Monday, February 28, 2011

Half-empty by David Raikoff

This well-written collection of mostly auto-biographical essays by Raikoff was thought provoking (and slightly amusing) but also not too uplifting (as warned). Raikoff’s content does seem to belie the stereotype of the New York lefty intellectual that engages in meta-analysis and critique of daily living. He is a better word smith than Sedaris but less funny (not that that was his intent).
His tale of cancerous woe is quite touching and his examination of Rent quite devastating.
Give it a try.

Djibouti by Elmore Leonard

(Unfinished ~ 28%)
I hadn’t read any of Leonard work but I did enjoy Get Shorty, so I had been meaning to check out a book. When I learned that his recent novel, Djibouti, examined the world of Somali pirates by using the premise of documentarians getting into hijinks, it seemed like a good selection. I had been interested to learn more about piracy in that region and surrounding issues. Additionally, I thought it would be engaging to explore film-making. Seemed like a win-win… and yet I couldn’t finish it. It did not captivate nor delight in wordplay. Perhaps it would make a better movie, but the book is likely not worth your time unless you are a huge fan.
What a disappointing experience.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Taboo Topics and Empirical Inquiry

A Facebook 'friend' (that I have never met in real life) recently posted a story about how a police officer said "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this... however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."
I had read about this last week and I thought it interesting that the police officer was in full retraction mode and was being reprimanded and the like. I found it interesting because there was never any discussion about whether it was true or not. While I do believe women should be able to dress however they like and that does give a man a right to assault or harass them, I do(did) think that their manner of dress might matter in terms of who becomes victimized.
Consequently, when I commented on the story that is the approach I took. A fruitful discussion did not happen. Even though I clearly stated "I don't believe X, can we discuss Y?" I was vilified for believing X. It appears to me to be such a clear case of confusing explanation with exculpation (to quote Pinker).
I have cut and pasted the entire exchange below so you can form your own opinion of the situation. (Note: the FB thumbnail pictures didn't paste but I have kept the boxes there for ease of demarcation.)

I believe I made one, possibly two, errors. My primary error was that I presented an intuitive belief as a fact instead of more clearing stating it as a hypothesis subject to revision based on useful evidence and information. This error is visible in my first comment which is about 16 comments in.

My second potential error would be that I tried to engage people and seek evidence on a topic that is highly sensitive and that is already the subject of many misunderstandings and prejudices.
This second one is more just a saddening and frustrating fact about our world. If I had the chance to do it over, I probably would still engage but try to be even clearer in my reasons for seeking evidence and the fact I do not support blaming the victim.

Tactically (and actually to be honest), I think a good framing is "What can I tell my daughter, sister or mother?"   If the person says, "Absolutely nothing, they can do nothing" I would debate this point as it seems unlikely, but I am willing to be convinced there is little that can be done (go where the evidence and logical rigour leads).

Looking back I can't help but think this::
My perception of my actions (at the time): Concerned and curious, seeking information.
Other perception of my actions: Apologist for sexual assaulters, may suffer from mental health issues. (ouch!)

Yes, "Someone on the Internet was Irrational" is not news, but when YOU become the target of attacks based on misunderstanding, mob mentality or willful ignorance, it is certainly a noteworthy event in the day.

Note: I am currently looking into the topic and it seems the data indicates that provocative dress has little impact on a the likelihood of a woman being assaulted.

The following post was a story linked by Mia on her page.
Mia  via Danny
WTF moment of the day... Misogyny alive and well in 2011
At a campus safety information session at York University in Canada, a Toronto Police Service officer suggested women could avoid sexual assault by not dressing like a "slut."
7 hours ago · LikeUnlike · · Share
Kris Machnicki Oh yeah, there's big controversy about that here in Toronto. Now there's an organized "slutwalk" to protest against it.
7 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 4 peopleLoading...
Michael Long I want to attend a "slutwalk"!
7 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 1 personLoading...
7 hours ago · LikeUnlike
7 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 1 personLoading...
Mia Wheaton Kris, I meant to ask you about it. You'll have to fill me in! Michael, that's funny. But seriously, I'd attend if I could!
7 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Mia Wheaton Kris, that's AWESOMEEEEEEEE!!!
6 hours ago · LikeUnlike
David W. Potter Gawd someone needs to tell this asshole not to be an asshole! And they the primitive hominids are all extinct! All of science and evolution goes BOINK!
6 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 1 personStacy Rustia Lambe likes this.
Mia Wheaton hahahaha! "Tell the asshole to stop being an asshole!" Love it! David, you're the best :) I love that most of MY male friends see this as shockingly offensive and backward. Thanks God for the good guys (of course, I'd never be friends with bad guys)... :)
6 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 3 people3 people like this.
Phil Mammano In the middle East women generally don't dress like sluts but still suffer sexual assault. Elderly church ladies in this country generally don't dress like sluts but still suffer sexual assaults. This guy is a law enforcement professional? Sheez.
6 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 3 peopleLoading...
Mia Wheaton For starters, see above!
6 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Kevin Pochron I was just trying to be funny.. Bad time to try to be funny... But yeah it's uncool that some men think they have the right to do that kind of shit on just what a woman wears.
6 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Craig Michael Mann Thank you, Mia. Link shared
6 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Roger Lynn Where is that... Stupid Asshole Button (that's right, it is right next to the Dislike one)
6 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Mia Wheaton hahaha! Yep. We need that button ;)
6 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 1 personLoading...
Roy Llamas You guys need 2 "come out from underneth that rock". I like that slutty look! Lol
5 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Darren McKee He shouldn't have said it, of course, but his point is not without merit. A woman's dress shouldn't matter, but I imagine that the more provocatively a woman is dressed, the more she is a target of assault. Anyone have any data?
4 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Mia Wheaton What the fuck, Darren??? Old women are assaulted. Fat women are assaulted. Children are assaulted. Clothing isn't a factor, nor is it an excuse. It is NEVER a woman's fault, no matter how she's dressed! Period. End of story. End of that debate. That shit doesn't fly on my page...
4 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 2 peopleLoading...
Phil Mammano Absolutely not. Sexual assault is about violence, not sex. Women in all manner of dress are equal targets and must remain vigilant, especially if the quality of police protection they have amounts to a douchebag with a badge.
4 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Phil Mammano Thank you.
4 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Joanne Walsh I got assaulted today for getting somethign out of my truck. A man felt compelled to grap my ass. I have on jeans.
4 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Stevie Clark So if we all thought like this piece of work... does that mean i get to cure his "stupidness" by whacking him with my baseball bat!?
4 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 2 peopleLoading...
Joanne Walsh I'm an Arab/ French American woman. There comment in the article about Egypt a way a woman dresses in the Middle East can make her a target. I lived in Lebanon in the 1970's. As a young girl I very light almost blonde hair. During the civil war there I was targeted because of this. My mother and I were attacked and raped. I ended up killing our attacker. I will never ever travel to the Middle East. If you have blonde hair you're a target no matter your dress !
4 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Stevie Clark WOW! Joanne sorry about ur ordeal & way to fight back! I 4 an I!
3 hours ago · LikeUnlike
DiAnne Grieser Some rapists and attackers attack some symbolic meaning to a certain look but in reality most of them are all about assault of someone weaker period - can be a child, an old lady, even another man or an animal. All they want is to aggress. Remember - rape is aggression not sex.
3 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Joanne Walsh Thanks Stevie. He should of never turned his back on me. I was 11 years old. I don't even really remember doing it. Just blood everywhere and my mother pulling me and screaming and running. Until my butt was grabbed eariler today I never had another incident in my life. The man that grabbed me was a daily laborer I was using at work. He's been fired. He's lucky I did not have a flashback or freakout. I do carry a gun and have a concealed weapons permit.
3 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 3 peopleLoading...
Mia, I'm quite interested in having a rational discussion if you are as well. This is the key line "Clothing isn't a factor, nor is it an excuse."
I already agreed it is not an excuse. So we don't have to have a discussion about that. What I... asked was weather dressing provocatively increases the likelihood of assault. Assault is a terrible thing and all manner of women are assaulted... but does outside appearance matter at all? Any data?

I think there is whole other discussion about whether it is about aggression or sex or both.See More
2 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Beth Elizabeth wow darren and mia .. you should open a blog board for this.. this is a good discussion
2 hours ago · UnlikeLike · 2 peopleLoading...
It. Does. Not. Fucking. Matter.
Unacceptable! Out Of Bounds! PERIOD!

It is extremely offensive to attempt to make any connection whatsoever between a woman's attire and sexual assault.

...Only 3 points need to be made:

A) A woman should have the right to dress however she chooses and still feel absolutely SAFE; B) A man must learn to exercise self-control; and C) No means No!

Suggesting any link whatsoever between a woman's clothing and violence against her is DISGUSTING and serves NO PURPOSE whatsoever!!! Every time someone brings it up, it sends the message to sickos that sexily dressed woman are "asking for it."

I don't give a flying fig about stats, cultural bias, or even religion (blaming Eve to this day for tempting/corrupting Adam.... PLEASE!). The bible is a sick, evil, ancient, misogynistic text written BY men / FOR men, and the fact that we allow it to influence us today - ON ANY LEVEL - just shows how stupid, childish, and primitive we are. We clearly have a long way to go in term of woman's rights and spiritual evolution.See More
2 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 4 peopleLoading...
Mia Wheaton Thanks, Beth :)

I was responding to Darren, not you. You and I posted at the same time.
2 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Beth Elizabeth I understand my dear.. i agree with your thinking..
the choice to assault somebody should not be attributed to the clothing they wear.. that is a personal choice that everybody is entitled too..
2 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Mike Trethowan Misogyny? I call it moronic. That Neanderthal should be booted off of the police farce ... I mean force.
about an hour ago · LikeUnlike
I am a survivor of sexual assault

This officer is an unmitigated asshole and if he OR ANY OTHER MAN wants to take a position of "we couldn't help ourselves" then you need thrown in a small room with big lonely psycho Prisoner#1, dressed head... to toe totally covered, and then another cell with Big lonely Psycho Prisoner#2, dressed in a banana hammock and see if either attire will prevent either of them from beating you defenseless and ass raping you like a bloody f&cking animal. I guarantee it had NOTHING to do with your attire and EVERYTHING to do with them being a sexual predator and control psycho FREAK.

I'm so F&CKING PISSED OFF and i am SO SICK OF WOMEN BEING BRUTALIZED BY MEN AND THEN BEING BLAMED FOR "making them because they were dressed provocative and poor men can't help themselves"
Talking about being victimized TWICE!!!!!!!!! I'd like to BASH that officers head right the f&ck in

I apologize Mia for being so verbose and foulSee More
about an hour ago · LikeUnlike
Robbyn Lynn ‎@ Phil
That would be called a "Douchebadge", and I have handed them out before
about an hour ago · LikeUnlike
Mia, I agree with A, B and C, like I already indicated.
It really seems like there is a confusion of explanation with exculpation. I am trying to explore and understand the problem and learn what can be done.
Personally, I am curious if ther...e are any factors involved in increasing the likelihood of assault. It is often thought a woman should walk confidently. Does that matter? I don't know.
Many assaults are by people already known to the victim, what kind of relationships are more dangerous? I don't know either.
Just trying to understand a complex issue.See More
44 minutes ago · LikeUnlike (Ed. Note - Just after I posted this I was notified Mia Wheaton 'liked it'... there is hope?..spoke too soon, see updated comments below)
Mike Trethowan Then take a criminal psych class and stop already Darren.
33 minutes ago · LikeUnlike
Mike Trethowan According to Darren's wall, he has a degree in psychology, so either he is playing a sick game, or is a psycho. Either way, I blocked him.
29 minutes ago · LikeUnlike · 1 personRobbyn Lynn likes this.
Robbyn Lynn ‎@ Mike
or a sick fetish
23 minutes ago · LikeUnlike
Darren McKee Wow... it seems some of you are not really reading what I have written, not seeing FB discussions the way I do, and/or being really rude and presumptuous.
My degree is in cog pysc, so I don't know about this issue. Since when is admitting ignorance a bad thing? I think it is a good thing.
Also, to improve things (even bad things) we have to understand them. Do you really want the clinicians and people who help people to just be guessing in these situations?
To accuse me of a sick fetish is quite cheap.
It seems we are talking at cross-purposes here so there is no point continuing the discussion.

UPDATED - 8:32 am.

Mia Wheaton
Darren, I read your comment and understand the point you think you're trying to make, but people are justifiably pissed off that you would dare "go there." Instead of just admitting that your comment was rude and apologizing for it, you k...eep making it worse.

You went so far as to mention the way a woman walks. Again, irrelevant! IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE! Even if a woman could take steps to make herself less a target, she SHOULD NOT HAVE TO! No rape victim bears any responsibility whatsoever for being attacked.

The answer is NOT to find ways a woman can change herself to be less of a target. Women are the VICTIMS. Period. Normal, healthy, moral people do not blame victims or suggest a victim's need to change. If a woman WANTS to make changes in her life - for whatever reason - that's her right, but to suggest in any way that she SHOULD perhaps make changes in order to be safer is unacceptable.

The blame/responsibility/need to change falls SOLELY upon the shoulders of the those who commit attacks and the people who continue to focus on a woman's role in the situation.

Your comment reflects the very serious problem with men's attitudes toward women. It's simply unacceptable to focus any attention whatsoever on the victim's "role." The only acceptable approach is to focus on the sickness of the men. Regardless of WHY they commit these crimes or HOW they choose their victims, they are the criminals and THEY need to change. The days are putting this responsibility on women must change!

Rape is a unique crime. Suggesting that woman dress/walk differently isn't like telling homeowners to lock their homes and add alarms in order to help deter theft. Sexual assault is far worse, and because we've lived in an anti-woman, victim-blaming society for so long, changing our attitudes toward woman and victims is where we must focus our attention. Your comments are worthless, basically, because we've tried that approach for thousands of years (focusing on women/trying to understand why men attack) and it hasn't solved the problem. It's time for MEN to CHANGE! No more excuses.
See More

8 minutes ago ·
Darren McKee Mia,
Again, I'm being misunderstood. I'm not saying men are not fully responsible and that they are the ones that should change. Perhaps a different framing would be helpful: "What can I tell my daughter, sister or mother?"
Say a beloved woman says to me, "What I can I do to decrease my chances of being assaulted?" I can first tell her that it is a terrible situation and that men are, of course, responsible... But should I then be saying "There is nothing you can do" ?
Perhaps this is the true answer, as saddening as that would be, but I'm not sure about that yet. I'm currently discussing the issue with a researcher.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Marx for Beginners by Rius

What a great little book! This introductory work explores both the ideas of Karl Marx as well as their historical development. The presentation is atypical in that cartoon drawings are used frequently, mixed in with copies of print images or objects or people, so that it reads as a somewhat illustrated introduction. It is half-graphic novel, half basic text. I thought this was a very useful book because I now think I understand the basic tenets of Marxism and how it came to be. It is certainly one of those books that one wishes they could have the content stored in their brain as it is hard to remember the details going from Thales and Heraclitus to Bruno, Descartes and Spinoza to Hegal and…etc.

The main ideas that stuck out were:
1. The notion that labour is what increases the worth of a product and the misalignment is when this increase is not divided between worker and owner.  Obviously this is a complex topic and I wasn’t fully convinced but there are many persuasive parts to the argument. To be further considered…
2. There does seem to be an increasing liberation of various social classes. A rough guide of various states of human organization being: a) Primitive; b) Slave; c) Feudal; d) Capitalist; and e) Socialist.   Poor people just seem to change masters.
3. The abolition of private property. Not entirely of course, just for rich people. Of course this issue is usually dismissed by the ‘tragedy of the commons’ argument whereby if something isn’t privitized it will be overused and be ruined. This is not entirely true either… but not much is in this domain.
4. Alienation. That work itself alienates the worker. I can see this making sense for many labourers in industrial factories in the 19th century, but it seems less broadly applicable now. Those in the middle-upper class often enjoy their work or prefer to do some work compared to nothing. That comparison is important, because if you don't work and don't farm your own food, you have to survive somehow. Survival is alienating? 
5. That many of the changes Marx called for have actually been implemented in modern democracies: graduated income tax, free childhood education, end to child labour, a national bank, national standards for various sectors, unions, welfare programs. Yes, the revolution hasn’t happened, but certainly things are objectively better for a poor person in many countries today than it was in those countries in Marx’s time.

I found it interesting that Marx was poor and that his family suffered because of it. Additionally, I was once again confronted by my ignorance and felt like that there is much more to learn, like just how Lenin was influenced by Marx, and then Trotsky and Stalin and Mao and… hmmmm, this might take awhile.
For all its valid points, Marxism does seem to get human nature wrong. We generally compete with each other and have trouble embracing fully egalitarian systems in society.
Marxism is not the same as Communism, but John Kenneth Galbraith’s quotation is germane: Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite.
Go read it.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Our Inner Ape by Frans De Waal

An excellent exploration of primatological findings on chimpanzees and bonobos to provide a greater understanding of human nature.
Among the many interesting facts, De Waal cogently presents his broader thesis: human nature involves compassion as much as aggression, but we have focused too much on the latter and not enough on the former. When describing war we say that people act like animals but when we are do something nice we say it is ‘humane.’ The improper emphasis (obviously complex in origin) might be partly because the bonobo was discovered relatively recently (compared to chimps), so despite having a similar to degree of genetic relatedness to humans as chimps and humans, we have usually only looked for comparisons to chimps. This being problematic because chimpanzees are more violent and hierarchical, while bonobos are egalitarian, matriarchal and hypersexual.  Understandably, looking only to chimps may lead to unwise justifications for behaviour (as any naturalistic comparison might).
Although much was review, most of the details about bonobo communities (and the extent of their sexuality) was new.
A great book.