Monday, August 31, 2015

The Wall

Scott Walker, a person who is pretending to be a serious candidate for leading the world's most powerful nation, has suggested building a wall across the entire US - Canada border.

To keep out illegal immigrants, you see.

That would be 8,891 kilometers of wall.  Much of it in absolutely impossible terrain like the Rocky Mountains or the extremely wild border between Canada and Alaska.  What would it cost to build such a thing?  Many many billions for sure.  Could it be a trillion?  Maybe?  Then what would it cost to guard and maintain that entire length for eternity?

This idea is completely ludicrous.  Putting up such a barrier between two nations with extremely closely linked economies, good relations, and no significant border issues is completely absurd.

But Scott Walker knows that.

He isn't suggesting this abomination because he thinks it might get built!  Nobody wants that wall built once they consider the cost, even if for some reason they like the idea in theory.  No, the wall is just Scott Walker trying to be Donald Trump.  Trump has managed to become hugely important in the presidential race mostly by being an idiot and saying all kinds of ridiculous things that touch on hot button issues in the US.  Trump actually plans to have Mexico build a wall along their entire border to keep people out of the US, and at Mexico's expense.  The wall blocking off Canada is actually a fair bit more ridiculous but they are honestly in the same ballpark, and now Walker's name is splashed across the pages of the internet.

People are laughing at Walker, but they laughed at Trump too, and Trump still is polling in the lead.  Walker desperately wants to be known, to be considered a threat, and he is hoping he can do that by being even more rabidly racist and xenophobic than Trump.  The theory, I am sure, is that he can actually put forth reasonable (for him, I would almost certainly hate his platform) planks once anyone cares what he has to say, and he can get them listening by harping on idiotic ideas that get people with strong anti-immigrant politics riled up.

So Walker is a genius, in this way.  I am even writing about him and I don't live in the US.  That is the hilarious thing about this joke of a policy idea - it is getting Walker exactly what he wants.

Trump may do even more damage to the American electoral system than anyone ever gave him credit for even if he loses soundly.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Punish them

Ashley Madison, the world's foremost dating site for people having illicit affairs, was very publicly hacked.  The names and information of many of the people who created accounts on the site have been published and there is a great deal of angst and terror, sadness and heartbreak among those who have been exposed.  There is also a significant chunk of the population who are extolling the virtues of the hackers and condemning anyone caught in the expose.  The schadenfreude is palpable as people leap to accuse those being outed and claim that they deserved it.

There are two problems with this.  The first is that many people who were outed were doing nothing wrong.  There are closeted gay people, for example, that have had their lives upended.  More than that, as Dan Savage points out, those people might even be executed if they live in the wrong place.  There are also a lot of people whose names have been slammed onto the internet, tainted with imagined sin, when they did nothing wrong.  Like this guy, who was just single and curious. 

Or say, me.  Because when I was starting out in polyamory I thought "Hey, maybe I can find relationships with other people in open relationships on Ashley Madison."  I wasn't interested in cheaters (nor was I cheating, as this was on the up and up on my end) but there were in fact some people there who might have been interested.  I left very quickly because Ashley Madison is basically the pit of despair but my name might well be out there.  I haven't checked because it doesn't really matter but there are plenty of people in my situation who desperately do not want to have their sexual desires, lifestyles, orientations, or other secrets exposed to the world.

There are also people who are in loveless and/or sexless marriages who are desperate.  People for whom leaving their spouse is unthinkable and who cannot face the remainder of their lives being devoid of romance, sex, or intimacy.  Cheating in such cases is bad but it is sometimes going to be the least bad thing and people in such difficult circumstances don't deserve to have their lives blown up.  In the Dan Savage column above there was a person who had cheated, been caught, repented, and rebuilt their marriage and now they had to face the worry that both families, friends, or work colleagues would find evidence of an old and forgiven infidelity.  Nothing can be gained from this.

Certainly there are scumbags who will be outed.  Some people are really just being slimeballs when they cheat and while I can't scrape up a lot of sympathy for them I still don't like vigilante justice nor blackmail.  There are jerks who are going to get what could reasonably be called their comeuppance, but how do you separate them from all the innocents caught in the crossfire?

If I sprayed bullets into a crowd on the assumption that I would probably hit some bad people everyone would be horrified.  Even if they agreed that those bad people should die I would hope that everyone would agree that the cost was far too high, and the technique inexcusable.  What these hackers are doing is the same thing, albeit on a much larger scale, but quite possibly with the same body count.

I don't like Ashley Madison.  What they represent is ugly and sad, and I held my nose when I made an account there.  But this exposure of their clients will not stop cheating.  That ugliness will continue, albeit with a spate of anger, bitterness, and divorce over the next few weeks and months.  I don't know what a good solution might be to try to 'fix' the problem of infidelity, (though I have plenty of suggestions, largely to do with abandoning monogamy as the required social standard) but I know for sure that this isn't it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Breasts, the public display of

There is controversy afoot in New York surrounding the right of people to go topless in public.  There is, according to one Ruben Diaz, a minister and politician, a problem with topless women being in Times Square where they attempt to get tips for being in photographs with tourists.  (Also presumably locals, but that probably isn't a thriving business.)  They aren't *entirely* topless necessarily as body paint is often strategically used to apply minimal covering.

Diaz, realizing that he can't push through legislation specifically targetting and limiting the rights of women, has decided that he should just aim to prevent anyone regardless of sex from going topless.  Won't somebody Please think of the children?

While we should celebrate that we finally live in a time when politicians feel obligated to hose everybody in an attempt to be sexist assholes instead of just explicitly targetting women, this is still really awful.  I mean, it is great that Diaz knows he can't just make a law that explicitly limits women's rights because he personally views them as sex objects but I wish he had to give up instead of pushing this terrible workaround.

Nipples aren't dangerous.  Nearly everybody gets to view them many times throughout their lives, though admittedly men's nipples have a fairly flat distribution while women's nipples get seen a lot more by the very young and by those who are old enough to figure out how to use the internet and not get caught watching porn.  If Diaz wants to run in a panic away from topless women he is welcome to.  He is even welcome to keep his children away from Times Square where all this wanton toplessness is located.  I will laugh at him and call him a bigoted idiot for doing so but he would be well within his rights and I certainly wouldn't want to trample on those.  Unfortunately he doesn't see this the way I do and thinks that police officers armed with guns are the appropriate response to nipples rather than simply letting other people do what they want.

Usually the US is really big on letting private transactions between individuals be none of the government's business, but boy that sure goes by the wayside when somebody might be getting turned on by it.  Can't have that!

Normally this would be where I take some cheap shots at Republicans but Diaz is actually a Democrat.  A Democrat who is against abortion and marriage equality, mind, so he is firmly in the 'asshole' category, but not a Republican nonetheless.

I am just so far away from this sort of viewpoint it is hard to fathom it at all.  I think the idea of having it be illegal to be naked is an astonishing and evil thing - my body being seen for what it is should never be grounds for imprisonment.  Of course private institutions should be free to have whatever dress codes they want on their grounds, but on public property the idea that my body being seen is grounds for violent assault upon me is ludicrous.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Scientists vs. science

The scientific method and scientific endeavour in general is not the same as the conduct of individual scientists.  I read a great article today talking about that point, and I think it is worthwhile reading for anyone who wants to learn about the way the science community deals with fraud, shoddy work, and wishful thinking.

Primarily we need to separate the basic concept of investigating ideas thoroughly and rigorously by trying to falsify them from the actual practice of real people in messy situations.

We want to look at our ideas and hypotheses critically.  We should do our best to try to prove them false and only declare them true when all attempts to show them false have failed.  Working hard to test our beliefs and building a model to understand the universe around us based on these principles is science at its core.

There will be scientists who get things wrong.  There will definitely be reporting of science that is grossly mistaken.  Just because those things exist doesn't mean the whole endeavour itself is somehow pointless, dirty, or mistaken.  It just means we have to be careful whenever we have human beings interacting with a system that we know works.

The scientific system of inquiry doesn't care about grant dollars, or egos, or employment.  People do, so let's keep that in mind.

Also seriously, can we get away from p=.05 as a standard?  Artificially squeezing results in to fit that standard of proof is such a mess.  I don't claim to know what standard should replace it, but surely we can find something better.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A dare

Wendy and I are in Nova Scotia right now on what threatens to be a yearly tradition.  We are visiting some friends and ended up out for dinner tonight on the patio at a little pub in Wolfville.  The fish and chips was good but not exciting, but the entertainment was great.  The waitress serving us was funny and entertaining and there was a lot of great back and forth between us and her at the outset.  At one point she was delivering our food and I noticed that we didn't have any ketchup so I hopped up to grab it from another table.  She joked about how she was going to get me to fetch other stuff for the table and not bother doing it herself.

We spent the rest of the meal making jests about me getting up and carting away the food or otherwise helping out with the meal in lieu of the waitress doing it.  At the very end she cleared away three plates and laughingly suggested that I get the last one myself after wandering away to take the rest of our stuff to the kitchen.

Now most people would think this was amusing, but they wouldn't do anything about it.  Other, braver types, would hide the plate and pretend to have taken it in to the kitchen.  Not me though, I had to take it in myself.

And here is where my understanding of the rest of the world conflicts completely with my sense of what the right thing to do is.  Of course I know that I am not supposed to cart my own plate into the restaurant kitchen, and of course nobody would actually *do* that.... but how can you not?  Somehow the rest of the world just sits in their chairs and laughs instead of rocketing out of their seat and running that.  I don't quite get it.

At any rate I took my plate inside, fully intending on finding the kitchen and depositing the plate there, when I ran into two other waitresses who took the plate from me with some puzzlement and brought it to the kitchen themselves.  While that wasn't exactly what I had envisioned, it was close enough.

When our waitress returned she noted the missing plate (and, undoubtedly, my gigantic grin) and looked around for it, assuming I had hidden it behind me or something.  I told her that I had taken it in, and her look of utter panic was just too precious for words.  She was assuming that I had gone into the kitchen and scraped it myself and maybe done something else likely to get her fired or at least yelled at I suppose.  Once she accepted that I had really done that and made sure that I hadn't really just wandered into the kitchen she calmed down a bit but was still flummoxed that someone had actually taken her up on her dare.

A few minutes later I was headed in to visit the bathroom prior to leaving and the waitress was walking with me.  She joked that I should now head into the kitchen and help the dishwasher with his work... then looked at me with a hint of real terror and said "Wait, no, don't really do that!"

Because obviously any reasonable person wouldn't do that.  They wouldn't take the joke that far.  But this guy, maybe he was just that intent on getting a good story to tell later.

I wouldn't have, because I don't want to get her fired.  But when betting on whether or not I will do something weird and way beyond social norms just for a story it is always wise to bet on craziness and story generation rather than doing what is expected.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Stop oversimplifying

There was an incident recently in the US where a presidential hopeful called Bernie Sanders was set to deliver a big speech to a crowd of many thousands and was boldly interrupted.  Two women and one man claiming to represent Black Lives Matter (BLM) barged in, demanded the mic, got it, and then proceeded to keep it for some time, preventing the scheduled speech.  They got the crowd very riled up by calling them all a bunch of white supremacists when the crowd booed them for refusing to give up the mic.

I read a bunch of different takes on the situation, and I think the takeaway lesson is that this is a really thorny issue and anyone claiming to have a simple, clear summary is deluding themselves.  First off, the agenda of BLM is important and these three people certainly achieved their goal of getting a bunch of attention for it, which strikes me as a good thing.  Racism in general and in particular the interaction of the criminal justice system and black people is an absolute disaster, especially in the US, and that needs addressing.

On the other hand Bernie was going to talk about a lot of issues that are important to a lot of people and we can't just issue carte blanche for anyone to take over any event at any time if they feel their cause is more important.  However, there are a lot of people talking about how they won't support BLM now because of these disruptive, rude tactics and I think that is a mistake.  The organization is not officially represented by these individuals and their mandate of changing the racist culture in America is laudable even if you disagree with individual actions.

Thing is, if you are big on Bernie Sanders for president then he got a bunch of publicity so you shouldn't be too disappointed.  He also accepted the nudge to start talking about race and make that a bigger part of his platform, which seems like it has to be a good thing too.  Even better if it actually lead to real change, but who knows how likely that is.  At any rate the conversation being more up front is positive.

If all the political rallies and speeches were disrupted and BLM was actually providing a serious blockade to communication from presidential hopefuls that would be a big issue, but clearly that isn't happening.  They are making noise, getting attention, and pissing some people off in the process.  Those many thousands who wanted to hear Bernie were bitter, understandably, but you don't effect big change without some people having to hear things they don't like.

The interruption was rude, and clearly cannot become the norm.  No real harm was done though, and probably some real good came out of it.  It is a big tangled mess of things, good and bad, and we need to acknowledge that.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Level up!

I kind of expect incompetence from retail employees but sometimes I am left truly stunned, aghast at the enormity of their uselessness score.

On Saturday Wendy and I decided to buy a new computer.  (She wants to use it to play WOW with me again.  Yay!)  We walked into Best Buy with the idea of just buying a computer there.  We gave them our general needs - a gaming focused machine, good graphics card, ~$800 price range, desktop.

You might think this was a slam dunk for the salesperson.  We aren't overly picky about our requirements, our price range is reasonable, we are actually ready to buy and not just window shopping.  Everything is going this guy's way today.

You would be wrong.

The sales guy spent most of our visit on his smartphone looking at the Best Buy website trying to figure out what they offer in terms of computers.  He tried to show us some things on a display model but couldn't get it to get off of the basic display screen.  He ended his presentation by informing us that they might have a model that could potentially fit our needs but it might not be in stock and he wasn't sure about the specs.

Then he gave us directions to a computer store nearby.

Dude!  We are literally *surrounded* by computers!  Your store is a computer store!

So we went to another computer store, found someone who knew lots about tech, and got them to figure out a machine that would work for us.

I don't know how much blame to lay at the doorstep of Best Buy and how much to blame the salesperson, but overall this experience has set a really high bar for most incompetence.

On the other hand he did end up directing us to another store where we got exactly what we wanted so maybe he is delivering great service after all by sending us away from Best Buy.  Depends on your point of view, I suppose.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Better at everything

Humans are getting better at everything.  See 538's article about Katie Ledecky, an astounding swimmer, who right now is better at any swimming distance than anyone who ever existed prior to 1961, male or female.  She is only 18, and will almost certainly improve all of her records and be even better than she is now.

People recognize this stuff about sports.  They often underestimate it, I think, in sports where people are competing against each other rather than against clocks.  You don't really understand just how amazing players are these days when you see them up against others of their calibre but by every measure we have available all top end athletes are doing things that could never have been done before.  Records just keep on falling, with no end in sight.

I find when I discuss games with people that others don't understand that this same sort of thing is happening in game design.  It isn't just that modern games are different than Monopoly and its ilk, it is that game design as a knowledge base and a discipline is far ahead of where it was in years past.  Modern games are just better.

Which doesn't mean that every modern game is better than every old game, but also we aren't saying that I am a better swimmer than world champion swimmers in the 1940s either.  Just that the best of the best, the general sense of how good the field of real competitors is, is definitely on an unmistakable upward track.

Many things make this happen.  The internet exposes people to better ideas, scientific advances make things possible that weren't before, people are more dedicated to achieving personal perfection, and the ability of recruiters and trainers to find the people with the most natural talent is much greater.  General wealth of society is a big one I am sure; it is far easier to devote yourself to a particular endeavour when getting enough food and a place to live is relatively speaking easier.  Subsistence farmers have little time to practice swimming or game design.

We are getting better at everything.  Our outliers are outlying like never before, and much as my instinct rebels at the idea, the trend is that it is simply not going to stop.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Two Minds, Learning to know each other

I have written about how power exchange (Dom/Sub dynamics) works for me in sexual situations, but I think I wrote it all wrong.  The trouble is that I have two distinct personalities and by and large one of them writes the blog posts and the other one has sex.

Director finds the idea of being dominant really intimidating.  It is easy to imagine hurting my partner, or pushing them to do something they don't want, or just being too aggressive.  Director finds the idea of doing those things terrifying and abhorrent, so he can't be dominant.  Being submissive though is easy, because all he has to do is obey.  In that moment if the other person wants things to be different they just have to make that clear, and that is their job!  For Director, submission is safe.

Passion, on the other hand, finds the idea of submitting irritating.  He can do it if required but it certainly isn't a turn on and he would definitely rather not.  For Passion being dominant sounds exactly right.  Not that Passion feels the desperate need for dominance, but if there is going to be a power exchange at all he definitely wants to be in charge.  He wants the other person to enjoy themselves but he would much rather set the pace, give the orders, and expect obedience.  He is going to make decisions that he thinks everyone will enjoy, but he wants to be the one making those decisions and isn't worried about screwing up the way Director is.

The reason I didn't understand myself very well is that when I was sitting thinking or writing about sex, about what I want and what I am comfortable with, Director was in charge.  Director sees submission as safe but Director also basically doesn't experience lust and desire.  At least Director doesn't experience those feelings at anything like the intensity Passion does.  As such, I have to be Director to be comfortable submitting, even to be comfortable with being teased, but Director just isn't going to be turned on by it.  I can't be both submissive and wildly turned on at the same time.

If I am going to truly enjoy sex, to totally subsume myself in the experience, Passion has to be in charge.  If Passion is in charge and some Dom/Sub thing is happening, I need to be dominant.  Simple as that.  Which means I need to rethink how I approach sex to some extent because it is clear that in most cases as I move from 'not sex' to 'sex' Director is in charge and then there is a dramatic switch at some point and Passion is in control.  When I see movies that show dramatic scenes where people have arguments and then end up having sex, where emotions run high and intense changes of dynamic occur, Director finds that all completely confusing.  The same applies to a lot of aggressive seduction techniques (ethical or not)... Director is at a loss.  Passion gets it, but he has to stay in his cage until Director is assured that everything is going along safely and appropriately.

I have been shuffling along this path for some time now, with Director going further and further away during sex and letting Passion be more fully in control.  It is clear that doing so improves the experience for me and makes sex better but it is challenging to unwind that desperate need for control that Director has.  It also makes me wonder just how far I *can* unwind it, and what I will look like as Director becomes more comfortable letting the beast come out fully and completely.