Sunday, April 27, 2014

Friday, April 25, 2014

Serenity

About a week ago, for a half hour, I was at peace. There was no stress, no anxiety, no anger, no neediness. I was, well, okay with myself in an odd, perfect sort of way.

It had been a strange week. I'd found myself in the middle of arguments between Christians and non-Christians, attempting to be a voice of reason. It was my Truth Reflex, kicking in again, and I was working to tell people on both sides of the dispute that, the people they were arguing with were better people than they presumed they were. Most people, it turns out, are terrible salespeople for their beliefs, mainly because they understand their positions to be self-evident to the point that any properly rational, discerning or ethical person should come to understand them as the Truth, and therefore, failure to come around marks one as inappropriately irrational, gullible or deliberately Evil. And apparently, arguing that rational, discerning or ethical people can disagree on such things is also grounds for being lumped in with the silly, foolish and wicked.

I pushed back against my irritation at being characterized thus by reminding myself that I was always entitled to my own positive self-regard, even if everything that they said about me, and more besides, was true. So what if I was irrational, gullible and/or unethical? Why should I internalize their requirements to see myself as worthy? I heard the voices of my Inner Critic, and, prehaps for the first time in my life, rather than running away from or fighting back against the judgments its voices leveled at me, I embraced them. I recognized that those judgments were a part of me, but they were not me.

And for thirty beautifully peaceful, serene minutes, it worked.

I knew at the time that it would not last, and I did not attempt to cling to it, instead focusing on staying in the moment, and letting it run its course. What was done once can be done again, and desire runs counter to self-acceptance. I know now that I have done it, and that, for now, is enough.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Good Master

So, Cliven Bundy put his entire leg into his mouth by implying that "the Negro" might be better off if they (perhaps I should say "we") were still slaves.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
A Defiant Rancher Savors the Audience That Rallied to His Side
High-visibility Republican lawmakers who hoped to burnish their TEA Party credentials by publicly siding with him are now backing away from him, ostensibly, because of his odious views on race. Now, I'm going to go out on a limb, here and say that, more than likely, Senators Rand Paul and Dean Heller are being sincere in their condemnation of Bundy's remarks. After all, while there are White Supremacists out there, and it's likely that at least a few of them would openly favor a return to chattel slavery, that position is so far out of the mainstream that it's unlikely that any of them have made it into the current United States Senate.

But the thing about it that's being missed in the rush to throw stones at an old man too foolish to choose his words carefully when he's on camera is that Bundy wasn't being just a racist. He was also being tribalist, and that's likely what spurred him to speak up in the first place. As I understand him, yep, African Americans are the same, barely-civilized people that most of the antebellum South perceived them as being. And therefore, it is The White Man's Burden to uplift and care for them. The point that Bundy is making here is that people can either accept that burden or shirk it, and that keeping African-Americans as property, yet inculcating them in the correct "conservative" values is to accept that burden, while allowing them to live their lives as they see fit, but with public assistance is to allow them to backslide into savagery, and thus shirk one's duty.

And because the Conservative slaveowner is such a dutiful person, then the horrors of slavery, as it was formerly practiced in the United States, would never come to pass. Picking cotton would cease to become backbreaking labor. Slaves could have a family life without their partners or children being sold off at a whim for the slaveowner's profit - or as punishment. When the cotton picking was done, the benighted African-Americans would be able to do as they pleased without their owners seeking to saddle them with even more duties. All because Conservatives are the right kind of people. Therefore, even if you literally gave them other people as their property, to do with whatever they pleased, and with literal power of life and death over them, they would avoid becoming the sorts of despots and abusers that Liberals are.

It is, I think, this sort of tribalism, moreso than racism or White Supremacy, that threatens the United States. If a house divided against itself cannot stand, a house were people feel that they are above even the most obvious sorts of abuses while those they disagree with are black-hearted villains must be divided against itself. Slavery in the United States didn't descend into a horror of tyranny, maltreatment and misery because too many slaveholders shirked their White Man's Burden out of leftest ideas of human rights, the equality of all people and cultural relativism. And we should never let people pretend that it did. Even if we first castigate them for things we feel are worse.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Gray Hat

I've never understood the insistence on the part of the United States government that we are attempting to be "honest brokers" in the "peace process" between the Israelis and Palestinians. It's always seemed pretty obvious to me that we've chosen a side.

America poses as an honest broker, but everywhere it is perceived as Israel’s lawyer. The American-sponsored “peace process” since 1991 has been a charade: all process and no peace while providing Israel with just the cover it needs to pursue its illegal and aggressive colonial project on the West Bank.
Avi Shlaim, Israel Needs to Learn Some Manners
But, as my father used to tell me, "obvious" is something that's so crystal-clear that you're the only person who sees it. (It is nice, through, that Mister Shlaim, and John Cassidy, over at The New Yorker also see it this way. It reduces the feeling that I'm missing something.) So I understand that there's a reasonable explanation for why people in the United States and Israel take the State Department and the White House at face value when they claim to be an unbiased third party.

What I'm not sure I understand is why it seems to be so difficult for us as a nation to understand why pretty much no-one else sees us that way. The United States has used its Security Council veto 42 times on Israel's behalf since 1978, and appears to take the public stance that Israel can do no wrong, and that international action against the Jewish state is always politically-motivated harassment, no matter how open the apparent violation of international law. The United States rarely considers such open support for an ally to be justified when other nations engage in it.

In its own eyes, the United States of America is self-evidently "the Good Guy." And we see this attitude in American dealings around the globe. Which is fine. But we don't seem to be able to get to the point where we understand that everyone else is the hero of their own story, too. And this allows us to think of our self-image as a reflection of an objective reality, rather than simply the result our perception of the world around us. And therefore, I think, the American mindset sees the world as a more hostile place than it would otherwise be.

One recurring attitude that I've encountered in a number of different facets of life is the idea that when you're doing things correctly, you will draw the unearned ire of people who have been, due to their own flawed characters, seduced into Doing It Wrong. And the common side-effect of this mindset is that the hostility that one engenders in those one doesn't like is proof of one's own correctness. This strikes me as dubious enough in personal relationships. I can't imagine that it's a viable way to conduct international diplomacy. Yet it appears to be the basis of American insistence that we're a neutral umpire, rather than a fan.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Without Representation

“I think this woman is wrong about something on the Internet. Clearly my best course of action is to threaten her with rape.”

That’s crazy talk, right? So why does it happen all the time?

Honest question, dudes.
Andy Khouri, “Fake Geek Guys: A Message to Men About Sexual Harassment
Honest answer - it's the nature of anonymous Internet. I know that it's unsatisfying, but that's the way it is. There is nothing especially evil about comic book fandom or other aspects of "geek culture." It's simply a diverse, and rather large, group of people. And - there is no group of people large enough to have entered the public consciousness that is small enough to not have any jackasses in it.
How do we fight this war? We stop enabling. We check ourselves and, when necessary, wreck ourselves.
Okay then. Want to win this war? Time to give up on the idea of Internet anonymity. Because as with most such things, the sexual harassment of women online (which isn't limited to geek subjects, of course) isn't really enabled by the silence of people other than harassers. It's enabled by the ability to commit a crime and not be held accountable because no-one knows who the perpetrator is, and they lack any means to find out. Mr. Khouri lays out a list of men who need to be "checked" for not being properly respectful of women, and, judging from the number of times that his piece has shown up in my social media feeds, he has a lot of the choir nodding their heads and calling out "Amen."

But it's one thing for fandom to stand up and applaud someone who tells us to take actions that, honestly, most of us will never need to take. It's another thing to stand up and decide that the problem is how we, as a society, pay for an anonymous Internet.

People like Janelle Asselin, Kate Leth and Heidi MacDonald, just to name a few of the people listed in Mr. Khouri's piece are paying the price for internet anonymity. We live in a society where the ability to say something, and not be known to have said it, is often considered an affirmative good. It makes it easier for people to shed light on the dark places and back rooms where things are going on that we really ought to know about. But what protects the whistle-blower and the journalist also protects the stalker and the bigot. And we accept that trade-off because it makes our lives easier. It's easier to trust people to speak anonymously than it is to protect them against those who would discredit or retaliate against them.

But it means that while we all can reap the benefits on anonymous internet, the costs are not even distributed. Some people pay more than others. There is a special tax placed on certain people. And we ask them to pay it because we find that more palatable than the alternative.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Serenity

As long as I fear a life without fear, I do not have fear. Fear, instead, has me. It is the part of me without which I would not recognize myself, and I would be lost without it.

But when I no longer fear a life without fear, then I will have fear.

And what is truly mine can be cast aside.

And I will be serene.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

I See All Good People

Hey... It gets the point across, so let's go with it.
I'm not normally one for pithy sayings, mainly because I'm not very good at them. But earlier today I came across a web posting applauding a woman who was standing up to attempts to shame her - by attempting to publicly shame the perpetrators of the attempted shaming. Now, I'm not going to pretend to be shocked, shocked, by this turn of events, or become caught up in charges of hypocrisy, because I get it. And it was a fairly common argument, something along the lines of: "In attempting to devalue me for something that's not my fault, you've shown yourself to be a bad person." Or, more concisely - "I'm not the bad person - you are."

This sort of thing never struck me as very constructive, so I decided that, since this blog tends to be about Things Aaron Hates, it might make a good topic. But between going out an getting some exercise, soaking up the Seattle sunshine (I know, right?), and going grocery shopping, it occurred to me that, I could say everything I wanted to say in one sentence, instead of my usual long-winded pontificating. So, there it is.

With just a little pontification for good measure.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Unread

While it's become something of an article of faith on the American left that their fellow Americans are scientifically illiterate, I have a feeling that the problem is actually somewhat different. To me the issue seems to be a combination of economic and/or religious illiteracy. I do not claim to be either an economist or a religious scholar. The closest I've come to a formal education in economics is a sibling, and while I do have a few years of Roman Catholic theology to my name, high school was a very long time ago. Be that as it may, I have come to the conclusion that science is "under attack" in the United States because there are certain constituencies who believe (incorrectly, in my view) that in order to hold on to the economic and/or religious positions that they have staked out, they have to disprove, or at least dispute, certain items that would otherwise be considered as close to ironclad scientific fact as we currently come.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lines

Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf argues that comparisons between opponents of same sex marriage and opponents of interracial marriage are inapt and overly broad. (This, in my opinion, is always a stupid argument to get into, but I have to give him props for having the balls to go there.) Part of his reasoning for this is as follows:

Opposition to interracial marriage never included a large contingency that was happy to endorse the legality of black men and white women having sex with one another, living together, raising children together, and sharing domestic-partner benefits as long as they didn't call it a marriage.
Okay, fair enough. But let's look at what's left over. In Mr. Friedersdorf's view, "Opposition to interracial marriage was all but synonymous with a belief in the superiority of one race and the inferiority of another. (In fact, it was inextricably tied to a singularly insidious ideology of white supremacy and black subjugation that has done more damage to America and its people than anything else, and that ranks among the most obscene crimes in history.)" He agrees that wanting to withhold the term "marriage" from same-sex unions is bad, "But it's not credible to argue that they're in the same moral category as the bigots who sustained Jim Crow[...]"

From this, we can assume that, for Mr. Friedersdorf, opposition to interracial marriage is "in the same moral category" as support for Jim Crow laws.

Following are some broad examples of Jim Crow laws:
  • Marriages between whites and other races, usually specified, and not limited simply to blacks, were declared illegal and void. In some places, fines were levied, and it was even possible to go to prison.
  • Any "intimate relations" between whites and certain non-whites were illegal.
  • Natives of certain countries were barred from voting.
  • Certain immigrants were required to carry with them at all times a "certificate of residence," or risk being arrested and jailed.
  • Schools were legally segregated.
  • Multiple races could not eat in the same room, or be served in the same restaurant.
  • Amateur sports teams could not play within two blocks of a playground set aside for a different race.
  • Railways were required to be segregated, with files and jail time for conductors or passengers who failed to comply.
  • It was unlawful to rent an apartment to someone of a different race than the other occupants.
  • If a person's "lineal descendants" couldn't vote in 1866, they had to pass a literacy test to vote. (This, by the way, is related to the origin of the term "Grandfather clause.")
  • Housing covenants could be enacted that denied the right to live in entire neighborhoods to specified races - again, not limited simply to blacks.
Now, according to Mr. Friedersdorf, a person who supported anti-miscegenation statutes, is inextricably on the hook for ALL of the provisions listed above. There's just no escaping it. It is, by his reasoning, a single, undifferentiated, mass of bigotry. But the difference between saying that interracial marriage should be illegal, and saying that the marriages should be allowed, but called something other than marriage is big enough that they're in self-evidently different moral categories. Really?

Now, to be sure, my point isn't that there no room to make a moral distinction between allowing interracial civil unions and banning all interracial relationships from legal standing. My point is that if there is room for that, why is there no room between banning all interracial relationships from legal standing, and threatening people with jail simply for sitting on a train near someone of another race? Is the gap really so broad between allowing interracial civil unions and banning all interracial relationships from legal standing that is dwarfs the gap between opposition to interracial marriage and the varied other components of one of "the most obscene crimes in history?"

How you feel about opponents of same-sex marriage, whether they support civil unions or not, is not a matter of the appropriateness of drawing lines. It's about where those lines are drawn. Mr. Friedersdorf feels that it's so blatantly obvious that the line should drawn between banning marriage and terming it a civil union that he feels that no other position is credible.

I think people can be forgiven for not seeing it, and drawing their own.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mortality

The first time I thought I was going to die, I was 19. I was in the hospital, and spent an entire night awake, fearing that if I closed my eyes, I would die of an air embolism due to the IV in my arm. Well, it didn't kill me (unless I'm in the world's most boring afterlife), but it did do a lot to remove my fear of dying.

Now I'm in my mid-40s, and while I'm still okay with the fact that I'm eventually going to die, I find myself worrying about just how it's going to come about. The Grim Reaper has been picking off family members in ways that are slow, horrific or both. Of course, I understand that the things that happen to my uncles, great-aunts, et cetera don't really have an impact on me directly, but it all brings home the difference between understanding that one day, I'm going to die, and understanding that there are specific ways of dying, and I'm going to have to go through one of them. And some of them are better then others.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Who's the Parasite?

There just may be a parasite at the root of people's problems. But it's not the guy named on this flyer.
(Note that this post contains a bit of crude language.)

One Kevin Rose has become the target of a round of protests over the escalating cost of housing in San Fransisco, and the displacements and hardships that are rippling out through the lower-income workers who are increasingly finding themselves priced out of homes in and around the areas they work in.

Economics works, and when it works against you, it's a bitch.

Technology workers don't "on average earn four times more than a normal service worker," because the people who run start-ups are selectively generous. It's that there are, comparatively, a relatively small number of them. Conversely, there are a lot of people who are ready, willing and able to "serve [technology workers] coffee, deliver them food, suck their cocks, watch their kids and mop their floors." It's that fundamental disparity, which springs from a number of factors, not all of them "fair," that leads to the huge difference in pay. And because teaching the skills required to be a techie is also not something that just anyone can do (or has the resources for), learning them costs, too, creating a barrier to people abandoning the "normal" service sector for technology, which would put downward pressure on technology wages and upward pressure on service wages.

Which sucks. It's crappy to be in a job market where the skills you have aren't in high enough demand to allow you keep up with the Joneses or to go somewhere that the Joneses aren't. But that's not the Joneses' fault. They're not "parasites," they're people who are workin' for the Man, just like everyone else. When a town ain't big enough for all million-some-odd of us, the people who command the highest salaries get first pick, because that housing scarcity allows people who own housing to demand higher prices - not because it's automagically more expensive to sell or rent a home to someone with more money, but because techies are ready, willing and able (if not exactly happy about it) to give up a significant portion of that "four times more" to someone who's making out like a bandit simply because someone else is paying higher salaries.

Because how many San Fransisco homes, in the condition that they are in right now, would have commanded the prices (either to purchase or to rent) they currently do (adjusted for inflation) before the influx of technology workers came to the area? Now, I don't live in San Fransisco, so I don't have a viable frame of reference, but I'm willing to bet that a significant portion of the cost of housing increases that have come along since "the tech startup bubble" occurred for no other reason than the demand for housing has outstripped the available supply. This extra cost (appropriately known as "rent") goes straight into the pockets of the sellers and landlords for no other reason than housing scarcity - it's money that is being paid for no more value than having something that someone else cannot.

There may be parasites involved - but I suspect that there are better candidates for that label than Mr. Rose and his ilk.

People with the required education and skills to be "techies" are in higher demand than "normal service workers." And so is desirable housing And so techies can demand the lion's share of money from businesses, and people who own housing can, in turn, demand a lion's share from the techies. This leaves the service workers in a pinch - especially given the high level of competition for the relatively low-skill jobs that they currently hold. They've been trapped in a race to the bottom that is not of their own making. But it's not of Mr. Rose's making, either.
I think that they should leave out the threats. It hurts their cause in the eyes of the public.
H/T: Mike Elgan (Though I feel that perhaps Mr. Elgan is being more dismissive of the protestors' position than is perhaps warranted.)

SME

If you haven't seen "The Expert," you should take a few minutes when you have time, and watch it. It's pretty funny.

But it also offers some really biting insight into one of the most common corporate dysfunctions that I've encountered in my working life - people making promises or setting expectations without the input of the people who actually have to do the work or understand things well enough to know what's realistic and what isn't. It also illustrates the slide into cynicism that many subject matter experts grapple with, as they come to understand that despite the fact that people think they have a handle on things, they don't know what they don't know, and therefore, they can't evaluate the final deliverable in any event.

In this regard, casting the project as being about lines is brilliant, as it really allows the viewer to inhabit Anderson's mindspace and realize one of the central problems with attempting to explain things to non-experts in the subject - prior knowledge constrains explanation. (There is, of course, a snarky name for this, that I don't recall right now.) Once Anderson realizes that, regardless of what they think, Sandra and Justine don't have the requisite understanding to competently evaluate the final deliverable, he comes to understand that he could deliver virtually anything he wants, and as long as they have faith in his expertise, they will accept it as being what they asked for. Walter and Mr. Pule(?) don't know any better, either, but they have committed to the client that the project is really simple and can be easily carried out. Walter as the project manager falls into a trap that I have looked to avoid in my own career - agreeing with the higher-ups in the company, and subsequently becoming an agent for their wishes and desires, rather than being a neutral facilitator.

One of the most difficult things for many people to understand is that the role of a subject matter expert is to be the person who helps determine what's reasonable for the scope and parameters of a given project, not to rubber-stamp the desires (and often unrealistically optimistic assumptions that flow from them) that people have for it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

No Reason To Care

"God hates soft men. God hates effeminate men. If I was in a drugstore and some guy opened the door for me, I'd rip his arm off and beat him with the wet end."
Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland, Washington.
With California's former Proposition 8 being in the news again, with the flap over former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich having donated money to the yes campaign, I am reminded of this quote, which I first encountered in a newspaper column some years ago. It's not directly concerned with homosexuality, but Pastor Hutcherson had made a name for himself with his opposition to homosexuality - among other things.

A young person growing up in Pastor Hutcherson's congregation is going to learn that it's acceptable to use violence to convince people that they're neither soft, nor effeminate. If they're really unfortunate, they're going to learn that it's necessary. American society has not completely advanced to the point of indifference about sexual orientation. And that has left pockets where being understood as anything other than unambiguously straight has costs. In this case, that cost is the understanding that not being "manly" enough is going to earn you a place in Hell. Forever.

I, for my part, have cultivated an indifference which allows me to treat the gay people that I know exactly like anyone else. I don't do this because it's what's best for them. I do it because it's what's best for me. I don't care who people love or who they sleep with because it's none of my business, it makes no difference in my life and the energy that would be spent on it is required (and better spent) elsewhere. And likewise, if someone thinks that who they think I love or who they think I sleep with is a problem for them and theirs, that's none of my concern, because I can't do anything about it.

I am a happier person than Pastor Hutcherson because I don't have to live in fear or what man or deity thinks of me. I can walk through a door with both hands full and not be concerned that a wrathful deity will condemn me or that someone I know will suddenly doubt my sexual bona-fides because someone was kind enough to open it for me. Not because these things can't happen (although, as a non-believer in deities, I consider their wrath - even if it somehow made sense - to be figments of the imagination), but because I refuse to be drawn into thinking that, in the grand scheme of things, they actually matter.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Seeing Pink

In Seo Woo and her Pink Things, photographer JeongMee Yoon set out to illustrate how she "felt her daughter's life was being overtaken by pink."

I think the poor child is suffering from Post Traumatic Pink Syndrome.
When I was reading the NPR story about how pink has come to dominate the color choices of many young girls, it occurred to me that I has seen two recent pictures from movies about high-school girls. And I remembered that they had two very different levels of pink in them.
Mean Girls (2004) All four of these girls are wearing pink shirts.
In the decade and a half that separates Heathers from Mean Girls, fashion has changed considerably. Gone are the big hair, and jackets with shoulder pads. But the trendy girls are also wearing a lot more pink.
Heathers (1988) 80s fashion sense aside, there is almost no pink in any of the girls' clothes.
Of course, this isn't to say that no girls wore pink in the 1980s or that they all wore it in the 2000s, but the change here, from a pop-culture standpoint, is rather striking.