This is adapted from a letter I wrote at the end of September. It was more trouble than I wanted to go to, but I think that privilege makes it primarily the job of white allies to try to get through to other white folks, so I wrote it anyway. I have delayed posting it until now, in case the recipient had any counter-arguments to make. (He didn't; he merely changed the subject to try to impugn BLM in even less credible ways.) There are certain lessons in the letter that can be applied to more recent protests, and I won't insult you by editing it to point them out.

Not that long, but cut for length anyway. )

Link: How To Be A White Ally

(I also wanted to link to, but cannot find, the webcomic (maybe XKCD?) in which someone explains that they double the development time estimate every time someone asks, "Why don't you just...?")
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I just gave way more than I've ever donated to anything before. Because *this* is how we prevent a holocaust. Raise money to pay for recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

In case you weren't aware, these states suffered statistically impossible flips very late. Diebold Election Systems (later called Premier Election Solutions) and SmartTECH rigged the 2004 election in Ohio (after Diebold's CEO promised to "hand Ohio to Bush") and tried exactly the same thing in 2012, only to be foiled that time by a firewall installed by Anonymous hackers. (Source.) Election Systems & Software bought Premier and sold its assets to Dominion. All three of these flipped states used vote tally machines from Premier, Dominion, and/or ES&S.

Thanks to Lee for these links:

Wisconsin's voting equipment.

Florida's voting equipment.

Pennsylvania's voting equipment.

Edit: Trump currently leads by 74 electoral votes, meaning that Clinton needs to gain back 37 to tie. PA has 20; MI has 16; WI has 10. Flipping all three states back in the recounts would give the election to Clinton. Flipping only PA and MI would put it close enough that it would take only 2 conscientious electors (from any red states) to give the election back to Clinton, which is within the realm of possibility. (Electors are chosen before the primaries and are loyal to parties, not candidates. Trump is no friend to the RNC.)

Further edit: Siderea has further information about audits, which are different from recounts and are also necessary. Also, a petition.
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One thing I haven't seen addressed is exactly what Trump's supporters meant by "He tells it like it is," or "He says what he means". Taken literally, it clearly contradicts their current message, and has always been asinine. But they never meant it literally. What they meant was, "He's not afraid to call a spade a spade." (Younger readers, this idiom is not about gardening. "Spade" is an old-fashioned term with the same meaning and connotation as the N word.)

They loved that he had no compunctions about saying horrible things. They idolized him for getting away with it, as if he were some kind of hero: The only one brave enough to stand up to the "don't you dare" attitude from the culture that surrounded them but was not theirs. They thought, and still think, that treating other people with civility is something you do out of fear of disapproval, rather than something you do out of respect. When their fear of disapproval vanished, so did their compunctions.

They didn't realize that Trump got away with it not because he was brave and outspoken but because he had financial privilege that they don't; because he is a member of an elite social and economic class that has no respect for anybody that they are not obliged to suck up to: The same class that destroyed the economy and then used their media to tell conservatives to blame liberals for their misfortunes. They identify with and support their destroyer, despite having nothing in common but a lack of respect for their fellow humans.

They've been yearning all these years to have their disrespect validated, and that's enough for them.
I would like to post more of a particular conversation that happened in comments. This is not to complain about anyone, nor to gain recognition. Some of the things I said there will certainly have to be said again, to others, and I would like you to have the option to save yourself some trouble by copying and pasting those things from this post if you want. Good wishes to you all. (And yes, I moved my first response here from my earlier post, to put it in better context and to provide context for what followed.)




Originally, my friend had posted to observe that people saying things like "Calm down," "It'll be okay," and "You're overreacting" were overwhelmingly white males, and then postulated that the willingness to say such things correlated with white men still failing to understand experiences other than their own (i.e., privilege).




Another person, M., commented that, while he intended to just give these emotions some space for a few days, those white males in question simply honestly feel that "You'll be fine" is correct, and that platitudes are appropriate for a medium that uses "like" to show support. He referred to the invokation of privilege as insulting and trolling, with an "I understand you were distressed, but..." (and cue the admonitions to better tend to the precious feelings of the poor, innocent, well-meaning, put-upon white males).




Thus, my first response:

M., I understand that you're trying to be respectful and understanding, and I thank you for that. But you're missing something. It's something that often happens in conversations between people with different experiences. Person A has had something really bad happen to them, and is quite upset. Person B doesn't share person A's lived experience with systemic oppression, and so isn't nearly as bothered by the event. Person B thinks that person A is overreacting. Person B then feels like they're the calm, rational one, while person A is the emotional, irrational one who needs to calm down. But in actuality, the difference is that person A understands the full gravity of the situation (and would thus have to be evil or emotionally numb to NOT be upset), while person B has had the privilege to be able to ignore how bad the situation is. No matter how clearly person A articulates the problem, person B's mind is already made up and closed through a combination of consistency pressure, confirmation bias, identity politics, and an unwillingness to believe that the world could possibly be as horrifyingly unjust as it really is (because believing in a just world makes person B feel safe as long as they don't do anything out of line). This ability, to willingly stay ignorant of how bad the situation is, is only possible because of privilege. Person A lacks that privilege, and so doesn't have the option of burying their head in the sand: The unjustness of the world kicks them in the head every day.

When person A points out person B's privilege, that's not an insult or an attack. It's an attempt to communicate that yes, the world can be different from the way that person B thinks it is, even if person B is intelligent and well-adjusted, because person B's privilege allows them to keep the blinders on.




M. then politely challenged me to show as much empathy for upset conservatives in 2008 as I do for upset liberals in 2016. He described McCain as a "change candidate" and Obama as a "big government candidate". He referred to popular disapproval of public disappointment in the result as oppression, on a level with North Korea and 1984. He questioned how measuring privilege could have worked when deciding between Clinton and Obama in the primaries. He attacked the use of the word "privilege" as "otherism," and objected to its implication of racism and sexism as applied to himself.

(Those who have seen the thread in question: If I have in any way misrepresented M.'s comments, please call me out on it. I also want to stress, since I am summarizing here, that he kept his tone indignant but not abusive.)




My comment:

M., your response does not give me much hope that we will get through to each other, so I'm going to limit the energy I spend in replying, as I really don't have enough to go around for things like this. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I also won't have the energy to phrase blunt things as tactfully as would likely be useful when trying to communicate across this divide, and for that I apologize.

Those two elections are comparable in that the people backing the losing side were upset. They are not comparable in that those who are upset by Trump's victory have their fears grounded in the real experiences of being oppressed in their everyday lives, and by the numerous, dire threats that Trump himself has made toward them/us. Those who were upset by Obama's election had their fears (and their perceptions of who represented change) based on easily debunked misinformation spread by Fox News. While the 2008 conservative fears were deeply upsetting -- and I empathize with that -- the 2016 liberal fears are viscerally terrifying, because they mesh perfectly with real life experiences; because pattern recognition said that minorities were about to suffer a large increase in violence, and that is exactly what has already happened; and because those of us who have absorbed the lessons of history know that those of you who haven't are in the midst of repeating it, and that road ends in an ocean of blood. (Not just ours; nobody is in every "in" group, and the violent fascists that Trump has incited may eventually set their sights on you. History says that too: Look up the Brown Shirts.)

So yes, I feel sorry for people who were upset about Obama, but the comparison you make is insultingly dismissive toward current fears of widespread violence and human rights violations.

"Opponents had the same intellectual freedom that people have in North Korea." This is so absurd that it makes me suspect you're being deliberately disingenuous. Political oppression is when saying politically unpopular things gets you arrested and executed, not when it gets you dirty looks from your neighbor.

Nobody used a measurement of privilege to choose Obama over Clinton. Obama's policies and positions were more progressive than Clinton's. (Admittedly, that wasn't enough for Bernie, which as you may have noticed, is a bit of a sore point among progressives. But that's a different discussion.) You're still not getting that privilege is not an insult, and to say that someone has privilege is not to call them evil. I have privilege, and nobody is giving me flak for it. It's really not the loaded word you think it is, and you don't have to get defensive about it. But privilege, like other powers, comes with responsibility to use it only for good and to never lord it over others. Responsibility is scary -- I get that -- and it's easier for you to pretend that scary things don't exist, but it's also awfully childish. Frankly, as difficult as it is to live with the responsibility of one's own privilege, it is thousands of times more difficult to live with the obstacles and risk of NOT having privilege. And if all of our loved ones with less privilege can live their lives on Hard Mode, what sort of whiny crybabies would we have to be to complain that we don't want to deal with the responsibilities of playing in Normal Mode? It's time for you to step up and take care of your friends who are hurting, not belittle them.




A couple of other friends have also pointed out that nobody should ever say "Calm down," regardless of the circumstances, because it never works: It only comes across as dismissive, showing an utter lack of empathy.
Partly because there are people who may follow my Livejournal/DreamWidth but not my Facebook, and partly because Facebook doesn't show all posts, here is a collection of what I've written on Facebook in the last couple of days. (I have more to write, of course.)




This motto originally appeared from a company that supported BLM, but it was a limited run, and they're out of stock. You can now get it from TMI shirts. It's even a little cheaper, so you can donate the difference to BLM causes if you want, and have the same effect.





What is best to do? Both Canadian emigration and determination to stay here and help have shown up a few times in my feed already. Both ideas have merit. There is value in selflessness and there is value in taking care of yourself. (I very much want to stay and help people. On the other hand, my family would not exist if my great grandmother had not had the sense to get the hell out of Poland.) Both ideas may also be come by poorly, as rationalizations for failing to do the work to help one's self, or to help others. And one layer down, you may be rationalizing a laziness that you actually require, if you lack the spoons and/or money to do the work that you feel needs to be done. If your reaction is immediate one way or the other, please examine your motives. You may well doing what you need to do, but check and make sure.

I posit, however, that the whole question is a false dichotomy. You don't need to predict which course of action will be best. You can simply prepare yourself. Spend some time at home, building up your financial resources. Make contacts in Canada and elsewhere. Help people who are less privileged than you. Make sure you have a current passport, because by the time it becomes obvious that you need it, it will be WAY too late to get one. If and when the jackboots or food riots are imminent, grab what you can and GTFO.




[This was my comment on someone else's post, but it should be its own message.] I've been making sure NOT to say things like, "It'll be okay," and "We'll get through this," because some of us won't, and saying that would invalidate their perfectly justified and rational fears. Comforting ourselves by sticking our heads in the sand and waiting for it to blow over is not the answer. Instead, form a plan of action, whether it's to protect yourself, your loved ones, or all of humanity. It will give you far more peace of mind than pretending that this is okay will. For those who have reason to fear (which, honestly, is everyone who isn't willfully ignorant), validate their feelings and reassure them that you have their back.




Last night, a supermarket cashier said, "Good evening! How are you?" In the same rapid, cheery tone, I replied, "Terrified and disillusioned! How about you?" (He said, "I hear you," while the woman of color in front of me turned to give a brief smile and chuckle. I know we have to do the "business as usual" thing to get through the mundane parts of the day, but once again, a bit of solidarity is better than pretending that everything's okay.)




Appropriate link: Don't Panic (Thanks, Grim!)
blimix: Joe by a creek in the woods (Default)
( Oct. 31st, 2016 01:03 pm)
As I've mentioned before, I have developed a role-playing game. It needs more development, but the playtests have been promising. I am now at the point where I need to nail down the name. It doesn't have to be fixed in stone, but once I take the next step, a change will cost me a bit. I'm pretty happy with the name I've been using, but am hereby opening myself to suggestions. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but the names "Tesla" and "General Electric" communicate something about the companies that "Apple" and "Sony" do not.

I'm wondering whether I/we can construct a name that communicates something about this game. The major selling (and playing) point of the game is that it is easy enough for beginners (and non-math people), while having enough depth of play to satisfy experienced gamers. (Inclusivity also shows up in character creation and even the HTML files, which I've made to follow web accessibility guidelines. I intend that artwork (whenever it happens) will also not exploitatively imply a target audience of straight, white males.) There are also foci on game balance, on making sure that players always have options, and on allowing any realistic items or actions that do not conflict badly with the above. There are (and will be more) on-line aids for playing. All of the rules are on-line, though PDFs and print versions will eventually be available.

Comments are screened; I will unscreen comments that do not contain name suggestions. By suggesting a name, you are giving me permission to use it. I can promise nothing in return, but if my game makes a surprising amount of money with a name you suggested, I'll shoot some your way. (Also, thanks in advance, since I may not be able to reply, "Thanks!" without unscreening your comment.)

Edited to add: The game is not setting-specific. It is already made to work in a modern or historical setting, and I'm writing the expansion for fantasy and space opera now.
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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. )

All right, I'm getting sidetracked. tl;dr: I like to show respect.
blimix: Joe leaning way out at a waterfall (waterfall)
( Oct. 11th, 2016 03:54 pm)
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.
blimix: Joe on mountain ridge with sunbeam (Huckleberry Mountain)
( Sep. 27th, 2016 03:20 pm)
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.
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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.
blimix: Joe by a creek in the woods (Default)
( Sep. 2nd, 2016 05:22 pm)
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.)
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. )
blimix: Joe by a creek in the woods (Default)
( Aug. 5th, 2016 10:20 pm)
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.
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blimix: Joe as a South Park character (South Park)
( Jul. 25th, 2016 05:00 pm)
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.
blimix: Joe by a creek in the woods (Default)
( Jul. 23rd, 2016 04:39 pm)
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.
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[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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blimix: Joe by a creek in the woods (Default)
( Jul. 3rd, 2016 10:51 pm)
Last post (2.5 months ago), I mentioned my new tabletop RPG. The changes I made after the first playtest worked out very well in the second playtest. The only adventure I've written for it is fun and thought-provoking: Both groups had interesting philosophical discussions during play. Unfortunately, it's so heavy on investigation and role-playing that it doesn't serve as much of a test of the game's conflict resolution mechanics, until the climactic battle at the end of the second session. (Up side: In the second playtest, the improved mechanics led to quite a dramatic final battle!) I think I need to write (or adapt) a typical hack-and-slash adventure for further playtesting.

I spent quite a while researching dashboard cameras, for my new one. This was made easy due to the large amounts of well organized first- and second-hand information, sample videos, etc. that I found here. Due to many people's difficulties (including mine) with their cameras, I have come to recognize how important "build quality" is. I finally selected the G90. (Having waited two months for my first dash cam to ship from China, I picked a distributor with a domestic warehouse this time.)

Yet another research project: Investigate protein consumption with regard to workouts (both for getting through them and for building muscles). It's easy to find the common wisdom on the subject (e.g., eat carbs and protein in roughly a 4-to-1 ratio shortly after working out), some mildly dissenting views (e.g., protein before a workout is more important than after, helping you build muscle without consuming it), and some contradictory views (e.g. whole foods are better for you; whey protein powder is more quickly digested and accessible). There's an awful lot of people echoing other people, or not listing sources at all, which reminds me that "common wisdom" about nutrition, at least in the U.S., lags decades behind the research. (People (including doctors) still think that spinach is very high in iron, based on bad science that was debunked in the late 19th century.) This article seems at least halfway decently researched, so I may just leave it at that, at least until I have more motivation (and time) to continue looking into the subject.

I will note that there's nothing like a huge sushi lunch to get me through a grueling evening workout. (Unfortunately, doing this consistently would cost quite a bit more than the class itself.)

My D&D group has started a 5th edition game, for the first time. I like it so far.

Karen and I saw "Clybourne Park," a great play that's sort of a sequel to "A Raisin in the Sun".

Our refrigerator is crapping out. I did some research, and we've ordered delivery of a new one. (Meanwhile, I think it may have been giving me mild food poisoning for the past three weeks.)

Gratuitous links:

Kevin Smith on Prince. (From 2013: A half-hour story of Kevin Smith's adventures trying to help Prince make a documentary. Pretty funny.)

Interview: Researchers Deconstruct Ghostwritten Industry Trial for Antidepressant (Thanks, lutraphile!)

Revulsion of Dead Animals (BAHFest) (For cat people.)

Jessica Valenti: my life as a "sex object" (Thanks, Brookes!)

Breathe Easy (Islamophobe satire)

The Indecisive Perfect Guy (Insightful explanation of guys backing out of great, budding relationships.)

Foxes adopt their rescuer

Mascot battle
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The tabletop role-playing game that I'm developing is alpha testable. I scrambled all week to have a detailed module ready in time for the playtest. We got halfway through it that night. I was underslept and low on blood sugar. (I hadn't eaten enough, and I couldn't spare the time to snack while I concentrated on GMing a new system and remembering all the story elements (or finding them in the large document).) While I had a hard time with some of the storytelling, the system itself worked just fine. I got some feedback for a slight tweak (which was already included as an optional house rule, but should have been available in the main rule set). I'll run the second half of that adventure this week, then perform some rewrites before running it again with a different group.

Life has handed me several opportunities to help people lately.

I never thought I'd wear myself out dog walking, but when you spend several miles forcibly restraining a husky who nearly outweighs you, you get a hell of a workout.

Karen and I are joining a CSA for the first time. The farm is very nearby, so pickups will be easy.

A classmate of mine (in JKD) introduced me to the "J-shaped spine" concept championed by Esther Gokhale. The short version is that she spent a lot of time investigating cultures of people who have little or no back problems, and then fixed the common advice about posture. I would like to know whether this is legit, and have not yet found an independent source to say one way or the other. There's nothing in what I've read and watched so far that rings false, but I am a bit wary because Mercola.com, a notoriously disreputable site, supports it. (They also support anti-vaccination bull crap.) Of course, I can't just dismiss it on that basis. (Ad hominem fallacy: Would you disbelieve Hitler if he told you that the sky was blue?) In fact, a site for alternative medicine, much of which is bunk, is exactly where you'd expect to see support for an alternative medical theory that was correct but not yet established within the medical community. So, despite my suspicions, I am still intrigued. Any thoughts on verifying or debunking? My web searches are finding mostly praise for the "Gokhale Method" and exactly one critical piece (which criticizes but does not investigate the claims).

I'm at a disadvantage, I suppose, from unfamiliarity with the established literature on posture and back pain. It could be that Gokhale is charging people exorbitant amounts to hear what any physical therapist could tell them, with much better results due to the price. (Consistency pressure: Once you've made an effortful, public commitment to the training (spending your time and money), you're damn well going to value it and follow through on it.) If it isn't alternative medicine at all, that would explain why there have (apparently) been no attempts to either verify or debunk it.

In other news, I'm officially giving up on fixing my dash cam. It was, tantalizingly, almost kinda sorta working, so it took months before I was willing to let it go. Despite the cost, I'm going to replace it with a better one: In its short life, it did far more for me than my (now former) insurance company ever did. A new one seems like a great investment for my car.

My Jeet Kune Do class used to include grappling and Kali (Filipino stick and knife fighting) in the last week of each month. Last year, when the class moved and restructured, Kali was spun off to become its own class. Our teacher (Steve), who is not yet certified to teach Kali, got permission from his teacher (guro ("teacher") Raffi, trained under Kevin Seaman and Dan Inosanto) to teach it as an assistant instructor, with guro Raffi coming by occasionally to give seminars and to test students. We had our first such test last month, so I'm now a level 1 student of Kali. There were some hiccups due to recent changes in the curriculum, so that the requests made of us weren't always clear*, but we showed that we knew what we were doing. Word from on high (guro Dan Inosanto) is that students must have at least a year between tests. Having studied unofficially for several years, I already knew quite a bit more than was being required of our instructors, in their testing for level 3. (And they know loads more than I do!) I don't mind that the ranks don't currently reflect our knowledge of the curriculum; I'm still learning new material at a good pace, which is what matters. I have no current ambition to be certified, so testing at all is mostly a matter of showing respect to the tradition of my lineage in the art, and demonstrating Steve's competence at teaching me.

* Each time guro Raffi asked us to demonstrate something, using different jargon than we had traditionally used in class, I noticed a panicked look on one of the other students. So I made sure to demonstrate first, in order for him to see my best guess about what was being asked of us. I was right most of the time, and he was very grateful. (I wasn't worried about my training partner: She knew exactly as much as I, and could come to her own conclusions.) After the test, guro Raffi clarified some of his requests that we had gotten wrong, and we then demonstrated that we could in fact perform those techniques. It transpired that one technique was known by the level 1 students but not by the (level 3) instructors, which caused some understandable (and amusing) confusion. (We had been shown the technique by a substitute teacher while our instructors were away for a seminar.)

Karen and I joined some friends to see "The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged)". It's a hilarious show, and I was interested by the updates it had received in the two decades since I had first seen it. (And yes, I had loved it so much, the first time, that I jumped at the chance to see it again.)

Gratuitous links:

Magical land artworks (Thanks, Brookes!)

What Trump appeals to in his supporters, explained by the two moral modes. Another illuminating and thought provoking Siderea essay.

Overview of The Panama Papers. A more thorough explanation and discussion than other articles I've seen on it. (Thanks, Eirias!)

Causes of Students' Emotional Fragility: Five Perspectives. A synthesis of comments exploring issues in society and educational institutions that affect modern students, as explored by educators, employers, parents, and students. (Thanks, Cristyn!)
blimix: Joe leaning way out at a waterfall (waterfall)
( Feb. 19th, 2016 03:10 pm)
I have a theory. It involves two ideas:

1. Religious people are not as irrational as they give themselves credit for.
2. Going to church is a lot like going to Harry Potter Fan Club meetings (with a few key differences).

Before I explain the theory, I have to ask the question that the theory purports to explain.

Disclaimer and explanation for religious people. No offense intended. )

The question, and some inadequate answers. )

The theory. )
I believe that the confusion that some students experience with conditional statements in math and formal logic courses, over the idea that one cannot assume the inverse/converse of a conditional, stems from their intuitive understanding of Grice's maxim of Quantity. I think it would be most helpful, upon the introduction of this subject, for the teacher (or the course material) to explain roughly as follows:

Conditional statements take the form of "If something, then something else." Like, "If it's raining, then I wear a hat." Let's say I told you, "If anyone's around, I don't pick my nose." So what do you think I do when I'm alone? [Pause.] I pick my nose, right! Do you really know that? If I never picked my nose, my statement would still be true, right? [Longer pause, possibly repeating the original statement for consideration.] You're right: If I never picked my nose, I wouldn't have said it like that. I would have just said, "I don't pick my nose." What we just demonstrated is a linguistic rule called Grice's maxim of Quantity, which states that I don't tack on phrases like "If anyone's around," unless I actually have a reason to do so. I said it, so you figured I had a reason for saying it, and that's how you knew that I pick my nose when nobody's around. Incidentally, the statement "If nobody's around, I pick my nose" is the inverse of my original statement, "If anyone's around, I don't pick my nose." You get the inverse just by negating both parts of the statement.

The maxim of Quantity, the rule that you used to figure out the inverse, is not a rule in formal logic! It's just a rule of natural language. In formal logic, I could say, "If anyone's around, I don't pick my nose," and you would have no way of knowing what I do if nobody's around. Unlike with natural language, when you're given a conditional statement in formal logic, that's not enough information to know whether the inverse of that statement is true. That should be obvious with the statement, "If it's raining, then I wear a hat." Can you conclude the inverse, that if it's not raining, then I don't wear a hat? Of course not! Maybe I'll also wear a hat to keep the sun off my face, or just because it's stylish. So we can't assume the inverse.

Now let's look at the contrapositive, which is just a fancy name for a concept that you already understand, as illustrated by the famous quote by Dan Quayle, "If Al Gore invented the Internet, then I invented spell check..."
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