Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Everything sucks

I have been spending a lot of time reading blog posts about feminism and social justice.  Because I am apparently a brutal masochist I also plow through all the comments and thus get treated to the opuses of the dredges of humanity, the worst people in the world come out to play.  It is certainly educational and good for self improvement and such so it is worth the doing but afterwards I need some time to just howl with laughter at something ridiculous and wonderful on the internet.  Today I present Stop Masturbation Now, a site perfectly crafted to dance on that fine line that makes you unsure if it is really written by a loony toon or is just perfect satire.

It features the following image for a fake ad for its Anti Masturbation Cross:

Man, comedy gold right there.

Then I thought I should look up anti masturbation devices in general and see what other sorts of hilarity the internet might contain in the 'absurd products that don't exist' category.  Then I realized that the internet was not so much full of comedy as it was full of evil that has been done in the past and isn't much in use now.  If I could say that it is never in use now I would be much happier but I know that isn't true... there are some evil people out there using this shit on their children to this day.

Now I am all grumbly all over again.

If you want a really fun game I recommend reading twitter posts under #YesAllMen and #NotAllMen and then try to figure out which of them brings out more awfulness.  Fun!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Great leaps forward

I am often taken aback at the way change happens in people.  Usually it is triggered by developmental milestones for Elli wherein she suddenly goes from not being able to do a thing to suddenly able to do it with seemingly no steps in between.  This past weekend we went swimming at the pool and Elli swam by herself for the first time.  I was holding her while she dog paddled and flailed her legs wildly as I usually do for our practices, thinking as I often do that no progress was being made and that nothing had changed over the past two years.

Then she asked me to let go and off she went.  As I watched her slowly splash her way across the pool I was stunned at the shift from sinking and freaking out to swimming.  I suppose this particular activity lends itself to that sort of transition since the difference between being able to keep yourself just barely above water and not is pretty stark but it still took me by surprise.  Similar sorts of things have happened many times, most notably in reading.  I distinctly recall the day when I saw Elli looking at a comic book and then she asked what a particularly obscure word meant - I could hardly believe that she had read everything else in the book but only needed clarification on that single point since I had assumed she was only looking at the pictures the entire time.

It is a lot easier when learning is taking place in my own head.  I can viscerally feel things coming together, notice tiny improvements, and realize that I am *this close* to doing it.  From the outside though that state doesn't look much different than the first spectacular failure.  Maybe if I was a lot better at teaching swimming or reading I would be able to follow Elli's progress more closely and be able to tell just how close she was to a breakthrough.  I know I can see these sorts of things in games.  I can tell when someone is close to getting a revelation, when they are almost there.  I have spent an enormous amount of time watching people play games and teaching them to play better and that experience of searching for incremental, nearly invisible changes must have given me some important insights into how that sort of learning occurs.

All of this makes me ponder how much of teaching is just general understanding of learning patterns and how much is deep mastery of a particular topic.  I am good at reading people and can teach things reasonably but it is clear that the difference in my ability to teach things I am an expert at and things I am merely competent at is very large.  If any teachers out there want to comment on the value of serious expertise in teaching even basic things I would be very interested to hear it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Not quite there

Women's value being reduced to only the sexual appeal of their bodies is both prevalent and crappy.  Obviously the same is true for all people but even though male models, actors, and superheroes are as anatomically unlikely as female ones the social pressure on masculine folks is not the same.  I tend to cheer for anyone who is happy to speak out about that problem but sometimes I have to take issue with the way they do so.  The trick is that there are two entirely separate things going on when people take issue with other people's appearance and people often conflate them.

Sexual attraction is something that is essentially random and mostly beyond conscious control.  I like feminine bodies and I don't get to choose otherwise.  Some people like tall folks, some like brains, some care about income, and some are really only interested if you are five meters tall and constantly puke up purple giraffes.  Trying to tell someone to be sexually attracted to something they are not is both nearly impossible and unethical.  The only thing we can do is accept that people are sexually attracted to all kinds of things and there is nothing we can or should do to try to convince them otherwise.

The problem comes in when people confuse sexual attraction with worthiness.  That is, if they aren't sexually attracted to a person they blame the object rather than the viewer.  Attributing moral inferiority to someone on the basis of a lack of sexual attraction, deeming them unworthy, is something we can train ourselves not to do and something we must strive to eliminate.  The most common example I think is fat shaming - there is nothing wrong with being sexually attracted to slim people but it is deeply awful to shame people for being fat.  Nobody owes it to you to be sexually attractive to you in particular.

One corollary to this is that nobody owes it to you to be sexually attracted to you.  I have seen lots of people trying to push slogans like "Everyone is beautiful!" and I really think they should be saying "We are all worthy of respect regardless of sexual attraction."  If everyone is beautiful and nobody is ugly than we might as well never use those words to refer to people as they are meaningless.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Everyone is beautiful to somebody, some people are beautiful to most people, and everyone is ugly to somebody.  Others are absolutely entitled to think you are ugly but they shouldn't find you unworthy on that basis.  It is important to examine our own sexual attractions though to see if they are coming from deeply rooted racism, sizeism, ableism, etc. and to not use "Sorry, not attracted" as an excuse for bigotry.

I saw a Buzzfeed video featuring a guy singing about how dividing the world into tit men and ass men is terrible and waxing romantic about how he loves a girl that reads.  Thing is I share his particular preferences - I like feminine bodies and a partner who is smart, well read, a dangerous debater, and deadly clever can easily amplify that initial lust or even create it when it had not otherwise existed.  But positioning sexual attraction to women who are reading a book as morally superior to sexual attraction to breasts isn't helping anything.  People who aren't smart and aren't good debaters get tossed on the heap and we are left still in the same boat where people are deemed unworthy, just for different reasons.  That the singer has selected a series of physical traits he cares about but slags others for selecting a particular subset of those traits to care about is a bit of hypocritical heteronormativity I doubt a lot of people notice.

The solution is not to say "Well *this* is the trait everyone should be going for" because that just leads to marginalization of a different set of people.  We also can't pretend the problem away by claiming that everyone is sexually attractive to an open mind.  They aren't.  The solution is to say that you can be sexually attracted to anything without reproach but that you should treat people who aren't sexually attractive to you well.  You don't have to love them, have sex with them, or even like them but you do have to accept them.  Someone out there wants them and the fact that you don't is your problem, not theirs.

Note that attraction comes in many types and that sexual attraction is regularly privileged over the other types.  This is especially problematic for those on the asexual spectrum but it creates problems for many other groups, notably women.  My central message here applies equally well to other types of attraction - treating people badly because you aren't inclined to be close with them and positioning it as due a moral failing of theirs is terrible too.  I do think that this issue is far more prevalent and egregious when it comes to sexual attraction though so that was my primary focus.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

You are all fired

I found an article recently complaining about the way in which Microsoft told its workers that 18,000 of them were about to be laid off.  It got me thinking about how people desperately struggle to find alternate things to complain about when they feel like their actual grievance isn't going to get as much traction as they would like.  The article complains about legalese in the note to workers, complex instead of plain language, lack of specifics on who is being laid off, and lack of transparency among other things.  I want to illustrate how these sorts of complaints end up obfuscating the real issue and making things worse rather than better.

The article complains both that the company isn't being up front with the workers and that it isn't providing enough details, like a list of who is being let go.  The problem with these two complaints is that it is literally impossible to satisfy both.  18,000 workers aren't being chosen instantly and if the company is going to take the time to do it right it will take months to sort out who is leaving and who is staying.  If they state up front that the process is starting then they are accused of not providing details and if they figure out who is going before announcing it they are hiding something and not being transparent.

I totally get the desire to have communications like this be stated in simple, colloquial language but in this situation that simply isn't possible.  The notice is going around to 100,000 people.  It is ludicrous to imagine that it will contain personal details or be spoken in a fashion that will make all of them comfortable.  If it was a plain "Well, we gotta fire some people, you might be one of them" half of the people would complain that it dropped the hammer without the proper gravitas, that it wasn't taken seriously, and that proper reasons were not given.  We do know for sure that the notice was going to end up sent to shareholders, perused by lawyers looking for a reason to sue, picked apart by writers on the internet, and preserved for all eternity.  Given that I can't imagine that they wouldn't have an army of HR people, lawyers, and executives weigh in on it and end up with something without any fire and gumption.  With such a broad group of people reading it you can't hope to make everyone happy so you try to avoid legal messes and offense.

What people are really mad about is that Microsoft is laying off 18,000 people.  That sucks, particularly if you are one of those people.  Before whining about the tone of the layoff email though people should sit down and sort out what notice could actually be sent out to such a diverse group that would have made people happy... and then proceed to realize that no such composition exists.  No amount of correct wording or piece of additional information is going to soften the crushing blow of being suddenly unemployed.  No touching writing from the CEO is going to cause the workers to feel happy about job hunting.  There is little point in screaming "This sucks!" when you know that there was no choice that didn't suck just as much.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


When I was young I thought people were a lot like me on the inside when it came to sex.  I think about sex constantly and am extremely distractable when there are curves in my field of vision.  After having sex I take a bit of time to recharge but it isn't as if I am done - after all, once my body is cooled back down I generally can't think of anything more fun than just having sex more.  Listening to other guys talk this seemed like the normal sort of teenage boy experience and I assumed it was this way for pretty much everyone.  When other people made the occasional comment to the contrary I tended to dismiss it figuring they were just repressed, or depressed, or putting me on.  After all, sex, amirite?

Obviously in the intervening years from then to now I learned that people come in all types and that many of them don't have the same constant insatiable lust that defines my experience.  It was relatively easy to understand that asexuals exist and that they simply don't experience much or any sexual desire but what really got me was just how varied people's experiences are.  A simple number line with me at one end and asexuals at the other doesn't cut it at all.

In particular I read this post about demisexuality (those who primarily or only experience sexual desire in the context of an emotional relationship) and began chatting with other people about it.  One person described sexual desire as the coexistence of aesthetic appeal, horniness, and desire to snuggle.  I was floored.  I experience aesthetic appeal when I look at my daughter, athletes, particularly shapely noses, and any other number of things.  I am horny regularly and I totally get the desire to snuggle but none of those three are sexual desire.  I would describe sexual desire as "The desire to rub my genitals all over that."  The person in question and I stared at each other realizing that we had a totally different understanding of what sexual attraction even meant, never mind when or how often we experience it!

This led me to ask more questions.  In movies and shows straight cis men are often portrayed as rutting beasts rendered completely incapable of rational thought in the presence of boobs.  This always struck me as pretty much true.  I demonstrate a lot more self control than the men in question but my raw desire is very much like that and it requires substantial willpower to keep myself  focused on anything but breasts when breasts are there to be seen.  It being hard to gain perspective from inside one's own head I asked other people if my sexual desire is normal for a straight cis dude and the answer was a resounding no.

The word for people like me that regularly experience sexual desire in many different contexts is allosexual.  Apparently I am not just one of the norm - I am a bit of an outlier, the allosexual's allosexual if you will.  The way straight cis dudes are portrayed in media is meant to be a caricature, a ludicrous exaggeration.  The way teenage boys talk about sex and desire is distorted the same way out of bravado and macho culture and I thought it was all just straight up.  Obviously a lot of the stuff in those two examples I don't identify with like the constant objectification of women and rape culture but the power and constancy of overpowering desire totally describes my life experience.

That is not to say I am entirely alien - if you do imagine frequency of sexual desire on a number line from zero (no sexual desire) to ten (average amount of sexual desire) I am probably a twenty.  A couple standard deviations out from the average but still within comprehension of most people.  So there you go, a rough and inaccurate mathematical model of how I am a weirdo in yet another way.  I should be used to that by now.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Being a Man

Yesterday Val and I were talking about reading blogs written by genderqueer and asexual folks and noting how much those things seem to go together.  Val mentioned that there is very little writing from cisgender people on what it is like to be them and I realized that I had very little idea of what I would say if I were trying to do that.  How exactly would I distill down the essence of what it is like to feel that I am a man?  It is a tricky thing because it isn't as if I have ever had to defend that feeling to others nor examine it particularly - the very essence of privilege right there.

I have always felt that a lot of what gets assigned to men in society is crap.  Refusing to acknowledge feelings, vulnerability, or uncertainty is a standard thing that society taught me was part of being a man and I rejected that.  I cried easily as a child and was terrible at projecting a tough guy image so I ended up being tormented constantly.  I didn't have the desire or raw talent to be great at sports (though I wasn't terrible by any means) and I found hurting others to be painful to contemplate so I wasn't much for winning games, fighting or name calling and those were the ways to prove your manliness to others.  When I was young I always felt that I was a man but that the standards for being manly were stupid and awful.

Sometimes in my life my body really irritated me but it was never a gendered sort of thing.  When I looked down at myself I often wanted clearer skin or bigger muscles but I never felt like my body was wrong or didn't reflect my nature; I just wanted a few upgrades and improvements here and there.  Puberty was frustrating sometimes but it was always a social thing rather than a body issue.  For example, growing facial hair meant I had to cut myself learning to shave and feel self conscious about it but it was really just the awkwardness of transition that was the problem.

The cornerstone of feeling that I was a man in my younger years was certainly heterosexuality.  Guys were expected to be attracted to girls and since I am really attracted to the feminine form that made it very simple.  Those two things were very much mixed up with one another and fitting into the norms for both made it extremely unlikely that I would question either.  These days I don't buy into heteronormativity so my male identity cannot be based on being attracted to feminine bodies but to be honest I don't know what it is that it *is* based on.  My body is obviously biologically male but biologically male bodies are only statistically correlated with male identities, not causally connected.

I look at my body and think "Yup, penis, chest hair, straight body lines, facial hair, adam's apple, these things all make sense."  If someone used female pronouns to refer to me I would correct them without any sense of insult but I would definitely believe that they were making a mistake.  How that works and how that might differ in terms of mental experience from someone who looks like me but does not feel male is quite beyond me.  I can't quite put myself in that frame of mind and I certainly couldn't describe in any useful way how it is that I know what I know about myself.

The more I think about this topic the more I recognize that I really have no idea about anything.

Note:  My standards for male behaviour were not ones imposed by my parents.  They were and are progressive and wonderful in that regard and the things they taught me about gender are often exactly the same things I teach Elli.  My toxic ideas about gender roles came, as most people's do, from my peers and the culture around me.  You can only do so much to shelter your children from crappy ideas in the world and eventually you have to let them sort things out for themselves.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Another world

The sign that you have been playing too much Skyrim is that you see a few flowers by the edge of the road that look like this:

And you end up thinking rhat you need to pick that thistle to make it into potions and struggle to recall if thistle makes health restoring potions or not. I may need to spend more time in the real world.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Who what?

Everybody wants me to love Doctor Who.  It is a geek phenomenon and I don't get it.  My Facebook feed constantly features pictures of people dressed up as the Tardis, making cakes like the Tardis, or doing other crazy Tardis related artwork.  All kinds of people that I really quite like wax romantic about the wonders of the Doctor and insist that it be enshrined as the second best of all things (behind Firefly, naturally).  They keep trying to build playlists for me so that I can spend just a bit of time seeing the best of the Doctor and hopefully become as addicted as they are.

But the plots are preposterous!  Pretty much every episode is resolved via a technologically ridiculous deus ex machina, and even once you accept all the basic stuff required for the show to work like time travel and Time Lord regeneration and the Tardis and all that nothing makes any sense.  The characters aren't even compelling as there just isn't any grabby about them, no edge, no harsh reality.  The defence against these criticisms tends to revolve around the idea that many / most episodes are pretty terrible but there are a few really good ones, honest! and that doesn't seem like a strong argument to me.

Finally this week all became clear.  Val told me that Doctor Who is not an adult show even though it is nearly all adults that gush over it.  It is a children's show that adults happen to love.  Suddenly all the pieces fell into place.  The show lacks that gritty edge because they can't show swearing, sexual attraction, or violence and they are in situations where all of these things really should be happening.  The characters have personalities like those in children's cartoons - clean, sanitized, simple.  The solutions and problems are very reminiscent of the cartoons Elli watches like My Little Pony or Johnny Test.

Now that might all sound like a savage dismissal of the good Doctor but it isn't.  There is nothing wrong with shows aimed at children and nothing wrong with liking those as an adult.  However, if you try to judge Doctor Who as an adult program it is going to look ridiculous whereas if I judge it against other children's programming it looks like sheer genius.  Once you accept the norms of children's entertainment Doctor Who does a lot of wonderful things.

Doctor Who fills a very interesting niche.  It is a show loved by children who want to watch terrifying aliens through their fingers or in snatches when their faces are not hidden behind a pillow.  It is also a show beloved by adults who enjoy a world where the Doctor's odd blend of pacifism, irreverence, and genius always save the day.

I don't like it though, and you can't make me.  Hah!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why we can't have nice things

Today I was at the library dropping off a book.  Used to be that you would just toss the book into a gigantic bin and the librarians would sort it all out but these days there is a fancy new system in place.  A computer screen tells you to put the books, one at a time, onto a conveyor belt and then the books are whisked away in the bowels of the library and a friendly green light informs you that your return has been processed.

On this occasion the person using the system ahead of me instead of following the very clear and simple instructions simply tossed her books onto the conveyor belt randomly.  The machine spit them back out and told her to put them on one at a time.  She tossed them back in and the same thing happened.  I stepped up and explained that the books needed to be put in one at a time.  Then she proceeded to get irritated at the machine and throw the books in forcefully enough that they overshot the conveyor entirely.  Finally the machine spit out a receipt showing that she had returned three books and she complained that she had returned five and that the machine was faulty.

She went inside and had a conversation with a librarian where the librarian tried to explain that the books needed to go in one at a time and the client stated that she knew that but that the machine had simply refused to read her books and that it was broken.  I left prior to the resolution of the conversation but it was clear what would happen:  The librarian would apologize for the faulty machine and solve the problem while the client stood around acting huffy.

There is nothing unusual about this of course.  People continually lie to others to cover their own mistakes and flaws even when the lies gain them absolutely nothing.  Is that librarian actually going to care if you admit you were impatient and not paying attention?  Even if they did care, is there anything whatsoever that they could do about it?  They spend all day listening to people complain about this kind of thing and watch everyone be hopelessly incompetent when using library technology.  Admitting fault here wouldn't even register on the librarian's radar.

But this is how we are.  When we fall or trip we immediately look around trying to figure out who saw us in a moment of weakness instead of first checking to see how injured we are.  We lie to people whose job it is to help us and who have no position of authority or familiarity just to make ourselves look better.  That insane, compulsive self consciousness is the way humanity is.

And that is why we can't have nice things.

Monday, July 7, 2014

They make me sad

Doug Ford, a city councillor in Toronto and the brother of the world infamous Rob Ford, talked recently about his understanding of racism.  He thinks that people are very racist against Rob Ford because reporters and other random folks spend so much time criticizing Rob Ford.  Quote:

"Racism isn't just about religion and colour and race.  It's about going after someone relentlessly on a daily basis."

The fact that the word Racism has a root word Race seems to have somehow escaped Doug.  Also:

"You can be racist against people that eat little red apples, you can be racist against people that have a drinking problem, you can be racist against people that are too fat."  

Doug is of course correct that you can be racist against people who eat little red apples, providing of course that they are people who are marginalized because of their race and you are oppressing them based on race, rather than the apples that they eat.

People talk about how awful everyone acts on the internet and how people end up in echo chambers reinforcing foolish, destructive, or evil beliefs, but what this ignores is that there are plenty of people doing the exact same thing in real life.  Somehow Doug Ford has convinced himself that despite the fact that he and his brother are rich, straight, cis, white dudes with substantial political clout that they are oppressed.  After all, when you are mayor of a major city and random people yell at you sometimes your life is pretty hard, right?

The Fords clearly have a thing going on where they stand around commiserating with one another on the hardships of having people be angry at their bad behaviour and poor decisions and then assume that this is as bad as anyone has it.  Obviously their feelings are very much hurt by all this disapproval and since that disapproval feels *very bad* then the Fords understand just how rough life can be.  Clearly all this bigotry and racism that people talk about must be what they are experiencing since those things are really bad and the Fords feel very put upon.

Humabababella thinks that Rob Ford winning the mayoral race wouldn't be a bad thing so long as he gets sidelined and ignored.  I don't entirely agree.  Ford being a political power in Toronto is constantly reinforcing the idea that his behaviour is supported by the majority.  Sadly that isn't as far from the truth as I would like but the symbolic power of him being soundly defeated is important.  I agree that the best possible case if Ford does win again is that he drinks and smokes himself into a blinding stupor every single day so nobody listens to him but I feel like a resounding defeat of this odious man would be a good thing.  It might illustrate that even someone with an incredible amount of mass appeal can be defeated by being enough of an asshole.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The unthinkable

Wendy and I are listening to a new radio station these days when our clock goes off at 7:40.  They are called The Edge and they try to come across as edgy, risque, and exciting.  This means that they try to use headlines that have some sexual content and riff on them comedically.  They are sometimes amusing but mostly meh.  Sadly this is the best radio station we have found and that is a sad thing to say about radio.

The hosts are generally pretty happy to talk about sex and use their personal experiences for chat fodder.  They talk about embarrassing moments they have had and relate to headlines using their own history.  Compared to a lot of people they definitely come off as being very open and accepting about sex and relationships.  Today they were talking about fetishes and spoke about fart fetishes, fantasizing about other people than your spouse, and other subjects designed to titillate the audience with their vaguely taboo subject matter.  It ended up making me very sad though because of the things they wouldn't say and wouldn't admit to.

First off the very idea of a sexual fetish bothers me when mainstream sources discuss it.  They inevitably group a bunch of things into a pile, call them normal, and deem everything not in the pile to be a fetish and thus bizarre and worthy of gawking.  The elephant in the room is that nobody can give me a reason why me being super turned on by unclothed breasts is considered okay and being turned on by farts is shameful.  Neither is sensible or based on any sort of objective standard - they are just random things that turn people on.  My particular set of turnons are very prevalent but talking about them as if that makes them better or fundamentally different is ridiculous.  Breasts are organs whose primary purpose is to deliver milk to babies.  Drooling over them is fine but it shouldn't be treated as a right and proper thing, just as a common one.

The second thing that got me is the way the hosts desperately avoided saying that they fantasize about people other than their partner.  It was clear that though they could talk about all kinds of things they had done it was completely not okay to suggest that they ever held thoughts of others in their mind.  I find this attitude incredibly frustrating - there is nothing wrong with exclusivity if that is what floats your boat but the idea that we all have to pretend that our domestic partners completely end other sexual desire is insidious and destructive.  No matter how you live the fiction that our partners should instantly and completely fulfill all of our desires and needs places far too much pressure on a relationship.

In the end both things are similar in nature.  Both revolve around the fiction that there is a simple, normal way to have a relationship and that people who don't follow that mould are wrong, bad, or crazy.  Neither of those things is true and the fact that they are so established in our public discourse frustrates me to no end.