Sex and Film

...A friend of mine recently made a comment that the scene from Titanic where the lead character slaps her hand against the steamy car window was the sexiest moment in film.

Now. ...I agree that it was sexy, but I balked at the idea that it was the sexiest moment in film. However, when I started to think about it, I came up short with alternatives. In fact, the only example I could think of (which I will place in the comments, so as not to taint your thought process) was... well... from one of the weaker movies Hollywood has produced, and I hesitate to even admit it was such a turn on.

Help me out here. There must be some really steamy scenes I'm forgetting.



My father-in-law introduced me to port wines not too long ago, and I found I rather liked them. Having confessed this to a friend of mine shortly before Christmas, I was given a gift of a bottle of Reynella Old Cave 12-year port.

I must say: it's quite amazing. A very complex, satisfying taste. I'm not a drinker (by any stretch of the imagination), so I can't use drinker-jargon, or even speak to it relative to other ports or wines, but I can say that, of the three or four ports I've tasted, this was the finest.

I understand that, as ports go, it's also relatively cheap ($13-16 a bottle)... and thus, I recommend it.

Do you have a favourite port I should be trying?

Purity Was Hijacked by Religion

Some weeks ago, I had a series of posts about morality, based on some research by Jonathan Haidt.

I've had some time to digest those ideas, and wanted to field a suggestion developed from them.

Specifically, Haidt suggests (at the end of his TED talks) that liberals could open their doors, so to speak, to a wider number of people, if it could find a way to tap into the three morals that are usually "overlooked" by the left. Namely: Loyalty to one's group, deference to Authority, and adherence to Purity. He gives an example of the latter: most liberals actually do believe in purity. For example, many of us are vegetarians. (I don't talk about it much, but I am a vegetarian. ...Well, mostly. I eat fish.) ; ) Even better, a majority of us are green. That's a great example, actually: we do believe in purity when it comes to being green.

The first thing that strikes me when I consider this is that the word "purity" was hijacked by religion.

What do we think of when we use the word? Well, for me, the first concept to come up (so to speak) is sexuality. But when you think about it, there are only two aspects of purity that can really be applied to sexuality: avoiding harm to your partners and not letting sex consume your life. Sex is, otherwise, a pure thing. Absolutely pure: it is, in fact, the basis of all the life we see on a daily basis*. Nudity is pure: clothing is something we've added culturally.

I suggest you take a few minutes to consider your definition of purity and wonder if it's really appropriate. If you decide there are incongruities there, then perhaps you'll find you care enough about it to begin reclaiming the word "purity" to mean something more appropriate... like, maybe, decreasing the amount of poisons we're pumping into our environment. ...Or into our own bodies. Maybe it has to do with hygiene and disease prevention. Maybe purity should mean how well we act as stewards for our bodies, our environment, our families, our friends. Maybe purity is has something to do with our thoughts: how many we dedicate to creating net gains for the world, as opposed to self-indulgence.

Because I could get behind the idea of purity, if that's what it meant.

And why shouldn't it?

* No disrespect meant to the little guys who get away with budding and dividing. More power to you. But being small means we don't see you doing the nasty down there.

So disappointed...

Some memories from our childhood are inexplicably prominent.

One such memory for me was of riding in the car (a VW rabbit hatch-back) with my family. Probably on our way for Pizza in Auburn... but the destination wasn't salient. We were listening, as we often did, to the Beatles.

I asked if Lennonwere singing the song. Which song, I don't recall: with the amount of Beatles we played in the car, it all bleeds together.

"No, that's Paul", they said.

The next song came up. I asked if this song was sung by Lennon.

"No, it's Paul. Paul does all of the singing. John just does some back-ups. And Ringo gets thrown a bone for the silly songs."

I wasn't convinced. But these were my parents, and I decided to trust them.

Today, I was listening, as I very occasionally do, to the Beatles. Specifically, Come Together. And I noticed some minute detail that I hadn't noticed before, and decided to look the song up on Wikipedia. An interesting article, actually: I recommend reading it. About half-way through, however, was a section that explicitly states which band-member was responsible for what voice.

And it was sung by Lennon.

Looking around Wikipedia at a few of my other favourite songs (Because, Something, I Want You, etc), I noticed that, in fact, many of these songs were sung by Lennon (or Harrison).

I feel so betrayed!

For years I have visualized these songs as sung by McCartney... and the internalizations are all false. It's like I have to re-write all of these songs in my mind. I've lived all these years with wool pulled over my eyes, assuming the lead singer did most of the singing. It's a belief system built on lies.

It's like I don't even know the Beatles anymore!

Best Demo Ever

Best demo I've ever seen:

...You are, of course, watching a movie, but it was rendered in realtime, folks.


(Cross-posted on my music blog.)

Required Watching: Decision-making Skills

Superb discussion about risk, reward, and (my favourite) cognitive bias:

...Extra points to the second "question" (it was really a comment) from the audience. : )

NIN: Tight

Ever seen NIN perform live?

Yeah, they suck.

Rather, they used to suck.  I recently found a few You Tube videos which were surprisingly good performances (considering their past performance)... but, well... that's electronic music, and you can kinda fudge it.

But NIN has been working on The Slip, lately... and... well... they're tight.  Like, really tight. Clearly, they have have really been working on their live performances.  ...I'm surprised, but quite pleased. ...I spend quite a bit of time listening to The Slip, and I think it's great that A) they released a free MP3 version, and B) they've cleaned up the act, so to speak.

I would go to see something like this:

Music Piracy

Downloading copyrighted music is like shoplifting.  (This message is cross-posted on my personal and music blog.)

...That's what most people will tell you (example), and I disagree.

Personally, I think selling MP3s is like selling water. Misguided and ultimately abusive.

I understand artists need to make a living doing what they do. I understand that thousands of jobs revolve around the existing music industry, and I understand that stealing music is stealing money from those people. I'm sorry about that.


...The industry was built on a house of straw.  Sad though it may be, those people's lives will have to change when it tumbles.  ...just as it is with any industry that isn't sound. And, frankly, I don't think any of them will be out of a job when the dust settles: it will just look different. Well, except maybe the executives. They might suffer most. But industry executives are, in no uncertain terms, taking more money from the pockets of artists than we are. My heart will not bleed for them.


No product is being stolen. There's no box, no wrapping, no store. No effective way to prevent it. It's not shoplifting, and the ananlogy is a harmful one.

What's being stolen are services, and in such minute quantities (after it reaches an adequate number of ears) that the "debt" any individual incurs from their transgression is negligible.

Pay-per-download is not an efficient economic model. MP3s could be subsidized externalities. There's an opportunity here. Music is an enormous part of our culture. Enormous! In my humble, the industry needs to stop crying foul (they can't stop it) and do something productive. There are at least a half-dozen superb ideas to accomplish this already: I won't bother repeating them*.

I have no qualms with people freely downloading music, as long as they ultimately support the artists they appreciate.

And remember: I release my music for free**.

* Not often suggested, but: what if you put MP3s in the public domain? This could be the greatest thing since the Public Library System!

** Actually, I once made a few hundred bucks, at, which was subsidized, freely-downloadable music.  That model failed: it was too early and their math was way off, but that's a story for another day.


If you haven't seen it yet, definitely go grab the CoolIris plug in.  It's only for Firefox (as far as I know), but it has that perfect combination of being functional eyecandy.  It's extremely handy for finding media (images, movies) quickly, and it just looks awesome doing it.

Grab it.

...Also: one of our developers at EOL has hacked the code to allow us to feed info to CoolIris... so you'll be able to use it on our site.  ...Which is sweet.

WHOA! That's GROSS! Here, smell this...

(Don't you hate that?)

In the spirit of making your friends and loved ones smell things that make you wish for death, here's some some eye-gouging, brain-scrubbing Holiday cheer for you.


[Kasio Kristmas]

D&D4E Game Notes

Last night, I tried something new with my D&D game: I prepared a "calculated" encounter, rather than winging it.  Well, sort of.

I'd noticed that this party was cutting through my made-up stats too easily, so I thought I would try an encounter one level over what the book recommends for an average encounter.

The party is third level.  The book didn't have any formulae for the kind of encounter I wanted (just brutes), so I thought two brutes would be easy, four would be normal.

I browsed through the MM and found an appropriate Level 4 Brute (Orc Berserker), and that's what I used: two in the first encounter, four in the second. I added a decent stealth skill to them, to let the Orcs get the drop on the players in both cases. I also gave them throwing axes to use from the shadows before closing.

In the first encounter, the party wasted the pair of Orcs very quickly, taking only two HtH hits, and a handful of axes.  Hardly any damage... they had to spend a few healing surges after the encounter.  No biggie.  Definitely an easy encounter.

The second encounter did not go so smoothly for the players.  They ended up taking pretty massive damage.  Four of them withdrew for healing surges during the encounter.  One of them fell two rounds before the end, another two were down to single-digit HPs before the dust settled. Everyone used their daily (except maybe the cleric). At one point, things were looking so bad, I let a character kinda cheat: his die landed at the edge of his book with some low number, and he whisked the book away to essentially re-roll it, and it came up high. He was clearly joking (everyone laughed), but I was so worried about the characters that I gave it to him.  ...Dutifully, later in the fight he expended a daily that he didn't really have to, role-playing that his character was really pissed off... which I think was a fair trade.  (He's one of the most decent players I've had the pleasure of GMing for, actually.)

Defintely a Hard encounter.

So, lesson: Level (party_lvl +1) Brutes are Easy x 2, Hard x 4.  ...I would imagine that means Average x 3.  : )

On a personal note: I kinda like the new D&D, as long as one treats it as the hack-and-slash that it is.

That said: I am hoping we end up shy a player or two in the next few sessions, so I can run a quick game of Paladin (Star Wars setting) or Great Ork Gods.

Interrogation Without Torture (It works. Use it.)

There's a story at the Washington Post which, if you haven't read already, I recommend.  A snippet:

I refused to participate in [torture] practices, and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology -- one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they're listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of "ruses and trickery"). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.

I enjoy hearing voices like these, and wish more people would listen to them.

New Drawing (Arms Folded I)

This is moderately not-safe-for-work... a nude model, though you can't see the pieces-parts.

Last night, I thought about what "style" I wanted to master... something I could call "mine". I spent a lot of time looking through my favourite artwork, taking notes as to what parts of them I really liked.

First and foremost, I like the style from the Classical Drawing Atelier book that I picked up some months ago: chiaroscuro, usually in charcoal and chalk on toned paper. (examples - NSFW) I love that effect, and want to make it my own.

Second, I like the "digital drawing style" found on, say, Deviant art. The stuff that people do with tablets. (example) ...I like the "sketchy" feel of these drawings, how you can see the painting lines because of the opacity of the strokes. It's distinctly digital, and I am very much of the digital era. It suits me.

I also like artwork that seems to glow, as both of the previous examples demonstrate. ...With muted colors: monochrome, really.

And, of course, I like nudes. : ) That said, I don't like "gratuitous nudity"... I like things to be subtle. I especially like moderately-close crops of anatomy (mostly female).

One of the strongest points I realized is that, though I *love* a drawing with good line, when I am drawing, it's all about tone. Tone, tone, tone, tone, tone. Light on forms. Minimal line, if any.

So, with that in mind, I immediately started working on the following image, when I woke up this morning. It's not quite on the mark, but it's a good start:

This was mostly "Charcoal" settings in Painter, with the hair done in "2B Pencil" and "Chalk", and heavy use of belenders, to work the tones and (hopefully) bring out some of those "digital edges" that I like.
Criticism welcome, though I already realize that the arms are too thin and the musculature of the belly is too wide.


Today, I tried to watch the movie Spartan, but it did absolutely nothing for me.  So, when I was interrupted about half-way through, I didn't bother picking it up again.

I like Kilmer, but this role was bo-o-o-o-oring.  Kind of like a Jack Bauer who doesn't talk much.  ...And most of the dialogue was over my head.

So I say: skip it.


How do you feel about psychology?

Much of my family and many of my friends have studied and/or worked in the field... but I've never been a big fan. Mind you, I'm not all Scientology about "psychology kills", but, to my mind, therapy is too focused on "what's good for me" versus what's best for everyone. And, of course "what's best" is something that varies in definition from person to person, so your therapist had better approach your world views.

I think, if I were to decide therapy would do me some good (I haven't), then I would have to ask the therapist a few questions, to be sure she believed roughly the same things I believe. Here's a first draft of such questions.

  1. What do you think a ghost is?
  2. Please complete the following sentence: "In the end, you have to do what's..."
  3. Please respond freely to the following koan: "If you cannot find truth exactly where you are, where else do you expect to find it?"
  4. What's the meaning of life?
...I think those questions would give me a clear enough picture of the therapist's beliefs, as they might affect my ability to take her advice seriously.

Would you have questions?

Nude Sketch (NSFW)

It's been a while since I've drawn at all, much less sketched a figure.  ...I've done a couple of studies in my sketchbook, but really only a handful.  But the itch to draw is back, so tonight I did this:

...I'm moderately pleased.  I didn't quite finish her right forearm (oops), but I was rushing.  In all, I spent about 45 minutes on it.  (Yeah, I'm slow. I'm beginning.)  Overall, the proportions aren't horrible.  ...Though I re-drew the head twice before it was the right scale.  ; )  This was 99% done without measuring (I measured the head, roughly, with fingers at a distance), and the (photo) source was at 50% of the final sketch size. Done entirely with the "2B Pencil" setting in Painter.

I was focusing on lighting, with a minor intention of seeing if I could get proportions right just by "flowing", rather than measuring the hell out of everything.  I was pleased to see that (head problems aside), I basically could. Some flaws, yeah, but not bad at all.

Hopefully, I'll have the chance (and the will) to do a few more of these this weekend.

Flash Game: Desktop TD

Wow. I was looking around for flash games on a boring Friday night, and found Desktop Tower Defense. It's basically a RTS, but... well... I actually like it. : ) It's not a rush to build against the computer: the computer just constantly raids, and you constantly defend, by building a maze of "towers" that damage their units as they crawl past.

It's brutal. It's very cute. It's fun.

I've only just beaten the "normal" level... but I had a blast finding a strategy to do it! Highly recommended.

My group name is "silence", (player name JRice) if you care to compare scores.

Seth Godin on Car Companies

Three words on Seth Godin's idea for fixing the economy vis-a-vis the auto-industry:

Best. Idea. Ever.

(In brief: put the big three out of business, and pave the way for a hundred-plus tiny car companies.)

Nuclear Experiment

...I was looking through a list of CTs in a UK e-mag. One was suggesting the Indian tsunami was caused by and American/Israeli underwater nuclear test.

Then I wondered (nothing to do with the theory, just the science):

What would happen if you detonated a nuke at the bottom of the Pacific?

Poetry, Go, and St. John's Wort

Amy Hoy just posted a rant about poetry. I hate poetry, and I wonder why.

In the beginning, I hated poetry. Girl stuff. ...Then my father pointed out that he wrote a lot of it, and suddenly it was no longer tabboo, and I tried my hand at a little. I didn't realize just how much it sucked. Coincidentally (I assume), I fell in love for the first time shortly thereafter, and boy oh boy was there ever poetry! I spewed it forth on a daily basis. It still sucked, and I knew even less how much so, thanks to this other person telling me how good it was.

My interest in poetry died a quick death, the day after she broke up with me. ...One final death throw: the break-up poem. I don't remember what became of it. I honestly don't care. Im sure it sucked just as hard-core as the sappy love poems that preceeded it. At that point, I was done.

Ever since, I've gone back to my original stance: poetry is pretentious, fluffy, and lame.

After reading Amy's treatsie on what makes a decent poem, I found myself wondering just what it was that I hated about it. It's pretentious was my first though, but I quickly had to remind myself that I was okay with pretentious fine art. ...cause I totally am. (Painting to the right is Spatial Concept by Lucio Fontana; it's a great piece [source]).

So it's not just that poetry is pretentious. It must be more than that. I don't think it's the negative association I have with my first relationship, either: there were plenty of positives that came with that time in my life.

If I had to guess, I would say that it was the forced nature of poetry that I abhore. ...Which brings me to Go.

When I was playing Go last night (and losing miserably), I refused to look ahead more than two moves. This is absurd: you cannot win the game if you don't look ahead, period. And yet I despise the idea that I have to analyze every friggin' stone I place on the board. I desperately want it to come naturally. To be subconscious. To flow.

I can want that as vehemently as I dare: it does not change the fact that I will continuously lose. Dramatically. Every time. ...You must look ahead. You must analyze. Especially toward the beginning.

I hate that.

A lack of flow seems to be a serious blocking point in my entire life right now. ...The code I'm working on is at a point where there is no more flow: I have to squeeze additional performance out of it. Drawing still intimidates me enough that I do less than three hours a week. I know enough German that I'm at the point where I need to start memorizing.

I spend a lot of time tying knots (!) because I've gotten good at the knots I know. There is flow, now. ...But it's friggin' knot tying. It feels like such a waste. ...Good skills to have, sure, one or twice a year, maybe. But not to be sitting there on a Tuesday night listening to music and practising your sheepshank.

Of course, on the whole, I've just gotten increasingly grumpy and uninspired.

So, yeah: I've started taking St. John's again. : )

First Go Game a Disaster

This evening, I logged onto the "Panda Go Server" and marked myself as "looking for a game".

...This, after watching about a Half-dozen games there over the last week.

In other words, this is my first game against a human opponent.  He was listed as 17th kyu (no longer a beginner, but really low-rank).

I got creamed.  I mean, I didn't just get beaten, I got decimated. I didn't have a single live group on the board by move 175, after which I resigned.  I did have some areas reasonably well blocked-off, but it was clear he was good enough at invasion that I would have lost these, and even if I didn't, I had maybe 1/6th of the board.

Go is hard.

Sadly, I'm really, really intimidated to try again.

...Which is exactly why I'm going to do it again right now.

Movie History X

Tonight, I watched American History X.

Eesh. Another tough movie to watch.

That said, I was actually a little disappointed with it.  The acting wasn't nearly as good as the past two movies I've watched (surprisingly), and I actually felt the "transformation" of the older brother from hate to compassion wasn't particularly believable or compelling. ...I recognize that the point of the movie was the "outside" story, so they had to abbreviate this aspect... but it didn't really work for me in its current form. As such, I'm not sure I agree with the 8.6 rating on IMDB. I'm not sure I would recommend the movie, frankly.  Not that it was bad--it wasn't--but it was hard to watch (JEEZUZ the scene where he kills the guy on the sidewalk alone will haunt me), and thus I'm not sure if the payoff was worthwhile. Again with a message that I already fully understood. ...And, as I said already, the conversion wasn't compelling, so this isn't a movie where you can show it to people with hate problems and they'll see the light (as opposed to Requiem for a Dream, which may actually be a mildly good deterrent for drug-use). Kind of leaves you asking: what's the point?

Unfortuante.  I wanted to appreciate this movie. : \

Obama's First Mistake In Office

I hereby predict that President-elect Obama's first error, when he takes office, will be the full pardon of his predecessor.

1kBWC: Brig Thurdle Deg Do Gan Gels Devneggin!

Memoirs of Another Movie

Tonight, I watched Memoirs of a Geisha.

It was good.

It wasn't as good as I wanted or expected.  Again, some superb acting... no one was weak. And the cinematography (something very important to me in enjoying a film) was superlative. But... I didn't like the story. It was an American story, not a Japanese story. And for whatever reason, that bothered me. The plot was thin, the ending was dippy-sweet, the twists were predictable... it was unsatisfying on the level of the story.

That said, the filming had, I think, a pleasant Japanese aspect to it (kudos to Spielberg for that, I suppose): there was the right amount of Japanese spoken, there were no necessarily Occidentally-cast actors (think Gandhi as a counter-example) (UPDATE: I realized last night as I was thinking about this post that, in fact, most of the cast was Chinese.  So much for that assertion!), and there was an efficiency to the direction that suited the setting, though I think the pace would have been more appropriate if it were a little slower.

Of course I realize I have no authority to speak of such things, so please take these comments with a grain of salt: I am not Japanese, and my affinity for their aesthetics is filtered through our American perception of Japan.

All in all, it's a film I would recommend watching.  ...But it certainly doesn't make any "best" lists.  Not for me.  That said:

It was good.

Why Go Drives Me Insane... And Why It Rocks

I am still consistently losing at Go.  It puts me in a bad mood. I can't seem to figure it out: when I have a solid shape, white finds a nice attack and destroys it. I've even lost a few games with NO points (well, in honesty, I resigned before it got to the scoring). Go drives me nuts.

...And when I go looking for information on strategy, I find things like these videos... and then I remember why Go rocks. I'm just at the very beginning, and should expect to lose.

And, for what it's worth, I'm 43 games into my first 50.  ; )

Requiem for a Dream

Tonight I watched Requiem for a Dream.

Yeesh.  What a hard film to watch.

I'm not really sure how to react to movies like this. There was some tremendous acting, some great dialogue (clearly the "I'm lonely" monologue was the standout bit), some neat cinematography... but, man, it's hard to watch a film that ends with all the characters' lives destroyed by drugs. And you know, it's the fact that it was drugs that makes it hard for me to appreciate this film as much as I could have. If the underlying message was "we all have dreams, but they often lead to our demise", multiple vehicles could have been chosen to show that. But when you make the whole movie about drugs... well, the whole message is tainted by that.

I don't do drugs; I've never touched drugs; I wouldn't dream of doing it in the future. ...So that message is completely lost on me.

Of course, there were some smaller messages ("basically good people get treated like animals if they are associated with drugs")... but I already had a firm grasp of those points.

All in all, I walk away disappointed.

...And, dammit, I wanted to know what step #3 was.  : )

Go Proverb

Apparently, if not surprisingly, there is a collection of Go Proverbs.

The first one is healthy: "Lose your first 50 games as quickly as you can."

...Meaning, of course, that you won't have a chance of winning the game until you are quite familiar with the flow of it.

I've heard someone say that if you can get past 50 games, you will be addicted to Go for the rest of your life... but that most people don't actually get there.

I'm presently 11 games into that litmus test (albeit 9x9 games, which are easily 1/4 the length of a full game), and still interested in learning it. Perhaps I'll make it. Perhaps that's not a good thing.  : ) Part of me want to stop trying... I already claim too many hobbies. But something keeps nagging me to try again...

Anyway, I wonder how many things that rule could apply to.

Hmmmn...  how about: "Hide your first 50 figure drawings as quickly as you can"?

Man, I wish I'd pay attention to that thought.

Sexy Beast

...I just watched Sexy Beast. Nicely done. I'm not really into the mafia movies thang, so I probably didn't appreciate it as much as I could have. But the acting was excellent. And I suppose I appreciated it in a demented kind of way.

Kind of pissed me off that the main character lied about Don (Kingsley's character) calling him from Heathrow. ...He was far too obviously a dick to have done something like that. Should've come up with some other story. (And I'm not saying that in hindsight, I was shouting it at the screen as soon as he said it.) He would have known better than to say something like that.

The nightmare rabbit reminded me (perhaps intentionally?) of Donnie Darko.  ...Which was ultimately a more gratifying film (minus the acting chops, of course).  : )

...I notice that IMDB agrees with me (a 1.2-point delta)...  ; )

Strange Fiction

I just watched Stranger than Fiction.

Go ahead and laugh, but I believe that was the best film I've watched in several years.

My Week In New England

I was in New England last week. I know, I know, I didn't tell anyone I was going. That's because I knew it would be an in-and-out, all-business week, so I didn't want anyone to even consider driving four hours out to Cape Cod for two hours of face-time. Sorry.

That said, I really enjoyed myself! I stayed with one of the other programmers and his wife, in a very nice house. They're both vegetarians, liberals, intellectuals, and have studied zen, so we had an awful lot to talk about.  : )  And talk we did: it was entirely enjoyable conversation for me.  ...And the food was good, too.  ; )

I rode a friend's bike to work and back all days but one... which was excellent exercise and very enjoyable (the weather was incredible except that one day of rain). ...However, I learned that my body has not fully recovered from my bout with myxedema, and I ended up in a considerable amount of pain with more fun-fun cramping.  Whee.

I also had a chance to hang out with a couple of the people who have been entertaining online: one highly-skilled programmer, a sysadmin and his wife.  The latter two have just moved here from Australia, so I was totally geeking out (linguistics-wise) on their accents and idioms.

All in all, I really rather enjoyed myself.  The whole experience had a lot of the qualities that made college so much fun.

You Take Nanci (For Me, Loretta's Fine)

I just watched a very short clip of Nanci Pelosi talking about democratic control of congress. I couldn't get through 60 seconds of it, and won't bother linking to it.

I love that congress is being led by a woman.

That said, I think Pelosi has failed in almost every measurable manner. I would like to see her ousted and new leadership chosen.

Sorry, Nanci. I want someone with a backbone, and someone not beholden to corporate interests... which you very clearly are.

More Evidence of my Amorality

So, there was another test (Schwartz Values Scale) on that site, which I just took, created by an Israeli professor. It's supposed to measure your "balance" of moralities, according to a theory that some moral beliefs are inherently in conflict with others.  (If you'll allow me to dumb down a very complex topic.)

I scored universally lower than all averages: no exceptions.  Perhaps this is a reflection of the earlier test results: that I don't hold many of the moral standards very high.  Here's my chart (green = me, blue = liberals, red = conservatives):

So, what we have here is, from left to right: power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, tradition, conformance, and security. Clearly, I trend like a liberal, if somewhat depressed in absolute value.  (This may be an effect of the fact that, on a ten-point scale and the like, I tend to score things far lower than other people. I think it's an American bias that a 7 is like a 'C' and is really not that good.  I don't see it in terms of school scores, so I don't treat them that way.)
If you ignore the absolute values, you'll see that most important to me are self-direction and universalism. They define the latter as "understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature". Those definitely ring true.
You'll also see that I score dramatically low on stimulation: "excitement, novelty, and challenge in life".  ...I like novelty when I get it, but I don't go seeking it. Check my profile, and you'll see my favourite quote is the koan, "If you cannot find truth exactly were you are, where else do you expect to find it?" Yup: that's me.
I'm also remarkably low on power.  This is also a truth. To my mind, as I have said before, the only true evil is the abuse of power. As a result, I tend to be wary of any of it.
I'm also pleased to see security low on my list. As you'll hear over the next few months as I dissect Zen, one of the lessons I take from that philosophy is the the concept of not avoiding difficulty.  ("They are not obstacles on the path, they are the path".) I genuinely feel that I am not afraid.  I'll take things in stride.  However, if you were to re-phrase this as "caution", then that's important to me! I am extremely risk-averse. Go figure.
I enjoyed taking this test, though I found it time-consuming. It's ostensibly very quick, but I copy/pasted the text into an editor, so that I could properly rank everything with deliberate thought. While some of these things come naturally, there are others that I think I should work on, and this test helped me identify them. It worked quite well in harmony with the "Authentic Happiness" test that I've talked about in the past: I would recommend taking that one before this one.

I am an Amoral Bastard: I have proof.

I've had morals on the brain, of late, mostly based on Jonathan Haidt's Edge article. I decided to take Haidt's test, to find out where I lie on his scale.

The results suggest I'm all about avoiding harm... but that's about it.  Below, the green is my morality, the blue is typical liberal morality, and the red is typical conservative morality:

The measures are, from left to right: Harm, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Purity. As you can see, I score lower on most measures than either group... though pretty close to liberals on Harm and Loyalty.

I'm pretty upset about the Fairness score.  ...It's simply that I no longer believe that "equal" is fair... it must be appropriate.

More on this subject (and on an amazing week) later.

Politics... Again (3 of 2): The Ends

Some months ago, one of my best friends said something that stuck with me: it can be proven that child labor eventually elevates an entire community out of poverty.

I struggled with this until just this morning, when I realized that, for me, in this case especially: the ends don't justify the means. Even if, as that very same friend once said, "the ends are the only thing that can justify the means." The ends are obviously important. But even if–for example–child labor is scientifically proven to eventually help an entire country achieve financial improvements, it's not worth it. Not in my book. Find another way.

My beliefs may conclude with disaster.  (I doubt it, but...) But for my money, the immediate immorality of child labor trumps the eventual morality of a comfortable society. ...Even if none of those kids will suffer long-term negative effects.

Why can't I flip that switch in my head?  Believe you me: I have been trying.  Hard.  Ever since he said it. It's come up in my thoughts at least once a week since then. I've really though long and hard about it. ...But, try as I might, I can't let go of it.  It's wrong, and even if things will eventually be good, I can't abide it.

I find it fascinating that I am unable to "endure" the short-term suffering. On a personal level, the opposite is certainly true: I am more than willing to sacrifice my own rights, my own comforts, in order to make long-term gains. But forcing this on another is completely different.

This was covered in the Haidt talk, now that I think of it: morality is ranked on those pegs: wiling to personally experience, willing to personally commit, and willing to allow others to commit.

Fascinating stuff.

Politics... Again (2 of 2): Lines in the Sand

Another thought I had related to Prop 8, without having to go into the specifics of Prop 8, was the idea that laws are lines in the sand. The argument I was having about 8 was that is said such-and-such... but to different people, that meant different things.

Really, what I want to talk about is the Slippery Slope Fallacy. Namely, the (fallacious) argument that one decision will lead to others. For example, those who opposed gay marriage made the argument that Catholic adoption agencies may be forced to consider gay couples for adoption or be forced to close their doors. (Clearly, this is one small argument among many.  I'm just making an example, and don't want to focus on gay marriage right now. It's just an example.)

This is something that bugs me. If there's some line that you insist doesn't get crossed, then shouldn't that be on the legislation?  ...Even if it's a laundry list of results that you need to avoid?  You can put more than one idea on a single bill...

I'm all for specificity.  Perhaps that's because I'm a software developer: specific requirements are far easier to implement than vague ones... in fact, vague guidelines are prone to project-failure. But it seems to me that if you continue to pass legislation that is less than clear, you are essentially forcing the judicial branch to "legislate from the bench".  ...And the folks who pass these vague bills are usually first in line to proclaim the evils of judicial interpretation.

This is a tricky issue, though. Ostensibly, prop 8 seems specific enough: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." That's apparently pretty cut-and-dry: it's defining a word. I can respect the elegance there... but I think it's pretty clear that this has wide-ranging effects, since there are a myriad of directives on how to treat marriage in the eye of the law.

Well, I don't want to focus on this proposition: it's besides the point.  My point is that legislation should be absolutely transparent about its intentions.

Is this a mistake?  I'm open to clarification.  ; )

Politics... Again (1 of 2)

You know, I did a little arguing about Prop 8 in the past few days. One of the points that came up was that these decisions should be on the state level, not the national level. I don't want to talk about Gay Marriage anymore, but I do want to talk about this distinction ("it should be at the state level").  This is an argument that comes up often.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

I mean, I used to be pretty clear about it: state-level decision making is a great idea.  ...Now I'm not so sure. I mean, it strikes me as just as arbitrary a decision as national.  Local decisions totally make sense, since there can be very local changes in ideology.  I know that the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts felt very differently than, say, the Worcester area. But, even though MA is a small state, there was still quite a difference between what people believed.  Heck, even Boston could be divided into a few distinct ideological zones.

So what extra benefit does the state have that the nation doesn't?  There seems to be as much diversity (roughly) within that one, small state as there is in the country as a whole.

So, when dealing with diversity, shouldn't the answer be "you decide?"

I mean, this is my liberal side showing through, but I feel it pretty strongly: unless your actions are clearly affecting others, you should have the right to choose how to act. ...And that should absolutely be the national stance. Leaving a decision to a state is reducing a problem somewhat, but not enough to warrant special treatment. Ideally, let local ordinances cover it.

But then comes the matter of discrimination.  Is that something we should ban on a national level?  If a community wants to say that only red-heads are allowed to drink from public fountains, is that okay?

Personally, I don't think that's okay. For my money, there should never be any legislation, anywhere, at any level, that gives special rights to some people and restricts it to others.

I'm open to heard counter-arguments.


I hate statistics.

Okay, I realize they are important.  I like histograms now and then. They're also quite good for sports. And without stats, biology would be a nearly fruitless scientific field. So I can understand why stats are required.

But when it comes to politics, I hate statistics. I want to hit things when they are cited.

For example, as of right now, Yahoo, Google, MSNBC, and CNN are reporting--for one small example--that Maine has gone to Obama. Little check-marks next to them. Done deal. In the bag.

With 0% of precincts reporting.


So, there's this site where you can play some of the games I mentioned in the last post. (For free.)  This gives me a chance to playtest at least two of them: Hive and Zertz.

I started by focusing on Hive, since, as I mentioned, if I could only have one game from that list, this would be it.

I have to say, I'm really pleased with this game.  It fully meets my expectations as a quick game to pick up, learn, and play. After re-reading the strategy on Wikipedia (5 paragraphs), I managed to get to a skill-level where I could regularly beat the "Dumb Bot" or whatever it was called online.

Did I mention I'm really pleased with this game?  'Cause I totally am.  This is a classic. Really.  It's chess/go/poker-worthy. ...Well... maybe it doesn't have the depth of those games, but it's so much more intuitive than those games, it's still worthy of being mentioned in their ranks.

Yup.  It's just that good.  And I must have it.  ; ) And you must look into it!

...I also spectated on a few games of Zertz, and it really does look neat.  ...Much slower than Hive: lots more thought involved.  But still a nice mechanic, and a pleasant game. I'll try playing it next week.

The Wishlist of Games

These are the games, after considerable review, I would like to add to my collection. They might not all land on the "Top Shelf"... but I certainly think they have the potential. ...There were a lot of other games on this list a day ago, but I decided that, for many of them, I would never find players, they would take too long, or there would be something better to play instead, even if they looked interesting. Others look like they might have the staying-power to displace other games on the Top Shelf.  So, these are officially on my wishlist:

Abalone - Pushing marbles around on a board.  A simple pick-up game, elegant, and pretty.

Beyond Balderdash - I love the idea behind the game (fake definitions of obscure and obsolete words), and I think it would be a great alternative to Apples to Apples in an intelligent crowd.

Carcassonne: The City - Similar game-play to Carcassone, but it looks like it might be superior. That it comes in a nice box is a bonus.  ; )

Carcassonne: The Discovery - Ditto.  This one looks like it's actually simpler than Carcassonne-proper, yet with more interesting mechanics.

Galaxy Trucker - In short, this looks awesome. Build ships in a hurry, race them around the galaxy, and watch them fall to pieces.

Go - I've wanted to get into Go for a long, time.  It's one of those extremely elegant and deep games, even moreso than chess. I also like the association that Go has with (Computer/Math) Geekdom.  ; ) If I could only get two games on this list, this would be my second choice (read on).

Hex - ...This would really just be getting a fancy board to use with Go pieces.  It's kind of like an introduction to Go, easier for pickup-play with novices.

Hive - honestly, if I could only get one game on this list, it would be Hive.  It just looks perfect!  A few (really nice) pieces, no board, intricate game-play over simple rules. Good as a pickup game, with some additional depth for the long-haul.

Pylos - stacking marbles.  Simple, quick, and very pretty with its wooden pieces. You'll notice that "pretty" often trumps my other rules about not overlapping game types.  : )

Quarto! - Elegant wooden connect-four game with a few twists.  Seems to carry over some of the elements of Set, which I like, and it's pretty.  ; )

Quaridor - Another pretty wooden game, with the same idea as Hex, but on a square grid and using limited walls to block a single piece.

Race for the Galaxy - Just a card game, but it's a "closed system" (unlike collectible card games), with some neat options and quick game-play and deep imagaination.

Zertz - Another game in the "it's pretty" category, with a really cool mechanic to the game: the board shrinks as you play.

I doubt all of these will end up being personal favourites, but I'd really like to give them all a try.

Top Shelf Games

These are, literally, the games I keep on my top shelf: the games I reach for when guests arrive. The games I will probably never get rid of (until I find something that's truly superior). Games I would immediately replace if lost. These are my "bare minimum" games:

1kBWC: Anyone who's willing to play will get my support.  ; ) The fact that you play with a bucket of pencils and a stack of index cards just makes this perfectly elegant... and the imagination, humor, and creativity involved are ideal.

Apples to Apples: The de facto party game.  Almost always a good idea.  ...Not so great when there's a wide political difference between players, though: the last time we played, I won a trick with "Republicans" to match "Idiotic". The woman who judged that was sitting next to a hard-core Republican.  Ooops.

Carcassonne: The game I play the most, really. It's light, enjoyable, and pretty.

Cathedral: purely aesthetics for me. I have a nice wooden version of the game. It's a quick pickup kind of thing, good to play once or twice; just as good sitting on the table and looking nice.

Chess: It's rare that I'll convince someone to play, but I invariably enjoy it when I get the chance.

Penté: Okay, so I haven't played this one in probably a decade, but I like it.  Truth be told, I will take this off the shelf once I have go and Quarto!, however.

Puerto Rico: Okay, I haven't ever played this.  ; ) It looks enjoyable, if a bit on the heavy side for me. We'll see.

Quiddler: I don't like scrabble; I do like Quiddler. There down side on this game (tons of down-time) tends to be an advantage, since you can talk to everyone who's not currently taking a turn... so I put it in the "party game" category. It helps that it's very easy to learn.

Set: I love this game. I used to play it every day at lunch, and I'm still not at all sick of it. It just strikes me as so sublimely elegant... Nearly perfect.

Settlers of Catan: This is about as "heavy" a game as I can really stand... I really enjoy the mechanics, the map, and the game-play.

Ursuppe: (AKA "Primordial Soup") Okay, here's another one I haven't played yet.  But it looks brilliant! And it bugs the heck out of me that I can't find a group of people to try it out.  : )  I'm going to bring this (and Puerto Rico) to our Halloween party and force it on people, though.  ; )

Gaming Geek I Am Not

I love board games. If I had the opportunity, I would play board game at least three times a week.  (Well, maybe once a week, if I could convince people to role-play or do 1kBWC instead.)

I spend a lot of time this evening.  (Okay, ALL evening) at Board Game Geek looking through the categories. I ended up scribbling down the names of over 50 games that intrigued me.

As is my nature, the very next thing I did was whittle the list way down (to 12, plus 7 I'm undecided about).

See... I'm not a gaming geek. Not in the traditional, I-have-a-spare-room-dedicated-to-storing-games sense. I'm actually something of a gaming minimalist. How many games do I think is ideal to own?  Probably about 20. In my mind, if there's a game that's similar to but better than another, there's little reason to own it.  Even if it's "also really cool".

I presently own about 30 games.  Maybe 35.  Of those, I think 10 are actually worth playing... (the rest I keep around to keep feelings from being hurt). Okay, one of them (Puerto Rico) I haven't played yet and so maybe it'll be 11.  Or maybe that one will displace Settlers of Catan. ...I doubt it.

(Oh, and Go is notably missing from my collection of games. So maybe it should even be 12.)

I like a lot more games than that. I'd be entirely willing to play them! But if one of those 10-12 games were also in the house, I would quickly suggest we use one of those instead.

My snobbery knows no bounds!

Game Idea (Note to Shelf)


Include in the game a cellophane sheet, which is placed over the game map. Players place game-pieces on this sheet, but still using the underlying map.

Some game mechanics would allow the cellophane sheet to move, thus displacing all of the tiles on the board by an equal amount. This could knock some pieces into invalid places, change the scores of some players, and create tactical advantages.

A gimmick, sure.  But potentially an interesting one.

Yes, I have games on the brain this week.


Those who know me well are aware that I was active in the Indie RPG community. One of the more memorable activities I took part in back then was helping to playtest a variant of The Pool, called Snowball. (If you go to that site and download the playtests, you can read that I took part in The Green Man and Folded Magic.) A PDF for the game is also on Lulu.

The idea behind the game was fairly simple: scene by scene, play a game. Backwards. Memento style role-playing.

As the kiddies are saying these days, this idea was made of WIN.

It occurs to me that, given a multi-user blog, one could do something similar: round-robin writing of a story, in reverse. Due to the nature of blogs, this would "unfold" nicely, in that older posts would be later on the roll.

The "game" would begin with a round of Universalis, to establish a setting, story concepts, characters, and ostensible plot. However, I would limit this round severely: perhaps four elements per player, because half of the fun of Snowball was being surprised by what the other players added and what needed to be reconciled in the "previous" scene or scenes: for example, in one of the playtesting sessions, another character introduced a complication that my character's wing was broken. (I was playing a crow.)

When it is your turn to narrate, you write a short-ish description of what happens: a paragraph or two. When you're done, you use a "tag" on the post to "seed" the next narrator with a few words: the next narrator will have to incorporate that idea into the next (really, previous) scene. For example, one might leave a tag of "A Door", or "Love Interest"... just some element to make the process of narration a little more interesting/challenging.

Other rules--conventions, perhaps--might be agreed upon during play. For example, it might be reasonable to limit narrators to introducing no more than one character per entry.

And, of course, no narrator would be allowed to contradict the previous entry: their post would have to "flow" into the last post that was left, ending with a situation just as the next post begins.

...I believe there is a huge, untapped potential for Blogs as a gaming vehicle. But the mechanics for such games would have to be very, very different than normal RPGs or tabletops. Less ordered, for obvious reasons. Occasionally I roll a few ideas around on my tongue, but the "solution" hasn't yet hit me. For example, I'd love to come up with a viable way to let a game be played *across* blogs.

I'd like to try this, to get those juices flowing and try to imagine what other kinds of "mechanics" could make a blogging game work.

Games, Games, Games

I was recently watching a discussion about Halloween, when someone mentioned playing Call of Cthulhu for Halloween.  I had to mention a game (Betrayal), which took me to Game Geek.

I've been there before, mind you, but I was just noticing the mechanic property of their games. This is a slightly awkward concept to introduce to a website, but it has great potential. It would be nice to set a user preference to suggest "I don't like memory", and to get a list of games you haven't seen before, rank well on the site, and don't involve that mechanic.

Then I wondered if role-playing games could benefit from the same concept.  Or, even better, game masters.  Or individual games.

I wonder what set of mechanics would cover enough of each of those levels to help people identify the correct systems, groups, and games to play with?

YouTube Idea

...Add a one-click flag/tag named "slide show".

Allow a user preference saying "hide slideshows".

I don't want to see them.  : |

Ooh! Coo', Lay Lay!

Lately, I keep wondering if electronic music is really just the same ten or twelve songs, being re-written, over and over, endlessly seeking the most appropriate expression of their underlying themes.

It certainly seems that way some times. ...Though I suppose one could say that about almost all music.

With that in mind, I bring you a video of the "Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain":

PowerPoint Slam?

I would find it hard to believe that the concept of "PowerPoint Slam Poetry" hasn't been done.

And, indeed, here's an example:


Part of my "self-driven education" has been to study Zen. I'm so far glad to be doing so; I've learned a lot already in the first week of study.

My motivation for doing so was to have some semblance of authority when speaking on the subject. While my life has presented some modicum of exposure to Zen, I have not practiced it in earnest, nor have I had a legitimate teacher. I've read several books on the subject, but for the most part, they have covered practice, not the history and culture of Zen... and this struck me as relevant. I knew there were different "schools" of Zen, but not what characterized them or how they evolved. I knew Zen was related to Buddhism, but I didn't know exactly how. I knew many of the koan I appreciate mention a variety of specific "Zen masters" of the past, but not who they were or where their stories took place. These were the bits of information I was after.

Zen's connection to Buddhism is of particular interest to me. I'm not Buddhist, nor could I be, but I believe Zen has "gotten a few things right". I wondered if it was really wise to proceed to "steal ideas" from Zen, if its background is truly religious and mythological. ...It's not that I have strong disdain for Buddhism: I appreciate the story of Siddhartha Gautama, and believe that he (insomuch as we can believe his historical accuracy) had some wonderful things to say. But I don't believe in, say, reincarnation, or the idea that a Buddha can create entire worlds with a single thought. Or that women and men should live separate lives. : ) And the like. That is to say, I want nothing to do with the underlying mysticism.

So the deeper question I suppose I was asking was: is Zen itself mystical? In practice, it certainly seems to have its benefits. I've experienced a sense calm, heightened perception, and a general sense of "rightness" about the task of Zen meditation... aside from feeling like I looked a little silly. It helped me deal with some pretty serious pain and uncertainty. I also like that, with Zen, one ostensibly tends to have increased compassion, calm, and reason. Put another way: I tend to really like people who practice Zen. So as I approached this problem, I knew the questions I asked needed to avoid confirmation bias. That is, I need to ask questions to disprove Zen's utility, not to confirm it.

Perhaps a better-if-less-scientific question would be: what's the minimum set of Zen aspects that can impart these benefits (subjective as they may be)? Can they be employed out of the context of spiritualism?

Several things struck me about Zen's history this week:
  • During WWII, many Japanese Zen practitioners were active supporters of the war, especially against China. To my mind, this suggests Zen does not always impart "wisdom", "compassion", or "loving-kindness".
  • Part of Zen's teaching is to move away from duality. So it's somewhat ironic of me to chide them for contradicting themselves on the point of "transmission without doctrine". That is to say, Buddha's "Lotus Sermon", which is considered the birth of Zen, was a sermon given without words, to show that not all communication is linguistic and that the truth of the human condition must be directly experienced rather than spoken of. ...And yet a very large part of Zen practice is study of Buddhist scriptures. Hmmmn.
  • It strikes me that much of Zen is structured to impart rank and recognition to its practicioners. This also strikes me as counter-intuitive. Another part of Zen is the dissolution of ego, and it hardly seems appropriate to "graduate" among the ranks of Zen in light of that.
These are, perhaps, strawman arguments. Of course the most vocal population of Zen will have hogged the spotlight, and they will be the first that I discover when looking for evidence. Yet these discoveries do suggest to me, along with other evidence I shalln't go into, that--if there is a "truth" to Zen, or an underlying practice that best represents it--such a thing is not clear, even to those who have practiced for decades.

Based on this "hunch", I think there may be an underlying philosophy that I like, coupled with a few physical aspects of human biology (ie: the benefits of relaxation). As I suggested above, I would like to know what those are and "extract" them from Zen.

...More about this in the future.

(Calligraphy by Kanjuro Shibata XX "Enso", from the collection of Jordan Langelier.)

Are people lying in the polls?

Is McCain getting under-represented in the polls? Sounds ridiculous.

But I just read a thread where at least a dozen women say that they have been called and have lied, saying they are voting for Obama. Because they are "afraid of retribution".

Seriously? Seriously?!?

This has me worried, though. Seriously. What if there really are a significant number of people lying in the polls? What if Obama really doesn't have the lead that he seems to have?

I'm afraid.

[thanks to Joshua for pointing this out]

Responses to Skepchick Comments

Sorry, regular readers, but the aforementioned thread got really side-tracked, and I decided to move questions directed at me to this post, so avoid the clutter on the SkepChick site.

  • SicPreFixNo Gravatar // Oct 25, 2008 at 3:34 pm
    Are you saying that two identical types of behaviour acquire two very different meanings/definitions because of a power imbalance?

Yes. I don't believe it's proper to extract the behaviour from the context.
  • I can't help but feeling you are (perhaps) operating with a definition of the term sexist that is at odds with the definition as held by most dictionaries and maybe most people.
Yes, that is the case. I get my definition from feminists.
  • Are you proposing a sort of distaff Black Pantherism?
Of course not. Ad absurdum.
  • I'd be more than happy to hear/see a clarification, but, um, please don't call me names, okay?
No worries, SPF, I respect you. ; )
  • 153Reply to this comment russellsugden // Oct 25, 2008 at 3:55 pm
    @JRice: I think it is possible for women to be sexist. See Arial Levy's "Raunch Culture"
Excellent point, but slightly misleading. According to feminists, women cannot be sexist, but they can internalize sexism. There's a subtle distinction. If you don't understand, I'll clarify, but I think it's intuitive enough.
  • Also I think your maths for equality is flawed, as the power held by women collectively is a function multiple variables. You have begun with the conclusion that the sexes are of equal "worth" (which you don't define), you have assumed the populations of both sexes to be identical. You don't discriminate between potential power and power-in-action and so on and so on.
Well, of course. ; ) I was just using it as an analogy: when something is imbalanced, you must work to correct it. It doesn't fix itself.
  • 155Reply to this comment PHNo Gravatar // Oct 25, 2008 at 4:17 pm
    However, I don't actually think it's generally considered 'irony' or 'trying to be funny' to call someone else's opinion f^%$tarded.

This comment was lame on multiple levels. First, you're trying to brush aside the argument by calling out one insensitive jibe, which is lame. Second, you've "censored" FUCK but not TARD, and the really insulting aspect of that term is that is belittles retardation, which is another area where discrimination is rampant... so you're clearly sensitive to the wrong aspects... though that's probably in line with the (blissfully ignorant) sexist comments you've been making. Third, you're complaining because I've attacked someone's opinion? Opinions are always fair game. That's the point. I didn't call him an asshole. No. ...Though that's what I'm calling you now. Asshole. (I'm joking again.) : ) Fourth, I can't think of a case where "fucktarded" has been used where it wasn't meant to be funny. That's kind of the point of the word.
  • 158Reply to this comment ImaginalDisc // Oct 25, 2008 at 5:41 pm
    Isn't it simpler to define sexism as treating one sex as inferior to the other?
You could define sexism as "fucking a hole in a tree", if you really wanted to. But that's not how it's used in the context of feminism. ...And isn't that where the definition matters?

Rationalizing sexism based on who has more power, or on historical inertia is groundless.

How convenient for you to say so. In my book, ignoring power and historical inertia is not just groundless, but unconscionable.

You do not need to be a sexist to "balance" out male sexism.

The point is not to "balance out sexism", the point is to balance out power and privilege.


There's been another couple of comments on the thread which I want to address. I'm done with that post... it's gotten too cumbersome. ; ) (Any skepchick reading this? Perhaps pagination (50 per page, even) would be in order?) ...And the only people who seem to still be listening are the three or four people whom I'm arguing with about definitions.
The most eloquent of them is by the above-mentioned "asshole", who deserves a little more credit than I was giving him above. : ) (That comment irked me, probably because it forced me to write an apology! Heh.) He now writes:
what you’re calling sexism seems to be a very black-and-white one, where the power balance in an individual encounter is entirely irrelevant, and all that matters is the average power of one group in society compared to another.That is, if a woman who herself happened to be born with every privilege imaginable discriminated against a man who’d had innumerable disadvantages on the basis of his gender, you’d class that as ‘gender prejudice’, not sexism, and seemingly(?) think it wasn’t as wrong as sexism.
Well, I don't think that's what I've been saying, but that's certainly how people have been taking it. This argument really is ad absurdum. ...In particular, this isn't a case you'll ever see in reality.

For a start, I don’t think that’s what most people would understand by the word ’sexism’.
He hasn't been reading this post, but--yeah. That's what I said above, and gets talked about in the comments. It's a feminist's definition of sexism. Not all self-proclaimed feminists define it this way, but I think it's a very useful definition, and I will attempt to explain why in the rest of my remarks...

Also, it seems an unnecessary linguistic distinction to make, since if all you really want to say is “Sexism by women is less important than sexism by men”, you could just say that, and people could agree with you, or not.
This definition of "sexism" is really "prejudice". Re-phrased, “Gender prejudice by women is less important than prejudice by men”. And, yeah, I might say that's true. But it's not my point. Read on...

There’s no need to invent a new term in order to justify making a binary distinction between types of sexism, especially if that risks people viewing it as some sweeping-under-the-carpet exercise.
Here we go: I think it's very useful to redefine the term. There is already a term for what you're calling sexism: prejudice. Pre-judging, based on a generalization. The word fits, exactly like that, everywhere you and the others use the word "sexism".

Redefining sexism to mean "prejudice plus power" makes a very, very important distinction. It brings power into the equation. It helps illustrate the difference between two actions that will have two very different results. I think if you care at all about feminism, this is vital to understand. For me, it really shed a whole new light on minority rights, and it has done so much for my understanding of their disadvantages. It's a tool to help people like me (men) to examine and understand their privilege, and to try and avoid taking actions that might otherwise come across as harmless. In short, it's a first step toward solving the problem.
PH (the commenter I've just been quoting) strikes me as the person who might eventually "get this". I think his intentions are in the right place... but I think he's got a conceptual leap to make before he's on the same page. I hope the issue comes up for him a couple of more times over the next year, and he finally flips that particular switch.
Then there's I'm A Hedge, who's a commenter I really like. He's joined in the fray, and has this to say:
It would not be just to [punish] someone who happened to share a particular set of physical characteristics with the perpetrator.

Perhaps the disagreement here is whether we consider a person as an individual or as a member of a group. Justice applies to individuals.
I've spoken about this before, and think it's an important point: many people (most?) define feminism in the light of individuals. I think this is where the "sex-positive" feminists come from, in fact: they think that feminism means enhancing their personal power, and that sexism is when someone knocks them down because of their gender.

This is all well and good... for the person. But, for me, sexism and feminism are really social issues. Branches of sociology, not psychology, if you will. The approaches that you take to bolster an individual are very, very different than the approaches you take to bolster a portion of a population. Both are topics I'm wildly interested in. I think the personal approach is... well... simple (not easy, but simple). If that's how you want to think of these things: every issue in it's own little box, totally independant of the broader social constructs... I would probably agree with you on many issues. ...with one exception: blaming the victim. On that issue, I cannot agree. And I think this is something that comes up a lot. But that's for another post entirely. : )

I think it's much more useful, relevant, and important to put down the viewfinder and focus on society. ...That's absolutely what feminism is about, and what sexism derives from.

That said, I think it's close-minded to say justice must apply to individuals, and I'd like to hear some... uhhh... justification for that claim. : ) Why wouldn't you hold cultures to the same standards as individuals?

Oh, and for this post:
...perhaps must critically, it requires judging one sex as more or less deserving than the other, and assigning people worth based on their sex. No matter how you attempt to weasel around it that is sexism.
To coin a phrase, "my interest in your opinion has been fully explored", particularly on this topic. I can't help but feel ImaginalDick is getting so defensive because he's so easily empathizing with threats to men's power.

No No, the OTHER Obama

So it turns out there's a port city in Japan named Obama. (Literally, "Small Beach".) Obama is known for their fine lacquered chopsticks, Yamato-dynasty temples, agate accessories, and fishing, as well as the Research Center for Marine Bioresources at the Fukui Prefectural University.

You'll occasionally hear me talk about wanting to take a long vacation to visit the temples of Asia.  This would include Myotsu-ji Temple (which has some fancy gardens to match), which is located in Obama.

The city of Obama has been very excited about Barrack Obama's rise to political power, and have sent him numerous gifts.

[yes we can]

The Power of Equality

I wrote the following on a Skepchick thread, and thought it could be more broadly applied to several situations:

Let x = the “worth” of a woman, and y be the “worth” of a man. We’ll both agree, these should be equal, right? That is x = y. Great.

Now let’s say a is the power that women hold in society. And let’s make b the power that men hold in society. We want equality here, too. So, ideally:

ax = by
…But wait, if x = y, then a = b. But, again, I think we can agree that is not the case: women do not have equal power in our society. Alright, let’s do something about it:
(a +i)x = (b + j)y
…Where i is “what we’re doing to empower women” and j is “what we’re doing to empower men”.

More often than not, what I see people arguing on the internet is that i should equal j (usually, in the form of 0), and that things will all work themselves out in the end.

That math doesn't work.

The problem here is that people want to define "fair" as "equal treatment".  This is a mistake. It's a mistake because of the equation above: there cannot be "fairness" when the equation is already imbalanced.  Fairness means "appropriate treatment".  And what is approrpriate is not always (perhaps not even often) equal.

I Went to School Today, Oh Boy

Well, my first day of "school" wasn't stellar.

My Rails training this morning was fair, but it didn't feel like anything unusual: this is what I've been doing for a while.  Par for the course.

I started German late (I had to vote early this year, so I was off doing that), and I was distracted when I finally got to it.  Still, I suppose it's good to ease into a refresher (with Michel Thomas). Among many other things, I learned lieden means "to suffer", and Liede means "unfortunately".  This was interesting, because "Das tut mir Lied" is a common phrase, which I learned many years ago, meaning (roughly) "I'm sorry".  I have always strongly prefered more literal translations, and I had assumed in this case it was "that makes me sad/sorry".  Now I've discovered it is more accurately "that makes me suffer". ...And that is the kind of linguistic shit that I find awesome.

Knots went miserably.  I scrounged around any little scrap for rope I could use, but all I found were fraying synthetic left-overs from the tarp I'd tied to the cooler on the roof last year, and they promptly fell apart.  Fortunately, the knot I was focusing on today (I have a list of 19 I want to learn before I'm done) was very simple, and I think I've got it.

So I took the "extra" time to read up on Wikipedia.  I landed on Knot Theory, however, where I spent most of my time.  Interesting stuff, and not quite as intimidating as I suspected it might be.  Still, I'm not doing this for the math, so that was more of a... survey. Still fun, still cool, still interesting trivia that relates to knots.

Then I decided to hit the rest of teh intartubes, and found (perhaps unsurprisingly) some useful videos, including the knot I was learning today (Shake Hands).

I expect tomorrow will go more smoothly.


I decided to sign up for another experiment today.

I can't afford college, as the last post implies. This sucks on multiple levels, but the most fundamental is that, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would almost certainly become a full-time student for life. Alas, I can't have that.

But I can have some of the experience.  I've decided to experiment with self-directed education.  College without the college.

I plan on spending three hours a week on each "subject", doing my damnedest to learn everything I can about it.  I'll pick five subjects at a time.

Last night, I wrote a list of all the skills I would like to learn before I die.  A bucket list for nerds, I suppose. Not all of them are really "collegian"... for example, I would like to study role-playing game design in earnest at some point.

To start with, I will be studying (I picked some relatively "easy" subjects to begin with):

  • German
  • Knot-tying
  • Zen
  • Drawing, and
  • Advanced Rails
I should say: I realize this isn't an original idea. I'm actually a little ashamed to be announcing this, because it's something I should have done long, long ago. Frankly, I couldn't tell you why I hadn't considered doing this before. I guess the idea just felt kind of silly. (South Harmon Institute of Technology, anyone?) On some levels, it is silly.  But I'm approaching it as an experiment: we shall see what kind of results it yields, and I will record my results. If it's something I find ineffective, I'll bail.

I begin tomorrow.


Tonight, I re-totaled the amount of debt I'm in.

"Bad Debt" totals 65% of my annual salary.  This is down from nearly 75% about a year ago (errr... using my current salary as a yardstick--otherwise it would be 115%), so we are working hard at getting out of this.  I'd like to say it's because we "never use credit cards anymore", but that's not true.  Just this month, we "had to" dip another $1100 in debt (mostly business expenses for my wife, but also a myriad of birthdays for which we got small gifts)... but it's short term (I have a paycheck coming in for that amount... whenever the government gets around to it).  We're just so far down because I'm being very aggressive about paying down the low balances when we have extra cash.  ...And I'm doing a lot of extra work to make that possible.  We are also currently living "within our means"... though that's hypocritical to say, with that much debt.

We also owe 20% of my salary for our car.  According to Blue Book, it's currently worth 65% of what we owe on it.  Sigh.

As for our house, we're also "deep in the hole".  I think it's worth 75% of what we owe on it.  And what we owe is 2.4 years of my salary.

So, in summary: eesh.  Things are improving, but... man, we were so far in the shitter to begin with, I'm still seriously worried.

(Sorry for the fuzzy-math.  I prefer using actual dollar values, but my wife has explicitly asked that I don't.)