Thursday, June 30, 2016

Standing oddly

My workout routine has given me a lot of things to think about.  One of those things is "Holy crap it is hard to get six pack abs."  Seriously!  I started off doing three sets of crunches, 20 per set.  Now I am up to 120 crunches per set, and I can feel the difference.  My stomach is so much stronger, and when I poke myself I can feel the muscle underneath, shaped exactly like a superhero six pack.  Those muscles are there.

But on the surface?  Nothing.  No change.  My body doesn't bulk up easily in any case, but apparently six pack abs are a pipe dream for me.  Now I have to figure out if I was doing all those crunches for core strength or just vanity, because if it is just vanity it was for no gain.

The other thing that is weird is how people react to me being stronger.  I don't look much different (adding 10 pounds of muscle on a 175 pound frame is a little noticeable when I am naked, but not much of a thing when clothed) but sometimes people figure out the differences and then everything becomes odd.

I was up at the cottage and people were talking about what to do with a really big rock that was sitting near the dock, somewhat in the way.  Apparently my brother in law and father in law had tried together to move it and couldn't budge it, so people were tossing around ideas for what could be done.

Of course I suggested that I could just move the rock myself, and people laughed and told me it was impossible.

Naturally this meant that I would push myself to the point of injury to move the bloody thing.

I got a good look at the rock, and upon closer inspection I was pretty sure I could not move it.  At the time I took a rough stab that it weighed 700 pounds, but honestly I don't know.  I couldn't wrap my arms around it, not even close, so I jumped into the water, grabbed the rock, and put Passion in charge.

I think this must be a weird experience for other people.  Passion, when trying to do something physical, is perfectly happy to grunt, groan, scream, and howl.  This seems to help, but I think it is quite at odds with my normal Director behaviour.

I am about 80% stronger than I was before my workouts started, so it is entirely plausible that I am stronger than brother and father in law, but I also have the advantage that I am only one person so I don't have somebody else to get in my way.  However, the rock was at the absolute edge of my capabilities, and I could feel my whole body straining and creaking with the load.  Over the course of a couple of minutes I managed to roll the rock over four times and get it to an appropriate resting place.

It felt wonderful.  I was filled to the brim with adrenaline, tingling from top to bottom.  My body hurt, but it hurt so good.  My arms were bruised and cut but all I could feel was victory.  The thrill of overcoming a challenge just poised at the edge of possible is wonderful, doubly so when surrounded by people who five minutes ago were assuring me it was beyond my capabilities.

For the next day my lower back and right shoulder were a bit sore and my arms are pretty nearly healed now, but otherwise there were no casualties.  However, minor injuries were not the interesting result.  The neat thing was how different people were around me.

It was generally really small, tiny differences in stance or attitude.  Something that an outside observer would never notice, because it required a lot of experience to realize.  People were acting differently based on the fact that I am stronger than before.  They stood next to me in ways that were shifted, somehow.  They spoke to me in phrases that just had something tiny different in them, but not so much different that I could articulate it.  That change in perception altered all of the ways that I relate to people, and did it in a way that is barely detectable... but definitely exists.  I only noticed the difference after people saw me move the rock, so I don't think it is attributable to me acting in a new way, it seems it really is just other people changing their models of who I am.

I think this is a major blind spot for me.  I haven't changed much in my life.  My mode of dress, presentation, size, and other basic factors have remained the same by and large.  Compared to many people I am static, both physically and otherwise, so I wouldn't be exposed to sudden shifts in the way I am viewed or treated very often.  People who have gone through much greater changes like, for example, coming out as gay or transitioning in terms of gender would have a grasp of this that I lack completely.

In theory I might have been treated differently when I came out as polyamorous, but since I had been out to many people in my life before the official coming out day on this blog it is a hard thing to measure.  My relatives might well have treated me slightly differently, but if you only see someone once every couple of years you can't detect such a shift unless it is blatant, and it never was.

I suppose I have seen this in one very stark way - going barefoot.  That is an easily changed thing, but definitely shifted people's reactions radically from polite indifference to overt hostility in only moments.

This all shouldn't surprise me - I change who I am slightly, and others react in minor but noticeable ways.  It was an unusual thing in my life though, and it gave me a peek into how challenging it must be to make changes that radically alter how other people see and treat you.

It does make me wonder how these differences would play out based on obvious and not obvious strength.  If I had huge arms would it matter more?  Are the greatest differences associated with the appearance of strength, or the actual application?  I wish I knew.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Our heroes

I have a problem with heroes sometimes.  Last week I watched Fast and Furious 6, and while I got the ridiculous driving and fighting scenes I expected, I also got a taste of heroism that left me troubled.  Part of the film involves the villain getting captured right after he murders 100 or so random people.  Then he reveals that his henchmen have captured the hero's sister, so the hero insists that the villain be set free, and given a terrible weapon that could kill millions.

Of course in the movie the villain drives away, is intercepted by the heroes, and eventually dies, saving the damsel in distress.  During the escape one of the heroes perishes, and so do ten or so other people.

To me this is the opposite of heroism.  The movie is fluff, but it tries to place the hero's devotion to his family as a good thing, and him as a rogue with a heart of gold.  To me heroic actions are not ones where the hero causes mass carnage to all kinds of random people to save one person the hero cares about - that is just being self centred.  Letting a mass murderer loose with a terrifying weapon so you can chase them down personally makes you part of the problem, not part of the solution.  A real hero puts themselves at risk to save others, rather than putting others at risk to save themselves.

Sure, Fast and Furious movies are hardly real life.  But they do speak to how people think, and the way that they portray heroes is disturbing when I think of things like the gun control debate that rages right now, and which reignites after every mass shooting event.

People make it clear that they want guns, and they want to have them so that they personally can defend their loved ones.  They aren't concerned with the fact that having a gun makes them far more likely to die, and that their loved ones are in much more danger with a gun around.  They aren't concerned about the collateral damage and the risk.  They just want to be the hero with the gun.

We would be far better served by heroes who accept that they shouldn't be the ones pulling the trigger.  By heroes who place the lives of other faceless people above their own when the risk to those other people is much greater.

Self sacrifice is heroic.  Sacrificing others is not.  I wish the heroes we got to see on the big screen and elsewhere more clearly followed that ideal.

Friday, June 24, 2016

From empire to isolation

Britain is on its way out of the EU.  It is going to be a mess, and definitely terrible for the Brits.  People are making much of the economic consequences of this result, but I think it is far more important as a bellwether of human attitudes than as an economic decision.  Yes, important financial institutions will move to continental Europe, away from London.  This is bad for Britain, but good for the rest of the EU.  Trade agreements will have to be negotiated, but that isn't necessarily bad or good.  Generally though while it is a terrible move for Britain, many of their losses will be other people's gains, economically speaking.

But as a measure of how people think the result is a disaster.  People didn't vote to leave because of a rational examination of the economic benefits or lack thereof of EU membership.  They voted because they are racist, and more than willing to blame all of their problems on other people, particularly other people that aren't white.  The Leave faction was based around arguments against immigration and which relied on nationalist sentiments that have no room for outsiders.  This wasn't about money, it was about hate.  Do you hate other people?  Racist to the core?  Vote to Leave, so we can put up a legal wall to keep those people out!

And the problem is that this set an example for other groups based around xenophobia and rabid nationalism and gave them the sense that they too should push for isolationist policies that demonize the other.  Other countries' nationalist parties have leaped to the opportunity, shouting that they too want a chance to throw caution to the wind in pursuit of divisive hatred.

Trump must be rubbing his hands with glee, noting the surge in people talking just like he does.  Most of them haven't pinned their hopes on one gigantic, pointless, physical wall, but the far right parties in many other countries have rhetoric just the same as his.  This shows just how far these people are willing to go to support their prejudices - they are willing to suffer greatly just to try to stick it to others.  Trump may be the most egregious example out there, but he is far from alone.

There is one ray of hope though, and that is the collapse of Britain.  I generally don't hope for groups to suffer even when they do make stupid decisions, but I think that this might actually be for the best in the long run.  If Northern Ireland and Scotland both secede from Britain and rejoin the EU, it will show people just how messy it can be when you do something like this.  If Britain suffers through dramatic economic turmoil, sees their currency go through disaster, and has no end of problems, other countries may hesitate to pull the same trigger.  It may be that Britain's disaster will show people how much of a problem it can be to desperately isolate yourself from the world, and that might prevent other nations from voting for the same sort of thing.

What I really want is for people in other countries to realize that actions like this come at a cost.  When their nationalist party leaders push for independence, isolation, and expulsion of immigrants, I want everyone to think of how Britain went straight down the toilet when they did that.  I want them to imagine the ruination that such actions bring.  Having that dramatic example might prevent much greater disruption down the road.  It was easy to lie to people in Britain about what would happen when they voted to Leave, but it will be much harder in other places if there is a concrete example of how bad it is when that happens.

I don't want Britons to suffer.  But I do think they will, and I hope it is immediate and obvious enough that it acts as a deterrent to other groups that will inevitably try the same thing.  There is nothing inherently right or righteous about being in the EU or any other political entity, so I don't have a horse in any of those races.  But I do hate the thought of countries making such decisions just because they hate people who look different and blame those people for all of their problems.

You fucked up real good Britain.  But hopefully the price you pay for your foolishness will help others.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Death, but not suffering

Canada has finally passed legislation to allow people to receive medical aid to end their lives.  It is about time.  Medically assisted dying is something we ought to have allowed a long time ago, as there is no goodness in making people suffer just to continue life.

Unfortunately it isn't quite the bill I was hoping for.  It allows people who are terminally ill to end their lives, which is good, but it doesn't allow people who are suffering but not likely to die the same option.  It is really important that we don't write off people who are sick, and work hard to give them opportunities to contribute and lead happy lives, but sometimes that isn't an option.  Sometimes people end up in places where their suffering is so great that they would rather not live, and there should be a legal way for them to do that.

I don't know why exactly the government was so intent on this particular implementation.  They pushed their version where only those people who will soon die can access medically assisted dying, despite opposition from the Senate as well as plenty of other sources interested in the outcome.  My guess is that the Liberals are trying to play the centre - appeasing the right who don't want people to have physician assisted dying, but also appeasing the left who do.  Cutting out people who are suffering but not in danger of dying is the middle ground.  I think it is a cowardly act, politically calculated, and not what people need.

We do need protections for the vulnerable, but there are plenty of protections in place.  We don't need to outlaw something entirely just to reduce risk to zero - you make the best safety rules you can and then you move forward.

So I am happy that this has happened, but I wish it happened properly.  It doesn't give me a lot of hope for legalization of marijuana, unfortunately, because I suspect that the Liberals will do the same thing and run down the middle.  Instead of just low level regulation they will probably end up with a mess of rules that make it too expensive or too difficult to get pot for most people and it won't actually end the war on pot, wasting endless time and money.

I had greater hopes for the Liberals.  Perhaps they can yet prove me wrong, but I am not overly optimistic.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Precise demands

The shooting in Orlando is a tragedy for so many reasons.  First off, there is the direct disaster of losing 49 people.  Then there are all the secondary problems, like the Latino and queer communities feeling terrified, unsafe, and hated after they were targeted by this attack.  It is a sad thing, but if you want to read about emotional responses to it you shouldn't be listening to me - there are a lot of people directly or indirectly affected who have lots of things to say.

I do have things to say about some of the fallout of these sorts of events.  There are always long discussions about guns, and specifically banning guns.  I get that people are angry about gun laws (on both sides) but when we talk about these things we need to separate feelings and policy.

Being angry at people who own big guns like the one used in the Orlando massacre is expected.  Wanting to get rid of those guns is normal, and useful in my opinion.  However, when we talk about how to do that we should be careful and precise about what we say so that our outrage has a real chance of accomplishing something.

Saying that we should ban 'assault weapons' is not useful.  As the linked article says, there isn't a definition of assault weapons.  Banning the specific model of gun used in the attack is equally ridiculous.  One problem with these debates is that people get fired up advocating for things that are vague enough to be totally impossible to implement, and that is an impediment to getting it done.

Banning all firearms?  Not likely, but at least specific.  Banning all weapons capable of firing more than 8 rounds before reloading?  Again, decently specific, though unlikely.  The trick is that we need to figure out what we actually want before we have debates about implementation.

The main thing in my mind is to separate emotional reactions from action items.  Hating big, rapid firing guns in the hands of civilians?  Yup, totally on board with that.  But that is a feeling, not a policy.  Totally worth having, worth sharing, but let's not have arguments about the specifics until we actually have specifics.  Far too often I see these debates get bogged down in people yelling about banning assault weapons and then other people yelling about how assault weapons aren't defined and them getting called gun nuts and things go absolutely nowhere useful.

You can see this problem in other situations too.  When the Liberal government was elected here last year they promised marijuana legalization.  Which is good, but there are all kinds of ways that could be done.  They could have a government monopoly on pot, sell it only at a few locations, raise the price to ludicrous levels, and still prosecute people getting pot other ways.  This would be a really crappy solution because most people would get their pot cheaply and illegally and we would have nearly as many problems as now.  On the other end of the spectrum they could just remove all restrictions whatsoever on pot, which is a really different situation entirely.  Personally I am hoping that they restrict pot sales to people 19 and over and require informative packaging but otherwise don't worry about it - much like tobacco is now.

Just as the two extreme cases of pot legalization are completely different, there are many gun restrictions that are completely different, and they have vastly different outcomes.

If we want changes to our system, it pays to be precise, to know what our terms mean, and to advocate for policies that might actually get passed and which will do the thing we want.  Our discussions will be more productive and those that might pass laws will be a lot more willing to take our positions seriously if we have put time and thought into them, whichever side they are on.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Everything is fine

A short time ago there was a murder within a few meters of my building.  In fact Elli and I wandered right past the site of it afterwards, noting the police cars but not otherwise being bothered.  Only afterwards did we find out that it wasn't the usual thing where the cops are hassling (or helping) some homeless person in an alley, but rather someone with known ties to organized crime being shot many times through a car window.

My part of town isn't exactly a crime ridden one, so this was unusual to say the least.  However, I saw no reason to react to it since it was obviously a wild outlier and nobody reasonable could assume that I was less safe just because this happened.  Just one more reason to avoid involvement in organized crime, as far as I am concerned.

But other people decided that action needs to be taken.  At our parent council meeting last night there were parent concerns brought forward about security, such as requests for more cameras, buzzer/intercom systems, and other security to attempt to make the school safer.

This sort of thing makes my blood boil.  For one, the incident had *nothing* to do with the school.  Unless the kids are players in the cocaine smuggling market or maybe importing illegal handguns then there is nothing at all to suggest that the school should be concerned.  Moreover one incident, while it does get people excited, it not at all useful for deciding on policy.  You don't wait until something local happens to figure out how to run a school, you decide based on large scale data.  Nothing has changed!

More than that though it bothers me to see security theatre that is utterly pointless.  Intercom systems that buzz in absolutely anybody aren't useful.  Do dangerous or violent people get turned away?  If not, then all you are doing is annoying people.  Slapping more locks on doors that consist of a single pane of glass makes things more frustrating for the people who want to be there, and does nothing to stop someone intent on violence.  If someone really wants to hurt people they will just smash the glass, or even wander into the school yard during recess and open fire on the entire school population... who can't escape *because the doors are locked*.

People even tried to sell more security on the grounds that things are more dangerous these days.  Which they aren't.  Violent crime is down, way down, and we are safer than ever.  Just because you can't avoid hearing about violence on social media is no reason to assume that there is actually more of it, particularly because there isn't.

I get it that other people aren't like me.  They hear about violence, they get scared, they want reassurance.  But we shouldn't suddenly expect everyone to start throwing away money and sacrificing time and freedom just to salve frayed nerves.  "I feel scared" is totally legit.  "I feel scared so big changes need to be made, even if they made no sense" is not.

If someone decides to attack children at school there is nothing useful we can do to stop them.


We can try to teach people empathy, we can try to treat people who have issues that might make them dangerous, and we can try to otherwise create a society where attacks against children are unthinkable, but no amount of physical security can work when we know that lots of random people need to be able to get to the children all the time.  Parents need to get in, deliveries need to be made, teachers and other staff have to be able to move about.  We simply can't build a wall that keeps out the bad people while leaving the good ones able to actually do their jobs and live their lives.

I ranted a bit about this at the meeting, trying to convince people that this was not a useful line of discussion.  For one, parent council isn't responsible for security, and we aren't the ones who can make the decisions.  For two, suddenly changing course on the basis of a frightening but totally unrelated event is terrible decision making.  Unfortunately I suspect I pissed people off but I doubt I changed a lot of minds.  If I was politically astute I probably would have insisted that somebody should do something about this, referred it to a committee, and quietly buried it in a month when everyone forgot about the original incident.

I am not interested in being political though, so I told everyone that kids are safer now than ever before, our current security measures are worse than useless, and the proposed increased measures would be more of the same.

This, I am sure, will not make me popular.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Not good

I went to see the Warcraft movie.  It was not good.

On the other hand, I had a lot of fun.

This should surprise no one, really.  The movie was a CGI explosion, full of people riding gryphons and orcs and magic spells.  It was chock full of all kinds of references to Warcraft that I enjoyed greatly.  Also the reviews were absolutely awful.  All that adds up to a movie that hardcore Warcraft nerds like me will enjoy, and most normal people will find ridiculous.

It couldn't have been otherwise, really.  A movie trying to tell a story with a bazillion named characters that is way too long for normal movie length isn't going to work.  They could have told the whole story and had it feel rushed and ridiculous, and that would have angered the Warcraft nerds who actually wanted to see all the stuff.  Instead they chopped it down and only told a small chunk of the story, which left the ending feeling arbitrary and unfulfilling.

So if you are considering going to see the movie, consider this:

If you will mark out for people riding through Elwynn Forest and hearing this in the background

then you should probably go see Warcraft.

If you remember fighting Moroes in Karazhan, especially if you tried it with 3 Dwarves, 2 frost mages, and 2 paladins, (which kinda trivializes Moroes) then you should go see Warcraft.

If you are a normal person and don't know what the hell those last two sentences mean, you should probably give it a pass.  It is a badly written, nonsensical movie with really good CGI and epic scenes of magic and mayhem.  There are lots of movies out there these days that have all the CGI and far less of the awful.

Also, as a side note that probably deserves it own post, can somebody tell directors of movies that not everyone in a fantasy movie needs to be a white guy?  I get that they are working from established lore, but come on.  This isn't feudal England, we are talking about a world with fireballs and murlocs and fel magic.  Add a bit more diversity to the movie, even if it does drive some of the grognards to frenzies of anger.  The future will thank you.

Monday, June 6, 2016

In all of us command

O Canada is due for a change.  Thankfully the government is considering a bill that will change O Canada to something a little more inclusive by getting rid of the 'all our sons' wording in favour of something that actually references all the residents of the country.  It is only a partial measure though, as the song still contains an explicit reference to God and I would greatly appreciate that getting the axe at the same time.  There are many religions in Canada, and plenty of people who are not religious, so overt calls to one specific deity isn't appropriate.

Sadly the population isn't quite as behind this change as I am.  People don't like it (check the comments), and they object in predictable ways.  The one that really frustrates me is a standard fallacy and it goes something like this:  The world has serious problems, so we shouldn't try and fix this problem.

It is true that Canada has economic difficulties.  It is true that we have a longstanding set of issues surrounding natives that need work.  It is true that we need the government to end the war on drugs and decriminalize sex work all all kinds of other things.

But none of that means that we should ignore small problems with easy fixes.  This isn't going to take up enormous amounts of government resources.  It won't cost a lot of money.  It will be a simple bill to change a simple thing in a song.  The cost of making this change is tiny, but it will send an important message:  The government of Canada believes in treating women as equal to men.  That is a message worth sending.

The problem with this fallacy is that if you accept its logic then there is only one thing worth working on - the greatest of all possible problems.  All others should be ignored.  This is of course ridiculous because we can't solve our greatest problem (even if we could agree on what it is) by throwing all of our resources and time at it.  There are diminishing returns on these things, and you can only do so much on a specific problem in a given time period.

If you find yourself saying that a problem shouldn't be fixed because there are other more serious problems at hand, you should always ask yourself if you have another real objection.  If all you have is this fallacious argument, it probably means that your real argument is "this change makes me feel uncomfortable" but you are unwilling to say that and instead resort to nonsense instead.

It is okay to say "this change makes me feel uncomfortable" but that isn't a good policy argument.  Change can be hard, and it can make you feel like you are being attacked, that things you have enjoyed or taken pride in are being sullied, but that doesn't mean that those changes shouldn't be made.  If we are to argue against a change we should be honest when our only objections lie along these lines, and we should avoid the meaningless "but there are other important things too" arguments.

Let's fix O Canada.  If all we can manage at this point is to fix the overt sexism in it, that is at least a good start, but I do hope we can repair it further in the near future to ditch the religious reference too.  It won't make the nationalism attached to an anthem palatable to me, but at least the song itself will be free of obvious bigotry, and that is something.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My land

My brother linked me to an article about private land ownership that I really like.  One of the things I usually find when I read things on this topic is a bunch of silliness, either pie in the sky dreams or revolutionary nonsense.  There is, to my mind, a way to thread the needle between communist dreams and toeing the capitalist line where you can both look beyond the current standards and remain realistic about change.  It isn't much use to talk about how we should just eliminate private property without any sort of plan for what happens afterwards - it won't happen, and if it did it would be catastrophic.  However, we don't want to get stuck in the mindset that everything we do now is the only way, because clearly we could organize ourselves differently.

A lot of the things we currently do with land are ineffective.  Landlords are allowed to have valuable property sit vacant, preventing it from being used by someone.  There is value in ownership of things, but with a highly limited resource like land there is no value to society in letting the rich decide to leave it useless and/or unused.  As an example, we could set up our society so that vacant land can be taken over for growing food, and use tax relief for the landlord as an incentive.

In general I think there is a lot of value in forcing people to recognize that blind assumptions need not necessarily be true.  Whether that be an assumption of heterosexuality, the wearing of shoes, monogamy, private land ownership, or other assumptions isn't particularly meaningful - there is value in having people question those assumptions so they can think outside them and perhaps find valuable answers there.

The trick to engaging me in such discussions is to frame them as thought experiments designed to further creativity rather than a revolutionary call without any plan in place.  I don't buy into revolutions with utopian ideals but no plan... from history we know that those usually get co-opted by somebody with a high tolerance for violence and things do not improve.

I like the idea of thinking about how we can take a bite out of wealth inequality and inherited wealth in particular.  Land ownership is a big part of that, so it definitely deserves to be thoroughly examined for opportunities for positive change.

The way I would like to view land ownership is the same way I view the free market or capitalism.  I think of them all as useful tools, effective at certain things.  Unfortunately the debate about them is deeply coloured by entrenched extreme opinions wanting to view them through a moral lens, as though a particular way of organizing our monetary transactions is universally righteous.  They aren't even universally helpful or good, much less righteous, so we shouldn't frame the debate that way.  All of them are like hammers.  Good for solving certain problems (pounding in a nail) and garbage for other problems (polishing a window).

We as a society need to start seeing these things this way, and sorting out which things are nails and which are windows.  Reading articles like this is a good way to start those discussions when we are talking about land ownership in particular.