Archive for March, 2011

Looky Also

March 31, 2011 - 4:59 pm Comments Off

If you’re a blogorado attendee, you’re probably already aware that Farmgirl recently suffered an unpleasant kinetic action with an elk. Adding insult to injury, the vehicle was new enough to her that she didn’t even have the title yet. Since the car is, ah, less than pristine now, Farmgirl is in the position of needing to get at least some money out of the thing, even if it’s just selling it as scrap, so Jim had the bright idea that we kick in and turn it into the official Blogorado War Wagon. (Alternate take here.)

In the words of Dr. Venkman, I love this plan! I’m happy to be a part of it!

If you’ve got a few bucks to spare, I can think of worse places to waste it, and if the project goes off, there will be pictures of me with a colander strapped to my face at this year’s party. The leather banana hammock is negotiable. Up to and including “If there’s enough left over for a pintle mount, I might not be photographed in the banana hammock” type negotiations. Go help out and make this party awesome.

Looky!

March 31, 2011 - 4:39 pm Comments Off

Ok, so we’re late to the party announcing this, but for anybody who hasn’t seen it already, Dennis over at Dragon Leatherworks has gone and got his website all fancimafied. Links in old posts are hopefully all updated, now go and order a holster.

Damn Lazy Kids

March 30, 2011 - 4:11 pm Comments Off

There’s just no work ethic anymore, I tell you. The last couple days we’ve been getting calls that show up as Out of Area on the caller ID. The last couple happened at inopportune times to find out who was engaged in annoying us at the time*, but today’s happened with nothing else going on, so what the hell, right? So I answer.

“Hello?”
“{clicking noise followed by extended silence. More than the usual extended silence from the robo-router}”
“Ok, I’ll just sit here till you get bored, that’ll be fun.”
“Hello, I’m calling from some organization or other to gather opinions from New Mexico voters, and would like to know if you would participate in our survey?”
“And who’s funding this survey?”
“I’m sorry, sir. They don’t tell me that in order to prevent bias.”
“Oh, don’t worry. It’s still biased. So which way will you be pushing my answers so I-”
“*click*”

Lazy little shit.

*If your call comes in right after the raid pulled the boss, you get the answering machine if you’re lucky, the fax machine if I have a spare GCD.

That Is Not A Skill

March 30, 2011 - 1:53 pm Comments Off

So the actual thing that inspired this post isn’t worth talking about*, but it’s a thing that gets Bitey the Pet Peeve dancing at the end of her chain, so why not.

Being able to predict how someone will react to something you said is not a skill. That’s basic pattern recognition. It’s not high-order meta-manipulation, it’s grasping the fact that words you say and the concepts they express will get some kind of consistent reaction out of people. This is something normal humans learn and internalize around the age of two, when they’re going through differentiation of self and other and realize that other people have their own thoughts and feelings that they can somehow affect. If I smile and say I love you, Mommy smiles and hugs me. If I gleefully yell “Fuck!” in front of Grandma, Mommy gets angry. If I cry, Mommy is concerned. Bragging about having mastered this as a grown adult is roughly akin to lording your toilet training over others as evidence of your superiority.

If you say something designed and intended to provoke, or something you can easily see will be read as being offensive because it is, and someone else responds angrily, this is as unexciting as something falling off a desk after being pushed over its edge. Yes, you did that, congratulations, you all-powerful master of gravity.

If you sincerely hold an opinion that some consider inherently offensive, then fine, feel free to express it and defend it, but fucking own it already. Make people angry with my blessing. I’ve done so in the past and I will again, always because I considered the position I was attacking as unworthy of respect, generally for reasons I elaborate at length. Just don’t fuck around playing games pretending the actual point is… making people angry about something… because that somehow proves something about them that isn’t “normal” or proves something about you that isn’t “has advanced beyond infancy”. If you really hold that opinion, it’s a chickenshit distraction tactic. If you don’t, you’re playing games expressly designed to waste everyone’s time. Doing so is called “trolling”, and own that, too- and don’t get offended yourself when someone throws rocks under your bridge.

People can make perfectly bland and unemotional assertions that are made of pure bullshit. People can make heated arguments that contain detailed logic and reason. Emotion can make you irrational, but it can also drive you to articulate why something bothers you or is just generally wrong. Declaring a victory condition met because someone got angry isn’t evidence that you, the more rational being, can cease to bother with their primitive gibberings, it’s evidence that you’re both lazy and childish.

*Scott Adams says some demonstrably stupid/offensive shit, gets called on it, defends self by simultaneously playing the “you just didn’t understand what I wrote”, “you’re emotional and therefore wrong”, “I’m a humorist, you shouldn’t take anything I say seriously”, and “I’m sorry you were offended, you morons, why won’t you accept my apology?” cards. Film at eleven, he’s becoming a Mad Lib.

Trick Question

March 29, 2011 - 5:32 pm Comments Off

I didn’t watch as much of the Presidential debates last election as I perhaps should have if I’m going to comment on politics at all ever- though I did read a lot of breakdowns- so I’m unaware if I’m just talking out my ass here.

There are a lot of questions that seem to be standard for candidates for the Big Chair in the Big Cornerless Room, and most of them are basically bullshit in-group inclusion or exclusion questions that may have little real bearing on what a President can actually do. Nobody’s got a window into what kinds of things the President is actually going to be directly handling over the next four years, and questions like “If a big natural disaster strikes the US, are you going to frown thoughtfully at it from what distance, and why?” lack swaying power.

However, one of the things we can absolutely reliably predict about Presidents is that they’ll be Commander In Chief of the armed forces, and at some point during their term in office either they will succumb to the temptation to play with the world’s biggest, neatest set of army men, or the world in general will force or strongly compel their use.

For this reason, I think this question should be standard, both for debates and for media outlets: “What kind of military conflicts do you think can be resolved well with American air power primarily or exclusively?”

What’s happened pretty much every time we’ve either gotten involved in or continued a war or “kinetic military action” on this assumption is that we’ve either comprehensively wrecked a region that was already doing a good job wrecking on its own and left things worse for the innocents involved than it had been before (Somalia, former Yugoslavia), or we’ve gotten embarrassingly shellacked by forces willing to put in more serious commitment at throat-slitting distance (Vietnam). The only kinda-sorta exception I can really think of is the Berlin airlift, and we weren’t dropping bombs that time.

Commentary on current events can be left as an exercise for the reader.

Uninspired Blogging, Naughty Bits Edition

March 28, 2011 - 6:54 pm Comments Off

QP and Observations of a Nerd discuss the global penis size map. QP makes the entirely accurate observation that what it may effectively be is a global map of how much men wrap their masculinity up in their dicks worldwide (ON confirms much of the data is self-reported), where the Observations of a Nerd post goes into much more detailed analysis of what kind of information is actually here- i.e. not much of value, but the breakdown is entertaining, especially the overall weakness with which any real science has been done on the subject- or member- at hand.

One of the commenters wonders aloud why female bloggers seem so much more willing to discuss penises in particular and sex in general when men are supposed to be the gender thinking most about sex. There are a couple of reasons.

1. We don’t have penises ourselves. It’s a curiosity factor thing. We have no body parts that behave remotely comparably, so the thing seems comical and uncanny at the same time. The obsession men have with breasts and playing with them is legendary, but the only thing that stops women from being similarly obsessive and handsy with penises is the idea that once we wake it up, we’re obligated to appease it. (And indeed in relationships with a healthier sexual dynamic… that barrier goes away.)

2. None of our ego and sense of self is bound up in it, so it’s easy to talk about. For us, even our own genitals are not really anything to brag about or be ashamed of; we’re hung up on our overall body image instead. Many women who may have crippling insecurities about the state of their thighs and breasts are more comfortable with the frankness of sex. Given that the broadest cultural trope is that a woman doesn’t have to do anything in bed other than be there and be willing to wildly thrill men, a woman who doesn’t think much of her body but is even moderately sexually skilled can feel pretty good about that, and thus more willing to talk about it in general.

3. Most of us think about sex just as often as maybe most men do, but we won’t be called creepy for talking about it. Slutty/whorish maybe, but in today’s culture (very broadly speaking, this does NOT APPLY everywhere) it’s easier to defend yourself psychologically and socially from charges of sluttiness than charges of creepiness. We’re also not under as much cultural expectation to think about sex in particular scripted ways. It’s much easier to talk about when you’re neither expected to fit your talk into a frame, nor are as many people inclined to frame it for you.

Yes, That Is My Position In A Nutshell

March 26, 2011 - 1:49 pm Comments Off

Minus a lot of extra words and tangents to specifically address certain points and arguments, and from a point of view that is not mine, that is. Perlhaqr, from the comments to the last on the onrunning exchange between Peter and I:

There is (as with most things) more than one thread involved in “masculinity”. Re-reading the first post here (the response to Peter and North), I grasp (I think) the objection feminists have to a patriarchy that considers them chattel. I would object to a matriarchy that treated me as chattel too. I think I can see “elimination of the patriarchy” as a laudable eventual goal. (But I’m a radical individualist anarchist, so, I would tend to think so. *shrug*) There is likely some question to be worked out about whether that’s something we can do now, since there will be some positive things a patriarchy might do better than a truly individualist society (war, probably), and in the world we live in we may need to continue to be able to do those things efficiently.

It’s a lot like the observation I had when reading Peter’s posts about Africa, that much like some Native tribal societies here in America, where a subsistence level existence required the full cooperation of the tribe. One person being an individualist might not lead to just the death of that person, but the death of the entire tribe. Of course this leads to taboos about individualist behaviour. Thus, in a world in which we need to wage violent war, patriarchal attitudes and structures may be of survival benefit in the short term.

I think the problem that North was trying to touch on was that the feminists who have sought to reform masculinity didn’t really understand what they were looking at, and threw the baby out with the bathwater. That there was (perhaps) a feeling of “Men smoke cigars and eat steak and swear and smell funny after they’ve been under the car for a couple hours and batter wives and rape and generally keep women in a subservient position, so if we get them to stop smoking cigars, eating steak, etc, we’ll get rid of the other things we dislike too.”

And what’s really needed is a renaissance of the medieval Knightly Virtues, only, with a uniquely 21st century bent of applying them to everyone and not indulging in the peasant girl rape and peasant slaughter that generally gets left out of the storybooks. Yes, from the historical lens we can see that those guys were generally a bunch of fucking bastards, but there are good parts of their philosophy which can be cherrypicked, basically. Defence of the innocent and the weak. Personal honor dependent on being honest, and brave, and true, and loyal. Scholarship. Stoicism. And of course, being the 21st century, we can recognize that there’s no reason not to instill some humans with these traits, simply because they have ovaries and breasts.

So, while I concur with the premise that there’s nothing inherently related to testes that calls for steak and cigars and whiskey, there’s nothing really wrong with those things either, and leaving them while excising the “ownership of women” mindset is a more valuable goal.

Attention to Detail

March 25, 2011 - 12:58 pm Comments Off

You’d be hard pressed to be on the internet for more than five minutes without running into a H.P. Lovecraft trope or meme. From Hello Cthulhu to the complete works of the man himself, you can’t throw a digital rock without it bouncing off an eldritch horror. Naturally, in the delightfully capitalistic world, this leads to merchandising.

Reminded recently here and more directly of the HPLHS here, I realized I was woefully light on H.P. Fanboi brand equipment and product, and went to remedy the situation. An apparently non-form-generated thank you email arrived when I placed my order, which struck me as a nice touch and then promptly was dismissed as I went about my business. Then the package showed up.

Every other shop on the internet is perfectly content to just set the printer to “default and cheap as possible” when printing invoices/receipts. Not so the good folks at the HPLHS. Check this bad boy out:
Ia! Ia! Accounting fthagn!
You can click to summon the full size.

I know this is geeking out over something damn trivial, but the fact that they went to the effort to even make their invoice a period-appropriate love note to Lovecraft and his fans is just flat awesome. I’m tempted to ask if any of the typewriter afficionados in our audience can tell me if the font is period-correct, but honestly who cares? It’s already several orders of magnitude cooler than it needed to be.

Well done, H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Damn well done indeed!

Rebutting Rebutters and the Rebutters Who Rebut Them

March 24, 2011 - 12:58 pm Comments Off

Peter’s replies to my reply are here, here, and here. I will warn anyone just joining us and anyone here on an archive trawl that this post won’t make a great deal of sense without that background.

Since addressing him bit by bit would be an exceedingly cumbersome format given the length and content, I’m going to try and boil it down to what I think the salient points that still need to be made are, or that I should have made originally. I was never very happy with the first post I wrote and am glad for the opportunity to refine and clarify my position.

The first thing I want to reiterate and clarify is that this issue is as much about perception as it is anything else. My original post was prompted by Peter wondering aloud why feminists have a problem with the traditional “real man” model of masculinity, and it was intended as a direct answer to that; it’s not “what’s wrong with traditional masculinity” so much as it was “this is what the “real man” thing can look like from outside, and they have some legitimate issues with it”. As I’ve noted before, men and women take a lot of their own intrasex experience for granted without realizing that the opposite sex isn’t nearly in on the same level of communication, or making the same assumptions, they are. There’s also a certain amount of intrasex ignorance; men and women largely do not experience the same kinds of negative behavior coming from their own sex that the opposite sex will. It’s usually relatively easy to ignore the worst of your own gender, while the opposite’s worst is keenly felt, because it’s directed at you and comes seemingly out of nowhere.

A very common response I’ve seen from men is that their role models, who gave them the idea of what it means to be a man, would never condone or even tolerate the kinds of abuse I’m talking about as stemming from the traditional gestalt idea of masculinity. That’s because they were role models; women don’t experience masculinity as just the role models of good men, but every man, especially those styling themselves “real men” and those that believe them and take those men as their own role models. To us, the Sumdood who kills his girlfriend because he suspected she’d been unfaithful- and the other dudes who inevitably make some kind of “yeah he was wrong to kill her, but she should never have…” half-justification of how he was perfectly understandable in enforcing his ownership of her are just as much “this is what manhood means” as our (hopefully) much-admired fathers, brothers, husbands, and friends who really DO embody the traditional ideal of a gentleman.

The second major point I want to make stems from a combination of Peter’s first and second reply. The explanation and clarification of African culture alone is very interesting, and he does make a solid point in both cultures: abuse of women is much, much more common in cultures where the social order has begun to break down, and they have far more power when it’s stable, although he acknowledges that in such cultures, women really are the property of men just as men are property of the tribe, and individualism is a very Western concept.

To which I’d reply: power you only have when your counterpart is content to humor you because things are going well is not power. It’s influence, to be sure, but when things break down the second someone decides he doesn’t care what the biddy down the bush thinks, one sex is getting the short and extremely pointy end of the stick, and the other is not. Things may be going badly for him, but one unfortunate human universal near-constant behavior is that in times of distress, people usually spread their unhappiness with a big shovel- to whoever is immediately down from them in status.

Peter makes the point overall in part two that a good deal of strife between the sexes can be traced to the breakdown of the original social order, and up to a point I agree: things are worse for women when things have broken down. My other points are thus:

1) I realize this is not at ALL what he meant, but this line of argument can be read as a threat: “Stay in your role and be happy there, at least you’re not being beaten and raped, because that’s what we’ll do if you don’t.” Again, I’m giving the feminist perspective on traditional manhood here- and this isn’t just me playing semantic games, this is EXACTLY the kinds of strain of comment that come out in news reports about rape and abuse of women*. There’s nearly always an analysis of what she did wrong, to deserve that kind of treatment.

2) It’s pretty easy to say the old order was working fine if you’re a member of the class that has all the real social power. “I’m happy, you all seem happy enough, what’s wrong with that?” The term for this is “privilege”.

3) Even when people are raised within a very traditional gender role structure and everyone has a clear idea of what’s expected from their gender, this does not actually protect women. It gives the illusion that everything is working fine that allows people to comfortably downplay and minimize evidence to the contrary. I originally linked to this article about clergy response to domestic violence to highlight the attitudes within traditional masculinity that lead to reinforcing an attitude of ownership and control of women, but read the whole thing, and if you have time, read the author’s archives in general. Dr. Tracy is an evangelical Christian studying and writing about abuse within evangelical churches- which I think we can all agree represent a traditional and strongly defined set of gender roles, as a rule- and two of the things he’s found are very pertinent to my point here: 1) Rates of physical and sexual abuse within evangelical churches are roughly the same as those among the unchurched, around 20-30%, and 2) The clergy within these churches believe it’s actually much lower. Women are getting as beaten and raped at the same rate as the rest of general (stable) society, but out of every good intention and faith in their own flock, the abuse is being minimized and dismissed.

Here’s another article by the same author, this time analyzing patriarchy and domestic violence within churches. It is specifically a response to charges by feminists patriarchy itself leads directly and inevitably to domestic violence, and aside from being a civil argument on the subject, contains a lot of analysis of men who batter: conservative Protestant men with traditional gender views who attend church regularly (and are presumably absorbing the full message) are among the least likely to beat their wives, but conservative Protestant men with traditional gender views who attend irregularly are the *most* likely to. Dr. Tracy theorizes that they are using their limited exposure primarily as a way to justify and reinforce their right to dominate their wives and children, and I would agree.

And that, really, is my point in a particularly specific nutshell: You can’t take traditional masculinity as only the good, the role models, the ideals. Unhealthy men always exist, and they will highlight and double-underline the ideas that involve authority over, and sexual control of, women. Those are legitimate issues, and the ones that feminists are concerned about, and they don’t go away when everyone is being good and staying in their place within the order.

All of that said, I actually do agree with a lot of what Peter said. The strong, gentlemanly role models of masculinity are good, and needed, and Daddy Bear encapsulated quite nicely what that should be, and gladdeningly often is, though still isn’t true quite often enough. We need to socialize children with a clear idea of virtue, and responsibility, and what it means to be a member of their gender, and of their community and larger society as a whole, and the modern fuzziness of the passage into adulthood and set of expectations is generally lacking.

If anything my complaint is that there isn’t anything NEAR approaching as clear and strong and idea and culture for womanhood as there is for manhood, and tends to be just as based on contrast- in order to be feminine, I must not be masculine- as Peter points out the current “being girly is the worst thing in the world” probably stems from. That’s a pretty huge problem when so many virtues that are generally virtues get defined as manly- which is how we wind up with girls and women that think being visibly competent and decisive is unfeminine and therefore to be avoided. When this is a set of ideals given from mothers to daughters as well as from fathers to sons, we won’t have eliminated abuse- that will never happen- but we’ll still be in a healthier place than we are now.

And we’ll still have metrosexuals. Who can change a tire, one hopes.

*Yes, I realize men get raped and abused too, but that’s not the subject of this post. Sadly the kinds of comment stories about rape and abuse of men draw, when they are reported at all, are much much worse. If you think people will come down on you as a woman for being victimized in a short skirt, you should see what happens when you’re a man and you get victimized at all by anyone other than another man that is much bigger and stronger than you.

I Doubt It

March 23, 2011 - 4:46 pm Comments Off

Study Says Religion May Become Extinct In Nine Nations

The upshot of this is the researchers responsible built a complex mathematical model based on the idea of “social utility” in religion, surveyed nine secular democracies in which religiosity is on the decline, and concluded that, based on rate of decline and what the same model shows in other factors, that religion is eventually going to go extinct in these places. As to the model, I’ll let one of the researchers speak for himself:

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona.

“It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility.

“For example in languages, there can be greater utility or status in speaking Spanish instead of [the dying language] Quechuan in Peru, and similarly there’s some kind of status or utility in being a member of a religion or not.”

Dr Wiener continued: “In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.”

The use of the linguistic comparison isn’t a coincidence; it was for studying languages that the model was originally conceived, and for that purpose it seems to work very well.

I think up to a point the researchers and right and religious affiliation will continue to decline in these places- but that they are absolutely not going to go extinct. What’s going to happen is that people who are religious for relatively shallow reasons are going to decline, and what’s left is going to be a relatively hard core of the faithful. Not hard core as in “extremist”, but as in having put a lot of intellectual effort into their belief structure; I honestly believe a lot of “will actually blow you up for your faith” radicals aren’t really all that faithful, because they’ve used their beliefs essentially as a way to justify and gratify their need for absolutism or glory or for the world to fundamentally agree with them in a way that can’t be argued with. Wanting to have God on your side as you lash out at authority or something else you want to lash out at isn’t really quite the same thing.

It’s relatively easy for nonbelievers to believe that faith really is just like language or many other social ingroup/outgroup dynamics because, for perhaps a majority even, it really is just that shallow. People tend to be raised in a particular religion, and whether they retain it or not as they reach adulthood and lose childhood credulity depends on a host of reasons; they may retain it because they seriously examine the religion’s structure and tenets and incorporate it into a fully adult and robust belief system, or they may because it keeps them in a good social group, or because rebelling brings harsh social punishments, or because of sheer inertia, or because it’s filling some need or another that isn’t actually “compliance with God’s will”. These are the people losing their religion in the studied countries- they really do respond like speakers of a language do, out of pure social utility.

Given that in America especially religiosity is still much more socially dominant than atheism or agnosticism, most American atheists have the experience of having been raised within a religion, reaching adulthood, and then critically examining the belief structure they’d acquired/been given, and rejecting it, with this being a negative social experience on the whole*. This gives them a self-image of the only critical thinkers in a sea of people not wanting to put the effort into really thinking about their own beliefs or too cowardly to rock the boat, but it’s not terribly reflective of reality as it so much as their odds of encountering the lazy believer versus the other kind. In my experience such people are also the most likely to re-convert- if they themselves haven’t put that much effort into forming their new worldview, a believer who really HAS can rock their world. Also in my experience, both flavors of active thinkers- believers and atheists- tend to sort by temperament rather than by the actual convincingness of either point of view, though of course I would think that.

I suspect the researchers involved are making the standard assumption of the not-particularly-challenged nonbeliever, which is that social utility is the only explanation for religiosity and it will indeed die out as their model predicts. I think that they are wrong on this, and that slice of the faithful population for which religion is filling a powerful intellectual and philosophical need will not only remain, but be strengthened by the loss of their more feckless coreligionists.

In any event, we will see.

*Not your author so much. Unitarians make a point of letting children come to their own conclusions. The results tend to be interestingly mixed. As for the social experience, it’s given me some bumps but none worse than those experienced by the serious believer- BUT I was emphatically not raised in one of those areas of the US where there is extreme social pressure to be a certain flavor of Christian, which absolutely do exist.