Friday, September 30, 2011

Recent 2d amendment news

The Oregon Court of Appeals has struck down a rule forbidding guns from state university campuses (pdf). The FBI reports that gun crime continues to decrease, while gun sales and concealed carry licenses surged. A book of photographs explores some of the estimated 15 million women in the US who own and use guns.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Perception and bias

We have gone through a time of aspirational objectiveness in news reporting, during which the organs that report news in the US have claimed they are merely giving us the facts without spin or commentary (except when labeled as such). For much of that time reporters and publishers of news were admired and valued for investigating and explaining how things worked and how people made them work, from businesses to politics to personal lives.

Except it turns out we don't actually believe them about being objective. Gallup reports that 55% of people polled have little or no trust in the media to be unbaised, to report the news "fully, accurately, and fairly."

The breakdown by party line is revealing.
Seventy-five percent of Republicans and conservatives say the media are too liberal. Democrats and liberals lean more toward saying the media are "just about right," at 57% and 42%, respectively.
If Democratic party adherents and liberals believe the media is just about right, that probably means that what they read and hear in the news closely adheres to their worldview--it reinforces what they already think.

Of course liberals and Democrats also believe (at least the ones I know, and the ones I read) that they have a better perception of the real world, and would argue that the reason conservatives and Republicans don't trust the media is because conservatives and Republicans are misled or wrong about the real world, so when the media reports the truth of the real world it conflicts with the mistaken conservative/Republican perceptions, and therefore it's not that the media is biased (it's still objectively reporting the truth), it's that the conservative and Republican worldviews have skewed so far from reality that the truth looks like a lie to them.

But none of that really matters. What matters is that 55% of people polled in the US don't trust the media to tell the truth. They turn to other sources, sources that don't even pretend to be unbiased, such as bloggers and talk radio hosts. And confirmation bias works again to preclude a community that acknowledges difference and works toward compromise.

This breakdown in trust is a problem for the media to choose to address, or not. But as co-occupants of our society we need to build responsibility toward our community, to commit to shared goals, to lessen our burdens by working together, and I believe these tasks are much more difficult when we lack the insight into other people's thinking and opinions that is the natural consequence of living in the echo chamber.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Too many tabs

Too many tabs open, time to clear out the links:

Why we give up our power, from Justine Musk.

A review of a book on gender differences that distinguishes those differences from institutionalized gender roles.

A terrific word that is new to me: willowwacks.

A new Witness tree.

What is talent? Dean Wesley Smith explains it.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Interesting recently

A video about doing things more effectively/more efficiently, such as peeling a hard-boiled egg.

The futility of diet restriction to improve health, tested by soldiers.
For the first three months, the men ate three hearty meals per day, totaling roughly 3,200 calories. During the second part of the study, lasting six months, food was rationed to two calorie-restrictive meals per day; study participants were then monitored for three months for effects. Only three months into the six-month starvation-phase of the meal plan, the participants just about went crazy.

How crazy? Two ended up being hospitalized in psych wards. In order to get out of the study, one cut off his fingers with an ax while on a supervised visit to a friend’s house. Two others chewed so much gum (as many as 40 packs a day each) that their mouths bled. One started compulsively digging food out of garbage cans and lying about it. Another began hoarding photos of food from magazines.

Keys gave his starving subjects psychological tests throughout the experiment and found, within only a few weeks on the starvation plan, that the healthy young men had become neurotic and psychotic. They’d lost their ambition, self-discipline and mental alertness, along with their ability to focus and comprehend. Their energy levels had been drained.

Now, here’s the scariest part of all: This “starvation” diet, the one that sparked psychosis and mutilation among these starving study participants, allowed an average of 1,570 calories.

That’s right, a little more than 1,500 calories. Anyone who has followed any sort of popular, mainstream diet in the last few decades knows that 1,500 calories is often prescribed as an average calorie limit. Several registered dietitians are still suggesting even less, a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet.

And, from the excellent blog Nolo Irritare Leones, sense about image and clothing choices.
People choose clothes for a variety of reasons, and aren’t mind readers, so there’s no guarantee that the fact that she dresses in a way you consider sexually enticing means she was looking for sexual attention. But also, yes, she may well have dressed that way to appeal – to her boy friend, to her girl friend, to her husband, to the cute man or woman she’s hoping to win, or to people she knows but not to strangers, or to people her age but not people older, or to people she hasn’t already rejected. If I walk into a restaurant, and ask if they’ll take my credit card, I’m indicating an interest in food. I am surely not indicating an interest in someone grabbing me and stuffing food of his choice down my throat, over my protests.

Men who rape look, above all, for vulnerability, and the likelihood that they’ll be able to get away with it. If “slutty” clothes have anything to do with that judgment of vulnerability, it’s precisely because people make excuses for rape in that case.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Forget balance.

Literal balance is a great thing; I don't have as much of it as I'd like, because I have inner ear issues. But that just means I get to play a lot. I bounce off walls intentionally, because I can't always walk straight, and use that to practice moving without good balance; and sitting is always a challenge, as if there were a ninja behind me, pulling the chair away every time. I'm teaching myself to stand on one foot without waving back and forth like a construction crane in an earthquake (saw that once, it was amazing--and the worker didn't come down when the earthquake was over, just kept working).

But balance is not a word that usefully applies to how I spend my time. Some people talk about having balance in their lives, or balancing their activities, or balancing home and work, and it's all garbage. There's no such thing, and not only that, it's a bad goal to have.

When you're trying to balance, you're struggling with the different amounts of attention that you want to pay to things, and you're also struggling with the different amounts of your time those things might need. If work is using up 14 hours of your time plus some of your attention while you're at home, there's no way to balance your home life--you don't have 14 hours in a day to devote to home if you're already using 14 on work.

Yeah, I know--it's not meant to be literal balance, it's just supposed to feel balanced, it's supposed to make everyone you owe a duty to understand that you're performing it. And all the while leaving you enough time and attention for your own needs so you don't feel spread too thin, worn out, used up.

Imagine a set of hanging scales, as are often portrayed being held by blind Justice in statutes and paintings. There are two pans hanging at the end of the chains, and you divide up your life, your to do list, between the two pans. To be balanced, everything has to add up to the same weight, or time, or whatever you're measuring. The very metaphor sets some parts of your life in opposition to others, some relationships in opposition to others, some duties in opposition to others--because to give more attention to one thing you must give less to something else, and then you're out of balance. My desire to spend time with my friend isn't in a contest with my desire to read--I want to do both of those things, different amounts at different times. Saying I want to balance them isn't accurate. What I want is to do the amount of each that satisfies me and (in the case of my friend) her.

Balance is also an artificially stable condition. Life isn't stable; it's flexible, it changes. Life is ambiguous and uncertain. If you're aiming for balance, you'll never achieve it for long, because moments later everything will have changed. That's another reason balance is a bad metaphor: you are set up for failure. All the things you need to do and all the people you need to pay attention to are constantly changing. How much can you spare for the effort of balancing? Because whatever time you're spending thinking about how to balance is time not spent actually paying attention to the things you're trying to balance.

Balancing is also a bad metaphor because it implies giving each demand on your time just enough so it goes back into balance. What about the things that need more than just enough? Some pursuits and some relationships need more; sometimes passion needs free rein and full effort. You can't balance them into your life when what you really need to do is throw your whole life into them.

There's a metaphor that's much better than balance. It's focus.

Focusing is what you're doing when you're in the flow state (if you believe in it or experience it, like me). Focus is what passion looks like in performance. Focus is flexible: you can focus on each duty as needed, to the degree that duty requires. Or you can focus on what you want to do. Switch your focus from one thing to another as appropriate, don't count the minutes and stop your pursuit just to stay in balance. Focus can be tight or wide, depending on your resources (how much time and energy you have available right now) and the needs of the moment.

When you can focus on what you need and want to do, it's easy to strip out the filler, the stuff you might be tempted to add for balance. I don't need to make duty phone calls to my family, because I focus on them when we have something meaningful to share. When I'm at work I set aside personal life for the most part, and focus my attention and energy on doing my best for my employers. And I'm free to do that because the focus I turned on my personal life took care of what was necessary that day.

Give up balancing, unless you're a high wire act. Try focusing instead.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Anonymous who?

Researchers have found that many sayings, poems, etc. attributed to "Anonymous" were written by women.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Word for 2011: Flexible

I've hit on "flexible" as my word for this year--I want to be flexible enough to use whatever word fits my varying circumstances. I want to be physically flexible so I can do the things I want, I want to keep my expectations flexible, I want to flex my thinking.

I can be flexible this year.