pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Comedian Leslie Jones said some very controversial things on SNL last week. You can view the clip here for now, when Hulu inevitably takes it down google "Leslie Jones first SNL Weekend Update."

I strongly believe that comedy needs to be evaluated in context and you should watch the whole clip. I originally wrote this to guilt you, the 3 friends who read this, into watching the whole clip rather than just the reading the excerpt, but I accidentally guilted myself into watch the entire episode of SNL to make sure there wasn't any context that would make me look like an idiot. As it turns out, there was, in the first 30 seconds.

Before we get to that, let me tell you the joke. People voted Lupita Nyong'o, a black woman, one of the most beautiful people of the year. Nyong'o is a bigger deviation from classic mainstream beauty standards than previous Officially Hot black women like Halle Berry or Tyra Banks, but hews much closer than Leslie Jones. Jone's joke is that during slavery she would have been the desirable one, because she's so large and strong.

The way we view black beauty has changed. I'm single right now. But back in the slave days, I would have never been single. I'm six feet tall and I'm strong, Colin, STRONG! I mean look at me! I'm a mandingo! [...]

Back in the slave days, my love life would have been way better. Master would have hooked me up with the best brother on the plantation and every nine months I'd be in the corner having a super baby. Every nine months I'd be in the corner just popping them out. Shaq! Kobe! Lebron! [...]

I would be the number one slave draft pick. All of the plantations would want me.

On its own, the only joke this "a loud black woman is saying several things white people would be shot for saying."* But you notice she kind of randomly starts listing basketball players at the end? Not just athletes, but basketball players? The show's opening bit was about LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling yelling at his mixed-race mistress for instagraming a photo of herself with Magic Johnson, who is a famous basketball player and also black. I think Jones's monologue was a deliberate call back to that, implying that the modern NBA system has some parallels with slavery. I am well disposed to this argument: sports destroys the bodies of tens of thousands of young, mostly minority, men in exchange for making a few of them rich while the white owners become wealthy. That's a real joke. She also touches on the deeply vulnerable of how beauty standards leave her out in the cold.

Unfortunately, the joke is still not very well made. You can't count on your audience having watched Schooled and read Ta-Nehisi Coates fall out of love with football. Chris Rock's rich vs. wealthy and Louis CK'sOf Course, But Maybe are great examples of the kind of baby steps you need to walk through to explain dense, unfamiliar ideas.

Sadly, there's no excuse for her framing institutionalized rape as not only consensual, but deeply wanted. There's no subversion in its use. And on twitter she called anyone who thought she was describing rape a "fucking moron". I'm also deeply disappointed she invoked "no one would criticize a man for doing this" and "you criticizing me is the problem with black people."

In conclusion: I have no problem with any of the topics of the joke, but find this particular implementation pretty lacking. But not as lacking as viewing it out of context would make you think.

*Anyone complaining that this is unfair: The social taboo against you saying these things is a direct consequence of you being on the winning side of something much worse. So while you are technically correct, you're not going to like my suggestions for making it more fair.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
This post on Ask A Manager has bothered me for the last week. The letter writer (I'll use the pronoun he, although the letter doesn't specify), locked a co-worker on a balcony minutes before a client meeting. The co-worker escaped, physically pulled the LW out of the meeting, and threatened him with bodily harm. The LW is really upset by this and wondering what to do.

Threatening people with violence is not okay. The victim should have handled that differently. But I can come up with lots of contexts that would mitigate, although not justify, the victim's bad behavior. Maybe this was the culmination of a long line of microaggressions. Maybe he had good reason to believe reporting it to management wouldn't work. Maybe he had a phobia or PTSD. Maybe he was stressed about missing the client meeting, and the possibility the LW was deliberately cutting him out. Any or all of those could lead to threatening violence to look like a good idea.

There's very little context that could help LW. The default action is "not locking co-workers in anything, ever", and he needs to provide an affirmative defense. The full letter attempts this, and fails miserably.

So while the victim still shouldn't have threatened violence, I have no sympathy for the LW. You don't get to be mad that people failed to uphold the social contract in responding to your violation of the social contract.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
[Spoilers for Game of Thrones seasons 1 and 4/Song of Ice and Fire books 1 and 4]

I've long been of the opinion that what's problematic for children is not violence in movies, it's violence without consequences. In my world, showing guns firing without showing the bodies falling (as was done in the Matrix broadcast television cut) would get the more restrictive rating, because it emphasizes the badassery but not the grossness of death. When people complained about the rapes in Game of Thrones, I saw it as asking for gunfire without bullet holes. It's a violent, misogynistic world, and rape is one of the consequences of that.

Some people argue "but it has dragons, so realism cannot be a thing it aspires to." This is dumb and it should feel dumb. Speculative fiction, and to a lesser extent all fiction, is based on making some weird ass assumptions, and then drawing logical conclusions from them. Dragons are an assumption. Violence and misogyny are assumptions. Rape is a conclusion. If you would like to read a less violent book, I support your choice, but if it is going to be violent, it needs to have rape.

I'm especially bothered by people who want to have the same penetrative acts, but make them consensual. I consider Danny and Drogo's wedding night to be rape because a 13 year old sold to a warlord is not capable of giving enthusiastic consent as we define it now. Making it ugly to watch was a moral improvement over the books. I thought Jamie's rape of Cersei was artistically worthy: yes, this man risked his life to save a woman he didn't even like from being raped, but that's not going to stop him from raping a different woman when it was convenient for him. I saw it as symbolic of him being tired of being manipulated by Cersei, and is his own mind taking his power back from her very real manipulations. We the audience know it's deeply wrong to take power back in that way (and that the reason she's sexually manipulative is that the world has denied her any other form of power), but it's completely believable that Jamie doesn't, and this is the logical consequence of that.

Then this article pointed out that the other logical consequence of GoT's assumptions is men and boys being raped. Not as much as women and girls are raped, but more than zero, and certainly in places without women like the night's watch. The article came out before season 3, and Theon's prolonged torture is both a counter argument and a reinforcement- the torture is at times highly sexualized, but he's never penetrated. You could argue it's implied, but not as strongly as it is for the female rapes we've seen. And it doesn't address things like "really? we're terrified Gilly will be raped but that's never once come up as an issue for Sam himself?"

So Game of Thrones is showing gun fire, and showing the gore of bullets hitting flesh, but only for half the population. The other isn't hit, or shakes it off. That's not an okay compromise. GoT, you can either be more uncomfortable or less, but your current level is not justifiable.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Fez (an indie puzzle platformer) was pretty good. I enjoyed playing it. Had I played just that you would have read a nice review about how it was fun, and while my progress eventually hit a wall due to some bugs I would still totally recommend buying it as part of a bundle for $6 and playing it up to that point. Unfortunately for Fez, I played it right before I played a second indie puzzle platformer The Swapper, and Swapper is fucking incredible.

First, a brief list of things it does well/better than Fez/better than every puzzle platformer I've ever played:

  • Mechanics. The core mechanic is interesting and unique (but then, so was Fez's).
  • Puzzles. I only looked up the solution to two puzzles, and both times it felt fair. The solutions were hard, and I don't feel bad for looking up solutions because I had hit a wall, but I respect them. I frequently looked up things in Fez because quote "I'm not wasting my time figuring out the designers stupid little game."
  • Level connectivity. Another reason I solved more puzzles on my own in Swapper was that it was really easy to leave when stumped and return later. There's a good map and a satisfying way to travel between parts of it. With Fez, even with the map, I continually felt lost and disconnected. I had to solve every puzzle the first time I encountered it, because I could never be sure how to get back.
  • Story. The Swapper has an interesting one, Fez doesn't.
  • Mood/Story/gameplay integration: Good. Amazing. Psychonauts level. Fez's mechanic/story integration was actually quite good, but I didn't care because the story was stupid. Swapper, on the other hand, had a fascinating story. I found myself tracking down logs and story clues not to silence my inner completionist but because it was genuinely interesting and I wanted more data.
  • Emotional heft/artistic merit. I had originally worried that Swapper's core mechanic (you construct insta clones and swap your soul between them) would come off as cheap and quickly lose impact. What it actually did was make me incredibly sad as I felt my character lose reverence for life. I felt a little bit of her soul die every time I made her jump off a ledge, clone and swap into a new body close to the ground, and watch the body she just vacated squish to the ground. This is really impressive when you consider the character is hidden in a space suit, never talks, and doesn't do a thing without my instruction. Every emotion she feels is a projection.

So after all that, how much is Swapper worth? Like Fez I got it as part of a bundle, and am absolutely happy with what I paid. And I don't think there's anything anyone could have said to convince me to pay more for it at the time- I have a large backlog of games I've already paid for, why pay so much for another? But now that I've played it, and enjoyed it so much more than Fez (or Limbo, or Braid) I should be willing to pay more. Hell, the value of the time spent playing dwarfs the full retail price of the game. But Steam sales and Humble Bundle have completely broken the idea of "spending actual money on a game" for me. I view the price less as "me paying for a fun thing" and more as "me paying for a chance to find out if a thing is fun." That I get to keep playing the game for free if it is fun is sort of an afterthought.

PS. I thought I got fairly far in Fez before it became unplayable because it said "85%". Apparently the maximum is 200%, and the final puzzle needed to be brute forced by the internet at large for weeks. How is that fun?
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I love to be scared by horror movies, but it almost never happens. The Ring is the high water mark of scary for me, and even that didn't reach great heights of fear, it just lingered for a while. Video games have done better, but I'm clearly the tail end of the bell curve when it comes to scarability. So when I tell you that I watched three movies from Rambling Beach Cat's first list of 10 short scary movies and am afraid to watch more alone, I want you to understand my full meaning.

I'm beginning to think that horror and comedy are alike in that they either need to be short, or serving something else. Everyone knows a good horror movie makes your brain do all the work for them, but I get resentful if I don't feel the movie is doing it's fair share. Maintaining pacing such that I feel the movie is rewarding me for my imagination, but giving suspense time to build, and not relying on jump scares, is almost impossible over a 90 minute movie. But it turns out to be ridiculously possible in a 2 minute period. They give me a seed, I work myself up over a myriad of possibilities, and they pick one before I've had a chance to acclimate, thus simultaneously giving me a sense of closure and one of fear.

It's also much more forgiving. Of the three I watched (Bedfellows, The Closet, and Red Balloon), The Closet was the least impressive. It was tense and then there was a jump scare and that was about it. But that is absolutely enough to sustain 200 seconds without my ADD kicking in.

Coincidentally, I also saw a live stand up anthology act last night (and by last night I mean Halloween, which is when I originally wrote this). The theme was supposed to be "comedians tell their dark secrets", but only some of them got the memo. The ones that did were my favorites. One of the sucky things about doing a lot of open mics and watching a lot of local comedy is that I'd heard a lot of material before. One of the neat things about doing a lot of open mics and watching a lot of local comedy is that I could recognize when a performer is capable of doing traditional stand up, but changed to "emotional story delivered with humor" for the night. I did not laugh the most at her, but I felt more emotionally fulfilled.

This reminded me of why I like British comedy: it's very slow burn. Where Americans are constantly trying to go for the laughs, British comics are constantly just-under-the-threshold funny, punctuated by something absolutely amazing. Like horror, I can appreciate a single short funny thing, and then I'm done. Or it can use horror/humor as a tool to explore something else. Christopher Titus and Mama are in many ways talking about the same thing.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
One of the really valuable things I learned as I grew up is that almost any time you say "I was hinting so hard and they STILL DIDN'T GET IT", you are doing something wrong. They may well be doing something wrong too, but any time you feel they are violating social conventions enough that you have a justified expectation they pick up hints, you also have a justification to tell them whatever it is straight out.

What took me a while longer to learn is why this is. I naively thought it was because it wasn't fair to expect people to pick up on hints, you had to Use Your Words and then they would respect your clearly stated boundaries. This turns out to not be true. A lot of people who ignore hints will also ignore direct statements. Nonetheless, using your words is the superior option because: 1. There are exceptions, and it's nice to give people the chance to demonstrate that their boundary violations were accidental. 2. Complaining about someone who kept doing a thing after you directly told them not to (e.g. "I said I wasn't going to talk about this and they kept asking") is WAY MORE satisfying than complaining about someone not picking up your hints. When all you've done is hint, there's still some ambiguity. Maybe this was a good person having a brain fart. Maybe your hints weren't as obvious as you thought. Maybe they're autistic. But if you say it directly there's no ambiguity. There choices narrow to "stop doing that thing" and "become a Person Who Violates Boundaries"
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I had two trains of thought that started in very different places but may have arrived at the same station. Let's examine.

The first was reading gawker's Tales From The Unemployment Line, a good chunk of which are college educated millenials saying "I'll do anything, I'll work so hard, just give me a job." On one hand, that's much better than "I'm going to sit here and play in the mud until the perfect job is delivered to me by gold plated unicorn". On the other hand, there's a creepy fatalism in there. Have you played the Sims 2? There's two different ways to keep yourself economically solvent. The first is the very traditional "get some skills on your skill bar, get a job out of a newspaper, get in the carpool at the appointed time, get a promotion, work to fill up the skill bars so you get your next promotion." It's a conversion process of character itme to character rmoney. But some of the later expansion packs added entrepreneurial options. There are a couple of skills involved that you can build up, but they're tracked differently, and you can't study them. You get better at haggling by haggling. Meanwhile, the amount of money you make is by and large dependent on player choices about what stock to buy, what hours to work, etc.

I think the people asking for ditch digging jobs are looking for traditional sims careers. They'll do anything, but only after someone tells them to do it, and with a guaranteed pay off. This isn't entirely their fault: it's what we were all told would happen and it's what American society rewards. But I think those people in particular and our society in general would be happier if there was less of that and more of the entrepreneurial path, where people feel like they're creating value rather than trading time for money.

The second came when I was complaining to a friend about my job. My employers spend a lot of money on me and every other engineer. So do a bunch of other companies that want us to work for them. Most software companies are size-limited by the number of people they can hire (for the amount they want to pay), not by the work they want these people to do. And yet, they're incredibly resistant to small changes that would make me vastly more productive. I couldn't figure it out- if my work be so valuable to them, why aren't they willing to invest a little bit to get a lot more out of me? Or more personally, if I'm so valuable why aren't I worth a few accommodations?

To which my friend said: "you're a rare earth metal", a metaphor it's taken me at least a full day to appreciate. Rare earth metals are valuable, but the things they are valuable for (which include computing) require a lot of processing, a lot of capital investment, and a lot of other inputs (other metals, chip designs, poor Chinese factory workers). To simplify, they're only valuable in the presence of an extremely expensive system. You wouldn't attempt to justify changing the system to accommodate an atypical batch of rare earth metals with the phrase "they're so valuable", because the system is what makes them valuable.* Similarly, me and all my programmer peers are not valuable (in the sense of producing economic value to the corporations who traditionally hire us) unless we fit in to their system for producing value.

Contrast with precious gems in the pre-industrialized world. Jewelers added some value to them, and there were capital costs to add that value, but since every piece was handcrafted anyway, and gems were so rare, you worked with the flaws of whatever gems you managed to acquire. You'll notice I had to go back to the pre-industrialized economy to get a really good contrast for that analogy. I'm sure there are still craftsmen jewelers out there, but I'm also sure Zales designs pieces and then looks for rubies to fit them. Jewelers are probably more tolerant that chip manufacturers, but less than they used to be.

Hell, you see this with clothes. When every piece was hand sewn, it didn't cost that much extra to get clothes that fit you, relative to baseline. Now that we have mass production, the gap between "fits okay" and "fits well" is much larger, which I think puts a lot more pressure on people to conform to the dominant body type.

I think the career track/entrepreneurial track difference in the Sims corresponds to the rare earth metal/precious gem differences. Career track/rare earth corresponds to fitting yourself into a system someone else designed, and to whom you are valuable only insofar as you fit into the system. Entrepreneurial track/precious gem is about participating in many different exchanges, each of which is their own decision point.

In many ways, I lucked out in that I showed up at the job market with a set of skills that plugged me into a very nice official career. I'm very glad I had that option. But moving forward, I think I want to move more towards creating value as I define it, and away from trading my time for money.

*Like all metaphors, this one has its limits. Presumably if there were enough of a particular deviation, it would be worth tweaking the system for or refining the metals.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)

  1. Child molestation is terrible
  2. Child molesters should be punished, severely.
  3. It is impossible for me to develop my own opinion from primary sources for every accusation of child molestation.
  4. Ideally, I could outsource developing an informed opinion to the legal system.
  5. The legal system has limitations, both theoretical and in practice. There are many guilty people who have not been convicted, or even tried.
  6. From what I have read, the physical evidence stacks in Allen's favor. The doctor found no evidence of abuse, witnesses who probably would have noticed Dylan's absence did not do so.
  7. It is terrifyingly easy to get children to lie. Moreover, it's terrifyingly easy to get children to believe these lies, even decades later.
  8. Trained experts have problems distinguishing "coached child can't keep story straight" from "abused child terrified by system, generates inconsistent account of genuine abuse." There is no way for anyone to do so from secondhand accounts 20 years after the fact.
  9. False allegations of molestation are fairly common in child custody disputes.
  10. "Mia Farrow is batshit crazy and coached Dylan to lie in order to exact revenge on Allen." is very consistent with the evidence.
  11. In particular, she is friends with Roman Polanski, who admitted to orally,anally and vaginally penetrating a 13 year old girl who was very actively protesting despite the multiple intoxicants he gave he.
  12. Having a batshit insane mother is not actually protection against molestation.
  13. "Look at all those kids I didn't molest" is a pretty weak defense.
  14. Even if Allen didn't abuse Dylan, how we treat the accusation has very important consequences for abuse victims

UPDATE: dispute on some of the factual issues. The pertinent point is that there is at least one witness saying Dylan was missing for 20 minutes of the day in question.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Long long ago, beauty was just a thing you had, or didn't have. It was pleasant and useful to have it, but people without it weren't additionally punished, beyond not getting the benefits of being pretty. Between roughly the 1920s and 1960s, beauty was turned into a virtue. If you weren't pretty, it was because you weren't working hard enough.* Some time after that (certainly by the time I was cognizant of it in the 90s), people decided that trying to be pretty was really unattractive and started to stigmatize it. But they never rolled back the view that pretty was a sign of inner virtue, much less the rewards to prettiness. Now you not only had to be beautiful, but to never impose on others awareness of the work it took to make yourself.

I feel like something similar explains part of what's going on with jobs right now. We don't have a system where everyone can love their job. Back when jobs were jobs and the satisfaction of them was in what you did with the money, that was totally fine. Then we decided that people should love their jobs. But we didn't change the kind of jobs we needed. And in a weird way, we started to shame not only people who traded their morals for money, but people who didn't have a passion, or couldn't find a job that expressed it. Not having a job you love, like having an attractive face, became something you were obliged to hide or "accept responsibility for".

I like my job/career, but I've never been passionate about it. A lot of my co-workers aren't either. If you're going to have a job you're not passionate about, have it in computers, because the money is amazing. And yet, when I go on job interviews, they need to be convinced I'm passionate about the work. It feels gross. It feels like an aspiring stewardess being told it's not about being pretty, it's about taking care of yourself. I wish I could just tell them "I have these skills, and will apply them this hard for this many hours for this much money." and be done with it.

*Most recently I read this in relation to flight attendants in The Jet Sex, but I've read similar things elsewhere.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Via Captain Awkward, I would like to present this perfect, succinct definition of Ask vs. Guess culture, which I am going to rename the Ask-Guess Continuum because why have a dichotomy when it could be a continuum?

Given the choice, I think I'd push my culture further towards the ask side. And yet, my immediate response to this article was to list the ways Ask culture is terrible. I think what I'm actually reacting to is the fact that people can be jerks under both systems, and either ask-jerks are more obnoxious, or I've just run into them more recently.

First, there are the people who say (implicitly or explicitly) they are participating in ask culture, but get really mad when they don't get the answer they want. Presumably they would be just as mad about not getting what they want under a guess culture system. Given the guess level of the current system, saying direct nos to these people feels worse than indirectly refusing guessers. This is on my mind recently because there is someone out there who is very angry at me, and phrases it as a reaction to me being rude and uncommunicative, when I in fact very clearly and respectfully communicated something they didn't want to hear. Okay, fine, I communicated it imperfectly but way clearer and more respectfully than they are giving me credit for. And it hurts, knowing that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone a bit, and it was taken so poorly.

Second, there is the issue I talked about here, in which my main thesis was that when you are operating outside a social norm, you incur some extra obligation to engage in smoothing behaviors, even when the norm is stupid. That holds true for ask/guess culture.

Third, no matter how far on the ask continuum you are, there is always information in the asking. Take this letter from Carolyn Hax. A woman asked her fiance if they could shorten a date so she could catch up with a friend. He said yes, but later expressed unhappiness that she had even asked. On first glance, it looks like he expected her to be psychic, which is unfair. But on second, I think he actually had a reasonable point. First, his complain wasn't "I said yes and you believed me", it was "you asked." Hax unpacks how this unfairly places the decision burden this places on him, and it's all true.

But there is also the fact that the asking contains information. She isn't definitely saying she values her friend more than him, but it that is one reasonably possible condition that could lead to that question, and she isn't doing anything to alleviate it. [date proceeds without being questioned] > [Fiance blows off date to talk with friend] > [Fiance honors date, but you know she's rather be talking with her friend] is a valid preference set.

Another angle: asking to reschedule communications potential data on three things:

  1. How much he would enjoy spending that time with her
  2. His perception of how much she enjoys spending time with him
  3. His perception of how much she values his time

Even the most graciously accepted no would only remove questions about #1, leaving #2 or #3 in doubt. Which doesn't mean you can never ask, or never reschedule. But it does mean that if you don't take time to address *all* the issues asking brings up, they're justified in drawing some data and having feelings about it.

More generally, both foot-in-the-door and door-in-the-face techniques are real phenomenon. Asking a question has an effect independent of the answer, and I want to keep that in mind as I personally transition into a more ask-oriented world.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I have had many criticisms of Obamacare. I thought it was a sop to insurance companies and could only control costs by destroying innovation. But even I was not so cynical as to realize it was in fact another attempt to force the poor to subsidize the middle class.

The Obamacare plans, even the gold plans, have very high deductibles. I should be in favor of this, because low deductible plans are just prepaid health care, not insurance. But there's a wide range of health care that's...discretionary. There's my long health slog, of course, but you'd be surprised what becomes discretionary when you can't afford it. Urgent care for a heavily burned finger that will probably heal on its own. An ER visit when you're almost certainly not having another heart attack. A tooth ache.

Obamacare plans make some preventative care free. But otherwise it doesn't cover anything until you reach your deductible, and is pretty expensive until you reach your out of pocket maximum. The insurance doesn't really pay off unless you spend a lot. Who has the money to do that? By definition, the richer you are, the more money you have, the more likely you're going to reach your out of pocket maximum.

I think the poor are still covered in the event of true catastrophe, because you don't have to spend your out of pocket maximum, you just have to incur it, and hopefully the hospital will extend you credit on that after you've been hit by a bus. But the people this law was supposedly trying to help? They can't afford the premiums on the plans where they can afford the out of pocket maximums, even with the subsidies. Which means the subsidies are not going so much to them as to the people in their risk pool with the resources to meet their deductible (whose premiums are being artificially lowered by community rating and the premium ratio cap). Saying they have equal coverage is insulting and a break from reality.

But adults with wealthy parents can stay on their insurance until age 26, which is nice.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I found one that addressed every single one of my issues with 3rd-world-poverty focused charities: GiveDirectly. To a first approximation, their model is to wander around Africa looking for poor people and give them money. The end.

It's a little more complicated than that, of course. They have better ways of finding poor people, for one, and they only work in Kenya and Uganda, because they recognize that there are differences between African countries and expertise developed in one does not automatically translate to another. They also do a fair amount of follow up: not in directing how the recipients should spend their money, but in measuring its impact on the families in question and their communities as a whole. One objection to cash transfers is that recipients will blow all their money on booze. GiveDirectly can tell you exactly how much spending on alcohol changes after the transfer (answer: it goes up a little, but not much). Another is that it will create resentment within the community outweighing the financial benefits. GiveDirectly measured that and found that it not only didn't happen, but communities with transfer recipients ended up slightly better off than control communities, indicating a spillover effect.

Even if the research results were not so favorable to them, the mere fact that they're doing the research makes them a good form of charity. This is a very new form of organized charity and they're not going to get it perfect right away, but they clearly recognize that and are doing everything they can to hone themselves. Moreover, they seem to have a very good sense of their own limitations. Their goal is not to replace every form of charitable giving, but to be the measuring stick for other forms. "Are you more effective than just giving money? Let's find out."

That worked so well I'm going to announce another kind of charity I'm looking for. As I've mentioned before, I'm fairly privileged, and sometimes when that privilege manifests I like to mark it with a charitable donation. I funded someone's dental care after my gum infection was removed, and a move for a job after I got my shiny new job. I'm feeling that urge again, this time because I paid $35 for antibiotics that cost four figures retail, for a relatively minor problem. I don't know if minor is the right word: it's another gastrointestinal ecosystem issue, so fixing it will have huge cumulative effects on me... but no where near the effect $1100 worth of penicillin could have for people who can't afford it. I don't know how to mark this one. No one goes to Modest Needs for antibiotics alone, and funding other health care, while obviously a very good thing, doesn't feel right in this particular case. Many years ago I read about a charity that pushed/facilitated hospitals to follow some very simple checklists that led to huge improvements in patient outcome. That felt right, but I can't find it now.

Hell, last week my boyfriend spilled bacon grease on his hand, and would have really liked to have gone to the hospital, but had neither the money nor the insurance. $1100 to enable that would have meant more to him psychologically than these antibiotics do to me, even though our home care worked fine. This time. I want to give someone else the gift of not worrying about it. That is why the checklist charity felt right: it's emphasis is on reducing the executive function needed to get the best outcome. But I just spent 10 minutes googling and found the initiative I was thinking of, but not the charity.

Taking another tact: Those antibiotics are supposed to help me digest food slightly better. Let's phrase the goal as "maximize number of nutrients digested." In that case, just giving people food is helpful. There are lots of charities to give people food. I will find a good one of those and donate.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
There are a lot of policy proposals, mostly but not exclusively progression, that I find troubling. I agree that the thing they are aimed at is negative, and that if their policy works as proposed it will weaken the effect, but I don't trust it. I either end up criticizing the proposals on libertarian grounds or just expressing a vague sense of unease, neither of which has the slightest effect on proponents.

Affirmative action used to fall into this category, but I now have some more articulate objections. Affirmative action is premised on the idea that the solution to black poverty is for white people to give them things. Not that the jobs are charity, but they're still given at the whim of white people, and ensure that the most rewards go to minorities who are best at assimilating into white middle class protestant culture. I would much rather have funded black entrepreneurs so they could be successful on their own terms. Or maybe just extended the protection of law so that white people didn't burn down their businesses *quite* so often. Or not used eminent domain to tear down black businesses to build housing projects, nominally aimed at helping the poor, and structured bidding so only white firms had a chance.*

Now I can move "fighting inequality" out of the inarticulate-unease/libertarian-sputtering category and into the real reasons category, thanks to Ezra Klein. He suggests that while inequality is bad, unemployment is worse, and we change priorities accordingly. I agree, but that's not impressive because I don't think inequality is bad. I also think most government efforts to increase employment are counterproductive and harmful. But Klein brings up the excellent point that there's at least one thing the government does that actively raises unemployment, and all they would have to do to lower unemployment is stop doing it.

They're not doing it for no reason, of course. They do it in the name of fighting inflation, which is generally considered to be good. But why? And have we ever measured how good low inflation is, relative to the costs of high unemployment? Unemployment makes people really fucking miserable. Moreover, inflation hurts net savers (i.e. wealthy people) and helps net debtors (i.e. poor people). And the closer we run to full employment, the less employers can get away with the soul crushing shit they pull on McJob holders (i.e. poor people). So prioritizing low inflation over high employment benefits the rich at the expense of the poor in every possible way.**

My conspiracy theory? The proposed solution to inequality is usually taxes. Taxes will always be worst for the people with the least flexibility. Flexibility increases with wealth. So in general, taxes will be worse for the rich than the truly wealthy. But there is no dodging inflation. That will hit the wealthy and there is very little they can do about it.***

Inflation also incentives people to invest in high-risk/high-reward ventures (which have a higher likelihood of creating jobs, although also a higher risk of royally fucking up the economy. Tto be fair, that risk will hit the rich harder than the wealthy) as opposed to letting it sit in bonds. It fights entrenched wealth by reducing the value of it, without the nasty side effects of an estate tax. It pushes everyone to keep creating rather than rest on accumulated wealth.

Let me note that as a net saver, I'm advocating against my own interests here. But however bad inflation may be, I think the moral thing right now is to tolerate a bit more of it in exchange for higher employment.

*Source: The Pruit-Igoe Complex

**Note: I'm assuming the alternative to low inflation is higher but *steady* inflation. Hyperinflation and unexpected spikes are still really bad for the economy as a whole.

***I'm not an accountant, I think that overseas investing might be an option, and that would have consequences for the US.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Another interesting point for Perv is that individual men tend to have much narrower sexualities than individual women. This fits with my personal observations: women are more like to be bisexual, more like to switch in a BDSM sense, less likely to have a true paraphilia (something they cannot become aroused or orgasm without. As opposed to a kink, which is a non-standard sexual interest that someone enjoys but does not require for every sexual encounter). Of course, it's impossible to determine the extent of cultural influence from observation alone, but Perv introduces some animal evidence that males fixate to a narrower range of targets.

You might think that supports the idea that it's genetic, but it doesn't. The experiment in question swapped baby goats and sheep with each other, and observed the sexual behavior of the adoptees. Males of both species pursued females of their adoptive species, females remained receptive to both (book didn't mention the behavior of females adopted by the same biological species and I can't find the cite). Male goats do not have a sheep-fucking gene. What this actually shows is not that courtship targets are inborn, but learned from the environment, and that males narrow down their target in the time between birth and puberty in a way females do not.

This offers a really satisfying explanation for the range of human male sexual behavior. Most obviously, the wide range in beauty standards between cultures but narrow range within cultures, and in what an individual man finds attractive. Young male brains have the capacity to learn from the culture what is most advantageous to impregnate, and work with that, but have a hard time shifting targets later in life. It works for non-reproductive sex too: Pederasty will never result in a pregnancy, but if sex with young boys is correlated with gaining resources that will aid in reproduction (e.g. status in Ancient Greece), and the relevant section of the brain is taught that while young, it will find the idea exciting.

So once again, the answer to the question "what are humans programmed to do?" is "be astoundingly adaptive to local conditions."
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Having taken a stand disparaging charitable gifts of goods over gifts of money, I feel obliged to report that I just donated a physical good. My employers gave me a piece of expensive electronics, and I passed it on to Treehouse For Kids, who will offer it in their !store for foster kids. Here is why I think it was okay:

  • The ratio of dollar value to physical mass and volume is quite high.
  • I already have the device and I'm not allowed to sell it, so giving them money isn't an option.
  • Even if I did give them the money, they don't buy this item in bulk, and while they may sometimes get opportunistic discounts, they do not have a regular supply.
  • I checked, and this is a type of item they have great demand for.
  • The fact that they are getting one unique item is not a problem, because one of their core competencies is accepting material donations and distributing them. They have chosen to prioritize variety over economies of scale.
  • I get a warm fuzzy feeling from being able to give something really cool and brand new to a kid who gets too litle of both.

So all in all: if I had $600 cash I wanted to donate, I should give them the cash, not buy and donate electronics. But given that I have a $600 toy I don't want and no way to turn it into cash, donating it to them is still a net good.

I suppose I should also note I donate to thrift stores all the time. I don't turn down the tax deduction for it, but I don't put that in the same category of giving as donating money or even this toy. That is a way to get rid of my stuff that gives someone else an opportunity to get some use out of it, and lessen the landfill load.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Eh, it's all right. I wish there were enough decent sex-science writing I could blow it off for not only using Alfred Kinsey's quantitative data, but praising it, but there isn't, so I'm forced to see it's better points: it approaches the subject amorally while respecting the importance of morals, it taught me a fact I so *want* to be true even though I looked up the original reference and it appears to be shakier than he claimed (foot fetishism peaks during STD epidemics), and its consideration of proper moral handling of pedophilia is pretty nuanced.

Actually, let's talk about that. The data is pretty strong that:

  • A sexual attraction to children (pedophilia) is as out of conscious control as any other sexual attraction
  • It is possible to have these thoughts, recognize that acting on them is immoral, and refrain from doing so.
  • The available data is excruciatingly limited, but appears to point to access to child porn leads pedophiles to be less likely to attack an actual child, not more.
  • The stigma against pedophilia makes it very hard to pedophiles to seek out the kind of help that would strengthen their resistance to their urge to act with an actual child.

Hypothetically, what if we legalized simulated child porn (so no actual kids are abused in production), but only for people who registered as official pedophiles? If we managed to keep the consequences to registering reasonable (e.g. it only blocked you from jobs that brought you into contact with children), it could make everyone better off. You might think no one would ever go for it, but if you allow for a concept of pedophiles that includes well meaning people tortured by the corruption of one of the strongest drives in the human soul, it could work. It allows people to simultaneously get some relief while giving their current, morally strong self a way to block their future, weaker self from temptation. And if you ever found an unregistered pedophile in possession of child porn you could feel more justified in throwing the book at him, because the only reason not to be on the list is to have access to children.

Obviously we can't get there from here, but I like it as a thought experiment.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I am very glad to see people acknowledging and examining social norms, and pushing back when appropriate. Many social norms don't work, or don't work for particular people, or used to work but could be replaced by something better now, and I'm glad we're calling them into question.


The fact that social norms have been used to oppress people for a long time, and that fighting back against those is good, is not carte blanche to pretend they don't exist. Let me give you a few examples.

I had a professor whose "I'm thinking about your interesting question" face was indistinguishable from most people's "I'm in incredible pain" face. He could have tried to conform to the social norm of what an "interested face" looked like, but it probably wouldn't have worked. He could have spent a lot of time lambasting students for not accepting his facial expressions as they were, or just wondering why kids these days were so quiet. What he actually did was announce his pattern in the first day of class, that in fact the more pained he looked the better we should feel about our question. And he lived up to that, and found other ways to demonstrate his appreciation of all questions throughout the class. To me, this is the perfect example of how to be when you don't fit into social norms in ways that are keeping you from getting what you want (in this case, student engagement): acknowledge the norm, explain how you are different and how you hope people will interpret your actions, and go out of your way to affirm people's code-switching efforts.

A PT I saw would be an example of a bad handling of divergence from norms. This PT charges for things other PTs don't. I'm okay with this, and in fact think that the current model of medical business where you charge for face time and only face time is harmful to all parties. I think you can do that without nickle and diming patients or in any way operating in bad faith. But. Given that face-time-only is the predominant model, I think she has an ethical obligation to go very out of her way to warn patients about her policy ahead of time- and that warning them means doing so in ways that are unambiguous in the current climate, where people will assume certain services are included for free unless explicitly told otherwise .

Lastly: I have a friend of a friend who brides herself on keeping good boundaries. Like all people who talk loudly about being good at something, she is terrible at it.* She thinks she is good at boundaries because when someone says a clear, unambiguous no, she doesn't fight it. In some contexts, that would be sufficient. In current American culture, dodging a question five times and displaying avoidant body language is understood to be an unspoken no. Missing/ignoring that is not only rude, it's informative. People are allowed to conclude from her behavior that she is a person who does not hear no, and to make predictions about her future behavior based on data from other people who don't hear no. Such as "she is not safe, and something so rude as a direct rebuke will make her even less safe."

There's a lot of room for debate here on when the aggrieved party is expecting boundary-violator to be psychic and sense the boundary without any clues, and when the boundary violator is refusing to respect "nos" except for those given in very specific formats (which can very easily be used as cover for violating boundaries until the risk of social punishment is sufficiently high). There are people who have sufficiently different zones of comfort that they can't be functional friends, and that doesn't automatically make either of them bad.

ASDers are the obvious example of people who just can't pick up on socially-expected cues, but I don't think you need to fit into an established pattern in order to avoid having your weaknesses viewed as moral flaws. Under my paradigm, the correct thing to do is what my professor did: tell people you miss these cues**, but respecting their boundaries is really important to you, so please tell you as directly as possible. You acknowledge that this is asking them to do some additional work to accommodate you. And then you accept it and thank people when they do so, even when it hurts. You accept a duty to respond well to very direct statements of discomfort beyond what would be expected from others***, because you have removed a set of options from people's toolboxes. You do not insist that they are rude for violating a social contract you have walked away from.

In some ways this is unfair, and I think I might have gone too far. I cherrypicked examples where either the norms were well intentioned, or there was some affirmative moral obligation on the part of the norm-violator to be extra straightforward. Lots of times norms are used to oppress people and it's not fair to say they can only get out of them by doing more work. There's a lot more here to work through.

*She also hates drama.

**As opposed to "these cues are stupid".

***There are limits, of course.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
The surprisingly socially aware Cracked has an article on stupid habits you develop being poor. I had two thoughts when I read it: One, that's not about low income, it's about volatile income. Two, that's perfectly describes what I do with whatever you want want to call the combination of energy and focus that allows me to get anything done, ever.

I really, really identified with the feeling that whatever you do, you're going to end up tired (broke) again soon, so you have to spend this energy (money) as soon as you can. There's no concept of prioritizing because that will slow you down, and no concept of saving because it never seems to stay saved. Logically I know that can't be how it works, but my energy levels seem so exogenously determined that it breeds learned helplessness.

This suggests that ADD meds are useful beyond their primary effect of giving me energy. By providing a chemical reassurance there will always be energy, they create an incentive to use it carefully, the same way a guaranteed income could (theoretically) improve quality of life through increasing stability without costing much.

While we're using financial metaphors for health issues, let's talk about debt. I had a huge amount of physical and emotional debt stemming from a lifetime of malnutrition. Depending on how you count I started trying to pay that back 3 years ago (with cortisol and an artillery of vitamins) and started doing so effectively nine months ago (with HCl, and some vitamins). In many ways food/nutrients felt a lot like money and energy, in that my gut believed every morsel could be the last, and it needed to be spent as quickly as possible. This worked better than you would think, because my body listens to Dave Ramsey and its panicked spending took the form of paying down debt. It's not always the optimal thing to do, in health or in money, and I may not always have picked the optimal debt to pay, but it helped some and there was no chance of making myself worse off.

But I think that recently I paid off that debt, and am ready to start investing. The problem is that bodies are like old-timey economies; there's no bank that is happy to accept exactly as much money as you have for arbitrary, unspecified periods of time. There isn't even a mattress to store nutrition under. Either you invest it now, or you let it go. But investing takes commitment: if you get halfway through a project and run out of money/nutrients, you've not only lost everything you put in, but probably more besides. Potentially a lot more. And then once it's built, you have to maintain it. You'd be stupid to build anything unless you knew you'd continue to have the income to support it.

While I was in debt I could get away with throwing vitamins around haphazardly, knowing there was some decrepit organ somewhere that could be propped up with them. Now that I'm out of debt, I have a much more difficult task: convincing my body the nutrients will keep coming forever, or at least until the new structure has paid for itself. This is a very different challenge.

PS. I would like to state for the record that however challenging my medical issues have been, there are lots of people who have it as bad or worse in addition to being poor, and that is a lot harder than what I lived through.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Everyone reading this should know that except under very specific circumstances you donate cash to charity, not goods. And you never, ever, ever buy goods for the purpose of donation. Either acknowledge this charity is better than you at fulfilling its goal or do it yourself.

Work is having a big donation drive for an anti-starvation-in-Africa charity. Specifically, they distribute plumpynuts. It's pissing me off on a number levels. For one, I don't like a large, rich corporation trying to tell me the moral thing to do with my money. I work for them, they pay me, end of transaction. TI love their donation matching program, but that is them being generous with *their* money towards a thing *I* chose. This is pretty much the opposite.

Second, I don't like the charity. It advertises itself as "curing hunger", when what it means is "give profoundly malnourished child nourishment for six weeks". Hunger isn't a disease you catch and fight off and then it's all good. Unless you've fixed the underlying conditions that led to that starvation, you've done nothing. At best. There's a million ways charity can make things worse.

it nags at me because the African poor are objectively worse off than the American poor that are helped by the charities I donate to (Modest Needs and Treehouse for Kids). I give to those American-focused charities anyway because I feel competent to asses their goals, approach, and a bit of their implementation. Not perfectly competent, because the whole transaction is premised on them having better information than me, but competent enough to be confident enough I'm not making things worse. But in the back of my mind I keep thinking "when it's your kid, it's priceless." I feel like I'm throwing up my hands and saying "sorry African kids, I'm going to leave you to suffer specifically because your suffering is so immense."

I guess the fact that this bothers me so much means I should at least look around for good charities addressing 3rd world poverty. I feel helpless in the face of it, but there are indirect routes. If I can't asses efficacy directly, I can find people who do, and I can assess them. It's not perfect, but I don't think perfection is a fair expectation here
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
You're allowed to have novels with strong characterizations but weak world-building, why not the reverse? Twice in the last month I've read books with really interesting settings, settings I would happily have read novel-length descriptions of, but found anything involving the characters' actions or emotions terminally dull. Come to think of it, that's how I read Song of Ice and Fire: I gave up on the novels, but I will spend hours on wiki pages explaining the world. And yet I don't want to name the two books I'm thinking of now, because describing them as "Awesome if you just skip the 1/3 of the book where things happen" feels mean.


pktechgirlbackup: (Default)

May 2014

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