Friday, February 27, 2015

Please, please think of the children

Stories about how the government tried to step in and take children away because their parents were letting them have a little responsibility are a flashpoint for me.  They tweak my nose because they are about society's obsession with safety beyond reason, misunderstanding of actual risks, interference in private lives without justification, and abuse of legal powers.  Any of these things by themselves gets me going, but all at once they make me feel like my body is soaked in burning oil and set alight.

Really, that is what it feels like.  A wet substance all over the surface of me, on fire.  Weird, right?

This article today did that.  It talks about 2 siblings, ages 6 and 10, who walked 1.6 kilometres home from school.  They were grabbed by police against their wishes, brought home, and child protective services forced the parents to sign documents without consultation or legal representation.  Had they refused to sign, the children would have been immediately taken away from them by force.

So just to review.  The state, worried unreasonably that the children might be kidnapped, took them against their will.  Then the state threatened to take them away from their parents unless their parents signed agreements they had no say in or control over, and all while being denied legal representation of any sort.

We shouldn't be worried about kidnappings by strangers at all.  Unless, of course, those strangers are the police and official government representatives in which case kidnapping sounds like an extremely likely event indeed.

If this is the protection on offer, count me in for not wanting to be protected at all.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Accept the complex

There have been 2 articles talking about drug addiction that have been making the rounds lately that I feel the need to comment on.  The main thing I am seeing is that people seem desperate to compare them to one another and figure out which of them is true and which is false, as though either one can possibly reflect the full reality of drug dependency and treatment.  As is usually the case the reality is complicated.

The first article talks about how people that have strong human connections, stimulation, and purpose are less likely to become addicted to drugs.  There are good scientific reasons to believe that people who are in good psychological condition are better able to resist addiction and we know for sure that those who feel they are missing something key in their lives are more vulnerable.

When considering this though we must be clear that some people do just get addicted to things even when the rest of their lives are going perfectly.  There are huge variances in susceptibility to addiction in general as well as particular substances.  Having a great life helps but it isn't a perfect defence.

The second article is about using drugs to combat addiction.  That is, there are specific, medically tested drugs that can help people get off and stay off more dangerous drugs.  If you want to get as many addicts as possible off of heroin you really should have drugs like Suboxone as part of your arsenal.  They work wonders for many people.  One huge blockade to getting those drugs more widely prescribed and available is 12 step programs that rely on abstinence as the only cure.  We know for sure that such programs are almost completely ineffective and in fact their resistance to using drugs as part of treatment may well make them worse than nothing.

That doesn't mean that everyone who has an addiction needs Suboxone or that the only thing we need to treat people is more drugs.  Sometimes these treatments work, sometimes they don't, and there are plenty of people who get off drugs without them.

The answer to drug addiction isn't a single thing.  You don't have to believe one solution or the other.  The reality is complex and while that is difficult to grapple with compared to a simple sound byte it is undeniably true.  We can help addicts recover by trying to assist them in making deep human connections and having lives that are full of meaningful work.  People who are happy, productive, and who have a good support network are far less likely to be addicted.  We can also use medically tested drugs that help people break their addictions or keep them at bay.  Heck, we can even try both things at once as that is likely to have the best possible results.

There is no need to figure out which article is true.  Both are true and neither is complete.  In both cases you need to read them with the knowledge that they are only talking about a small part of a larger picture but they do convey something important about the bit they discuss.

The thing we really shouldn't do is rely on abstinence or incarceration as a way to combat addiction.  Neither is morally justifiable and more importantly neither works.  At all.  There are a variety of ways to help keep people from being addicted to drugs but concrete boxes and shame are not among them.

Monday, February 23, 2015

I agree! .... no wait

Penelope Trunk's newest blog post is a gem.  She leads off with the idea that finding a mate should be approached with a hard headed pragmatism instead of a "I will just wait and see who sweeps me off my feet" luck based strategy.  I actually think that makes a lot of sense.  We do have limited control over who we fall in love with and we certainly can sit down and figure out what sorts of things we need in a partner and then only spend our time and energy on those who fit the criteria.  Often a person who is good to date is not good to marry and being aware of what we need in a domestic partner and being willing to push to find those things avoids that problem to some extent.

It is hard to get away from the feelings rush of new love and see a person's flaws.  Even though it is hard it is an important thing to do.  Setting out ahead of time to find the sort of person that complements yourself in terms of style and goals is a good way to help give yourself the best possible chance to find the right partner.

Then Penelope goes off the rails and talks about how women ought to find a man who makes more money than them because men who make less money tend to cheat.  That's right folks, some study somewhere found a correlation between those things so women should all chase high earning men.  This is disturbing from a feminist point of view but also ignores the fact that we don't understand the nature of the correlation between earnings and cheating.  Just because those two things have a link doesn't mean you can avoid it by only dating men who make more than you, that isn't how it works!  Penelope often says things that are extremely sexist (old-fashioned, if you want to be charitable...) and tries to get away with it by claiming she is just going by the data.  Unfortunately correlation does not equal causation and that excuse holds no water.

She follows it up with advice to not be too feminine (because he will think you are fling material, not wife material) and to deny sex as a bargaining chip.  I can't quite wrap my mind around the sort of relationship Penelope thinks people want, but I am pretty sure that turning doing fun things with your partner into a power struggle *deliberately* isn't a recipe for a happy life.  Romantic relationships are not the same as business contracts and desperately manipulating your partner into doing what you want by refusing intimacy isn't a success strategy, it is an exit strategy.

Thinking about who your domestic partner(s) should be and being careful to select people that will actually improve your life and work with you long term is a great plan.  Doing it by signing on for awful and sexist ways of relating to your partner, not so much.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Girl stuff, Boy stuff

I was in ToysRUs yesterday and overheard a conversation that made me sad.  A man was escorting his small daughter around the store and they were being guided by a salesperson.  The salesperson walked them up to the Lego aisle and pointed at the small chunk of it devoted to the Lego Friends brand and said "This is the girl Lego section" then pointed at the vast remainder of the Lego and said "And this is the boy Lego."

Really?  Girls get a couple pieces devoted to magical hair salons and boys get all the superhero stuff, all the houses, all the helicopters, all the pirates, all the castles, and all the spaceships?  

It just blew my mind for two reasons.  First off, designating everything that isn't explicitly marketed to girls as being for boys seems like an awful message to send and it doesn't even seem like a good approach from a moneymaking perspective.  I don't like overt sexism in marketing but at least I can understand it when it seems like there is a financial incentive but taking a toy that so easily can be gender neutral like Lego and pointlessly subdividing it strikes me as counterproductive.  Greed, I understand.  Even if I don't like it, I understand.  But pointless gendering of toys for no reason at all?  Argh.

It reminded me of the most egregious example of this sort of thing I have seen - the gendering of washrooms at Tim Hortons.  I remember watching five women stand in line to get into the women's washroom when the men's stood there empty and just raging at the idiocy of it all.  Both washrooms were single occupancy, neither had a urinal.  They had a gender slapped on them just because the designer was a sociopath, I guess?  Again this isn't even good for Tim Hortons because it inconveniences customers and that isn't good business.  It is good for no one, makes life easier for no one, and contributes to this ridiculous idea that everything has to be divided into two genders.

Objects do not have to be male or female.  Just like, you know, people.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Two Minds, One Conflict

I have a weird way of fighting with people.  Fighting, in this sense, is not the fists and knees sort but rather that which is waged with words.  I suspect I fight physically very much like other people with no training and modest physical strength - lots of flailing, not much damage dealt.  When fighting emotionally my style is hugely influenced by having two personalities that take radically different tacks.  Passion, true to his name, gets excited immediately and wants to tell everyone else they are wrong, stupid, evil, and due to play on train tracks while on fire.  The Director will not allow this though and clamps down extraordinarily hard to prevent Passion from making a giant mess of things.  The result is that I go far colder and more distant than normal rather than heating up unlike most of the population.

What ends up happening is that I spend all my time dealing with the intense disagreement between my two sides.  The Director wins virtually all of the time but at the cost of withdrawal is substantial and it forces me to retreat into myself, directing my energy inward to maintain control.  Passion is also true to form in that he does not stay angry long and after a little while the conflict ends so I can begin to address the issue in a reasonable manner.  If I attempt to engage with an argument while Passion is still inflamed I am likely to make other people upset and angry and make my life a lot harder than it needs to be.  It is essentially as though I refuse to fight, which explains why I have had so few fights in my life.

The tricky thing is that I actually need to be away from the source of conflict in order to be able to talk myself down from the ledge.  Each time a new thing comes up Passion reignites and I am unable to be useful for an extended period while I wrestle for control with myself.  This is one of the reasons that parenting has been so challenging for me - I can't just take the time to walk away when I need it.  When Elli does things that enrage me I am unable to get out of the situation so I stand there pouring all my energy into keeping Passion out of the driver's seat rather than using it to deal with the problem at hand.  This means that parenting is incredibly exhausting because I am not just fighting with my kid... I am fighting with myself as well.

The worst kind of fighting is the kind where I can't be sure if I am in the right or not.  While usually it is a good idea to be calm and conciliatory I don't actually want to let myself get trampled on.  Sometimes the battle for control is extra difficult because The Director isn't even sure he *should* be in charge.  Maybe it would be better to let Passion just tell everyone where they can shove it.  It would certainly be cathartic and definitely would keep me from being a doormat but it would presumably create lots of other problems too.  When I am sure I have done wrong the battle for control is easy to win but when I am sure people are pushing me unfairly it becomes a disaster.

When I watch other people's relationships they rarely make any sense to me.  When I see people fighting I can't help but ponder how they are still together at all.  I get that for most people one yelling match isn't the end but for me if I actually get pushed to the point that I am screaming at my partner the idea that we will still be in a relationship afterwards seems ludicrous.  If I get to the point where The Director actually thinks "Well, I can't keep Passion in check anymore, so *you* deal with him." then it seems like it has to be over.

Also if anyone pushes me to the point that Passion is in control and raging at them I doubt very much they will want to be in a relationship with me afterwards.  That interaction is not going to be polite.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Let us eat cake

Val and I celebrated our 1 year anniversary this week.  Not that we went out and made a giant splash of it or anything, just lunch at the same place we met for delicious sushi (Green Dragon rolls are the best thing ever, for the record) and cake.  I baked the cake, which is unusual for me because I find cakes fussy compared to cookies and they don't keep as well.  Cookie bars baked in a big pan are my usual treat but I decided they weren't quite up to the task this time.

The trouble with making a thing you aren't used to making is that you often make it badly.  I got the cake itself and the basic chocolate icing down just fine but the blue icing for the writing was a disaster.  It was far too runny and the letters kept oozing all over the place, smearing the words and running down the side of the cake.  I spent a good long while scooping up icing, trying to re-ice the areas that had grown sparse, watching that icing wander away, and cursing the universe roundly.

I should have been cursing my own incompetence, or perhaps my rushed "Bah, the icing will be fine!" but cursing the universe is generally easier on the ego.  The result was unspectacular in appearance but thankfully the taste was all that I had hoped.

Anniversaries have the potential to be really weird in poly relationships.  I am sure for a lot of people they end up being flashpoints for jealousy especially when a new relationship ends up having a much bigger celebration than an existing one ever did.  This disparity in celebration fervour happened to me because I have never made any kind of fuss about my anniversaries with Wendy.  Rather I have generally been actively disdainful of the very concept.  Val seemed more interested in our anniversary than Wendy ever did though and for some reason I was too.  Not because this one year relationship is more important than my marriage, but somehow this day just felt like something I wanted to celebrate.  It was an inexplicable and unexpected kind of desire but I could not deny that it was there.

There is also the thing that Wendy is going to appreciate me making her a pizza supper far more than a cake but pizza suppers don't do well when decorated with anniversary messages written in blue icing.  I mean, I assume they don't, because I haven't tried.

Now that I think about it I should really make a pizza with icing on it sometime to test.  How I would make that happen without the icing being a melted puddle is an engineering problem I have no idea how to solve though.

Thing is, in any case where it might seem like a jealous reaction might occur there is one thing to keep in mind:  Relationships are all different and you can't compare them piece by piece.  Some of them include living together, some don't, some have sex, some don't, some have mud wrestling, some don't, some include cakes, some don't.  Picking any one axis to focus on is missing the forest for the trees.  Trying to maintain some kind of constant ratio in all the facets of a two relationships is impossible, not to mention unpleasant, though I suppose it might be good for some humorous moments.  (Okay, so, you and I get 78% of a cake for each cake I have with her, so let's make a cake and toss 22% of it out so everything stays in alignment!)

In any case making the cake was a good learning experience and it is yummy so I am happy.

Monday, February 9, 2015


I found a remarkable and hilarious bit on Fox News. President Obama talked about how there was religiously motivated violence in all religions and that we all had best keep in mind that it isn't just those others that do bad things - those that share a religion with us can also commit atrocities. True, that. The Fox News rebuttal included the following gem:

“Reports say radical Muslim jihadists killed thousands of people in the past few months alone. And yet when you take Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, whatever, their combined killings in the name of religion––well, that would be zero.”

The level of idiocy here is right off the scale. Here is the thing: If you want to do a segment about how climate change is a big lie at least you will have a bunch of credible people agreeing with you. If you do a Google search on climate change you will have reasonable sounding people and lunatics on both sides. While the deniers are wrong one could be excused for not realizing that given only a small amount of research. Thinking that no religion but Muslims commit religious atrocities though, that requires a steadfast refusal to do any research at all. This guy not only avoided actual knowledge, but didn't even do a cursory Google search on "Religious violence by Christians / Hindus / Buddhists / Jews."

Google searches shouldn't be the end of your journalistic enquiries when going on national television to lambast the President of the United States for his statements. But geez you really ought to do *at least* a Google search to see if you are going to look like a monumental idiot. Because this guy didn't do even that he certainly managed to look like said idiot. Maybe had he argued that Muslims kill more people he would have had a leg to stand on because at least that depends on definitions. But arguing that nobody else kills anyone? It leaves me breathless, in awe of the combination of bigotry and incompetence that is on display.

But this is the sort of person that voters listen to.  May The Flying Spaghetti Monster have noodly mercy on us all.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Two Minds, One Limit

Having two distinct personalities leads me to interact with people in some odd ways.  This is especially true when those interactions revolve around sex because both The Director and Passion are extremely interested in the topic, though for very different reasons.  Passion wants to grab, kiss, strip, touch, and go absolutely wild.  He does not want to slow down, have limits, or wait.  The Director is completely different in that he is concerned largely with not doing anything that the other person would find unpleasant.  He is completely consumed with not messing something up.  The trick here is that either mode can be fine but I have to be in one or the other or things get difficult.

For example, when I was dating right after university I had a series of experiences where I needed to negotiate exactly what was going to happen when I ended up getting intimate with someone.  I was always happy to have sex with them right away but they were not necessarily on board with that plan so I always ended up having a conversation along the lines of "Well, I want to have sex, and if you don't want to do that right now no problem.  What would you like to do, or do you have a limit of things you don't want to do that you can tell me?"  Usually the response would be something along the lines of "Well, let's keep our pants on but otherwise do whatever you like."  That inevitably led to us have shirtless makeouts for a long time until my partner realized that I was never, ever going to push past their stated limit without an explicit instruction to do so.  Once that confidence was established they always decided to rip my pants off.... so I certainly would characterize it as a good strategy for all involved.

The thing is when I was operating with a strict limit I was always The Director.  I needed absolute control and that is how I could get it.  More than that though, Passion didn't even want to be in charge in that situation because he couldn't just go for it.  There was no internal conflict and things were fun.  Once that limit was removed it was easy to put Passion in the driver's seat and just do what came naturally.  People often found it odd that I would so explicitly ask for their limits and it was consistently surprising to them that I never attempted to push those boundaries once they were stated.  Though I didn't recognize it at the time this was obviously my way of dealing with my two distinct states.  Having a clear boundary is fine, having no boundary is fine, but having a nebulous, unstated boundary was a big problem.

When boundaries were unclear I had the issue that my brain was in conflict.  Passion desperately wanted to get it on and had no clear directive not to and The Director was worried about doing something that would upset my partner.  This is an uncomfortable situation for me now, and it certainly was the same thing then.  When I know what I want but I can't figure out what my partner wants I am wracked with uncertainty as my two halves fight for control.  The inevitable result is The Director is in charge but I feel upset and confused, torn between two worlds.  I think most people want their partner to give a particular answer but that isn't the case with me - I just want an answer, any answer, to keep that conflict and struggle at bay.  Sex is okay, snuggling is okay, so long as I know exactly where I stand.

Of course this is a difficult thing because people don't always *know* what they want.  The average person goes into a kiss, snuggle, makeout, etc. without a clear idea of how they want it to turn out much of the time so even if they want to communicate effectively they often don't know what they want their partner to know.  For me that that doesn't often come up because I am almost always the one who wants sex more - if my partner is considering it, I am almost certainly in.  So while it definitely makes it easier on me if my partner can give me precise directions about what they want I can't reasonably expect that that will happen all the time.

What fascinates me the most about all this is that although I didn't understand why exactly ambiguity was so difficult for me in the past I found a way to work around it anyway.  It wasn't clear why not knowing was so easy for other people and so hard for me but I tried to arrange things so they made me happy regardless.  Now that I know what is going on it isn't actually any easier.  I know that the unsettled state comes from not knowing which personality should be driving but I don't have any magic answers.  Sometimes you can't get concrete statements from people and you just have to learn to live with that.

It feels bizarre to say that my issue is that I need another person's input to figure out which me I should be - but that is a pretty good summary of my situation.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Frying up God

Stephen Fry recently had an interview where he was asked what he would say to God should Fry die and end up at the pearly gates.  The first thing Fry said is "I'd say, bone cancer in children?  What's that about?" and then went on to talk about how God is evil and bad and just the worst.  He lambasted God as homophobic, mysoginistic, racist, and awful in nearly every way.  The interviewer seemed quite taken aback by the rant and the public, particularly the church going types, have been in a bit of an uproar.  My reaction was more along the lines of "Yeah, obviously.  This isn't new...."

Let us say from the outset that this is about the God of the Bible.  If your version of God is some kind of benevolent creator that sits outside the universe and just started things off 14 billion years ago that is all fine and well but that God isn't turning back gay people at the pearly gates.  Nor, one would assume, would such a creature have anything to do with pearly gates and the associated heaven and hell dichotomy at all.  No, we are talking here about the God that tossed tens of thousands of Jews into holes in the earth to punish them for not doing what he said, who casually watched Job's family be murdered to win a bet, who thought that giving Job a new family made it all cool, and who mind controlled the Pharaoh to keep the Jews in Egypt so God would have an excuse to massacre Egyptians for fun.

There aren't enough bad words in all the languages we have for such a being.

But seriously how is this a surprise?  Atheists are just all about not believing in God.  We have been all about the idea that the God we are so often asked to believe in is wrong, evil, and unacceptable as long as atheism has been a thing.  This goes back roughly forever, probably to the first time somebody tried to convert people to a religion with the "Join me or be tortured to death" line.  If your plan is to torture as much of the world to death as you can I don't think much of the supposedly divine being behind that.

Atheism isn't just about truth.  It isn't all about provable facts, though facts are important.  It is also about a moral code that not only isn't drawn from religious texts, but also deems those texts to be morally repugnant.  If that is God, even if he does exist, then fuck that guy.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Budgeting for revenge

The Conservatives here in Canada are looking at putting through some new legislation that is disastrous both in intent and effect.  The basic idea of the new laws is to keep murderers in jail forever and deny them parole.  Ostensibly this is about public safety but as we all know when governments pass new laws in the name of public safety the real reason is usually much more sinister.  In this case it mostly boils down to revenge, which makes a great reason for action in a movie but it makes for lousy public policy.

Right now in Canada if a murderer is deemed a serious danger to the public they can be kept in prison indefinitely.  The real lunatics who will definitely re-offend simply never get out of jail under the current system.  This new system removes any possibility of redemption, change, remorse, or rehabilitation and goes straight for bloody vengeance.  There are people that need to stay imprisoned forever, and there are other people that truly regret what they have done and can be released back into society on parole.  That possibility of release gives them a reason to try to reform, saves the system $100,000 a year, and recognizes that people do change.

Parties that push law and order agendas love minimum sentencing rules.  It fills out their 'tough on crime' agenda but unfortunately it means that people who actually look at individual cases have very little leeway to take circumstances into account.  There genuinely are huge differences between various convictions for the same crime and the legal system works best when we recognize that.  Governments stepping in to try to micromanage sentencing may please the right wing base but it does nothing to stop crime.

There is no reason to make this change.  Adding a line to the federal budget "Revenge:  $87M" is not appropriate or reasonable in any way.  Keeping people who have reformed or changed in prison for life is not justice.  Altering the justice system just for political posturing is disgusting.  Even if this change were free it would be wrong, and it is going to divert huge amounts of money towards extravagant punishments that accomplish nothing.  We could do so much good with the money we waste putting people in boxes.

A second issue I have with this legislation is the way it singles out people who kill cops or prison guards for extra punishment.  Anyone who kills a police officer or guard who is on duty faces mandatory life in prison without parole.  Why is it exactly that police officers' lives are more valuable than others?  This isn't going to serve as a deterrent to attacking police, because when considering killing a person nobody makes a rational distinction between 25 years behind bars and 50 years.  All this does is establish that we care more when a cop dies than when a civilian dies.  Why?  Their job is dangerous, yes, but less dangerous than a construction worker or fisherman, and this does nothing whatsoever to protect them.  All it does is make it clear that the government believes that law enforcement should consider themselves more valuable than the rest of us - an attitude that we already have far too much of.

At this point we should all recognize that tough on crime doesn't mean that a politician will actually reduce crime.  We know what reduces crime and it isn't about being tough.  Tough on crime means spending enormous sums of money to get revenge.  It is about time we acknowledged that and called all of these awful tough on crime policies to account for the damage they do and the awful costs they incur in doing so.