Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Crazies on all sides

Somebody in the comments at Making Light is perpetrating the "if they disagree with me, they must be evil" idea...again, or still, what does it matter?

How can you believe your fellow human beings are evil on so little evidence as who they voted for in the last presidential election? It's beyond my understanding.

I get why people vote differently from me, and there are lots of reasons. We disagree about the facts--it is possible to completely disagree about the facts, because neither of us has first-hand knowledge of them (see, e.g., Israel). We interpret the facts differently (see, e.g., the run-up to, and reasons given for, the invasion of Iraq). We have different values (see, e.g., bootstrapping versus welfare). We think different things are most important (see, e.g., abortion and the Second Amendment). None of that makes them evil, not the way I think of evil anyway.

I do think it's evil to demonize the people who disagree with you by labeling them evil.

Special to Sodapopprincess

A picture of some creative lights hanging in a backyard tree; they're jellyfish! Made from colored bubblewrap.

Hattip Ragwater, Bitters, and Blue Ruin

I'm a what?

Apparently I'm a libertarian. Who knew?

According to David Boaz and David Kirby's The Libertarian Vote (pdf), which sets out to explain and analyze the libertarian vote. Most voters who hold libertarian views don't identify themselves as libertarian, though many of them would say they are "fiscally conservative and socially liberal. And all this time I thought I was a Democrat.

They make a point about lack of organization. Conservatives organize through their churches, the Christian Coalition, and Focus on the Family; liberals organize through unions, MoveOn.org and other websites, and identity-politics groups. People who want something from government—whether spending programs or lifestyle regulations—are more likely to organize politically.

Boaz and Kirby believe this disconnect explains the confusing failures of polls to accurately predict election results in the last presidential election.

Consider the 2004 exit polls. They provide examples of people who don’t fit neatly on either side of the liberal-conservative, red-blue divide. According to the poll, for instance, 25 percent of respondents support same-sex marriage, of whom 22 percent voted for Bush, with 77 percent perhaps understandably for Kerry. Another 35 percent support civil unions, and 52 percent of those voted for Bush. That means that 28 million Bush voters support either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples--not your stereotypical "red" voters.

Similarly, 49 percent of respondents told exit pollsters they did not think government should “do more to solve problems.” Of those, 29 percent voted for Kerry—that’s 17 million Kerry voters who thought government should not do more. In a remarkable corroboration, a completely different calculation comes to the same result. The 2004 postelection survey of the American National Election Studies found that 29.1 percent of self-identified Kerry voters preferred the statement “The less government the better” to “There are more things the government should be doing.” Based on Kerry’s popular vote total, that is once again 17 million Kerry voters who prefer “less government.”

So between Bush voters who support gay marriage or civil unions and Kerry voters who want less government, we have 45 million voters who don’t seem to fit neatly into the red-blue, liberal-conservative dichotomy.
[footnotes omitted]

Currently I'm registered to vote as "not affiliated with any party." I'm one of those swing voters, although not in this state, which is heavily Democratic and will undoubtedly go Democratic in the presidential election. That doesn't bug me as much as it might if I were really a Republican, but it does annoy me to think that my vote doesn't count. Even in this state thinking of myself as a swing voter isn't particularly helpful.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Card games

BoingBoing has (finally) discovered Fluxx, a card game I've been playing for a few years. I played Zombie Fluxx (a challenging expansion) last weekend and really enjoyed it. The comments on the BoingBoing entry are interesting. Some people dislike the game and find it boring because any strategy you might pursue can be upset by the randomness of the rule changes--it's just a "random excuse for socializing." Other people like it for that very reason and for other reasons, including the ability to play at roughly the same level with people at a variety of ages and gaming experience. In that way it's like Apples to Apples, another great card game that I enjoy--and have turned my co-workers on to.

What's your favorite game to play with non-gamers?

Monday, January 28, 2008

16 flights

We have had a fire alarm in the building where I work today. Not a drill, an alarm. We calmly (well, mostly) put on our coats and walked to the stairwell, and then down. It was chaotic on the ground floor; people were holding exterior doors open and shouting to each other. Before I got out of the building one of the guards announced that while an alarm had been activated, it had been investigated and it was safe to return to our offices, so I got into an elevator and went back to my desk.

But the adrenaline effects are still with me: I'm a bit shaky, my stomach is full of acid and I keep needing to take a deep breath (must be hyperventilating a bit). I managed the stairs fine, even with my bugout bag (and I remembered it, go me!) but I won't be very capable of a long walk after going down the stairs--my leg muscles are very tired.

It's good practice, and I'm glad there was no fire.

It's my money!

An incredible poster of where the 2008 federal budget proposed by President Bush goes. It's clickable, you don't have to buy it--clicking expands a section so you can read it, control+click takes you back out to the whole poster.

For quick overview, click on the penny in the lower right corner to see percentages of the total budget including deficit.

Reading into it, more or less

Ursula K. Le Guin has written an essay for Harper's on, as she puts it, the alleged decline of reading. Unfortunately for me it's behind a subscriber log-in, and I don't subscribe, but here's part of the preview text you can read without logging in:

But I also want to question the assumption—whether gloomy or faintly gloating—that books are on the way out. I think they’re here to stay. It’s just that not all that many people ever did read them. Why should we think everybody ought to now?

Yeah, that. Just as some conservatives point to the 1950s as an ideal age for family values, and it was never that except in fantasy, the golden age of reading surely hasn't passed. There were always people who didn't read because they liked other hobbies instead: bowling, or knitting, or playing bridge, for example. Some people prefer more social pastimes; some prefer more active ones. I don't think there's been a sea change in the percentage of people who read for pleasure.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

On watching the Screen Actors Guild awards

I know the writers are on strike, but I missed the news about the *stylists* being on strike.

Yeah, it's snarky, but the hair on some of the men and the dresses on some of the women were...ugh. ly.

Food Mood

I did a big grocery shop yesterday so I could cook today. So far: a chocolate cake and a batch of lentil soup (this time with turnips, parsnips, kale, and mustard greens in addition to the usual onion and carrot). Later today: chicken enchiladas and a big pot of greens (chard, kale, and mustard greens) with garlic oil. And maybe a pan of brownies.

I built a fire in the woodstove because the kitchen gets too warm if the furnace comes on while I'm cooking, which also means I can step into my den to cool off (it's far enough from the woodstove).

I noticed yesterday that my bulbs are showing some green above the mulch, and one bed even has two yellow crocus--not quite bloomed, they're not open, but they are fully-formed and bright yellow.

I like winter.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A quick thought about re-interpreting stories.

When somebody makes a movie from a book or tv series, or a sequel to a previous movie...that's fanfic.

Think about it. It's really a useful perspective.

Protesting too much

Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) makes a point that I want to expand. He links to a story about banning the classic childhood tale of the Three Little Pigs. The people who want to ban it consider that it is potentially offensive to Muslims. (Apparently they believe the mere mention of pigs sets off jihad.) Mr. Reynolds' remark:

What's amazing is how people are willing to make fools of themselves to avoid imaginary offense. Nobody worries that much about offending me.

Of course, nobody worries about offending him partly or mostly because he is a white male. But his point is still important. Negotiating the mine field between completely innocuous and obviously offensive is as difficult as ever, and I admire people who make the effort. But bending over backward to eliminate The Three Pigs (which is a completely different kind of story from, say, Little Black Sambo) strikes me as protesting a bit too much. Why do they have work so hard to prove they're not biased against Muslims? Do they secretly suspect that they are?

Around the 'tubes

Which are the best self-help books for depression?

Bear in mind that studies on bibliotherapy are at an early stage. The ones that exist have only examined a few of the books available, and generally these books are only for mild depression.

A quick way to assess cognition in the elderly: walking speed.

Having excluded participants with major neurological impairment or obvious cognitive difficulties, Kevin Duff and colleagues timed 675 older adults (average age 73.2 years) walking 25 feet in one direction and then back again. The participants also completed the Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status (RBANS), which tests a range of abilities including language, memory and attention.

The participants were divided into three groups based on their walking speed (50 feet in less than 14 seconds; between 14 to 17 seconds; more than 17 seconds) and it turned out they differed in their cognitive performance, with the slowest walkers performing least well cognitively.


Apparently tax cuts--all of them--are progressive. Who knew?

Yet a new report from the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) says the Bush tax cuts made the tax code more progressive, no matter how progressivity is measured. In fact, the report concludes that every major tax change (Republican or Democrat) over the past two decades has increased the share of taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

When a friend asks...

Jestablog tagged me for this activity.

The rules:

* Link to the person who tagged you.
* Leave a comment on their blog so that their readers can visit yours.
* Post the rules on your blog.
* Share the seven (7) most famous or infamous people you have met. Or go with the original 7 weird things about yourself. Or with some other significant 7. Lots of choices!
* Tag 7 random people at the end of your post.
* Include links to their blogs.
* Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

My seven will be mixed.

1. A famous person I have met: well, Larry Niven is arguably famous, right? I've had dinner with him a couple of times--not just the two of us, but in small groups.

2. A blog I doubt you read: covering the mouse, about covers of Disney songs.

3. A website about a cool part of my hometown: The Bridges of Portland, Oregon.

4. Incredible shoes.

5. How to glue this to that.

6. Panoramas: The North American Landscape in Art.

7. Know what you want to do, but not how? Check So you wanna...?

Edited to add: Yeah, I didn't tag anybody. I don't do that. If you want a list of interesting blogs, ask and I'll start posting some of my favorite links.

Travel

I recently spent a long weekend with my partner in the Bay Area. We had long talks about politics--he's one of very few people who disagrees with me in ways that nevertheless allow for meaningful and polite conversations. We watched some movies (including Scaramouche and Follow the Fleet, both of which were disturbing because the morals and ethics were so bad) and ate great food. I knitted a little and read 3 books. It was very relaxing.

It's always good for me to get away from home; I relax in a deeper way than when I'm home. At home there is always the bass line underneath my thinking of all the chores I could be doing (because at home we are never done completely with maintenance, cleaning, and organizing). But I also enjoy being home alone, because I can enjoy my very pleasant home without the fluting chorus of "consider your housemate's needs" over every decision I make, whether it's to run the dishwasher, play loud music, or cover every available flat surface with a project in process.

Name stuff

From Violins and Starships, an interesting article on the science of laughter.

One prevailing theory states that humor is a learning mechanism which detects and corrects incongruence between expectations and reality. The brain is a powerful pattern-matching engine, and as it drinks in the world through its sensory organs, the mind maintains a model of reality by storing the patterns it observes and sorting them in order of importance. From one moment to the next, the river of incoming information is scanned for similarities to prior patterns, and extra attention is given to anything which strongly matches an important stored pattern– such as a familiar face– and to patterns that are atypical in the present context– such as a familiar face in bed with one's spouse. In this way, the mind filters out the "background noise" of the world, and is able to focus more attention on survival and reproduction. These pattern databases are also useful for anticipating the future based on past experiences.

Essentially, the incongruence theory of humor suggests that an event registers as "funny" when it starts out by conforming to established patterns, but then defies the person's model of reality by taking an unanticipated but logically valid detour. In a similar way, humor can occur when a nonsensical sequence suddenly reveals an underlying coherence, a method frequently used in joke punchlines...


I like this better than the "interrupted defense mechanism" explanation.

Labels

I don't like labels, they get in my way. If someone whose authority I trust labels me, I feel constrained by the label. And contrary about it.

Rubicon3 links to the Newsweek (magazine) Autism Spectrum Quotient test.

I scored 41, which is in the middle of the "very high" range. According to the results page, most people with Asberger's Syndrome or Highly Functioning Autism score around 35.

But how does this help me, to have a label? What I need is some advice about my specific difficulties. Different ways of thinking about them (cognitive) and different things to do or say (behavioral).

A questionnaire for grownups.

Most of the "memes" (question lists) I see on Livejournal and other blogs strike me as written for teenagers. Not really surprising, as I understand the age breakdown for U.S. users of Livejournal shows most users are closer to the age of my younger son than to mine.

So here are some questions (and my answers) that give interesting insights into the life of a person my age, instead of a high school senior.

1. Did you mostly grow up where you live now, or did you move there?

I did mostly grow up here, for values of here that include the Greater Portland Metro Area. Although I moved around a lot in childhood (until I started high school), most of the time it was a pattern of move away (sometimes a few states away, like Ohio or Colorado) for a season or a year, then return to somewhere in Portland for a while, then move away again.

2. If you moved there, why? If you didn't move away from where you grew up, why?

I moved around plenty as a child, but I chose to stay in Portland because I like so many things about it, and because I have a deep emotional attachment to it. I especially like the weather and the geography. Portland has a lot of bigger-town amenities that are important to me, like an opera company and lots of good bookstores, many small neighborhoods with interesting and varied shopping and housing, a safe and vibrant downtown, and great parks. It's also small enough to drive across in under an hour--none of my friends live more than 45 minutes (about 40 miles) away, and that one is in a rural area in the mountains. That's another great thing about Portland: you can be in farmland less than 30 miles from downtown, and truly rural or practically undeveloped land (such as state forests) just a bit past that.

3. Are you making your living the way you thought you would, when you were in high school? If not, why not?

Oh heck no, I thought I'd be the CEO of a major corporation by the time I was 30. Turns out I wouldn't like the work, couldn't finish college (bored), and hate making decisions for other people.

I like my job: I like most of the tasks I perform on a daily basis, I like the subject matter, and I like the balance of independence, responsibility, and teamwork that I have. Plus I work with and for intelligent, fun people. I get paid enough for a comfortable life.

4. What about hobbies: have you discovered a new hobby that stirs your creativity in the last few years, or are you still passionate about something you've been doing since you were a kid?

Both, really: I started knitting 3 or 4 years ago and love it, I draw occasionally, and I'm still passionate about reading. Although I'm not sure I'd count reading as a hobby; it's a pastime, but I think of hobbies as more active than reading is. Fandom counts as a hobby, but I'm not passionate about it and don't put much time into it.

5. Do you sleep well and enough?

Mostly yes; I wake during the night more often than I did 10 or 15 years ago, but I almost always go right back to sleep, and my doctor informs me this is normal for people my age (to wake more often).

6. How do you passively entertain yourself: television, radio, podcasts, something else?

I watch tv every day, usually something I've recorded on the TiVO -- it's amazing how much more I enjoy a show when I can pause it or fast forward or switch to something else at will. I rarely listen to the radio, almost entirely when I'm driving somewhere by myself. I do listen to music quite a bit, most often satellite radio on our tv or a subscription program on the computer.

7. Are you planning your retirement? If so, what are you planning?

No, I'm busy living right now. Minimally, I plan to retire around age 70, although if I can keep working (and need to for the money) I will be happy to do so.

8. Do you think about aging and death much?

I do, but not in a morbid way. I think about losing the independence and self-reliance that I worked so hard to gain as a teen, and I wonder whether that will be as frustrating as I imagine it to be. I think about who will be left if I die, and what I can do to make that easier for them (like cleaning out the house as much as possible of the detritus of my life, and having life insurance to pay the mortgage).

9. What do you want to be next? Have you been the person you wanted to be?

I don't know what next, that's part of why I chose the word discover for this year. I've been lots of people, including most of what I wanted: a mother, a wife, a lover, a friend, a student, a teacher, an artist; someone who celebrates pleasure and who finds enjoyment in homemaking as well as friends. My adult life so far has been joyful and full of awe; it's really a luxury that I appreciate to wonder about what to do next.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Identity

I think of myself as an exuberant person. I phrase it as "I think of myself as..." because many people have made clear to me that various of the ways I think of myself are wrong in their opinion. Another example, I think of myself as shy. I doubt you could find anyone who knows me in meatspace who would agree, but I think that's because the way I handle my shyness is to act as if I were a confident extrovert. (Unfortunately sometimes my confidence reads as arrogance. Again, so I've been told, by more than one person I trust.)

I'm starting to believe that instead of knowing myself very well, I hardly know myself at all. Do any of us, or do we just tell ourselves a story about who we are? I'm not sure this question is answerable.

It's hard to get good information; people who tell me what they think of me may have any kind of motive, or filter, or not know me very well, so how do I decide their opinion of me is more correct than mine? They are, after all, almost entirely only observing my behavior; the only part of my thoughts they can reach is what I tell them. Not everything I think makes it out into the wild! I'm as hesitant as the next person to admit my worst faults (that is, what I think are my worst faults).

This possibly-unanswerable question is important, though, because I'm trying to make myself a better person, and if I don't have an accurate grasp on my strong and weak points, I might put effort into changing something that doesn't require change. And fail to work on something that is a glaring fault.

The best way I've found so far to handle this is to consider the evidence from other people as well as their opinions. If I have evidence they don't, that might be a good reason to disagree with their conclusions; if they are interpreting the same evidence differently from me, I might change my mind.

But identity...is it only what is expressed? In that case all I am is what others experience of me.

It might be time to read some philosophy.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Part of the reason I go to conventions.

David Friedman, on the newsgroup rec.arts.sf.fandom, explains something I've struggled to put into words about why I go to science fiction/fantasy conventions.

I think part of what makes fandom and conventions work is the nonpecuniary gain from trade.

If you are a moderately successful sf writer, from the standpoint of your neighbors you are nobody of any special importance. You may make a reasonable living, but you aren't rich and you aren't famous.

From the standpoint of your readers, however, you are a star. Most people (not all) like being stars. A convention puts the author together with his readers. They get the fun of interacting with someone they think of as famous and important, he gets the fun of being treated, for a weekend, as famous and important.
(quoted with permission)

Hanging out with (some) authors is a lot of fun: they are intelligent, good conversationalists, and funny. Often they have information I don't have, and they enjoy sharing it. They're mostly all storytellers, and I try to be a good listener.

Another reason I go to cons is to spend some time with (one of) my tribe(s). Fans are my tribe in a lot of ways, and a convention is one of very few places where I don't have to either constantly explain what I'm talking about or receive rude remarks and looks--ridiculing sf/f fans is still socially acceptable, much like making fun of fat people.

At a con I can fully express some of my characteristics and enjoy my pleasures without fear of being outcast, of being too different. In fandom I am "one of us," not one of them. It's nice to finally belong somewhere after all the years I spent trying to belong to all the different tribes I still feel part of, even if other members don't acknowledge me much.

For me

This poem is working on me today.

Nothing Is Lost
(Noel Coward)

Deep in our sub-conscious, we are told
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, out-moded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy, before
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night.


Hat tip don't eat alone

Sex Positive Feminism

There's a great discussion in the comments at Feminist Mormon Housewives about sex positive feminism, including an excellent disambiguation of the (false) claim that Dworkin said all sex is rape. (Disclaimer: I posted a draft definition as the fourth comment.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

They're spending it wrong.

Some people won't give charity (money) to beggars on the street, be they old wrecks or young punks, because they are afraid--or certain--the recipient will only spend the money on drugs and/or alcohol. They might buy food vouchers sold by a local charity instead and give those, or genuinely offer to take the beggar to a fast food joint and buy them a meal. Other people get upset, or feel superior, when they notice the woman paying for steaks with her food stamps--she ought to be using the money for beans and rice that will stretch for the whole month. I completely understand not wanting your money to be used in ways you disapprove of, that's one reason I questioned my kids when they asked me for money. But the judgmental attitude some people have about the poor really annoys me.

I've lived poor (almost entirely when I was too young to work, because as soon as I was old enough, I worked so I could buy food for myself and siblings), and I know how important it is to be able to spend a little extra on what counts. The thing is, what counts differs from person to person.

I'm guilty of judging other people's choices, just like most people. And of judging myself by them. But the poor have fewer choices in the first place; having lived it, I cannot condemn splurging on steak even if it means going to the food bank at the end of the month, or paying for gas for a daytrip to the beach even if it means the phone gets turned off. Living in constant dreariness (whether in your diet, clothing, free time, whathaveyou) is depressing; the occasional treat or indulgence makes the regular drudgery tolerable, and encourages the hope of a better future.

Even middle class and up families are subject to judgmental criticism of their choices. The Common Room quotes Lyman Abbott's 1896 House and Home:

Each family differs in the standards of the necessities imperative for the maintenance of family life. Opportunity for education is the uppermost need of one family. Establishing the semblance of social prominence is the one universal want of another family. Clothes that attract the eye of the passer-by is the one desire of another family. What we term a good table satisfies the wants of another family. It is the gratification of the special taste of each family that secures for that family the greatest happiness. We may admire or condemn, but if we are discerning, we shall know that we, in turn, are being criticized for the arrangement of our own lives- that in the judgment of many, we are sacrificing the best things of life, we are not securing the best results for the amount of money at our disposal. Accepting this fact, then, it behooves us to concentrate our attention on our own affairs, being careful to secure the results in our own family life that minister best to the life of that family without regard to outside standards.

and then goes on with more examples:

In addition to personal taste, I would say that each family also has its own unique purpose. We have guests in our home every single week (and usually more than once a week), but we don't do sports. One family doesn't bake bread but does play baseball (Hi, Cindy!); another family has a flair for music and life lived large (Hi, Queen S.!). One family has a knack for putting together bits and pieces and using them creatively and frugally (Hi, Mama Squirrel!), and others have a gift with art.
Some folks have money and the desire for five thousand dollar weddings with a dozen bridesmaids, and some people think 100 dollars and a potluck should just about cover everything. Your family may be dressed in blue jeans 365 days of the year, or perhaps Austen style gowns, or Edwardian dresses, or skirts and blouses. Your special niche may be writing and homeschooling and children with special needs. Your special talent might be elegant food or plain down home fare.


People make different choices because they value different things. And that's not just not bad, it's actually good.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's too big.


Yeah, the sweater is too big. But he'll grow! This is my grandson in the skull sweater I knit last year. I charted the skull myself, and I'm very pleased with the results.

Contentment, or Crisis?

The New York Times suggests there's no such thing as a midlife crisis, just narcissistic jerks finally facing the routine of family life and responsibility, and running away from it.

But surely someone has had a genuine midlife crisis. After all, don’t people routinely struggle with questions like “What can I expect from the rest of my life?” or “Is this all there is?”

Of course. But it turns out that only a distinct minority think it constitutes a crisis. In 1999, the MacArthur Foundation study on midlife development surveyed 8,000 Americans ages 25 to 74. While everyone recognized the term “midlife crisis,” only 23 percent of subjects reported having one. And only 8 percent viewed their crisis as something tied to the realization that they were aging; the remaining 15 percent felt the crisis resulted from specific life events. Strikingly, most people also reported an increased sense of well-being and contentment in middle age.


I've been asking those questions, and feeling the contentment. And it isn't a crisis; it's an opportunity. The reason I have those questions is because I have a great life: I don't have to worry about the basic physical and emotional needs of animal me. I have food and shelter, friends and family, challenging hobbies and rewarding work that pays enough. It's a luxury (even a privilege--although not an unearned advantage) to wonder about what's next, and whether there is more.

I appreciate that luxury.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Around the 'tubes

They're mapping behavioral genes in dogs (bonus reference to the famous Russian fox domestication study).

A conversation I could have had at work, about power.

An interesting conversation about shame and intimacy over at Frank Wu's livejournal.

And via Violins and Starships:

A knitted Ferrari.

Some amazing tree houses.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Knitting myself a scarf



Here's another work in progress. I've knitted this Loopy & Luscious scarf before, in red and purple, and I really enjoy it. But it doesn't go with everything I wear, so I bought some grey mohair and variegated blue wool for this one. I've just barely started it, but it's a fast knit. Again, a free pattern, and a reasonably easy one that gives nice results. The only complicated part is managing the very thin lace-weight mohair on the size 17 knitting needles.

Also, I'm on ravelry.com as gelasticjew, with more information about these projects; if you don't know what ravelry.com is, and you're a knitter or crocheter, it's worth checking out.

Knitting for myself


Red-muff-insert
Originally uploaded by gelasticjew
I've decided to only knit for myself this year. I can always change my mind, and I'm going to finish half-a-dozen projects for others that are already on the needles, but I spent all of last year knitting for other people and have nothing of my own to show for the work. This year will be different! So here are some of my works in progress.

First, a muff. We have a short commute, so short the car heater doesn't warm me until a block before my office. My hands get cold, and I made this to keep in the car and warm my hands. It's a great free pattern from Knitty.com, that uses up the odd ends of yarn you have left from projects. I choose a nice, warm, soft, alpaca-wool blend for the ribbing at the ends; as you can tell I've fed the ribbing from one end up through the middle of the hollow pipe of knitted material, and will be sewing the two ends together to create a sealed tube.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Microlending to improve justice in the world

Last summer I helped the world become a better place: I loaned $25, which was aggregated with small sums from other individuals, to help a woman in Tajikistan expand her small business selling children's clothing so she can send her son to university. I did it through Kiva, which organizes microlenders like me and connects us to lending groups (often banks) which then make the loans to qualified people running small businesses.

You can go to Kiva's website and lend to someone in the developing world who needs a loan for their business - like raising goats, selling vegetables at market or making bricks. Each loan has a picture of the entrepreneur, a description of their business and how they plan to use the loan so you know exactly how your money is being spent - and you get updates letting you know how the business is going. The best part is, when the entrepreneur pays back their loan you get your money back - and Kiva's loans are managed by microfinance institutions on the ground who have a lot of experience doing this, so you can trust that your money is being handled responsibly.

Because the woman in Tajikistan finished repaying her loan recently, I just made another loan, to an entrepreneur named VerĂ³nica Sosa Arroyo in Peru. She still needs another $500.00 to complete her loan request of $525.00; you can start with Kiva by loaning as little as $25.00. You can make a loan to VerĂ³nica Sosa Arroyo too, by clicking this link and joining Kiva.

I really like spending my money to help someone build a sustainable business that will provide income to feed, clothe, house and educate their family long after my loan is paid back.

Join me in changing the world - one loan at a time.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Movie: Enchanted

Slightly frantic and occasionally a bit hollow, this was a fun but not memorable trip through some classic cartoon fantasy tropes. I particularly enjoyed the dance sequences, but the highlight for me has to be the moment when the fabric source for the live-action princess's dress is revealed.

Just mess with them.

Courtesy Instapundit, a great idea: poll dancing.

As a political opinion poll dancer, I take great joy in receiving phone calls from professional polling firm employees and amateur campaign volunteers alike. It matters little to me whether the caller is working for pay or for donuts. And it makes no difference to me whether he dials for a candidate, a political party, a special interest group or someone else altogether. Heck, I even enjoy receiving calls from auto-dial systems that pepper me — albeit in rhythmic-mechanical tones — with opportunities to skew their numbers. When I receive a call from a pollster, I eagerly provide answers — none reflecting my own opinion, of course — as I work my way through what I call “dancing” with the pollster.

I am an outlier politically, as I've discussed all over the place, and this idea tickles me, but because my beliefs already challenge most pollster's answer sets, I will just continue being my contrary self.

Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?



According to cahwyguy, it's National De-Lurking Week. In imitation of his brilliance (or so I don't have to make something up myself), I'd like to encourage all my silent readers to say something. Please speak on up. I don't bite (unless negotiated). If you are reading my journal through its RSS feed, c'mon over to the website and comment. You can do so anonymously (but do sign your name, if you are so inclined). Just come on over and say something. Doesn't have to be on this post, even.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Is there such a thing as too much free time?

I hope not, because if it were ever decreed that there were, we wouldn't get stuff like this: Battle of Pelennor Fields (mixed media, including licorice). And I'd hate to have forgone the opportunity to marvel at the effort, ingredients, and sheer whimsy of it.

Lojack your laptop

Courtesy of Popgadget, for just $49.99 a year your laptop can phone home if stolen.

The choice field and who affects its scope

Reacting to that recent college privilege exercise, Megan McArdle gets it right:

To me, privilege is not about how enjoyable your parents were able to make your childhood leisure time. It's not even about material goods....
[...]
Privilege describes how much scope your parents bequeathed you to shape your destiny. This operates in multiple and often subtle ways. It can be reading in the home, or a peer group carefully selected (usually through real estate purchase) to ensure that you "choose" to go to a competitive college instead of dropping out of high school and selling drugs. Or it might be the way having affluent, stable families enables people like me to opt for high-status, low-paying, personally enriching careers, because we know that if something really awful happens, our families can help out.


That's not the only kind of privilege (unearned advantage), of course: there's the unearned advantage of the able-bodied, and being the right skin color or sex, and even being born in the right place.

Just Mr. Clinton

In the event Hilary Clinton is elected president of the USA, it is correct to address him as Mr. Clinton.

As Miss Manners points out:

The president's spouse is a private citizen with no official rank, and thus is properly addressed, in writing and in person, as Mrs. Washington (with neither her nor her husband's given name; she would be the Mrs. Washington, with no danger of being mistaken for Mrs. Chuck Washington).
[...]
And now to the husband. If anything is sillier than "first lady," it is "first husband" (unless this is necessary to distinguish him from a marital successor also on the scene). He would be the host, and addressed simply by his name and "Mr." or another honorific he held, such as general or governor.

Perhaps this is the place to say once again that American protocol dictates that only one person at a time can hold the title of president of the United States. Former presidents should never be so addressed, although they have even taken to calling one another that. Miss Manners would have thought that having reached that position would surely have cured anyone of status anxiety.

Monday, January 07, 2008

For the really devoted knitter

Some home decor for the really devoted knitter: wall decal.

It's not reason

Ayaan Hirsi Ali argues in a book review published in the New York Times that it is not the West's allegiance to reason that interferes with our ability to understand and respond to the problems of tribal Islam.

Both the Romantic movement and organized religion have contributed a great deal to the arts and to the spirituality of the Western mind, but they share a hostility to modernity. Moral and cultural relativism (and their popular manifestation, multiculturalism) are the hallmarks of the Romantics. To argue that reason is the mother of the current mess the West is in is to miss the major impact this movement has had, first in the West and perhaps even more profoundly outside the West, particularly in Muslim lands.

Thus, it is not reason that accommodates and encourages the persistent segregation and tribalism of immigrant Muslim populations in the West. It is Romanticism. Multiculturalism and moral relativism promote an idealization of tribal life and have shown themselves to be impervious to empirical criticism. My reasons for reproaching today’s Western leaders are different from [the author of the book being reviewed]. I see them squandering a great and vital opportunity to compete with the agents of radical Islam for the minds of Muslims, especially those within their borders. But to do so, they must allow reason to prevail over sentiment.


Worth reading in its entirety.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Dealing death to our enemies

Body count: 6. Of course, 5 of those were goblins. Yeah, I'm a gaming geek. In December I started playing in a Dungeons and Dragons game (3.5). Our first real session was today, in a town that was invaded by goblins. We're going to stick around for a while, there's evidence that a major goblin attack is in planning stages. I had a blast!

Eldering

It's strange becoming an elder, because so far it's less in my own mind than in other people's perceptions of me. I still occasionally startle when I realize I'm a grandmother, and that's largely framing because I don't startle when I think about my grandson. Being a grandmother, because of the way we use language and the way we think of self versus other, is an intrinsic change, not just a new relationship. It is a new identity.

I spent a lot of time and energy figuring out how to be a parent: I read books and magazines, went to classes, talked with friends, and analyzed my childhood for things to avoid (and the occasional thing to incorporate). Grandparenting is a far smaller time burden and less important given that my son and daughter-in-law are good parents, but it's still something I want to do well. Or rather, to reframe again, I want my grandson (and any other grandkids) to have a good grandmother, to have good memories of a grandmother who cared about him. Someone who shared exciting experiences and knowledge with him and thought he was terrific. Someone who showed enthusiasm for him, for his visits and his goals, for his trials and accomplishments.

I haven't given much thought to being the elder parent of adults; that seems trickier, but it also happens over a longer period--I'm not debilitated or chronically ill, and in need of care and someone to make decisions for me, just yet.

We plan and strive to become adults, and while we're adults, we plan and strive for more of the same. But there's no good guide to help us learn to change into elders. To accept the growing limitations on our abilities that are the mirror of growing into them in the first place as youths, to renegotiate the relationships that change from dependent to independent to responsible. Suzette Hayden Elgin, renowned linguist and science fiction author, often discusses eldering on her blog; it's worth reading.

More on unearned advantages

Heh. I just realized that I think of favoring gun control/being against gun rights as privilege: it's the unearned advantage of not spending part of your childhood in the criminal world.

Granted that's an oversimplification: most people's position on gun rights is more nuanced and doesn't arise solely out of "but I'd never use a gun!" or "but I've never been around gun violence!" Just as surely, though, my position is influenced by watching the behavior and learning the thinking and judgment of people who don't think about the laws much.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Strategy

I am still learning about the concept of privilege as used in academia and among those who work for a more fair society. I am beginning to see the utility of the concept and the truth it represents. But I'm also starting to wonder whether talking about privilege outside of a couple of very narrowly-defined venues is good.

I observe that people who are defined as having privilege (and I have some kinds of privilege) when confronted with that definition are often defensive, as if they were being accused of personal agency both in whatever degree they had opportunity to benefit from privilege and as unwitting or willing accomplices in keeping privilege defined to exclude others.

It's also my perception that some people who are defined as not having privilege use that as an excuse for past failure or future lack of effort.

Because I usually focus on agency, I notice that both of these reactions arise partly out of the privilege concept's disregard of effort on effects. Granted, privilege isn't (as I understand it) really about results but about opportunities, it must still be that observing privilege happens because of results. The other major contributor to these reactions is failure to explain (on the one side) and understand (on the other) that privilege in this sense is not a personal, individual thing: it is really only meant to be discussed in terms of an entire society.

What if talking about privilege makes individual situations worse? If so, it's because the concept is basically jargon: it has a narrow definition that is not aligned with the casual use of the word. It doesn't mean the kind of privilege that we talk about when we take away a child's privilege to watch tv because he didn't do his chores, or the kind of privilege that we say driving is when we take away her driver's license because she drove drunk.

Most people who are using this jargon definition of privilege toss the word into conversation without explaining exactly how they're using it, without giving the context that would illuminate the conversation instead of send it off into the same boring dead-end of "But I didn't have privilege, even though I'm a white male! Look, I don't even own a home!" I suspect they do this because they're accustomed to conversing with people who already share their context, and that defining terms isn't necessary or happened long in the past in most of those conversations. And that's a big mistake: it leads to wasted effort, misunderstandings, and alienation.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Care when making resolutions

I don't actually make New Year resolutions--at least, not on January 1. I consider, evaluate, and reshape my life and goals during the month before Rosh Hashana--and I usually keep that process to myself. Advertising my flaws to others doesn't help me change, it just adds humiliation and shame to the roadblocks I challenge in trying to become a better person every year. Better than last year, that is: my competition is with the previous versions of myself, not with some idealized version of a friend or role model.

I did pick a word to focus on during the calendar year, and you'll see it in the left column of the blog: Discover. That means many things to me, and I think it will be useful to me to think about what, who, how, and why I want to discover during the coming year.

But to encourage anyone who makes the more widely-recognized kind of resolution, and to amuse anyone who doesn't, I share with you this treasure found at The Common Room:

It is well, I admit, to make a few good resolutions such as not to commit murder without some small provocation. But even this is a matter of climate and law. In Texas many a good man has shot his friend in spite of his firm resolve never to kill any but strangers. And even when a man might reasonably think himself safe in making a resolution he is sometimes crowed over by fate. Cannibalism is a thing the average man may firmly resolve not to take to. But then let him keep ashore and in towns where they sell provisions, for I knew a man of this kind who was lost in a shopless waste of mountain snow. He had a partner and the partner died. The other didn't. I shall write this story at full length one day when I get time and the requisite experience The experience is my difficulty. But next year I am going to Central Africa....


Morley Roberts in The Idler: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine edited by Jerome Klapka Jerome, Robert Barr, Sidney H. Sime, Arthur Lawrence

How risky?

Thinking about risk is hard and complicated. Just thinking about some risks can make you feel afraid, and that feeling probably influences your assessment of the risk. I've also read somewhere lately (no cite) that we overestimate the likelihood of events that are widely publicized, that we have paid a lot of attention to.

Mind Hacks reports on a study about influences on risk perception in daily life. Participants were given pagers and randomly asked for in-the-moment assessments of risk and predictions of consequences; later some were asked to review the same situations and re-assess the risk, after having experienced the event and its consequences.

Generally, risks were perceived to be short term in nature and involved "loss of time or materials" related to work and "physical damage".

Interestingly, everyone rated the severity of risk as about the same, but women were more likely to think that the worst consequence was likely to occur.

Furthermore, the better the mood of the participants (both male and female), the less risky they thought their activity was.


Most of that doesn't surprise me: I think it would be hard to fight the tendency for mood to influence perspective, and focusing on the now after an abrupt interruption (the pager going off) would also focus perspective on short-term issues. Women thinking the worst was likely certainly conforms to my experience (I do it); I wonder about larger implications on subjects like confidence, courage, and exercising choice. For example, since a woman expects a worse outcome, will she generally choose options with the least severe worst outcome? Should we count women's courage higher than men's for the same choices, since the women are choosing to risk what they believe to be a worse consequence?

The risk assessments from after-the-fact tended to be much lower, showing that people tend to judge things to be more risky 'in the heat of the moment'. Both of these findings demonstrate the importance of emotion in risk judgements, suggesting that it forms another source of information, along with more calculated rational estimates.

There's a lot of thinking meat here for people trying to understand and change their own risk assessment process, or to train others to respond during episodes of risk.

Forgone possibilities

There's an article in the New York Times about regrets: regretting the choices you made that, if made differently, would have led you to becoming a different person. It's about lost possible selves.

Apparently as we age, some of us are able to reframe our regrets by sharing the blame with others involved. You might describe this as defensively shifting the burden to those others, but psychologists think it's an important life skill: recognizing that you didn't act in a vacuum.

One psychologist asked people to write about the fantasy of their future life they had before a major life-changing event, such as divorce. I remember when I was divorced the intense disappointment I felt over losing that fantasy life: the dream of being with the father of my children on our 25th anniversary, surrounded by family; welcoming grandchildren into the world together and sharing their lives; retiring together with someone who had known me for my entire adult life. It was a huge loss to grieve, even though it was just a fantasy.

The psychologist found that those who are able to talk or write about this lost future without sinking into despair or losing hope tend to have developed another quality, called complexity.

Complexity reflects an ability to incorporate various points of view into a recollection, to vividly describe the circumstances, context and other dimensions. It is the sort of trait that would probably get you killed instantly in a firefight; but in the mental war of attrition through middle age and after, its value only increases.


Apparently this is a skill that develops over time; it is part of the process of maturing. You have to practice it to improve it.

“To elaborate on loss, to look for some insight in it, is not just what a psychologically mature person does,” Dr. King said. “It’s how a person matures. That’s what the studies show.”

I'm mildly shocked at the article's focus on lost good possibilities, because when I think of my lost selves, I usually think of the bad ones. The angry, resentful, vengeful person who stayed with her birth family and verbally abused them for the rest of her life; or the drug-using welfare slob; or the work-a-holic driven to prove that her empty life is really success to the family who will never acknowledge her. Or the depressed woman who didn't live this long, because it was too painful and suicide looked like the only way to escape the pain. I don't regret any of the choices and decisions I made to turn away from being those persons, and I had impulses to move in each of those directions over the early years.

The choices that I regret have had serendipitous benefits; the price of changing those decisions would be losing those benefits. I can't objectively tell, in the now, whether failing to marry my first husband (and thereby missing the pain, anger, and frustration of an unhappy marriage plus the stress of divorce) would be worth losing my children, and I'm glad I don't have the opportunity to go back in time and change that decision. All of my choices are like that, mixed good and bad, and so would the lost selves be: some maybe better than who I am today, many worse, all different.