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Is respecting children a faux pas? [Oct. 12th, 2016|01:18 pm]
[Tags|, , , ]
[mood |curiouscurious]

Some decades ago, during my college days (yes, I'm getting old), I accompanied a friend to his family gathering. I wound up engrossed in conversation with his stepsister J., age 15, whose knowledge and insight impressed me. At dinner, the three of us occupied a conversational niche at the middle of the table. The conversation at the table's end was the sort of speculation that often entertains dinner companions: The women of their parents' and grandparents' generations were taking turns sharing their explanations of some curious phenomenon. They took each other seriously, even though none of them had anything convincing to say on the subject. (My apologies: As much as these events have impressed themselves upon me, the intervening years have been more than sufficient to steal the subject itself from my memory.) A slightly heated debate ensued. At an appropriate gap in the adults' conversation, J., who was seated at their edge, made the usual gesture to draw attention. She began to submit a solution to the question under discussion, in the simple, explanatory tone of one who knows the answer. The adults avoided eye contact with J., and one of them immediately started talking over her (not to her; only to the others), so that they did not hear more than three words from her. It was smoothly done, as if J. had merely tried to interject during an insufficient pause. She politely waited for another pause, and was then interrupted in an identical manner. After the third time it happened, she gave up.

The rest is behind a cut for the sake of your feed, but you know you want to read it.Collapse )

All right, I'm getting sidetracked. tl;dr: I like to show respect.

This entry was originally posted at http://blimix.dreamwidth.org/42214.html. (comment count unavailable comments there.)
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Complacency with wit [Oct. 11th, 2016|03:54 pm]
[Tags|, ]
[mood |awakeawake]

There is a specific bad habit of thought that is partly to blame for things like Libertarianism and phys-splaining. It is one with which I used to be intimately familiar, and which took a long time to break.

If I may start with an example, in high school physics (including A.P. physics), there was almost no material that a smart student needed to learn. I found early on that I could goof off during class, never read the textbook, and still ace every test. I didn't need to learn the formulas to solve the mechanical problems, because they could all be derived from conservation of energy, F=ma, and E=mv2. Most of the electricity and magnetism unit involved learning jargon for concepts that were intuitive if you could construct metaphorical isomorphisms between things like voltage and water pressure.

A child or young adult who is very good at problem solving can get used to always being right, because the problems that they face do not require learning a wealth of background information. In their experience, someone who disagrees with them just hasn't figured it out yet.

Once this person starts dealing with real world problems, they run into disagreements with people who have far more experience in the subjects. Their old assumptions about their ability to discern truth become maladaptive. They don't realize that they're getting wrong answers by oversimplifying and failing to respect others' understanding. Sometimes, they read Atlas Shrugged, then idolize the captains of industry, decry government regulation, and live in a fantasy world in which wealth and power are meritocratic. But they fail to pay attention to the real world, in which the captains of industry achieve their status through a combination of inherited weath, large scale theft and murder, and corrupt control over regulators. Privilege in general has a particular hold over these habitually smart but ignorant folks, because they find laughable the idea that the world is so very different from what they were brought up to believe.

Yes, I went through that phase. Luckily, I lacked the second ingredient that keeps smart kids in blissful ignorance: A fragile ego. Discovering that I had been wrong was embarrassing as hell, but the desire to be a better person meant that I had to change my mind. (Eventually, I was mortified that I had previously identified as a Libertarian.) Those with fragile egos will instead ease their embarrassment by finding any excuse, logical fallacy, or echo chamber to support their old beliefs.

In a big way, I envy millenials' having grown up with social media. Access to real information, bypassing the editors of newspapers and social studies textbooks, would have greatly facilitated my personal growth during my formative years. And sure, even in the information age, people can still choose their own echo chambers, but that is now voluntary. Nobody with an Internet connection (outside of China) has to keep their eyes closed if they don't want to. And I see, as a result, a generation that is hugely more interested and engaged in world affairs, in politics, in the environment, and in the pressing issues of populations other than their own, than my generation was at their age.

There is no longer any excuse for staying smart, ignorant, and complacent. No matter how easy your school work is, the tough problems are a mouse click away.

This entry was originally posted at http://blimix.dreamwidth.org/41933.html. (comment count unavailable comments there.)
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Food allergies [Sep. 27th, 2016|03:20 pm]
[mood |hopefulhopeful]

Someone I know recently discovered that they had several food allergies. The allergist had informed them that their unusual appetite and thirst could be symptoms of a food allergy: Something that no other doctor had ever mentioned. This testing turned out to have been long overdue. Cutting out the problematic foods not only relieved their perpetual hunger and thirst; it also eased their chronic issues with pain, mobility, energy, and gas. This is a tremendous life change, after decades of unhelpful visits to other medical professionals.

I'd bet that, even if food allergies turned out to be the cause in only a small fraction of similar cases, getting this message out would still help somebody I know. (I know an awful lot of people suffering undiagnosed chronic crap. You probably do, too.) There is no down side to getting tested for allergies, other than having to sit through mild discomfort, so get out there and do it. (I've done it, just to diagnose a slight, persistent cough: Far less reason than many other people have.)

Remember that they don't test for all possible food allergies; just the common ones. But eliminating the common allergens will at least keep them from masking the uncommon ones, making you more likely to notice and identify them. Best of luck.

This entry was originally posted at http://blimix.dreamwidth.org/41538.html. (comment count unavailable comments there.)
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Compliments (non-creepy) [Sep. 9th, 2016|04:14 pm]
[Tags|, , ]
[mood |light-headed]

Our blood drive was today. I often see the same phlebotomist, and told her, "I just get to lie here and read, while you're doing all the work. But I have noticed that you're working very efficiently." She smiled as she affirmed that she has gotten the hang of it over the past several months. Upon my entry, she had given me the same pleased look of recognition that my regular dental hygienist does, ever since I let her know that I appreciate the skill and care that she brings to her job. They both let me know that they look forward to seeing me next time.

I guarantee you, 100%, that the happy-to-see-me response is not because I'm some sexy, confident, alpha-male beast (whose stylized silver ring on the wrong hand does not much resemble a wedding band, though it is). Honestly, I feel, at heart, like a shy, awkward person who has practiced being nice to people enough to form a habit strong enough to overcome my introversion.

A compliment can make someone's day, or week. Complimenting someone's work is particularly pleasing: People put a lot of time and effort into getting good at things; appreciation of the results is rewarding.

Complimenting someone's appearance can be nice, but it comes with a couple of caveats. The first is that a person's appearance is much less under their own control than their work is, and so pride in appearance is not nearly as meaningful. The second is that it can come off as creepy and even threatening if the context suggests a possibility that the complimenter is aiming to get something in return, or is objectifying the recipient.

Hint: This creepy context usually means a man complimenting the appearance of a woman who is engaged in any activity at all other than actively trying to meet men. ("If you think women are crazy, you’ve never had a dude go from hitting on you to literally threatening to kill you in the time it takes you to say, 'no thanks'." - Kendra Wells.) A man's peaceful intentions alone cannot change this: Assuming she's not a mind reader (she's not), a sufficiently experienced woman's perception of the context (in which men's desire for and objectification of women encourages subhuman treatment including violence) is the same either way. There are workarounds for this: A female acquaintance of mine was quite pleased when a man said, "Excuse me, I just wanted to let you know that you are very beautiful," and then crossed the road and walked away before she could respond. His behavior clarified that he wasn't seeking anything from her, which allowed her to receive the compliment without suspicion.

When my wife and I are out, she's the one who delivers the well received compliments on someone's stunning hair, eyes, or dress. I don't even try. Though if I had to, I'd probably start with, "We just wanted to let you know..." In public, and establishing our existing relationship with the word "we," I doubt anyone would read desirous intentions into it.

Getting farther into speculation: I don't attend fandom conventions, but I love the costume photos and videos. If I were there in person, and wanted to compliment a woman's costume, I suspect that (if the costume is not highly covering) "I love your outfit!" could be interpreted as, "I love how you're showing off your body with that outfit! Thank you for enabling me to objectify you!" So I might instead try, "Great work on that outfit! It must have taken countless hours!" See that? I switched it from complimenting their appearance to complimenting their work, and clarifying my focus on their costume rather than their body. People familiar with convention etiquette: Am I on track here? Is there a better way to do it? (Edited: The original "better version" was phrased as a question rather than a statement, which Beth caught. A question demands time and attention, neither of which you are entitled to, and a question will also be wearying when asked by every fifth passer-by.)

It's usually less tricky for people to compliment men, because the social context includes both a much lower chance of objectification, and a much lower chance that any objectification would result in violence. There has been a time or two that I was pretty sure a guy complimenting my appearance was hitting on me, but because I'm not an insecure, homophobic douchebag, I didn't mind. (Homophobia: The fear that gay men will treat you the way you treat women.) Outside of the context of systemic violence (and tiresome repetition), the attention was merely flattering.

I'm down a pint of blood, so please forgive me and let me know if I have to clarify or correct anything here.

This entry was originally posted at http://blimix.dreamwidth.org/41207.html. (comment count unavailable comments there.)
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Why a stick? [Sep. 2nd, 2016|05:22 pm]
[mood |contemplativecontemplative]

In my previous post, I mentioned keeping a rattan stick for defense in case of home invasion, rather than a knife, sword, or firearm.

Let's look at how firearms in the home are actually used:

"For every instance in which a gun in the home was shot in self-defense, there were seven criminal assaults or homicides, four accidental shootings, and 11 attempted or successful suicides."

"This is not the first time in Central Florida where a relative has been mistaken as an intruder in a fatal shooting."

We're not talking about a rare "just some people who made the news" risk. While camping, my father once returned to his tent, waking his mother, who (still groggy) shouted, "Oh my god, a bear!" then grabbed a pistol, aimed at him, and pulled the trigger. The gun and bullets were old, and didn't fire. My father would be dead, and I wouldn't exist, if it weren't for the fact that a "self defense" weapon failed. On the day that I decide that getting shot by a relative constitutes a good time, I'll start keeping an accessible gun in the house.

Blades are a subtler matter. The practical difference between a gun and a knife or sword (other than range) isn't how physically difficult it is to kill someone with it (pretty damn easy either way), but how psychologically difficult it is. It takes only a whim to pull a trigger; you have to really intend harm to stab someone. This gives blades an edge (so to speak) in utility over guns, because killing people on a whim is bad. But they still have a lot of potential for unnecessary killing (and getting killed; you never know who's going to die in the struggle over a knife). At night, in the dark, having just woken up, is not the time to decide whether some mysterious figure in your living room or bedroom needs killing. That way lie dead relatives.

A nice rattan stick (or anything similar; I used to have a metal support bar from a folding chair) can cause enough pain and damage to be a deterrent, but won't kill someone unless you're trying really hard to kill them with it. There are all kinds of ways to use a stick to disarm someone that you'll learn if you train in kali/eskrima, but they're all icing. You know the easiest way to disarm an intruder? Get behind a corner. In a few minutes, the intruder will come sneaking around the bend. The moment their weapon hand comes into view, hit it with the stick! If it turns out to be a case of mistaken identity, you'll probably have given your son a very nasty bruise and spilled his drink all over, rather than, you know, killing him.

(Once again, please keep the comments respectful.)

This entry was originally posted at http://blimix.dreamwidth.org/40909.html. (comment count unavailable comments there.)
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The Bag of Useful Stuff [Sep. 2nd, 2016|03:15 pm]
[mood |workingworking]

I have a backpack called the Bag of Useful Stuff. It is the closest thing to a D&D style magic item that I own. Often, when someone says, "I could really use [X]," I can pull [X] out of the bag for them. I've heard it compared to a "mommy bag" and a "bug out bag," but those are different (and quite worthy) concepts that are already explored elsewhere.

The idea of the Bag of Useful Stuff is to include items of maximal utility, where utility is roughly proportional to the product of "How likely am I to need this?" and "How bad would it be to need this and be without it?" and the inverse of "How much space does this take up?" (the opportunity cost of not being able to fit other useful things).

Cut for length.Collapse )

This entry was originally posted at http://blimix.dreamwidth.org/40662.html. (comment count unavailable comments there.)
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I will believe you. [Aug. 5th, 2016|10:20 pm]
[mood |sympatheticsympathetic]

I will believe you.

People (especially women, children, people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and other underprivileged folks) often don't report the abuses they suffer, including harassment, threats, and violence. There are many reasons for this, including the expectation that their experiences will be dismissed with disbelief or victim blaming. I can do nothing about the other reasons, but I can and will address this one.

I suspect that disbelief stems from discomfort. The listener does not wish to believe that the world is one in which these awful things really happen to people they know. They find more palatable the idea that the victim is lying or exaggerating. They also prefer the illusion that the world is a just place where, as long as you don't do something terribly wrong or stupid, nothing really bad will happen to you. It makes them feel safe. Of course, believing things because they're comfortable, rather than because they're true, makes that listener an irrational ass. Worse, they are a toxic, irrational ass who has become part of the problem by discouraging victims from speaking up, and by enabling abusers to act with impunity.

I form beliefs based on evidence, rather than comfort, and the overwhelming evidence shows that the world is an unjust place that is full of systemic violence toward underprivileged people. So if you tell me about it, I will believe you. I will not ask what you were wearing, or suggest that you should have been more compliant, or imply that it's no big deal and you should just forget about it. Your experiences are real and valid. I am not asking you to share them: Doing so, or not, is entirely your decision. Just know that if you do confide in me, I will not dismiss you.

Everyone: If you'd rather be part of the solution than part of the problem, feel free to share this or make a similar promise.

This entry was originally posted at http://blimix.dreamwidth.org/40101.html. (comment count unavailable comments there.)
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Good deed made easy! [Jul. 25th, 2016|05:00 pm]
[mood |optimisticoptimistic]

Yesterday was the fifth time I've gotten the license plate of a hit-and-run driver, and the second time I've done so thanks to having a dashboard camera. The police and the other driver (she's okay) were very grateful.

Dash cams: They're not just for Russians anymore.

This entry was originally posted at http://blimix.dreamwidth.org/39191.html. (comment count unavailable comments there.)
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This November [Jul. 23rd, 2016|04:39 pm]
[mood |determineddetermined]

I am a Bernie Sanders fan because I value human lives.

This November, I will vote for Hillary Clinton, because I value human lives.

It would be nice to live in a world where a "protest vote" could mean something. You know: A world in which the U.S. Department of Conscience has workers assigned to pay attention to my vote, to magically know that it means I am dissatisfied with the government, and to then fix health care, corporate media, GLBA, prison slavery, the wage gap, and everything else because they totally care what I think.

We've just seen what a "protest vote" gets you in the real world. Plenty of Brits went to the polls and voted for Brexit, not to help the right-wing xenophobes, but just to voice their dissatisfaction, knowing that the right-wing xenophobes couldn't actually win. Plenty more stayed home from the polls, either too disaffected or lazy to care, or too secure in the knowledge that the right-wing xenophobes couldn't possibly win. And so the right-wing xenophobes won. Emboldened and validated by their victory, they have already begun their campaign of harassment and violence against anyone with an accent and/or the wrong color skin.

A lot of us in the U.S. are feeling disaffected and disenfranchised by losing the chance to have a good person as president. Instead, we'll have to choose between "business as usual" and "pogroms and concentration camps". Germans of a certain age range have wondered how and why in the nine Hells their grandparents ever allowed Nazi Germany to happen. As a modern American, I don't have to wonder. It's happening right here, right now. All it will take is a bunch of us disaffected folks registering third-party votes, or staying home from the polls, to let "pogroms and concentration camps" win.

You don't think it'll happen? Neither did most Germans in 1932. Neither did most Brits in 2016. We need to learn from their mistakes, not repeat history. I'll see you at the polls in November, and we can all exchange sad looks about having to vote to save millions of lives, rather than getting to vote for our favorite candidate. Because, after all, we value human lives.

This entry was originally posted at http://blimix.dreamwidth.org/39079.html. (comment count unavailable comments there.)
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Police motivations re: lack of accountability [Jul. 8th, 2016|04:18 pm]
[Tags|, ]
[mood |sadsad]

[I wrote this just before the Dallas shootings hit the news. With what little we know, I cannot comment on that beyond the obvious: The shooters opened fire on police in the middle of a Black Lives Matter protest, jeopardizing everybody present and causing a potential setback to the movement. They could not possibly have been affiliated with the movement or the protest, which was described by the Dallas police as peaceful. I expect racists to use this tragedy, no matter how illogically, as ammunition in their continuing support of the oppressive and murderous status quo. Please don't let them get away with it. Now, back to your irregularly scheduled dose of perspective.]

It seems to me that there is a complication in the issues (hitting the spotlight once again) of police accountability, brutality, and racism. To turn back the clock to a telling example of the confusion: I was initially astonished at the gall of New York City's biggest police union when they vilified Mayor Bill de Blasio for speaking against police brutality, claiming that he had thereby attacked the police. In so doing, the union appeared to have equated the police with police brutality: A much stronger and more damning statement than anything that de Blasio himself had said. Where were the good cops in this? Or, hell, even the neutral ones? What sort of officers could possibly condone the statement that decrying police brutality is an attack on the police?

The horrifying, systemic violence by police in the U.S. is already established fact, and we know that something needs to be done about it. That's not what this essay is about. The mystifying issue here is how strongly police in general defend a system that continues to allow and encourage this. Police departments shun body cameras, despite their proven effectiveness in sharply reducing violence both by and against police. The officer who reported the torture of a suspect at the hands of two other officers was harassed out of his job, and had to move from Baltimore to a small town in Florida just to find a department willing to hire him.

It seems to me that the majority of police, who do not commit but still accept police brutality, are protecting the brutalizers and murderers in every way they can not because they like brutality, nor from a sense of brotherhood, but because accountability both makes them personally uncomfortable and clashes with the dominance that they enjoy over the public (especially oppressed minorities).

On comfort: Accountability is a trade-off. Most people enjoy a certain right to privacy most of the time. Officers interacting with the public have no such right: Regular recording of these interactions results in good behavior, where privacy results in abuse, torture, and killing. But this argument only appeals to people who are concerned with what brings the greatest good. An officer who is unconcerned with the greatest good will only be swayed by their personal convenience and comfort. Doing your job with someone looking over your shoulder (or a camera monitoring your behavior) the whole time is annoying, even if you're not planning on doing anything wrong. There's an extra cognitive load in every decision you make, considering whether the observer would approve. In this case, that's a wildly good thing, equivalent to "using your brain to be a good person". But to the 85% of officers who are otherwise unmotivated to be a good person (see the first link above), it's a pointless way to make their job more annoying.

On dominance: In Siderea's essay on the two moral modes, she explains that many people (such as Trump's supporters) enjoy and defend the privilege of people in their in-group to do whatever they want to people not in their in-group, with no fear of repurcussions. Just having that privilege, that status, is important to them, even if they never wind up exercising it: Just like 99% of white southerners didn't own slaves, but were still willing to fight and die for the right of white people to own black people. (Don't try to tell me it was about states' rights. The leaders of the Confederacy were explicitly clear that defending slavery was their motivation.)

U.S. police have, and enjoy, that privilege, to a degree not found elsewhere in the civilized world. Even if you're an old, white male, asking them to tone down their abuse of a black person will get you clubbed in the head. (This was a recent incident, so similar to hoards of other blatant uses of excessive force that I can no longer find a link.) They are the dominant party in every interaction with the public. They can and will enforce that dominance in whatever way they wish, regardless of legalities, because they are the only ones with enforcement capacity: Their victims typically have no legal recourse. Herein lies the fundamental misunderstanding committed by anyone who thinks that knowing the law will do them any good. When an officer pulls you over illegally, to ask, "Am I being detained?" is to challenge their dominance. It asserts, "I know you have no legal right to hold me here, so you have to let me go." They will not let that challenge stand. Any dog, or socially aware junior high school student, knows that you don't challenge the dominance of someone who can break you.

Police officers' dominance is enforced by their guns and by their lack of accountability. This is why violating the "blue wall" of silence is such a crime: Even if a good cop only does it in order to protect someone from a bad cop, all of the other officers are keenly aware that a bastion of their dominance has just been weakened.

The saving grace here is that police resistance to reform is not an insurmountable obstacle. Some juristictions have succeeded in introducing body cameras, so obviously it can be done. Once accountability measures are implemented, officers will gradually get used to them. A few rill resist and subvert these measures, but as soon as escaping scrutiny is not trivial, the vast majority will find it easier to just not wantonly abuse and kill people. A generation of enforced improved behavior will do a better job of changing police culture than any protest will.
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