This holiday is a frustrating and terrifying experience

I just started wondering how much I drank, and when, because I'm feeling dizzy and my head is pounding. Then I remembered I haven't been drinking.

My chests has been tight for hours, I can barely distinguish one voice from another. There are probably more people here I don't know than people I do. 

My work at Hampshire is a lot less fun to talk about in a room full of people whose only question is "what are you going to do with that to make money?" None of my usual responses feel okay to say right now. "I want to work toward building solutions to climate change." Nope, don't want to get into a fight about whether global warming exists. "We're probably about 10 years out from the end of human employability, anyway." Nope, they aren't gonna let go of their smugness about the liberal arts that easy.

My mind keeps going back to a point, an infuriating point, of rhetoric I heard once about social justice activism: that you need to be able to convince your family. That if you aren't doing that, you aren't really doing anything. 

As if family isn't a place to find a catalogue of almost every mentally ill person's triggers. As if they're the people you're most likely to be able to handle. As if they aren't the people most likely to assume that they're your intellectual superiors no matter what happens, ever.

I feel like I'm burning up and freezing at the same time. I'm hungry and thirsty but I'm afraid to eat or drink because I feel like I'm going to throw up. I can't stand in this hailstorm of microaggressions and fight for the hearts and minds of my family. I can barely fight for myself.

And I resent the implication that changing these minds is the litmus test for my ability to contribute to social justice movements.

Fascism and expression

  I have a set of rotating quotes for my desktop and lock screen images on my computer. For most of them, they're just quotes I like. This one, though, is there because the idea is hard to hold on to -- it's a slippery understanding and repeatedly seeing it pop up on my desktop is helping me slowly start to clamp down on it. walter-benjamin-desktop


"Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. ... The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war." --Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)

Looking at this quote, I think about the theater of the American government -- of rallies and debates, of the performance of congresspeople -- I remember a Jon Stewart clip where he showed a US House Representative using a giant pair of scissors to cut up a giant credit card meant to represent the United States' borrowing.

And I think about the first amendment -- about the idea that's so pervasive in America that our single greatest achievement as a country is Freedom of Speech and Expression. That having the first amendment vouchsafes all other freedoms, all other rights, all other moral obligations, automatically -- that the fact that we can freely criticize the system automatically means the system is reshaped in the face of those criticisms.

I'm not saying that freedom of expression is bad. But I am saying that there's something scary about the superficial, iconic freedoms we hold up in America as proof we're a functional and moral country.

Terry Pratchett died today

I don't have a lot to say. That's not true. I have a huge amount to say. Terry Pratchett was, and will continue to be, one of the most important writers in my life. Apart from 1984 no book has had a greater influence on me than Going Postal, and Going Postal edges out 1984 for favorite book on account of it being a lot funnier.

I've made myself cry a whole bunch today imagining --

well, I wanted to write something there, that I'm sure other Pratchett readers can easily guess. But I'm writing this post at work, and I don't want to start crying in my cubicle.

I don't have a lot to say that won't reduce me to a shaking, wet-faced puddle, and I need to get at least a little bit of work done today before that happens.

I'll miss Terry Pratchett, now that he's gone. And I'm really, really glad that he existed in the first place.

I've been thinking about good cops lately

I heard a lot in the last few months people talking about how not all cops are bad -- how there are good cops, and we shouldn't hold the bad cops against them. And I just keep thinking, more and more, like --

There's a thing, that's really deeply established in our culture, called "Good cop, bad cop."

The bad cop is the abusive monster who breaks rules and violates your human rights.

And the good cop is the guy who lets him do it, so you feel like you have to cooperate with him.

That's not one good guy and one bad guy. That's two people who are both deliberately undermining the system of protections that are supposed to insulate you from institutional violence. Two people who are both saying "This system is only here to protect you when you're doing what we want."

A "Good cop" isn't someone who's standing up for what the system's supposed to be. A "Good cop" is the guy playing the honeymoon side of the abuse cycle.

On the scale of an interrogation, we get this. But for some reason when it comes to a whole institution, some people can't see that it's not an ideological rift within the police force; it's a division of labor.

Lots of sad, dark thoughts on Serial (definitely spoilers)

Mike Rugnetta did not address the aspects of Serial that I had guessed he was going to. Instead, he talked about the nature of subjectivity and objectivity and the law, and saved a discussion of the same re: journalism for next week.

So, unfortunately, I don't have the jumping-off point I was hoping for -- it would have really helped to have someone smarter than me get the ball rolling on this one.

Serial doesn't resolve. That's a really stressful quality it has. It's a story about a person possibly-wrongfully in prison, it's an exploration of the circumstances surrounding his case. It started airing while the investigation was ongoing. Resource-laden people who believe he's innocent became involved in the case during the series. Sarah Koenig can't possibly have known that it wouldn't have resolved. She says so a number of times: she expected to catch a break. She expected the case to be solvable.

Mike takes the time to remind the audience that Serial is real, but in case you didn't watch the video: Serial is real. It's actually a story about a real person who is currently in prison, about a real teenage girl who was actually murdered in 1999. The ambiguities and conflicts were not artfully constructed and balanced to be just-barely-uncrackable. It's real. Adnan Syed is really in prison. Hae Min Lee is actually dead.

I'm going to keep trying, but I can't think of a better way to say what I'm trying to say. It's real. It really happened in 1999. For Adnan and his family, it really is still happening now. It's real. It's real.

In the closest he comes to talking about what I thought he was going to talk about, Mike calls the end of Serial Kafkaesque. It reminded me of something I once saw Christopher Hitchens say in an interview, about a story he was writing about Soviet Russia.

He had been smuggled into the country and was in the basement with his hosts, and he was going to be the first person to write a news story there without calling it Kafkaesque. But on his first night there, the secret police burst in and arrested everybody. He said, "They make you do it."

The idea stuck with me. That that's what a Kafkaesque real world would have to be like: if it were anything short of cartoonishly, surreally, randomly, capriciously oppressive, it wouldn't really be the kind of world Kafka described. And that's what still makes me sick to think about: that Kafka's world was the real world. That he wasn't exaggerating or making it up. It was real. It was real.

Would it be unfair or over-dramatic to say that Adnan Syed woke up one day in 1999 to discover that he'd turned into an insect? If he's innocent. Or that he's performing an extraordinary feat of starvation? If he's guilty.

The United States is second on Wikipedia's list of countries by incarceration rate. And next to our number, 707 per 100,000, is a note that leads to a section explaining all the different kinds of prisoners the United States leaves out of that count. Those are real numbers.

In a 2012 study people who watched certain major TV news sources performed worse on questions about international affairs than people who watched no news at all. After NPR (the people who make Serial) the next best performance came from people who get all their news from a parody news show on a comedy channel. That was a real study.

As jobs that require only a high school education become harder to find, and the minimum wage lags behind inflation by about a third and behind the cost of living by about half, the cost of attending college has increased at a rate that exceeds inflation for at least three decades. Those are real statistics.

My first thought about Serial was "Oh, isn't it cool that we're getting culturally used to hearing stories with a lot of ambiguity?" But that line of thinking ignores one huge, important detail: It's real. It's real. It's real.


There's been another non-indictment of murderous cops. The police officers who shot John Crawford when they saw him in a Walmart with a BB gun may not face any consequences. The DoJ are looking into it. Reminder: Ohio is an open-carry state, which is that thing where (white) people are allowed to walk around with actual, real guns in public consequence free.

Brief Ferguson updates

Ferguson response protests are taking place today in Exeter, N.H. at 5 p.m. (DETAILS) and in Boston, Mass. at 7 p.m. (DETAILS). For folks everywhere else in the country, those two links both lead to a blog that's got full of listings for events nationwide. The National Bar Association is calling for federal charges against Darren Wilson. Wilson can still be charged for this murder on a federal level.

I have other thoughts, but they're personal -- like, they're about me, a white person living in New Hampshire, and about the way Wilson's non-indictment relates to my life, specifically -- which I think would be extremely inappropriate right now.

Darren Wilson was not indicted

I haven't really got much to say tonight. I'm furious. I am obviously, by an unimaginably large margin, not the most furious, nor the most justified in being furious. Darren Wilson murdered Mike Brown, and was put on paid leave, and the police and national guard violently suppressed peaceful protests against the Ferguson PD's complete failure to take any steps against Wilson for his criminal behavior. After over three months, a grand jury agreed that Wilson had done nothing wrong -- to such an absolute level of certainty that they wouldn't even proceed with a trial.

I really hope I don't have to talk to anybody at work for the next few days because vitriolic anti-cop rants are going to make up like 70 percent of my conversations for a while.

Fuck the police, fuck the national guard, fuck Missouri governor Jay Nixon, fuck Darren Wilson, and fuck the USA.

Poorly distributed complexity: stuff isn't fair

You know the phrase 'life isn't fair?' That's true, but it's an incredibly hard thing to wrap your head around. The universe isn't set up to serve the interests of living things. The ecosystem isn't set up to serve the interests of humans. Human institutions aren't set up to serve the interests of all humans equally. Even personal, individual relationships aren't always set up to optimize for the well-being of all parties.

Comic: a whale has been struck by a harpoon, another whale says "It's okay, Hank. I just read that the goal of ethics is to maximize human flourishing." SOURCE: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, comic number 3420


I spend a lot of time thinking about un-fairness as a founding principle of understanding life. I want things to be more fair -- and I think that's a goal that can be pursued with meaningful success.

I could do a whole series on this,[1. Other examples: it's not fair that purchasing goods and services can lead to supporting anything other than the existence of those goods and services; it's not fair that there's no way to choose political neutrality without siding by default with the current power structure; it's not fair that Western culture on the whole systematically misrepresents adulthood to children to make adults feel good about their idealized notions of the world; it's not fair that it's impossible to use language to communicate ideas clearly without leaving out important details.] but one of the unfair things that bothers me most, and most frequently, is that there is absolutely no set of relationships between:

  • How important it is to understand something,
  • How easy that thing is to understand,
  • How easy it is to get help in understanding that thing.

Like, the United States legal system is literally so complicated that it takes an advanced degree to be able to deal with it with a significant level of competency, but that degree is very expensive, the ideas that you have to learn in getting it are complex, often contradictory, and usually counter-intuitive, and everyone in the US is nonetheless required to behave in a way that corresponds in a certain way to those ideas.

Or, understanding the suffering of a marginalized group requires accepting that they face a constant barrage of microagressions, but any attempt a marginalized person makes to testify to those experiences sounds very much like cherry-picking and can rhetorically be neutralized by actually cherry-picked experiences that a privileged person has had.

Or, we're taught to understand money in terms of a static value -- a millionaire is a person who has a million dollars, you can get rich by winning the lottery and being given a big pile of money -- when the actual functionality of money is more like a rate of flow -- a million dollars is 20 thousand a year if you want it to last 50 years, which is like having an extra household member with a poverty-level job, not like being a millionaire at all.

And, importantly, to all three of those examples you could criticize my summary by pointing out that it's actually way more complicated than that. Which is my point.

Stuff like this reminds me why stuff like Voltaire's famous quote, "The perfect is the enemy of the good," is so important. These problems are all fundamentally un-solvable, because the universe is unfair and we've got brains shaped by evolution and there are lots of people who stand to keep a lot of money and power if these ideas stay confusing.

But knowing we can't solve these problems doesn't mean trying would be bad. The difference between any of them being 0% solved or 10% solved or whatever[2. And calculating percentage-solvedness of these problems is another impossible thing that is nonetheless useful.] and being 50% or 80% solved is a difference of a huge amount of suffering or well-being. Even individual actions by individual people contain a degree of significance that is both trivial and meaningful.

Which is a confusing idea that seems complicated or self-refuting and is hard to express using language, but it's also really important.


I've been thinking a lot this week about this article, I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System. Specifically, I've been thinking about this passage:

But in between the important cases, I found myself spending most of my time prosecuting people of color for things we white kids did with impunity growing up in the suburbs. As our office handed down arrest records and probation terms for riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed – shenanigans that had rarely earned my own classmates anything more than raised eyebrows and scoldings – I often wondered if there was a side of the justice system that we never saw in the suburbs.

I know this isn't really news to anybody, or groundbreaking legal philosophy or anything, but it's really important to spend some time sitting with the question: what does it mean for a society to have laws of which everyone, or almost everyone, is guilty, and which are prosecuted selectively?

Cory Doctorow talks about this in one of his talks, Authors@Google: Cory Doctorow,[1. This section starts around 20:30, but for full context start at 19:00.] describing black market laws in the Soviet Union -- since the legal markets sometimes sold nothing but forks, to survive you needed to buy food on the black market. Therefore, everyone was guilty of using black markets. Therefore, if anyone with the authority to arrest anyone wanted to arrest anyone at all, for any reason, they could -- and the transgression doesn't have to be illegal, because they can just charge them for using black markets.

He compared that to piracy laws, that have allowed the entertainment industry to target disruptive programmers and musicians -- whose behavior was totally legal -- for illegal downloading, which everybody, or almost everybody, is guilty of.

In the video Don't Talk to Police, (which I recommend,) Officer George Bruch of the Virginia Beach Police Department tells a classroom "I can follow a car for however long I needed to and eventually they're going to do something illegal."

Almost nobody doesn't speed. People drive recklessly. People forget their seatbelts. People forget to signal, people tailgate, and so on. Nobody drives legally -- which is how tongue-in-cheek offences like "Driving while black" emerge. Cops can pull over whoever they want, and, it turns out, they mainly want to pull over people of color.

White people, myself included, routinely rely on the common sense of authorities that, while an act might be technically illegal, enacting the proscribed punishment would be absurd. We grow up assuming that everybody can rely on that common sense -- that the system as it's written has its problems, but they're resolved by the reasonableness of the humans with good intentions that are responsible for enforcing it.

People of Color, LGBTQIAP+ people, and other groups of people who are Othered by the mainstream of society don't have that protection to the same degree as mainstream, cishet white people.

And, as we're seeing in Ferguson, Mo. at the moment, it works in the other direction, too. When a white cop shoots an unarmed black teenager while he's running away with his hands up, then keeps shooting after he's on the ground and dead, then prevents the family from identifying the body and leaves him in the street for hours, it suddenly becomes common sense to a lot of Americans that, since being a cop is scary, it's not really reasonable to go through the procedure of taking away that cop's gun and investigating him. That ambiguity about which laws are really fair to apply manifests in defense of the white cop who used excessive force and murdered a black teenager.

This is a big part of what Thoughtcrime was about in 1984. It wasn't just the criminilization of beliefs and expressions of belief -- it was the existence of a crime of which everyone was guilty, so that in the eyes of the law, no one can reasonably defend themselves. That way, the police can do whatever they want. No one can possibly feel safe to stand up against them; although, as long as you're not planning on it, it's pretty easy to feel like you aren't guilty -- because no cop in their right mind would arrest you.

All my anger and frustration in a sphere of uniform density on a frictionless plane

I wrote a post here about what's going on in Ferguson, Missouri, but it was self-indulgent and self-centered so I deleted it. Then, Wordpress failed to save all the progress on my second draft. Central point: here are links to my Tumblr, where I've been tagging everything I've found about Ferguson.

Ferguson tag, for stuff directly relating to Ferguson in particular

I'm white tag, for issues of race in general, including the two (at least) other incidents of cops murdering unarmed and surrendering Black men and one attempted murder of a Black woman, since Mike Brown was murdered.

more late night phone bloggin' -- today was a busy and stressful day

I'm coming up on a deadline at work soon, and several stories took longer to pull together than would have been ideal. Consequently, I spent most of today and part of tonight working on finishing a story that's going to be filling more space than originally planned, and I have interviews in Reading tomorrow and Thursday. Reading is a nice place, but I hate driving, and the parking is very much city parking, which I am bad at. Furthermore, I forgot to do a very important thing at work yesterday, that I said I was going to do. I realized that at 8 a.m. today, after which point I couldn't go to sleep -- which would have been really convenient had I remembered before 11:30 the doctor's appointment I had at 9:30. I don't know if they're going to charge me for missing it, because I'm scared to call.

Fortunately the people involved in the next phase of the thing did their part anyway, so rather than causing a big catastrophe I just inconvenienced some other employees. :


Home was good, though. Had fried rice and tofu for dinner and watched "Girl Most Likely" with Caitlin.

Voting with our dollars is a terrible premise

Lately I've been more and more frustrated when I hear people responding to their distaste for problematic organizations by refusing to spend their money there.  I mean -- it's fine if you don't want to shop at Walmart.  That choice in itself isn't, I think, particularly harmful.  But it bugs the hell out of me when people think that's an effective, or especially a sufficient, form of protest. There's a premise in Libertarian capitalism that, since people are basically smart, given a totally free market we'll gravitate towards the best choices for our future.  The premise is that we'll vote with our dollars to elect the best available collection of resource providers, for our own well-being, the well-being of the economy, and the well-being of the world.

There are a few reasons that this premise is horribly, horribly wrong.

Nobody's perfect

There's something hugely problematic about the idea that intelligent people necessarily make good decisions, or that making bad decisions necessarily implies that you're less than normally capable of evaluating situations.  It's very well established that there are situations in which people reliably make bad decisions -- because of the way the choice is presented to them, because of how we think of priorities, because we don't have all the information or don't have the time to invest in fully exploring the implications of every decision we make.

Successful institutions know that.  They at least are capable of looking on Wikipedia (same link as above), and often can afford to hire their own psychologists to construct experiences designed to lead consumers to make decisions that benefit the institution as often as possible.  Unless we live in a world in which literally everyone's interest in every context all the time are exactly the same, that means institutions actively work to get people to make choices against their interests.

So on the biggest possible scale, if everyone were doing "Vote with your dollars," it would fail miserably.

It's not really collective action

Dollar voting gets its appeal because it resembles some successful forms of collective action:  strikes, protests, and, most blatantly, democratic voting and boycotts.  But "Vote with your dollars" doesn't really ask people to join together and make a conscious, deliberate effort to affect a specific problem.  It suggests that, if everybody keeps in mind that they should probably sometimes not spend money at certain places or on certain things, collective action will just happen.

I've seen people pull together collective action campaigns, and it's damn hard.  Somewhere in every successful collective action campaign, there are a handful of people doing a huge amount of work to keep the effort focused, pointed, and coherent.  That's because collective action that seeks to change something is necessarily pushing for some specific change in normal behavior.  The kind of collective action that emerges naturally without any strong central organization -- like the harassment of women who create online content (trigger warning: depictions of physical violence) -- is collective action to resist change and enforce the status quo.

Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with choosing not to shop somewhere, or buy something, that you have a problem with.  But believing it serves as a meaningful form of protest -- and, especially, deciding it's enough protest -- means the idea of dollar voting is neutralizing the efforts of people who might otherwise contribute to change.

It derails/overrides discussion about real problem-solving mechanisms

Dollar voting, and its close relative "If people didn't want it, they wouldn't buy it," are incompatible with legislation as a form of problem solving.  The easiest way for a large body of people to make a change in the marketplace is to make use of democratic government, an institution that is literally designed to do that.  In America, writing a letter to your congressperson about a problem you see is significantly more effective than deciding not to buy a thing you might otherwise have bought.  It's even more effective to try and organize in your community to let your government know exactly what you expect of them.

Dollar voting creates a weird attitude, like "We don't have to get the authorities involved in this," which is not a good attitude for individuals to have in approaching problems with institutions.  Off the top of my head, I can think of a lot of good reasons not to call the cops if I'm having an argument with someone that involves something technically illegal.  There would be even more good reasons if I weren't white, didn't pass as male,[1. I'm nongender, but assigned male at birth.] etc.

But for three very important reasons, responding to corporations and other institutions by involving the government is not the same.

  1. If you call them, they don't show up at your house with guns.
  2. They know that their job, specifically theirs, depends on enough people like you thinking they should be allowed to keep it.
  3. You have no power to control the way corporations behave -- or, insofar as you have any such power, you have that power through the mechanism of the government.

This part is my biggest problem with dollar voting.  It encourages activist-minded people to bypass institutions in our society that are, theoretically, there for us to exercise control over the way things are done.

There are other big problems -- like the fact that most brands with a strong moral identity are owned by institutions that control brands of a huge variety of moral identities, which sets all of those institutions up to mitigate the shock caused by a sudden, brief period of strong disapproval.

And that's all voting with your dollars can really be -- a sudden, brief response to a powerful piece of news, that most people are going to forget about within a month or two.  And if that effort had been channeled into (a.) setting up a core activist group and (b.) pushing for change through the government, which, again, is for exactly that, the burst might have some meaningful effect.

But it's great news for a brand facing bad press if the main response is "Everybody stop buying it," because all that means is some people stop buying it, for maybe a month or two, and a bunch of other people feel a warm, fuzzy sense of activism when they continue to not buy the thing they already weren't buying.

Charles Stross points out problems with bitcoin that I had never thought of and totally agree with

Why I want Bitcoin to die in a fire, by Charles Stross

I've been pretty excited about Bitcoin, before reading this post, for a few reasons:

  • every time I thought about buying some, shortly after the price has skyrocketed.  If I hadn't been so anxious about doing it, and if I had cashed out immediately every time it doubled then bought back in after the next crash, I would have a reasonably larger amount of money than I have right now.[1. Astute readers may notice that there are two explicit, and one more implied, if in that sentence, as well as the dubious claim that my memory of when I wanted to buy Bitcoin is perfect and not at all distorted by confirmation bias.]
  • I really like the idea of a functional currency that's not dependent on any central storage location.
  • Infinite divisibility is built into the nature of Bitcoin, and I think that's an economic concept that's going to matter.[2. Not only am I not an economist, I'm not even reasonably experienced at guessing about economic theories.]
  • When I first heard about Bitcoin, I was significantly more sympathetic to libertarian politics than I am now.

It's embarrassing to open up a blog you really admire and discover a post viciously tearing apart something you'd previously thought well of.  I'm drawing attention to this one in particular because Stross's post not only totally changed my mind about Bitcoin,[3. I'm wary of sudden conversions of point of view in general, but this one seems more like a specific-application change to a broader, longer-term shift in views.] but helped dig up some of the libertarian political ideas that I hadn't realized were still hanging around in my head, being problematic and gross.

First and foremost, and the only one I have a huge amount to say about right now, the super popular internet-libertarian political view "Child pornography is a small price to pay for FREEDOM" -- You don't have to examine this view too deeply before dozens of things emerge that are horribly wrong with it, but there's a convincing surface-level argument in favor of it:  "You can't rule out a possibility just because it makes you feel gross" can be convincing if you don't look at it too hard, and can easily be enough to change someone's mind if they (Like I was at 19) are paranoid that they're not being intellectually rigorous enough.

By the way, just to make me feel a little less gross, here are some of the many problems with that argument: (a.) monitoring all the content on the internet and monitoring all exchanges of funds are hugely different levels of surveillance, and this case equates them; (b.) it dismisses the possibility of increased effectiveness by targeted surveillance, which is more possible with a monitorable currency; (c.) on this point the libertarian philosophy is self-contradictory:  it protects the rights of pedophiles and child pornographers to own and profit by their content, but not the rights of children to their likeness, bodily autonomy, or privacy; (d.) in the case of child porn, the squick factor is actually a pretty solid case.

Damn, this post got darker than I thought it was going to.  The stuff-I-used-to-think folder in my brain gets grosser every time I unpack it a little more.

stuff about education and therapy

Reading Tressie McMillan Cottom's recent post about the future of higher education, I started thinking about what sort of things a higher education institution could do to help ensure that folks are really prepared for some sort of meaningful engagement with the world outside college. So I thought about what sort of stuff I've learned at college that has prepared me for the larger world.  I certainly feel more prepared now -- I have skills, and I understand things, that I didn't before, I'm certainly a better writer than I was going in -- but the biggest thing is that I feel a lot more emotionally stable, and able to deal with anxiety and social situations, than I was coming out of high school, or during the two years after high school when I hid in my bedroom and read Wikipedia.

And that mostly doesn't have much to do with college.  I mean, I've had some very healthy and productive social relationships at college that have helped move me towards a better place -- but I've also had a handful of awfully destructive relationships at college, and there wasn't anything at the school that helped me distinguish between them.

What really helped, I think, was therapy.  Maybe therapy combined with Liberal Arts.  But I'm not sure that therapy can be mass-produced on an institutional level.  Which is a shame, because I know basically nobody who shouldn't see a therapist at least sometimes, and especially if the goal of the therapy is, beyond just coping with the experience of day-to-day life, developing the life-skills to be a generally more balanced person, capable of having healthy relationships and choosing and pursuing positive goals.

Maybe instead of pushing people to go into STEM programs, since apparently we don't actually really need any more, the institutional education propaganda should encourage people to become professional counselors.  (Though that creates the serious problem of people going into therapy because it seems like a lucrative career and not actually being any good at it.)

Thinking about whether my education is actually useful is stressful, and it seems like it would take a pretty intense reworking of not just the education system but the economy into which it's pouring kids, so I don't think there's anything I can say on this topic that's really insightful or helpful.

PSA: This is what I think about when I wake up at 7am.  When possible, please let me sleep in.

A thing I did on Tumblr (about the 2nd amendment)

On Friday I reblogged a thing about how AR-15s suck, adding:

Scrolling through my dash and I was like “Why did I reblog this?”  Then I read the comments and I was like “Oh yeah.”

Fuck the NRA.

Then, some asshat reblogged me, writing this:

Why?  Do you even have a reason for your unjustifiable hate for an organization that wants to protect your second amendment rights?  I’m still baffled by this ignorant stance.

I got annoyed and wrote a response.  It ended up being over 500 words long, so I don't want it to just die in the rapid descent of untagged content deep in the bowels of my tumblr archive.  So, here it is:

Ooh, 2nd amendment arguments!  I love these!

  1. The second amendment as it’s defended today bears little if any resemblance to the reasonably predictable outcomes of the second amendment as it was instituted in the freaking 1700’s.  This isn’t about a well-armed-militia or protecting ourselves against the potentially oppressive state.  This is the fact that weapons are in many ways fundamentally different from what they were, what they could possibly be, in 1787.
  2. The NRA routinely opposes laws and policies that have near-unanimous support of the people of the United States.  They lobbied against background checks, for fuck’s sake.
  3. "Guns don’t kill people; people kill people" and "If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns" are shining examples of the full-tilt anti-complexity attitude that dominates our political dialogue, and I vehemently oppose any organization that employs these tactics any more than is strictly necessary to function in the media environment of the United States.  They’re both fucking stupid arguments that over-generalize the way people behave and think — and, yeah, criminals and violent people think, they make decisions, they respond to laws in ways that are oriented towards keeping them out of fucking jail.  If those changes of behavior mean they have to concede to being less likely to murder lots of people, most of them will make those changes.  So, for example, if you can go to jail for just having a gun, nobody is going to use a fucking gun to rob a fucking convenience store.  It wouldn’t be worth it for the majority of criminals to carry guns, and guess what?  That means less death!  Less death = success.  A political policy need not eliminate all death, or even all death from a particular cause,to be successful.  Politics (and, yeah, this includes the constitution) is basically all about damage control.
  4. What I just said there?  About damage control?  Based on their behavior, assuming the majority of the people in charge are remotely competent, it’s pretty obvious the damage the NRA is trying to control is damage to the firearms industry’s bottom line.  Frankly — and, if you disagree with me on this, I don’t know what grounds we could possibly have an argument on — I think it would be better for the entire personal firearms industry to collapse, with all the lost jobs that entails, than for that industry to keep enabling widespread access to deadly weapons and a cultural atmosphere that normalizes having and using them.  People being jobless is better than people being dead.  Formerly rich executives being poor is better than formerly poor people being dead.
  5. The dialogue on gun control in the US is only one example of many dialogues in which the active refusal to consider any quantity of evidence as adequate is normal and accepted, but it is one of those dialogues, and each and every one of them is irresponsible, nihilistic and existentially threatening to the United States and its people.  I hold everyone on your side of this argument personally responsible for a share of the death that your grandstanding causes.
  6. Fuck the NRA.
  7. Fuck you.

Trans* 101 redux

What I pulled together wasn't a great presentation, but I think I did an okay job presenting it.  People laughed at the funny parts.  Nobody in the audience threw stuff at me. The section I blogged about yesterday ended up only being about one slide long, and basically just said "Use the pronouns people prefer" over and over, juxtaposed with various dumb arguments for getting to use some other pronouns.

I followed that up with the Genderbread Person graphic from  One of the few questions I got actually referred to that slide -- someone was confused about the difference between identity and expression, and why someone would present in a way that differs from their gender identity.  I explained about how some people have situations at home or at work that prevent them from presenting as freely as they'd like, how some people have reasons for presenting the way they do -- like, I wear mainly boy clothes because I like pockets -- how some people can't present the way they identify -- also me, I have no idea what a nongender person dresses like, and there's no way I could dress that wouldn't still place me firmly in the gender binary to most people -- and how some people just don't feel obligated to conform to a social expectation of how they have to try and look if they want their identity to be respected.

I went over how dictionary definitions suck for this, because the dictionary isn't a law book of what is true about language, it's lexicographers' best shot at how language is being used at the time of compilation.  I explained that, particularly with linguistic territories as rapidly changing as the names for marginalized groups, the dictionary and the internet are never going to be able to give a final, definitive answer about what words mean and which words are okay.

I quoted from one of my favorite short stories, "N-words" by Ted Kosmatka, which is about the racism neanderthals face after being cloned in Korea, about the language used to describe them after neanderthal became a racial slur:

Every few years, a new name for the group would rise, and then it would sink again under the accumulated freight of prejudice heaped upon it.

They were called neanderthals at first, then archaics, then clones, then -- ridiculously -- they were called, simply, Koreans, since that was the country in which all but one of them had been born.

(Note: I got the text from a podcast reading of the story (at so I'm not sure I got the punctuation right.)

At the end, I begged people for questions because I was very confident that I wasn't clear, and I got a couple.  (I mentioned one of them above.)

If I could do anything differently, I would definitely do the slides in a different order.  The way I just wrote them down makes a lot more sense than the way I presented them in the slides.  And, I would address nonbinary gender pronouns.  I totally forgot to do that, and had to hack together a slide at the end to bring it up, because it's obviously one of the most blatantly give-able pieces of information in a presentation mainly about how I don't, and can't, have answers for people.

I'm definitely hanging on to this, though.  I might be able to use it in a class some time.