Today I Learned...

Putting the edible back in credibility

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I gave Eron Gjoni (the ex-boyfriend that triggered the gamergate attacks on Zoe Quinn) a lot of benefit of a doubt, partly because I thought the information I had was genuinely enough to support claims either were abusive, and because there was a lot of reflexive disbelief that any man could ever be abused by a woman, and I wanted to counter that to benefit the actual male victims, even if Gjoni wasn't one of them.

I finally changed my mind when Gjoni announced he would do the same thing again.  Nothing he claimed Zoe did to him justified the massive outpouring of rape and death threats she received.  It turns out it was worse than that- as the mob was circling, he continued to feed them information about her, and hinted he was doing more behind the scenes.  He has continued to release information despite a court order to do cease doing so.  That same article also implies Zoe never actually cheated on him, which the chats he posted showed her admitting to.   And in general the narrative doesn't match up with the posted conversations.  That doesn't mean it's true.  He could have faked them.  She could have been in terrified-of-abuse-make-it-go-away mode.  There could be omitted chats.  But I worry the article is ignoring a lot of information.

Shut in Culture
Lauren Smiley's talks about some real problems in her piece on shut in culture, but she's also missing something pretty profound.

COMPLAINT: these services encourage people to be shut ins.

One part of this is an extrovert problem.  A long time ago I read an extrovert complaining about the move to delivery, self checkout, and not chatting to strangers on the bus, because he couldn't get the social stimulation he <i>needed</i> in his day.  I get that that is a real loss for him, and I hope he finds a way to get what he needs.  But what he's complaining about is that social norms are no longer <i>forcing</i> people to give him what he wants at their own expense.  Except not even/more than that.  He is asking for social norms and societal structures that force two people who don't want to talk to each other to do so, when he is not even around, so that the activation energy for starting social interactions will stay low for him.  It reminds me a lot of Christians in the US complaining that they're being oppressed, when what is actually happening is they are no longer quite as privileged relative to other religions.

She dimisses the possibility that these shut ins are actually socializing on line, because on line sociailzing doesn't count.  This is going to sound sarcastic, but it's not:  It must be really nice to enjoy interacting with most people you meet.   Getting a charge off of small talk sounds so relaxing.  Easily finding nearby people you feel truly understand you and you can be yourself around must be even better.  Not all of us are that lucky.  Even if we agree in person interactions are strictly better than online, people we can really connect with may be rare enough that we're forced to look long distance.  And it's kind of shitty to view that as something the weirdos are doing to you, rather than something that is happening to them.

[And yes, lots of these people choose to phrase it as "I'm too good/smart/rational for the normals", which is a dick move and betrays an attitude that makes them unpleasant to be around.  But it's hurting them more than it's hurting you.

Also "learn these skills so you can enjoy more things, some of which you have to do anyway" is a much more compelling argument for learning social skills than "learn to fake this thing you hate so other people will find you acceptable", and I wish someone had put it that way to me earlier]

COMPLAINT: the world is dividing into served and being served.

Everyone she talks earned their money via a job (most of them undoubtably started out with a lot of advantages, but they're not trust fund babies, they had to work to turn those advantages into money), so by definition they're serving somebody.  If you want to argue their jobs don't count because they're working on something that scales rather than an individual service... yup, that is why they are able to hire the people to do their chores, and the people doing the 1:1 service jobs can't.
At least not to the same extent.  They actually indirectly pay a lot of people to do a lot of things for them, relative to a self-sufficient 18th century farmer or a member of the modern bottom billion. In fact, a lot of what the "served" class do is lower the cost of things everyone, including the "serving" class, uses.  Email and all social networking is expected to be free.  Amazon's prices are low for lots of reasons, but one is their excellent software.  Kick ass electronics are accessible to more people every year because engineers discover new techniques to make them cheaper.  

Which is not to say that current system is perfect, or fair, or even very good.  Just that the line she's drawing defining the problem doesn't make any sense.

COMPLAINT: But doesn't going to the store have some intrinsic value beyond the goods you pick up?

Assume arguendo that there is some value in walking to the corner store for groceries, or doing your own laundry, or standing in line at the post office yourself.  I certainly think there's a value add in a homecooked meal shared with friends over a glass of soylent, and found when I offloaded too much of my cleaning it made me feel out of touch with my home.  But I can't do shared meals 21 times a week and I am pretty sure I could feel just as connected to my home with half the grout scrubbing I do now.  Soylent lets me maintain better nutrition and frees up time so that instead of 10 half-asses meals, I have 8 soylents and 2 really delightful meals.  Maybe not everyone does it this way, but of the people that don't, I'll bet they weren't getting a lot of fringe joy out of doing their own laundry before.

 "Optimizing for stated goal at expense of a bunch of fringe goals you didn't know you had" is a common human problem.  But there's no reason to believe that the line for proper number of chores to do is exactly between "complex farming-industrial complex brings delicious food to a building 15 minutes away year round" and "complex farming-industrial complex brings delicious food to my house".  If these services are letting people define their own line, that's a good thing.

COMPLAINT:  People are spending this extra time working, rather than watching sunsets with their lovers/errand jobs suck

I'm combining these two into one complaint because I think they're actually very related.    The way jobs are defined in our society sucks. Programmers are putting those marginal hours into working either because it's genuinely fun for them, or because at that level work has tournament styel compensation and the returns to time are exponential.  This is why it's hard to find a part time programming job even though companies are desperate for programmers, and it sucks.

Errand jobs seem like they'd be great for part time work.  For teenagers with intermittent free time or people with passion projects that pay some but not enough, or not regularly enough, to live on, they could be a real boon.  But as replacements for the cultural archetype of a Job, they suck.  Flexibility often requires a paycut, and if you don't want the flexibility that's a pretty bad deal.  This is why I was so angry when Lyft changed its pay structure to favor drivers who worked full time, or taskrabbit redifined itself to make the rabbits interchangable and give them less control over their day.

Mininum income guarantee would do a lot to alleviate the second problem, but not the first.  The best it could do is allow more people to opt out of tournament style compensation.

Maybe this is my lingering bad feeling over that cut-off culture article (which I just noticed was published by the same website), but I'm really beginning to loathe complaints about "X culture", where X != rape.  The shut-in and cut-off culture articles are shockingly similar, shaming people for choosing not to interact the way the author wants them to.  That's extra creepy for phrases that intrinsically refers to rape culture, which is in large part about feeling entitled to things from people.  Yes, it would be nice if we had little urban villages full of people waving to each other, but if you don't want to wave, or don't want to wave at the people you happen to live near, not having to go outside is extremely powerful.

Who gets to talk about gun control?
Jim Jefferies makes some very good points about gun control in this bit.  Jim Jefferies also confessed to rape on stage (end of the Bare special.  Somehow it hasn't made it onto youtube).  He didn't get into details, but based on other things he's said I assume it was a date-rape-type situation, not something a gun would have prevented.  And yet that fact casts a pall over my enjoyment of the gun control routine  (Yes, being a rapist could be a really elaborate, consistent stage persona, but the gun routine is done in the same persona so that's irrelevant.).  I think it's because he manifestly does not give a fuck about other people feeling safe, at least not when they have something he wants.

The guns he wants to take away make people feel safer.  Feeling safer is important.  Not as important as being safe, and Jefferies makes some convincing arguments that guns make you less safe. If someone like Aziz Ansari or Hal Sparks, who have demonstrated a deep understanding of how our culture makes women feel unsafe, had made those same points, they wouldn't need to explicitly call out that the feelings are legitimate.  Or even Russel Brand, whose act doesn't go beyond "I really enjoy sex with people who enjoy with me" but has demonstrated a willingness to make it weird for people who violate women's boundaries.  Meanwhile, Jim Jefferies has a bit about pulling his friend off a woman he was trying to rape (yay!) and then pressuring her for sex himself (...oh).  So when he makes fun of people's desire to feel safe, my instictive response is "yeah, it is easier if they're afraid enough that implicit threats are enough to get you what you want."

I'm not saying Jim Jefferies can't have good points ever, or that we shouldn't talk about them when he does.  I just want every piece of reporting on him to start with "Comedian and confessed rapist Jim Jefferies..."

Promise that Forever We Will Never Get Better at Growing Up and Learning to Lie
For years I have been trying to whittle down my collection of stuff, and it has recently gotten some more focus as I contemplate having roommates.  Today I got to the pile of CDs.  The old software looks innocuous because it takes up so little space, but this felt important to do.  It's weirdly emotional.

There's reference Manager 10.  It cannot possibly be useful: It almost certainly doesn't run on Win 7, I don't use the program it connects to any more, I write scientific papers any more and if I did something better and free that connects has undoubtably come out in the 10 years since it was released.  But I bought with money from a grant given specifically to me, and used it to work on my thesis. That was pretty much the last act of me following my childhood dream of being A Scientist.  I actually do a lot of science writing now and I may yet do real published work again, but it will be part of a new path, not my old dream.  Intellectually I remember being miserable while using that software and I'm so, so glad that dream didn't come true, but for a long time pursuing it made me really happy and I miss that.

Mitch Hedberg- Strategic Grill Locations.  This is the only comedy album I ever bought.  I'd watched stand up comedy before and wouldn't become a hardcore nerd about it to years later, he's not my favorite comic, but it was the only one I ever bought.  My sophmore year roommate went from being a really good friend to a bundle of pain for both of us, and the one really positive interaction we had that whole year was listening to this album.

Age of Mythology/Warcraft III .  I remember playing these so distinctly.  It was Christmas break my freshman year of college, so I had all the positive emotions of being at college, which was such a dramatic improvement over high school, and the positives of not actually having to do college work, which was hard.  Intellectually I remember missing my friends terribly, but I filled the time with these two games, in a race with my brother to see who could beat both first.  Remember when we had time and energy to just power through long games like this?  I have all the time in the world right now but I can't muster the concentration.

My plan was to try and install these on my Win 7 machine, see it fail, and have no trouble throwing them out because clearly they're valueless.  Like a jerk, AoM installed just fine.  I decided wanting the install to fail was reason enough to toss it.

Zoo Tycoon Marine Mania and Dinosaur Digs, Sims 1 Unleashed (original games nowhere to be found)- These were what I played to give myself a break when I first started college.  At the time I described them as not so much fun as emptying out bad feelings so I could start to build up better ones.

Huh, I thought I was going to have to write one of these for every item, but the rest don't seem important now.  I don't think it's a coincidence the imporant ones are from college.

Sea Lions for Justice
Via a Captain Awkard comment thread (search for sea lion) I found this comic:


It is obviously intended to refer to the pattern of (certain) men coming into feminism threads, making everything about them, refusing to leave, and taking women's refusal to engage as victory. I have experienced that phenomenon*, and it is super annoying. But lots of things are annoying.

When a college friend I haven't spoken to in 10 years posted a picture of his daughter wearing a onesie saying "I'm never allowed to date" to facebook, and I asked " you never wanted her to experience romantic love?", that was annoying.  I knew it was a joke playing on a cultural trope, and I asked anyway.  When you just want to enjoy a show and people tell you it's subtly racist or sexist, that's annoying. Any time anyone has ever suggested someone was, in that moment, displaying or benefiting from privilege was super annoying. It probably felt a lot like a sea lion trying to engage you when you just wanted to eat breakfast.

My point is "that's not what we're talking about right now" is a statement more often used against the oppressed than the oppressors.  Boundaries are great and amazing and wonderful, but it would super problematic if we let "you may only inform me of my prejudice attitudes in ways that don't inconvenience me" be a reasonable statement.  And the Captain Awkward community knows this.  The problem with the person being called a Sea Lion in that thread wasn't that he wouldn't let something go, it was that he was wrong.

*looking at you, guy on OKC who called me an idiot for wanting to change careers, told me what to do instead (surprise, it was something I already looked at and knew way more about than him), mansplained the leaky pipeline to me for over 20 paragraphs, and then said "Let's put a smile on that face of yours"

Review: Iliza Schlesinger: Freezing Hot
This was a tough one for me. Schlesinger is a very good comedian on her technical merits. Her timing and physicality and voices worked phenomenally well together- and that's coming from someone who wouldn't normally like her style. And she's using those powers to fight sexism. On the other hand, her personal front in the war on sexism appears to be demonstrating she can be more misogynistic than any male comedian. Which is in fact true, because a male comedian telling jokes that cliched would never find work.

Yay feminism.

when men tell jokes like "ha ha, girls have vapid conversations about the weather" I assume that they're accurate descriptions of the women they are able to convince to spend time with them. When a woman does it, my first thought is that that is her and her friends. But I have a really hard time believing someone that good at the technical aspects of comedy could actually stand to be around people that dumb. In his book Silver Screen Fiend, comedian Patton Oswalt draws a huge distinction between the jokes that got road work that paid the bills (mostly dick jokes) and the innovative, meaningful work he did at the big SF open mics*. I dearly hope that the same is true for Schlesinger. At some indie open mic in LA she's telling really insightful jokes about... honestly I have no idea, she doesn't give a hint as to anything of any actual value that interests her. And both her specials were Netflix funded, which ought to give her a lot more creative freedom.

More generally, sex positivity is taking a lot of stand up away from me. I fully support Kevin Smith's wife giving as few blow jobs as she wants, but saying she doesn't because feminism is really sad (live show). Ditto David Foley's complaint on women that wouldn't accept him not orgasming during a blow job (Relatively Well). People, stop when it stops being fun. It's almost easier to take Jim Jefferies's super rapey comedy because it's not so close to something good (Fully Functional, Bare).

*I've always found Oswalt's comedy hilarious and completely forgettable, but he's done some great serious writing in books and blogs.

Bronies vs. A Brony Tale
I watched Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony months ago, and I'm watching A Brony Tale two days after surgery when I'm very tired and in a lot of pain, which is important because pain makes me stupid. So I'm not in a great place to do comparative analysis. But I am struck by the different attitude these two documentaries took towards the exact same fandom.

Bronies was done by John de Lancie (Q from Star Trek: TNG). He was overwhelmed by the fan response after he did a single episode of MLP, and became curious about the resemblance between them and early trekkies. He comes across as interested and respectful and happy that other people have found a thing that makes them happy.

Brony Tale was done by Ashley Ball, who voices two of the main characters on MLP. Ball is... well, afraid of bronies or conventions would be a strong word. Possibly I'm confused by someone who talks about fan conventions as some wild and mysterious thing. But at best she regards them as low status, and possibly infectious. I don't think she's actually afraid or worried she'll be assaulted, but it is extremely important to her to signal that she is Not One of Them.

I don't want to criticize Ball too much for treating MLP as a job, not her passion, or for not being particularly appreciate of the fan attention. People are allowed to do acting as a job, and people liking you does not create an obligation in you to react a certain way. But it does seem a bit extreme to make a 75 minute movie about how little you care about something that is so important to other people.

Also Brony Tale had much less sociology despite having actual sociologists. Wearing lab coats.

Every time I think about brony culture I'm reminded how very much our society screws over men and boys when it comes to emotions and non-romantic relationships, and this one is no different. I know adult women who like My Little Pony, and they occasionally mention female bronies in the docs, but it doesn't seem to feel the deepseated longing it does for male bronies. My theory is that a large subset of men never got the kind of social training/reinforcement that we give little girls as a matter of course. That sucks for them. Social support is awesome and everyone should have it unless they do something awful that merits it being taken away.

To be fair, Ball does end the show much more upbeat less disdainful about bronies than she started it. But she's still careful to distance herself, and it's still the Ashley Ball Show, as opposed to the Brony Show.

Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past
I'm going to say up front that the X-Men are my team, and the only four color comic books I've ever read. I was predisposed to enjoy watching this movie, and that is what happened. For all it's flaws, it successfully captured the magic of the X-Men in a way Last Stand and even First Class didn't. The fight scenes were fantastic, much better than most of what Marvel is doing. But then, I like the X-Men.

That said, there are a lot of flaws. Plot decisions were based on how to give the most screen time to the biggest actors, plus annoying Marvel by including Quicksilver despite it making the movie actively worse. The future-framing was gorgeous and as an apocalypse junkie I wanted to see more of it, but it didn't actually contribute any plot. Very few of the choices in the finale made any sense at all.

I feel like a total nerd complaining about this next thing. I know it will sound like a total fan wank because when I heard someone complain that they aged up Havok for the movie. That was dumb. The comics are raw materials for the movies, not gospel. If aging up Havok, or even letting the ages get somewhat inconsistent in all the time traveliness, helped the story, so be it. But that isn't what happened at all. The character Havok was a throw away reference. They could have chosen literally any other mutant, or no name at all, without changing the plot. By using him they permanently confused any attempt to a Havok/Cyclops fraternal storyline, to absolutely no purpose. Anyone who got the reference would be annoyed that it didn't fit the continuity. Why would they do that? Who is it making happy?

Review: Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" (Lena Dunham)
Not That Kind Of Girl is the first memoir I've read that was written by someone younger than me. There was some momentary weirdness in hearing An Official Autobiography discuss facebook and texting in college, but I got over it.

Lena Dunham shouldn't be writing an autobiography. Not because the bulk of her life at the time of writing had been spent in school (Mischna Wolff's I'm Down ends when she's 14 or so, and it is brilliant. Not because 27 year olds can't have interesting reflections on the past (I can still stand some of what I wrote at 27), but because Jesus, this woman has learned nothing. And she knows this, which is why she put "learned" in quotes. Every lesson she gives sounds trite and slightly out of skew with the anecdote that precedes it. She's quoting, whether she knows it or not.

You know how people sometimes defend Dunham by saying the critics are confusing her with her character on Girls? No longer an acceptable defense, unless Dunham reveals this was actually performance art written in the voice of Hannah.

I originally read this to develop an opinion on Dunham's admission of grossly inappropriate behavior with her little sister (check the comments). My opinion is unchanged but now more confident: what she describes is not awful for a young child learning boundaries, but the appropriate framing is, at a minimum, "I can't believe what I thought was okay as a kid.", with an option on "I will forever feel guilty for this unforgivable sin" not "ha ha, I'm so quirky." Her lack of understanding of boundaries is frightening.

And she included several entries from a 10 year old food journal.

Romantic Schelling Points
You occasionally read about people dumped on their birthday, anniversary, or Valentine's Day, with the implication that their ex timed it for maximum hurt. I'm sure that happens occasionally, but I'd like to provide an alternate explanation.

Slightly over a year ago, I broke up with my then boyfriend. It wasn't a catastrophic breakup, but the good parts of our relationship were getting weaker, the bad parts stronger, and the trend wasn't going to reverse. We had to break up, but there was a great deal of flexibility in exactly when. It being late January, I couldn't go grocery shopping without seeing celebrations of romantic love and candy. When I did, I would briefly think "man, if I'd just waited I could have had that" followed very quickly by "no I could not." I could have had a relationship on Valentines day (maybe), but I couldn't have a good one.  And I realized that looking at the displays when recently single stung a little, but looking at them while in a miserable relationship would have hurt much worse.  If I hadn't broken up with him beforehand, it's quite possible I would have dumped him on Valentine's day, as the gap between what a good relationship should be and what we actually had became too glaring to ignore.

I suspect this is what was going on with a lot of those badly-timed breakups.  People got to what was supposed to be a happy day and realized they didn't feel what it was supposed to feel like, and/or they couldn't fake what was expected of them anymore.  It sucks for the recipient, and breaking up earlier would have been better, but nobody was being malicious.


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