html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: August 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Same as it ever was.

I am starting to think that as blogging develops as an industry, one of the careers that will emerge is that of comment moderator. Moderating requires different skills from analysis; I don't think most of the pundit bloggers know how to do it. Moderating requires a philosophy for the comments section, willingness to intervene and tact, thoughtful interaction with the commenter one most wants to shut down, and a high tolerance for noisy signal. It requires making real-time choices and constant training newcomers. It is demanding and pulls the blogger's attention away from her next juicy post. I don't think most policy bloggers want to do it.

That's why I think it could become a career for some skilled people. As the big blogs make money and attract conversations, I can imagine big bloggers willing to pay someone else to handle those conversations. Moderators could make those good conversations, drive up the return hits. Someone could probably contract to manage two or three sites and make a decent living for reading comments all day and stepping in to extract content and dispel nastiness.

If you are willing to buy any of that argument, then those unmoderated comment sections are now imposing the negative externalities of commenting viciousness on someone. Those someones are very often women and minorities. They're paying, in hurt and aversion, what big bloggers won't pay in money.

Amber is totally right. Respect to Megan McArdle. I don't know how she handles it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Still more than good.

It is a shame the Man burned early; there was a person who designed it and planned it. Thousands of hours of work went into building it, and those workers had a vision of the way it would burn at the end, in a monstrous spectacular flame. The arsonist who set the man on fire early disrespected the vision and labor of people who put incredible effort into making something happen. His likely reasons (wanting attention, spite for the event, self-centered lack of thought) are not good enough reasons to cost them the reward for their vision and work.

However, it is only a shame that the Man burnt early. This is not a tragedy or a message or symbol. Whatever you think of Burning Man is only a small fraction of the event. There is an aesthetic to it, and a conformist in-group. But it is also big, and heterogeneous, and densely intricate. The Man is one of several themes, any of which are enough to be overwhelming experiences for the length of the week. The themes I know I'll give my attention to are being with friends, being open with strangers, to seeing surreal things that someone made real. I will be shocked, often. I'll dance for sure and I'll watch for shooting stars and I'll ride my bike in a city with no moving cars. I'll come home tired and raw and overstimulated. I will feel kindness sincere enough to prick tears, then very funny obnoxiousness only minutes later. Some of the most vivid things that will happen in my life will happen in the next few days. A ritual burn is only one of those sparks.

Orion was out. Another winter so soon?

Got up to see the eclipse last night. The moon was small and dark orange. I wished for the millionth time that there weren't a streetlight on my corner. The night was mild, as they all are this month. My girl-cat meowed at me a bunch of times from my window, but didn't come out to watch the eclipse. I went back to bed, instead.

An hour later, still sleepless, I came back out to check again. Yes - she was back. Bright, not yet round, but clearly returned to us. Satisfied we hadn't lost her, I came back in and went straight to sleep.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Fair and balanced

Ennis sent me to this article on Mr. Sillen, whom a judge has put in charge of health care in the California prison system. I’d read about him before; you know how I fancy peculiarities in governance. After reading that article, though, I was even more curious about him. Turns out it is possible to hear him in his own words. Here is a speech he gave to the Sacramento Press Club in July. I listened to it a bunch of times. After hearing him, I thought three things. That article is a hatchet job, framed to make him look like an autocratic Lone Ranger. Well, I bet he doesn’t care, so I can get over it too. Second, if you are at all interested in prison policy, you should listen to his speech (45 solid minutes, folksy demeanor). He is in the position of having an incredible amount of access and complete freedom from political reprisal. He says exactly what he thinks the problems, causes and solutions are. Third, I thought his speech was a dead-on appraisal of the problems and solutions for both bureaucracies and the legislature. Since I am much less emotionally invested in prison policy (although I think is a great shame on our nation and selves) than environmental policies, I thought this is a good time to critique a state agency, instead of give my usual knee-jerk defense of them.

Sillen, on how prison health care got so bad, 10:20:

“Inherent in the nature of government, of the state, and of this state, to create the surroundings, within which the horrid conditions of the prison system can exist. CDCR has a lot to answer for on its own, but let’s remember, it is only a state agency. Legislatures and governors, they’re the folks with the clout.”

I know your bogeyman is a faceless unaccountable bureaucrat implementing some personal agenda that the voters never chose, but that is not what went wrong for prison health care. The problem for prison health care is that the relevant state agency, the California Department of Corrections and Reform (CDCR), gave the people exactly what they wanted. Californian politicians have constituencies that tell them to be tough on crime; the people who are hurt and killed by horrendous prison health care are not constituents. Literally. Their vote is taken from them. This leaves a huge hole in our prison policies. Legislators and the governor translated that hole directly onto the state agency. The voters don't hold their elected officials accountable for providing decent prison health care; elected officials didn’t require it of CDCR. Agencies don't do what no one wants, even if prisoners die.

He talks scathingly about the state promotion system at 14:25:

“In state service, last year, you could have been a Windshield Wiper Specialist II in the Department of General Services and this year, you’re a health care manager in a prison system. What is that all about?”

This happens, and it is a problem. It is because the state has made hiring civil servants serve multiple purposes. One purpose is to get qualified people to do the job. A second purpose is to provide social mobility to the citizens we hire, make their employment also train and lift them into new professional ranks1. This is not a ridiculous thing for a state to do; we seem to think state employment should be a direct means of social mobility. If it is worth it to us, then we have to accept that it may mean that not all civil servants come into their jobs ready for it.

Also, the civil service promoting system is elaborate and rigidly regimented, and designed to be scrupulously fair to every last person ever. It has multiple barriers against a classic problem, that of political nepotism, giving state jobs as a reward for political support. Those barriers also stand against favoritism for anything else, like tremendous competence. Competence IS rewarded, but not with the fluidity of a private system. Seniority may interfere with the elevation of competence, in the short run. It is not as dire as the haters among you think, but it is not a purely merit based system, either.

Also, remember. Y’all don’t pay civil servants that much, either. In my field, we get about 80% of industry standard. Lots of people pick that for the work-life balance, but when you start paying us as much as the brilliant and nimble private workforce, you can start expecting as much of us.

Sillen on wasted state efforts, 17:18:
“But the fact of the matter is, in stereotypical fashion, the potential solutions have been on the table for years in California, and have been ignored, ignored, ignored. [] But the fact of the matter is, is that when I did that audit and brought in some experts to do another audit, they called me back and said we can do this for half the price because there are five audits from state agencies and some outside agencies on that very same pharmacy situation in the prisons that nobody did a thing about.”

This doesn’t surprise me either, that the work was done in a state agency, then lingered for years2. The work of the state is huge and sprawling and only barely managed. People at the top, the political appointees and the legislators, give instructions and change them with the new exciting trend. Mid-level civil servants finish their reports (perhaps even a nice thorough job) and the person who commissioned the work is long gone for another job. Or the legislator is swamped with exciting new problems. Flood! Climate change! Relentless plodding is the mark of low and mid level bureaucracies, but long-term follow through fails at the top. That is because of news driven governance in some part, and you fickle voters in other part. Really though, it always goes back to a constituency. If you cared about prison health care, those reports and audits would get implemented.

Here’s the part I love, and he says it several times:

35:57 mins

“There’ve been some improvements. But I’m… you know, we’ve done a lot over the first year, but we haven’t really scratched the surface. This is a long haul. And, we have to populate with good people, we have to make good working conditions, we have to get adequate space and adequate transport, we have to get adequate custodial officers. Et cetera et cetera. So yeah, there have been some…

Some of the politically popular programs are quite problematic, especially in the women’s prisons, like the mother and baby programs. Conceptually, I’m all for it. But unless CDCR does that right, you’re going to be writing and reading about dead babies. It’s as clear as day to me.

Things get done for strange reasons, and some of them for very good reasons. But then, the wherewithal and the expertise and its resources have to follow the good intentions. And usually they don’t. That is not to say that there isn’t more than enough money in CDCR. There is more than enough money in CDCR. It just isn’t spent right.


“We have located various pockets of personnel… remember, organizations operate, we’re people, it’s not bricks and mortar, it’s people, and it’s good people, and we are training and we are hiring and we are populating CDCR medical with good people, who know health care.”


“Hiring we refuse to take over. Because there are 1500, or 1250, I think, or 1400, or something way up there, positions that Judge Carlton has ordered in the mental health system, but there’s no mechanism to hire them. You know, there’s a difference between having money and recruiting and then actually hiring. And, the resources have never been put into infrastructure, operational infrastructure, administrative infrastructure. Its one of the reasons why CDCR has this incredible vacancy of correctional officers and ten thousand backlog of applicants and they can’t get ‘em hired.

Mr. Sillen thinks what I think. Mr. Sillen is saying that the quality of the civil service is not fixed, that it depends on the people who make up the bureaucracy. He thinks that if you want good governance, you hire good people and you support your programs with expertise and resources. That you can design systems that allow them to meet their responsibilities, and if you don’t you are squandering the public’s money. He intends to make that happen. I will love watching him.

I have all sorts of thought on how to get a good civil service, one that gives a good return for the taxpayer’s money. But it is very late, and that deserves a post of its own.

1I have seen this work. At the feds, we’d have senior project managers who started in the mail room, literally learned on the job for decades. Honestly, the good ones were women hired in the sixties, when sexism started them profoundly undereducated and underemployed. They got a shot, and moved up to their level of competence. This is awesome. Less sexism and racism and greater educational opportunity would mean that there are no longer these pockets of people with a huge gap between potential and skills. That would mean less room for this policy to improve the state work force. The worst employees, by the way, were Vietnam vets. Preferential hiring put them in positions they weren’t good at. You should be glad they’re clearing the system now. Sadly, all those devastatingly competent women are finishing their working years too. You got more than your money’s worth out of them, I promise.

2I keep meaning to tell you about this fascinating dissertation I’m reading on how research gets included in policy solutions, because there is a SURPRISE ENDING.

I liked these pieces of Sillen's talk.

I don't have commentary on this, but I listened intently to these pieces:

At 20:10, he tells an amazing story about political will, the cost of mandatory sentencing bills and overcrowding in prisons:
“Unless somebody truly addresses in a meaningful fashion sentencing reform and parole reform, this is just going to go on forever and frankly I don’t think it’ll go on forever, I don’t think the federal courts will let it go on forever. There’s still time for the state to straighten it out, but maybe it isn’t in their best political interest to straighten it out. Because if the courts do it, they can always point the finger and say, ‘the courts do it’. Their only problem is, can they convince their constituents to re-elect them when they didn’t do what they were elected to come here to do.

[inaudible question about AB 900, a bill to relieve prison overcrowding by building more prisons]

No, let’s make absolutely sure that this response is Bob Sillen, Receiver’s, response, not Judge Henderson’s response. OK? It’s not a fix. As I just indicated, it is going to make it a little bit worse. That prison population is going to go up. And I think, when some of the issues get worked out or understood in terms of AB900, the space is not available to do the rehab programming that supposedly the space is available for. There’s no mandate in AB 900 that you can’t use ‘ugly beds’ any more. Two weeks ago, hundreds of female prisoners were transferred out of CRC, in Norco […] and sent to Valley State Prison for Women and started initiating more ‘ugly beds’, you know, the day rooms, et cetera et cetera. This is charade.

My own personal estimation is, is that if it weren’t for the need for the legislature to show that they can get along together, and show the general public that they can work in a bipartisan manner, and if term limits weren’t on the table, there wouldn’t have been an AB900. [] The state can not build their way out of this problem. All they will do is increase the capacity of the state prison system. They’re shipping them out of state; now I have reports of three deaths in the out-of-state prisons. Now I have to create a whole arm of my operation to review the out-of-state prisons.

There’s a major investigation going on in San Diego, on of the community correctional facilities, because they allow mother-baby programs and, kids are dying down there. So it is totally under investigation. There is going to be a proliferation of facilities, which means a proliferation of staffing, in a world where health care staff are like trying to get hen’s teeth []. It doesn’t make any sense. And they’re gonna do the infill beds out there in the desert, where four or five of those prisons are in endemic Valley Fever area, so all of that digging and all of those spores being blown up are just going to create a Valley Fever epidemic out there. Not only in those prisons, but in those communities. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. []

Oooh. And some interesting commentary on prison guard unions about about 28 minutes.

At the end, he states that neither the executive nor the legislative branch could do what he is doing:


I think I’m in this for the long haul. I tell you, this could never be done without the receivership. I would never have taken this job for the state in a million years. First of all, there wouldn’t be this job for the state. It is called the Secretary of CDCR, in who’s shoes I stand. All the powers of the Secretary of CDCR have been stripped from him and given to me when it comes to medical care.

But they can’t do it. You know, Secretaries can’t do it. Governors can’t do it. You know, I’m convinced. Governors can’t do it. Governor and the legislature together can. But a governor cannot do this job. So, if it weren’t for the receivership, I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be interested in being here, because I wouldn’t be able to do it either! I got to have that piece of paper and without that piece of paper and without Judge Henderson, I’m toast! You know, nobody borned me so bright or anointed me, I just happen to have a court order. When the court order goes, I go. It’s real simple. […]

Open mic

OK, folks. Here’s your chance. I completely agree that the state agency, CDCR, failed to provide health care to inmates. Not well, not efficiently, not at all. I have every faith in vesting huge powers in Mr. Sillen and having him fix the problem. But then, I tend to like and trust authority. I don’t think this situation can be remedied any other way.

But you guys do! You loooOOOOooove markets. You want to marry market solutions. You think they’re the best and most efficient solution in very many cases. I cannot figure out how a market solution would work in this case, but maybe you can! Since I don’t have pre-existing expertise about prison health care, I’m willing to hear answers. Given what we’ve got here, which is very many, very sick prisoners who cannot pay for their own care and wards who reflect the public’s opinion that we do not care if they die while in our guardianship, what are potential market solutions? We MUST get prison health care up to Constitutional standards, and you have some power to put make things happen. Please be specific. I am really asking.

If this is too unusual a circumstance, and you can't make a market fit, that's cool. I couldn't either. Do you like the receivership's extraordinary powers in that case, or do you have a better idea? Letting prisoners rot is not an option. We have removed their agency and autonomy; we must either care for them in confinement or we do not sentence them to confinement.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Chris (not Mr. Clarke, but my friend Chris) just sent our camp this email:
In service of our experience of our camp as our (temporary) home in the swirling, blinking, beautiful craziness of Black Rock City , I want to put forth a suggestion for how we each approach our collective space there. Because we are a diverse group, I’m going to translate it into a few different “languages”:

For Planners and other academics: As the population of our Twisted Quacker camp increases, so does intensity of our use of its space and facilities. We should thus each take extra care to reduce our negative impact on the camp, and simultaneously strive to increase our positive impact.

Santa Cruzians: Let’s all put a lot of positive energy into the camp so everyone can feel into their heart-space in our home-space. Manifest a clean and organized kitchen. Bring mindfulness to each item we share as if it were the baby Buddha her/himself.

Take hella good care of our kitchen and common space.

East Coasters: Don’t be an asshole, clean up after yourself.


They're so happy to rebuild it...

Chris Clarke writes:
Faced with one of the last truly wild landscapes left in the US, their response is to build a city. This is not creativity: it is dreadful, dull conformity. Finding one of the last sublime remnants of the unpopulated West, they want nothing more than to pack it with tender urbanites in a glorified tailgate party. This is not an alternative way of life: it is standard American operating procedure.

I think the heart of his critique is exactly right. I disagree with some of his characterizations, but I think that from his observing perch, he saw exactly what Burning Man is. I wouldn't have seen it, but I didn't have to. My Chris told me.

Chris was walking with a friend through Burning Man when his friend said "Burning Man is proof that humans love to work." It is so true. Burning Man is a mix of one part hedonism, one part community, two parts creativity to ten parts labor. You hear about the rest of it, but the bulk of Burning Man is work. The organizers and artists work all year on their projects. The participants assemble a city in less than a week. Do not assume that means a crappy ramshackle little city. Anand said the housing looked like high-end Mumbai slums, but the public buildings are spectacular. There is a street layout; the main boulevards are lined with gas streetlights. There is the Man and two Temples and then there are towers and huge sculptures and installations. People make themselves into elaborate projects, so that thought and work scales from the miniature to the gigantic. Burning Man is work made material.

Burning Man is a gathering of humans in the desert, working ferociously to make something. Mr. Clarke is right. That is profoundly American. The desert interests him more than that expression of humanity, so he is right again. He wouldn't like Burning Man. I love the desert. I truly do. But I don't know how to experience it like he does. I don't know what a long time in a desert would make of me. I can understand built works, though. I have a lifetime of interpreting them. As built works go, Burning Man is a demanding and unusual variant. I understand how his scorn follows from his preferences, but I don't share them. Burning Man is about one way for people to be, and that way is imagination made real. I'm glad I'm going.

Side thoughts:
If I were to try a desert pilgrimage, I wouldn't choose Black Rock. It is truly dust over cracking clay. If I were to try to spend time in the desert, I would choose something softer, like Manzanar.

Imagination made real sounds fanciful, but I don't know how else to explain it. Chris was walking out one night when a couch with an end table rolled up to him. When he sat on the couch, the phone rang and he talked to people at a distant phone booth, who didn't know who they were calling. Then the couch gave him a ride. Someone thought of that and made it.

If you'll be there, please find me. I'll register under my own name. I'm in Quacker Camp near 4:30 and F. I'd love to see you there.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Were you raised in a barn?

I am greatly grieved to learn that my readers, whom I previously held in high esteem, are savages, innocent of any manners or civil graces. There are social niceties that one observes at the announcement of a joyous addition to a household, and despite the usual traffic through my site, only two three four of you have shown yourselves to be more than filthy grunting baboons1,2.

Because your mothers have failed you and civilization both, it falls on me to teach you these rudimentary skills. Regardless of what you really feel, you should comment on her beauty and offer congratulations at my great good luck in her arrival. You should predict that we will spend many happy hours together. Because I am ludicrously smitten, I will not hear the insincerity in your tone and will think that you are obviously a perceptive fellow with an eye for loveliness of form. If you want to do more, you can spend an extra thirty seconds to call out some detail. If you are skilled, you can convey that only your joy for me overwhelms your jealousy that something so uniquely perfect has joined my life. If you don't want to go to all that work, you can still elevate yourself to the state of marginally civilized by offering a brief "Congrats!".

I am, frankly, appalled. Have you abandoned all gestures of refinement, or did you never have them? Do you feed at a trough, scooping slops to your face with your dirty hands? Do you manage to dress yourself in the morning, or do you simply tie one of the bloody skins from last night's meal over your loins? When you climb down from your nest of leaves and twigs at dawn, do you trample infants on your way to the fresh fruit, hooting and defecating as you go? Beasts that you are, I can only assume that you litter.

I deeply regret the necessity for this harsh lecture. If I thought there were no hope for you, I wouldn't have troubled myself to speak so directly, so pointedly. Hope remains, however, for as long as there are comments below. Redemption, manners, and walking upright among the gracious are still available to you. Please. For your own sake. This is an opportunity to express your higher nature, and I urge you to take it.

1ptm, Nate, Underwear Ninja, Dennis: I excuse you from this. You haven't come by yet, but I know you will greet the occasion with the exclamation it deserves. (HAH! Tom just saved himself! and A4!)
2As I hit refresh, I wonder if I didn't write this too soon. But lots of you stopped by without writing anything.


Born August 23rd, 2007
18 lbs, or so
About five feet.

Her name is Princess.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam."

Martin Luther King Jr
Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967

It is all still true.

Last I heard, they weren't talking to her.

I once knew three very pretty and accomplished sisters. I noticed that the oldest and the youngest sister looked exactly alike, while the middle looked nothing like them. I kept my thoughts to myself, but I was not at all surprised to have my suspicions confirmed.

I was, however, shocked that the mother informed the middle sister by pulling her aside at their beloved father's funeral, saying: "I don't know why you are so sad about it. He wasn't your real father."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Reaping what they sow.

"Honey," I begged. "Can't we please talk about your friends who are worse at dating than I am? Please? How's that couple that is supposed to be getting married? What is happening with them?"

Dude. We have been talking about this couple for easily six years. I remembered her telling me about them the first time. My friend told me about this guy she knew. He'd been telling her about his girlfriend in LA. He talked about how great his girl was, so beautiful, but smart too, and how they were totally serious but she wasn't done with school. He said they'd been dating for years; long distance 'cause she was in school in LA, so she couldn't visit much or talk much. After hearing this for a while, a year or two, my friend went to dinner with the couple. She called me after, shocked.

"Megan," she said. "She's not dating him. He made it up." He had flown her up for the weekend, given her a nice watch, and tried to spend time with her. She had begged off any daytime activities on Saturday or Sunday, saying she had homework. She did go to the dinner, but when my friend asked her about their relationship, she looked surprised. She got a phone call and took off early, to go clubbing. With my friend's brother and a bunch of his guyfriends. My friend asked the guy if this was normal, and he didn't know, because it was the only time she'd ever visited! My friend asked how, then, did he think the girl was his girlfriend, and he said they talked on the phone every couple weeks. She had to concentrate on her school. Oh. Had they ever kissed? No, no. She was a good girl. My friend did not ask whether they were doing the deed. My friend also started to wonder exactly how much homework you had to do to become a dental hygienist. All day Saturday and Sunday?

My friend and I talked this one over, decided he was hopeless and thought nothing more of it until a few months ago. My friend called me, shouting! THEY'RE GETTING MARRIED!!! The part we can't believe is that we don't think anything has changed. She accepted his proposal, but they live at opposite ends of LA and only see each other every two or three weeks. They talk on the phone every week or so, if he calls. He was thrilled a few weeks ago, because she agreed to have dinner with him and then went to a movie. It was a big night. Then he drove her a couple hours home and drove himself a couple hours back.

My friend can't understand why they are getting married, but, uncharacteristically, I am the cynical one here. I totally understand why she's marrying him. She's an aging club girl in an ethnicity that gives women the option of virgin, madonna or whore. My friend reported that when she mentioned the fiancée to some other friends of hers, one wrinkled her nose and said "that girl? She's kind of used.", which we took to mean that she had had pre-marital sex. She is in her early thirties and I'm sure every auntie she meets on every occasion asks her when she is getting married and having some babies. I would bet big money that she got rejected by a guy she liked, for not riding exactly the right line between party-girl at the club and good girl, like the young ones. I fully believe that she was getting ready to go clubbing one night and she sank into a chair and said Fuck It. I quit. I can't. She got a vision of all the attention and cash all her girlfriends got at all those infinite weddings she went to and she decided.

She sortof decided. Because there is still the part about how she has no interest in this guy. She knows she wants the next stage, with the house and kids and not the same, endless clubbing with the new pretty girls, and she knows she won't get those club guys she loved, but she isn't thinking about the part where she will live with him and have sex with him. (Twice, y'all. They'll have two kids, for sure. That will likely be the only sex he ever has; my friend is sure he hasn't yet.) I'm sure she spends her whole days and weeks working very hard to not think about it.

I should feel bad for this guy, but I can't. I know he wants to keep her, but he has never noticed who she is. He wanted a hot size-two club girl and he got one, and he has never even paid enough attention to her real self to notice the very conspicuous signs that she doesn't like him. So I am not sorry as it just gets more ridiculous.

He has started to notice that they don't actually spend time together. He thought that she wasn't being very attentive for someone engaged to marry him, so he... told his mother. His mother called her mother to address the situation. The mothers agreed that they should all talk; they called a meeting and the fiancée didn't go! She skipped it to go to her regular weekly pedicure! (We were dying laughing.) They decided that her behavior was very serious. His mother decided that they would show her the error of her ways by postponing the wedding. (The one part my friend and I genuinely do not understand is why her father is tolerating this gossip and shame to his family. I figure the family is desperate to marry off a daughter in her early thirties and willing to do anything to please his family. My friend says that he's been in the home country while a lot of this was going down, and now that he's back, he'll quash her resistance.)

The mothers informed the fiancée about the postponed wedding, but it doesn't seem to have brought her around. The guy and his family came up to the Bay Area for several days; she wouldn't have known, except that he broke down and called to tell her. They have been telling everyone that the wedding was postponed because her grandmother died, but she hasn't told him when or where the funeral is. Now they need to get the astrologer to pick another auspicious day for the wedding. I can't imagine she is working too hard to get that lined up.

I know that this is a lifetime of misery in the making. He is going to want her attention and affection for the rest of his life; she will dedicate herself to avoiding him, the man she never particularly liked. I would feel bad, except that it is so clear and they will not see. They're both especially trapped by the gender roles they chose and want. He wanted a beautiful club girl and never thought about more than that. He's never thought of her as a real person and he'll be shocked at the one he gets. She is using him, although I kinda have to give her props for making it so blatant. Nevertheless, they'll be bound and it will be awful for them. Either could prevent it by looking at either inside or at the other person and facing that there is nothing there. Neither will, so I won't feel bad for them.

Top floor, please.

You should already be reading Defective Yeti, and you should always click on everything on his link blog. Pride is the only thing that keeps me from relaying most of his links.

Anyway, this reminded me that when we lived at my old co-op, the circuits would fail regularly from overload. The house would be plunged into darkness for the several minutes it took someone to go reset the circuit breaker. I always thought we should get a back-up generator that automatically turned on a disco ball, flashing lights and music in the study whenever the power went out. I brought it up at House Meeting a couple times, but the idea never went anywhere.

So far, so good.

HEY! They have four free wirelesses for potential jurors. I have coffee from the good cafe. I already chatted up the Funnier Megan, who looks pretty and no-nonsense and, um, kinda hot in her suit. Why is this supposed to be unpleasant?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Five years later. Still mad.

This all but makes me cry. I wanted my Ph.D. I thought I was capable of one. But second grad school was awful. Some quarters, I cried every day for my twenty minute drive home. I left when I started being comforted by the thought that if I were dead, I wouldn't have to write yet another paper for yet another class that I wasn't very interested in, but had to learn from scratch because we were interdisciplinary.

So I am pissed to have my suspicions that I was a victim of the graduate group structure confirmed.
The basic identifiable difference between completers and non-completers, though, is their integration into the departmental community. Community integration is helped by forcing people to be on campus and interact - group offices and TAships especially seem to be good for students. If you’re detached from your department community (or your department doesn’t have much in the way of community to be detached from), you miss out not only on the bonding and fuzzysnuggles, but the networks of informal knowledge and aid.

Group offices? Community? Department? Fuck you, Graduate Group with professors spread out all around campus. Fuck you, no student lounge because we don't have a building. Fuck you, putting my environmental policy degree inside the ecology group instead of the political science group because you neeeeeeeeed for policy analysis to be a science. I didn't need for environmental policy to be a science; I have a real science degree. Fuck you, cramming us in with other grad students whose work was nothing like ours. Fuck you, scrounging for my own TAships in three different departments around campus. Fuck you, second grad school. You owe me a fucking doctorate.

They also serve...

who will be called back tomorrow.

Jury duty today

I was selected for jury duty my first year of college, but I kept missing it. I wanted to go, but I always had a test, or was home for a break, or thought that I couldn't miss class or something. I postponed it a bunch of times, then went home for the summer, changed my address and sorta just never did it.

When I told my Dad that I'd never gone to jury duty, he told me there was a warrant out for my arrest. He didn't think I would like prison very much, but my own actions had sealed my fate. For the next few years, whenever he traveled, he would send me postcards addressed to la petite fille sans espoir. The front would always be a picture of a dungeon or torture chamber. If he couldn't find that, he would write that it was the view from the cell of la petite fille sans espoir, or it would be if her cell had a window.

For many years, I drove exactly the speed limit, terrified of getting pulled over and arrested. Today I pay back some of my debt to society.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

'Cause the Ethiopian place was closed.

Last night, Anand and I got gussied up and went to a show and a nice dinner. Oh yeah! I forgot about going to nice dinners. I haven't been going to nice dinners, pretty much since I've been single. My friends and I always go to the linoleum-floored ethnic restaurants, which I only today realized are the "hanging out" of going out to eat. I love hanging out and I love those restaurants, with the cheap and delicious food. But I forgot. Eating at a nice restaurant feels grown-up and lovely and feminine.

I should eat at nice restaurants more often. I don't, because they feel like dates. But I should remember that it is the occasion that determines whether it is a date, not the nature of the menu. I should also remember that I am not poor any longer. I should definitely remember that I like the tablecloth and bread, and polite waiters in a pretty place, and ordering a dessert with different layers.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Family odds and ends

My father used to keep an emergency kite in the back of his car, so that he would never be caught unprepared by a pleasant breezy day.


My sister and I had this conversation yesterday:

Her: do you think i should raise my own crickets?

Me: Why would you ever raise crickets?

Her: frogs eat crickets. apparently at the rate of 2/day..
'pensive & pain the rear to go buy them every week. ok, not that expensive, but still. pay for bugs?

they chirp.. don't know if that's good or bad

i bet chickens would LOVE them

Me: Why does it matter what frogs eat, I wonder?

Her: did i tell you we have 4 frogs?
they're called Fire Bellies. cute little tropical frogs.
now i take care of them, which is perfect, because i was really wondering how to spend that extra 15-20 minutes each day.

Me: You did not tell me about them. Names?

Well, huh. Why did you go and get four frogs and a small aquarium of your own free will, then?

Her: Kermit is the bigger of the bright green ones
Robin is the littler green one
Jumpin' Jack Flash is the medjum sized duller green one
and Fire Tummy Name is the brownish one. he also changes his name a lot, but his name always seems to end in Name. Right now it's Surfboard Name.

[Nephews' father] brought them home last Friday. guess that's what happens when you go to the Vivarium enough times on field trips.

Me: There is only one outcome when you go to the Vivarium enough times on field trips. You got off easy. How long do they live?

You should call him ATM Machine.

Her: which one?
you mean ATM Machine Name?

Me: Yes. Him.

Guess I'll meet the frogs this weekend. Once I move in, we are looking at a household of two cats, three chickens and four frogs. And maybe crickets.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Oh my god.

Except, I honestly think they are really trying to sell trees:

Brazilian dwarf banana tree
Edible Mysore banana tree
Golden Rhino Horn banana trees
Carolina Queen banana trees
Jamaican Red Dwarf banana trees
Abyssinian Green banana trees

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Are they laughing at us? Are they sincere? HOW DID THIS GET RELEASED? I LOVE IT SO MUCH!!!

UPDATE: There is NO WAY this is for real. It MUST be performance art.

Maybe there were a couple designers, and one of them is messing with us?


Batsignal ARMSMASHER! Please help!

To say nothing of Black Ambers.

My sister and I share the same view of trees, the one we got from our father. Our father taught us that trees that enjoy regular waterings owe something to their keepers, and that something is almost certainly fruit. Some trees can get away with offering nice foliage or scent, but that's cutting it close to the line. You have to justify a decision for anything but a fruit tree. My sister and I are choosing trees for her new place. Please notice that despite my strong views, I am taking a moderate and amiable approach:

Her: reconsidering trees.

okok ok ok ok

i'm thinking pluot.
whatdoyouthink?! c'mon! there's a cut-out where there used to be a tree, next to where your door will be. we could put a tree in there
(please don't mention the roots of the old tree yet, let my blisters heal first)
and it'd shade the chicken scratching area. there's one called the flavor grenade, and it's really you worry about plum droppings outside your door? maybe a small citrus on the edge of the front yard, by the neighbor's garage side?


NO. No pluots. Stone fruit, yes. But we are traditionalists. We hew to the old ways. The proven ways. We are not taken in by some flashy "Flavor Grenade". We want heirloom varieties, that tie us to our food heritage. We reflect on long traditions of yellow nectarines, or blushing apricots when the first buds of spring break. None of your high sugar, low acid mealy apologetic "pluots" for us! This is where authenticity demands that we take a stand. A Bing cherry would also be fine. No Raniers. Raniers are for the weak.

Citrus is cool. I vote for a lemon/lime graft. You don't need a whole lemon or whole lime tree.

I would say apple, but it is so easy to buy good apples, and you would probably want some pansy-ass Gaia something or other.

First, I would like everyone to note that I did not bring up plums. Plums would be the obvious choice for a small stonefruit, but I am taking the yard layout into account. If we were to go with plums, that would necessarily be an Elephant Heart. Gorgeous plum, rich flesh, hard to get at markets. BUT! Elephant Hearts require a pollinator, which is obviously going to be a Santa Rosa. High producer, not quite as sweet as an Elephant Heart, rouge skin to contrast the mottled green and red skin of the Elephant Heart when you arrange them in some shallow hand cast hippie bowl. BUT! If you are going to have an Elephant Heart and a Santa Rosa, then you clearly need a Greengage. So classic! Fully green with a yellow tone and flesh. Beautiful plum; I occasionally read mentions of it in English literature, and I think we can all see why. And here is where it all falls apart. There is not room in my sister's yard for three plum trees. With sorrow in my heart, I bow to the reality of the situation. Because I am so reasonable, I do not bring any of this up to my sister.

Instead, I go looking for grafted lemon and lime trees. I do not find them. But, I find this: Why do they think that would improve lemon tree sales?

We're still debating options. I'll spare you the rest of the conversation. It will probably take weeks to resolve. I'm serious about the pluots, though. They're the living incarnation of everything that is wrong with society today.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Like, mentoring.

Bec was right. The spider on the sill over the stove is a black widow. She wasn't out when we were making food last night, but the web was messy, with strong silk. My heart sank. Bec took pictures of her late last night, and then I saw her this morning. Yep. A black widow. I like spiders, at some small distance. I'm not scared of the ones that hang in my corners and eat the mosquitoes. I helped a wolf spider out of a bucket just this morning. But black widows are just the Most Spider. The deliberate way they move, all that shiny black. Knowing they're poisonous. I'm normally brave about creech, but black widows make me shrink back and dance around.

This morning, Bec was asking me what one does with a black widow. My inclination is to pretend that it is yesterday, when I didn't know, and do nothing. She isn't anywhere you could accidentally lean against or put your hand. They aren't aggressive. There are lots of insect carcasses in her web. Live and let live, Bec. Bec said that she would be bummed to get bitten by a poisonous spider in her kitchen, and why she was looking at me? Because I'm older and I project an air of confident competence? Because it is my house, and she is renting from me? Because I'm the one who grew up around black widows? Whatever.

Well, I'll handle it tonight. I'll solve the whole thing. Bec is young, and hasn't figured out how the world works. I can teach her. Tonight, I'll sit down with Bec and have a long talk with her. We'll discuss the difference between a landlord and a slumlord, and how important it is to choose the right one.

UPDATE: I blew on her so she retreated to her nook in between the window frame and the sill. I cleaned out her web and washed the whole area down. If she returns, I will escalate. I don't like to hurt any living thing, but I will resort to a firm letter if I have to.

There was no reason that the funnier Megan had to point out that now the black widow is wandering my house at night, plotting my death. Why bring that up? It's cool though. She flinched when I told her that black widows can jump twenty feet, so I'd say we're even.

Then we got to wondering who would win if you put a black widow and a potato bug in a jar. I don't ever want to find out, but it turns out that lots of people on YouTube have had similar ideas. If you are still in ignorance about potato bugs, I envy you and plead with you to stay that way. If you wish to fall from that state of grace, there are depraved and sick people in the world who have filmed potato bugs. I will not provide you with a link.

I do like artichokes.

Margie sent me this:
"The key with blowjobs is to scrape like you're eating an artichoke leaf."
I used to think I had some modest skill with such things, but it has been so long that technique has apparently changed. Thank god I found out before I embarrassed myself.

UPDATE: Margie tells me the line was from the comments on Unfogged. I'm not surprised.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It would suck a lot.

I use lots of folksy Western idioms in my speech; those are almost entirely an affectation, since I grew up in suburban Los Angeles. Still, I tell myself that I am a daughter of the West, and appropriating those is less of a cultural stretch than adopting, for example, the trickled down speech of black urban youth. There is simply no plausible lineage between me and urban black people, and you will never hear me say "you go, girl" or "get my ____ on"1,2. My people could have been Okies or Hoosiers moved to California in the Depression and I could have been a third generation westerner with agricultural roots. They totally weren't; my parents moved here after grad school in the 60's, but the possibility is thread enough that I am not embarrassed to use western colloquialisms. (I am also totally willing to use Spanglish and think of Mexican food as my heritage. I have no Hispanic ancestry, but I grew up in L.A. and on soil that once belonged to Mexico. That's all I need to appropriate the good parts.)

Anyway, I just realized that I didn't understand what I was saying when I said "ride roughshod over". I mean, I know that it meant to bully people and ignore objections to get your way. I figured out that roughshod referred to how the horse was shod. But, like, what? If you're roughshod, does that mean that you don't have very good horseshoes on? Is continuing with your path regardless of horseshoe quality a problem for the horse or a problem for the path? I looked it up.

Roughshod is like snowchains! They leave nails sticking out of the horseshoe, for traction on snow! Oh, and the cavalry3 rode roughshod so when they trampled the infantry, it really counted. Ooooh! Now I get it.

1 There is no plausible lineage between me and black urban peoples, but for a while I had a couple names mixed up. It is family lore that we are related to Hoagy Carmichael from when lots of us lived in Bloomington Indiana. I'm inclined to believe this, because I especially like the song Up a Lazy River. (HEY! I always thought that the song Stormy Weather was by him as well, and I would nod in family pride when they played it on Marketplace behind the stock quotes. I just looked that up and I WAS WRONG! Now I have less to be proud of.) Anyway, I was telling a musician friend of that, but got the name wrong and told him that I was related to Stokely Carmichael, which is not the same thing. I didn't catch the mistake, but he looked very startled, and to his credit, visibly decided that all things were possible. (Also, my father named his cleaver Eldridge and I probably would too, although I have no strong need for a cleaver.)

2 OK. I might say something like that for effect, but you can be sure that if I do, it will be painfully clearly ennunciated and well guarded by air quotes.

3DUDE. I was listening to NPR this one time and they were talking about mastiffs. They said that the Spanish had especially big mastiffs that were trained to pull armored men off their horses and kill them. They brought their mastiffs to the New World to help subdue the Indians. And then! They would go to the slave markets in the morning to buy slaves to feed to their dogs. How much would it fucking suck to know you were being bought to be DOG FOOD?

Mutually assured destruction

My new roommate Bec is tremendously conscientious. She does chores before I get to them. I've been wracking my brain, but I am pretty sure that I have not experienced this since I left for college in 1990. She has made food for me more times than I have made food for her. (I haven't yet made food for her, I don't think, but she has fed me several times. This confuses me, but on occasions when I am prepared to cook, I come home and delicious food is already made.)

Honestly, I am at a loss. I do not know how to be in a living situation where the other person is doing his or her share of the domestic work*. It hasn't happened before. I have upped my game to match her, of course. We haven't had dishes linger in the sink since she moved in. I've mopped floors, which I normally put off. I've made my bed every day, so that I can leave my bedroom door open. I've swept the porch twice. I did manage to get there ahead of her yesterday, and hang both of our laundry out on the line. The most likely outcome of all this is a polite and thoughtful escalation. She's not going to stand down, and good though she is, she can't take me on the doing-chores front. It is madness, but a few more weeks of this and my books will be dusted and the windows washed. My house looks great. I love living like this.

*My sister surely does. I was looking forward to living with her, in a house where both adults kept it steadily clean. I hadn't thought I would get a taste of that before moving in with my sister.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I can't help. There are too many.

I liked Slate's Magnum photo collection on solitude. I maybe shouldn't have clicked through their images of solitude. Seeing lonely people goes straight to the softest parts of me. I'm not worried about me, actually. I have lots of tolerance for solitude and am usually very happy daydreaming something while I walk or eat alone. I am not so scared of solitude for women, whom I trust to be able to break out of it (perhaps wrongly). But seeing men who look lonely just stabs me. Are they going to be OK? They aren't, I don't think. I get scared they don't have the words or the ways to reach for the friends that they need so bad.

Chris thought so, too.

It would make my life about 2 or 3% happier if I never had to lock my bike, could trust it would be wherever I parked it when I returned.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

How it is done.

Her blog is shockingly good. As good as any I've read. As good as Sherry's was. I read straight through her archives and know for sure that I could not write words like that. Her average posts are very good; her good posts make me gasp. And there are very many good posts. More than I linked, but I stopped keeping track. Three hours of reading, and I never learned to put my guard up against her slice of a last sentence.

Take that, entropy!

I think it is perfectly justified to feel tremendously self-satisfied if, after eight months of it languishing on your To Do list, you finally replaced your garbage disposal. And fixed the slow-draining sink in the bathroom. Anand helped with the garbage disposal. He and I took off the old one, and he did the wiring for the new one; he says that if you went to Charles River Tech, you have a special relationship with the electrons and they won't hurt you. But he had to catch his train, and I finished the rest by my ownself.

The broken sprinkler is still defying me, which pisses me off, because I have met and dominated its much larger wild cousins. But I'm getting surer that I am going to have to dig out and replace the entire riser. I've been trying to avoid that.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sampling bias?

Is all of blogland willing to discuss libertarianism/bash or defend libertarians at infinite length? I surely have not reached my fill of the topic, but I remember that before I had a blog, I went 33 years without ever much thinking about them. Is all of blogland so transfixed by them, or by the chance of being linked first by Marginal Revolution, did I simply fall into a nest of them so deep that I can't see out? Are there policy blog circuits where mentioning libertarianism draws no comments?

Other topics that I've never seen the blogs I read tire of:

Dating strategies
What some mainstream pundit said

After CitP, we saw bats leaving their colony.

This great local band, the Alkali Flats (which is also the neighborhood lower than 16th and about H St) does a show every year or two. They play country songs and invite anyone to come up and sing the vocals. Country Karaoke, it is called, and man it is fun. They get a lot of ringers, singers from other bands, who come up and belt out their song. They get a lot of pure amateurs, and then it is great to watch them slow the tempo and cue the singer and look over the singer's head at each other and grin. There's that first inhale for every song, when you don't have any idea how it is going to go. Everyone gets lots of applause and whistles, and if they aren't so strong, the crowd sings the chorus extra loud. It is a fun, fun night.

The Alkali Flats played at Concert in the Park earlier that evening. That show, they did less country, more gospel and old timey music. I was raised on that; I know dozens of those hymns. I sing along to the ones I know and sometimes to the ones I don't know, 'cause the rhyme schemes are so standardized. It isn't hard to guess what is coming next. Didn't expect one I heard tonight, though. I'd heard the rich girl/poor girl/my girl format before. But I'd never heard:

Rich girl uses vaseline
Poor girl uses lard
My girl uses axle grease
But she takes it twice as hard

Friday, August 10, 2007

I waited to see if anyone was coming back for it.

On my ride home, I passed a fairly clean, nice, motorized wheelchair abandoned on a corner. I can't think of any good ways that could happen.

LATER: Yes I can. But I can think of more, and more likely, bad ways.

'Got your back, big guy.

Strikes me that Prof. Rodrik could use some back-up from an obscure water and dating blogger.
The real revolutionaries here are the libertarians. They envisage a real good world out there that looks like nothing we have now (or have ever had), and they want us to get there. Second, there are really deep philosophical differences here that have nothing to do with economics per se. Most importantly, I believe government can be a force for good; they do not. But third, libertarians hold on to their priors so strongly that they seem impervious to evidence.

I've thought similar things, but not exactly that. I was totally with him on the part about libertarians envisaging a real good world that looks nothing like what we have now. That was a maddening part about discussing water use in the Klamath; that people started arguments from a different imaginary state. "But if it were totally different" they say, "wouldn't you prefer this?" That's a question that makes me blink a lot and tilt my head. It isn't different. Going from here to different isn't possible under the laws and expectations and physical set-up we have now. If we tried to make it that kind of different, the people involved would take up arms and revolt. So it isn't different and it can't be. "Right!" said my commenters. "But if it were, would you agree that...?"* So yeah. I agreed with Prof. Rodrik on this one.

He was right about the second part, the philosophical differences, as well. I've gotten real curious about this, so I'll ask you, should you comment, to tell me where you got your core beliefs on libertarianism. Please, no one argue with those. They're largely immutable anyway. I would be happy with anything from "I've been poor and hungry and I could be again and I want something to catch me if I fall" to "My core beliefs are an outgrowth of the Myth of the Frontier combined with the remnants of American Calvinism." I'm asking you to look under your reasons and tell us what is there.

His third point, that libertarians were impervious to evidence, I wouldn't put like that. But, I did think that the libertarian commenters were willing to offer opinions about systems they didn't know well. My perception was that the people I was arguing with knew their libertarian philosophy well and some econ well, but not, you know, how farming works. So they would prescribe the libertarian economist remedy of markets confident that understanding econ is sufficient to have an accurate opinion. I'd say, 'but the required assumptions simply don't hold', and get back 'but they must, because econ says' (or, if they did hold and we're back at the top). So I don't think that libertarians are impervious to evidence, but it has to be evidence in a form sanctified by academic economics. Evidence from the system itself (environment, law) was highly discounted.**

UPDATE 4/25/8: Another dude who thinks libertarians opine about systems they don't know well.

* Me, personally? I tend not to care what would happen if it were different. If we get to make things different by magic, teasing out optimal water rights to promote market-based trading is sort of low on the list of things I would change. I would get around to it one day, I suppose, if I were bored with my harem and the chef had failed to amuse. If things are going to be different, I'm going straight for command and control, with me as the command and controller. Fiat, motherfuckers! If imaginary different is an option, I see no reason to fuck around with middle ground.

More seriously, I am not very interested in imaginary different. There is enough in the complicated here and now to overwhelm all of the effort and attention I've got to give. Thought experiments about whether I would like a libertarian system if we didn't have our current laws and wealth distribution don't get me closer to my social and environmental goals. I do see virtue in rigorous thought about what a perfect system would look like, but that thought had better include a do-able path between here and there to keep my attention long. I used up my tolerance for vague talk about an ideal society when I lived in the hippie co-op.

**I thought this was telling. So little interest in how your place works?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Beautifully done.

I loved this piece by Michael O'Hare. Infrastructure! Putting risk in perspective! Making choices about quality of life! Expecting good governance! Everything I love, in one place.

"I don't want to die."

I saw this story yesterday, about remote members of a desert community left with no water after the state shut down the unlicensed trucks hauling water to them. It is a pretty dramatic story, with lots of angles. Some of mine:

Are we a freakin' third world country, that towns get their water from unlicensed trucks hauling water that is dubiously potable?

Man, people love what they have. No matter what they have, an isolated impoverished life in a small desert town, if they have it now, they believe they are owed it.

My feeling that people cannot believe what they cannot see is growing stronger. If people can't see a problem, like a plume of contaminents in groundwater or crap in their drinking water, they do not believe the problem exists.

Aw crap. Why'd we come and bother them? They making do and it looks like they've got some work-arounds. Can't we leave them in their hermit lifestyle, drinking foul water?

My other conviction, that this lifestyle is a luxury we will not be able to afford after climate change, is strengthened by today's piece. The Governor's Office of Emergency Services is bailing them out, sending water tankers. How long will be have enough slack to support lifestyles beyond the means of local resources? Could we do that if we weren't deferring maintenance on our infrastructure? If we were preparing for sea level rise? If we had to attend to a catastrophic flood and a catastrophic fire in the same decade? I said that the deserts would contract first, and this is the type of thing I mean. If you are Californian, we will not let you live in squalor, even if you choose it; sooner or later, we can't afford to keep you out of squalor in the marginal areas. They will have to come in, as long as there is a social contract. (Yes, yes. We could change the social contract, but I don't see much will for that. Maybe when we are poor.) Or they will die, a small incidence of increased mortality after a combination of heat waves and high gas prices; people will cluck when they read the newspaper stories and wonder how that could happen here. There is no mystery to it, but we don't make our choices explicitly and openly and then follow through. We just react, and send water tankers.

UPDATE: The state authorized more truckers. Another news story about the Lucerne Valley.

Also, Borrego Springs' well failed. They don't know where their next water is coming from. We do not have the resources to live the way we do. I read three or four of these stories a month.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I should have left at the words "Darwinian perspective".

Couple times in law school, maybe three times, I saw the same thing happen. A student would defend some vicious cleverness because we work in an advocacy-based system, or we would all agree that if you stipulated something completely contrary to the laws of nature, then the case made sense. Maybe the professor's Socratic questioning would lead to a reversal of our initial feelings, the ones based on common decency. There would be a ripple around the room as people sat back in their chairs, disgusted by the cynicism or unable to reconcile the result of our legal reasoning with what we had always known to be true. The dissonance would hurt people, they would literally push away from their books and tables, as far as their chairs would let them. One time a woman raised her hand and said what I thought whenever it happened again. "This is why people hate us. This is why people hate lawyers."

That's how I feel coming across this conversation, continued here. A bunch of very bright people, nearly all men, wrestling with the question of why isn't, genetically speaking, stealing food the same as rape. A few point out some key distinctions, but most go on to discuss the question with no apparent awareness that debating an equivalence is fucking morally repugnant. I like to assume that people mean well, aren't sexist fucks, believe that all humans hold equal dignitary worth. If that is true for those bloggers and commenters, they are seriously tone deaf. The question itself is sophmoric and inane, dismissed easily with a number of distinctions that people pointed out there. I desperately do not want to re-hash the topic itself in the comments here.

Instead, since I found the conversation at a site called Overcoming Bias, I would like to point out a different bias, the bias of male privilege. In this case, male privilege allows bloggers and commenters to treat what half the population considers such a likely event that they substantially alter their lives to avoid it for fear of a violent breach of their bodies and selfhood, as something that can be repeatedly trivialized by comparison and discussed in the abstract by people to whom it will very likely never happen. Even after amending the question, the point that proffering sex for the benefit of the men in the example requires the participation of an entire other equal and autonomous person gets short shrift in the discussion. It is, manifestly, not a conversation that women would have. Women know, plainly and profoundly, why the theft of food is not the same as rape.

None of this is to say that no one should ask that question. If it intrigues them, well, the internets is big and we value a very wide range of speech. We all have the option of self-segregating. There may be reasons to discuss a tremendously loaded topic with detached bemusement. But, if you do, you should be aware of how it looks to people who cannot share your detachment because they live with different risks and histories. If you do not still get that ripple, that dissonance, that rememberance that "this is why people hate us", you have gone so far into your privilege that you have lost your empathy.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Metaphors are dangerous, kids.

Sac Bee columnist Dan Walters gets some stuff right, like when he totally agreed with me about l*vee vgetation. He blew today’s column, though. Two Fridays back, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen released a UC Davis study showing that every brand and make of electronic voting machine can be hacked. Secretary Bowen decertified all electronic voting machines in a rush; she can’t decertify voting machines less than six months before an election, so she only had a week after getting that report to make that decision. Dan Walters today wrote a very silly column criticizing that decision.

Mr. Walters picked the metaphor of the criminal convictions, and said that Secretary Bowen should adhere to the standard of “reasonable doubt”. He suggests Secretary Bowen, “a lawyer by trade, should reread that section of the Penal Code” and closes with “Bowen, it might be said, disregarded reasonable doubt and embraced the "imaginary doubt" that criminal law forbids.” You might say that, I suppose, if you don’t mind saying irrelevant things.

There are the very obvious problems with his metaphor of “reasonable doubt” is that this isn’t a criminal law case, so it is not self-evident that we should use criminal standards of evidence. And that Secretary Bowen isn’t convicting anything; she’s determining whether electronic voting machines are safe to use in our elections. More than either of those, Mr. Walters completely misses the point of a standard of evidence. The purpose of the standard “reasonable doubt” is to balance two competing societal interests. There is the interest in accurately trying and punishing people who commit crimes, and the interest in not locking up innocent people. “Reasonable doubt” is a signal detection threshold, hopefully set to avoid false positives. With elections however, the interest is in secure and accurate representation of the peoples’ votes. There is no countervailing societal interest. We do not have to set standards any lower than “completely safe and transparent,” because we can achieve that with paper ballots and there is nothing to balance against that*.

Mr. Walters likes his metaphor and uses it to snark about Secretary Bowen, the UCD study and people who distrust electronic voting machines. But if he wants to talk where we set our standards for vote counting transparency or whether the public correctly understands the relative risks of different voting methods, he should discuss those directly. That is plenty interesting enough to support a column, and doesn’t make us doubt whether he understands that criminal evidentiary standards are doing different things than public elections.

*There is the investment that counties have already put into voting machines. But, for one, those are a sunk cost. For two, whatever that amount of money that is, I count it as worth far less than societal faith in our voting systems.

I have managed to duck "Business English" so far, but the day will come.

I am registered for 'Preventing Sexual Harassment' on August 16th. *Sigh* I am so sad that Margie will not be there with me. I would have used that class to show her that the way she treats me is just plain wrong.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The children will have to deal.

Honestly? I think making out at the park is trashy. Those couples always annoy me. Some of us are here to play catch, which is a park-appropriate, wholesome activity. Some of us think about the children, who should be able to frolic without wondering what that couple is doing under that tree. Some of us believe that private activities should be conducted in private, that they might be pursued with abandon and followed to their natural conclusion.

But sometimes, you're both home for the weekend, staying at your parents' houses. Sometimes you have to sneak out like teenagers, even though you never actually did that when you knew each other as teenagers. Sometimes, despite the fact that it sounds like an awful lot of fun, you don't have the follow-through to rent a room by the hour. So sometimes, you have steal an afternoon on some soft grass under a big pine tree.

It was great.

Friday, August 03, 2007

He's not heavy.

Flying down to LA tonight. Tomorrow I'll hang out with my friend Teddy and his babies, and my brother. My baby brother (12, gangly and tall for his age. Huge paws. He doesn't like it when I call him Family Shorty, but I have barely a year left to rough him up before he gets taller than me, so I'm not wasting it. His dental X-rays say he's gonna be 6'5".) has decided he rides shotgun with me. I love that, but I can't imagine why. Teddy and I don't do anything kid-like. He loads up a baby or two and I grab my brother and we all go CD shopping. We talk over our CD's and my brother watches and I cannot see what part of that is fun for him. We do feed him. He's gotten a burger and fries three times now, so maybe that is some of it.

The most remarkable part is watching my brother with Teddy's babies. My brother is an incredible uncle; the perfect nephews latch on to him and do not let go for the entire visit. He wrestles and chases and feeds and hugs them. I knew that. But it wasn't until watching him with Teddy's babies that I realized he has learned the rest. He helps Teddy's daughter into her carseat, does the buckles. He watches to see if she can get down and waits until she says he can help. He won't let her cross the parking lot without holding his hand. He asks her dad before he offers her food. When did my baby brother learn mad skillz?

Teddy can't fathom it either. He thinks he would have been bored out of his mind, getting dragged along with grown-ups at that age. But I come home for the weekend and my brother asks first thing if we're going roadtripping. Yes, love. Of course we are. You and me, little brother. Wherever I go.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mystery Edition! True Crime Story!

The evidence suggests that someone has stolen my street garbage can. Here is the evidence:

My garbage can is not there.
I did not move it; in fact, I remember putting it back.
My new roommate did not move it.
It is not around the corner or out in the street or displaced somewhere close by.

I find it hard to believe this evidence, because who would take my garbage can? It is not a special garbage can; it is like every other city-issued garbage can. (It is the adorable small size, which costs me four dollars less per month. It definitely has nicer lines and is far cuter than the standard size garbage can, so I suppose I am less puzzled than I would be if someone had stolen a full size garbage can.) It was not clean; I was just thinking that I should wash it. Garbage cans are not rare or valuable or multi-purpose. Why steal a garbage can?

I asked my roommate if she knew what happened. She suggested that someone painted it with invisibility paint. I ruled that out, because I went over to where it belongs and did not bump into an invisible trash can. We cannot think of any more options. I am at a loss, dear readers. Why isn't my garbage can there?