Friday, December 24, 2010


1) Saw Black Swan, found it way too close to home. Frustrating, because it's the first serious ballet movie in a forever, but ballet looks like a plot device. . maybe not. Wondering whether I should see it repeatedly until it's less painful to watch, or if that would be self-destructive.

2) Finally made soup from the grain/bean mixture Adi gave me. Messy and time consuming, but filling and delicious. Cooking is. . . helpful. Deeply. I'm glad for it.

3) I'm not autistic because my executive function is high, specifically from self-awareness, learning, and memory. Not sure how I feel about this.

4) Contemplating plausibility of starting a commune in my house. Can I trust other people this much? Myself? Should I? Are my delinquent people skills are up to it?

5) Happy Midwinter, and a happy New Year. And merry Christmas. :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Doing a summer on the AT within the next three years is probably a pipe dream. It's not that I couldn't do it, if I were sufficiently single minded. It's just. . . if I want to have a career writing and filming nonfiction, my immediate resources need to go into completing a major project. And making it Good.

I'm pretty OK with that. Maybe this means I'm getting better?

Problem; I tend to work in very short, focused bursts, about a week to a month at a time. Embarrassingly enough, it took me about three hours to write that blog entry on Etcoff, and I spent a good chunk of the day finishing the book and thinking about it. I lived on pastries that day--not a lot of pastries (4.5), and not even good pastries (day old grocery store ones). This wasn't driven by my formidable sweet tooth; pastries are convenient. You pick them up and you eat them, ideally without putting down your book.

I'm pretty good at eating--eating meals, composed of real, healthy food that I like, on a regular but not excessive basis--when I cook. But when I cook, I want to cook. I plan which recipes to try, carefully select ingredients, and for a few days or weeks, I live in the kitchen--chopping vegetables, fine tuning flavors, foisting results on my house mates or family members, and cleaning up between batches.

Likewise, exercise. I can sustain hours of movement every day, possibly for years, if there's some major goal I'm working towards. Half an hour a day isn't enough to capture my imagination.

I need to learn to maintain things while I'm off chasing other things.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

quality of work

You Don't Have to be Rich is a meta-analysis of which financial habits and circumstances correlate with happiness. The book has some correlation vs. causation issues, but over all contains lots of interesting information. Here, for example, is a list of the factors that predict job satisfaction:

1) Job security

2) Relative income--people like to make at least as much as their co-workers.

3) Interaction with other people, especially a "tight knit sense of community." Smaller workplaces are better.

4) A challenge that requires use of skills--not busywork

5) Clear and well-defined goals, including feedback along the way.

6) Autonomy; the ability to make one's own decisions without being challenged, especially with regards to when and how objectives are to be met. If deadlines are externally imposed, coming from a customer > colleague > boss.

7) Small freedoms, such as the ability to telecommute at times, rearrange and/or decorate workspace, and having a short commute.

8) Variety in what tasks and skills are called for, as well as the location where the work is done.

9) Use of skills which are valued, and which one has invested in

10) Level of social status one's community affords to the work.

Chatzky suggests that if your job fulfills all of these things and you still don't like it, the problem is likely that you are time-poor. . . which goes back to the work/play/rest thing. She doesn't even consider that ethical concerns/contribution to a wider economic community are related to one's working life; she explicitly states these things are beyond one's control, and I'd bet they have a substantial impact on work satisfaction for some workers.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

book report + half-baked feminist theory

Survival of the Prettiest is an evolutionary psychology review of evidence on human physical attractiveness. The main point of the book is that people universally react to physical attractiveness, care about it, attribute virtue to it, and imitate it even at great resource cost. She portrays our hunger for physical attractiveness as an unstoppable force. Of greater concern to me, the benefits and detriments of appearance discrimination are unevenly distributed across gender, with women at major disadvantage.*

Men value physical attractiveness in a partner as much or more than women in every culture studied, and in most, by a wide margin. Attractive men benefit from their looks as much or more than attractive women, but unattractive women take a larger hit than men in all areas. Unattractive people of both genders face huge discrimination, larger than the benefits particularly attractive people reap. Happiness doesn't correlate to outlier attractiveness, especially for women. Appearance discrimination may be most obvious in mate selection, but has an enormous impact on social and economic success.

Below, I've summarized the actual findings on what's considered attractive, which Etcoff goes over in great length. However, there are two other findings mentioned in this book that I find extremely helpful.

First, we find people we know well to be more physically attractive, as well as finding their non-physical characteristics attractive. Second, there's some evidence that each person's notion of an attractive face comes from an averaging of all the faces they've been exposed to. This means that if photo-shopped supermodels and actresses make up a high percentage of our exposure to faces, we'll find them even more attractive than we would biologically. There also exists a contrast effect. After looking at pictures of extremely attractive women, men's desire to date average-looking women is lower than if they hadn't seen the pictures. This holds true in many circumstances; contrast effect can lower someone's satisfaction with an existing partner. Contrast effect impacts women's preferences as well, but less.

If we are interested in building communities and/or putting ourselves in situations where we are likely to be better, more ethical human beings, this has consequences. If Etcoff is right, it would reduce the inequality created by physical attractiveness if the human beauty we saw was mostly real people, in person. The structures currently in place (unprecedented in history, where we see thousands of images of genetic outliers in beauty doctored into further nonexistent perfection in order to sell us things) exaggerate our natural superficial preferences. Making our exposure an in-person experience would also allow people's less superficial traits a chance to be appreciated. It would give us a chance to be less superficial, a chance we don't get with pure image.

This might become an excuse for taking autonomy away from people "because they'll be happier if they don't have so many choices," and I don't know how to best to balance the values in play--particularly since I haven't even looked at research to weigh the quantity and quality of benefits. However, this is definitely an argument that anyone interested in gender equality should avoid images of human beauty unless there's substantial redeeming value involved.

*If it seems that I'm being excessively harsh on men here, know that I am aware of the two superficial-selection categories where men are judged infinitely more harshly than women--height and wealth. I am interested in seeing these problems solved as well.

Characteristics universally considered attractive across cultures are: clear skin, hight (although women can be penalized for hight in some cultures), a near-average body weight, symmetricalness, averageness of features, and thick healthy hair. The exceptions to the averageness-of-features rule vary by gender. Youth is considered attractive for everyone, but plays a much larger role in attractiveness for women.

For men, a face with features more masculine than average is preferred; this means facial hair, a larger jaw, and a lower for head. Faces in which these features are too exaggerated come off as threatening. Wide shoulders and generally large (but not too large, and in muscle, not fat) size everywhere but the waist is preferred. Men seem to care much more about muscles (on men) than women do, though both prefer some.

For women, full lips, big eyes, a higher forehead, a smaller chin, and shorter distance between mouth and chin are preferred. Many of the facial features that make women's faces particularly beautiful are also found in children's faces. Additionally, a waist-hip ratio between .6 and .8 is preferred, along with other details of body shape that are typically found among teenage girls and young women before they've born a child.

Beauty ideals that vary between cultures are somewhat predictable. Generally the characteristics of dominant or elite groups are beautiful; this can be seen most clearly . Characteristics that are unusual but native to the population, like blond or red hair among Europeans, are also considered beautiful. The strength of a culture's local beauty ideal is variable; currently, in the US, men's preference for a partner who is of average or below average weight surpasses preference for waist hip ratio.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Last night's involved a werewolf ripping out my left Achilles tendon with his teeth, but I figure it's time to move on.

I got around to reading a bunch of stuff related to the Janice Allred fiasco. I've been trying and trying to write on it, but the words come out skewed. Drowning in anger, I can't find the truth and I'm not interested in writing lies.

I'm triggered by authority, which is classic. Possibly the hardest part of rape crisis training was the half-day spent on AMACs, Adults Molested As Children. We AMACs are whiny and co-dependent; we sound like people I wouldn't want to know, let alone be. There's evidence we're more susceptible to abuse and sexual assault as adults; we don't look after ourselves. Makes us targets. AMACs have huge issues with trust, attachment, and authority that can render us very hard to deal with in a crisis situation. I don't remember what else they said, I was busy trying to breathe.

Church, authority, and family were mashed together for me when I was a kid. It should surprise no one that a constant chorous of "ETERNAL FAMILY FTW! And respect your father who is your God-given priesthood leader! And families are from God! And you should obey God!" would have that effect.

It's damned inconvenient. There are plenty of logical reasons to mistrust the people and institutions in charge, without having extra-strength visceral ones too.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

again, plus gore

Exhausted, laying on the couch at work to rest my back, my eyes drift closed. I need to cut my head off, and friends are standing around talking and laughing, examining various office objects that I might use to accomplish the task. Someone hands me a metal ball point pen, and I slowly begin the gruesome work by stabbing it into the side of my neck, pushing it deeper, working it around and pulling it out to stab again. Someone else hands me a pocket knife, I think how this might be easier, and the sadness hits me--I startle awake and go back to pacing when I remember I don't want to die.