings but it hasn't gone nuclear yet.
For sure I won't lie or exaggerate.
I have to say something... hesitating too long!

I replied that I was pretty sure I was falling in love but wasn't entirely there yet.  I was probably not very coherent over the next half hour as I was furiously examining my own feelings to determine if in fact I was in love with Val and could honestly say that.  Trying to sort that out while maintaining some semblance of conversation amidst a sea of chemicals was certainly a trick.  My conclusion was that yes, I was in love with Val and I said so.

Even though the ILY exchange with Val was awkward by some measures it was still completely okay.  I knew that even if our feelings were somewhat unbalanced we would keep seeing each other and that it would be all good.  I truly did have the option of just checking and seeing another card.  All in and fold were not my only options.  Given that choice, given the freedom to just wait and consider, I took a half hour and decided that it was definitely time to get all my chips in.

There may never be another moment quite as intense as that first ILY with Wendy.  It was uniquely powerful in my experience and it is certainly true that the all or nothing element of monogamy lends a certain impact.  But given the choice I will go with the flexibility and freedom of polyamorous I Love Yous.  The experience has less edge but it also has less fear, more comfort, and more freedom and that is a trade I will take every time.

Picture from:  http://www.dltk-kids.com/world/japan/mfortune-teller.htm

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Drink up

A large study done at the university of Uppsala in Sweden has found a very large link between drinking cow milk and dying young.  Of course the clickbait titles of articles about this get the science all twisted up but when you actually look at the data it is pretty shocking.  In a large group of middle aged women the subgroup that drank three or more glasses of cow milk a day was found to be almost twice as likely to die over the course of the study as the subgroup that drank less than one glass a day.  (The men in the study did not show this same trend.)

This illustrates the problems with science and medical reporting pretty clearly.  We don't actually know if the group that drank more cow milk did so for some other reason that caused their illnesses, if something else is correlated with both cow milk consumption and illness, or if there are other confounding factors.  Say for example higher income people drank far less cow milk but had access to better food and healthcare - this could produce this sort of result without saying anything about cow milk itself.  There are a lot of other things that could be going on.

Also the articles mention things like milk programs for children without noting that this has nothing to do with them.  The study examined middle aged people only and drawing broad conclusions from that data across all age groups is a very dangerous and foolish thing to do.  There is every reason to think that young people and middle aged people metabolize cow milk in different ways and have different reactions to it.  The articles also fail to adequately note that the correlation between cow milk and mortality was only found in women.  These details are extremely important when you want to get beyond raw data to begin to have a conversation about policy.  You cannot generalize a link found in 39-74 year old women to the population at large.

On the other hand I do think this tells us that the messages we get from the government and the cow milk lobby about the health benefits of cow milk are bogus.  It has always been clear that cow milk is not necessary for health but now the science is making it even more obvious that there is no medical reason at all to consume it.  We are far beyond not *needing* it, and in fact it is now obvious that it isn't even much use.  Barring this current result it generally seems that cow milk is not a harmful thing to consume but shouldn't be considered a necessity any more than carrots, dog meat, or strawberries are.

The articles are generally getting the point across that milk isn't nearly as necessary as we have been led to believe but they are doing it in a way that butchers the actual data and causes unnecessary confusion.  The truth on this topic (including the level of uncertainty in the current study being examined) is readily available and easy enough to understand that any member of the public reading it could grasp it and reach appropriate conclusions.  We need the people who write science and medical articles to take public education a lot more seriously.  It won't get as many instant clicks but it will establish a reputation for good information and that is worth a lot of clicks in the long run.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A little bit of agreement

Though I have not been writing about it much these past couple years I have continued to go about barefoot from spring to fall ever since I started doing so in 2010.  It has become a bit of a thing in the eye of the public though very few people actually go full on barefoot.  Generally they buy minimalist shoes that kind of feel like going barefoot and hope to gain all the benefits without the risk of punctured feet and rude shopkeepers.

538 did a piece rounding up the available research on the topic of minimalist shoes and the general conclusion is that it is probably a good idea for most people but that the data is very limited.  Certainly there are some people that should be using minimalist shoes, some that should be using thick shoes, and for nearly everyone it makes only a small difference.

Generally speaking my experiences with going about barefoot have been positive.  Most of the time I get strange looks and stares but occasionally something more interesting happens.  This summer I was approached twice on the subway by curious people and both times the interaction was pleasant.  One of them wanted to show me pictures of her home country (it was someplace tropical but I can't recall which country) and describe how going barefoot there made so much sense.  The other was worried about talking to me about it because he wasn't sure if I was going barefoot because I couldn't afford shoes or because I disdain to wear them.

I had yet another store hassle me about going barefoot this year though this time they were much more willing to bend.  They talked to me because other customers were complaining that they allowed me in the store with no shoes on.  Seriously people, this is your problem?  That the local grocery store isn't enforcing a dress code and keeping out the weirdos?  First world problems, right there.  At any rate, when I said to the manager of the store "Oh, no worries, I will just shop somewhere else then." they responded by assuring me I could still shop but that they wished I would wear shoes so they wouldn't get more complaints.  Small victories, I suppose.

However, the time for bare feet has passed in Toronto.  It is now definitely too cold for me to do that so I have begun wearing socks and shoes like a chump.  My eclectic habits seem to be piling up as I age - I am going to be one weird ass old man.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Addicted to AA

Kicking an addiction can be incredibly difficult and there aren't a lot of sure answers to the problem.  Unfortunately as a society we feel like we have to do something when someone has an addiction that is causing problems for others and we can't accept that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.  That 'but we have to DO something' line is a problem in all kinds of situations but I think it is especially bad when we are talking about a person who is trying to end an addiction.  In particular it is terrible that we so often mandate particular forms of treatment that simply don't work like 12 step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous being the obvious example).

It seems to me that we almost have a societal addiction to such things.  We have used them so long that they have become the new normal and kicking the habit would be very painful because we would have to admit that we have been wrong all along.  This is a habit we really need to get around to kicking though because there is no reason to continue and every reason to stop.  Explicitly religious organizations telling people they require God to kick a habit are not something a country with religious freedom can mandate.  That would be true even if 12 step programs worked but they don't even have efficacy going for them.

Addictions can be a problem but we can't solve that problem with one size fits all solutions.  The roots of addiction are incredibly varied and hamfisted attempts to end them make things worse.  I would use the analogy of everything looking like a nail if all you have is a hammer but at least hammers are known to be good for something.  This is more like everything looking like a nail when all you have is a bottle of nuclear waste.  Addiction is a hard and complicated problem so any solution we attempt must be demonstrably effective as well as kind to those who are suffering.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The jealous divide

Val and I were talking a bit about jealousy this week because of the post they made about it.  Both of us feel like language is a serious stumbling block in the attempt to talk more usefully and openly about jealousy because there are several different situations that the word jealousy tries to cover and they are very different both ethically and practically.  Moreover some occurrences of jealousy are totally fine, even useful, and some of them are destructive and indicate real problems.

I am talking about jealousy as it is related to a romantic partner's behaviour.  Such jealousy always comes from worrying about getting one's own needs met but too often that "need" is to control a partner's behaviour, body, or associations.  That might seem like splitting hairs but hopefully I can describe why the need for control is very different than other needs.

If I am feeling like I really want snuggling in a relationship and I am not getting it then that can be a real issue.  If my partner then spends hours on end snuggling somebody else it could trigger a jealous reaction because it made me realize that I am not getting what I want.  I don't need them to stop snuggling others, I just need them to snuggle me too and then everything will be fine.  This sort of jealous reaction is useful because it can let us know that there is some need that isn't being met.  Of course it should be framed that way as well "Hey, I have been feeling somewhat jealous because I really miss snuggling you a lot.  Could we find time to do more of that?"  When thought of as a sign that a person needs something for themselves jealousy isn't a problem.

Often though jealousy has nothing to do with an internal need and stems only from a desire to control a partner.  This is often celebrated as a sign of love, particularly when men violently attack other men who dare be near a female partner.  The classic example in Archie comics is Moose violently beating Reggie simply because Reggie happened to be standing beside Moose's girlfriend, Midge.  Moose has a desperate need to control Midge that has nothing to do with how they relate to one another or their time together.  Moose clearly doesn't think of Midge as a full person with autonomy and rights but rather as a piece of property that belongs to him.  This sort of jealousy is destructive and dehumanizing to one's partner.

Differentiating between the need for a particular action and the need for control is critical.  The question that should be asked is "Is there something my partner could do just between the two of us that would make me feel better?"  If the answer to that is yes, then the path forward is clear:  Have an honest talk about what it is you need and try to find a way to get that.  If the answer is no, then you are only looking to control your partner's behaviour and you need to stop that.  Changing that mindset certainly isn't easy but we all need to accept that when people are doing things that make them happy and don't affect us we need to let them do that.

All of this doesn't mean you can't have agreements.  If you both agree that neither of you will snuggle anybody else then all well and good.  As long as everybody freely accepts the terms then you can have whatever sorts of terms you like.  Jealousy caused by breaking of agreements is perfectly reasonable because the need that isn't being met is for both people to tell the truth.

This description of jealous behaviour can be useful for understanding the question often asked of polyamorous people: "How do you deal with the jealousy?"  The answer is that I don't treat my partners like I own them.  This means that the destructive kind of jealousy simply isn't an issue and the only thing left is (very rare) moments of jealousy that serve as a useful reminder that I need to take some time to think and then have a constructive talk with someone.  Dealing with that, needless to say, just isn't that hard.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Ghomeshi affair

Jian Ghomeshi has put up a big post on Facebook that is getting a lot of attention.  He claims that he was fired from the CBC because of his interest in BDSM and that allegations of abuse and violence against him are the product of a deranged ex.  There is a huge amount being written on the subject and for once I am shocked at how well the media is doing at presenting a balanced and thoughtful analysis.  See here and here and here.  They aren't perfect, obviously.

My analysis is that if he was actually fired because he engaged in consensual sex acts then the CBC is in the wrong and should be chastised.  Legal action or union arbitration of some sort is obviously necessary.  I will happily and loudly stand up for people who are fired based on private sexual (or non sexual!) desires or activities.


The read I am getting on this situation is that there are a lot of serious allegations of violence and abuse from multiple sources.  Those sources are being intimidated into silence by people impressed by Ghomeshi's celebrity status and his 'I am being oppressed' post.  I also don't think it likely that the CBC actually fired someone because a person in their past wanted to out them as being kinky.  Really?  If that was the standard half the people in the organization stand to be fired as soon as some grumpy ex decides to make it happen.

So we should not understate how challenging it is to come out with these sorts of allegations and how much people are willing to shout down evidence when it incriminates someone they like.  Whether Ghomeshi did commit crimes and immoral acts against these women I don't know.  What I do know is that the way this whole thing is going down is a good illustration of how hard it is to be someone who steps up and reports abuse.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The polls were right

So there is good news and bad news in Toronto.  The era of Ford governance is over, for now at least, and we have a staunch conservative with a mediocre plan in power in the form of John Tory.  Tory won't be a great mayor but he won't be a world wide gong show sensation like Ford was.  It is nearly certain that Tory will end up pushing policies I don't much like and putting on a decent show as a politician who doesn't want to offend people.  We could do worse, I suppose, but we sure could have done better too.

I voted for Olivia Chow.  I would sure have rather had her than anyone else on the ballot if I have to pick a mayor at all.  I liked her ideas and her transit priorities.  I think she struggled with speech making and with getting people excited - she doesn't have as much presence as people tend to expect from a leader of a major city.  I don't think that presence is all that much use in the job but it sure does seem to kick your chances of getting the job in the junk if you lack it.

Trading wild lunacy for quiet mediocrity.  Huzzah politics.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Be a beaver

The shootings in Ottawa this week have brought out a lot of fear as these things tend to do.  People worry about when another madman with a gun will decide to kill some people and fret about what we should do about it.  As always there is incredible pressure on politicians and police to do something, anything, that will convince the populace that now they are safe.  Build a wall around Parliament, stand soldiers shoulder to shoulder, round up suspicious types, spy on people more, whatever it takes to keep us safe.

But what the people behind those exhortations don't see is that we can't be safe.  If we build an invincible defensive fortification around Parliament any shooter can just walk into a mall and kill a dozen people easily.  Even if they want to attack the barrier they can be as successful as the recent shooter and just gun down one single guard.  Who will guard the guards?  What we can do is make sure that when something like this happens the perpetrator ends up in a box.  Whether that box is made of concrete or wood doesn't matter that much.

After that single individual is dealt with we rebuild.  Mourn the dead, patch the bullet holes, rebuild the buildings, and move on.  No amount of surveillance will be enough, no physical barrier can be effective, no preventative measures will stop the very rare murderous lunatic from killing someone.  But we can show them that they don't matter.  We can make it clear that we will not be intimidated, we will not be afraid, and we will not flail about madly in response to a single random incident.  We will stay calm and carry on.

We can be like the beaver, one of Canada's national symbols.  I know from childhood what happens when you smash a beaver dam - they rebuild it.  They rebuild it so fast that even if you gather a group together and spend an afternoon smashing a dam it will be rebuilt in a day or two.  The beaver simply demonstrates that it will outlast you.  It will never be broken, never give up, never quit.  It will simply keep on doing what it does until you give in to the inevitable.  Be the beaver.

It can be hard to give up the desire for revenge and it is difficult to accept unavoidable losses.  But we cannot prevent these disasters, especially not with knee jerk responses that deal with an attack that is already in the past.  All we can do is show the world that we will grind over these few deranged individuals like a steamroller over a worm.  We will defeat them not with panic but with the raw power of numbers.  Their loss, their complete lack of efficacy, is inevitable.  Let us treat it as such.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Who attracts you

OKCupid occasionally publishes interesting data on who does what on their dating website.  It is often very revealing and usually not very complimentary - those that bet on our better natures rarely win.  Sometimes they are funny such as when the writers note that everyone around OKCupid thought that men posting pictures of themselves shirtless with their heads cut off was a terrible idea.  Turns out no - muscle shots were actually a very successful tactic.

Recently they published some data on race and attraction detailing who got how many replies based on race and sex.  In this case race was self described and nobody at OKCupid tried to evaluate it themselves, which is certainly a good thing.  Their data is disappointing but not at all surprising.  People exhibit strong racial biases when responding or contacting others, penalizing black people in general and asian men in particular.

One interesting thing is that the way people answer questions has changed substantially over the past few years in a good way - people answer questions to indicate that they don't think taking race into account in dating is acceptable.  Unfortunately when the data comes in on who people talk to it turns out that they still take race into account just as much as they did ten years ago.  It is good that people are trending towards the notion that you *shouldn't* dismiss people based on race but unfortunately actions aren't matching up with words yet.

The comments after the piece were what really got me though.  A lot of people were outright furious that this data was even published and railed at OKCupid for talking about race at all.  There were a lot of accusations of racism on their part and suggestions that even talking about race and dating preferences explicitly like this was unacceptable.  (Of course there were also plenty of white supremacist posts and other awful garbage so wade through it at your peril.)  I think that the accusations of racism and the suggestion that this sort of data shouldn't be published are really problematic but not in as obvious a way as the other dreck.

It is hard to look at stats that indicate widespread racism like this.  Instinctually we look at our group of friends and associates and find plenty of exceptions to these rules whether it be people we are sure aren't racist or people who don't fit easily into a single racial group chosen from a drop down box.  We wish the world weren't like this and hope that banishing the data will banish the problem, or simply insist that the people who publish the data must be responsible for it.  Unfortunately refusing to look at a problem doesn't make it go away.

If we want to actually tackle issues of racism or any other sort of bigotry we have to take the best data we have and look at it, unpleasant as that experience may be.  The uncomfortable feeling we get acknowledging these issues publicly is far less serious than the feelings of those who are on the wrong end of them.  It isn't racist to point out that race exists and that people who look particular ways are treated differently.  I am white and that gives me a lot of advantages I did not earn and do not deserve.  I can't ignore that.  We notice race and it powerfully affects us and no amount of pretending to be colourblind will make that go away.

We have to look at data like this head on.  That doesn't mean that we have to take it without any criticism because of course methodological errors exist but the harsh light of day is the treatment such things deserve.  Only by knowing and understanding the issues can we know how best to approach solving them.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Crashing down

The Olympics is a bubble.  We talk about bubbles in stocks, housing markets, and other economic ventures but I think the term is just as useful in this context.  In the past the Olympics have been sold to people as an investment in infrastructure that returns many benefits to the host city and country but it is becoming abundantly clear that this is bogus.  What truly happens is that the host area spends an outrageous fortune building facilities that will be used for two weeks and then mostly abandoned.  I found a great photographic tour of the wreckage of previous Olympic sites here.  The benefits are pretty much entirely restricted to bragging rights and that looks like a pretty sketchy purchase for $51 billion dollars.

Now it turns out that only two cities are left bidding for the 2022 Olympics.  Not because the other cities were deemed in appropriate or lacking but simply because nobody wants the games anymore.  The only people who are willing to pay the bill are dictators who don't have to care what the average person wants their cash spent on and can happily drop any sum to shore up their egos.  That said, it looks like the 2022 Olympics are safe as somebody will want to give them a home.  Should things not change course though I think the future is going to feature a gigantic crash.

Just imagine what happens when the Olympics gets about this far through the selection process and it turns out that literally no one wants to make a bid.  The sponsors suddenly get terrified that their event isn't worth funding, the prestige of the event takes a huge hit, and everyone will spend months examining every facet of what has gone wrong with the IOC.  The problem is that everyone is so used to the splendour and opulence that the Olympics has come to represent that selling them on a drab, pedestrian event that focuses on athletic achievement instead of shining construction will be nearly impossible.

Hosting the Olympics has become a matter of vanity and vanity requires that you do something even more than all previous attempts.  At some point that has to come crashing down to earth with a savage thud, if not a sickly splatter.  When the IOC is demanding things like "IOC members will be received with a smile on arrival at hotel." and demanding special traffic light patterns, highway lanes, and airport construction just for them you know it has gone completely to their heads.  They have bought into their scheme not realizing that the bubble will pop and when it does the aftermath will not be pretty.

Of course this is a good thing.  The world has better things to spend money on than the Olympics.  Tests of athletic skill are all fine and good (though the nationalism that accompanies it is disturbing) but the pageantry that is associated with the event has gotten completely out of hand.  It is long past time people stopped pouring money into this utter waste.

Think of the children

One very common question / concern that comes up when discussing polyamory is "But what about the children?"  Every time I hear this question I end up thinking of a particular Simpsons quote:

There are a few different things this concern can really be about, some of which are really legit and some of which are just bigotry trying to sneak in the back door.  All of them are addressed from the perspective of a straight married couple with kids becoming open; there are many other stories but this is a very common one and also the one I happen to be intimately familiar with.

The simplest worry is that if someone is in a marriage with children and comes as polyamorous people assume that their marriage must be on the rocks and that the children will soon have to deal with a divorce.  This is a thing that happens sometimes as people with relationships that are falling apart try desperate things to salvage them.  Thankfully it isn't true in my case - polyamory has made things better rather than worse for me.

Being able to relax and let myself be more natural has been wonderful and it is honestly a great feeling to know that I can get different sorts of needs met by different people.  That sounds overtly sexual but it manifests itself in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with sex and everything to do with different people having different ideas, hobbies, and experiences.  Just having someone new to tell all my stories to who hasn't heard them is pretty fun.

The second thing this sort of question often means is far more insidious.  It is passive aggressive code for "Obviously your actions are vile and deviant and you wouldn't want to corrupt the innocent youth with them, right?"  Any time someone tries to claim that they accept you but that you need to be kept away from the children they are quite obviously saying that you are wrong and shameful.  Loving more people isn't wrong, it isn't shameful, and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why children should be kept in the dark.  Any attempt to use them as leverage to force someone else to bend to your will is simply not acceptable.

Telling the children is another important step along the road towards being fully out and it is often to used to justify outrage and oppression by those who resist change.  The children, more than anyone else, need to know.  They need to know that the world is full of all kinds of people doing things that they don't see in movies or TV shows.  It isn't as if keeping them ignorant is going to help - it will only mean that they end up uninformed at best, confused or unhappy at worst.

The last sort of thing people mean when they ask about the children is "How are you going to deal with talking about this topic with your children?"  Some people just keep their kids in the dark with varying levels of success.  I wouldn't be comfortable at all with sequestering away important relationships from Elli and hiding things from her.  There are obviously some things I am not going to do in front of her but I won't keep paramours away from her deliberately and I certainly won't hide affection just because she is around.

People often assume that children couldn't possibly handle knowing about their parents being poly.  This is hogwash.  Children throughout history have lived in all kinds of different arrangements from group marriages to multiple households to large extended families to single parents to being raised by grandparents to not knowing who their parents were.  The consistent thing is that when children know they are going to get their needs met, that they are loved, that the people around them love each other, and that this state of affairs is going to continue they simply don't care what their caregivers do romantically.

They *notice* when you break the mould, certainly.  Children are abundantly aware of the cultural message that monogamy is absolutely required and any deviation is wrong.  As an example, Elli noticed me getting a heart icon in a Facebook message and asked what it meant.  I replied that it meant that the person loves me.  Elli gave me a look and asked if that meant kissy love.  I said yes.  Then she asked if it meant like the way I love Wendy.  I said yes, but that it wasn't exactly the same.  Wendy and I are going to live together and make decisions together but that we both can love other people too even if they aren't ever going to be part of our family.  Elli completely accepted that explanation and wandered off to play quite happily.

She cares that no one is being lied to or betrayed.  She cares that her world is secure and that she is loved.  She doesn't give a damn what else we do as long as those basic things hold and she is very much like other children in that regard.  She cares far more that a given person will read her a story or ask about the picture she is drawing than she does about their romantic involvement with me.  Children are not clever in a lot of ways but in terms of figuring out if their parents are happy and emotionally secure they are extremely talented.  Giving them credit for that talent and treating them like they are responsible will do far more for their happiness and trust then obfuscation ever would.

The fact is though that sometimes children will blab secrets to people.  That is a real risk for people who are closeted.  Working out what the best course of action is in that situation is tough.  When you can be open though there is no reason to hide an open relationship from children whatsoever.  All you have to do is tell the truth:

We love you.
We love each other.
We love other people.
We are going to take care of you.
We know this is weird, but it makes us happy.

If you tell them this and if it is the truth it won't even be the most difficult conversation you have in any given week.  Furthermore when they end up having difficult times of their own they will *know* that you will shoot straight with them and that is of incredible value.