Monday, June 30, 2014

Saving the world

Throughout my life I have had the recurring fantasy of being sucked into a world in which I am the hero like the characters in the book The Fionavar Tapestry.  A world where the answers are simple and where all that is required for good to triumph over evil is for me to stand firm against the evildoers and refuse temptation.  In short, a world where black and white are the colours things are painted in instead of the shades of grey that the real world is composed of.  A Softer World has a great comic about this saying that this is a fine fantasy and all but the real world needs heroes too.

I think that the willingness to confront the ambiguities and slow progress of the real world is an extremely important part of making things better.  There are plenty of people out there who want fixing the world to be easy, quick, and simple and insist that we aim for revolution rather than incremental change on that basis.  It strikes me that this is similar to my desire to be a hero in a fantasy world.  The desire to battle evil straight on, the hope for rapid improvement, and the willingness to trust in heroes to never become corrupt are all the same.  For just as one should worry about whether or not the swashbuckling, spell slinging, nigh invulnerable hero will turn evil when the villain is finally slain we should worry that those who lead revolutions will become dictators in turn.  As a cursory study of history makes plain this turn from good to evil is the rule rather than the exception.

This is particularly on my mind right now because I am playing Skyrim and am having a wonderful time marauding about the world slaying dragons, massacring evil cultists, and murdering the assassins guild.  It is a wonderful change to live in a world where I can know if a person is good or evil and those that skulk in gloomy ruins raising zombies to do their bidding have no redeeming value.  They have no children at home, no one to grieve over them, and their viewpoints are undeniably revolting.  I can stab them with no remorse and no thought.

The real world isn't like that.  We can and must do better than we are but doing that involves marching in parades with rainbow flags held high, passing laws to prevent discrimination against those who are most vulnerable, and calling out awful behaviours when we see them.  It does not involve a bloody sword raised on high, as appealing as that solution can sometimes be.  The right thing is usually the thing that takes a long time, is really hard, and makes a very poor heroic epic.

Friday, June 27, 2014


Awhile ago I posted about a video making the rounds where people were filmed sharing a first kiss despite not knowing one another ahead of time.  It was a cute sort of thing and it inspired many people to make spinoffs and parodies.  You know you have successfully made a viral video when the videos referencing or imitating yours become too numerous to keep straight - that is the new standard as far as I am concerned.  At any rate the kissing video inspired people to do the same sort of thing but with slapping instead.

Then we have 'the making of' video which is also pretty entertaining.

Now this might be seen as just a silly parody using violence and an established meme to get a bunch of views but I think it is a lot more interesting than that.  People have a tremendous desire to whack each other and normally we keep that pretty tightly wrapped up.  You can't just go about smashing others randomly and have society work and we need to control those who would hit others against their will.  However, slapping, pinching, and smacking during sex as a thing that both giver and receiver enjoy attests (to say nothing of BDSM) we have a broad desire to involve ourselves with violent contact with those we care about.

I remember the joy with which Hobo, Full Throttle, and I hammered each other into the ground while playing football in university.  It caused no end of pain and suffering and yet we all hurled ourselves into it with reckless abandon.  The shared desire to smash into each other and share moments of pain and violence with those who would also take joy in it was undeniable.  People love doing this stuff vicariously too whether it be through hockey fights, boxing, or football.

I have a tremendous desire to do this sort of thing myself to see what it is like.  I don't know that I will actually get anyone interested in it but it has been a long time since I have felt the particular rush that I recall from my days of playing tackle football with no gear and I wonder if I can bring back some of that in a very different sort of situation.  It kind of strikes me as odd that this interests me so much when pain in a sexual context interests me so little but people are all very random and I guess that is my particular kind of random.

Monday, June 23, 2014

I want it a lot

Recently I have seen a few different articles surrounding sexual assault and alcohol.  It is an important topic and sorting out what guidelines to give people is a very useful thing to do.  Sadly even videos that are otherwise really good end up failing on advice surrounding alcohol and consent.  The problem is that the advice of "if someone is too drunk to drive they are too drunk to consent" is presented as a useful measure.  This is a preposterous standard, as using that standard would either imply that the legal limit for driving should be increased several times or that most adults are guilty of rape.

This past weekend I went to a BBQ, had a few drinks, and had sex afterward.  I was slightly clumsier than usual, a bit loud, certainly unfit to drive, and I most certainly did not get raped.  The idea that we should think of what happened to me in that fashion goes beyond incorrect into laughable.  I was perfectly capable of making coherent arguments, making reasonable decisions, and communicating my desires.  Which in this case meant that I said that I wanted to have sex now, thank you very much.  The trouble with giving advice such as this is that you toss credibility completely out the window, especially since there is some challenge in finding a breathalyzer in the midst of a hot makeout session..

Saying "Just don't have sex when anyone has been drinking" is even worse, as it combines the track record of abstinence education and the efficacy of prohibition to create a hybrid of asscovering uselessness.  Young people know that they aren't supposed to drive after two beers and they also know that people constantly have perfectly legal, moral, consensual sex after that same amount of alcohol.  When we say these sorts of things all we accomplish is to ensure that we get thoroughly and quite reasonably ignored.  Using unsafe to drive as a benchmark isn't any better than total denial at all.

The trick is that we have to convince people that communication and explicit desire is normal and good.  The standard for consent needs to be that the person in question can and does clearly and willingly express desire.  A major roadblock in the way of that is the idea that romance and love 'just happen' and that when people click no talking need occur lest it imply that this isn't meant to be.  That isn't how real relationships work, whether they be lifelong or just for tonight.  The absolute minimum is that you hear "I want that, and I want you, right now."  I dearly hope we continue our societal shift towards those words being good things rather than an admission of guilt.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Better, but not quite there

My post earlier this week about a terrible tshirt designed to be worn by a violent criminal misogynist with superpowers who has a daughter he doesn't respect got some entertaining responses.  Specifically three different people sent me a link to the following tshirt that tries to be a better version:

This is a big improvement on the original in that it doesn't encourage the ideas that daughters are owned by their fathers, that violence and hatred are an appropriate response to lust, or that teenage boys need to be kept in line by immediate threat of legal intervention.  Unfortunately it doesn't get things right either.

The are a bunch things you really should get right if you want to make such a tshirt.  I would definitely want to remove gendered references from the shirt.  Why should you only be concerned about protecting your daughter from men?  Should it not be the case that you want all of your children regardless of their gender or the gender of those they date to be happy and safe?  Not only is the shirt above heteronormative it also assumes that there is absolutely nothing that a boy has to worry about with regards to sex - or at least that a father could not possibly be concerned about a male child.

I particularly dislike the framing of sex as a thing all males want and all females allow men to perform on them occasionally.  Perhaps instead we could frame sex as an activity people of all genders regularly enjoy and which can only ethically be pursued when both partners desire it and are certain of their partner's desire.  Go way beyond consent, past the "Am I allowed to do this?" bridge to the land of "We both really want this to happen."

I wanted to rewrite the shirt but I kept on hitting a snag.  Fundamentally the shirt is about setting down rules for relationships as dictated by daddy.  I just don't buy into that paradigm at all.  Even if I set down good rules I am still making it clear that I am the one in the position to do so and my child's authority to decide for themselves is contingent on my approval.  The very making of a numbered list of rules on my body tells people that I feel entitled to control these things and that I mete out that control to others only because I want to.

I don't want to be the one setting the rules, and I intend very much to do my best to be good to my daughter and anyone she chooses to be involved with without judgement on their personal choices that don't directly involve me.  I don't have a tshirt of my own to compete with.  If I did have one it would only have something like 1.  Be good to each other.  on it.  After all, that is all I want them to do.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A sad shirt

I saw someone link a very sad thing off of Amazon today.  It is a Tshirt meant to be worn by a father that is addressed to the men who might date his daughter.  It goes as follows:

1.  Get a job.
2.  Understand that I don't like you.
3.  I am everywhere.
4.  You hurt her, I hurt you.
5.  Be home early.
6.  Get a lawyer.
7.  Don't lie to me, I will find out.
8.  She's my princess, not your conquest.
9.  I don't mind going back to jail.
10.  What you do to her, I will do to you.

Cute, right?

I mean, look at what this says about the Tshit wearer.

1.  I insist that you conform to social norms about men as breadwinners.
2.  I don't want my daughter to experience sexual pleasure.
3.  I have superpowers.
4.  I believe in vigilante justice and violence as solutions to teenage angst.
5.  I don't think my daughter is able to make decisions on her own.
6.  I plan to use the power of the state to enforce my personal decisions on you.
7.  I have even more superpowers.
8.  I own my daughter, you don't.
9.  I am a violent criminal.
10.  I intend to have awkward conversations, clumsy makeouts, and professions of eternal love with unwilling teenage boys.

So the wearer of this shirt is a violent criminal with a variety of magical powers who is a misogynist and who also apparently romantically into teenage boys.  It seems to me that this is pretty much the perfect mix for a cartoon villain.  I mean, the main part of it is just classic Evil with a side order of rape or at least sexual interference tacked on at the end just for fun.  I get that people wear Tshirts sometimes to appear evil or to get a laugh by pretending to be but this shirt is actually an attempt at being cute, loving, and protective.

It feels like just another twist on the Moose syndrome - in which men are encouraged to be violent and destructive but it is framed as being nice because jealousy excuses anything.  Of course Moose (from Archie comics) assaults anyone found even looking at his girlfriend and this is aimed at fathers but it is the same thing in the end.  It all hinges on the belief that women are property, their decisions and desires are immaterial, and men are justified in using violence on anyone that threatens their property rights on the women they control.

That this stuff is still seem as cute and endearing in mainstream culture shows just how far we still have to go in changing people's attitudes towards women.

Friday, June 13, 2014

So I won - sort of

The Ontario election result should leave me happy.  After all, I was mostly just hoping that the Conservatives wouldn't be elected and not only did I get that but the Liberals that I voted for have a solid majority.  My Facebook feed is full of my friends celebrating that anybody but the Conservatives won, which should tell you how badly their campaign strategy backfired.  Pandering to the extreme base alienated the middle of the road folks in a big way.  When the election goes like this you would think I would feel good about it, but I don't so much.

We really are left with the best of the worst.  Ontario still has a ludicrous, unethical, and brutally expensive Catholic school system and none of the parties was willing to actually stand up and say that it needs to go.  I think the Liberals in a majority are by far the likeliest candidates to end that embarrassment because the Catholic teachers support the NDP and the Conservatives have a religious base but still I am not optimistic.  I am all for fiscal responsibility and that move would be one of the best ones in that light - maintaining two sets of school boards is insupportable even if all we cared about was money, and serious state sponsored religious discrimination is a thing too!

I am hoping with a strong mandate the Liberals take on the twin roles of getting the deficit gone and forging ahead with other progressive plans.  Thankfully they pledged during the campaign to push forward with the ranked ballot legislation for cities that died when the government fell so I am pleased about that.  It looks like at least one really good thing will happen out of this government and I hesitate to hope for more.  Given that the government can no longer blame other parties for crappy budgets and deficits I have hopes that they will get their act together there too, but I am not especially optimistic.

Also I must add that I am never going to tell a political party that I am going to vote for them ever again.  They called me three bloody times on election day to tell me to vote despite me telling them every time that indeed I had already voted.  Next time I get called they are getting the "I am voting for one of the other parties for sure because you are THE DEVIL" speech to make damn sure they don't bother me on election day.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The best of the worst

People like the idea of a balanced budget by and large.  The prospect of not passing on a mountain of debt to our future selves and the joy of avoiding interest on that debt is a real thing.  Nearly everyone wants to live in a place that has a responsible government that pays the bills.  The trick in politics is that the actual budget is so complicated and so huge that normal people can't possibly grasp it so the only thing they have to measure as far as budget predictions go is what politicians say.  Sadly it turns out that what politicians say on the matter is pretty useless in terms of actual results.

I see lots of arguments in my Facebook feed about this.  Generally it is the Conservatives that are positioning themselves as the financially responsible party and they try to portray the left as full of spendthrifts intent on tossing all of our tax money off of a cliff.  The fact is though that if you look at the history of right vs. left wing parties in both the US and Canada neither side comes out looking good at all in terms of budgetary responsibility.  They are both happy to spend enormous sums of money they don't have to buy votes; they just spend it differently.

The left spends money on services, hiring more people, and paying out more cash to provide things for those in greater need.  The right spends money on tax cuts, handing out cash moreso to businesses and the wealthy.  What it comes down to for me is that if any party really was likely to run a balanced budget and accomplish it by doing things that are sensible I would happily make that a big factor in my voting but that just isn't available on the ballot.  What you get no matter which party you vote for is a completely random level of fiscal responsibility but you can choose how they will waste the money.

For me that makes the final equation very easy.  I don't get to choose prudence - parties will be careful or foolish with money very randomly and in ways I can't predict.  The thing I get to choose is how they are likely to spend money and to my mind there is no question that money is better poured into middle class jobs and pensions than it is handed to investors, business owners, and the rich.  Equality is a really useful thing for overall societal health and happiness and since I can use my vote to lean things that way I will.

It is tempting to dislike the bums in power at the moment but since I am going to get irresponsible, corrupt bums at the helm no matter what I will try to make sure they at least tend to do foolish things I can live with.

Friday, June 6, 2014

And a big miss

The Conservatives governing Canada had an opportunity to embrace the future, to appeal to the majority, and to give up tyrannical puritanical ideals.  All they had to do was accept that the Supreme Court of Canada and the populace at large won't accept unjust criminalization of prostitution.  They could have simply done nothing, which would have been fine, or they could have written some laws regulating prostitution like any other economic activity.  Instead they doubled down on the demonization of sex and created a brand new set of prostitution laws that might even be worse than the old.

They claim the laws are better now because simply exchanging money for sex is not illegal, but nearly any way prostitution could be reasonably conducted is still illegal and the government is intent on locking up the clients of prostitutes for ridiculous durations.  So just to be clear, the government is trying to help women involved in sex work by making sure that they are constantly breaking the law if they try to conduct business and making sure that anyone that they deal with is a criminal.  This will help stop trafficking, apparently, even though this will require people to report crimes when doing so will mean they have to admit to committing one!

You know all those stories about people who get kidnapped and are forced to cut hair for organized criminals?  No?  Probably because anyone in that situation could safely run to the police for help.  Their clients could safely run to the police to report it.  Anyone at all could run to the police to tell and the kidnappers would end up in jail in about 2 hours because the police don't put you in a concrete box for five years because you got a damn haircut.

The word 'protection' is constantly thrown about in these debates and hearing that from people who support these sorts of laws just makes me sick.  You know what I *don't* do with people I want to protect?  Throw them and their business associates in jail!  I also don't make conducting their business in perfectly normal and harmless ways illegal.  I really might ask them what sort of protection they want, and then when they reply that they just want to be left the hell alone I would go ahead and do that.  That would be the sort of protection I would recognize.

The Conservatives love to claim that they are the fiscally responsible party but I have a hard time believing that when they are so intent on spending huge amounts of money to send armed thugs to assault and imprison the most vulnerable people in society instead of spending that money on, you know, helping them. Even setting fire to the money for giggles would be a huge improvement.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

For life

Marriage pundits drive me bonkers.  This article, in particular, makes me insane.  It is a piece about how awful it is that people have divorce parties and how if everyone was just dedicated to marriage that divorces wouldn't happen.  The author, after all, is dedicated to his marriage and obviously everybody who gets divorced must therefore be lazy and weak.  If they were just committed and willing to work at it then everything would be fine!  After all, he has been married for three years and he is sure it will last sixty more.

Hogwash and bullshit, to put it mildly.

First off, divorce parties are not, as anyone who thought about it for five seconds could attest, about celebrating the breaking of a vow.  They are not about being happy that poor decisions were made or about a glorification of giving up.  They are about being happy that an unhappy time in life is ended.  Divorces, it should be noted, are *not fun*.  They are hard, divisive, expensive, and heart wrenching.  Being done with them and finally being able to get someone toxic out of your life is a fantastic feeling.  A divorce party is about celebrating the end of lawyer visits, moving out, negotiations and pain - a worthy thing to celebrate if there ever was one.

In the article another person makes the point that people change and that sometimes that means you should get divorced.  The author counters by saying that we should just accept and work with change, after all, his wife likes different things now than she did when they got married.  Again this argument is willfully missing the point.  Change doesn't mean liking golf instead of hockey as nobody breaks up over trivialities like that.  It often means things like

-My girlfriend that you didn't know about (or you were pretending to not know about) is pregnant
-I don't plan on ever having sex with you again
-I have taken up a new religion and expect you to focus your life around it
-I need to spend years away from you following a dream I have just discovered I have
-I have become an alcoholic
-I am gambling away all of the money we have and then plunging us into incredible debt

To suggest that people just need to suck it up and continue slogging along through such things is absurd.  Oftentimes when people divorce the reasons are as serious as these and to compare them to insignificant changes in taste is insulting and ridiculous at best.  Assuming that all those divorces you read about only happen to bad people is flat out victim blaming.

Even if nothing as serious as the things above happens, sometimes divorce is just for the best.  The success of a marriage is defined by the happiness it brings not whether or not someone dies.  If all you care about is making sure mortality occurs go marry someone with a terminal disease who only has months to live.  I can virtually guarantee a successful marriage in that case!  The only reason to celebrate marriage is if it promotes human flourishing and staying in a miserable match does not accomplish that.  At the end of a marriage we should evaluate its success by the joy it brought; whether it ended by death or by contract is irrelevant.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A job destruction plan

I am very grumpy about the upcoming election in Ontario.  The government was defeated largely because the NDP decided that it was strategically useful to have an election right now even though the budget that they voted down was one that was extremely favourable to them.  Much of what the NDP stands for I would normally be very happy to vote for but I am bitter at them for causing an unnecessary election so they will not get my vote.  In particular I am displeased because the legislation that was going to make ranked ballots legal in Ontario cities died when the government was defeated and this was one of the few things the government was doing that had no downside whatsoever.  The Liberals have stepped up and declared that they will push through that same legislation if they are reelected so they are getting my vote this time around.

The Conservatives are of course a party that exists but their philosophy of handing money to rich business owners and gutting services isn't one I support.  This time around though they aren't even doing a decent job pretending to be about economic growth.  Their Million Jobs Plan that will put on Ontario back to work has a slight flaw in it; it claimed to create 600,000 jobs while eliminating 100,000 public sector jobs.  Of course the party botched its own numbers because their own economists claimed that the changes would create 600,000 job YEARS, not permanent jobs.  So by economist math the Conservative plan would eliminate 100,000 jobs, slash services, and create 75,000 jobs.  I can hardly believe that a major political party would put forward a jobs plan that by their own numbers will increase the unemployment rate but they have done it.

So for all the good voting will do I will vote for the Liberals.  They aren't perfect, they aren't great... hell, I would hesitate to call them good.  But they are definitely the best option for governing at this point, sad as that is.  Voting is highly unlikely to matter of course - an individual ballot has almost no chance of changing anything and even then the person casting the ballot would have to be sure that the party they vote for is actually going to do better things than the alternatives.  In many cases the voter has no good reason to think that, so even if you accept that the vote might matter numerically it seems very unlikely to matter in actual results.  That said, I think discussing why one will vote a particular way and trying to get the issues aired is a useful thing.  Talking about what we care about and why we make political decisions in a thoughtful way can trickle out into helping the system work just a tiny bit better.