Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Don't Say That

So when do common pregnancy jitters cross the line into a clinical phobia? And, if [tokophobia] is as prevalent as some research suggests, why isn’t it more widely recognized? The answer may have to do with the difficulty of being open about not looking forward to something that most people consider a miracle—especially when more than six million women in the U.S. alone have problems getting or staying pregnant and may dream of having children.
Too Afraid to Have a Baby
When I read this, I found myself wondering if this was a gendered phenomenon. After all, according to Wikipedia, about 14% of men are infertile, but I was never given the impression that I should hold back from saying that I have never wanted to be a father because it's possible that the person I was talking to may have been unable to have biological children of their own. Perhaps its because I don't spend much time with couples contemplating childbirth - being in my mid-forties, the time that people tend to look forward to the birth of a child is long past for most of the people in my social circles.

Maybe it's another part of the tough guy stereotype - men aren't supposed to display emotionality in public, so while an infertile man might be crushed by the idea that I have never had any intention of being a parent, they just can't admit to it. But even as I write that, it sounds to silly to be rationally considered.

I suspect that it's simply a part of women's socialization - the role of mother is considered much more central to "womanhood" than the role of father is to "manhood." But while that makes a certain amount of sense to me, it does so because it fits into my stereotypes about gender stereotypes. Although it's possible that this is simply one of those situations where there is some truth in stereotyping.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I Digress...

As sometimes happens when I am incautious, I stumbled into an online argument over evolution. One of the arguments advanced for the "evolution did not happen," side was as follows:

Evolution was one of the things used to sponsor racism by accusing black people of being lesser evolved therefore being an animal and property and not human. All it takes to be ostracized or mistreated is to be dehumanized. That's what happens when people are objectified.
The idea that people of African descent were more advanced than monkeys, but less so than Europeans was well known, and well documented in colonial America, long before Darwin or even Lamarck. The fact that racists can use specific, cherry picked, aspects of a scientific theory to justify what they already want to believe is not the fault of or in that theory. White racists also used the story of Noah and the great flood to justify the enslavement of Africans, yet I haven't heard anyone seriously take that as proof that the Bible objectifies people, and therefore should be ignored in a color-blind society. So while I understand where my interlocutor was coming from, I have more respect for people who just say: "This theory makes me uncomfortable/doesn't make sense to me/doesn't square with the world as I observe it/contradicts other things I understand to be true, and thus, I choose to believe differently," than people who pick and choose which facts they consider relevant, so they can tell themselves that they're being objective.

But that, of course, is a recipe for being called closed-minded, incurious or even foolish. In other words, while I might have some respect for such a position, few other people do. Which is something of a shame. A Truth Reflex serves us little better as a society as it does for individuals.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Seeing the Future

So my social media feed is popping up all sorts of horror stories concerning the referendum for the UK to leave the European Union. One wonders how many of them, if any, will come true. It's kind of a shame that the fear-mongering doesn't stop once the ballots have been counted.

I suspect that five or ten years from now people will look back on the referendum vote and no-one will remember the horror stories. It's the way of all predictions - everyone forgets the ones that done come true.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


A lot has been made of the xenophobia that may people claim drives elements of Republican support for Donald Trump or the Leave the EU campaign in Great Britain. But I was thinking about it a couple of days ago, and something came to me.

While proponents of immigration often portray it as a win-win with both the immigrants and the established population of a place reaping benefits, if you wind the clock way back, would you say that Africa, the Americas and Australia were a win-win when Europeans arrived? Were you to poll the descendants of the native populations, would they see themselves as better off now that they would have been had Europeans never arrived - or at least if they had not arrived in the way that they did?

And I wonder if that doesn't factor into it. Do people who fear waves of immigration have a vision in their heads that's less Ellis Island and more Conquistadors or colonists? If one sees what happened when Europeans spread throughout the world as less about a particular time in history, and more about human nature in general, is it surprising that they see themselves as threatened?

Saturday, June 18, 2016


There were bicycle races at Seattle's Volunteer Park today.

Friday, June 17, 2016


The term "gun" is a broad one, and as such it has a number of definitions based on both form and function. But, when we talk about guns in public discourse, as we often do when "gun violence" makes its way into someplace that Mainstream America considers "safe," it's not always clear that we're talking about those definitions. Or at least, that's what my observation of the debate tells me.

Broadly speaking, when we talk about the gun/gun control debate in the United States, we're talking about a split in "working class" and higher America. Violence is endemic enough in poor Black and Hispanic communities that no-one bats am eyelash at it. Whether they consider it a side effect of a culture of inequality, or the predictable consequences of laziness and a bent towards criminality, it's just par for the course in some neighborhoods. And for all that we say that we value a unified nation, we've never really been a unified populace - and Americans are no less likely than anyone else to determine that "Not my problem" is the functional equivalent to "Not a problem." But in those classes of American society where violence is just enough of a factor that it has a place in the imagination, there are basically two camps. What they have in common is that they tend to equate guns with violence and lethal force.

Guns mean the ability to act on the urge to kill.
For Blue-State America (to use a common political breakdown which is of some use here), guns become the means by which violent urges become violent acts that become the deaths of innocent people, and although a world without guns (which is really simply a world in which only the right people have guns) is not entirely a world without violence, it is a world in which violence is more easily localized, contained and survivable.

For Red-State America, guns become the means by which one defends oneself and loved ones from the violent urges of others - and many of these Others are dangerous, even if they do not have guns. Others may be bigger, stronger, faster and more versed in the ways of violence, but a gun makes all things equal, so that those who were once vulnerable and weak cam now stand up for themselves without reliance on authorities - who are likely to be slow to respond - if not agents of dangerous Others themselves.

And when we add the nebulous category of "assault weapons" into the mix, meanings can shift again. The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, otherwise known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, dealt only partially with the function of the weapons it targeted, concerning itself mostly with outward appearances, potential accessories and even weight to some degree. For many members of the general public, assault weapons are like pornography - they may not be able to define them, but they know one when they see one. And again, there are shared elements in the way the two camps see them.
Assault weapons mean certain things about Others and groups.
For Red-State America, assault weapons can take the image of The Great Equalizer a step further - allowing one brave person to stand up against the dangerous Other even when the Other comes in groups.

For Blue-State America, assault weapons allow dangerous Others to kill and maim many more people at one time than they could otherwise, turning what would be at most a handful of dead or injured into dozens or scores of casualties, and to bring violence into areas that, because they are inhabited by groups, would otherwise be Safe.

This is, of course, not the whole of the divide, nor the whole of the debate. One could write entire volumes on the topic. An evening's blog post will barely scratch the surface. But when you look at these different understanding of what guns mean, of what assault weapons mean, it begins to become clearer why the two sides are so at odds with one another. Even if it offers no hints on how to bridge the divide.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Make Me Feel Fine

Blowing through the jasmine in my mind...

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Proper Time

I have nothing against accuracy, or even precision, in public discourse. It comes in very handy, and, to be honest, is all too often lacking. But it's one thing to make sure that we're all speaking the same language, or that we're broadly sticking to the facts, and it's another to attempt to derail another person's argument by picking away at the words they they're using.

The central problem that we have in the "debate" over firearms, and access thereto, in the United States, is that the two camps that are the loudest are diametrically opposed to one another. Speaking in generalizations, there is a camp that believes that the role of the State is to limit or deny access to personal weaponry to all but those institutions controlled or sanctioned by the State - the military, law, enforcement and security organizations - and that we will all be safer for it. The opposing camp believes that the role of the State is to protect access to personal weaponry for any citizen that wishes one who has not already been proven a danger - and that we will all be safer for it. Again, generally speaking, each camp believes that the other acts with bad faith, seeking to sacrifice others for its own ends. And for the most part, neither side owns up to the sacrifices that its chosen path entails, preferring to either deny them or blame them for their fates.

In an attempt to make what are often emotional arguments into seemingly objective ones, people fashion selectively-chosen facts into clubs with which to bludgeon their opposition, and seek to silence by demanding a rigid adherence to those facts and figures. Which moves us no closer to anything resembling progress.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Befitting the Crime

“Think of the value of a two-year prison sentence in terms of what this would communicate about our social norms,” [Michele] Dauber said. “No matter who you are, no matter how important you are as an athlete, or that you’re white, or that you go to Stanford, we make no exception for you [...].”
Adrienne LaFrance “What Makes the Stanford Rape Case So Unusual
Other people have echoed this sentiment, making the point that longer prison sentences communicate that we take the crimes of rape and sexual assault seriously. But that prompted me to think, who are we making that point to? I mean, the only reason that I’d ever heard of Brock Turner was that the victim’s statement went viral. Otherwise, it’s rare for rape cases to make national headlines, and so how often do we really hear about the sentences? My own understanding of the social norms around sexual assault is that being accused of a rape has pretty good chance of landing me in jail for a very long time, if not the rest of my life - whether I did it or not. And I will admit that there are times I organized my life around the idea that being suspected of a crime is very, very bad for me, and something to be avoided at all costs.

These two things are linked in that we rarely hear about the run-of-the-mill cases in which the justice system works more or less in line with our expectations - mainly, I think, because being unsuitable for sympathy and/or outrage mining, these stories are not deemed worth reporting. And so what makes the news are those cases in which a young man receives a six-month sentence for sexual assault because a judge wants to cut him a break or when a man is released from prison after serving part of a life sentence because it turns out that the confession was bogus or an eyewitness identification was flawed.

What occurred to me when people were making the argument that the light sentence in the Turner case sent a message about how much we valued the victims of sexual violence was that I had no real idea of what the standard sentence for rape was. It turns out that I vastly overestimated it - mainly because of the effect that I noted above. I’m accustomed to hearing about men being exonerated while serving long sentences - but it turns out that, for example, some of the members of the Central Park Five had already served more than the average sentence for rape cases before being exonerated.

So if we’re only hearing about the outliers - the cases where the outrage mill has ginned up in its never-ending search for attention - how will we ever understand what our broader social norms are, let alone what we intend them to be? If the cases in which there are no disparities, where justice truly is blind and the system works never make the headlines, who other than lawyers and legal junkies will ever know about them? In this, I think that all of us are flying blind. The legal system’s effectiveness as a deterrent is undermined by a lack of understanding of what punishments fit what crimes, and people are unwilling to trust it, because it only enters the picture when something goes wrong with it.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Not Unanticipated

“And [Congress] certainly didn’t anticipate that manufacturers would utilize the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] to kill competition, stop software tinkering, chill research, and prohibit ‘unauthorized’ repairs.”
Kyle Wiens “Copyright, the Internet of Things, and the End of Ownership
I’d be surprised to find that’s true. The idea that it would be illegal to make modifications to technology is older than 1998. I suspect that Congress, on many occasions, has written laws that grant powers that are remarkably easy to abuse, and simply taken it on faith that companies won’t abuse them.

There is an idea, I think, that the general public watches corporate entities like hawks, and is ready to vote with their wallets en masse at the first sign of assholery. But I don’t think that this is anywhere near the truth. The fact of the matter tends to be that many people feel that corporations can be trusted to one degree or another (in large part, I think, because they've convinced themselves that _someone_ out there is looking out for them). Take the case of Leo Skolnick.

“Mr. Skolnick smoked, and smoking caused his cancer,” said Scott Schlesinger, one of the attorneys for Mrs. Skolnick. “But he trusted the word of tobacco companies who told him over the decades that tobacco was safe.”
Yes, one can make the case that he should have known better than to believe that cigarettes weren’t dangerous, but it’s worth pointing out that tobacco companies once featured physicians in their advertising. And it’s unlikely that they would have pushed the line for so long, if they hadn’t expected, on some level, to be believed, at least by someone.

And many of our interactions with businesses operate in a decidedly one-sided manner. As I noted back in 2011, we’ve become accustomed to signing legally binding contracts before we've actually read them. When I asked for a copy of cellular phone company's terms and conditions beforehand, so I could use that as a way of differentiating between companies, only Verizon had copies in their retail stores in an easily-accessible place. The employees and Sprint and T-Mobile wouldn’t even have known the document if they saw it. And while the management of my apartment complex are used to it now, I used to throw them for a loop by asking them to print up a copy of each new lease a week before I planned to sign it, so that I could read it, word for word, first.

Of course, not everyone is convinced that corporations are on the up and up - or that the public is paying attention. Elizabeth Warren crusaded for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency precisely because believes that people don't read contracts, especially financial ones, and wouldn’t understand them if they did. (After listening to her, I was surprised to find that my bank’s credit card contract was only about one-eighth as long as the ones she references.)

And I think that there is also another factor at play, one more deeply rooted in American history, and that is that wealthy people and organizations are inherently more moral than the rest of us. This allows for a society that expects companies to always act in a trustworthy manner, and looks askance at the public. Despite the fact that no-one is perfect, and the United States Postal Service is no exception, business are allowed to assume that a) if they put a correspondence in the mail, the intended recipient absolutely received it and b) if they didn’t receive a correspondence, it wasn’t sent. By the same token, they’re allowed to make reimbursements for errors on their own timetables, yet punish customers for failing to do things when the company wants them done, without oversight - despite the fact that a business having a customer’s money for a long period of time is likely to be much more damaging than a customer having a businesses money.

None of this is a secret. It’s just way things are organized. And, given that, I think that we should be prepared to assume that the Powers That Be are fully aware of this reality.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Rage Against the Species

David Frum is angry. The target of his anger is one Larry Taunton, who has written a book, entitled "The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist." And the book is the reason for Mr. Frum's anger. To make a long story (and an interesting read) short, Mr. Frum takes exception to what he understands as Mr. Taunton's characterization of the late Mr. Hitchens as a) someone who was flirting with the idea of a conversion to Christianity, despite his very public atheism, and b) a thoroughly reprehensible person - even while he portrays himself as the author and polemicist's friend.

In order to be sure that he wasn't misrepresenting Mr. Taunton, Mr. Frum interviews him directly. And this where things become interesting. Mr. Frum points out that Mr. Taunton only makes a single unambiguously favorable statement about Mr. Hitches where he does not also complement himself, and when Mr. Taunton becomes defensive about this, Mr. Frum asks what complements he pays Mr. Hitchens in his book:

In other words, even when challenged: “You seem unable to say something non-disparaging about the man you call your friend”—even in the course of his own attempt to demonstrate that after all he could say something non-disparaging—Taunton only produced more denigration.
This strikes me as a side effect of what happens when a friendship is potentially born out of a desire to redeem a bad person - and Christians and Atheists have a habit of regarding the other as bad people. One of Mr. Taunton's other books is "The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief," and one of Mr. Hitchen's most famous is "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

And so, to a certain degree, I begrudge Mr. Frum his anger. After all, he describes Mr. Taunton as "an evangelical publicist and promoter," and a page for his book describes him as a Christian apologist. Why would one expect that his view of Mr. Hitchens, a man who had devoted his life to the idea that religion, including Christianity, was a virtual cancer to be even moderately positive? From sayings such as "There are no atheists in foxholes," to the assertion( that atheism stems from "a persistent immoral response of some sort, such as resentment, hatred, vanity, unforgiveness, or abject pride." It's easy to see how a devout Christian can see atheists as bad people.

In this, Mr. Frum makes something of the same mistake that he accuses Mr. Tauton of - not expecting him to believe what he professes to believe. A man who sees unbelief in Christianity as "corruption" and a world without Christianity as "cold, pitiless, and graceless," is unlikely to consistently have a very high opinion of someone who is bent on bringing about that world.

This is a topic that I've written about before. Not as a convenient way of knocking Christianity, or any other religion, but as a reminder to understand that sometimes, it's not about us. Mr. Frum's column is subtitled: "Larry Taunton's new book says more about its author than about the man he claims as a friend." But this would be true even if it were effectively a glowing hagiography of the man. Mr. Frum's column can be described the same way - as more about Mr. Frum than it is about Mr. Taunton. I think that all writing is like that. Despite the fact that I rarely write about myself from an autobiographical standpoint, Nobody in Particular is always, at it's core, about me, whether it my sliding into writing about Things Aaron Hates, or my consistent push to avoid simply using this as a forum to complain about things.

And in that sense, it does us no good to be angry at people for, well, being people.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Blood Money

There are parts of Africa in which people believe that the body parts of albinos have the ability to make one wealthy, either by being useful in magical ceremonies, or by being literally infused with gold. This leads to a trade in albinos body parts, which is picked up on every few years by Western news outlets. This time, it's The Economist's turn to trot out some horror stories and the reaction is predictable. In the comment section of one social media link to the story a man from another part of Africa called the killers "Retarded savages."

And a thought occurred to me. I've known people who could tell you how much it would cost you to have someone murdered by a killer-for-hire. Why does the fact that our murder markets lack any supernatural motivation make them any better?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


There are times when Cluelessness is indistinguishable from Disrespectfulness. In other words, "If you respected me, you'd take it upon yourself to understand me better. And as I am entitled to your respect, I am also entitled to being understood." I understand the sentiment. I remember feeling that way. I remember all of the times that I felt slighted, not because someone has set out to slight me, but because they didn't make a point of engaging with me in a way that felt that I was entitled to. They OWED me, and they didn't deliver. And so I felt that I had a right to be upset.

I don't know if I'm moving towards a more enlightened way of dealing with people, have mellowed in my old age or am simply succumbing to cynicism and resignation. But I've stopped expecting people to regard the way I want to be seen as more important than their life experiences up to the point at which I encounter them. One of the interesting things about Bellingham, Washington for me is that it is the only place in which I have actually heard living, breathing people refer to their fellow citizens as "colored." My first thought (even though my sister has warned me about this) was, "Wow. I didn't know that I'd hit the off-ramp to 1950." Of course, once I got over the sheer you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me-ness of it all, I was somewhat bothered. Calling people "colored" was, for me, a throwback to a time before when I was born, and the stories that I'd heard about that time in American history weren't pleasant. And so I started to become concerned that more than just the language was backwards. But I was on their turf, not the other way around. This was simply the way they'd grown up doing things, and all of the things that were going through my head at that moment were completely invisible to them. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that people there had heard that the 21st century had arrived, and that "Colored" was no longer an appropriate way of referring to people. But so what? Was I, just some random dude who happened to be up there to meet with some other people that I knew, really important enough for the locals to police their language on my behalf? Given all of the other things that they had going on in their lives? Of course not. And I do think that there is a certain amount of maturation that comes in realizing that.

And once you stop berating people for being Clueless, the rest of it becomes easier. For better and for worse, it's easier to be less bothered by Disrespect. On balance, I think the better holds the majority. But I can understand why that's not true for everyone, and so they hang on to the idea that to respect them is to know them.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Thursday, June 2, 2016


I think it has also hijacked the attention of the press to the extent that for many months, they weren't giving Donald Trump the kind of due diligence, the kind of tough scrutiny in his business life that you would give to a politician for his earlier political life. And I think Trump did that by feeding the press so much. It was irresistible to the press. The ratings show it. The clicks show it. This will be a time of high profits for cable news. But it meant that, for many months, he was able to escape a different kind of scrutiny that I think would have served the voter better.
David Folkenflik "Trump Takes On Media For Questioning His Fundraising Efforts For Veterans"
"The ratings show it. The clicks show it." What this says to me is, regardless what people might say, is that they're more interested in the showmanship angle of Donald Trump than they are in "due diligence" or "tough scrutiny" of him. And "the media," being a business, caters to that, and Mr. Trump knows it. I understand that people feel that a hard-hitting and  dogged news media are the watchdogs of a vibrant democracy, but it's also worth pointing out that we don't live in a nation where very many people are willing to give media outlets money without any strings attached. And that even goes for public broadcasters like National Public Radio, which has an audience, and has to do some level of catering to that audience.

It's often said that "the media" has been suborned by the wealthy and powerful in this nation, who have lulled the populace into self-destructive complacency with a constant diet of colorful circuses; but if that's the case, then we still have to accept some responsibility in our own fates. After all, no-one is making us watch or read certain media, and the World Wide Web means that any number of people can be different sources of information.

In this regard, I think that the media is serving the voter. The voter knows what they want, whether or not what they want is what others think they should want or need.