Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Women and the Movie Business

A fabulous round-up of 2008 news about women in the movie business at Women and Hollywood, one of my newest favorite blogs. Excerpt:

Women are a market…but we need to be vigilant
We proved it with three of the top 15 grossers of the year: Sex & the City ($152 million domestic), Mamma Mia ($143 million domestic) and Twilight ($168 million domestic and still going). My hope for 2009 is that we keep making movies for women (including those of us over 25) and not freak out if they don’t have a stupendous opening weekend. Look at Mamma Mia. Didn’t open that big but had legs.

But, my worry is that there is not enough product in the pipeline and that if we don’t keep building on the momentum we will regress back to the age old perception that successful women’s film are just flukes. I would be so happy to never hear again: “that was just a fluke.” It’s just a cop out.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Stuff I liked

Cat-shaped earrings, courtesy of Elms in the Yard.

Kelley Eskridge shares a photo of the Tower of David, in Jerusalem, with images of books projected onto it.

Nicola Griffith writes about an antikythera (which is just a cool word, anyway), an ancient computer built by Archimedes.

We're just an expression

Gene Expression reports a study finding that facial expressions of emotions are innate, not learned. (pdf)

The study of the spontaneous expressions of blind individuals offers a unique opportunity to understand basic processes concerning the emergence and source of facial expressions of emotion. In this study, the authors compared the expressions of congenitally and noncongenitally blind athletes in the 2004 Paralympic Games with each other and with those produced by sighted athletes in the 2004 Olympic Games. The authors also examined how expressions change from 1 context to another. There were no differences between congenitally blind, noncongenitally blind, and sighted athletes, either on the level of individual facial actions or in facial emotion configurations. Blind athletes did produce more overall facial activity, but these were isolated to head and eye movements. The blind athletes' expressions differentiated whether they had won or lost a medal match at 3 different points in time, and there were no cultural differences in expression. These findings provide compelling evidence that the production of spontaneous facial expressions of emotion is not dependent on observational learning but simultaneously demonstrates a learned component to the social management of expressions, even among blind individuals.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Identity and expression

I've been pondering identity and expression over the last year. Here are some notes I jotted down this morning.

Identity-does it exist without expression? How can you tell who you are without expressing it?

I repress expression of my identity when I am objectified. Objectifying others is a human thing, we all do it. Objectifying happens when broadcast is mistaken for aimed, when expression is mistaken for communication.

Art is expression. Is all expression communication? Communication of what?

I don't live in a forest; how can I ever go unheard? When I do something just for myself, as an expression of my feelings, to literally act out what I am thinking and feeling, does that have to be received as aimed communication merely because I broadcast it and there are individuals who have the ability to receive it?

I often choose to repress myself because people frequently react as if I intended a specific communication to them when I was just being myself in the world. I don't like that particularization of my interaction with the universe, but the only control I have over it is to repress my expressions. An unintended consequence of that repression is losing my sense of identity, losing track of who I am.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Word for the year 2009

In 2008 my word was Discover. What I discovered was largely unpleasant, although self-knowledge is always valuable: I discovered that I could hold onto most of my life even through an injury that resulted in temporary disability. I'm not yet fully healed, and it's easy to re-injure myself when I try to do more than I'm currently capable of.

I've had a word rolling around in my dreams and my waking thoughts, so I'm picking it for 2009. The word is strength. I am a strong person in many ways, and it's time to incorporate that into the identity I hold for myself instead of thinking of myself as weak.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

40-year weather

We've had snow.

Yeah, I know you think we're wimps. But most people live here *because* we don't have either extreme: we don't get humidity with heat, and we don't get snow. Maybe some sprinkles of flakes that are gone by the next morning, but not 3 to 8 inches of snow onto frozen ground, followed by freezing rain, followed by another 3 to 8 inches of snow, all within a week. No time to dig out in between. Most people don't have chains or snow shovels; some people don't even have boots and warm coats. We just don't need them!

Until this happens.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The double-whammy

I'm an introvert.

I haven't always known this about myself, and for an introvert I have a pretty high social desire (that is, I like a lot more social time with people I know than your average introvert), but if you think about the introvert/extrovert dichotomy as a measure of how you gain and spend energy, I'm definitely an introvert. Introverts spend energy to be social and recharge when they're alone; extroverts get charged up by spending time with others and use it up if they're alone.

I've learned through years of observation and practice that I'm good for about 90 minutes of socializing in groups of more than four people, especially if those groups are more than a quarter new people (new to me, that is). Just me and a friend or two, I can go for hours, but I need to take a break after an hour and a half, two hours tops (and that last half hour I won't be at my best) in larger groups. I'm having fun the whole time, but I'll crash suddenly: exhaustion, crankiness, self-doubt. Time to go home, in other words. Best to time the homegoing to *before* I crash: it's hard to go home while I'm still having fun, but if I wait until the fun stops, that can color my memory of the entire time.

This morning I suddenly realized this is why family gatherings were so hard on me when I was a child: they went on for hours. Thanksgiving in my family started at 10:00 am. We'd all gather at the home of my nana or whichever aunt was holding it, or my home if Mom was in charge that year and spend the day together: chatting and playing cards or basketball, working on the food and setting the table, snacking through the day from the table of hors d'ouvres that would be refreshed or replaced with new dishes in waves during the day. Formal dinner at 3:30 or 4 pm in the fancy clothes we'd been wearing all day (hard to play in taffeta ruffles, white tights, and black patent Mary Janes), clean up, more chat, dessert around the fireplace. After a long evening extending the holiday, get home so late it was straight to bed for everybody.

It was torture.

All those hours of making conversation with my relatives exhausted me. Sitting alone in a corner reading? Not allowed: come help in the kitchen, talk to an uncle, or play a game with a cousin. Going for a walk alone to recharge? No way. It's no wonder I used to melt down completely, burst into tears and run from the room. Now I know how to take care of myself, but then I didn't know and it wouldn't have been permitted anyway.

Snow day

Everyone in the house but me is still asleep. The furnace is on, keeping the house at a comfortable 68 degrees F.

I have been outside for the first time since Thursday, to sweep the front steps. I had middling success: the porch and top 4 steps are at least half cleared, with the snow-ice-snow sandwich brushed off of one side (only crumbs remaining) and the other side at least some broomed. The bottom few steps I can't get through yet, the crust is thicker and the snow is heavier.

I stepped down onto the driveway and sunk to my knee before hitting ground-in fact I bounced back up on the other foot before hitting ground, giggling because that was too deep!

It's the first day of Hannukah, so we lit candles last night, sang holiday songs, and I gave gifts to Twoson and my husband.

It's snowing still.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pearls for the Girls

At Astronomy Picture of the Day, a beautiful picture of the positions of the sun through the year forming the analemma. It looks like a string of pearls decorating the sky, which makes the foreground shot of the caryatids at the Temple of the Maidens appropriate.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Evil Jews!

An application to join the Evil League of Evil, in the tone of Dr. Horrible.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Expanding on a concept

While searching for a cite to a great Hanukkah story I found that it had been linked to a metaquotes community. In that thread the following humorous ideas showed up:

Christianity is a fanfic of Judaism. 'AU whatif The prophet appears and no one likes him and teh romans kill him??/ Postseries,OC, may have death scenes PLZREVIEW!" (per the kiwi who flew)

Christianity is the cheap Sims expansion pack of Judaism. (also the kiwi who flew)

Christianity is open source Judaism. (dogz)

I larfed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What you see is what you get

Jay Lake writes about a disturbing incident in his work place:

Late last week I won a major quality award at work. This happened while I was on vacation in San Francisco, and it’s a pretty big deal. One of my co-workers apparently disagreed with my fitness for the award, because this past Monday during the executive staff meeting, somebody slipped into the business unit SVP’s office (our CEO, basically) and left a folded copy of my vasectomy post [ | LiveJournal ] on his chair. My co-worker very helpfully highlighted my blog address (which is my name) in green marker at the top and bottom of each page, in case he missed the point. The printout was unsigned, the leaving in the big boss’s office done in secret.

It turned out pretty well. Jay works for honorable people. He goes on to say:

As for everyone else who reads this blog, and the rest of my work, know this: I do not compromise. You get the real, raw, honest me. I can do no more, and I owe every one of you no less.

You don't get the real me here. You get a carefully crafted incomplete persona. I don't share everything, and it's by no means raw--I try to edit my writing and I'm not even a professional writer. I try to preserve some anonymity for people I write about who haven't given permission--for example, I call my children Oneson and Twoson, and surprise! those aren't the names on their birth certificates. I can't even claim honesty, because I leave things out, and I believe that you can be dishonest by only telling part of the truth. But maybe I'm putting too fine a point on it.

What you get here is part of the real me, not something I'm making up as I go; the posts are genuine expressions of real reactions I'm having, and when I share something with you, all the parts that appear on this blog are real and true as far as I can determine.

I'm not in control of how you read it, though. You might be hearing my voices in a tone completely unrelated to the one I'm typing this in. You might be perceiving me through a filter that is inaccurate, because I seem kinda like Cousin Joe or Aunt Louise so maybe I'm like them in other ways...except I'm not, which you'd realize if you had more information about or experience of me.

So what you see is what you get. I put considerable effort into showing you some of the things I think about, and that's all. Take from it what you will, that part is your responsibility.

A parent tells it like it is

In the 12 Rude Days of Christmas Silflay Hraka (and offspring) tell a story of a family Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Achieving your goal

One of my most important goals is to be happy; a friend told me recently that I work very hard at it, and I often succeed. It's not my only goal, and so it's not the only measure I use to evaluate my choices, but it's heavily weighted in my analyses.

Making your goals explicit at the minimum to yourself, if not to others, is important, because if you don't know exactly what your goal is, you don't have a hope of evaluating your decision points so you move toward that goal. In Meditations on Violence Rory Miller writes about a hard-to-define goal some martial artists have, and analyzes how well martial arts works to achieve various definitions of spiritual growth:

If it is a depth of understanding of the human condition, you will grow more by living and serving and talking to people than you will ever learn in a class of any kind. If it is understanding of yourself, you will learn the most by challenging your fears and dislikes, and few people stick with a class that they fear and dislike. If it is a happy feeling that all is right with the world and there is a plan and everything is wonderful and can get it from heroin cheaper and faster. If it is something great and magical that will open up your psychic powers, keep playing video games.

It's easy to rationalize our reasons for something we want to do; human beings are pretty good at coming up with believable, admirable justifications to explain doing something when the real reason doesn't accord with their public persona. Maybe you want to beat people up and a martial arts class lets you do that twice a week; maybe you want to imagine yourself as popularly desired and a dance class lets you fantasize that you are. But you can easily choose the wrong method/venue/approach if you are being dishonest with yourself about your goal: having a baby won't make you feel loved, having an affair won't make your spouse desire you again, and changing your hairstyle and makeup won't make you happy if you just lost your job.

Know your goal and match your pursuit of it to achieving it.

Not jaded enough

Yesterday on BoingBoing Clay Shirkey writes:

It takes a truly jaded mind to understand that people who disagree with you have to be engaged, not just emoted at.

Tru dat. Those of us on different sides of a political or philosophical question (and there are usually more than just two sides) can trade emotional outbursts till the cows come home without making a difference to anything but our blood pressures (and our opinions of each other). You can't shout or shame me out of my opinion and I can't ridicule you out of yours.

But you might have information that would change my decision, or I might have a perspective you haven't considered, and if we can each avoid shutting the other person down with defensiveness we might manage to communicate the genuinely substantive differences between us. It's worth the effort.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bringing freedom, even temporarily

Politics, fair warning:

RJ Lippincott makes a point about President Bush's visit to Iraq. Apparently a protester threw two shoes at him.

Today in Iraq an individual stood up and committed a dramatic act of protest.

The protester is still alive. He was not killed, he was not tortured, he was not imprisoned, and as I write these words he is a free man.

Odds are pretty good that at the moment he was taking off his shoes, the protester knew for certain that when all was said and done, he would neither be killed, nor tortured, nor imprisoned.

This is the measure of our success in Iraq. That someone felt free to speak out against the leader of a powerful nation without fear of immediate (and possibly final) retribution. The Iraqis are still working the bugs out, and probably will be for years to come. They'll ask us to leave soon, and maybe have some setbacks. But even if only for a short while, they got to practice freedom instead of keeping your head down, instead of going along to get along, instead of fearing to take initiative because if the big boss didn't like what you did, you'd be killed (and possibly all your family along with you). Instead of waiting for orders or to be told what to think, somebody thought for himself and acted on it.

This will be President Bush's legacy. And it's a good legacy.

Planning for the weather

When I woke up this morning, it was 40 degrees F and raining. Two hours later it had dropped to 31 and snow was falling. The driveway is covered in ice; likely there's a layer of ice under the snow everywear, because it's been raining for a couple of days. Planning for the weather would have been a good idea.

I didn't do it a very good job of it, though. Last week I intentionally bought only a little food, planning to run out some pantry stuff that was nearing the end of its useful life. I usually shop on Sundays. I did run out yesterday afternoon and pick up a gallon of milk, a dozen and a half eggs, and a 2-lb block of cheese, along with a couple of packets of hot dogs and buns; we still have some pantry stuff, including a variety of dried beans and a sack of potatoes I ended up not needing for Thanksgiving.

I'm soaking some black-eyed peas to cook tomorrow, and have a pot of lentil-vegetable soup on the stove now. For dinner I'll make scalloped potatoes--I found this terrific, easy recipe in the Joy of Cooking. You make 2 cups of white sauce, peel and slice the potatoes, and layer the two in a buttered baking dish. Bake at 350 F for an hour. Last time I layered some cheddar in there, too, and it was scrumptious.

Within a couple of days travel should become easy, but it takes that long to get the roads plowed and sanded. The city only has 55 snow plows/sanding trucks, because after all, we don't get snow every year even, and it would be a waste of resources to buy and maintain the numbers it would take to deal with the occasional storm overnight. I'm hoping my office will close tomorrow, although if need be I'll trudge out to the bus stop in my ski pants and boots, with two layers of wool socks and so forth to keep warm.

The forecast for the rest of the week doesn't really improve. Although we may have less additional snow, it's just going to get colder: Friday is predicted to have a high of 25 F and a low of 20 F, nor is it supposed to get above freezing before then. Just as well, because once the roads are sanded travel will mostly resume and keeping it cold means no layer of ice on top of the snow.

For now, it's nice to sit in the living room with a fire in the woodstove and a cup of hot tea, and watch the snow fall.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Teaching and learning

I am a teacher: I have raised children which is mainly teaching them how to be a human being by teaching them all the behaviors (including speech) we expect from fellow human beings.

I learn from many people, including Guru's Handbook, Chiron, and too many others to list. They're not all intentionally teaching, but I can learn nonetheless.

Not all students learn what the teacher thinks he's teaching.

Talking about yourself isn't teaching, it's establishing your authority to teach. How much of that do you need to do? Depends on the student; I was completely turned off by the pages and pages of appeal to authority at the beginning of Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear (which I strongly recommend), because I already believed he had knowledge I wanted and I wished he would just get to it. But many students need proof of mastery from a teacher before they'll engage with the material enough to learn.

We are each role models whether we like it or not, there's no consent involved here. Students *will* learn from what you do whether it's to hermit yourself away from community or open a school, whether you're a role model for useful behavior or for destructive behavior. Your agency has scope in the field of the nature of what you will teach, what lessons are available from you.

Be conscious.

Friday, December 05, 2008

ZOMG the funniest

The funniest thing I have read this week and maybe even so far this year: the lovely and talented cleolinda's summary of the vampire-teen-romance series Twilight in 15 minutes! I haven't even read the books or seen the movie but she is the epitome of vampire fan hilariousness!

Forrey Ackerman

One of the grand people of science fiction has died. Forrest J. Ackerman passed away yesterday of heart failure. He'd been ill for quite a while. He was famous as a member of science fiction fandom and had a museum-quality collection of related artifacts.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Continuing the fitness conversation

Steve Perry writes what I assume is partly a response to my post on the costs of diet and exercise. He doesn't think it's useful to consider those costs:

Sometimes when I venture into Bloglandia, I come across postings on the fit-or-fat question. Of late, I have been finding some relatively strident comments from people I have dubbed the DOO, i.e., the Defenders of Obesity. I think I understand where these folks are coming from, and I can sympathize, but I would be remiss if I didn't offer that I believe their advocacy of such attitudes does more harm than good.

He thinks it's okay to give up if you've struggled all your life without success, but not to admit it or explain your reasons.

It is their choice, and I don't blame them for it. One measures, one weighs the benefits versus cost, and one elects an option. No problem.

Where I run into trouble is with the notion that the grapes of fitness are sour anyway, and rationalizing it thus allows them to feel better about themselves.

Over there I responded roughly like this:

There's a lot of rationalizing going on from the fitness warriors, too. Injuries? You've got 'em. There's the time commitment: studies say about an hour of vigorous exercise a day to maintain a current level of fitness, so it would take more to get there. And constant exercise with prudent diet doesn't guarantee perfect results, see, e.g., Jim Fixx. You can still be stricken with cancer or have a genetic predisposition to disease. Or just get hit by a car.

As for strident, there's no one-true-wayist like the diet and exercise kinds. The moral superiority, the self-righteousness, the insistence on telling other people their choices are wrong--it's all there in all caps. They can handwave their judgmentalism away by saying "if you're happy with your body or your life, I'm not talking about you" but it comes through loud and clear that they don't believe anybody is really in that category--it's just denial combined with rationalization. Note I'm not referring to you here, Steve--I don't think you're a one-true-wayist although you are a strong advocate.

And you can't tell fitness by looking, unless your Humpty-Dumpty-like definition of fitness is to be skinny. Skinny people might have high blood pressure and cholesterol, might have asthma, might not be able to run a mile--fat people can be fit in those categories and others without losing the weight.

Boom De Ya Da

I vaguely remember seeing the eponymous Discovery Channel commercial some time ago and being delighted by it, enough to back up the TiVO and watch it again. Then xkcd did a version which delighted me also.

I went looking for the commercial today and found that youtube actually had a contest and listed the submissions. There are versions with different lyrics (e.g., Canada and the EU) and different images (e.g., every online gaming system or MMPORG you can think of). My favorite is a punk-rock version of the music, with lyrics and visuals according to the xkcd strip, but a close second has to be the Dr. Who version (with bonus Captain Jack appearances)!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Speeling flames

I was just gently flaming a spelling error else-Net, and checked Google to avoid that embarrassing but canonical humiliation of making a spelling mistake in my correction. Google automagically returns only entries for the correct spelling! It doesn't even provide that sometimes-amusing "Did you mean xxxx?", it just appends a list of links with the correct spelling. Apparently there is no Noel Streatfield known to Google, only the properly-spelled Noel Streatfeild who is the author of the Shoe books.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mary Sue discovers fanfic

What's that you say? Mary Sue doesn't need to discover fanfic, she's floating in it?

Lorem Ipsum, a homeschooling blog, discovers fanfic through misunderstanding an accusation of Mary Sue. No, it's not a Prissy, nonsexual, goodie-two-shoes heroine who is a perfect exemplar of 1950’s-era femininity.

This is a wonderful explanation of fanfic and Mary Sue characters, told with wit and humor. I like to see my tribe through other people's perceptions, and this is an excellent example of it.

Monday, December 01, 2008

I don't want to be that person.

So many of the choices I make about living my life are partly to mostly motivated by the sense that I don't want to be that person. Une femme d'un certain age explains why she won't diet:

If I could harness all of the wasted energy I've spent dieting/regaining/agonizing about my weight over most of my five decades of life, it could probably light up Times Square for a year. A few days ago, Duchesse linked to an article from Harpers in 1993, The Weight That Women Carry. In it, the author, Sallie Tisdale says "What I liked in myself seemed to shrivel and disappear when I dieted." That one sentence sums up why I'll never darken the door of Weight Watchers again, or sign up for the "Lifestyle Change*" du jour. Ultimately, I don't like the person I'd have to be to look how I'd like to look. (That person is obsessive, self-involved, self-righteous, anxious.) (links omitted)

I've noted similar problems with people who are obsessed with physical fitness (not just diet, but exercise too) as the path to a good life. There's a degree of one-true-way-ism to most of them (this worked for me, so it must be the way for you) and the self-righteousness that says "I did it, so if you don't, you're not trying hard enough." Neither recognizes the differences among people's capacities and choice fields; neither recognizes the limits on what we can affect through our choices. (While we always have a choice, it isn't always a useful choice, one that affects the outcome; the possibilities don't always include a good option, a choice that makes things better.)

Means and ends both matter.

A problem I could handle with grace and dignity.

The governor of Oregon has submitted his proposed budget for the next two years. I remember a week or so ago reading an article about his lamentations that he had to make cuts.

Turns out the only cuts he had to make were to his fantasies, because this budget is for $1 BILLion more than the budget of the last two years. Apparently in Fantasy Land he would have $2 billion more to spend, so he feels like his money was *cut* by $1 billion instead of raised by it. The economy blew up and he still gets to spend a billion more than he did last time! Not like he earned it--it's all coming from people like me, people who work and pay taxes.

I only wish my budget for the next two years was going up by a billion dollars. I'd jump on that grenade!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Are you experienced?

So there's a test I've seen on blogs and livejournals about life experiences; as usual it seems somewhat aimed more at teenagers and young adults than people my age, but I still found the results interesting.

The Life Experience Test

Overall, you have partaken in 110 out of 174 possible life experiences.
Your average life experience score is therefore 63%.

The average score is 49%, making your experiences more than 86% of the people who have taken this test.
The average for your age group (36-55) is 54%.

Broken down by category:
Art: 10/17 (59%)

Career & Work: 11/13 (85%)

Civics & Technology: 5/7 (71%)

Crime & Disarray: 3/11 (27%)

Education: 9/18 (50%)

Fashion: 13/15 (87%)

Fitness, Health and Sports: 4/7 (57%)

Life in General: 10/14 (71%)

Relationships: 13/14 (93%)

Religion & Politics: 1/4 (25%)

Social: 17/22 (77%)

Travel: 6/20 (30%)

Vices: 8/12 (67%)

Take the test and see how YOU compare

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Figuring it out for myself

I have knitted for four years now. I have knitted hats and scarves galore, a dozen or more pairs of fingerless mitts (knit in the round, with cables), a couple of baby sweaters, and some robots (like teddy bears but robots, get it?). I have cast on and knitted a couple of inches on a pullover sweater for me. But I have been completely intimidated by socks.

There's this complicated-looking thing you have to do to make fitted socks. Tube socks, sure, you just knit around and around until you like the length and you're done; but the sock on your foot probably has a right angle in the ankle/heel area with one arm going along your foot and the other arm reaching up your leg. It's called turning the heel: you knit a rectangle down the back of the foot and then turn your work to knit from there circularly towards the toes. I've read many sock patterns and I just couldn't figure out how it worked; even the most basic sock, which is just an inch or two of ribbing above the foot still needs that turned heel.

I finally found a pattern that I could make sense of, one with pictures and reassuring admonishments to just follow the directions and it would work. And I was pretty sure, after reading through the pattern a few times, that I could do it--I could follow the directions, anyway, and supposedly I would produce a sock.

So I measured my ankle and cast on some stitches to check my gauge, and plugged those numbers into the formula. I cast on and did a couple inches of ribbing and then...

I knit the heel flap. It hung down from the nice anklet-shaped ribbing, a rectangular flap of stitches waiting for me to do the next thing. So I did: I turned the heel, following the directions to knit short rows, picking up a stitch off the other needles at the end of each one to join the work. Joy! It worked! I had a little 90 degree cup at the end of the flap, just as if it were hugging around my heel to the sole of my foot.

So this shelf-shaped thing was hanging from the ribbing, and I had to turn the flat piece into a round one. This was where I lost my way. The instructions said to do something and I just couldn't make sense out of it. After counting all the stitches on the 3 needles and reading them through again, I had the "a ha!" moment and continued following the pattern. And here it is, so far:

The heel is at the top left; top right is the ribbing that would go around your ankle. The needles at the bottom are in the open section where I am knitting towards the toe.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

To make it safe

If you have to perform a long list of extraordinary precautions to make something safe enough to do, maybe you should reconsider doing it at all.

GirlHacker points to a story about a family home lost as a result of raging wild fires.

A barrel tile roof, boxed eaves, brick and stucco siding and clean rain gutters may have helped stop the fire, but an ember got in an attic vent and all was lost. The vent had a mesh with quarter-inch holes. An eighth-inch hole mesh is recommended. Other fire hazards that can set off a house: wooden patio furniture, ornamental plants, mulch, and palm trees.

When "normal" behavior such as having ornamental plants in your yard, mulching the flower beds, and having wooden patio furniture must be avoided to reduce the chance that your house will burn down, and when the difference between quarter-inch mesh and eighth-inch mesh allows an ember to destroy your home, you might have picked a bad place to put it.

Monday, November 17, 2008


There are duties defined in law for certain relationships: trustees of a fund have a fiduciary duty toward the beneficiaries, for example.

Why isn't domestic violence treated as a violation of a special duty toward a member of your household or family? It's not just ordinary violence against a stranger whose wallet you might want, it's violence against someone who had a reasonable expectation that you would treat them better than you would a random person, and so especially odious. And deserving of special punishment, more punishment or harsher than that applied to stranger violence.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What's the big idea?

Armed Liberal defines the USA.

I told them that in my view, liberalism had become identified with a cosmopolitan view that denied the unique place that America has in the world and that wanted badly to reduce America to a country among others.

Steve offered the notion that America is an idea, and that that idea is inherently welcoming, and I chimed in supporting him; we are not a nation of blood or land, we are a nation of an idea, and possibly the first great nation that can say that.

He doesn't say what he thinks the idea is, which is the core of the difference between liberals and conservatives. A chance to better yourself is the idea I support: not guaranteed betterment, not even a level playing field, but a chance. This chance is supported best by a government that makes the idea choice field possible and stays out of the way most of the time, so that individuals can choose and strive for a life they consider good.

Monday, November 10, 2008

How marriage is like boxing

Probably not what you think.

All this is reminding me of the time Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield's ear off. Tyson was losing a boxing match, you see, and in desperation he bit his opponent's ear, hard enough to remove a largish section of it. Even in the world of boxing, this attracted some attention, but Iron Mike had an excuse. He was, he explained, overcome at the thought of his children having to see him lose. He had to do something.

"Yeah?" retorted Holyfield. "What about my kids? Their dad has an ear that looks like a damn doberman's!"

What,you may ask, does this weird little story have to do with same-sex marriage?

Good points all.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

It's not over yet.

The election isn't over yet, at least, not for me. One of the ballot measures I'm following is at 50-50 with a margin of only 35 votes as of 6:30 this morning, with 76% of the precincts reporting.

7 Nov 2008 edited to add: And it failed (good news) by well over the margin that would have triggered an automatic recount.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A veritable angel!

My grandson in his Halloween costume last Friday.


I'm grateful for all the election workers (county employees in this state) who are running ballots through the counting machines and reporting the results. In my county there was a flood last night in the room where the ballots were, and they had to move everything (no ballots got wet), and they are cheerfully continuing to count. Some ballot measures are not yet decided; the margins are narrower than the remaining uncounted ballots. But even if that were not true, it's important that every ballot be counted.

We've done it again.

I rejoice that once again we have calmly and non-violently changed our government. Despite rancor, resentment, religious differences, and relationship issues, the repeated resolve and respect we demonstrate for our system of government by accepting electoral results is the best evidence for that system working even when we disagree with those results.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

For Oregon voters

Has your vote been counted?

You have to give your name and address (unsurprisingly).

Marriage, gay or otherwise

I don't believe in gay marriage.

I don't believe in traditional marriage, either.

Government sponsorship of particular chosen relationships through award of special rights and monetary rewards is pernicious. Like most government action, it perverts people's choices. I am only married today because I had a reasonable fear that if I moved my boyfriend in, some judge might decide my kids would be better off with their father. The only reason a judge could do that is because government has designated marriage as an acceptable relationship between men and women, one that does not call into question a mother's or father's fitness to have custody of their children.

Because I am heterosexual, I had the privilege of getting married to avoid that possibility--government gave my relationship its imprimatur and made my ability to continue parenting my children less assailable on moral grounds. That's wrong: I don't deserve special rights because I'm heterosexual, and my ability to parent does not depend on whether I'm married or just living with my chosen partner. It's just an easy shortcut to judge me by whether I'm married; it doesn't tell you much about me, certainly not enough to judge whether I'm a fit parent.

That's why I want government out of the marriage business all together. Maybe a simple registry whereby people could record their commitments and the ending of them would be okay, so long as there were neither rewards for registering nor punishments for failing to, and religious marriage is a matter for the particular religions (as it always has been anyway, each religion setting the rules for what marriage requires of its members), but in general it's rarely good when government interferes in family relationships, so let's keep it out of this one too.

Exercising your agency by making choices

Today is Election Day in the United States.

I voted last week, as did my husband and Twoson--in Oregon we essentially have all absentee voting. The county election clerks mail all the ballots to voters about three weeks before the election; you can either mail it back or hand deliver it, so long as it is *received* by election day.

If you are able to vote in the US, this is an opportunity to affect your life by making choices. Don't miss it! Don't be only a victim of other people's choices: vote.

Monday, November 03, 2008

I'll still like you.

The Lord of All Fools speaks for me:

We argued for months about taxes and war,
Immigration, abortion, and the needs of the poor,
The bailouts and handouts, and moral decay,
What should we give, and what should we pay

But I’m still going to like you,
I’m still your good friend,
Even if that stupid ratfink
Wins out in the end.
I really don’t blame you
For putting him there
You’ve wrecked the economy,
But, bud, I won’t care.

Read the rest!

Not yet.

At least two of my acquaintances have, in the last year or so, opined that they would not be surprised should Bush declare martial law before the next election; or even stronger, that they expected it at least a little.

There's still time.

I won't be ridiculing them mercilessly when it doesn't happen, but I am still amazed that these people, who seem otherwise quite reasonable to me, could sincerely harbor (even enjoy) the thought of the truly catastrophic failure of our system of government that such a declaration would be. It makes me doubt my ability to judge whether others are reasonable, reasoning human beings.

It also makes me glad that if it were ever to be necessary, I would be ready, willing, and able to rise up in rebellion against an oppressive government.


Gender Analyzer claims to be using artificial intelligence to determine whether a given blog (you provide the URL) is written by a man or a woman.

For each of my blogs, the response was that it was written by a man. This does not surprise me; for years on UseNET many people (mostly men) assumed I was a man. Apparently I have a writing style that is interpreted to be male.

The blog also requests that you indicate whether the response was correct, and lets you view the breakdown. It's doing just barely better than random: 56% correct, 44% incorrect.

Try your blog at the link. What did you get?

Friday, October 31, 2008


Mad Scientist's alphabet blocks!

Instead of A for apple, we have:

A - Appendages
B - Bioengineering
C - Caffeine
D - Dirigible
E - Experiment

Hat tip Violins and Starships.


Courtesy of the Common Room, the best campaign viral video (with bonus cute school kids):

"Obama on the left, McCain on the right,
We can talk all night and you vote as you like!"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Supply-side economics

I don't enjoy steampunk. I don't think it's hip, or cool, or entertaining, or pretty. I don't like the stories, I don't like the clothes, I don't like the clever detritus of modern conveniences made over to look like antiques with a SF twist. It's just not my thing.

However. A lot of people are enamoured of it right now, and many of them are authors. That means they're writing a lot of steampunk. They're writing stuff they want to write, and certainly a lot of people also want to read it; I don't have a problem with that.

But a lot of the non-vampire/werewolf/shaman fantasy and science fiction out there is now steampunk. There's way less stuff I want to read, way less stuff I want to buy. And I buy a respectable number of books a year, mostly new, mostly hardbacks.

I guess I'll have more money for yarn.


I've never been big on wearing costumes, whether for Halloween or other purpose. I had trouble coming up with ideas, I had low self-esteem, and as I put it so often, "It's so much work being me, I can't imagine trying to be somebody else." I've done some half-hearted stuff with bits and bobs, like dressing as a pirate (mostly my normal clothes, a gold hoop earring and kid's dress-up hat).

I've also been troubled by the trend toward overtly sexy Halloween costumes for women--a trend that has driven most non-sexy women's costumes out of the marketplace. The most fun costumes I've ever enjoyed (on myself and others) were the costumes at Halloween party with a theme: geology. I went dressed all in blue, and told people I was a diamond (as I was the hostess's best friend, and a girl's best friend is a diamond). One group of four had on matching t-shirts, each with a couple of letters of the word Gonawonaland on it. When asked what they were, they'd stand together for a moment so you could read the word, then walk apart from each other. They were Continental Drift! Cleverness wins over sexy every time.

We have a terrific Halloween party at my office every year. Some of the adults dress in costume, and everybody who has kids brings them in for the party--cookies, punch, goody bags. And we each have a bowl of candy at our desk, so the kids trick-or-treat all around the office. This year one of my co-workers (who dresses up every year) strongly encouraged me to wear a costume she knows I already have, a Ren Faire Italian-ish outfit--so I said I would. As part of it I've spent a few evenings this week handsewing a pillbox hat out of red silk trimmed with black and silver braided cording, which was fun and challenging because I didn't have a pillbox hat form handy and had to come up with a frame on my own out of interfacing and jewelry wire.

Last night as I was trying to get to sleep for some reason the floodgates opened! I came up with a bunch of ideas for easy costumes, mostly with stuff I had around the house (e.g., a beret, a stuffed dragon). I've listed them below, feel free to use them. Most are good for either kids or grownups, men and women, and most can be as modest or sexy as you want, depending on how you carry them out.

- Tourist. Hawaiian shirt (get one from Goodwill if you don't already have one), shorts, knee-high black socks and black shoes, a big camera on a strap around your neck, sunglasses perched on a silly straw hat. For extra points dab some zinc oxide on your nose, and add a fabric flower lei if you've got one (we do). Edited to add: Obviously, this costume wouldn't work for Jay Lake.

- Spider or trapped in a spider web. Package of soft, spreadable spider webbing (easily available at this time of year for decorating), mini plastic spiders (toy store). Wear all black, spread the webbing around your body like a shawl or tunic, sprinkle with spiders. Alternatively cut an hourglass out of red paper and pin to your torso: you're a black widow spider.

- Art work. Take a small picture frame and pin to your clothes somewhere; add a big award ribbon if you can find it. Tell people you're a piece of art.

- Artist. A beret, the award ribbon above, and a kerchief around your neck. Draw on a pencil mustache.

- Missionary. Wear a suit, carry a bible or a Watchtower magazine. Works best if you rarely dress like this!

- Sir Isaac Newton. Dress as usual, carry an apple. Pin a small note written with "Gravity?" to the apple.

- Dragonslayer. Carry around a kid's toy sword and a stuffed dragon. Explain you've just killed this dragon and you're looking for the dragon's treasure.

- Mardi Gras party-er. Dress a little trashed (jeans and a ripped t-shirt? shiny disco clothes?) and add as many strings of Mardi Gras beads as you can find. Carry a plastic cup like the ones they use at keggers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hearing out of balance

One of my hidden disabilities is vertigo--not fear of heights, but a balance disorder. I am subject to occasional bouts of dizziness and poor balance. I first noticed them after a cruise trip to Mexico; my "sea legs" didn't go away for months after we got back. Over ten years later I suffered a serious case of vertigo that lasted about six months, waking in the night with the room spinning around me, unable to walk without weaving from side to side and bumping into chairs and walls, and constantly nauseated. After a clean exam (including MRI, after which I went around declaring I was brain tumor free), a neurologist finally performed an outpatient procedure that cleared up most of the symptoms. They return in milder form whenever I have a head cold (congestion in my ears) or am overtired for more than a couple of weeks.

Today's New York Times has an article discussing the new importance of the vestibular system and its associated disorders. Here's my extended seasickness:

One such syndrome is mal de debarquement, in which people who have spent time aboard a ship, plane or other moving vehicle still feel that they are rocking, dipping and swaying long after they’ve returned to solid ground.

The syndrome has become more prominent given the popularity of cruiseliner vacations, and though most episodes are mild and short-lived, severe cases can last months to years and be accompanied by what sufferers call a brain fog, a sense of cognitive slowing so debilitating that they may end up with careers, relationships, lives in ruin.

And here's what it feels like when I have a return of the mild version of vertigo:

If the brain couldn’t distinguish between movements of the viewer and movements of the view, if every time you turned around or walked across the room the scenery appeared to smear or the walls to lurch your way, you soon might cease to move at all, uncertain of external threats, unaided by any internal compass marked You.

Thinking about this week

What I'm thinking about this week:

Delta Joe's post on a logical fallacy:

One of my favorite Richard Feynman quotes: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

That means we don’t believe Einstein because he was smart, but because we can check his math.

What works, and how we check that it works, are far more important than having the right credential, whether that credential is a familiar name or a degree or even experience in the field.

Kelley Eskridge on the fallacy of child prodigy:

our cultural bias toward the prodigy model of creativity denies many, many potentially good or great or genius artists the chance to reach their peak — simply because we are not willing to be patient. Gladwell cites the music and publishing industries: if a first album doesn’t sell well, the band is seen as not commercially viable; if a first novel doesn’t do well, people assume that the writer is a bad writer, not that this novel didn’t work. And that’s the fallacy in a nutshell: if the first product of an artist is not A Work Of Staggering Fucking Genius, then the artist isn’t a Real Artist after all.

This attitude kills artists.

She goes on to discuss how her lifetime of curiosity and exploration affects her art (which is writing). The gestalt of my life feeds my art.

Nicola Griffith comments on a study about treating addiction with food:

Basically, when we're in withdrawal from heroin/nicotine/gambling/crack we get low on glutamine, a precursor of GABA. It's GABA's job to keep us relaxed. So when we don't get our fix we get anxious and don't sleep. But we can restore your glutamine levels by eating an amino acid called N-acetylcysteine (NAC) that's found in nuts and seeds. Then you can start messing with other neurotransmitters, like serotonin (start by eating stuff high in tryptophans, e.g. meat, brown rice, nuts, fish, milk). And it's good to eat DHA (found in omega-3 oils, i.e. salmon oil, flaxseed oil and so on).

I know since my doc started me on Vitamin D, the times I've felt sadness and frustration have been less intense, less oppressive.

At GirlHacker's Random Log, car music. The car as player piano, the road as music roll:

Last month in Lancaster, California, a road was grooved for a Honda commercial. A Civic driving over the road at 55mph would hear the iconic part of the William Tell Overture (known to many as the Lone Ranger theme). After noise complaints from residents, the city paved over the road. But they decided to groove a different street in an industrial area with the tune. They're hoping it will be a tourist attraction.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The proliferation of Mary Sue

At Overthinking It, mlawski argues for more weak women in movies. After all, the movies are full of women who are bright, talented, and authoritative, but they still get rescued by men, and they still get dressed up as sex objects.

That’s the last straw. It’s bad enough that they make movies that objectify women, but then to call those women Strong Female Characters?

And at least in the olden days, when women were weak and *needed* to be rescued, they got the hot hero men for the job.

Apparently somewhere along the line directors decided that film heroes should be more like audience stand-ins: lame, scrawny, nerdy. So you wouldn’t have Hot “Strong” Marion sleeping with Hot Strong Indiana Jones at the end anymore. You’d have Hot “Strong” Megan Fox sleeping with Weaselly Weak Shia La Beouf at the end. Um, WHAT?! If this female character is so strong and so hot and so great in every way, why in the world would she end up with that loser? Oh. Because he’s the audience stand-in. That makes perfect sense.

So she argues for weak female characters. Weak, that is, in the sense of flawed, just like male characters are. Strong in the sense that they have goals of their own, goals other than "make the male hero happy and have his babies." Make them human, just like the guys.

After all, it would make the stories better.

Working on it

I have a few posts drafted but unfinished. Pain and tiredness get in the way of completing my thoughts, but when I have a good moment or two I'll get back to them.

Today's good news: a friend of mine is on the program list for Orycon. Someone I didn't expect to see, and now there's at least a chance. That's cool. I hope it works out.

I knitted a little last night, a scarf in green unidentified fiber I bought at the Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival last month; it feels like silk and alpaca. It's a tightly twisted double with the sheen of silk in a lot of places, but it has the elasticity and feel of alpaca as it flows through my fingers. And I can tell it's at least two fibers because the dye is beautifully variegated in the way that happens when you dye two fibers that take it up at uneven rates. It's a nice change from the single, almost-no-twist merino I made a pair of fingerless mitts out of last month and gave to Twoson.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's in the assumptions.

I was reading a story this morning about police preparing for unrest on Election day (unrest? did they miss their naps? I've never liked this mask for rioting) and came to a dead stop when I read this line:

Some worry that if Barack Obama loses and there is suspicion of foul play in the election, violence could ensue in cities with large black populations.

Talk about your target-rich environments! if...there is suspicion of foul play? If? Can anyone imagine a scenario in which the progressives believe Obama lost *without* foul play? Not me, no way could I believe that those same progressives who have even publicly stated they believe Bush would never allow another election, he'd impose martial law first, would buy an Obama loss without sincere accusations of a stolen election.

And what about the racist part? Violence could ensue in cities with large black populations? I can't believe an editor let that go by. Isn't it the white people who would be rioting when Obama wins, if they are racists? Anybody worried about that?

Further on (after I've recovered from my laughter-induced asthma fit) I notice that Carville said earlier this month that “it would be very, very, very dramatic out there” if Obama lost. He was careful to point out that he did not explicitly predict rioting and went on to say a lot of Democrats would have a great deal of angst and anger. He didn't mean *riots*, oh no, he just thinks progressives are all a bunch of drama queens!

I don't understand why I don't see more about the possibility of Republicans rioting. After all, they've got the guns. But apparently they're too sober and depressed, or unimportant, or something, to worry the press. And of course nobody would suggest libertarians might riot: they don't believe in collective action!

All this concern is distracting us. I want to know, from what?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

From Denver to Portland

It was a week before Christmas; I was 10, so it was 1971. We'd been living in Denver for a few months, but it was time to leave. Mom rented a U-Haul truck and, with her boyfriend, packed our stuff into it for the trip across the Rockies and west down the Columbia Gorge to Portland.

My sister and I rode in the back, on a mattress with some blankets and a bottle of water and all the boxes.

We stopped in La Grande, where my grandparents fed us and gave us beds for a night.

I remember being cold and scared in the back of the truck, and begging Mom to let us ride in the cab with them to no avail.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More on my political party

Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy discusses giving children a vote.

If a minor can pass a test of basic political knowledge (say, the political knowledge equivalent of the citizenship test administered to immigrants seeking naturalization), why shouldn't he or she have the right to vote? Such a precocious child-voter would probably be more knowledgeable than the majority of the adult population. Giving her the right to vote would actually increase the average knowledge level of the electorate and thereby slightly improve the quality of political decision-making. I've met twelve-year-olds with far higher levels of political knowledge than that of the average adult. You probably have too.

Once the knowledge objection is off the table, all the arguments for giving adults the right to vote also apply to sufficiently knowledgeable children. Like the adults, children have a claim to the franchise because government policies affect them too, because otherwise their interests might be undervalued in the political process, because it affirms their status as citizens with equal rights, and so on.

I have some objection to giving an intelligence test because if applied to adults it is unconstitutional, but I am willing to entertain arguments that there is something special about age to change that determination.

Ilya Somin also points out:

Some commenters note that children might lack maturity or life experience, as well as knowledge. Obviously they do lack it. I'm just not convinced that either is tremendously useful for voting. Most voting decisions have to do with complex, large-scale policy issues that can't easily be weighed based on personal experience. Realistically, even most adults have little life experience that is directly useful in assessing difficult policy issues.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I am precocious.

The Headgirl at The Common Room makes some points that I think describe me:

I'm only pretending to be a participant in American society, when I really belong somewhere else (but don't ask me WHERE that somewhere else is. I haven't a clue).
[O]ne of the key things about TCKs is that, in adolescence, they act more mature than their peers. Something about living in multiple worlds propels them into closer relationships with adults rather than those in their age groups.

And quotes from a linked article:
One of the other parts of the article that had me vigorously head nodding was this one:
"On the surface, most adult TCKs conform to what is going on around them in such a way that attention is not drawn to them. As they meet new people and situations, they are slow to commit themselves until they have observed what is expected behavior. If what is expected is unacceptable or incomprehensible they will quietly withdraw rather than make fools of themselves or hurt the feelings of others."
Observation is a big part of the game. There's a lot to watch, too!
We don't want to *always* observers - it just takes us a long time to warm up to any other role, particularly in large settings. In smaller settings, though, human connections are extremely important. Why? Because sometimes that's the only notion of "home" we've got. One of the hardest questions for a TCK to answer is, "Where are you from?" or "Where's home?" Home will never be a "where" for me. Home=the people in my life, which is another reason for feeling disconnected. If people make up your construction of home, and if you live a thousand miles from some of these people, of course you're going to feel restless!

We moved around so much when I was a child, I don't have a sense of a home culture, a place where I know how to behave to be accepted as part of the group. I usually feel like an outsider, on the edge of community but not part of it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

An easy fast.

If you are fasting for Yom Kippur this year, I wish you an easy fast.

I haven't had a successful year; I feel humiliated about how little I've progressed toward my goals. Tonight I will admit my part in the faults committed by everyone in the community and ask for forgiveness and a fresh start, and both I and everyone in the community will receive those things. I look forward to it.

Friday, October 03, 2008

An insufficient and inaccurate argument against abortion

At The Volokh Conspiracy Todd Zywicki asks:

I've never met (or at least talked to) anyone who has gone from being pro-life to pro-choice. [...]If there are any readers out there who have made this migration (there must be), I'd be interested in hearing how that transition came about. In particular, what arguments did you find persuasive in changing your view on the morality of the issue?

In the comments, berkeleybeetle responds that zie did change:

because if we accept a fetus as an individual with rights, it has no right to attach itself to someone's womb and demand to be supported. I suppose, strictly speaking, this is pro-choice with the caveat that the fetus is told to come out with its hands up, first.

and shelbyc replies:
Even though, in most cases, the mother causes the fetus to become so attached for her own recreation, and the fetus has no choice in the matter? Funny logic.

One problem with this argument is that it relies on attributing a particular intent to all categories of a specific act, that is, under this argument every time a woman has sex (even when she is raped, even when she is using birth control) an implicit part of that sex act is that she has extended an irreversible invitation to a fetus. Another is that under this argument men have no agency: men's sexual acts do not impose a risk of pregnancy on women because it is the woman extending the invitation.

Monday, September 29, 2008

L'Shana Tovah!

May you be inscribed for a good year.


The Days of Awe are upon us, and I have turned my thoughts to repairing the harms I've done to the people in my life.

So this is my annual request that you, my friends, tell me if I have injured you and how I can make amends.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why I'll never get one

Those tattoos across the small of your back? In German, that's Arschgeweih ("ass antlers"). Prettier than tramp stamp, but still not pretty enough for me.

Hat tip Cranky Professor.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A solution to the mortgage crisis I like.

Instead of bailing out the big finance companies and banks, bail out the individual homeowners.

[I]nstead of the massive moral hazard -- and general unseemliness -- of putting taxpayer money on the line to bail out Wall Street banks and brokers at the top end of the pyramid, why not aim at the broad BASE of the pyramid?

The money is there. I mean really, isn't it funny how when political leaders and powerful interests like Wall Street REALLY need cash, they somehow find a way to pull it out of the federal government's [ahem]?
To put it more politely: They just stick taxpayers with the bill.


America's population is about 300 million. Divide by 4 (typical household size) and you get maybe 75 million households. Even that doubtless overstates the number of owner-occupied homes covered by bank mortgages, with a value less than, say, $1 million or so (we should exclude the very wealthy -- if the $5 million La Jolla mansion is about to be foreclosed, I say tough luck -- John McCain, of course, would make $5 million the cutoff, having suggested that anyone under that is middle class -- whatever). And remember, you have to exclude the homeless, renters, nursing home residents, all the dependents who live in each mortgaged home, etc.

So, maybe 50 million owner-occupied homes, of middle-class or lower value, with mortgages? Close enough for government work.

Divide $1 trillion by 50 million and you get $20,000 -- not to be sneezed at! Over two years, that could cut almost $1,000 off every single monthly mortgage check in America! That amount of mortgage relief targeted directly at the millions of American taxpayers and homeowners of middle incomes and modest means would be an ENORMOUS shot in the arm to the economy (dwarfing the piddly recent "economic stimulus" checks). And it SHOULD mostly solve a crisis supposedly rooted in overextended mortgage lending, and securities built shakily on same.

Hat tip Instapundit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


What to do with all those flaps I've torn off my Netflix envelopes.

Hat tip amand_r.

Monday, September 22, 2008

My party

Would you join my political party? I haven't worked out all the details, but here are a few of the important concepts:

I support a woman's right to abortion until the moment of live birth, as a matter of self defense. To the extent that there is tax-paid health care of any other kind, I support using taxes to pay for abortions like any other medical procedure.

I support tax-paid mandatory public education, because school can be your only haven if your parents suck. However, there should be only minimal requirements for choosing to withdraw from the mandatory public system for home or private schooling.

I support tax-paid welfare for minors (through age 18), including food, medical care, and incidental cost of school (paper, pencils, gym clothes, etc.) with only minimal income tests (family income under 50th percentile).

I support replacing the paperwork of the current welfare system as applied to able-bodied persons with a minimum income to all adults; the dollar amount would be barely enough to survive (e.g., a rental room in a boarding house plus food).

I support the individual right to own, carry, and use fire arms for self defense, pleasure, food hunting, and to rebel against an oppressive government, without license or registration, but with restrictions on ownership and penalties for use in the mental health and violent felon categories.

I support free speech with historic restrictions (no shouting fire in a crowded theater).

Among changes to the tax system I'd take away the home mortgage deduction and the practice of using different tax tables for people depending on their marital state.

I'm toying with the idea of giving the vote to children but allowing their parents to cast their vote.

There's lots more but this is the stuff I think about most often.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Agreeing on the facts

Agreeing on the facts when you disagree about how to react to them has become rare, and some tools people rely on instead of personal investigation are less reliable than they'd like to think.

Joel Rosenberg links to an example. The question is whether the Democratic Party's presidential candidate, Barack Obama, claimed he would serve his full senatorial term and would therefore not run for president in 2008. Mr. Obama is quoted in an interview with Tim Russert as saying:

Russert: When we talked back in November of ‘04 after your election, I said, “There’s been enormous speculation about your political future. Will you serve your six-year term as United States senator from Illinois?” Obama: “Absolutely.”

Obama: I will serve out my full six-year term. You know, Tim, if you get asked enough, sooner or later you get weary and you start looking for new ways of saying things. But my thinking has not changed.

Russert: So you will not run for president or vice president in 2008?

Obama: I will not.

Apparently there's a discrepancy between this quote and how the story is reported at Snopes, and those of us who are accustomed to relying on Snopes should be wary. Now, maybe this is the only discrepancy on the entire site, but that seems unlikely.

You'll note I did not title this "Obama lies" or similar; that's intentional. I believe most elected officials have said things and then later changed their minds, and I don't consider that a lie necessarily. But Snopes is clearly wrong to claim he never said it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Privilege in politics

Privilege in politics looks like this: making a crude remark about the president and assuming everyone present agrees with you that it's funny.

Greeting everyone every morning with a number representing how many days are left until the president is out of office, because of course we're all eagerly awaiting that day.

Complaining about the people too stupid to vote the way you think they should, because after all, you know better than they do how to run their lives.

What is privilege in politics? Liberals in the big cities on the two coasts who have majority control of the information media. Megan McArdle compares it to white privilege:

Many readers responded to my post on coastal contempt by saying, in essence, "They do it too!" There are two answers to that. The first is that if you understand there is a difference between black and white racial resentments, then you should understand that there is a difference between comments by a powerful elite, and comments by a less powerful group, even a majority. (See, say, the Malay/Chinese disputes).

The second is that here's an area where controlling the media hurts us. When they make cracks, they make them in private, where we can't hear them. When we do it, we often do it in public, right there on the television or in national print media. So they are more aware of, and resentful of, coastal condescension than vice versa.

It must hugely influence her perception that she is, by her own admission, a coastal elite--raised in New York City and I believe currently living in Washington, DC. There are some useful rebuttals in the comments, but in general I think she's made a good point. Because I have friends who are all over the map politically, and because I live in a liberal stronghold, I know which ones hold their tongues at parties and in conversations both online and off, and which ones blithely speak their disdain and frustration with the political party they don't like.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

But I always thought I was a Democrat!

You are a

Social Liberal
(78% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(88% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Free Online Dating
Also : The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Maybe I'd better stop calling myself a Democrat.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A shirt with its own disclosure.

At Elms in the Yard (scroll down), a shirt to wear to my next convention...with an appropriate warning!

Late summer rough patch

I always have a rough patch in late summer--I don't like heat nor handle it well and I'm obviously severely allergic to something that blooms in late summer--but for a few reasons it's far worse than normal this year. I've got a rotator cuff injury which gives me pain, restricts my movement, prevents me from doing many of my regular activities (both chores and hobbies), and uses up time for physical therapy. Also, work has been an anxious mess lately; very recently some changes were made top-down that will eventually improve my situation, but it's not happening as quickly as I would like. Plus, Twoson is living with us for an indefinite time because of some bobbles in his plan for the next year that are outside his control.

I've also had to give up the only regular gaming I was doing because of allergies (I can't be in households with cats for more than a couple of hours, tops) and I've just chosen to give up a volunteer commitment I was really enjoying, because I just can't handle the stress on top of everything else. Of course the things I have to give up were the pleasurable ones! I mean, I'm also not doing very many household chores, but strangely enough I don't miss those. :)

I don't need GAS or MAS, I'm just whinging...and a little more, I'm concerned that with the chronic pain and restrictions to my hobbies and fun, I'm getting a tad depressed. I've been considering going back to therapy.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Fun political fact for the day

Michelle Obama, wife of the Democratic presidential nominee, has a rabbi in her family.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Not an argument

There's an annoying behavior I've recently started noticing (say, over the last year), and I wonder where it came from. There's an example at Megan McArdle's comment section. The commenter takes a previously-published line, makes a meaningful change to it, and then closes with something liked "fixed that for you," as if the original commentor or poster had made an obvious mistake. No reason supporting the change is offered, it's just a slap in the face, and one I can't even tell is correct.

It's self-serving, doesn't add to the conversation, and gives me no reason to respect anything the person making the comment has to say. Don't do it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Male privilege again

Disclaimer: I have no idea who I'm going to vote for in the US Presidential election. I may well take my default position: I'd be a better president than either candidate, so I'm writing in my own name.

However, the particular forms of attack from Mr. Obama's supporters on those of Ms. Clinton's supporters who vociferously object to Mr. Obama's candidacy (some of them even asserting they might vote for Mr. McCain) sure look like patriarchy to me. Accusations that the Clinton supporters are being emotional, taking it personally, are bitter and selfish...hmm, smells like male privilege to me. Dancing around the issue differences, ignoring claims that it feels just like when a woman trains lots of younger men who then get promoted over her head to higher salaries and more responsibility than she ever gets, and serious personal insults (they're stupid, they're not really Democrats); it all frames quite easily as the same old he-man woman-hating boys' club.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Not my passion

Politics are, generally, not my passion, and Megan McArdle nails it when she explains why:

I'll probably vote for Obama, but not with any expectation that I'll like the result very much. I am not excited about this election. I do not believe that my vote is going to immanentize the eschaton. I do not think that I am engaged in a titanic battle, in which the forces of good must beat back the cosmic evil that threatens to engulf us all. I think I'm deciding which of two politicians to hand a lot of power I don't want either of them to have.

It should be possible to debate the issues in this election at a level above "My guy's awesome and your guy is a big fat doody-head". But it doesn't seem to be. I find this profoundly depressing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

US Presidential election

I am currently undecided in the US presidential election. I would have voted for Ms. Clinton, given the chance, but that hasn't worked out to be an option. As a result, a lot of things might affect my vote.

Choice of veep is one of them. I'm no fan of either Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain; I'm not subject to the fantasy that the vice president they pick tells anything important about how they will govern, or that the veep will significantly affect policy during the administration. What it will tell me is whether either of them wants my vote. They don't really need *my* vote--it's only the one vote after all. But do they care about whether they appeal to me as a candidate? Will they suck up to me? That matters to me.

They have to know I exist to suck up to me, and that information will ultimately inform their decisionmaking somehow.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beautiful frivolity

Some of my friends (and I'm looking at you, Pat) will coo over (but probably not cough up the high price of) these lovely fairy tutus. If you poke around that site they also have wands and wings. It's a terrific costuming site.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Knowledge: useful, interesting, and fun.

From Nicola Griffith's blog, a quote about a story published in the New Scientist:

"For the first time in history there is now scientific evidence that reading fiction has psychological benefits," writes Keith Oatley in New Scientist. Oatley is a professor of psychology and the leader of the Toronto team. He is also an award-winning novelist (The Case of Emily V.). On the phone from the University of Toronto, he explains that reading fiction appears to stimulate parts of the brain that govern empathy. "What you're doing when you're reading fiction is you're allowing yourself to become another person for a short period of time ... It loosens up your personality, your rigidities."

Knowing fandom as I do, I shudder at what some people might be like without the empathy stimulation and loosening of rigidities that has come from reading fiction. Actually, I wonder if they've read *any* fiction.

At GirlHacker's Random Log, a link to a story about the 2008 Olympic medals. They have jade rings on the back!

From Funfurde, unfolding chairs. No, really. They unfold into a flat panel that can be hung on the wall as art. Of course, if you can afford these, why do you need chairs that store easily? Just buy more space.

On health and weight

The Speculist discusses health and weight in the context of a pill that helps you retain the benefits of weight loss without staying on the food and exercise program that helped you attain it.

In study after study over the course of the past century, the number of clinical trial subjects who have kept more than 40 pounds off for a period of five or more years is vanishingly rare. The number that's thrown around on Dean's World is 0.1%, although I haven't seen where Dean specifically raised this number, only where people arguing with him have. So if we can name people who have met the criteria -- Jared comes to mind -- we have only found an example of that 0.1% of the population for whom diet and exercise is an effective long-term obesity cure. Likewise, the participants in the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) study were asked to participate if they had already achieved a certain level of long-term weight loss -- it's just another example of this same selection bias.

It's like "proving" that the lottery is a smart bet because somebody won!

And in the comments, jaed makes a good point about how hard it is to accept scientific evidence when it contradicts our common sense:

I wondered for a long time why, in the face of much data indicating that starvation dieting, alone or in combination with exercise, fails to permanently change body shape, we still have people chirping "All you have to do is eat less and move more, and the pounds will melt away like magic!" every time this subject comes up. I finally decided it's because people overgeneralize from their own experience.

Because [the common wisdom is that] everyone naturally has the same body type, and deviations must be caused by differences in eating and exercise levels.

Written out like that, the fallacy is pretty obvious. But people still stick to it. There's an ideal shape, and if you fall short of it, it's All Your Fault, and we will keep saying that until you admit you're a bad fatty and repent - preferably by limiting your food intake to the point of causing yourself permanent metabolic damage. Whereupon we will announce that you have "failed". Makes me berserk, that kind of ugly thinking.

Meanwhile, the result of this mindset that you can change your body type by sheer force of will is:

- Fat people feel perpetually guilty, shamed, and afraid. They try to do the impossible (change their fundamental body shape) and feel like weak-willed failures when it predictably doesn't work.

- Thin people feel like they have nothing to worry about healthwise, even if they eat gak and never exercise. They're thin. And that means they're healthy, right?

- People who exercise, feel better, and obtain health benefits but don't lose a lot of weight feel as though they might as well not bother - after all, thin is healthy, and all this exercise isn't making them thin, so it can't possibly have a good effect on their health, right? [...]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Obama Salute

I only today saw a drawing of the Obama salute. First thing I thought of? You're disarmed (no gun in those hands) and easy to restrain. Just pop the cuffs on, or tie those two wrists together, and we're set!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Edwards story

The Ferrett writes about the recent scandal: John Edwards, who has run for president a couple of times now as the moral arm of the Democrats, had an affair with another woman during the time that his wife has had cancer. He (the Ferrett) thinks the most important thing about this story is Edwards' misrepresentation of himself:

So you know what? There's this sword over here that he lived by and died by. If you're going to tout your morals as one of your best selling points, then when you get called on that? Nobody's fault but your own. Yes, it's a lot harder to run on the issues, and I wish more people could manage it... But when you play the "VOTE FOR ME 'CAUSE I'M ALMOST AS MORAL AS THE POPE!" card, then don't be surprised when someone trumps that play with "NO YOU'RE NOT."

The most important thing about the Edwards story is that it's just like all the others. Politicians have to pretend to be a certain way in order to get elected. They have to pretend to be monogamous, they have to pretend to be against special interests and pork projects, and they have to pretend they're going to change things (even conservatives).

The question I find more interesting is what conclusions can we draw about the pundits, the campaign-runners, and the electorate given this requirement to pretend? Hypocrisy runs rampant through US culture--not that I think that's a bad thing, just something important that is often overlooked and underestimated, especially by the progressives who are treating it as the greatest sin against the New Religion of being true to oneself. If you can't abide by the rules you've set, then you ought to admit that it's time to change the rules! is their motto; no empathy or understanding for the value of setting a goal and standard of behavior even if individually one doesn't meet it.

I am not surprised at deception from candidates: we beg them for it. We insist upon it. We punish them for honesty: who among them, then, would dare to be honest? How can they do the necessary work they believe in (and I believe they do believe in it, they believe they can effect important change for this country only by entering political office) if we won't elect them unless they lie, and then harangue and deride them for it when they're caught? Oh, some of the derision and disdain is because of the behaviors they are caught in: there are many, many people in the US who most sincerely believe adultery is wrong, and a bad enough wrong to justify ending the career of any politician who is proven to engage in, or admits to it. But more, I think, is attributable to the pretense.

I am offended by the pretense. I'd like to believe I can handle the truth, but as Jack Nicholson famously sneered, you can't handle the truth. The truth would mean confronting without a shield of vagueness all the things I don't like about any particular candidate. The truth would make it harder for me to admit that I'm compromising, that I'm choosing to compromise with someone who has characteristics I dislike or even despise, and admitting that threatens my self-esteem.

So I don't blame politicians for lying, for creating an acceptable image of themselves to get my vote, for (possibly) betraying their own sense of morals and ethics by pretending to be all the things we ask them to be, in order to get elected.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Bad Mom, Good Mom has pictures from computer models of knitting.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Based on...

The Volokh Conspiracy links to two useful resources: the movies based on true stories page and the movies based on books page (sorted by year of movie). Fascinating to browse.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I had a wonderful weekend with my family. Oneson, OneDIL, and GrandOne came to visit! The house was crowded with all of us but we had fun. Twoson gave up his bedroom, we put the baby's crib in my den.

Friday night the middle generation went to a movie and the spousal unit and I babysat! GrandOne and I went for a long walk to the park, where we played on the climbing structure and went down the slide, and then pet a dog. When we came home and it was clear his parents weren't there, he burst into tears. We offered him food and water, changed him, read him a book, sang, rocked, but nothing helped. So we put him to bed and he cried for another 20 minutes then fell asleep.

Saturday we went to the farmers' market for breakfast and shopping, which was great fun. Later I took the baby to the backyard and we played with the hose, filling the little pool and watering plants. Then I went off to gaming for the afternoon/evening.

Sunday I made Oneson's favorite: German pancakes. GrandOne likes them too! We all just hung out until it was time for the train home.

A great family weekend all around!


Well, not really, but a very cool dress for Comic Con at A Dress a Day. That fabric printed with comic book panels is terrific!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Africa: It's bigger than I thought.

Courtesy of City Comforts blog, a map of Africa with other areas overlain for size comparison.

The Bechdel Test

When I review a movie, even in casual conversation, one of the data points I try to remember to give is whether it passes the Bechdel test. (I'd like to pretend everyone I know is acquainted with this, but I know that's false.)

Yeah, she calls it a rule, but I use it as a test--I am perfectly willing to see movies that fail the test, it's just one of the things I think about when I'm reviewing the film. Were there fully-realized women characters (at least as fully-realized as the men characters, that is)? Did they talk to each other, or only to the men? Did they talk about something other than men? Women in the real world exist without reference to men; if all depictions of women in a particular person's body of work only show them in their relationships to some man, I'm going to draw the conclusion that they don't think of women as real people. Real people have their own goals, not just a reaction to some man's goals; real people have interests other than what the male viewpoint character wants from them; real people are not just sexual objects to others.

My friend Brooks Moses links to an excellent review by Kate Harding of the recent movie Mama Mia that includes discussion of the male gaze and shows why I think the Bechdel test is important.

To begin with Ms. Harding explains to reviewers who panned it that those eager filmgoers are eager precisely because we want to be bludgeoned by an ABBA-bomb. Er… something like that. That’s the fucking point. If you like spangled polyester costumes and infectious ’70s pop and middle-aged women cracking themselves up every ten seconds, a turquoise-boa-wrapped ABBA-bomb doesn’t sound like a bad thing at all. And if you don’t like that stuff, what the hell are you doing at Mamma Mia!?

Precisely! But there are other reasons to see it: it's about women, by women, and for women, unlike most movies in general release. And a very particular thing that I know I do, and other women do: get together with our friends and act like we're young again. Or still. Or something.

one of the main reasons I wanted to see Mamma Mia! right away was to support the rare film written, directed, produced by, and starring women — women over 50, at that. And the whole thing surely does have a gallopingly feminine sensibility.


Furthermore, it’s a movie that celebrates older girly-girls in a way that invites younger ones — and men — to the party, but never makes it about them. I read somewhere (possibly in comments here) that Meryl Streep said her twentysomething children will be utterly mortified by her performance in Mamma Mia!, and I can totally see that. It’s not just the singing and dancing — she acquits herself perfectly well on both counts — but that the plot (such as it is) hangs on her really, really not acting her age. [...] But mostly, it’s totally believable that once her besties and old boyfriends show up, Streep’s character instinctively starts acting like she’s in her twenties again. That’s kinda what you do.


And that’s exactly what’s so charming — and transgressive — about the movie. A bunch of fiftysomething women dance around in disco-era costumes, and it’s meant to look like a good time, not a pathetic joke.

Exactly: instead of presenting a normal feminine behavior as alien, other, and so threatening that we must turn it into a joke to relieve the tension, this movie invites us to jump right in and starts dancing around too. Mama Mia turns the tables on the usual movie viewer and invites us to look at the world the way (some) women do; if you want to identify with a character, your only real choices are the women!

For my money, the female gaze is exactly what throws so many male reviewers about Mamma Mia! The movie, as Ebert noted, wasn’t made for them. It’s not just that the poor widdle straight men are forced to watch a bunch of chicks doing chick stuff to an ABBA soundtrack, it’s that they’re supposed to identify with chicks doing chick stuff. They’re supposed to share in the joy when they hear old girlfriends squealing together, imagine themselves on stage rocking “Super Trouper” in sparkly polyester, and fantasize about what they might do with a shirtless Pierce Brosnan. They’re supposed to put themselves in the metallic boots — and behind the eyes — of a bunch of women, taking the same sort of gender-swapping imaginative leap women are expected to make, oh, only about EVERY GODDAMNED TIME WE GO TO THE MOVIES.

There's lots more there worth reading, about presenting the young woman without making her the obvious sex object for men old enough to be her father (and literally likely to be), about accepting our aging selves as still sexy whether we keep it natural or use tools like cosmetic surgery and expensive moisturizers, and so forth.