Monday, March 31, 2014


Villains are well known for their absurd and narcissistic monologues towards heroes that are almost, but not quite, defeated.  They aren't the only ones that monologue for no particular reason though, as I maintain an internal monologue all the time.  There is a person who feels both part of and distinct from me who writes down everything I think and do as it happens.  It keeps track of everything that passes through my brain regardless of how realistic or fanciful it might be.

"Sky leaps up the steps two at a time."
"Sky ducks under the ninja's sword thrust and slams his dagger into the villain's throat."

Most of the time the narrator vanishes into the background and I don't pay much attention to it.  (It might be wrong, the narrator could be a he, but definitely isn't a she.)  However, there are times when I deliberately step into the narration and yell at the narrator for doing it wrong.  One is a bit of a lifelong thing where the narrator tells the story using imperial units and I deliberately tell them to do things in metric.  Usually this translates to me speaking in metric terms but not always as sometimes words come out faster than I can correct the thoughts in my head.  I don't know that this change will ever really happen given that there are so many imperial units still in common use around me.

Last night another interruption of the invisible flow came to the fore:  Val's name change.  I have been quite good about getting the new name out as part of my speech but my narrator just can't get it correct.  I have had to step in every single time to correct it.  I am sure it puts some hesitations and pauses into my speech that others detect as I work around the statement that the narrator wrote for me (it is regularly ahead of me in planning what I will say).  It is a struggle to get that correct and it makes me wonder how long it will take for the narrator to get that right, as I am sure they will at some point.

We talked a bit about this and it turns out that some people have a narrator and some do not.  My current pet theory is that possessing a narrator is linked to being an iNtuitive on the Meyers/Briggs personality test.  I suspect that the tendency to pull back from the world and from one's own thoughts to write them down is something that would be strongly correlated with iNtuitive thinking as they are very much about abstraction and big picture thinking rather than getting down into the gritty details.  That tendency to step back and look for connections, for a larger understanding, goes along very well with having a narrator talk about everything that happens in life.

If you happen to know your Myers/Briggs type in terms of the iNtuitive/Sensor binary I would be interested to know if you match my pet theory.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


The Physician linked to a fantastic TEDxToronto talk about medical errors and how we treat them.  In it a doctor discusses some of the many errors he made during his career including one that killed someone.  He goes on to urge us to change medical culture to avoid the assumption of perfection and make it possible for doctors to teach each other when mistakes occur and not simply bury them.

I think it was funny that in the beginning of the video he talked about batting averages and how a 400 batting average was truly amazing.  Then he asked the audience if they would be okay with a cardiac surgeon who only batted 400.  I suspect the great majority of people recoiled in horror at the thought of going under the knife with a surgeon who failed 60% of the time but I saw it entirely differently.  If my chance of living without surgery is less than 40% and other surgeons are less than 40% then I sure do volunteer to get operated on by someone batting 400.  It all depends on the other numbers.

Generally I suspect I have a much higher tolerance for failure than society does.  Medicine is not alone in creating all kinds of terrible outcomes out of a desperate desire to avoid any appearance of disaster as this happens in schools and businesses and everywhere else.  To avoid letting any child down in school we refuse to push children to do well.  In order to make sure that nobody ever gets hurt we make the schoolyard a wasteland and prevent children from learning how to deal with being hurt and avoid it in future.  There is no end of waste all in the name of preventing some unlikely outcome and the rallying cry is always the same "Safety first!"

Safety is great and all but the important thing is generating the best possible outcomes overall.  Refusing to let children go out and play to keep them safe is a great way to make them fearful, unhealthy, and lacking in useful life skills.  Making it culturally and legally difficult for physicians to share stories of failure in a desperate bid to convince everyone that the medical establishment is flawless leads to mistakes being repeated.  Even the War On Drugs is based on a similar idea - the sentiment that if we can somehow prevent even one person from becoming an addict it is worth jailing a thousand regular people for no good reason.

The world isn't perfectly safe.  Bad things happen.  The best thing we can do is look at the numbers, figure out if we can stop those bad things effectively, and then take the appropriate action.  Sometimes, in a world with limited time and resources, that action is nothing at all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Poly oriented

Val and I were talking this week about polyamory as a sexual orientation.  There was an interesting argument on Savage Love awhile ago about this very topic as many poly people seem to want poly to be considered an orientation in the same way straight, gay, or bi/pan/omni are.  I think that is silly.  Polyamory isn't an orientation as orientation describes what gender(s) a person is attracted to.  It is still important though, particularly since it describes nearly all of the human population.

That last sentence might seem a little controversial but I think it is clearly true if you consider poly as a mindset rather than as a set of rules one happens to follow at any given time.  People fall in love with multiple people at a time.  They experience lust for more than one person at a time.  This isn't universal of course, as there are people who don't experience those things at all and there are those that only experience them for one person at a time but they are by far the minority.  The great majority of humans are very much capable of lust and love with multiple people but mostly they have rules that try and fail to curtail these natural tendencies.  Of course the majority of people aren't actually into triads or quads or line marriages or anything of that sort but they are perfectly capable of experiencing some sort of powerful romantic affection for more than one person.

The problem is just terminology.  Polyamory as a practice, a lifestyle, or a relationship type is not widely practiced.  Polyamory as a natural inclination is the normal state of humanity and the fact that our culture is so utterly dedicated to squelching it and yet fails to spectacularly at doing so illustrates this clear as day.  If poly weren't so normal, ingrained, and unavoidable then infidelity rates wouldn't be in the ballpark of 50%.  (And that is the infidelity people admit to.)  Poly, like sexual orientation, isn't something people can change just by wanting to but it isn't an orientation and trying to shoehorn it in there is just making a muddle of things.

A big part of why this is an issue is legitimacy.  People with nonmainstream relationship styles want to be considered legitimate by the rest of the populace.  One of the ways that happens is by leveraging terminology and since most people now accept sexual orientation as legitimate it is natural that people would want to ride on the coattails of the gay rights movement.  I think that misses a fundamental point though, and that is that if we try to force each individual thing through as an orientation we give that word and its official meaning way too much power.  Better to simply try to get across that every set of desires among consenting adults is fine and avoid the pointless battles over syntax.

The other way people typically try to legitimize their relationship styles or desires is by finding examples of them among other animals.  I think this is an extremely suspect line of reasoning since animals regularly engage in male on male battles to the death for sexual ownership of females and we don't accept that as natural and okay.  We also should not tie legitimacy to animals because the idea that tying a person's hands to their headboard during sex is wrongbad because we don't find animals who do the same is absurd.

The argument for legitimacy should start and end with "I am an adult, this is what I like, and everybody involved is consenting."  No other argument is required.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Eww, bodies are icky

There has been quite the scandal this past week or so over an incident at a Magic:  The Gathering Grand Prix.  A person took a large number of pictures of players sitting down with butt cracks showing and posted them to Reddit.  Many people laughed at this and expressed concern at the amount of butt crack being exposed and others were horrified that someone would attempt to so publicly shame and humiliate people.  Of course the term 'free speech' was inappropriately tossed around on both sides because misunderstanding what free speech is about is a cornerstone of internet arguments.  The whole thing has become known informally as Crackgate.

Quite frankly the act of taking pictures of people with the intent of shaming them in this way reeks in all kinds of ways including sexism, homophobia, fat shaming, lack of respect for privacy, and sex negativity.  People act as if there is some kind of objective way in which seeing a small part of a divot in a body that is near to the anus is somehow disgusting and awful.  Nobody saw poop, nobody saw an actual anal opening, and even if they had, so what?  They saw a bit of a butt crack.  If their delicate constitution can't handle such a thing they should probably just stay home as inevitably somebody they see will be wearing tight pants and a cardiac event will probably ensue.

Of course it isn't actually about butt cracks.  It is about the butt cracks of heavier men.  If there were women there showing off butt cracks the attitude would be completely different though likely just as pathetic.  If the men being pictured were thin we wouldn't be talking about this at all.  The reason this became a thing is that so many people are so wrapped up in being disgusted at heavy men and in particular the idea of seeing the flesh of those men.  Because, you know, that would be awful because nobody likes the idea of naked man flesh, amirite fellahs?

Free speech is, at its core, about the ability of a person to say things without the expectation that they will be oppressed by the government for doing so.  The person taking the photographs of butt cracks is allowed to do this.  The people criticizing them have the same liberty.  This is a good thing as if they did not have the freedom to do these things it would be disastrous.  However, the governing body who runs Magic tournaments is also allowed to ban jackasses who ruin the experience for others and free speech has nothing to do with the matter.  Wizards is not the government and they can decide they don't want your business if you are an asshole to their other customers; if you don't like it then found your own company and offer a competing business model.  Good luck with that.

There is no call to be doing this kind of thing.  You have the right to be an asshole of course but you should expect that people who aren't assholes (or who want to sell goods and/or services to people and want to appear like they aren't assholes to facilitate said selling) are going to use the means at their disposal to punish you for doing so.  Don't like it?  Then don't show up, and good riddance.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What does this say about me

There is a very cute video making the rounds of people sharing a first kiss on camera.  The creators found random people willing to kiss a stranger and then filmed their reactions and awkwardness as they went about sharing that kiss.  It is sweet and amusing and silly.  I got partway through and clicked away, bored with it as I could see where it was all going.  Also I don't particularly go in for entertainment that primarily revolves around people feeling embarrassed; I tend to empathize too much and find it uncomfortable.

(I did eventually watch the whole thing when I decided to blog about it.)

Of course when I found a video that is a spinoff of the first one entitled First Handjob I couldn't resist.  That one I watched all the way through the first time.  Somehow because it was scripted and not authentic it felt entirely different - comedy instead of tragedy, or something along those lines.  I am very impressed with it though as it really feels authentic or as close as you can reasonably get anyway.

A handjob is not generally marketed as an intimate thing, about sharing, but rather about raw gratification and lust.  I don't particularly buy into that view as it stems from general sex negativity and has no real basis in objective fact.  Any sex act that creates joy can be a wonderful and special thing and it need not be on the standard baseball analogy starting with a kiss and ending in baby making intercourse.  Sex and physical intimacy take all kinds of courses and beauty does not require the genitals to be sequestered away.

I am sad that they only went for men getting manual sex.  It would have been better had the whole range been shown.  Note that the video shows nothing explicit but obviously is still not especially safe for work.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Pie Day and silence

A few posts were missed last week.  Though it is possible to write blog posts on my phone I just can't bring myself to do so; without the ability to see the whole thing as a unit and edit it in that form I just don't have the drive to blog.  Somehow my ability to prescreen my writing and experience it prior to exposing it to the world is important.  The cottage used to be a place away from screens and information flow, an island in the sea of data.  It doesn't do that anymore due to me having a smartphone - it feels more like it is a place where my connection is just terrible instead of nonexistent.  Really not the same thing it turns out as nonexistent brings some kind of peace and terrible just brings frustration.

It was strange to come back to the city.  I went from digging trenches through a meter of snow in order to get to the cottage itself into a city with scraps of snow here and there but mostly bare concrete and exposed grass.  Though I do like the signs of spring here I really wish Toronto could be a lot more about a big dump of snow to give us some good sledding and then get rid of it all instead of being mired in slush for four months.

I can't decide if I like March Break or not.  It is nice to get away from the daily treks to the school and homework and such but having Elli home and with me so constantly eventually wears me down.  I lack that total alone time, the silence that I so desperately need.  Not as though I get a choice in the matter, to be fair, but if somehow I was put in charge of the universe I am not certain March Break is a thing I would heartily support.

Regardless, back to the routine it is.  Hopefully back to the routine of writing regularly too, though of late that has proven challenging.  So many things fighting and clawing for my time.
Pie day was quite nice though.  Cherry isn't my favourite sort of pie but I can't complain when it is pie I am eating on the day reserved for pie.  Apparently the trick is to have pie next year on 3/14/15 at 9:26 if one wishes to maintain full on geek cred.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Those who do, and those who learn

I was chatting with some folks last night about Ukraine and the current events there.  One of them talked about how they were unfamiliar with the whole thing and talked about they had something of an obligation to find out in order to decide on advocacy positions.  It is an easy position to empathize with, after all being informed about world events is the first step to knowing what to support and what to do to make things a better place.  Unfortunately it isn't true that we can simply learn all the things before acting.  No matter how much I read, no matter what I learn, there will always be a crisis somewhere I am completely ignorant of.  The goal is not to learn all the things but rather to learn enough to figure out what the best course of action is.

We all have things to bring to the world and those things vary greatly with our talents, our positions in the world, the resources we have, and more.  I feel that it is very important we not insist that everyone do the perfect thing nor that they learn everything there is to learn.  At some point we must stop and pick something to do.  Fundamentally the goal is not to learn all the things and then keel over dead, it is to learn enough that we know how we can contribute effectively and then to put that knowledge into action.  The critical thing is maximizing the total net benefit, not the size of the effectiveness term in the equation.

For example, I could try to campaign very heavily to make sure Toronto gets the best possible mayor.  People could rightly point out that Torontonians are hardly a disadvantaged group and that it is pretty tough to imagine that me doing this is actually helping those that need it the most.  There has got to be something even better I could do if I just did the research to find out precisely what that is.  While that may be true there is still plenty of reason to think that trying to get a mayor better than Rob Ford is a worthwhile endeavour.  It isn't necessarily the best thing but it is a good thing.

This sort of struggle is something often seen in social movements.  Some people just want to pick a simple thing and fix it - for example, marriage equality for queer folks.  This is clearly an upgrade from our current situation but there really are more important things we could be tackling like the systemic violence and marginalization of non-cis people.  Those two groups are often lumped together under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella but there isn't a whole lot of agreement over exactly what the priorities should be for advocacy for those who claim to speak for the whole group.

My position is that we should try ourselves to push for the greatest possible change but we should not spend our time denigrating those who push for changes we deem inefficient if well intentioned.  There are plenty of fights that are worth fighting and 'you are doing a good thing but not The Best thing' isn't one of them.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

No regrets

Last week I wrote about telling people you have a crush on them.  My attitude towards this is that you should tell people things but that you need to tell them in ways that effectively give them the correct impression about yourself.  This requires self knowledge and discipline and so isn't a universally useful strategy.  However, some people disagreed, and the basis for our disagreement seemed to stem around our first experiences with crushes.  My experiences were coloured by my refusal to do anything about them and others seem to have had 'too much, too fast' as their formative experience.

When I was in high school I didn't date at all.  Had my first kiss at age 20.  (Followed very shortly by my first everything.)  It isn't as if I didn't find people attractive in high school but rather just that I was too cowardly to do anything about it.  I spent a lot of time around KissMe but never actually got up the nerve to make a move of any sort.  I had all kinds of reasons for that:  Someone had said that she had a boyfriend and I was moving away to school soon and she wasn't going to be able to follow me due to an age difference of two years.

Of course planning years in advance for a first teenage romance is ridiculous and I never actually confirmed that said boyfriend existed so the truth is I was just too afraid of being rejected.  I even had confirmation that she liked me well enough since we hung out at school and our families were friends so we did camping trips and such together too.  There was every reason to think that a clumsy, embarrassed asking out attempt would at worst be met with polite refusal and not laughter and mockery.

It isn't as if I live under a cloud of regret from not asking KissMe to, well, kiss me.  It is rather just that it is the loudest and brightest example of how I lived when I was young.  Rather than take my chances and learn I would hide and wait and prepare and imagine how great things would be once all my devious plans had come to fruition.  I was afraid to fall, afraid to fail, afraid to lose.  But falling and failing and losing are how we learn to win, and winning is so much the sweeter when the memories of all those clueless disasters are still fresh in the mind.

I know what keeping it all bottled up is like, and I know what just telling people things and going for it is like.  Neither is perfect but when placed side by side it is abundantly clear to me that I want my regrets in life to be about going for it and failing spectacularly rather than the slow death of suppressed desire.  Still, I wonder if I had asked KissMe out if I would reach a different conclusion today.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Team Good - noticeably absent

The volatile situation in Ukraine is a very thorny beast.  The narrative I see in most western media is that the rebellious protesters are all in the right, that the people being installed in Ukraine are all amazing, and that the Russians are bad bad people for interfering in Ukraine.  Things are a lot more complicated than that though, particularly when it comes to Russia and the US staring each other down.  Statements by John Kerry about how countries should absolutely never invade others on false pretenses nearly made me fall out of my chair laughing - how long did he have to practice that line to say it with a straight face?

The sad thing about all this is that there isn't anyone I would characterize as being on team good.  The US is just taking an opportunity to cast Russia as Big Bad Evil in ways that are laughably hypocritical.  Russia is interfering in another nation's affairs because they don't like the way most of the people in that nation are leaning politically.  The UN sits there, helpless and useless, since both countries have the ability to render it nothing more than a bag of hot air.  Even if we just talk about Ukraine itself we seen the democratically elected leader being ousted and new leadership being installed in ways that aren't particularly comforting, especially considering how problematic the views of the new people are.

We so often want to cast one side of a conflict as Team Good and the other side as Team Evil.  Everything is so much simpler that way because we can ignore inconvenient details and enthusiastically cheer for someone.  The world is a much friendlier place when we know that some people are irretrievably dastardly and some are paragons of virtue; that way we don't have to think too hard about the shadows and grey areas.  Ukraine right now is a perfect example of one of my mantras:  It is complicated.  Simpler answers and easy paths to a better world are hard to see from here.

There are some certainties, like the fact that most of the international response is shaped not by law or the best interests of humanity but rather by a lust for power and money.  The big kids on the block want to have a showdown to see who is willing to blink first with world economic stability (if things go catastrophically, war) at stake and we just have to sit around and see how stupid they will be.  The answer is not that one nation in particular is bad or good, nor is there anyone I can unreservedly champion.  It is a giant mess and I sure am glad I am far away from it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Use your words, again

The government of Canada is in the process of developing new laws surrounding prostitution.  The Supreme Court recently declared the laws that criminalized many activities surrounding prostitution unconstitutional and the government has one year to come up with new laws.  Obviously there are a plethora of laws preventing trafficking, underage prostitution, and other issues where consent isn't given and those remain in force.  You can follow this link to submit feedback to the government on what the new laws, if any, should look like.

The most critical point to keep in mind is that this is not about brothels operating in your backyard.  Municipalities will still have the power to regulate businesses and the police will still have the authority to arrest people who are actually doing things that negatively affect others.  What this is about is whether or not the government should spend enormous sums of money to try to destroy the lives of people who engage in voluntary business transactions that harm no one.

Imprisoning a criminal offender costs approximately $70,000 a year.  Doing so wrecks a sex worker's chances of getting out of sex work by making it harder to get a job in a different sector, destroys their relationships, and prevents that money from being used for something else.  That money could be used to fund women's shelters, food banks, or just to lower taxes.  That amount isn't even accounting for trials, prosecution, and the cost of having police harass and chase down sex workers.

Even if all of that were free there is no question that putting these people in jail doesn't help sex workers and it doesn't stop sex work so it has no purpose.  It also drastically increases the danger sex workers face because they are inherently and rightly terrified of the police instead of having the police as an ally against people who actually need jailing - those who inflict violence on others.  Laws can protect people but bad laws that criminalize normal behaviour can strip away the protection people would otherwise have.

The criminal code should have exactly the same thing to say about sex work as it does about handshakes, hugs, and high fives.  That is to say, absolutely nothing.  The marketplace of ideas and local zoning are all that is needed.  Use your words and tell the Canadian government to stop this morally indefensible and fiscally absurd persecution of people who are already marginalized.  If we want to help people we should extend a hand to assist them up not a fist to smash them back down.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

I have a huge crush on you

Telling people you are in love with them is a messy business.  It regularly leads to transcendent moments of joy but has this nasty habit of also creating excruciating awkwardness.  Some people trend towards just telling people about their feelings and damn the consequences and others hide it all away.  I do not have the problem of hiding things too much; if I like someone it is as subtle as a tractor trailer transporting ten thousand howler monkeys high on cocaine.  The standard romantic narrative usually includes people who are completely unwilling to risk telling each other about their feelings while everybody around them thinks how stupid they are for passing up an opportunity but in real life the reverse is more often the problem I think.

In real life people's feelings don't grow for each other at the same time or at equal rates and often feelings go permanently unreciprocated.  I read an interesting blog post by Ferrett about this problem and he advocates just not telling people about your crushes.  There is real harm done to friendships when crushes are one sided but I am not at all convinced that just secretively crushing on someone actually fixes that problem.  The cure is to not crush on them at all if it isn't happening back but that isn't exactly useful advice.  It is good to acknowledge that dumping your feelings on people isn't always the right plan but just not telling people things isn't a good solution.

The best way to think about this is to be aware of what your crushes mean to you and whether or not your words actually tell the other person the truth.  If you are like Ferrett and you have a new crush every week based on a well written blog post then telling the writer of said post you have a crush on them is just terrible communication.  What you should say is "I love your writing.  Maybe we could hang out and I could see if your conversation can keep up with your amazing prose?"  This properly indicates your level of interest and avoids loaded words that inaccurately portray your feelings.  On the other hand if you have spent half a year getting to know someone and you are absolutely convinced they are the love of your life then you can say something like "I have a super massive crush on you" and they will get the picture.

This all requires serious self awareness.  After all, in the midst of a crush our brains aren't exactly clocking in at maximum processing power.  It is critical for us to understand ourselves enough to recognize where we are on our own personal scale of infatuation and act appropriately.  We also need to know what the target of our affections thinks about these topics.  If they are given to loudly professing their love for people then dialing up our rhetoric is a fine plan but if they are reticent and shy with their emotions the presentation should be a bit more laid back.  In general if the person we are crushing on is someone about whom we don't even know this sort of thing then we really should get to know that before making declarations of undying love.

The key here is that keeping secrets really isn't a solution.  What is a solution is carefully examining your own patterns of attraction to understand the attributes of your current set of feelings and then making sure your communication gets that across to the other person.  That may involve using language that doesn't adequately describe the hormonal messiness you are currently experiencing but the point is not to pontificate but to communicate.  That does not guarantee success nor necessarily avoid heartbreak but at least it nails honesty and due diligence and in the morass of human interaction that is about as good as you are going to get.

(Disclaimer:  If you read this and think "Is Sky talking about me?" the answer is No.  Theoretical musing only.)