(one of my letters to the editor on Salon.com.)
Fairness - exactly the approach we need (are you listening, HRC?)
[Read the article: Gay marriage in the Heartland]
Fairness, as Hamlet_d points out, seems part of the cultural makeup of level-headed Midwesterners. (Would that it were true of my own home state of Kansas.)
And it's a specific type of fairness that needs to be part of whatever calculated moves our PR firms choose to employ in the coming races to get civil rights everywhere else.
Research on "cheater detection modules" of the mind (postulated to exist by evolutionary psychologists) may lend some insight. Such work suggests that when a logic problem is difficult for a person to solve, it's made far easier by re-framing it as a game to catch people taking more than their share.
The marriage rights struggle could stand a little infusion of this knowledge. I say that marriage rights need to be about tax breaks that the federal government is cheating me out of.
Does Jane Hetero Farmer in Topeka give a hoot about whether I can get in line at city hall? Probably not. But does the implicit unfairness of laws that tax some people more than others resonate any more strongly? (Discounts on gym memberships, insurance coverage, property rights?) Yes, money is one thing that should strike a chord with people who ... well, who are rather accustomed to striking us.
I hope HRC - and anyone else who's going to craft a message in time for other elections - are listening to all possibilities. Acceptance is important, obviously; but we've got to win votes however we can.
Social Engineering: Customer Service Reps
Psychology Today has a piece on how to try to get customer service reps to help you when you have a particularly difficult problem. Summary:
1. Before you bring up your real problem, have the rep do a simple task (checking your email address, for example.) If you find the rep is being nice or engaged (or, for some companies, even awake), tell them you think they're being so good at their job you'd like to write their supervisor to compliment the rep on good service.
(Note: this may mean acting like you enjoy being polite and chipper to people whose job it is to get you off the phone as quickly as possible.)
2. Once you've promised them you'll do them a favor - if they're amenable to that, and some agents will see right through your facade - you've reached into their brain and poked their sense of social reciprocity. And they'll be primed to help you fix whatever problem which requires extra work.
At this point, if they "defect" on you and don't help you, at least you've gotten their name and supervisor's name, so that when you finally reach someone else who will do their job, you can track your own issue and know how many reps you've spoken to and who failed to fix the problem. For long term problems (and small claims court), this is essential.
3. If they do help you, you've got to follow through and contact their supe to compliment them. This method only works if both parties remain true to their word.
This part is the genius of the exchange: let's face it, that "extra" work really is that person's job, and they should really do it without you having to promise something up front. But now you have, and even though you "lied" to get them to do their job, now you've forced yourself to reciprocate after all. Even if you didn't feel like it.
And why not? You've reached into your brain and poked your own sense of social reciprocity, so you've primed yourself to do good. Pat yourself on the back for creating two wins where there had been none.
I'm a fatalistic thinker. Every time I move apartments, every block of IKEA-tofu I purchase, every scrap of thrifted merch that I haul into my space, it occurs to me: one day, I may have to burn this for fuel. I might abandon this by the side of the road. I'll leave this behind as I speed on toward the post-apocalypse. I don't know if it's a love of minimalist living or if it's that I'm good at exit strategies or if it's just that I don't trust anything to last, but every material good seems plausibly expendable. I could always live off of less.
So anytime I see something that enables people to get by using less, or utilizes simpler technology, especially in places where people can't plug in their laptops, I just fall in love. Popular Mechanics' 2007 Breakthrough awards went to two notable ideas: one's a camper-stove design that fits the cooking pots used by the fugees living in Darfur, enabling them to save firewood (and, by extension, avoid mortal danger - every time they have to leave camp to gather firewood, they risk encounters with the Janjaweed.) Low tech and cheap. Another is a simplified, cheaper way to generate electricity from wind.
Caffeine over coffee: a comparison of real and hidden costs
This quote appeared in Consumerist's best posts of last week: "And, I'm sorry, I'm really serious about this last one: make your own coffee."
I throw the gauntlet down. I say: Stop drinking your daily coffee and start ingesting only that part of coffee that you need. You own the Tshirt with the molecule on it, junkie, so don't pretend you don't know right away what I'm talking about.
Caffeine tablets cost in the neighborhood of $5 for a pack of 60 100-mg tabs (source: one drugstore's website.) Reports vary, but 100mg is about what you're getting in one cup. If you go this route, a cup of coffee costs less than the $2.09 you'd shell out at Starblechs and starts being ($5.00 / 60 = $0.0833 - eight cents? a venti's worth of caffeine costs a quarter?)
So now you can buy that much caffeine with the dirty pennies you can dig out of your desk drawer. Don't even buy No-Doz. The off-brands are cheaper.
Making your own coffee seems like a great cheap solution to begin with. And caffeine tablets seem like they lack the virtue you appreciate in the drink. But if you're on a budget, you might have to invest in new equipment, and you're going to be making yourself *not* buy the expensive stuff that you like; you're going to feel like you have to buy cheaper stuff that you despise. So how much worse is swallowing a tiny bitter pill?
There are hidden costs to the daily cup, too - I didn't see them until I downsized to just the drug itself:
- No more funky breath. I have some serious mouth-stank about an hour after drinking any kind of coffee. I have to brush, floss, brush my tongue and all up in "my situation" (thanks, P.Diddy) in order to not ward away people at meetings. So, I'm saving 5 minutes on the clean-up - plus all the gum or mints that I usually eat.
- No more bleaching my teeth all the time. One more product I don't have to use as much.
- No more upset stomach. I drank a coffee a day, sometimes two, for at least ten years, so I had forgotten about all the acid I was pouring in there. Now that I'm off it, everything still works like it used to, just with less oogy tummy.
So give it up already! You can still still be awake and hyped up all day! You can still go to your indie coffeehouse and chat up that cute barista! You can still go hang out with your friends! Just get juice or a pastry instead (I *do* draw the line at eating sugar packets, okay) and slip yourself a little caff tab on the sly. And enjoy the sanity of living your life a tiny bit more simply.
Me, I've started only enjoying really good coffee during a long, slow Sunday, over a big breakfast that lasts all day and a newspaper made from actual newsprint (cost: two tall drips.) Now THAT is living.
Peak experiences: the open road
After ten years of voluntary car-free living, I ended that lifestyle last night.
I'd wanted to drive up to A Mountain at dawn, having never been to the city's birthplace in nearly a year of living here. But I settled for Gates Pass just after sunset tonight (I've only been there in the full dark), Richard Buckner's twangy blue ballads strumming out of the really decent sound system. I drove past the first lookout where everyone goes, downshifted into first where the speed limit drops to 15, and found the land swooping out beneath me, a faint haze hovering over a broad valley to the west, burnt sky beyond it.
Pulled off at the second turnout where the road turns west again. In the sky, at the fulcrum of the curve formed by two silhouetted mountains, were the barely-crescent new moon and bright Venus beside it.
"A wanderlust so palpable it makes my chest ache," read some sci-fi novel where a character agonized over leaving Earth and the open spaces she loved to travel out to.
I grew up in the Midwest, where everyone gets a car by sixteen, where everything social or practical involves driving. I ran from there, lived for years in cities, real ones, where the bus or subway or bike complement the feet Nature evolved for you, where your world shrinks to include the bar and barista nearest your apartment, the local music holes, your friends' places in other neighborhoods, and the occasional trip out to the hinterland. But then I moved here, where everyone is spread as wide as those endless fields of wheat.
I'm American. I'm from a small town. Driving is just who I am. I spent years living a better life, and I was proud of my hard choice. But I have missed these sensations I've had since I was a very young man. We'd drive out to fields and sit in the back of my pickup, watching distant thunderheads or the slow pass of lunar eclipse. Visions so beautiful that years later make my heart ache.
If there weren't work to be done, I'd be off exploring the new world this very night. I'll settle for A Mountain at dawn.
Game theory and playing around
Game theory can tell us something about how and why gay guys tend to hook up.
In the straight world, everyone's familiar with the dynamic. All over the nature channels, females bear the brunt of child-rearing by being pregnant, and produce fewer eggs than males do sperm, so it pays for women to be choosy about mates who can provide for many offspring. Men tend to want as many partners as possible, because that's what's going to get them the most offspring.
These aren't conscious choices. They're tendencies in our psyche that, over the long course of evolution, got the most genes into the next round. So they win.
In homo couples, though, the gender tendencies remain the same. I've noticed a curious dynamic among single guys, monogamous couples, and open relationships.
I've found that many single guys think open relationships aren't tenable. What's more, when they feel this way it's often vehemently against non-monogamy. You'll hear from single guys that open couples aren't as real as monogamous ones, that non-monogamous guys are cheating on each other all the time, that they're destined to fail.
I don't agree or disagree. I'm single and I'd like a partner eventually, so from my perspective it just doesn't make sense to sleep with part of a partnered couple, because there's no chance of it turning into what I'm really looking for. Even if the sex is great, there's little chance of me getting it all the time, because I'm essentially on the outside. And if I fall for the guy, I'm screwed.
So for a single guy, it's advantageous for more guys to be monogamous, because then other potential partners aren't distracted and taking up valuable time with partnered guys when they could be dating me.
But someday I might be partnered. What happens then?
Humans tend to mate for life, but in the situation where we evolved, a lifetime wasn't that long. What are people supposed to do now that relationships last decades past what we're designed to expect? For gay men, it's natural to expect that the eyes of one or both might wander. Why not save the marriage by laying out some ground rules?
So for partnered guys, the optimal solution is to have everyone on the playing field be either single or non-monogamous, too.
One group "wins" when everyone keeps with tradition. The other group, which started out keeping tradition by marrying off, eventually "wins" when everyone breaks tradition.
There's no solution to this one. You just have to hate the game.
Future Perfect, and other tired-but-familiar story lines
There are some ideas which, while eternally old, seem impossible even now, and so appear only in myths and science fiction. But one thing we can learn from science fiction is that it eventually becomes science fact.
The Foundation series, by Isaac Asimov (et al), describes a world where a secret cabal of mathematicians have devised equations that predict human history. They then use them to ensure that civilization's better traits remain when a social collapse threatens everything.
It's not so far off.
Consider some scientific advances:
- An understanding of the human psychology and how it arose from evolutionary principles, over the span of deep time, and how it functions today
- A complex woven history of wars, economic empires, the trading of technology, market forces, social trends - large-scale structures composed of individual human actions
- Data mining software so powerful it can successfully predict event states and likelihoods of events within very large sets of data (I used this kind of software when I worked at the IRS.)
- Algorithms powerful enough to predict the behavior of systems from the empirical data they produce - just from the data observed, without needing to look at the hidden cause of the observed event
It doesn't take a suspension of belief to see that large-scale algorithms will be able to predict human reactions to events. Not specifically, of course - not in the "Bin Laden Determined to Attack the US" kind of way, not in the "Gunpowder Treason on the Fifth of November", but probably in an "Amber Alert" kind of way, in an "invest in biotech" kind of way.
And maybe, someday, a "if we announce X voters will vote Y" kind of way.
Pre-crime. Pre-treason. We can't predict these things with complete certainty, but we can say, for example, that the guy who burned frogs or puppies as a kid is going to move on to take human lives. And we can't say when or who, but we can estimate a high likelihood that it will happen.
The ethical implications of this, I'll save for another post. The point of this post is to combine some current trends in science that will it is all beginning to happen. A familiar story line, but no less true just because it used to be fiction.
I know of no reason it should ever be forgot.
the journal of the history of ideas
The most beautiful things I've ever seen come in map forms, of course. (Beauty is form, form is function.)
Here's a map of the people in whom the natural history of ideas cascaded down through the ages and across the planet.
It's missing a few early, basic ones (O Paleolithic hand-ax wielders, O flinters and fire inventors, how many times you must have discovered but never passed on your secrets!), and a few modern favorites aren't scored yet (Italo Calvino, quanto ti adoro, how could you merely be subsumed by Borges?) - but the broad strokes of the people who won the race for ideas are there.
You watched them on PBS when you were a kid, you read some of them in a Medieval History course you took in college, then you worked for one or two of their modern equivalents. But you never saw how they were all connected until now.
Blocking all that UGLY
One sucky thing about cruising bear411, or any other site with profiles, is that there's always THAT guy, whose profile photo is nasty, or stupid, or he's your ex, or he's wearing panties, or he's your dad, or whatever - it's a total boner-kill. You know the one.
Firefox's default lets you block ALL images from a site, but what about the hotties? Here's how to block individual images.
First, you're already using Firefox, because no-one-upon-no-one is still using Internet Ass-ploder, zomg helloooo. But you want to switch anyway, so get Firefox HERE.
Next - the site you're on might have right-clicking disabled. Re-enable it. Easy instructions HERE.
Now, get Adblock for Firefox HERE. (The site probably won't be able to install software, so follow the instructions on how to make that happen.)
Finally - rightclick on the image that is offensive to thine eyes, hit AdBlock Image, and BAM! Mr. Just This Side of Goatse is gone with the solar wind and you can stop your eyes from bleeding.
UPDATE: Works great for MySpace backgrounds too. Ah, the loveliness of less.
On the efficacy of IKEA
After I compiled enough IKEA bookcases to outfit an entire college dorm, I decided I'd spent enough on the stuff and started accepting my friends' cast-offs. Pretty soon I had a whole room full of readjustable, featureless shelves, similarly-colored, all perfect receptacles for any item or book or color. And that's when I realized why IKEA is so popular.
IKEA furniture is design tofu. It has no intrinsic flavor, but soaks up the features of anything you combine it with. Being made of pressboard, it probably is carved from a huge block of the stuff, somewhere back in Sweden. Imagine a cheese slicer the size of a studio apartment... slice it off, cut it up into little chunks, spray "beech" or "birch" tanning solution onto it, and ship it out to America.
Also: IKEA would probably make good design for zero-g environments.
Because I, too, am not immune to the siren song of pop culture, I sometimes wander into the waters of bigger blogs like Defamer, and then I emerge making stuff like this:
(This is a satire (?) on a recent Gwyneth Paltrow ad campaign, where the blonde Oscar-not-deserver was smeared with Photoshop warpaint, above the words "I Am African." South African, maybe.)
For the record, I do not care for Madonna and never have. Oh, I've had my embarassing musical-theater moments, back as a 14-year-old; but I've disliked Madonna for years, ever since I realized she didn't write her own music, like other, better singer / songwriters. In college, the first other gay men I met gave me plenty of reason to find her distasteful.
"She reinvents herself!" they would mindlessly praise. Patently untrue: Madonna just reaches into what's been burbling in the underground for a while and drags it out into the light, where its original flavor is made bland by the glare of media attention. I hope she stays in England.
Talk like a Butt Pirate day...
OK, that's crude, I know. But Tuesday Sept 19th IS "Talk Like a Pirate Day", and in honor of that, I'd like to reproduce here possibly the worst joke that has ever made me laugh. It mostly made me laugh because I thought of it.
Why do they call gays butt pirates?
Answer: (highlight to read): Because they like ARRRRRRRRSE!
Woofy of the Week, Andy Warhol edition
In Pittsburgh for the weekend on bidness, and decided I should spend my free hour going to the Andy Warhol museum. As far as I could tell, among the many unshaven male faces reproduced, silk screened and blown up to the size of entire walls, Andy only encountered one man with facial hair that ended up in his collection. And it so happens that I can't identify him... um, he looks James Dean-ish? Anyone want to take a shot? (HAR... Warhol, shot, get it?)
(What is it about illustrated faces that make them look so similar... or Hollywood requirements that only allows people who look a certain way to become famous?)
BONUS Youtube video: "Small Town", Lou Reed and John Cale, from 'Songs for Drella'.
Enigma machine as flash animation
An Enigma machine, wrapped in a Flash animation, wrapped in a tasty tortilla. TOO COOL. See you in a few days when I get tired of this new toy. *dork dork dork*
Social status and language, part XXVI
I try not to think about language too much when I'm not at the office, but I do anyway.
I read someplace (Bill Maher on Salon if you must know) that the phrase "oh no he di'int" - borrowed from AAVE/Ebonics* five years ago or more, and pronounced with the famous glottal stop in place of the "swallowed" d - is now passé.
Who makes these rules? We do, apparently, constantly shifting our language to identify with a certain subgroup and to avoid others. Of course, this likely isn't conscious - we just hear something that sounds hella nifty to our ears, likely from someone we respect or admire, and we run with it. To my mind, that's how language change happens in real-time - we perceive it to come from someone who's alpha in comparison to us, and we incorporate it.
But then the phrase gets too widespread, and it infiltrates populations we don't want to sound like. If my Midwestern father were to tell a story with a punch line "oh no you di'int", I'd avoid the phrase like I would a popped collar on a Polo shirt. It's not that far yet, but it's far enough for some people - now Bill Maher, arguably with alpha-male cred, has decreed the current phrase done to death, much like "You go girl" , "Don't go there", and "Talk to the hand" before it. Do any of those ever creep up in yawl's vocab now in 2006?
Does anyone ever quip "Whatchou talkin bout Willis" anymore, outside of the 'ironic dated pop culture reference' usage, akin to the trucker-cap/moustache 'so-unhip-it's-cool-to-make-fun-of' scheme)?
The theory I'd develop, if I did sociolinguistics, is that if you're a white person with a joking streak, you can singularly measure your group identity by what phrase you're currently using that's been borrowed from AAVE. Shouldn't that be included in a sidebar or on a myspace page (if I ever updated my own)? "Currently using: [x]."
Except that I don't want to reveal which phrase all the COOL KIDS have moved onto. Except that if you're reading my blog, you're probably one of the cool kids. But don't you dare copy me, you desperate wanna-be. (BTW, please add me as a friend on myspace. Please?!)
Bye now. Tell your momma how she durrin'.
*AAVE/Ebonics = African American Vernacular English. A dialect of English used primarily by the Black community in America. In 1996, public schoolteachers in Oakland wanted to teach classes in Ebonics; naturally, there was an uproar from everyone except the linguists, who, in the quiet eye of the storm, said that AAVE is a fully formed and complete language, every bit as useful and competent as Standard English; that every dialect of English is fully capable of expressing logical structure; that bilingual education
has always been shown to be beneficial to students; and that it was likely teaching African American kids that their language wasn't slang might give a boost to their self-esteem, which would help them in all areas. But no one listens to scientists, so it never got off the ground.
The neighbors had built a wall, cut down a branch from Joe Housemate's mesquite tree that extended into their yard, and then thrown the branch into our yard, where it sat for months until I went and bravely retrieved it today.
Photos from my front yard expedition. In tribute to my outdoorsmen Dad and brother, Behold the mighty hunter with his quarry!
Woofy of the Week, Steve Carell is My Boyfriend Edition
Some have argued that my feature, Woofy of the Week, is something like the People's Choice Awards, insofar that it's easy to get on the list just by dint of one simple feature: the facial hair.
Guilty as charged, ya critty bitches. This time 'round it's the smarm-alicious Steve Carell, late of the forgivable copy of BBC's The Office (N.B.: Ricky Gervais, while hilarious, is not woofy), who in the new movie Little Miss Sunshine, plays gay and sports the beard.
A shift in the beauty standard, Baby Jane
Hottie parents are more likely to have a daughter (for their first child) than a son, a London School of Economics report says. It's likely, though not stated in the media report, that the gender of a 2nd child is influenced by the gender of the already-present first child.
The evolutionary logic? Women are more likely to benefit from physical beauty; the reproductive success of men depends in part on the status of their father, and the reproductive success of women depends partially on their physical attractiveness. (as well as signs of youthfulness.)
The question remains: how do reproductive processes "know" that the parents are attractive? What signs of beauty are able to trickle down from the mind of the person who's always been told they're hot, who has always enjoyed high status, from their ego to their Fallopian tubes or seminal vesicles? I mean, that's what has to happen, right?