Tuesday, December 30, 2008

and I ususally hate songs about adultery

So, I am safely back east with my parents for my winter holiday, which means it's time for a very quick post, leaving more time to hug my parents, wander around the east coast, and consume mass quantities of frozen blueberries. :)


I really enjoy this song; it seems to convey a certain pathos beautifully, and there are certain lines--"an half blind we wrote these songs on sheets of salty wood. .." "such distance from our friends, like a scratch across the lens"--

anyway, enjoy. :)



"I do not exist,"
we faithfully insist
sailing in our separate ships,
and in each tiny caravel -
tiring of trying, there's a necessary dying
like the horseshoe crab in its proper season sheds its shell
such distance from our friends,
like a scratch across a lens,
made everything look wrong from anywhere we stood
and our paper blew away before we'd left the bay
so half-blind we wrote these songs on sheets of salty wood

you caught me making eyes at the other boatmen's wives
and heard me laughing louder at the jokes told by their daughters
I'd set my course for land,
but you well understand
it takes a steady hand to navigate adulterous waters
the proppeller's spinning blades held acquaintance with the waves
as there's mistakes I've made no rowing could outrun
the cloth low on the mast like to say Ive got no past

but I'm nonetheless the librarian and secretary's son
with tarnish on my brass and mildew on my glass
I'd never want someone so crass as to want someone like me
but a few leagues off the shore, I bit a flashing lure
and I assure you, it was not what it expected it to be!
I still taste its kiss, that dull hook in my lip
is a memory as useless as a rod without a reel
to an anchor-ever-dropped-seasick-yet-still-docked captain spotted napping with his first mate at the wheel floating forgetfully along, with no need to be strong. we keep our confessions long and when we pray we keep it short
I drank a thimbleful of fire and I'm not ever going back

Oh, my G-d!

"I do not exist," we faithfully insist
while watching sink the heavy ship of everything we knew
if ever you come near I'll hold up high a mirror
Lord, I could never show you anything as beautiful as you




Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

thoughts on Twilight


^^a postsecret item that reminded me of twilight fan art.

Over the past month or so, I've read the first and the last of the twilight novels, watched the recently released movie, and encountered four interesting related reviews.

1)The one on Mary's blog

2)The one on Stormfront (the largest gathering of "white nationalists" on the internet)

3)My absolute favorite (thank you very much Heidi)

4)and this deeply desturbing one by Caitlin Flanagan.


It's this last one that I'm interested in discussing right now. Certainly there's something to be said for treating the metaphors and sexuality in the story candidly, and certainly it's about time someone noticed (or perhaps I should say, noted) the underlaying message about sex and morality, and its connection to Stephanie Meyer's faith.

While not brilliantly written, this review is at least, for a change, intelligent--and I can't help feeling that it somehow misses the mark. I know a lot of my readership are twilight fans, and I know that they tend to be the quieter lot. . . . but I'm asking you now; what do you think of her analysis?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

also, I'm inordinately fond of lists.


Changes in my life in the last 6 months:

-No longer dating
-New job
-Dropped out of school
-Looking for house

it seems like less items when I put it that way. Still, lots of change.


Things I need to do to move forward:

-Find a place to live
-Study mathematics, French, philosophy, parenting
-Write
-Sleep, and generally look after health
-Work crazy hours to go back to school at some point. . . but not so many hours that I'm not able to study.

or sleep.

hmn.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

hunting homes



In the past week and a half I've very bizarrely found myself in the position of a first time prospective home buyer. My arbitrarily/incredibly generous and supportive parents have suggested that now that it's time for me to move out of the camping trailer, it's better that I don't go back to paying rent. Sometimes I think I either am a rich spoiled brat or it's a miracle that I'm not. Also, this sort of behavior from my folks is part of what often makes my life so incredibly surreal. I am not complaining.

Anyway, the short story is, I have offers in on two places. Either one would be fine, and each has a complicated process going on such that I won't hear back for days or weeks.

I daydream of fruit trees and vegetable gardens. The public room shall be the library. . . the kitchen shall have running water. . . I will own a hot water heater, my own hot water heater, and my bedroom will have a barre (not bar, barre.).

And any of ya'll people who've been invited to visit me from far and wide can sleep on my couch. :)


I am satisfied. Lying. Thrilled.

I'm thrilled. :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

books I've read this year


that I can think of off the top of my head (read through, in no particular order):

Rape, by Joanna Bourke
Five stars, the best I've read on the topic--and I've read several.

The Lucifer Effect, by Phillip Zimbardo
Annoying as hell, but lots of useful and interesting information

The Communist Manifesto
Surprisingly excellent.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
Brilliant. I cried. It's also a fast/short read.

Introducing Shakespeare
Moderately terrible. Pet peeve; even more antifeminist than Shakespeare.

Introducing Existentialism

Didn't understand it, but now I know what to read.

Introducing Philosophy

Very useful, put lots of tidbits I knew in place and helped me develop a plan for further study.

Introducing Ethics
About the same as Introducing Philosophy

Introducing Derrida
Massively helpful. Plan to read it through again before I go back to actually reading Derrida.

Watchmen
Mixed feelings. The craftsmanship is amazing, and I have a deep fondness for Rorschach. It turns my stomach, but it's supposed to. Also, the source of my favorite Alan Moore quote.

The Rules of Survival
Excellent, highly recommended YA novel about the some of the subtleties of abusive situations and how to solve them.

Manipulating Parents
TERRIBLE. Prize moment? The discussion of how a teenage girl whose stepfather had "unwisely expressed a biological urge" with her was "manipulating" him by threatening to tell her mother if he didn't grant her special privileges. . . and this clearly had to be put to a stop. . .

How to Win Friends and Influence People
eh. See blog.

The last Twilight book
I cried, but for different reasons. . . ok, metaphorically. I do wish I could get my kids to stop reading these, and read something better.

The last Harry Potter book

*shrugs*

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
A good read-aloud book for the kids

Untapped

Excellent. This is an accessible and well documented description of the history and present state of the petrol industry in Africa.

The Speed of Dark

Another novel about autism, not as good but still interesting; deals explicitly in autism rights issues without getting incredibly pedantic. . . though to be fair, it is kinda pedantic.

Manga versions of Othello, Julius Caesar, and the Tempest
Very helpful--incredibly readable. I have mixed feelings about the art and presentation, but this may be my favorite format for Shakespeare--I wish someone would put out full text versions. After reading these through two or three times, I'm sure I'd get much more out of reading the full text real-time or watching the plays--and they read very quickly.

Rules for Radicals
Some useful ideas, I would like to see this more practically developed. It's kinda funny how anti-socialist he is.

How to Lie With Statistics
A good book on interpreting statistics for beginners who haven't had a ton of math.

The Mythic Imagination
Post-Jungean exploration of mythology as psychology for modern life. Some useful insights, also a very annoying book (writing style and pre-suppositions of author.)

The first book in "Y, the last man"
First installment of a story about what happens when a plague kills almost everything with a Y chromosome. Funny, well drawn, and insightful.

Help at any cost

A bit of an expose on the teen reform industry; has proven to be incredibly relevant in my life since I picked it up last spring. Not a bad read, either.

Notice how closely it all matches up with what I was planning to read. . .

Thursday, December 11, 2008

So awesome


It deserved it's own post.

I would really love to hear people's thoughts on this.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

on giving up



the funny thing about life is, it keeps going, until you're dead.

You all have my apologies for the quality of this blog lately. It's been hard to write. . . I hypothesize that this has something to do with my last day off having been Halloween.

Anyway, this all comes out to: till you die, giving up means starting something else. Hopefully this something will work better. :)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

How to win friends and influence people

“To be sure I was paying her to say it; but why bring that up?” -p. 227

It's a book that's been so popular over most of the last century that it's title is a catchphrase.

The primary message seems to be that one should develop a "genuine" interest in other people because it will be to one's material interest. All in all, I've come to the conclusion that this is a fantastic lot of advice if you excise the lie. Of course, at that point it becomes basically a religious text. :)


Here's the outline:

3 fundamental techniques in handling people
Don't criticize, condemn, or complain
Give honest and sincere appreciation
Arouse in the other person an eager want

6 ways to make people like you
Become genuinely interested in people
Smile
Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in the language
Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
Talk in terms of the other person's interests
Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.

12 ways to win people to your way of thinking
The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it
Show respect for the other person's opinion. Never say “you're wrong.”
If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
Begin in a friendly way.
Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.
Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
Appeal to the nobler motives.
Dramatize your ideas.
Throw down a challenge.

9 ways to be a good leader
A leader's job often includes changing your people's attitudes and behavior. Some suggestions to accomplish this:
Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly.
Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
Let the other person save face.
Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in you approbation and lavish in your praise.”
Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

Friday, November 28, 2008

a word from Zizek--



"Would you like to live in a society where you have to debate and argue all the time that women shouldn't be raped? No. I would like to live in a dogmatic society where when someone starts to advocate the right of men to rape women, you simply disqualify yourself, I mean, people don't even attack you. You're such a jerk it's like, "huhu, I mean, what's wrong with this guy" or whatever. . and unfortunately, I would like to live in a society where the same goes for torture. . . "

-http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2530392910118230001&hl=en, around 1:14

Thursday, November 27, 2008

To be or not to be

.



Whether it is nobler

in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

or

to take arms against a sea of troubles

and by opposing, end them


that
is the question. . .




(Shakespeare as a revolutionary existentialist. . .)


;)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Today



This morning I broke down crying at my boss, but it turned out he was on my side so things are slightly less terrible.

"I will comfort a ten year old when they are crying," I said, "you can fire me if you want."

Other notable highlights of the conversation?

Him: "sometimes you have to live in the real world."

Me: "the real world can go to hell."



Why does everyone keep suggesting that I should make a career of this?



People who abuse children should not be placed in charge of children for a living. There is no fucking excuse. Why is this so hard?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thanksgiving


When survival is a team effort

Recently, in the course of working with fucked up teenagers, I've gotten to thinking about all the essential contributions people have made to my life. Finding one's way to adulthood is never easy; throwing certain awful experiences or psychological conditions into the mix makes it infinitely harder. The following list is of people who directly contributed to my survival, literal or psychological. As such, it is missing any number of dear friends who have supported me through less dire circumstances, as well as people who contributed in less direct, more "behind the scenes" ways, such as my sister Sarah and, I'm sure, others. I appreciate you also.

I wish everyone could know what great gains a small contribution can make; I wish everyone could know what can happen in the scale of one other life when they have the courage to step forward and care.



For everyone who has gotten me this far--thank you.

Mum and Da, who chose to welcome 1984 in the best of all possible ways and have always tried to do their best for their kids

Nancy, for making her husband my brother by marrying him

Alma, the best older brother a girl could ask for, who taught me almost everything I know about set theory and people, and more than I would have imagined about unconditional love

The PHS chess team, which included the first real friends I ever had, Ben Werner, Rachel Smith, and Caleb Anderson--special thanks to Gribble for making it possible and giving us a safe place

Mary Hedengren, whose courage, insight, intelligence, excellent advice and inadvertently persistent friendship have pulled me through some of the darkest times

Kathrine O'Sullivan, who made my Spanish sound like French, made competence incredibly appealing, and took a moment to ask me how I was every day and mean it

Dan Krimmelbein, who believed in me so much it was embarrassing and let me do whatever I needed

Barbara Patillo, the best listener I have ever met, who never refused to mourn with those that mourned or comfort those who stood in need of comfort

Whatever assortment of my family (I think mostly Grandmother and Mom) made sure I had the funds and the guts to fly off around the world and then spend two years of my life studying dance, when they didn't know why but only knew that I needed it

Mykle Law, who showed me my best when I couldn't see

Greg Lucero, who cared, keeps his promises, passionately believed I belonged to myself, and wanted me to be better till I wanted it too

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How communism serves the American right

This is how I explain my awesome family to radical communists. :D

If you had some sort of illusions that I was a not a radical communist, you may consider this a sort of late halloween costume for my blog. ;)


I like to advocate class struggle by pointing to material conditions. For all it's posturing to the contrary, capitalism creates material conditions deeply toxic to freedom and democracy. In the accumulation of capital is the accumulation of power; in the concentration of power, widespread opportunity for self-determination is destroyed. So far my favorite depictions of this process come from Domhoff and Chomsky.


As for the path to victory, I am far from a master tactician, but I prefer to take the words of Marx and Engels to heart:

"(Communists) have no interests separate or apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement."

Along with this comes the injunction to form the proletariat as a class, and from this combination my preference in strategy is born. It seems we must re-articulate cultural struggle as class struggle--and this goes for (what appears to be) both sides of the culture struggle.


Consider the interests of the American (United States) proletariat, as they presently perceive them. Besides the materialities of survival and comfort, the issues they are most aware of being concerned with are families, immigration, gay marriage, abortion ethics, and a certain kind of self-determination. All of these social issues can be subsumed more or less neatly into the framework of communism or socialism. The possible quality of relationships in a family are intimately and inextricably connected with types of exploitation and quality of work; global socialism renders concern with immigration issues obsolete; availability of universal health care (a class issue) makes the question of gay marriage no longer a life and death matter*; socialism has the potential to vastly reduce the incidence of abortion**.

Saul Alinsky, in describing the class conflicts of political organizing, cast Americans as haves, have-nots, and have-a-little-want-mores. It is this last group, he says, that offer the greatest resistance to change; they have gained some ground under the existing system, have just enough that they no longer are free from fear of loosing it. This is the illusory self-determination with which the American proletariat is so entranced; not that they are "Joe the plummer" who has something to loose, but for the most part they have just enough that they can dream of being him, and want to hang on to that dream. It seems best to work out of this by constantly presenting more meaningful forms of self-determination. In this, whether or not we might choose a planned economy in the longer run, the concept of syndicalism is extremely useful.


* It removes the state's involvement with gay marriage as a property relation, thus rendering the question of "marriage" or not purely cultural.

**The details of this position I will, actually, publish in subsequent posts

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Prop 8

Takes a gutsy man to say this on the national news.

I can see--while I don't agree with--the free speech "we don't want our children learning this is OK in schools" argument--but it is genuinely far beyond me how gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage in any substantive way.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

provocateur*


How Conservatives Justify Rape

I will not pretend that it is all conservatives. However,

-Many people who advocate for "family values" use this as an excuse to belittle experiences of incest and domestic violence, telling victims to hold their speech and often to continue living in danger "for the good of the family". When you tell someone that the family unit is more important than the bodily integrity it has violated, you are justifying rape.

-Conservative religious leaders have consistently advocated for positions that entail a complete non-value on a woman's right to choose anything about her body. This includes many subjects including how to present and express sexuality, abortion, and the teachings of subservience and submission--up to and including outright insistence on the non-possibility of marital rape. Having abstinence and chastity pounded into your head, like being molested as a child, is usually one more way of learning that your body does not belong to you. This is a particularly potent message when the clergy in question also offers God's forgiveness to the perpetrators of sexual violence. It is not meaningful to tell people that you object to the fact that what is theirs has been violated, if you also maintain it was never theirs in the first place.

-There is a strong trend in conservative culture to do something which appears to be, but is not, about protecting women against the threat of rape. Women are not to walk alone at night, live alone, or do any of a million other things without a man to protect them. Often times, the same men who "protect" them are believed over them when they are raped. . . not by the mythical stranger in the night, but, as happens with a much greater statistical frequency, by their "protectors." To participate in this charade* is to ignore and accept the reality.

-In a related issue, it's worth taking note that such justifications as "she shouldn't have dressed like that/been there/done those drugs/had sex with him before/prostituted herself" do not come from the left. No matter how true they may be, to bring them up at all implicitly negates the fact that every rape represents a choice made by a human being who should be held responsible, not a social virus that one catches by being "slutty" or not wearing enough clothes.


This is a world where parents who won't let their young teenage daughters walk two blocks alone stand by and do nothing when they learn the same children have been molested by a family member. Anyone who idealizes this culture or thinks it is something to aim for (in a non-ballistic sense) is tacitly joining in its justifications of rape.

*See future entries for "how leftists justify theft". ;)

**I don't refer to all cases of prevention, or of looking after women's safety.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Count 'em.

Ten ways to be a better father:

Take time -this was the item of greatest emphasis. Emphasis emphasis emphasis.

Listen—when they want to talk.

Be affectionate

Be respectful of your children

Protect

Be an example —be able to say “do as I do” and ask yourself “what will my family remember about me”

Set limits -D&C 121—reprove not from frustration, anger, or embarassment, but from actual
need—Reason, persuasion, and love unfeighned –Joseph F. Smith

Teach —unlike yelling and telling, it takes time



These are actually my half-hearted notes from a talk I saw on KBYU at three in the morning. . . I get up so some funny things in my sundry lines of employment.

I was impressed by the humility of the speaker, all his obvious stumbles, and how profoundly simple and great this list was. I'll take it as a good advice for any parenting.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Everything


If we do not love life on our own account and through others, it is futile to seek to justify it in any way. -Simone DeBeauvoir


It seems I must be joining the famous echo-chamber of the blogosphere, because somebody blogged on my ellipses. I could not help but be struck by how much the photographs, to her, seemed to mean only death, only destruction, only despair.

As some of you must know, I have a predilection for certain pastimes commonly considered depressing or hopeless. One of these is the protection of the small.

If there is to be humanity, it is impossible to prevent all child abuse. From my life and involvement in the systems that govern this matter, I can only conclude that as a society we don't care. . . And not only do we not care that complete success is impossible, as a society we don't even come close to caring enough to do what can be done. I believe we will never come close. It is across this background I paint.


A twelve year old throws a physically violent screaming tantrum because the brother who raped her is about to get out of jail. For this she must sleep on the floor of the group home, and she remains on low privileges; she's not allowed to talk to her peers, eat sweet things, listen to music, play musical instruments, wake up early, wear normal clothes, or use the exercise equipment. She may read with permission. She keeps sobbing, and going on about how her father beat her and the things that happened with her brother; the staff member who supervised this tantrum does not want details, does not want details. The child must learn to take responsibility and control her emotions; she is making excuses.

A young teenager is responsible for his siblings. He has heard more than once from his parents that they don't want him. For good reason the kids are all terrified of foster care; they've been burned. Their violent alcoholic father has completed his required therapy, and the case is about to close on the day when he towers over me and yells at me not to come around, liquor bottle in hand, slamming the door in my face. The case closes on schedule, family preserved.

A sixteen year old refuses to co-operate and keeps running away. She is given only a blanket and underwear for clothing and is under observation day and night. Had she been in the program under it's previous ownership, she might have been taken out to the pond when she kicked and screamed to "work it out in the water."


Perhaps the most impressive thing about these stories, from this vantage, is their darkness, and their closeness; these are stories of here and now, America the beautiful within the past few years. It is impossible to save them; it is impossible to vanquish the darkness. I can try, but nothing I can do will really keep these children safe from violence, from neglect, from profound institutionalized cruelty, or from rape.

Somehow, though, this is not all. Between the lines there is the constant victory of survival--and the constant victory of humanity. I had an irrevocable revelation once as a CASA, squatting with my charges in the dust behind their friend's apartment. We needed a place where we could go to talk away from Mom and Dad, where they could suss me out and decide if I was OK. We talked about school, about foster care, touched a little, briefly, on when things got "bad."

These children had been kicked out of their house in the rain and told never to come home, or watched their father beating their mom, or watched their mother go on meth, or eaten only when fed by their older brother--this all besides the direct violence they had experienced upon themselves. They had been torn away from everything they knew and learned that all the world was dangerous. They had their wariness; they had sore spots. Possibly they had patterns, internally, that would damage them for the rest of their lives.


What they had more than anything else, though, was that they were simply kids; kids who wanted a princess backpack and a new football, who yelled and laughed and ran around, who picked their noses and yelled at their brother for picking his nose. They were funny and smart and playful, silly and cool, constantly teasing me for being a geek and each other for damn near everything. No matter how much trouble they were in or how much I couldn't save them, they were still people. If you had been there to take pictures of us on that day, they would have seemed to be happy ones.

And this, perhaps, is the undercurrent I see in those photographs of destruction and pain; this, perhaps, is the reason I don't see them as even a little one-sided. Human beings will be human beings, whatever their circumstance, and just as tragedy can hide behind a smile, so are profound courage and compassion to be found in death, destruction, and despair.

Some are fortunate enough to find themselves in happier photographs--but if I had chosen happier photographs, they would still be photographs of human beings quite capable of murdering and starving one another--human beings capable of hurting, of falling, of holding a bleeding stranger in the open danger of the road--capable of growing to maturity after a childhood of torture; capable of standing before a column of tanks and dying before the world in support of what they believe in, capable of burning themselves alive to stop the burning of village after village, alive.

They could not save us, and neither can I, but life is in the trying--because we are all human, capable of squatting and joking in the dust, or comforting our children as they weep upon the sand.

test # 3, Zemansky and Sears Ch. 8-10.

note to self: do not simply allow blog to become only a homage to all your favorite websites. . .


How Day hopes to pass:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torque
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precession
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angular_momentum
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angular_velocity
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angular_frequency
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angular_acceleration
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moment_(physics)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moment_of_inertia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_moments_of_inertia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotational_energy
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parallel_axis_theorem
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutron_star
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_of_mass
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impulse
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_of_momentum#Conservation_of_momentum
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inelastic_collisions
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rigid_body_dynamics#Angular_momentum_and_torque
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinematics

How did anyone ever learn anything before the internet?


On the bright side, I've actually enjoyed lecture both times this week, and paid attention, I think, more than 35% of the total time. It's hard to resist things going-round. . . There's something very satisfying about seeing the whole world in constantly moving shapes and arrows, with different colored quantities that interact with each other in mathematically meaningful and lovely ways. Everything dances.


this was fun too:
http://www.geocities.com/capecanaveral/hangar/4421/#Rotational_Mechanics_and_the_Pirouette

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

. . .


in case any o' yall were gettin' on too cheerful out there. .

http://www.dismalworld.com/must_see/unforgettable_photos.php

It really is depressing; if you're feeling down, save it for another day. But, they really are also very historically interesting and thought provoking.

my favorite one is at the bottom of the page.



And on a fully unrelated note, Happy Birthday Mom! You rock. Exceedingly.

Ok, I'm done.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

We're not going to discuss what this says about me


xkcd on revolution

Yes, I know. There's a reason this is under the category "dreams." But, to paraphrase a friend, what can be gained by asking if xkcd is “ours or theirs?” The better question is, “How can one use xkcd for some liberatory project?”

and so we see xkcd--

Exulting the joys and efficiencies of life under capital
http://xkcd.com/23/
http://xkcd.com/325/
http://xkcd.com/223/
http://xkcd.com/277/
http://xkcd.com/77/
http://xkcd.com/488/
http://xkcd.com/164/
http://xkcd.com/137/

celebrating the fruits of a high-functioning democracy
http://xkcd.com/154/
http://xkcd.com/129/
http://xkcd.com/463/
http://xkcd.com/285/
http://xkcd.com/84/

considering violence?
http://xkcd.com/81/
http://xkcd.com/101/
http://xkcd.com/279/ (the roll over text)
http://xkcd.com/393/

Don't even get me started on cultural revolution.

* just fixed the link for number 81, which is funnier than 84 over again.

Friday, October 17, 2008

freely cho$en



Markets are called "free"
because actors in them are permitted certain choices--about whether and how to form contracts, what to do with "their" goods, and so forth.

This description of how some of those freedoms tend to actually work themselves out under capitalism is much truncated for the demands of bloggery; hopefully any unclarity can be worked out through discussion. The ideas, even the analogy, are not mine; I'm told they've been liberated mostly from Hegel and Zizek, and they've come to me through the much appreciated vicarious scholarship of my friend Greg.


Let's say I want to become a world class violinist. Given that I have the talent and basic physical abilities:

If I'm a member of the lower class, there are objective material restrictions on my ability to accomplish this. If I live in tar paper shack, sell rubbish for a living, and haul water an hour every day, I think we can all agree that no matter how much I'm willing to sacrifice it is practically impossible for me to succeed.

If I'm a member of the middle class, my success is significantly contingent on my ability to manipulate relationships to my material gain. I can maintain good relationships with family members in hopes that they will pay for lessons; if my boss likes the work I put in at my day job, he's more likely to be understanding of my need for flexibility in hours and travel to competitions. Even my access to the teachers I need may be a matter of presenting myself amicably.

If I'm a member of the upper class, the limits on my ability to accomplish are largely the limits of myself; for the most part, I just have to want it enough.


So, when the upper class says, "you just have to want it enough,"
it is true. . . for them. And they have to believe at some level that it's true for everyone else too.

That's part of why the middle class believes them. . . but the statement transfers well enough into a middle class paradigm anyway; you just have to want it enough to develop the skills, the relationships, the networking. If you want it enough to do those things, you have a very decent shot. Arguably this is why the middle class has such a neurotically selfish mentality; lurking in the background, there's always the possibility that their relationships will fail, and the material reality is that their success is contingent on all those relationships.

This is also why, in the realm of charity, they will speak of doing all they can--of giving all they can--while their house is not filled with the homeless and they spend their tax returns on expensive hobbies. To be middle class is to build a wall around me and mine and allow every relationship to become a commodity; morality is only efficient it in so far as it is less fun than a new boat, or appropriate Christmas presents for your family. . . with whom, of course, you must maintain certain relationships.

It's at the lower class level that reality intervenes; there is a material world, and without material wealth it intervenes in everything, no matter how much you want it. On top of this, the material manifestations of racism, of class culture, and of literal inability to transition to a middle class approach, are omnipresent in day to day life.


To some of us, this does not seem like a system to optimize freedom.

That was all.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Escapism, thy name is French news radio. *


Once upon a time I kept a sabbath. It was a way not to stress, and it was a dictate of my faith; though I had to work Sundays, I focused on personal development, gave all that I earned away, and released myself from all expectation of doing homework. I would do other people's side work and generally be of good cheer and not worry about how much I got tipped, unless I was particularly excited about whatever I was giving it to. In short, I relaxed. It was my day off--not from showing up, but from worrying about it.

It was an important distinction, in some ways; waiting tables is intense work if you do it well (at least till you've been doing it well for awhile), and though being of good cheer is half the battle, the other half involves heavy physical and mental labor. Efficiency is a big deal; details can be a big deal; timing can be a big deal. These things did not come naturally to me.

I'm not a Mormon anymore, and though I maintain a certain code of ethics and still keep a sabbath in an economic sense, somewhere along the way I've lost that ability to make it a day off--a day when it's time not to worry about it. The things I worry about now are different, but also strangely the same.

I used to worry whether I had the capacity to competently preform and keep my job; now I worry whether I have the capacity to competently fulfill my duty to the children I protect. I used to worry that I would always be useless, as evidenced by my chronic failure in school; now (despite the same chronic failure), having chosen to study what is most hard for me, I wonder much more confidently how I'm going to pull it off--knowing that when I have done this, I will be able to do anything. I used to really worry whether I could ever figure out how to get along with people; now I only wonder how to do it without selling my soul.

As any of you who've been in contact know, I've been dealing with some stress; it's a challenge to sleep, a challenge to focus, a challenge eat or not eat as a matter of fuel rather than emotion, and a major challenge to study. Every moment is precious, and somehow that makes it that much harder to know what to do with them; there are always things to study, people to talk to, questions to ask, problems to solve, and often significant conflicts to negotiate. With a strict 6-8 hour sleep schedule, an above average diet, and five workouts a week, I still find myself strung out like a caffeine monkey on finals week. It takes me an hour after going to bed to relax enough to go to sleep.

It is from this background that I again approached sabbath--today--when I strangely awoke to realize I had a full six hours ahead of me before I had any sort of commitment to show up to. I wrote in my journal and cleaned my house and then sat on my bed feeling unoccupied yet overwhelmed, wishing I had a movie to watch or a pizza to eat or Something. Finally I googled "French radio" and thence discovered a new form of zen. Momentarily I was ensconced in quilts and pillows, listening to the crisee financial et something about l'ittalie -- a young woman had been killed, and someone was being extradited? Hard to say. I lapsed into a delicious nap, and after I awoke the radio stayed on for the rest of the evening.


*anyone able to explain what this post has to do with an elephant wearing a tiger mask gets peanuts.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

for dancers--and everyone else?



I came upon this on youtube tonight, and was delighted. I found it said something about the dance that I've been failing to articulate for some time now.

Metal is very stylized, and in some ways that makes it perfect for the ballet.

Ballet is all about extreme stylization. Each generation of dancers since the court of Louis XIV has faced some pressure to be lighter, more stately, graceful, delicate, and higher on their toes--growing generation after another towards heaven, up out of dark medieval symbolism that associated downwards and bodies with hell and earth.

As time has come and passed, that heavenly ideal became an idol of self-destruction. In a world where virtually all the stars are women, blooming young and retiring by thirty, generations of men follow student to master as they shape, dictate, choreograph and direct. By the late 1980's the image that dominated ballet was the inherited ideal of Bruce Balanchine's work: transparently slender, long limbed, tall, and young, with the disposition of an adoring child and skin the color of a freshly peeled apple.

In keeping with the tradition of Dance, the visual surpassed the corporeal. Balanchine taught his dancers how to "cut some corners" on technique, creating spectacular stage performances alongside premature retirements and tendinitis. Children ready to give anything for the New York City Ballet sacrificed physical maturity as they starved themselves into--and then sometimes out of--the shape proscribed.


Set against nightwish, figurine grace and surreal, doll-like perfection have made ballet real for me again. In this fantasy playground, historical footage emphasizes every marionette pause, and the dark undercurrents of ballet's approach to sexuality and gender are left clear. Here we remember her invisible bones, the impossible thinness of her ankles, the irrevocable constancy in which she exists only for her beauty, and the way all of us worship her for it as she dances on, forever--in every way that matters--alone.

Here, removed a step from The Great Western Heritage of Culture And Dance, it is easy to believe the ideal is not real; it is easy to believe that no one really thinks this is the ultimate embodiment of who and what I am supposed to be.

Here it is possible to conceptualize ballet as only one aspect, to raise it from it's dark beauty and, in some small way, integrate it to myself--without being eaten by what I would have left behind.



Here's a link to the blog of the fellow who did it; deep thanks for a masterful and insight provoking job.

This is another amazing film piece. It showcases a very tangibly corporeal side of the dance, and at the same time, overwhelming performance, grace, and technique.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

shameless

But so beautiful.



So That You Will Hear Me
By Pablo Neruda

So that you will hear me
my words
sometimes grow thin
as the tracks of the gulls on the beaches.

Necklace, drunken bell
for your hands smooth as grapes.

And I watch my words from a long way off.
They are more yours than mine.
They climb on my old suffering like ivy.

It climbs the same way on damp walls.
You are to blame for this cruel sport.
They are fleeing from my dark lair.
You fill everything, you fill everything.

Before you they peopled the solitude that you occupy,
and they are more used to my sadness than you are.

Now I want them to say what I want to say to you
to make you hear as I want you to hear me.

The wind of anguish still hauls on them as usual.
Sometimes hurricanes of dreams still knock them over.
You listen to other voices in my painful voice.

Lament of old mouths, blood of old supplications.
Love me, companion. Don't forsake me. Follow me.
Follow me, companion, on this wave of anguish.

But my words become stained with your love.
You occupy everything, you occupy everything.

I am making them into an endless necklace
for your white hands, smooth as grapes.





Full text including the original can be found here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Experiences slightly like getting hit by a truck


include
1) Watching Hotel Rwanda
2) Reading Crime and Punishment
4) Getting hit by a car
5) Noticing that your closest friend is not only a violent fascist but intends to fully pickle himself in alcohol before the night is out.


So. . . here's the thing about reading Dostoevsky, or at least Crime and Punishment. As far as I can tell, there are three options; you can try to stonewall it and not feel anything, you can take it tongue in cheek, or you can read the whole thing literally and let the melodrama of it sweep you into its world.

I have a bit of a problem with taking things literally, so naturally my first reading was all about this third approach. . . hence, slightly like getting hit by a truck.

Lately I've been introduced a little into how the rest of the radical left carries its self. Some are just bitter and/or delusional; a few are very well read and insightful. Among the many ideas I'm not particularly familiar with yet is that socialism is the next stage in some sort of natural progressive order, to succeed our present system just as capitalism replaced monarchy.

It occurs to me that some people have a kind of literalist-Dostoevsky approach to the world; they see all the wrongs that come of this stage in that "historical order" in vivid detail, perhaps even exaggerated, but as a matter of perspective, not dishonesty. They walk the streets and meet a man whose family is starving, and over the course of a thousand pages they watch helplessly from a very slightly less precarious position as that family--and the various exceedingly human individuals in it--continue in their abject poverty until they are mercilessly crushed by the system in which they've no choice but to exist.

They experience all this in a sort of vivid technicolor detail, and for them life is rather like getting hit by a truck. I go through stages of being this kind of person, but most of the time I've only a relatively blunted underlaying awareness. Still, the awareness is there, and the emotional-truck people are impossible to discredit. After all, the world is much more full of Marmeladovs--people whose lives actually, rather than emotionally, resemble being hit by a truck; perhaps the world is a lot like Fyodor saw it after all.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Speaking of which

For any of you who, like me, have found yourselves lost by recent news about the finance markets, a very useful link. . .

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/18/diamond-and-kashyap-on-the-recent-financial-upheavals/?em

Friday, September 19, 2008

In search of a numerate left



Here is what I would like to know: Why do so few individuals on the political left trouble themselves to address economics? As my brother likes to point out, one of the primary things we lefties have got on our side is Reality. As on the curve above, in certain circumstances--some of us would argue, virtually all circumstances--the bleeding heart solutions are, really, the best solutions on all sorts of levels.

Let's take the living wage vs. the wage ratio approach. The wage ratio approach is so far out there, so radically bleeding heart, that one doesn't even hear it discussed on a legislative level . . not even a little bit.

Judging by our bleeding heart criteria, a living wage initially seems like a great idea. . . but it sort of floats out there by it's self, a fantastic humanitarian notion unsupported by all those Hard Nosed Ideas about Economics and The Reality of Doing Business that the right so likes to pretend are their own.

So we'll move along to a different wage policy instead. I suggest (as I'm sure various other people have suggested at various times) that instead of putting a price floor on labor, it become illegal to pay the lowest paid employees of a company less than 1/5 the pay rate of the highest paid employees.


From an economically literate standpoint, this makes more sense in several ways. Firstly, as the libertarians and neo-cons should be pleased to note, it avoids the market inhibition of a cost floor.

It's true that a 500% boss can be living pretty well while the bottom tier employees basically starve, but I'm not terribly worried about this scenario. . . we don't see a much reduced demand for labor from the price floor currently in place (the minimum wage) because the level of that price floor is very close to market price. So yes, some people might end up, at some point, having to sell their labor for low prices. . . but it leaves the neo-cons and "hard nosed realists" No Room To Complain. No matter how little your company is making, there is always enough to pay your employees 1/5 as much as you take home.

My favorite thing about this approach is that it strikes directly at inequality. I don't think we need more than a 500% inequality factor*; I think that's enough to still give plenty of incentive to innovate and perform well. While maintaining those incentives, it reduces the treadmill effect that "economic growth" combined with increasing inequality creates.

It also reduces incentives for companies to become so mamoth sized, thereby encouraging them to remain small and diverse, protecting competition for the consumers. I think that's worth the fact of some reduction in economies of scale.

Now, don't get me wrong; I don't think this policy would be enough to make it worth abolishing the minimum wage all on it's own. With certain other protections in place, that might be good. . . but even without them, if I had to choose** between a living wage and 20% of the CEO's wage, I'd choose 20% of the CEO's wage any day.


Sadly, the second-largest reason this sort of policy is unlikely to be adopted by the mainstream left is that minimum wage laws are infinitely easier to pass. The largest reason, striking more at the heart of the matter, is that an inordinate amount of funding comes from individuals who make a lot more than five times as much as their employees.

To me, these kinds of solutions seem to be all over the place, and it also seems that no line of defense short of sacrificing babies to the free market on the new moon could defeat them.

So why aren't we talking about them?






*and due to variance between companies, inequality could still be a lot more than 500%.

**given that there would still be various firms competing for my labor. BTW, if anyone out there wants to school me on labor markets and the like, have at.

*** Also, thanks to Indexed for the illustration.

Friday, September 12, 2008

portraits


Of many creatures.

rather than continuing in my tradition of posting beautiful unattributed images that I found floating around unattributed on the web, I've decided to cut you all in on one of the most lovely image sites I've found.

If anyone out there reads Russian, feel free to let me know what it says. :)

http://2photo.ru/2007/12/24/print:page,1,raboty_prizera_mezhdunarodnykh_konkursov_fotografa_dikojj_prirody_tim_flach.html

Thursday, September 11, 2008

loosing peace with more

For a long time, I worked hard to be easy to talk to, easy to understand, and easy to get along with. I'm glad I've had that experience, but it didn't end entirely well for me. I can do it, but it's stressful. . . and more importantly, I'm not sure that approach is what I want to support.

I question how I ought to interact with others. I don't want to hurt people's feelings--in fact, I want very badly not to, which makes it painful for all involved when I mess up and don't understand why.

Still, I blunder on, haunted by certain questions-- especially,

Why not expect more of people?

The world I see around me is in shreds.

I could say a lot about the political and economic catastrophes that lead to the more personal circumstances I'm about to describe. Those things would be important, and true. What is more relevant here, though, is a net profit of empty relationships and empty lives.

To many of my more conservative friends and family members, I must mention that I don't know the America you grew up in, or the one you live in now; I only know your experience of this place must be different from mine.


The people who have been closest to me, besides my family, are mostly young and single. They struggle to pay rent and to get an education; some of them are dying, in their early twenties, from cancers of unknown source. Many have been homeless; some are raising children they had when they were still children themselves. Nearly all have already been ground into depression by the Promethean tasks of modern "life".

They work jobs where they are disposable and have virtually no time for education or human relationships. They rarely have mentors who can help them learn the skills of survival and stability, or even temporarily aid them with the enormous economic burdens of childrearing, health problems, or education. They struggle for what to identify with in a world where they, and all the people around them, are primarily commodities, and they respond accordingly--generally by buying all they can.

Most importantly, they have no sense of power to shape their own lives; their outlook is of survival, or of drifting, or of determined conformity in a stream they never could control.


And these, we may note, are not the people being raped, displaced, dismembered or starved in Africa, tortured in China and Cuba or bombed in Georgia and the middle east. These are but a few of the casualties closest to home.

All this is merely an attempt to put into the most accessible terms my motivation: the world doesn't have to be this way. I am profoundly fortunate to have an education, and profoundly obligated to use what resources I have to bring about change.

When I am provocative, demanding, or controversial, it is because of the part of me that can't help but think that every person who lives without that sense of obligation only contributes to this inferno. Part of me never wants ever to judge, and another part thinks we all belong in hell. Both parts want me and everybody else to be better.

I want us to be smarter and more passionate, to work harder, to try longer, to never forgive ourselves and never give up. I want us to plan better, to sacrifice more, to build more awareness and more skills and more actions till we've made solutions.

I want us to cultivate a stronger morality until we actually make it happen.

I want to live in a world where being "well adjusted" no longer means having patience with injustice and accepting that there is everything going wrong and nothing you can do about it.

I have no idea how to reconcile wanting more.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

not a drop


I've just watched this documentary, called A World Without Water, which seems to have been recorded off of British television almost commercial free.

In case any of you didn't know, over the past fifteen months or so, I've watched several hundred documentaries. This is in my top ten. To be fair, this is the first I've seen that dealt exclusively with the global water crisis, which is pretty compelling material. Still, even if there is a better version of it out there, this is. . . well. . . compelling.

I think the most interesting thing about it is how it neatly skirts the basic ideas of economics, sort of grazing them as it passes by. It abandons them in favor of a foundational assumption which it never quite articulates, but which, I think, lies near the center of a lot of controversy.

That assumption? That we both can and should make a moral choice to maintain certain things outside the reach of the market. In itself this is not a controversial idea, at least in most quarters. Outright chattel slavery is perhaps the clearest example; as a culture we seem to have come to the conclusion that it's not OK to legally own each other, no matter how profitable it might be or how much it might benefit the common good.

The case this film makes, then, is that water should fall in that same category--that as a matter of human decency, it should not be so commodified.

I'd have liked to see more about how the river privatization "irrigation schemes" had been "fabulously successful" in Africa, and otherwise heard more about the other side, but however biased, this is really an interesting and thought-provoking film.

If you're looking for a particularly striking/thought-provoking experience, do as I did and watch it right after the first part of Spike Lee's When The Levees Broke, an exceptionally well crafted telling of the Katrina disaster. Between them they do wonders in broadening one's perspectives on water.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

compost as housekeeping

It is possible that somebody out there has been wondering how my gardening adventures have resolved themselves.

Everything has died.


My definition of housekeeping is: mastery of the things that are how, not what.

My interest in gardening is about how I want to eat--healthy, and with deep understanding and awareness. For the most part, we all have to eat--and wash dishes, do laundry, sleep, clean up. It's whether we wash the dishes every meal or every week that determines housekeeping styles.

It seems to me that having at least a little gardening in one's life is rather like clearing up after every meal--and like using a journal to sort out your thoughts before going and screaming at someone, and like bothering to take a half an hour calming down with your favorite Bach recordings before going completely insane, and like managing your time so that you actually do the things you actually wanted to have done. You know, housekeeping.


Everything having died, I've moved on to the logical next step; compost.

After weeks of exhaustive study and consideration, I've devised a magical and well informed bucket-based system that will (hopefully)lead to successful and convenient composting. Pouring from one bucket to the next will serve to turn it; black plastic sheeting will increase temperature to speed the decomposition process, and if I have to go buy bailed hay, I will get the carbon/nitrogen ratio right so the damn thing doesn't stink.

After all, we all have to throw our kitchen scraps somewhere.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

. ..


source unknown

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sheep III


The Reverse Milgram

Of course after spending the whole book going on about how herds can make "good people" "evil," for a proper Disneyland finish Zimbardo had to spend the last chapter discussing how our propensity for groupthink can be used for the forces of good.

One of his better suggestions seems to be that we go about pulling "reverse Milgram" experiments--using the lessons we've learned about social influence from the famous Milgram obedience studies to influence people to be, well. . . better. He recommends three Milgram tactics in particular:

(1)The foot-in-the-door tactic is exactly what it sounds like. If you want some one to go out on a limb, start by only asking them to take the first step. Zimbardo's example was a study where people were asked to display signs in their yards urging safe driving--a step they were far more likely to take after first displaying barely visible signs to the same effect in their front windows.

(2)Social modeling is also what it sounds like. People are more likely to behave in the ways people around them behave; in the Milgram experiment, hearing another "participant" resist shocking the "student" was a very high predictor of resistance.

(3)Finally, identity-labeling is the tactic that seems to indicate patting one's self on the back is sometimes a handy step towards social change. In a parallel to the individuation/deindividuation process that's so essential in becoming a torturer or an unconscious consumer, people who are called "blood donors," "altruistic," or any variety of other things (positive or negative) are more likely to behave in ways that reflect those labels.

Softy that he is, Zimbardo suggests that we "carry out the reverse-Milgram experiment in your own life. . ." Perhaps we might start by manipulating ourselves into putting a "foot in the door." For myself, know that whether you're trying to get out the vote, increase literacy and competent communication in your community, make life better for abused children, or save dogs at the local humane society, you have my full endorsement in attempting these tactics on other people. . . just let me know how it went.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My faux imperial


Education continues next week; presently signed up for physics, and a toy ballet class. Wish me luck.

Monday, August 18, 2008

rabbit's end



The other morning I half awoke to the children's screams of Heidegger. It wasn't real, but biting in my sleep none the less.. . All the pieces were there, the piercing shrieks relentless and barely inscrutable. I would know what they could mean if only I would remember the ontic or the ontological, could remember something--nothing? Perhaps, if I would fight through this I'm caught in. . .

and there are other things, as well.

In the introduction to Memoir of a Geisha, there's a metaphor I've been thinking of a lot lately. It suggests, much more poetically than I am about to, that a rabbit running through a field is in no position to tell you about rabbits, but every position to tell you about the field. Somehow, for me, that fictitious introductory essay--or maybe the whole book, I'm not sure--soulfully embodies the experience of letting the world wash over and around you, sliding past in a cool constant stream of words. It reminds me of Tolstoy, this, they way you can see his characters in the way the hang their dressing gowns, the peculiarities of their facial expressions and their pet names for the servants. Tolstoy wrote like a rabbit in a field, and it seems he saw it well.

I love Tolstoy, but it comes clear that rabbit mustn't be my style.

It has been. I am nothing of Tolstoy, but there is a certain detachment in my words. I have an observers voice, except when I'm talking cheerily or melodramatically about myself, or directly communicating towards somebody else. I often lack even his sarcastic engagement with the word he saw; he had emotion towards his characters. It's the same way I read, absorbing obvious themes and imagery, perhaps, but allowing most of the processing, such as it is, to take place in my subconscious--leaving in me only the print of the obvious and the intuitive.

I want to contribute, or perhaps only create, more than I'll ever be able to if all I can see is that.

To some, in particular those who find me already to be an absurdly introspective and annoying overthinker, this must seem very strange--but for the first time in my life, I feel the draw in having my own ideas--really having my own ideas. I have been known for not choosing just because everybody else did, but that's not enough; sorting with my honest judgment, avoiding some groupthink, that's good but not enough. If it appears I have been doing more, it is only because I have been running through what, to most of my acquaintanceship, is a most god-forsakenly unusual field.

I don't need to be a seminal figure, or anything like. . . just to do more than passively sift the ideas of others as they flow coldly past.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

do not shop gently into that good night

A citizen's introductory course in economics.




http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1473370760428862272&hl=en


http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=life+%2B+debt&hl=en&emb=0#

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9016886482738598023&hl=en

extra credit--less well made, but to quote a friend it gets the job done.

If you've already seen all these, kudos to you! and, what did you think?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Competence


Back in. . .*cough* the day, this was me. Mostly. The exception would be that, preferring this idea of leveling up in real life, I never generally understood why people were into games. I wanted to learn everything, know everything, do everything.

And so I tried. I read classics no one around me had heard of or cared about, studied obsessively on certain topics, trying not to miss any corner or detail. I threw myself haplessly but wholeheartedly into efforts to understand human social interaction and to make my body function better. I obsessively collected books and refined my library in the hope that I'd come up with the the best ones for learning. . .well. . . everything.

Along the way, there were several major changes in my life and in me. At some point it became actually clear to me that my childhood dream of becoming the next real-life Indian Jones would not be fulfilled, slightly preceded by an understanding that that was no longer quite what I wanted. When people asked me what I wanted, I could only say that I wanted to live a good life. . . it had to be full, and rich, and . . . and something. Directed, maybe. I didn't really have anything for them if they required a specific definition of good.

In retrospect, I find my then budding and intuitive existentialism to be sort of charming. . . and I suppose that's a good thing, considering how much I seem to find myself again in the same boat. I hone myself on the acquisition of various skills, not quite sure what they will be for, making course corrections as the course resolves before me.

We can never be sure what things we will need to be able to do, but it seems like a good idea to do it well, whatever it is. Therefore, the current project--competence. In my case, the question is focus, gathering widely applicable skills that still, somehow, don't leave me a generalist--always, of course, adjusting as the field of "what I want to do with my life" becomes less vast and more clear.

meta-skills:
1) Finish things I start
2) Ability to modify/create habits
3) Organized and disciplined--affairs in order
er) -Also to be playful. is this something to work on or an implicit personality trait?

practicalities:
1) No more languages (just French) till I've enough fluency to have deep conversations without annoying the hell out of everybody
2) Have an actual reading list, including severe limitation of library books and the paring down of my library via reading the things I've actually been intending to read
3) Write. . . always write, though I'm not a wannabe writer, damnit. This is for me. . . and all of you, clearly. I want to do it fabulously well.
4) School and physics; great exercise in discipline, plus much fun
5) Take care of health as priorities dictate.
6) Music practice--collaborative, consistent, and less random
7) still, playfulness.


p.s. todays blog dedicated to Danielle, our waitress at IHOP. Mad props for craftsmanship--jobs well done are inspiring.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Fundamental Attribution Error,



sometimes known as the FAE, is a major concept in sociology and (I'm told*) behavioral economics.

It goes about like this: we human beings like to attribute a lot of things to disposition. We talk about bad apples, bad seeds, about what and who we are. The FAE says this is an error in attribution; that many of the things we attribute to our nature are actually a function of our circumstances.

There's a startling lot of evidence for this theory, both in controlled situations and not. The Stanford Prison Experiment** was sort of the landmark beginning, but it's results have been echoed repeatedly, twice using hospital or mental hospital scenarios and once as a test run (using ordinary citizens) of a county jail. In all cases, the normal inmates began exhibiting the characteristics one would expect of them if they were criminal or mentally ill. In all cases, there were participants ("normal" people)who exhibited symptoms of severe psychological duress.

On top of this, we have a plethora of evidence suggesting that we human beings are incredibly responsive to authority--whether or not that authority is reflecting the values we, individually, hold. In the Millgram Obedience studies it was discovered that almost all participants were willing to administer apparently lethal electric shocks to a random stranger if assured by a "scientist" in a lab coat that
a) they caused no lasting damage,
b) they "must" go on, and
c) that they had no responsibility for their actions--the experimenters would take all responsibility.

Milgram himself ran several variations of the study, and plenty of less extreme but equally disturbing studies have come in it's wake. For example, Nurses, when asked, said that if a doctor told them to administer two or three times the recommended dose of a medication, they would refuse--but when put to the test in a working situation, virtually all complied. Outside the "laboratory," we have everything from strip search scams to concentration camps, which had to be staffed, built, and maintained by somebody.

The reading*** I've done is mostly concerned with applications of the FAE in prison reform and with regards to the military, but I am mostly intrigued by another situation that people respond pretty badly to.

Few contend that we are short of problems in America today, but even less of us are willing to take responsibility for that fact. We say that single teenage mothers got themselves into that jam and should learn to take responsibility, to lie in the bed that they have made. We say that gang members are stupid and that they need to clean up their act. We say, I voted for Gore.

I am a believer in Mill's idea that any individual's absolute freedom is nearly sacred. However, I also believe, very strongly, that if we don't take note and inflict change on the situations that shape our world, the results will continue to be the same. We will not have an engaged democracy without transparency and active discourse. I've heard a lot of people tell me that all those other people, they just won't get involved, and that's why it all sucks; I've often heard that "I really should get informed about politics, but it's so hard and I'm so busy. . ."

It is by awareness of how situations effect us and those around us that we might change that. I believe that by altering situations we might build a society where "people"-"They"-rather than merely embodying whatever vague concept (often as whipping boy or scapegoat) we wish to attribute to them--are engaged in Democracy and actual discourse. . . which, for a variety of reasons, could be much, much better for us all.




*I'm also told (by someone else) that Heidegger figured this out, presumably with no behavioral experiments whatsoever, and that it was sort of a major deal within his philosophy. Got to love those Nazis. . .

**In the SPE, a group of male college students were extensively tested for "normalcy" and psychological health, then randomly assigned to the roll of prisoner or guard and placed in a mock prison setting to be observed. It was halted after six days in the wake of three nervous breakdowns (on the part of the prisoners) and behavior that verged into torture on the part of the guards.

***This post also (clearly) owes much to The Lucifer Effect, though I've been reading other bits and pieces as well.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

this is about us


(original music video)


(lyrics)


*tips hat to rise against*

this is most effective if you can get them playing simultaneously; try letting the first one go for about three seconds, then starting the lyrics on 0 volume.



P.S. Happy birthday, Dad.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

sheep II


This is about how normal people come to commit torture, genocide, and a multitude of lesser sins when circumstances are created where those actions are normal. It's taken slightly abridged from Phillip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect, pp 273-275, bold emphasis mine.


Ten Lessons From the Milgram Studies: Creating Evil Traps for Good People

Let's outline some of the procedures in this research paradigm that seduced many ordinary citizens to engage in this apparently harmful behavior. In doing so, I want to draw parallels to compliance strategies used by "influence professionals" in real-world settings, such as salespeople, cult and military recruiters, media advertisers, and others. There are ten methods we can extract from Milgram's paradigm for this purpose:

1. Prearranging some form of contractual obligation, verbal or written, to control the individual's behavior in pseudolegal fashion. (In Milgram's experiment, this was done by publicly agreeing to accept the tasks and the procedures.)

2. Giving participants meaningful roles to play ("teacher," "learner") that carry with them previously learned positive values and automatically activate response scripts.

3. Presenting basic rules to be followed that seem to make sense before their actual use but can then be used arbitrarily and impersonally to justify mindless compliance. Also, systems control people by making their rules vague and changing them as necessary but insisting that "rules are rules" and thus must be followed.

4. Altering the semantics of the act, the actor, and the action (from "hurting victims" to "helping the experimenter," punishing the former for the lofty goals of scientific discovery)--replacing unpleasant reality with desirable rhetoric, gilding the frame so that the real picture is disguised.

5. Creating opportunities for the diffusion of responsibility or abdication of responsibility for negative outcomes: others will be responsible, or the actor won't be held liable. (In Milgram's experiment, the authority figure said, when questioned by any "teacher," that he would take responsibility for anything that happened to the "learner.")

6. Starting the path toward the ultimate evil act with a small, seemingly insignificant first step, the easy "foot in the door" that swings open subsequent greater compliance pressures, and leads down a slippery slope. (In the obedience study, the initial shock was only a mild 15 volts.)

7. Having successively increasing steps on the pathway that are gradual, so that they are hardly noticeably different from one's most recent prior action. "Just a little bit more." (By increasing each level of aggression in gradual steps of only 15 volt increments, over the thirty switches, no new level of harm seemed like a noticeable difference from the prior level to Milgram's participants.)

8. Gradually changing the nature of the authority figure (the researcher, in Milgram's study) from initially "just" and reasonable to "unjust" and demanding, even irrational. This tactic elicits initial compliance and later confusion, since we expect consistency from authorities and friends. Not acknowledging that this transformation has occurred leads to mindless obedience (and it is part of many "date rape" scenarios and a reason why abused women stay with abusing spouses).

9. Making the "exit costs" high and making the process of exiting difficult by allowing verbal dissent (which makes people feel better about themselves) while insisting on behavioral compliance.

10. Offering an ideology, or a big lie, to justify the use of any means to achieve the seemingly desirable, essential goal. (In Milgram's research this came in the form of providing an acceptable justification, or rationale, for engaging in the undesirable action, such as that science wants to help people improve their memory by judicious use of reward and punishment.) In social psychology experiments, this tactic is known as the "cover story" because it is a cover-up for the procedures that follow, which might be challenged because they do not make sense on their own. the real-world equivalent is known as an "ideology." Most nations relay on an ideology, typically "threats to national security," before going to war or to suppress dissident political opposition. When citizens fear that their national security is being threatened, they become willing to surrender their basic freedoms to a government that offers them that exchange. Erich Fromm's classic analysis Escape from Freedom made us aware of this trade-off, which Hitler and other dictators have long used to gain and maintain power: namely, the claim that they will be able to provide security in exchange for citizens giving up their freedoms, which will give them the ability to control thing better.

Such procedures are utilized in varied influence situations where those in authority want others to do their bidding but know that few would engage in the "end game" without first being properly prepared psychologically to do the "unthinkable." In the future, when you are compromising position where your compliance is at stake, thinking back to those stepping stones to mindless obedience may enable you to step back and not go all the way down the path--their path. A good way to avoid crimes of obedience is to assert one's personal authority and always take full responsibility for one's actions.


P.S. On an entirely unrelated note--happy birthday to Tony and Toad. :)