Thursday, May 18, 2017

Jack and Jill went up the hill, to get into an internet flamewar

Recently I was a witness on the sidelines to a big internet fight about the name given to a particular sort of dance competition.

People fight on the internet about everything!

This was a fight about calling a dance competition a Jack and Jill competition, rather than calling it a Random Partner competition or something similar.  That's what Jack and Jill is; a dance competition where you dance with random partners rather than a partner you brought with you.  I suppose it has the advantage that you don't have to have an established partner to go, which is nice, but I suspect for some people it is more comfortable to compete with a known person.  In any case, it is a format that exists.

Now you might well think that changing Jack and Jill (which is spectacularly nonspecific to outsiders) to something more descriptive would be an easy sell.  Sure, some people will be sticklers for tradition, but it hardly needs an internet flame war.

The trick is why it was being changed.  A lot of people felt uncomfortable with it because of the gendered names, and because traditionally men led, women followed, and men and women paired off with each other specifically, and Jack and Jill reinforces that.

There is a swell of change pushing through our society as a whole to get away from enforced gender norms, heteronormativity, and anti queer bigotry.  Dance is just a microcosm of society in this.  While you might see two women dancing together, you will still see a lot of straight guys standing around treating it like the only purpose of those two women dancing is to provide them erotic entertainment.  While you will see two men dancing together, you will still see other people act as though they must be gay (and that there is a problem with that) and people will distance themselves from it.  While there exist spaces where queer people can dance and be relatively comfortable, a lot of places aren't anywhere near there yet.

Just like the rest of society, really.

So when the change to Jack and Jill is billed as a way to be more inclusive of people, especially trans and queer people, it gets a ton of pushback.  People get angry, because it isn't just a name of an event, it is an attack on their entire life.  When you say "we should be more inclusive" people hear "you are acting like a bigoted asshole" and they react accordingly.  Much as some might try to soften that blow, a lot of people are being bigoted assholes, and that being pointed out angers them.

So they fight.  They yell about liking their tradition, about liking the role they have, and not being run over by the rainbow steamroller.  The crazy thing about the fight is that people often pretend it is all about the name of the dance.  They act as though Jack and Jill is critical to their life experience and calling it a Random Partner dance would destroy them.

Let's face it though:  The name of the dance is small beans.  If the community was a happy joyful place for queer people of all stripes the name Jack and Jill would be a tiny issue.  The real problem is all the other stuff, the bigotry, the sexism, the enforced gender roles.  But since the organizers of a dance community can't change those things directly they change things like dance names to try to send a message about the direction they hope to go in.  The dance name becomes a proxy war for all of the other fights that are going on because it is a simple, concrete thing for people to argue about.  It is hard to fight about men treating two women dancing together as erotic entertainment because it isn't usually happening when the argument is going on.  The exact behaviour you want to change is hard to pin down, hard to define.  But a name!  That you can be precise about, and that makes it a perfect thing to trigger a fight that is really about larger changes in society.

This is much like the fight about trans people using bathrooms that is completely ridiculous and is just a signalling issue; a way for bigots to signal other bigots that they are suitably bigoted.  It is an actual concrete thing they can use to rally all the people who are upset by cultural change they can't quite grasp.  It is really tough to fight about a gradual shift in the acceptance of people wearing non gender conforming clothing.  Who do you yell at exactly?  But a stupid rule about bathrooms or the name of a dance, now there is something you can rally around!

It all comes down to people feeling like they have a choice between being angry or feeling terrible.  When you tell someone that they have to change, that their behaviour has been hurting people, that they are wrong, they either must accept that their education and actions and beliefs are wrong, or they fight back.  Most people don't want to feel terrible about all their choices and doubt their heroes and mentors, so they fight.

You can soften the blow.  You can try to change dance names to Random Partner without saying why you are doing it, and claim it is just for clarity to try to make it easier on newcomers.  You won't get a fight that way.

But fuck that noise.  When you make good changes like getting rid of Jack and Jill you should tell people why you are doing it.  Many of them will fight you on it.  That will be wearing and shitty and sad, but eventually they will get crushed by the rainbow steamroller.  Everyone does, in time.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The way I work

This past week I noticed something that I should have known but which never really hit me viscerally before.  I saw a really powerful trend between the amount of sleep I get and my ability to do my workout.  Intellectually I am aware that sleep is good for basically everything, both physical and mental, and I have the experience of sleeping badly and being kind of shit at everything but lifting weights has really brought home how important it is.

Seeing the numbers in front of me and doing exactly the same thing day after day really makes it clear how much worse I am when I sleep badly.  A good sleep means I push through the workout fast and feel good.  A crap sleep means I barely manage to scrape by and need long breaks, and when I finally do finish I end up sitting in my chair stunned, unable to do much of anything.

Knowing a thing intellectually is really different from looking at my arms and wondering why they suck so much today.  I can apparently keep the concept of sleep repairing my muscles in my head at the same time as the concept that my muscles are a sort of fixed thing capable of fixed tasks regardless of the other conditions of my life.  Only when I am forced to confront them together does it manage to fix my perceptions to align with real life.

I really should know this stuff by now.  I am middle aged!  How is it that I have not properly sorted out how sleep (a thing I have done fairly often at this point) affects my strength?

I also had an amusing awakening about just how my body is shaped.  While I know what I look like in a mirror I apparently have no idea how I compare to other people.  The Flautist, the Mathematician, Wendy and I were talking about a party I am going to and I suggested that I might go in drag.  Both Wendy and The Flautist gave me a look that said "Yes please and also YOM" and it made me wonder what exactly it was about a dress and fishnets on me that would get them so wound up.  I still don't know, but I was certainly intent on running with that ball and so I tried on some dresses.

Somehow in my head Wendy isn't that much smaller than me.  I was primarily concerned that her dresses would hang off my because I lack breasts, and her dresses need to have plenty of room for breasts, for reasons.  In my head I was wondering about stuffing a bra to be able to wear her dresses in some reasonable fashion.

But my lacking boobs was not the issue.  Rather it was that the dresses couldn't possibly get on my body.  Most of them simply couldn't go on at all, even fully unzipped - I would have torn them to shreds trying to get them on.  I managed to get a dress on that had spaghetti straps on top, but the zipper was a good 20 centimeters from closing properly.  I didn't need a corset to fit into them, I needed a wood chipper.

I don't feel that much bigger than Wendy.  I know in a visceral fashoin that I am a lot taller but apparently my body is a whole category larger and I didn't even realize that.  It felt so weird to be facing down that difference when it is someone I am so totally familiar with.

I *should* know exactly the difference between Wendy and myself, should I not?

Apparently I don't.

It turns out I can wear some of her skirts just fine, but anything that has to a torso on it is right out.

In the past there have been situations where I thought going out in drag might be fun but I haven't ever done it.  I looked at the price of size 12 high heels and almost threw up, and honestly finding anything that would fit me in a flattering fashion from the women's clothing section is going to be both extremely difficult and super expensive.

It turns out that fishnet stockings are one size fits all, so I will probably end up just wearing a kilt, a dress shirt, and fishnets.  Not drag, exactly, but it is the closest I am going to get for the moment.  For those that are curious, I do not intend to shave my legs for this adventure.  Even if it could get me some really "Yes please" type looks.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Topless

I got a bad sunburn when I was in Hawaii, the worst one I can remember ever having.  I am all past the shedding skin phase of recovery but my shoulders are still mottled and itchy somehow, a sign of long lasting damage I assume.  Getting burnt that badly was a stupid thing to do.  So why did it happen?  Why did that mistake occur?

The first reason is simple carelessness.  I put on sunscreen three times and wore a sunshirt a bunch, but I was out in the middle of the day for six hours in a tropical climate when I was coming from Toronto winter.  I should have been way more cautious than I was.  I know that sunscreen washes off, and I was too cavalier about that.  I didn't think I was being aggressive or silly about my exposure though, I just didn't realize how bad it would be.

None of that is interesting.

The interesting part is why I wasn't wearing my sunshirt the whole time.  I paid for the damn thing and hauled it to Hawaii, surely I should have worn it the whole time, right?  It would solve this problem!

I suppose it is because I have a weird relationship with clothes, swim clothes in particular.  I hate them.

Hate!

It seems to me that when a person is going to dip themselves in water the silliest thing in the world is to cover themselves in a garment that will just need to be dried and cleaned afterwards.  Swimsuits just get in the damn way and exist because we as a society have stupid issues with genitals and breasts.  (There are times when people wear swimsuits for warmth, sun protection, or structural support, fine, but generally they are worn because of foolish taboos.)

Swimsuits are, to me, a physical manifestation of the idiocy of our collective horror at the human body's more sexual bits.  That breasts are included on that list while male nipples are not is its own foolishness which I won't belabour here.  It doesn't bother me that other people might feel like covering up when they want to swim - they are welcome to swim in a red top hat and three piece suit if they like but as long as wearing clothing to swim is mandated by law swimsuits anger me by their necessity.  Clearly I have issues with swimwear.  I hate that other people are forced to wear it, I hate that I am forced to wear it.

I like looking at people's bodies, people of all sorts.  I got tattoos because I want to trick my body out with cool pictures for the world to see, and I have been working out like crazy because I want to get big muscles and look hot.  I want to have a body that people like looking at in return, whether or not that attention is sexual.  I like being naked, and I especially like swimming naked because I love the feeling of water gliding over my body; it is like a lover's caress.  Interfering with the freedom and joy of that by binding myself up in swim clothing just feels deeply wrong.

All of this makes my sunshirt a sad thing.  So I wore it, because I did not want to burn, but I did not wear it enough.

It is odd, really, because wearing the shirt almost made me feel guilty.  Like I was betraying my principles somehow.  I was caught between the desire to not be damaged by the sun and the desire to live the life I want, joyous and free of the tyranny of clothing.  How can my brain feel guilty and wrong at wearing a stupid sunshirt but simultaneously self destructive and reckless for not doing so?  Surely there must be some way that will satisfy me entirely.

Just writing all this makes me feel strange.  I think it makes me seem vain and foolish in equal measure.  I have written many things before about the hardest moments in my life, things that I felt shame about, and yet this thing is being hard to put down.  I like the way I look now.  I still don't feel entirely right about my body, largely because when I look at myself I see my acne highlighted, marks on my body that I am sure no one else can ignore, but I do feel far better about myself overall than I ever have before.  I like the changes that pain and sweat and money and ink have wrought.  I want to be able to show that off, and yet I feel wrong for saying so, like admitting that I kind of like the way I look is a terrible thing to do.  It is as though the only ethical thing I can do is say that I don't like myself.

All five adults there in Hawaii on my trip had body image issues.  Too fat, too thin, not enough muscle, bad complexion, breasts too large or too small, etc; this is how we see ourselves.  The world would look at the five of us and think "wow, that is a pretty attractive group of adults" and yet that doesn't stop us from being down on ourselves when we look in a mirror.

Of course everyone else managed to be clever enough to avoid serious sunburn, despite any uncertainty they may have about how they look.  Perhaps they have more sense than me.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Low but increasing utility

Pinkie Pie is good for something.

Of course young children can potentially be good for happiness or fulfilment but the data we have suggests that although parents routinely claim that their children make them happy that isn't actually what happens.  The outrageous baby giggles and artwork brought home from school are great moments to be sure but they get weighed down by poopy diapers, exhaustion, and screaming at your child to go to sleep at two in the morning.

But yesterday Pinkie Pie was measureably useful, not in a fuzzy happiness way, but in a concrete, verifiable way.  I was making dinner and realized I had forgotten to buy tomatoes for the meal.  I needed one can of crushed tomatoes, so I told her to go to the store and get them.  I wrote it down, and described the can I needed, and even gave her an amount - 16 oz.

This was a mistake.  I actually wanted a 28 oz can, but I misremembered the size of the can I wanted.  Pinkie Pie was clever though, and when she found the crushed tomatoes in the store she saw a can of the size she remembered me using before, and she correctly decided to buy based on her memory and judgement instead of my explicit instructions.

This pleased me inordinately.  Equal parts of my pleasure came from the physical usefulness of her fetching the thing and her judgement in getting the right thing.  In times gone past she would have been unable to complete this task or perhaps she would have returned home in tears because she couldn't fulfil my instructions to the letter.

An appropriate decision tied to a simple act of service - I am easy to impress, it would seem.

It struck me today how ridiculous this whole thing is.  In times gone past parents would get children to be useful.  Gather sticks for the fire, watch the chickens, sweep the floor.  Even very young children can do *something* useful.  But children these days are basically useless until they are teenagers, and are certainly a net resource drain until their early twenties on average.

Even today when we were building a side table from IKEA Pinkie Pie wasn't a help.  She helped, and was enthusiastic about it, and I think that is important so she can learn the skills involved.  But I would have done it faster if I had just done it myself.  It is a fine thing that she was part of the building but she still isn't bringing any net utility to the project.

I wonder how long it will be before I shift my mindset to consider her as a container of usefulness when a random thing has to be done.  We aren't there yet - emergency trips to the store aside, everything she does would be easier for me to just do myself rather than explaining, supervising, and checking afterwards.  Someday though I will surely think of her as a potential resource, someone I can rely on to make things work.

Not yet though.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A stern talking to

Yesterday I went to a job / volunteer fair at a local high school.  I was recruiting student volunteers for an event at Pinkie Pie's school, and was quite successful in that.  Beside me at the fair was a pair of people representing a summer camp that needed students to work at it as counsellors over the summer.  The two people representing them were a man and a woman, and while the woman did a reasonable job talking to prospective student employees, the man did some things that really bothered me.

His method of talking to students involved calling to them loudly, rushing up to them, and then aggressively trying to sell them on working for his company.  During the conversations he repeatedly smashed his fist into his other hand making a loud noise and leaned in close to them, looming over the students he was talking to.

This presented two problems for me.  The first was that the students were clearly intimidated and sometimes upset by him and it was clear that he was getting no traction in terms of actually getting them to work for him and they were unhappy.  The second was that the students obviously felt pressured by his hard sell tactics and as soon as they broke free of him they fled, rushing past my spot at the table so I had no chance to speak to them.

I wasn't sure what to do.  My brain looked at this from two independent perspectives:  A feminist one and a sales one.  Large men really ought to keep in mind that being loud, physically aggressive, and pushing in too close to people is a real problem.  It is especially so when dealing with young women who are socialized to try to placate angry men.  It wasn't that he was *trying* to be intimidating, as I watched his behaviour when there were no students about and he was constantly bashing his hands together as a nervous sort of thing and was clearly agitated about his lack of success.  Intimidation wasn't the thing he was aiming at, but it was definitely the thing he was accomplishing.

I wanted to call him out on his behaviour, but it is a tricky thing.  If we got into a disagreement about it I doubt anyone else around would have backed me up, as he wasn't doing anything outside normal aggressive sales tactics.  I know what I saw was not good, but if I all I can accuse him of is whapping his hands together, talking loudly, and standing close to people to speak I don't see anyone official siding with me.  I would not expect that conversation to go well even if nobody else stepped in, especially because he would desperately want me to shut up so he could get back to his job.

I thought about couching my criticism in terms of sales technique.  That would be less likely to get his back up and I might be able to make him see what he was doing, or so I thought.  The fact is that if he just relaxed, kept his hands at his sides, and didn't lean in so far it would be far more comfortable for the people he was talking to and would have been far more likely to get him the results he wanted.

Perhaps "Hey dude, I have some sales techniques that might improve your odds" would go over better than "Hey dude, you are being an asshole".  I don't really know though.

There is a fine line between assertive and aggressive and you are far better off staying on the assertive side of it for most applications, and perhaps I could have made that point.  Unfortunately right as the session was winding down he and his partner grabbed their stuff and took off before I had a decent chance to try to bring it up.

This sort of thing is tricky for me to evaluate.  On one hand the individual incident really isn't so bad.  The guy wasn't hitting anyone or screaming at them.  And yet his attitude and lack of awareness really speak to a deficit of understanding of what male aggression does to society, women in particular.  This one guy changing his way of relating to the world might be a small thing, but all men changing in that way would be a huge thing.

Being a good feminist and being a good salesperson aren't really things I would expect to find in alignment, but sometimes strange things happen.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Evil President, Round 2

The French presidential election is drawing to a close, and it is down to Marine Le Pen, a right wing nationalist, vs. Emmanuel Macron, a more centrist candidate.  There are a lot of people looking at this thinking that it is a rematch of Trump vs. Hillary, business as usual vs. blame the foreigners, xenophobia vs. consensus building.

In some ways it is, of course, but the polls are in a completely different place.  Macron was ahead by 26 points just a short time ago, and his lead currently is 20 points.  People are worried that Le Pen will do what Trump did and sneak in a victory despite polling behind.  News sources are of course spinning that chance as hard as they can because it is far more interesting to say that the unlikely is possible than that the likely is, in fact, likely.

I can see why some people would be worried, but it is almost entirely an illusion.  The experts mostly said that Trump was going to lose.  There were reputable sources putting his chances at 1%.  But he was only 2% behind in the polls.  48-46 in polls is not that far behind, and in fact he ended up losing by 48-46 but won the election anyway because of the complexity of US voting systems.

However, Le Pen is not losing 48-46.  She is losing 60-40.  The difference between those things is outrageous.  Everyone who looks at polls knows that they are going to miss by a percent or two.  That is inevitable.  But missing by 10 points is ridiculous.

The trouble is that people don't actually understand numbers and the math behind polls and predictions.  They listen to the 'experts' on TV or in print and hear that Trump is rated to lose and Le Pen is rated to lose and think that those are equivalent when in fact they aren't even in the same ballpark.

There are so many problems that lead to this false equivalence.  For one, polling and odds making groups aren't perfect.  They ask the questions that will give them the answers they want, shape their methods to tilt things their way, and hunt for results that confirm their biases.  Odds makers do similar things, for similar reasons.  They are by far the most reliable part of the chain though, because the news sources that report information and analysis are horribly biased towards a good story even if it has nothing to do with the truth.

Just as it is hard to get a scientific paper published if you say "We learned that an obscure technique doesn't actually work" and easy if you say "We have developed a new way to cure cancer!" it is tough to get into the public eye by saying "Too close to call" when you can come up with "The underdog has closed the gap and threatens to win it all!"  The supposed experts spend a lot of time twisting the numbers to suit their purposes and that makes it really hard for the random person to know what the real deal is.

That random person is a problem too though.  They don't understand the math well enough to recognize that 60-40 and 48-46 aren't even the same ballpark.  They aren't even going to understand the math, so they have to rely on experts, and since all the experts are just saying what they think will get views or which supports their biases the average person has no idea what is going on.  We are stuck in a place where people are terrified of things that aren't going to happen for reasons that make no sense.

Now of course either candidate could, in the next week before the election, declare a longstanding habit of having sex with dogs, or perhaps an intent to use nukes on Canada.  That one of them completely botches it and the odds shift is possible.  But when the polling is as horribly one sided as it is right now (thankfully in the right direction) it would take something really massive and unexpected to change the result.  Could it be that Le Pen ends up with 42% of the vote?  Sure, that is well within the margin of error.  51%?  Hah!

I would love it if I could educate random voters on these topics, but I suppose if I am hoping for impossible education I should probably start by teaching them about how voting for people like Trump and Le Pen is contrary to their desires and interests, rather than educating them about how to properly figure out the odds that such a leader will end up running the show.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Too much sun

I am back from my trip to Hawaii.  It was a trip with many firsts involved.  My first time off of continental North America, Pinkie Pie's first time leaving Ontario, my first time doing proper snorkelling in fish filled waters, and even my first experience with jet lag.

It is funny sometimes to talk to people about travel, and have them assume that everyone is familiar with how jet lag feels.  Up till now the largest time difference I can recall being involved in a flight of mine is merely 1 hour, not enough to even notice.  Hawaii is six hours off though, so it should have had quite the impact.  That didn't end up being the case particularly, as I adjusted both ways quite easily.  I felt it though, a little at least, and now I know what that experience is like.  Before I felt a little out of place responding to some comment about jet lag with "no, in fact I don't know, because I have never experienced it" and having the whole room stare at me like I had grown horns.

There is an assumption about travel that a lot of people make, namely that if you don't travel immense distances you must hate travelling for some reason.  I am not the most wanderlust filled person around, that much is clear, but my reasons for not travelling have generally been financial and environmental, not so much a hatred of travelling itself.  I struggle with the cost of long trips and the environmental cost of travel really gets to me.  I find it hard to square my desire for a low impact life and the almost vulgar cost of flying a quarter of the way around the globe for entertainment.

Those things make for awkward conversations.  I find that people love to go on about how wonderful travel is, but they can rarely justify it from an environmental standpoint.  Certainly they can justify the monetary cost, and honestly the price often seems absurdly low... it is just my money demon that makes it hard for me and I know that is irrational.  But the cost in waste and carbon that comes with long distance travel people just ignore, and I find I have to do the same.  When I consider it I find I have to simply ignore it and accept the cognitive dissonance; my other choice is to never travel and I don't like that option either.

However, other people also seem to actually like the travelling part.  They talk about liking being on planes.  I find the concept quite ridiculous as to me planes are constantly uncomfortable leaving my legs in a perpetual state of pain and strain.  I can't rest, I can't sleep, I can't relax.  Being tall is generally a good thing, but not on a bloody plane.

Not in economy class, at any rate, and I can't see myself in the rich person seats.

All that aside the trip itself was great.  I took a snorkel tour to a partly submerged volcanic caldera, swam around with schools of fish, got to watch a group of three sea turtles eating off of a reef from a distance of just three meters, and spent a ton of time in the sun.

Too much time in the sun really since I got myself a savage sunburn, probably the worst I have ever had.  It wasn't as though I ignored the danger, as I applied sunscreen three times and wore a sunshirt for much of the day, but it turns out going from Toronto winter/spring to Hawaii and then spending six hours on a beach was too much for my skin to cope with.  Thankfully the pain was not enough to stop me doing all the things, and was merely extremely unpleasant.

I don't know that I will go back to Hawaii.  It was a fine place to have gone, and now I know the best way to spend your time on Maui, but I think I lean towards staying closer to home for a variety of reasons.  Bloody airplane seats being built for midgets being the big one, for sure.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How I met your parents

I have met the parents of someone I am dating four times.  One of those was under strange circumstances and wasn't really a 'meet my parents' sort of thing, and another was short circuited because I met the parents long before the dating even began.  If memory serves, I met Wendy's parents at her wedding to her ex husband... though I suppose I really wasn't interviewed quite the same way in that circumstance.

The first time I met someone's parents in a more traditional sense we had the issue of religion.  They were religious while I am ... not.  That sort of thing can be a real strain, especially when you consider the person in the middle who is caught between declaring for either side in that debate.  No choice is going to be easy.  That said, we pushed through and it was generally fine.

This past weekend was the second 'meet the parents' event (with The Flautist) and religion wasn't an issue this time.  However, there is a new issue - polyamory.  Specifically, when your daughter says to you "Oh, I am dating a married man now.  His wife is totally okay with it, I promise!" there is a certain amount of skepticism that is normal and reasonable.

In my case everyone *is* totally okay with it.  It is all open and honest and good.

But even then, if Pinky Pie came home someday with that story I would be suspicious.  If it turned out that the relationship did follow that formula I would be perfectly happy with it, but let's face it:  There are a lot more married men cheating on their wives than there are poly married men having honest relationships.  The numbers do not favour the poly guess, in general.

Most people wouldn't append the story "and I met his wife during my first date with him and we got along great and went to a concert together without him" though, and that certainly adds a lot of credence to the story.

The fact that the people I was meeting had totally valid reasons to doubt my morality gave me some doubt.  I didn't figure I would have to cope with accusatory stares and veiled accusations, but these are people I don't know.  I wasn't at all sure what would happen.

But it was all good.  I chatted with both of them for awhile, talking about work, chores, relationships, and the difficulty of getting paid for creative efforts.  Then I had a good ole fashioned debate about energy policy, politics, and voting systems.  I am sure that everyone would tell me to stay the hell away from politics when meeting the parents, but since when have I ever backed down from that sort of thing?  I did carefully check to make sure nobody was getting upset about the debate, but I really think it was an entirely friendly affair.  It helped that we have similar political leanings, though of course we disagreed on the details of implementation.

All in all though it went as well as meeting the parents ever can go, I think.  I suppose that generally if people decide that they really need to get along despite having some pretty big differences they can make it work, and that certainly has been my experience so far.

Friday, April 7, 2017

What does google know

Google knows I want to get ripped.

To be frank, Google knows an awful lot of what I want.  When I talk to Wendy about the rats involved in her research my internet is full of ads for exterminators.  Close one Google, but no cigar.  But when Google pitches me ads about getting ripped abs it is on the money.  I have been amping up my exercise in general but also particularly adding on stomach exercises.

Wendy told me that getting bulky isn't really a good thing.  In fact she thinks my shoulders look worse because I actually have a bit on muscle on top of them now.  But a six pack, that is the ticket.  So I am doing more tummy exercises in a fruitless attempt to amp my abs.

Here is the thing about Google's abs ads, when targetted at me.  They all say "Men over 40 are getting ripped abs doing this one weird thing!"

Sorry Google, I am 38.  Hell, you *must* know that.  You know everything else!

But then I ask myself:  Are the ads showing grey haired men with preposterous abs aimed at men in their 30s too?  Is the idea to shame me into buying stuff because men older than me have sculpted bellies?  Maybe they aren't aiming the "Men over 40" nonsense at me by accident, but rather deliberately.

I followed the stupid ads today, wading through 45 minutes of crap to finally get to the payoff.  What is it, I wondered, that these snake oil fraudsters with their immaculately built bodies are trying to sell me?  Pills that do nothing?  Steroids that do something, but also many wrong things?

Nope.  After 10 minutes of bragging, 10 more minutes of vague generalities, 10 minutes of insulting every 'conventional' diet and exercise regimen, and 10 minutes of complete pseudoscientific nonsense about optimizing your hormone levels via carefully guarded secrets, I finally got to the 5 minutes of real stuff.

Which was just a diet and exercise program.  Apparently the most ripped 24 year old on Youtube and his personal doctor have an amazing, groundbreaking program that will activate my hormones, blast away my belly fat, and make me into a monstrous beast of a man.

They seem to be leaning on new, shocking techniques like "Eat a lot of meat for protein and vegetables, and don't eat sugary crap" and "Exercise hard using multiple muscle groups".

All of which will activate my leptin and testosterone hormones and give me a stomach that will cause random scantily clad women to fawn over me.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind that whole fawning thing, at least for a bit.  However, I was honestly expecting a lot more from all that build up.  If you want to convince me that your program is all that, you really ought to come up with something a lot more interesting.  If all I get is generic pablum of exercise advice I really don't need to pay you for it.  Their advice doesn't even look bad, it is just backed up with endless prattle that is a pack of lies surrounded by half truths.

But damn, there are SO MANY ads for this garbage.  They must be getting a lot of people to buy into it.  That part makes me really sad, because I was willing to watch 45 minutes of trash on the side of my screen while working on something else because I was curious about what the final pitch was.  Unfortunately there are a lot of people who believe this nonsense and end up handing over their money.

Just one more moment that makes me weep for humanity.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Horsin' around

I started watching the Netflix cartoon Bojack Horseman.  I can't say why I jumped on the bandwagon exactly, but once I got on I really didn't want to get off again.

Bojack Horseman is the sort of show I have trouble pinning down.  Is it a ridiculous, idiotic comedy that relies on sex jokes and absurdity to get a couple of giggles, or is it an insightful critique of modern society?  I can't tell!

The show stars a horse.  Who is a man.  I mean, he has the body of a middle aged human male, with a horse's head.  The rest of the world is populated by a mixture of relatively normal humans and humans with animal heads.  That would be pretty weird just on its own, but the animals do impossible yet thematically appropriate things.  The ones with bird heads can flap their arms and fly around... but they are flapping entirely normal human arms.

Also three main characters are Bojack Horseman, a horse/man, Princess Carolyn (not actually a princess), a cat/woman, and Mr. Peanut Butter (not actually composed of peanut butter), a dog/man.  Did somebody get a four year old to name these characters?  Are their names supposed to be clever and ironic somehow?

I have a lot of respect for writing that makes me stare at the screen while stroking my beard and wondering if the writers are incredibly clever or incredibly dumb.

The thing is, the characters oscillate rapidly between preposterous comedy and interesting interaction that showcases real dilemmas and challenging situations.  Bojack sets up a giant autoerotic asphyxiation structure in his bedroom just to try to figure out if his girlfriend will tell him not to use it, because this will reveal if she loves him or not.  On the other hand once that comedy gold is mined thoroughly they actually have a real conversation that is kind of touching and it feels like how real people might deal with complicated conflict.

There is an episode largely about the ethical conflicts of eating meat, and it makes interesting points by having chicken/people farming other chicken/people to supply chicken as a food to other humans and human hybrids.  Of course it includes a car driving through a barn as part of a caper to rescue the food chickens from the chicken farmers (who are themselves chickens) so you can't take it too seriously.

But maybe the hijinks involved are just there so the writers can send a message about how humans wall off some creatures as being worth saving while others are okay to torture and consume, and make those divisions based on random and indefensible criteria.  If you add comedy, you don't sound quite so preachy, see?

I just don't know.  Is it mindless crap, just filling my days, or is it brilliant satire?  I don't know.

I do know that it makes me laugh out loud on a regular basis and I care about the characters even though they are silly and surreal.  Maybe that is all I need to know to decide that I should watch the next episode, so the writers have succeeded in that, at least.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Dinner for two

I just read an article about Mike Pence, America's new Vice President.  In it Pence is quoted as saying that he would never be willing to have a meal with a woman other than his wife unless someone else was present.  The article concludes, rightly so, that this is a huge problem for someone in a position of power like Pence is.  It restricts his ability to interact with women, and thus pushes women out of his circle.  Women have enough difficulty getting to the top of the power pyramid as it is.

It is entirely okay for people to have whatever rules they want as part of their relationship.  Whether you are Mike Pence and can't have lunch with a woman, or whether you want to be collared and chained, spending your days playing fetch and being called Rover, if everyone agrees to the relationship rules then they can have them.

But you really do have an obligation to consider how your rules affect the people around you and how they are influenced by the complex social pressures that are inherent in our culture.  If a black person says they want to only date black people, and a white person says they only want to date white people, these are different things.  Racism is real, and you need to spend time thinking about how your attractions and relationships are affected by it if you want to do the right thing by the people around you.  Other entrenched bigotry is the same way.

I chose the two examples above deliberately because they are both about equally unthinkable for me personally.  If I had ever tried to tell Wendy that she couldn't have a meal with a man without a chaperone she would have told me to shove it, called out my heteronormativity, viciously mocked my sexism, and broken up with me.  Not necessarily in that order.

If she had done the same with me I would have assumed she was joking and laughed my ass off.  If she was serious I would have broken up with her right away and wondered how the hell I was so wrong.

The collaring / Rover thing would have been completely different.  My 'hell no' reaction would have been roughly the same, but I would have just said hell no and then kept on doing whatever I was doing before.  Pretty sure Wendy would still have yelled at me if the roles were reversed, and that tennis ball would definitely have gone un-fetched.

In any case Pence's rules are hilarious when I consider my life these days.  If Wendy wanted to have dinner with a man and ended up having sex on the table the only thing that would worry me is cleaning up the mess, and maybe dressing incidental wounds from forks or shattered crockery.

OKCupid has a question on it that goes like this:

Imagine that you come home to find a partner pouring red wine all over a stranger's naked body and then licking it off. Which, if any of the following, would bother you most?

1.  The spilled wine.
2.  The cheating.
3.  The fact that I was not invited to join in.
4.  Actually this would not bother me.

I find this question hilarious because such a large subset of the population would look at it as an impossibility, a ridiculous thing put in there so you can answer "The spilled wine" and have a giggle at how silly it is.

Whereas I honestly want to answer 1, 3, and 4.  I don't want to have to clean up spilled wine, that is super annoying.  I wouldn't actually be bothered by not being invited, but I would hope to be invited once I arrived home and witnessed the event.

It isn't as though this has actually happened to me.  But if it did, I would definitely brag about it.

Sometimes when I think about these things I am amazed at how my perspective has shifted.  On one hand I recognize that I am in the minority, but there is a big part of me that sees Pence's rules and laughs, thinking "Hah, how absurd!" and then realizes that most people see his rules as either normal, expected, or perfectly understandable, and they think my rules are evil, ludicrous, or dangerous.  I am stuck in this place where what I do now seems like the only reasonable way to exist while being entirely aware that hardly anybody else does it this way.  I find myself sometimes hearing people talking about what they can't do and I wonder why in the world that would be so, and then realize "Oh right.  Monogamy.  That thing everyone does."

Monogamy is all right.  But that version of controlling, jealous, heteronormative monogamy that assumes that every interaction between men and women must be about sex and nobody can be trusted to honour their commitments... yuck.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Real life is stranger than fiction

I have lately been watching some House of Cards.  Political maneuvering, backroom dealmaking, and occasional murder are the order of the day in that show.  It depicts an evil, narcissistic, dangerous man as President, one who is convinced of his ability to make deals with anyone and push his agenda through.

The politicians in the show are all over the map.  Some are true believers, fighting for their cause.  Some are simply power hungry.  There are pragmatists who compromise to try to get things done, and there are purists who will torpedo anything that isn't exactly what they want.  The dysfunctionality of that made up American leadership is mindblowing.

Sometimes I think to myself "Wow, these characters are ridiculous.  How do they come up with this stuff.?"

Then I read about actual US politics.

You know, where a evil, narcissistic, dangerous man who is convinced of his own supernatural dealmaking ability is President.  Where legislation can't be passed because it is simultaneously hated by people on every possible side.  People who love the direction the legislation is going, and who have *zero* hope of pushing through their own version, refuse to vote for a compromise solution because it isn't pure enough.  The Republicans control all the branches of government right now and still can't pass a new health care bill, despite spending seven years talking about how literally anything would be better.

The thing that made me shake my head tonight is that it isn't even as though the characters in House of Cards are exaggerated.  All the crazy stuff that happens there isn't crazier than real life... it is in fact a scaled down version of real life.  Because if you actually put stuff as crazy as real life in the show, no one would believe it.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The rest of my life

The past while I have been mulling over what to do with the rest of my life.  Of course what that really means is that I need a new obsession for a year or so, it isn't really about the rest of my life, but it seems more interesting if I phrase it that way.

I have been thinking about what I do and the level of satisfaction it brings.  I am a homemaker, but I think I am an odd one.  Most people in that role either really love things about being a homemaker or just love raising children.  They change their artwork on the walls to be seasonally appropriate, bake special cookies for different times of the year, take up crafts, or do other similar sorts of things.

The idea of me changing my artwork seasonally makes me giggle, and seasonal baking and knitting are much the same.  Not that I deride anyone who wants to do it, but it sure ain't my thing.

Most of the time I talk about the things I do as not feeling important.  Wendy gets to run off each day challenging herself, chasing her dreams, learning amazing new things and meeting all kinds of like minded people.

I get to do the dishes.

The dishes are not inspiring.

However, the dishes are a thing that is worth doing.  Some of my previous jobs were almost entirely worthless from a 'making the world better' standpoint.  One even made the world worse.  It made me so frustrated to be doing work that might as well not be done.  The dishes, though, those need cleaning.  It isn't exciting work but I do feel a sense of satisfaction from doing it.  When it is done I know I have finished something relevant, something that definitely isn't making the world worse.  The dishes also don't take up all my time and they leave me room to do many other things.

I know deep down that an awful lot of work that people do is completely worthless.  They attend meetings that bring no value.  They fill out forms for no reason.  They try things they know are counterproductive because someone above them wants to look good to someone further up yet and they don't care if it pans out because they will be promoted by then.  Most people do work that has some real value, but everyone does a lot of totally pointless timewasting crap.

Shopping, doing the dishes, cleaning the sink, these are real things that need to happen.

What they don't offer is flow.  Nothing in my basic duties does, unfortunately.  I can't get into flow because all of the stuff I have to do is trivial.  It won't challenge me.  It doesn't make me push myself to be more than I was before.

This is something I have only just realized.  I need to stop thinking of things as having utility to my mental health in general, but rather as having utility either as being good to do or hard to do.  I need both.  If I spend my life doing hard things but bring nothing to the world I won't be happy.  This is why I would struggle as a professional poker player, say.  I would love the play, it would bring me flow, but I would also feel like I was leeching off the world and being worthless.  Whereas if all I do is sit at home knitting and cooking and cleaning I will not find flow, and though I will be useful I will not be fulfilled.  There will be something missing.

I need both things.  There isn't any real chance of me changing my profession at the moment so I will have plenty of useful things to do.  That is well covered.  I need to shop and scrub the toilet and make dinner.  Those things aren't interesting, but they have real value to me in terms of feeling like I am bringing something to the world.

What I require is a better source of flow.  I am currently playing World of Warcraft a lot, and sometimes that brings me flow but a lot of the time it is just a time sink much like a TV show that is interactive but with a crappy storyline.  An enjoyable time sink, but not something that makes my life better, really.

I remember years ago I spent a ton of time modding Civilization 5.  That was a task that definitely brought me flow for a great span of time.  It was a combination of creating, analysis, and play that was superb.  Other times when I have been building games have been similar.  Perhaps that is what I need to return to - not any attempt to monetize game design, but just pure creation.  I need another game that isn't quite there to seize me and force me to fix it, tinker with it, make it perfect.

The easiest way to achieve this is to start a new game from scratch, I suspect.  In the past my games have always begun with a small moment of inspiration followed by months or years of grinding my way towards completion.

I suppose my conclusion is that I need an intense moment of inspiration, some moment of tremendous imagination, to give me a new thing to smash my mind against.  I wonder if that is a thing I can just create, or if it is simply random.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Low expectations, but not low enough.

I watched X-Men:  Apocalypse on Monday.  At midnight the construction crews outside my house were using some incredibly loud machine that was literally vibrating my condo from 12 floors away.  Since sleep was not likely to come to me I had to figure out something else to do.  The solution I came up with was to watch a bad superhero movie that I wouldn't mind quitting halfway through if the machine stopped.

I went into Apocalypse with low expectations, you see.  I knew the critics hated it.  I picked it because I knew I would be willing to stop watching it partway through.

It failed to meet my expectations, even then.

When I think about superhero movies that utterly fail I find they have many things in common.  They regularly try to shoehorn too many stories into the movie and end up with boring characters and rushed plot.  Apocalypse did this spectacularly.  It tried to have a character arc for Jean Grey, Magneto, Cyclops, Angel, Quicksilver, Storm, Professor X, and Mystique.  That doesn't even include the main villain!

Now I get that X-Men movies are ensemble hero movies, so you are going to have some amount of story spread around, but that was WAY too much to try to do in a single outing.  You need a couple characters that the plot focuses on that have good development and go through changes and the rest of the crew just does the thing you expect and fills out the background.  Trying to do too much just leaves every single interaction feeling rushed, unsupported, and deeply unsatisfying.

Directors should bloody well know this.  Studios that hand directors hundreds of millions of dollars to make movies should bloody well know this.  When there is this much money on the line, how does everyone fail so spectacularly at knowing basic things?

It wasn't just the heroes that were overdone though.  Apocalypse himself was a total bore.  Powerful villains can be fun even though the best ones are usually not particularly powerful at all, like Joker or Lex Luthor.  Unfortunately the movie portrays Apocalypse in ways that are absurd.  He can wave his hand and simply cause people's heads to fall off.  He can level a city and reform the smashed bits of it into a fantastically complicated, kilometer tall temple in a few seconds.  He can teleport, regenerate, empower others, control all technology, and turn other people's powers against them.  He can shrug off outrageously powerful physical, psychic, and magical attacks like nothing.

Worst of all though is his powers were unbounded.  Each scene the director granted him some new and completely absurd power that he would conveniently forget to use in the next scene.  Where were his instant death attacks and city smashing powers when he was in a fight?  Why didn't he simply teleport away when things got bad, or cause all of the X-Men's heads to fall off?

Apocalypse also completely lacked any personality or unique features.  He wanted to destroy the world for no particular reason.  He had no weaknesses, no individuality, nothing to make him remotely interesting or relatable.  Apocalypse wanted to destroy the world because he was a villain, and that is what they do, right?

Apocalypse didn't frighten me.  He wasn't interesting.  It was clear that his powers weren't a problem for the heroes to solve, but rather a plot device that was made up fresh every five minutes.

Speaking of powers that weren't used, the heroes were just as bad.  Quicksilver is a hero who can move so quickly he can casually walk around explosions while they are happening.  Not just that, but when a massive explosion is wrecking a gigantic mansion he is capable of rescuing 30 people who are all simultaneously a few meters from an advancing wall of flame in various parts of the building.

And yet he forgets to use his ability to save the day to stop the evil soldiers, rescue the lad in distress, or to easily beat up the villains threatening his less powerful friends.  He could have defeated the plot of the enemies and pounded them all into submission quite handily.  Apocalypse himself was apparently a bit too powerful for Quicksilver to defeat, but any other challenge the heroes found out about was utterly trivial... unless Quicksilver conveniently forgot about his powers, which he did whenever the plot called for it.

The last thing that absolutely drove me nuts about this movie was the way the characters themselves ignored the plot of the movie.  Just before the ending Magneto, empowered by Apocalypse, was busy destroying the earth.  He was simultaneously smashing every city on the planet to rubble, shattering bridges, knocking down buildings, sinking ships, and launching pieces of metal in random directions across the globe.  The mayhem he was causing would have killed millions of people.  He finally had a change of heart away from total global annihilation and decided to fight against Apocalypse instead.

Everyone ignored the genocide part.  As soon as the fight ended he was buddy buddy with the X-Men again, and everyone was completely chill with the fact that he was the biggest mass murderer in history.  MILLIONS dead at his hands, and the other characters just shrug it off without a blink.

Its cool.  He's on our team again.  Until, you know, he gets in another one of his moods and tries to wipe out humanity a second time.

How can you expect anyone to take your plot seriously when the characters themselves completely ignore it?  I get that you want to raise the stakes and use CGI to show us world landmarks being destroyed, but why pay for that CGI if the people in the world pretend that it isn't even happening?

What a travesty.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Put a contract on me

I sometimes read advice columns for entertainment.  Partly it is interesting to see how other people would solve problems and what they value but I can't deny that there is an appeal to seeing all the ridiculous situations people get themselves into and thinking "Wow, at least I don't have to deal with *that*."

I just read an advice column about how to cope with the desire for a prenuptial agreement.  The person writing in wasn't sure if asking for a prenup made them an awful person - specifically, "dead inside".

That question is funny to me.  I think most people get married wanting to have all kinds of magical happy feels and they don't want to accept the possibility of a divorce nor acknowledge all of the monetary issues that might crop up.

But you can't avoid the monetary issues.  This is why the government created standard marriage agreements that you enter into when you get married, like it or not.  They cover things like how assets are separated after a divorce and how much money people get paid when there is a disparity in income.

You *can't* get married without a contract.  You just have a choice of accepting the default, unavoidable contract, or you can custom make your contract to suit the people getting married.  Which is more romantic, a boilerplate, government mandated agreement, or something customized just for the two of you?

(Yes, I am trying to sell you on how prenuptial agreements are romantic.)

Most people don't need a prenup, of course.  But I think people would be a lot better off if they acted as though a prenup was a normal way of doing things.  Sitting down and going over everyone's debt, assets, income, and financial expectations prior to getting hitched is a fantastic idea.  We should all have that as our standard model.  After looking at all that stuff if you then decide that the standard model for a marriage contract is a good fit for you, great!  Maybe it isn't and you should build your own contract, but at least making an informed decision is an excellent idea.

I didn't even consider getting a prenup when I got married, but that was because Wendy and I came in with assets and earning power that were both extremely close to one another, within 20% or so.  Normally in a prenup there is one person with a lot more wealth than the other, and in our case that just wasn't so.  We actually talked about it before getting married and both of us thought it was funny that we were both perfectly comfortable talking about getting a prenup and yet our personal financial situation made it completely unnecessary because we randomly ended up in such similar financial circumstances.

Plus I was young and in love and absolutely certain that it wouldn't matter anyway because I certainly was going to be with her forever.  Which so far has worked out, mind, but one should be realistic.

But all of you out there, you should definitely consider a prenuptial agreement.  At least enough to figure out what your entire financial picture looks like, at any rate.  Know exactly why you *might* want one before deciding you don't, that is my advice.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The best of the worst

I have seen some interesting posts out there trying to convince me to to give money to the Conservative party.  That isn't surprising in itself, the interesting part is that the people trying to convince me are lefties who support the NDP or Liberals.

The idea behind this push is that there is one person in the Conservative leadership race who is distinctly more progressive than the rest.  His name is Michael Chong, and after looking at his record and statements I agree with that assessment.  He isn't a raving Trump-lite lunatic like O'Leary or Leitch, he actively pushes back against Islamophobia, and in general most of his positions are a lot more moderate than the rest of the Conservative crop.  From what I have seen I would rate him as by far the best Conservative candidate among those that have any chance of being nominated.  Don't mistake that for glowing praise; the Conservative candidates make me cringe.

The downside to the push is this:  I would have to pay $15 for Conservative party membership in order to vote for Chong for leader.  While I would have to hold my nose to go vote in a Conservative nomination I might be willing to do that to try to prevent one of the extremists being in charge, but I can't justify doing so when I would have to give money to a party that stands firmly against all of my values.

Looking at this from a strategic standpoint I can't really say what I want to happen.  I thought it was good that Trump won the Republican nomination because I was pretty sure he would say a bunch of idiotic things and get crushed in the debates by either Sanders or Clinton.  I figured giving Trump the win was a sure way to get a Democratic victory.

We all know how that turned out.  I was dead wrong, like a lot of other people.

So while there is a temptation to wish that O'Leary wins and goes on to alienate all of the moderates to keep the Conservatives out of power, for all I know he could end up running the show in Canada and doing his best to create some kind of theocratic dystopia.

Chong at least would just do the usual Conservative thing of trying to slash taxes for the rich and tell the poor that they should just work harder, with a side order of wishing he could realistically push through 'traditional marriage' and 'bathroom safety' bills.  He wouldn't be a flaming dumpster fire that threatens to engulf the world like Trump, he would just be a kind of slow death, a fetid rot, sort of like Harper was when he was in charge.

Even if I liked Chong (which I don't) I wouldn't give money to the Conservatives in a vain attempt to put him in the seat of power.  He is the best of the worst, sure, but I am going to save my time, money, and energy to push for someone I actually want governing, not a backstop against even greater disaster.

I am so bitter at the Liberals for their election reform lie that I am left hoping that the NDP can serve me up someone to believe in for this next election.  Not that my vote matters in the slightest, mind you, since my riding is an absolute lock for the Liberals and has been for many years.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Choose your friends wisely

My brother linked me a parenting article this weekend that talked about how parents should choose their daughter's friends.  The quote below the title is this:

We “helicopter” over our kids’ wardrobes, nutrition, sleep schedules, hygiene, science fair projects and then pride ourselves on how “hands off” we are on social issues.

When I read that statement my reaction is to think 'wow, these people really ought to stop helicoptering so damn much and just let the kid be'.  The author's conclusion was that parents should micromanage and meddle even more, carefully making sure their daughters circle of friends is firmly under the control of the parents.

To be fair, this article is posted on faithit.com, and from a brief glance at the writing there it is a safe bet I would be happy to set all of their articles on fire for one reason or another.  However, I don't think this is just an issue of religion, but rather one of feminist principle.

In the article the mother in question decided that her daughter absolutely had to be friends with a new girl in her class and forced her to start that process.  The story concludes with the two girls being good friends for years, which is fine and all, but I really worry about what message this sort of thing sends in the long run.

Women are socialized to be accommodating and nice.  They are expected to be the ones that smooth over social situations, putting their own desires after that of others.  There is already too much pressure put on women to let men get away with all kinds of crap and I really wouldn't want to contribute to that pressure.  When we say to a young girl that she must accept someone into her social circle, give them time and energy, listen to their story, and place their needs above her own, we condition that young girl to do the same in adulthood.

When these young girls grow up they are going to be subject to harassment from men who feel entitled to their attention, time, energy, or bodies.  Sometimes it is going to be catcalling, sometimes it will be sexual harassment at work, and sometimes it will be crappy behaviour at social events.  The message I want my daughter to have internalized is that she should be decent to people, but that she does not owe them friendship, love, relationships, service, or intimacy.  When walking down the street you have an obligation to not randomly punch people, but you do not have any obligation to sit down and have a chat with them either.

People do not have the right to demand your friendship.  It is all well and good to be pleasant to people at first, and to avoid being cruel to those who do not have a support network, but in the end you get to decide who your friends are.  Teaching children that others will decide who they associate with and that they should not expect to be able to set their own boundaries is a recipe for disaster in later life, both in friendships and in romantic relationships.

There is a crucial difference between encouragement and forcing.  When I have heard about other children who are struggling to find friends in school and I thought Pinkie Pie might enjoy their company I have encouraged her to talk to them.  If they are lonely then both children might really benefit from spending time together.  But I won't make her to do it.  I will give her the information, a bit of encouragement, and the freedom to choose.  Figuring out who to be friends with is tricky, but it is a thing everyone needs to learn, and you don't learn much with someone else making all of the decisions for you.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

I don't want to

Sometimes I have weird conversations with people about what I want.  I have this way of looking at my own desires that most people find totally bizarre and yet it seems so natural to me.  For example, awhile ago I was talking to someone about rock climbing.  They were trying to convince me that rock climbing walls in Toronto were great and I should go to one of those places regularly.  They sound great and all, I said, but evidently I don't want to go to one.

But rock climbing walls are so great, they insisted.  There are so many reasons to go!

I wasn't saying that I had good reasons not to go, just that I know about rock climbing.  It sounds interesting.  In the past I have enjoyed climbing walls.  But I don't go to them, despite this knowledge and experience, so all the evidence says that I don't want to go climbing.

To me this just makes sense.  I could go climbing, it isn't like we are talking about visiting the moon or yachting, both of which require resources I don't possess.  I just don't do it so my conclusion is that I don't want to do it.  Not for any good reason, mind you, but facts don't necessarily require good reasons.

I want to go to the gym and lift weights.  I can tell because I end up doing that.  I want to play video games and slay internet monsters.  I can tell because I do that.  I don't want to go climbing, because I don't do that.

To me it makes all kinds of sense to put evidence above subjective feelings.  I experience the feeling of wanting to go climbing, so in that sense I want to, but I don't do it, so I conclude that I don't actually want to.  I just experience a feeling of happiness associated with it.  I suppose that temporary feeling is weak, or short lived, and it isn't enough to convince me to schedule it into my day.

Normal people don't think like this.  They look at me like I have lost my mind when I talk this way.  They measure their wants based on their temporary feelings rather than on the evidence of what they have done in the past.  I get that this is the way most people operate, but it seems so foreign to me.  Shouldn't you use science to figure things out, even things like "how do you feel?"

I guess the answer is no, for the populace at large.

This is one of those ways in which I try to fit in when other people talk.  Most of the time I know that speaking like this will confuse, anger, or frighten the person I am talking to so I just pretend that I am a regular person and respond in ways that they expect.  I put on my person face and say things that make no sense to get through social interactions.  I suppose I am lucky that I can figure out what to say when I want everything to be smooth, even if I often choose not to say it.

I wonder which of the people that read this will nod their heads and say "yup, that makes sense!"  I suspect Sthenno will, but as for everyone else... I just don't know.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Just friends

Last weekend I was at a party where the subject of polyamory was discussed in some detail and at great length.  As often happens it took the form of me standing there answering a seemingly endless series of questions from a crowd of monogamous people.  In this particular case The Flautist was with me and that changes the tone of the questions substantially.  When it is just me there is usually an overtone of disbelief, mostly from the straight men in the crowd who don't quite believe that my life can be what I claim it is.

Most of the questions I get are some form of the questioner being sure polyamory must be dysfunctional and/or evil, and they try to catch me up in some manner.  This past weekend there was one person insisting that polyamory must not work because people need someone who will stay with them their entire lives and be willing to change their diapers when they are old or sick.  I find that sort of thing kind of hilarious because it is so obviously an attack of desperation.  People don't refuse friends because those friends aren't going to wipe their asses when they are 95.  I don't meet someone at a board gaming event and say "Wait, random board gamer #5.  You won't come visit me in the nursing home in fifty years.  Fuck you, I don't need you in my life!"  And yet somehow this is necessary for somebody I am going to go on a date with?

I don't always know how to approach that sort of question when it comes with a slick of vitriol.  For many people I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and answer their questions straight up, generally with the phrase "Just substitute 'close friend' for 'person I am dating' in your question and the answer will be obvious."  At some point though I really want to just stop them and demand to know what about polyamory has them feeling so defensive and desperate to justify their life choices.  It isn't actually that hard to tell the difference between someone who is curious about something outside their realm of experience and someone on a mission to discover my deep dark secret and reveal it to the world.

I wonder how I should decide when to switch from patient explainer to telling people to take their passive aggressive shit and stuff it.  For someone who genuinely wants to understand and has an open mind I have a nearly endless patience to explain.  Trick is, if I go all nuclear on someone who is being a jerk to me people then I get written off as the irrational, angry man who must then clearly be wrong.

My life is a privileged one, that I only have to deal with that particular bind in one way, and that I didn't have to deal with it until middle age.

The other really weird sort of thing that happens in this sort of situation is a hero worship sort of thing.  With me wearing a wedding ring standing there holding hands with the Flautist while we both sport a 'just fell in love ' stupid grin it is easy to see why other people would want a piece of what we have.  Usually it is the straight men who look at me like I am some sort of wizard who has broken the rules of the cosmos.  You would think bangin' people and falling in love by accident were equivalent to tossing fireballs out of my fingertips and flying.  They often act as though it is an impossibility for any mortal human to do these things, as if perhaps I was The Chosen One and born with some astounding power.

Hell, wouldn't it be a great super power to be filled with love all the time?  Better in the long run than being super strong or having invisibility or some other thing people usually wish for.

If I do have a super power it is the ability to not give a fuck.  I was not born with it, that is for sure!  My garden where I grow the fucks I might give was incredibly fecund when I was young and it took years of pouring poison on it to keep the fucks from growing back.

I want to get across that treating polyamory like magic is in fact the barrier.  When you just look at it as a choice with benefits and costs, smiles and sorrows, a thing anyone could do, suddenly it becomes possible.  These folks often say that polyamory sounds great and they would love to do it but their partner / parents / neighbours / extended family / coworkers / etc would disapprove so it is impossible.  It isn't an impossibility, just a cost, but they have been trained to see that cost as infinite, rendering all possible decisions incurring that cost as moot.

I get that for many people that cost is too high.  Fair enough.  But it is important to see it as a cost, a finite number, a thing that can be reckoned with.  How your reckoning ends up isn't a thing to me either way but thinking that you can do this whole polyamory thing if you want but after thoughtful consideration you chose not - all good!  Just consider, is all I ask.

And while you consider, I am going to go make a sign that says "replace 'girlfriend' with 'close friend' in your sentence and ask again" so I can flash it to people at parties to reduce my workload some.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Book burning

A Danish man is being charged under Denmark's blasphemy laws for burning a Quran and posting a video of doing so on the internet.

This is the sort of headline that gets my attention immediately.  It drives me nuts that someone could be prosecuted for the crime of not believing in someone else's fairy tale, but that is what is happening here.  Blasphemy laws are a disaster wherever they are found, in spite of the fact that what they do is make it so that if a bunch of people believe something ridiculous they can get the state to attack anyone who dares voice disbelief of the ridiculous belief.  It doesn't apply if beliefs are reasonable or provable, because that isn't religion.  Perfectly fine to insist that climate change is a myth, because we can prove that using science.  Insult the idea that a person walked on water and rose from the dead?  A crime!

Of course one must consider that the man in question will not do any jail time even if he gets convicted.  He will only be fined, in what I assume is the courts trying to placate the religious nuts without actually wanting to do something serious.

Perhaps I ought to be focusing instead on more serious events like war, or famine, or whatever it is that Trump did today.  You know, things that result in thousands of deaths and massive upheaval.

I don't though.  Trump said another disastrous thing, war still exists, people are dying.  But blasphemy laws in a progressive western state being enforced?  That is interesting, not least because it could very well be me getting dragged into court next time.

I suppose this makes it rather selfish of me to focus on this sort of news since it is insignificant compared to many other things I could talk leap upon.

However, I do think it is a good thing to keep in mind that we ought not to accept small erosions of our basic liberties in stride.  The freedom of expression of religion is important.  That includes the right to not be religious, and in fact to do the opposite of what other religions want.  When the state decides to recognize some religions and not others and is willing to prosecute people for following the wrong one we step ever closer to a theocracy, and that is an awful place for anyone who doesn't happen to be following the chosen religion.

People need to be free to talk about how their book is the literal word of the creator of the universe and post that message online.  Also people need to be free to set books on fire and post that online.  The state should have no concern about either, except insofar as people obey the laws about fire, of course.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Do as I say

I remember reading the Berenstain Bears books as a kid.  One of the standard plots was Papa Bear telling the kids to do something but not doing it himself.  A nice example of how it is hypocritical (and usually pointless) to tell people to do something while obviously not doing it yourself.

When I talk to Elli about games and winning I send the message that it is all about doing your best.  I want her to believe in working hard and giving her all, regardless of whether or not she wins or loses.  After all, there will always be somebody better than you at anything so there isn't any point in mourning your inability to beat someone with better luck, better genetics, or better circumstances than yourself.  You only have your own ability to work with, so best to maximize it.

Stoic philosophy agrees.  Heck, probably any reasonable philosophy that has anything to say on the subject agrees.  As far as I know the science also tells us that you can't do a ton to make your kids succeed, but convincing them to work hard is pretty much the best thing you can do, if you can manage it.

Everyone should focus on maximizing their potential, not on comparing themselves to others.

But when I compete... not so much.

I want to be number 1.  2nd place is the first loser, and I am not interested in being the first loser.

When I joined a new World of Warcraft guild recently they took me on a test run to see how I would do compared to everyone else in the guild.  My damage to the enemies was really good, and I logged #1 for the night.  People in the guild congratulated me, but I wasn't satisfied.  I was #1 on one section of the night by a huge margin and #4 on the rest.  In sum I was the top, but that wasn't enough to make me feel like I deserved it.  I played well, but some people beat me some of the time.  Everyone thought I was ridiculous for not accepting the 'title' for the night.

Not good enough!  It doesn't matter that I played well, or that I did as much as I could.  I must be first, always.

No matter how many times I tell Elli to focus on herself, to only worry about doing her best, I can't make myself believe it when I am playing games.

I am sure that working hard to do your best is the healthiest way to live for most people.  Makes me wonder though if that absurd drive to win is a necessary thing for those who are competing to be the best in the world.  If there isn't another player forcing you to push harder, if you only look at your own development, can you ever be the best there is?  I suspect not.

Being the best there is is a path to sadness, mostly, so I don't recommend it, but I think I might be programmed to do that anyway.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Arms made for licking

The other day I saw Wendy watching this video.


There are some very ripped men doing some challenging yoga poses and at the end they go upside down, their kilts fall down, and you get to see their butts.

Wendy was watching it with a look that clearly said "I really wish they would spill something on themselves so I could offer to lick it off of them."

I don't get it, not exactly.  I mean, I recognize that they have the kind of bodies that create that feeling in many people, but I don't get the feeling myself.

But I do want to get that reaction from people!

I don't want to do hours and hours of yoga each day though.  And I can't suddenly be 23 again, those 15 extra years are stacked on me and they aren't going away.  Also I don't have a video team sitting around trying to get the hottest possible shots of me.

What I can do is get bigger, so that is my goal.  As I have many times in my exercising kick I went online to see what the world could tell me.  Specifically I was trying to find out how far apart I should space my workouts.  I knew that the advice about how to work out was nearly worthless with advice being vague or contradictory or both.  Perhaps the advice on how often to work out would be better, I thought.

I was wrong.

The advice on how often to work out was 'as often as once a day or as seldom as once every four days, depending.'  Great, how useful.  When details were given they were couched in such uncertain language it was clear the author was desperately trying to avoid having actually recommended anything in particular.  However, every though each individual article was worthless, when I looked at all of them a trend emerged.  They were all referencing the fact that muscle growth occurs during rest and healing.  So I asked a friend of mine who is into weight lifting in a big way if the solution was to just wait until you stop hurting and then work out again.  He agreed, and said that you should work out again once your body has healed from the previous.

This is actionable advice!  Simple, yet flexible based on the individual situation.  Why weren't people telling me this, I wondered...

But a few seconds of reflection made it clear.  You could give really good lifting advice by telling people to find a weight that is challenging to lift, lift it until you can't anymore, take it slow and easy, and after lifting rest until you feel good again before the next workout.

No one is going to pay for that advice.  It is obvious, does not project any great expertise, and doesn't set you up to make money off of giving more advice.

I feel good again after a single sleep.  I don't need multiple days - the next day I am ready to go again.  This means that all I have to do is lift for an hour a day, every day, and then I will have arms that make people wish I spilled something on them.  I have a plan.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Universal Efficiency

I recently got to reading some articles about old economic predictions from economists in the 30s.

Stop laughing.

One of the most famous is Keynes' prediction that people would have dropped down to a 15 hour workweek by this point due to increases in efficiency.  We are way more efficient, as many people including Keynes predicted, but that efficiency hasn't lowered our workweek length.  There are lots of reasons, including that people like working hard and long at their jobs, and that our efficiency gains have gotten rid of jobs in factories but people simply expect even more services now than ever before.  Our watches are cheaper but we want more baristas, more therapists, and more entertainers, and their jobs aren't really improving in efficiency via technology.

We also adapt to new technology by simply having higher standards.  Better washing machines doesn't mean more free time, it just means we wash clothes more often than we used to.  Vaccuum cleaners have increased the standard of cleanliness of floors.  People change to demand more of everyone else rather than keeping the standards the same when new tools arise.

I think we should consider our way of distributing wealth as another major factor.  In the salary method we use now if I decide to work 4 hours a week I can't exist.  It doesn't matter that stuff is cheaper and that we are efficient, because a normal person working 40 hours a week has ten times as much money.  They have more computers and clothes and such, which isn't a big problem, but they also have 10 times as much money to spend on housing.  There aren't any places to live that are 1/10th as much as a normal apartment.  I don't just have less house - I am homeless.  That is going to be true no matter how much more efficient we get.  If I have 10% of the money of a normal person, my life is nonfunctional.  If I work 40 hours a week, a normal person can earn more than me by working longer, but they actually can't work that much longer, and they definitely can't work 10 times as long to price me out of the market completely.

That all changes under a Universal Income scheme.  Suddenly I am guaranteed enough money for a basic living.  My home won't be nice, but it won't be a box in an alley.  If I want to work 4 hours a week it will improve my situation, and I might do it, or I might not, but it is possible to live while doing so.  The pressure of competition is mightily reduced when my income is not proportional to the hours I work.

This is one of the arguments for a Universal Income policy.  Our lives have so much more than they used to but the benefits are deeply concentrated at the top.  Normal people can't actually make use of the gains in efficiency we are seeing because they have to compete so tirelessly against everyone else.

I don't think we actually want a situation where every year human society produces so much more stuff than the year before but everyone has to continue to work at pointless jobs to have enough to exist.  I think we want a society where increased robotics usage means people have more time to do what they want.  Maybe what they want is reading, painting, raising children, or writing cool code.  Maybe it is rock climbing or dating or learning a new language.

A world where people can pay their bills and still pursue these other things is a good world.  It is a world where we can honestly say that all the things our society is doing to make things more and bigger and faster is actually improving our lives.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The difficulty of understanding teapots

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with Pinkie Pie about religion and belief in God.  We talked about some of the reasons for believing in God and Pinkie Pie brought up the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the One True God.  She found the idea of the FSM hilarious, needless to say.

I took the opportunity to talk about why the FSM exists as an idea.  I described how it was a response  to various specious 'proofs' of the existence of one god or another.  After all, there isn't anything to convince us that an omnipotent creator isn't a FSM instead of whatever other version of god people have cooked up.

I also talked some about Russell's teapot.  That is, I presume that there is a teapot floating out in space, perhaps full of warm tea with two lumps of sugar.  It is just far enough away from Earth that our telescopes cannot detect it.  Since you cannot disprove the existence of the teapot, I presume that it does exist.  Just like the FSM this is an argument that shows how silly the 'God exists because you can't prove he doesn't' line of reasoning is.  The burden of proof on someone making a specific claim that lies outside any observed phenomenon lies with the person making the claim, not those who would ignore it.

I thought I was so clever.  Teaching my child about reasoning and argument and debate.  Look at me imparting wisdom to a young mind and inoculating her against propaganda!

On Friday Pinkie Pie was watching Futurama with a friend of hers and the FSM came up in the episode they were soaking in.  Pinkie Pie then proceeded to explain the FSM and Russell's teapot to her friend.  What Pinkie Pie got across was that in space there is a giant spaghetti god and also a teacup full of tea with sugar.  The teacup is there, but also not there, and it is tremendously funny.

The part about the burden of proof didn't quite make it into her explanation.  Nothing about skepticism, science, or debate was covered.  Just hilarity and various foodstuffs in the cold dark of space.

There are days where I am convinced I am a good parent and teaching my child things is useful.  Then there are days full of giggles and space food and the crushing sense of impending doom that comes from knowing that these children are one day going to be running the world and the people trying to teach them about it are failing miserably.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sex on the table in the restaurant, but only if necessary

I just saw this picture on Facebook, on a post about International Loneliness and Bitterness Day.


It made me want to call up my girlfriend and head off to a restaurant with her and my wife to get a free meal.  We would have a lovely time of it I am sure, as we all quite enjoy each other's company, and food just tastes so much better when you don't have to pay for it.

I can just imagine the manager trying to squirm out of giving a free meal.  I have solid proof of my marriage, but 'proving' that my girlfriend is such a thing is trickier.  We could have a good solid makeout session in the restaurant, but it isn't clear that this would completely convince them.  Obviously we could just have sex on the table after we were done eating, but that would definitely break some laws.

Wendy noticed me writing the first half of this post and commented that she really wanted to do this some day.  The free ride to the hospital is even useful because that could get her back to work without having to pay a transit fare.  Bonus!

In any case this sort of thing is the reason I yammer on so much about polyamory.  The assumption that if you have two romantic partners that someone must be getting injured is sad.  It isn't even reasonable in a monogamous situation as jealousy is not an excuse for violence.  Some day that assumption may wane, in which case the point of me bringing this up with vanish with it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A blade of pink

I have bought a fair variety of disposable razor blades over the years.  One odd thing I found was that the rate of replacement was independent of how regularly I shaved, and depended entirely on the passage of time.  If I shaved five times a week my razors lasted a week, if I shaved once a week I had to change the blade each shave.  Somehow my beard did a fixed amount of damage to the blade per unit time.

A few weeks ago I had run out of blades and had a fiercely itchy face so I decided to just use one of Wendy's razors.  I wasn't sure if there were actual differences between razors marketed to men and those marketed to women, but it certainly seemed like it would do the job.  I am not so picky.

Strangely it did a far better job than any razors I have previously used.  It was sharper, shaved more cleanly, and felt better than all previous versions.  Not only that, but I used it multiple times and it lasted a full month rather than a single week.

It isn't a savings in terms of waste because the new razor has a handle attached to it so I need to toss the entire thing instead of just the head attachment but it lasts four times as long so that seems worthwhile.  It is a savings in terms of money though because it is far cheaper to use pink razors marketed for women than the ones I have been using for years and years.

I wonder why this is.  Is it that pink razors also have stronger steel, better components, or some other feature?  Perhaps I just have a face uniquely suited to a razor mostly designed for legs and armpits rather than faces.  Is my face like a leg moreso than it is like other men's faces?

My impression is that many things marketed to women cost more than those marketed to men even when quality and design is the same.  There is a cost to having a pink box, as I understand it, purely for reasons of profit.

But my razor experience flies in the face of that.  Pink razors marketed to women are by far superior to all my previous options both in quality and value and I don't know why.  If anyone can enlighten me as to why this would be true, please do speak up.  Are men's razors a scam?  Is my face weird?  Why is this a thing?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

So much fire

I have been binge watching Game of Thrones this past week.  It is a hard show to watch, in that even when I know a favourite character is going to die it is difficult to watch the scenes leading up to the death, though the death itself is often easy enough.  Even when I know a high tension situation will result in the protagonist escaping I desperately worry about them dying nonetheless.

One thing I have noticed is that there is WAY too much fire in that show.

Everywhere anyone goes there are torches, candles, blazing braziers, and lanterns.  Somehow everyone has access to armies of people with nothing else to do but produce light for them.

Now I know that most of the characters are nobles who in fact do have armies of peasants producing things for them, but this is true even for those who are desperately poor and in dire circumstances.  Every library scene seems to have dozens of candles burning for no reason.  Every bedroom has lanterns going at all hours.  All kinds of nearly abandoned places have fires burning merrily at all times in every corner... who is chopping all that wood?!?

I know, I know.  It is for mood, for good shots, so we can actually see the characters.  With reasonable lighting in the scenes everything would be shadows, and we wouldn't be able to get the most out of gratuitous nudity if things weren't well lit.

But geez, do the writers have any idea how much effort it takes to get all the oil and wax and wood that the people in that world burn with no care whatever for how long it took to acquire it?  I know about chopping wood, and nobody would waste that much when they could get someone to do something else productive instead of flatten every forest in the nation.

I am fine with visions of the future, dragons, blood magic, and absurdly large ancient buildings.  But there is WAY too much fire in Game of Thrones.

Spend a few weekends chopping wood yourself and you won't be able to unsee it either, mark my words.