the other theo

There is no dark side of the moon really… as a matter of fact, it's all dark.

Category: Society

It’s All About The Love

This happens all the time:

The Missus: I love you, Peanut.

The Peanut: I love you, Momma.

 

This happens about 50% of the time:

Me: I love you, Peanut.

The Peanut: *crickets*

 

Gender roles emerge early, I guess.

Ready For My Closeups, Mr. DeMille

I got an e-mail from Match.com that included this today:

Match is turning 20 this year (Class of ‘95 baby!) and to celebrate, we’re taking a look back at the original site when it first launched in 1995. Our records indicate that you first registered on the site back in 1995, and I’d love to chat with you about your experience.  We’re looking for some great, original adopters of online dating to feature in our 20th anniversary PR launch and to possibly speak to a few media outlets.

So yes, I am considered to be a “founding member” of Match.   Talk about the past coming back to haunt you.

Aspirational Truths

This entry will be political.   With the passing of elections in the United States on Tuesday, it was a political week.  Politics can be a rather poisonous subject to express these days.   If you don’t want to read about politics, you may want to stop here.

My mother grew up in a Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox Church.  There’s a history to what that term means, and I don’t know all of it.  I can recall visiting my grandparents and going to that Church.  Being raised Roman Catholic (my father’s faith) in a post Vatican II world, some of the forms were quite familiar (though with different accents) and others seemed utterly alien.  Communion in particular was something that baffled me.  Very few people went up to get it, and it was fed to the people who did out of a cup with a spoon.   Now, I understand that the pre-Vatican II way to get communion was not so different; the Church encouraged people to get Communion a minimum of once a year because you were supposed to fast and go to Confession before receiving it.  At that time, however, it just seemed odd.

I remember one occasion during my high school or early college years where we went to my grandparents’ church and the priest denied someone communion.   The person got in line for communion, got to where the priest was standing, and some words were spoken, with the net effect of that person turning around and sitting down.  This was discussed among my family later.  The person was a visitor, a relative from out of town.  But why did the priest deny it?  The priest did not know this person, and s/he could receive communion.  There was some shock that the priest would do this,  in so public a fashion.  I asked my mom about it later.  Being in my teens, I’d already studied enough European history to understand a little of the history of Orthodox Christianity.  I was surprised that they were surprised, I told her. To me, a faith that so explicitly honors the past and counts no new revelation since the 5th Century, it was wonder that rules should be obeyed.  She told me “they are surprised because everything that you hope and believe for the Church we go to, they hope for theirs.”

In sorting through the wreckage of what happened this week, I’ve been trying to listen more to what a few conservative friends and acquaintances are saying about what is happening.  It’s not easy at times because while we seem to use the same vocabulary and syntax, our language means completely different things.  Someone I respect a lot once said that “this President is the most divisive in our history” and this week lamented that divisiveness again, suggesting that “for those who follow history, Mr Clinton did his best work when he was faced with a Republican Congress.”

While I agree with that statement in general, I do not hold out much hope for rapprochement between the President and the incoming Congress.  The Speaker of the House speaking about immigration said this week that

“If the president acts on his own, he will poison the well,” Boehner told reporters at a Thursday press conference. “If you play with matches, you can risk burning yourself. The American people made it clear on Election Day: They want to get things done and they don’t want the president acting on a unilateral basis. “

This echoes language from the Senate Majority Leader-to-be from the day before:

“It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull to say, ‘If you guys don’t do what I want, I’m going to do it on my own,'” McConnell said Wednesday in Louisville, declaring that if Obama follows though, “I think it poisons the well” for legislative action.

Translation: we, the leaders of the Congress, have the mandate from the people; you do not.  You must follow our lead, not the other way around.

This, I feel, is language of demonstration, not reconciliation or even diplomacy.  For some conservatives, this is a show of both the strength of their convictions and the integrity of their cause.  For some liberals, this is yet another example of Congressional Republicans acting like spoiled children who can’t behave but expect everyone else to be grown ups and forgive them.

Part of the problem seems to come from competing sets of truths that seem to brook little in terms of compromise.  The same person I respect said “I would not consider forcing through legislation that did little to increase insurance coverage and which a majority of the country oppose as a great accomplishment. A French or German model would have been more acceptable.” about the Affordable Care Act.  While I might attempt to point out that the root of the unpopularity of that Act appears to be politics more than much of its substance, to hear anyone on the other side of aisle prefer any system for mandatory national health insurance was refreshing.  I’d advocate for a fair French or German system of national coverage over what we have in a heartbeat.

It made me remember something like what my Mom told me those many years ago: conservatives and liberals can have many of the same aspirational goals.  We each can hope for the same things from our respective views of politics, culture, and government.   It is only our methods that differ…. and in some cases differ extremely.

There has to be something in those hopes that let us build a bridge.   Can we find the builders?

An Uncommon Sight

IMG_1536

Well, will you look at that!  Gas was under $3 a gallon at a Quikstop last night.  According to my trusty MPG iOS app, I haven’t paid that little for fuel since Sep.-Oct. 2010.

Is this the petroleum industry offering election victory prices in celebration of the new Republican majority in Congress?

I think not.  There’s so much petroleum floating around right now that the United States is now an oil exporter for the first time in 35 years.

The Price Of Inclusion

I’m trying to get back up on the personal blogging horse and ride again.   The last 6-8 weeks have been busy and my blogging has suffered.   When I have been writing, it’s been a series of TV episode reviews for a web site that some friends have operated for better part of a decade.   While that remains a worthy effort, it does little to document what’s been going on in my day to day life.  There have been some ups and downs there, and I’ll need to write about them, hopefully shortly.

In the mean time, I want to comment about a rather contentious subject of the moment: GamerGate.   That’s a tough bronco to ride first time out of the gate in a while.   Anyway, here goes…

In the autumn of 1993, I had just received a Masters in Computer Engineering and was just embarking on a Ph.D in Computer Science.  I also spotted William Gibson on the cover of issue 1.4 of Wired, and bought it.  Leafing through its pages, I read articles aimed at the general public on topics that I had previously encountered in grad school computer labs (fractal compression, wavelets, Kibology.)  After years of occasionally referring to myself as a geek and nerd, I remember thinking “Wow.  Someone has decided that what I am doing with my life is cool.  What does that mean?”

There have been a lot of different answers to that question in the intervening two decades.   The short answer is that geek culture won, and got a seat at the big table of cultural influences and national priorities.   STEM degree holders are seen a pathway to a prosperous future for the United States.  The big summer tent pole movies are now based on comic books.   Video games are ubiquitous.  World of Warcraft took FRPGs out of basements and back rooms to the tune of 100 million accounts created over the lifetime of the game.  From Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg, the geek billionaire inventor is now a type, and more importantly an aspirational target.   Television shows like Big Bang Theory and Scorpion are full of characters that embrace geeky or nerdy characters in a largely positive ways.   The terms “geek” and “nerd” have changed in the last few decades.  Someone I know is creating a line of Pilates Nerd merchandise, and she (if memory serves) was a high school homecoming queen.

There is a darker side.   Geek culture is still largely male and some of those men are not making women welcome as equals at the table.   That’s shown up in a news item I read last Spring, about the failure of a pilot for a TV reality show called “Game Jam” in which two woman game developers (Zoe Quinn and Robin Arnott) walked out over hostile, sexist comments made by a member of the production staff to promote on camera “drama” (among other professional concerns.)   It came up again when I heard about verbal and physical harassment of women who cosplay at San Diego Comic Con this summer.    And this week, I’m reading a lot about GamerGate.  At the heart of that scandal, Zoe Quinn was forced to move from her home due to threats and harassment after an ex-boyfriend claimed that she slept with a member of the game press to get better reviews of one of her creations, and Anita Sarkeesian also moved from her home due to threats because she created a YouTube video series entitled “Tropes vs. Women In Video Games” that leveled some intelligent feminist criticism against video games and the video game industry for their portrayal of women.  More recently, Ms. Sarkeesian also had to cancel a lecture at Utah State University when she discovered that the University could not prohibit hand guns (when the owners had permits) in the lecture hall because of Utah state law, in spite of death threats made against her person.

The levels of vitriol aimed that these women baffle me.   The nerd culture types I’ve generally encountered are scientists and engineers, who despite the Steve Jobs hippie image, are a little more often social conservatives than flaming liberals.  That tendency has got to do with some of it, but it only goes so far.   My mother and her sister were both professional chemists when second wave feminism was happening, and there’s at least one female computer programmer among my cousins in the years since.   My sister has degrees in biology and library science… so I come from a very women-in-science-positive background.   Geek culture is a better place with more women in it, in my opinion.

The one explanation that’s really resonated with me is a commentary on GamerGate called Why I Feel Bad For – And Understand – The Angry #GamerGate Gamers by Devin Faraci.  The crux of his analysis of why there is such hostility and misogyny in the gamer community boils down to a consequence of the notion from over 20 years ago that geek culture was now cool:

Let me tell you where these kids are coming from, because I used to come from there. The first thing that’s happening is that they’re mostly males who are socially unaccepted. They’re outsiders, losers, weirdos and freaks. And most of them aren’t just male, they’re white males. What’s happening is that these men are feeling powerless in their own lives, and then along comes someone like Anita Sarkeesian telling them that as white men they are the MOST powerful group in the world. And that they should be aware of this privilege and they should be careful how they exert it.

Imagine the confusion this causes. These kids feel like the bottom of the heap, ignored and hated and mocked and here comes this woman – who is successful and admired and gets Joss Whedon to retweet her videos – telling them that they’re actually part of an invisible system keeping her down. This simply can’t compute for these guys.

What was once a safe haven for the socially marginalized members of a privileged group has now become mainstream enough that a) some of the people who previously ostracized members of geek communities now want to visit them and share in them, and b) geek communities are big enough and powerful enough that they are legitimately open to examination and criticism from other stakeholders in society.

While I can’t say that I have ever been an outcast, I’ve always felt I’m better with machines than people in certain ways.   I’m a pattern introvert, and not blessed with a life of the party personality.  My approach to life is more about understanding and using the rules of human behavior, than demanding attention or preference through physical dominance.  Interacting with people can be draining at times, and at those times I can feel completely alone in a crowded room.   People and their motivations can feel opaque.   Machines don’t have these problems for me.   If there’s something I don’t know, I just figure it out… and when I build something that works, that achievement speaks for itself.

So, I get how geek culture can be a bit of a refuge.   I can see how you can get invested in the world of comic books (though I didn’t) and rejoice that you’ve got an event like San Diego Comic Con that celebrates what you love.   I can also see how you can get anxious about losing something unique when Comic Con becomes so mainstream that Paris Hilton now puts in a media appearance there.  I can even see why if you’re an awkward guy that’s had nothing but romantic rejection from women suddenly get nervous when women suddenly start showing up in your mostly male community.

None of this is an excuse for what is going on now.

Things change, and more inclusiveness ultimately means there are less people telling you what you should do and how you should act.    This exchange from the West Wing comes to mind:

Major Tate: Sir, we’re not prejudiced toward homosexuals.

Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: You just don’t want to see them serving in the Armed Forces?

Major Tate: No sir, I don’t.

Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: ‘Cause they impose a threat to unit discipline and cohesion.

Major Tate: Yes, sir.

Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: That’s what I think, too. I also think the military wasn’t designed to be an instrument of social change.

Major Tate: Yes, sir.

Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: The problem with that is that’s what they were saying about me 50 years ago – blacks shouldn’t serve with whites. It would disrupt the unit. You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it. The unit changed. I’m an admiral in the U.S. Navy and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff… Beat that with a stick.

Coup D’Etat?

Political talk is everywhere and nowhere these days.   I say that it’s everywhere because with three 24 news networks, traditional media outlets, and blogs, there is certainly no shortage of gum flapping about politics these days.  I believe that it is nowhere because all the yammering on is doing little to create understanding or build consensus.

A case in point is this little bit of business that popped up on my “news” feed on the Blue & White Social Network:

obama_coup

This sort of thing always scares me a little.   It scares me because someone is out there apparently raising the question “should we take up arms against our government?”  Living through armed insurrection is rarely pleasant.  It also scares me that people I know (some since childhood) blithely pass this sort of thing along to others without apparently recoiling in any kind of discomfort about the content.  That suggests a measure of anger and righteousness that is never pleasant to encounter, especially if it one day holds a gun.

Of course, the fact that it is probably untrue also bothers me.  I may not agree with the “all the God fearing Armed Forces veterans need to rise up and take back our Constitution from the Kenyan usurper” crowd and not read their news sources, but I happen to think that if a Marine General called for coup it would show up in the news that I do read.   A little research shows that it is indeed not true.   No need for a coup was mentioned, and while the Murdoch & Ailes News Network and The Washington Times did make some statements about “a Marine General openly criticizing the Obama Administration”, these proved to be something of a stretch upon closer reading of what exactly was said.

The hubbub seems to be over a statement made by Marine Corps Commandant James Amos at The Brookings Institution a few weeks ago:

I have a hard time believing that had we been there [in Iraq], and worked with the government, and worked with parliament, and worked with the minister of defense, the minister of interior, I don’t think we’d be in the same shape we’re in today.

I found the most insightful reading of what actually happened at web outlet called War On The Rocks.  I’ll let them pick up the story of what actually happened:

After some pushback from an editor at War on the Rocks to clarify context, we had the opportunity to review a full transcript of the speech. We discovered that the remarks being pieced together in the various press accounts were in responses to questions from the audience, not the general’s prepared remarks, and often not in the context or order in which they were placed in the reports.

For one thing, the actual line from the transcript is more nuanced than that quoted in the press reports: “I have a hard time believing that had we been there and working with the government and working with parliament an working with the minister of defense, the minister of interior, and the governance and the rule of law, I mean, all of that stuff, that I don’t think we’d be in the shape we’re in today.” More importantly, rather than a planned commentary on the ISIS mess, it was in response to a question asking, “Are you concerned that the same thing [that has happened in Iraq] will happen to the Afghan security forces once we leave?”

Further, in the sentence right before the supposedly damning quote, Amos declared flatly that Iraq “didn’t need combat forces when we left. They’d already had, they were trained up.” So, Amos was actually saying exactly the opposite what Ollie North and others are claiming he did. The Commandant wasn’t criticizing the drawdown of American combat forces, but rather lamenting that the Iraqi leadership has failed so spectacularly at governance and arguing that American advisors at the ministerial level might have helped on that front.

Moreover, when asked directly about the ISIS situation much earlier in the dialogue, Amos described the pride his Marines had in what they’d accomplished in Iraq and added, “it was time for us to leave. We’d completed. We’d done what we said we were going to do. And actually we’d done what we were told to do.”

So, why the vitriol?   I could say its an election year, and that keeping people angry is a great way to get more of your people out to the polls in an off election year… forgetting that the most outrageous lies can take on the appearance of truth if they are repeated long enough and often enough.   We all have to eventually live in a world where such “truths” exist.

A web article that a friend enjoyed pointed to a baser and simpler explanation:

I’ve said for a decade that the media is neither good, nor bad. It is neither Left nor Right. It answers to one god: Sensationalism. Which leads to traffic. Which leads to revenue. There’s a reason why crazies who say stuff like “if you were on a ketogenic diet you would never get cancer” – because it follows the equation: Sensationalism -> Traffic -> Revenue.

Rinse and repeat.

Who needs truth when you can have dollars?

Scientific Perspective

Surplus energy for blog posts is in short supply these days.   I am recovering from a couple physical injuries that I hope to document in an entry here shortly.   The Missus is also at an “off site” meeting held by her employer for the last few days, and I am “solo parenting” the Peanut in her absence with minimal day care help from friends (who are angels, in the best sense.)  I consider solo parenting to be nothing particularly remarkable, except that halving the workforce requires twice the energy from me, and I am tired.

I will therefore keep this entry short.  I happened upon the little essay entitled The Jargon Trap about writing technical articles for the general public in the New York Times the other day.   In it, the author notes:

Scientists who want to pluck out the most important findings from a body of research and contextualize them for a mass audience need to step back from wallowing in minutiae and transform themselves into an outside observer of their own field.

This should not be hard for most scientists skilled at writing to do.   Being somewhat familiar with technical writing in both academia and industry, one of the first things one must learn to communicate effectively is cultivate such an observer perspective.   That perspective allows an author to effectively describe what makes his or her work novel to other experts in the field.   Is it such a big leap then to step a little further back and draw “the big picture” for someone who knows nothing?

I wonder if it is.  Science is both terrifically exact and inexact.  We construct experiments to test small things we can measure, and then extrapolate them to the world at large.   We do so, knowing that new results are often disproved, and interpretation of those results amounts to opinion until they are confirmed numerous times by multiple experiment.

Yet, to the general public, this uncertainty tarnishes the notion that scientists are Promethean “bringers of fact.”   It also confuses terms; what a scientist calls a “hypothesis”, the public would call a “theory”.   What a scientist calls a “theory”, the public would in many ways call a “fact”.

Halloween Is The New Christmas (Costco, no!)

I seem to recall one of the Charlie Brown TV specials where the Peanuts gang go into a store in the summer and find a large amount of Christmas merchandise with a large banner that says “Only 95 Shopping Days Left!” or some such thing.  They balk.

I felt the same way upon seeing a large display of what are obviously Halloween costumes when I shopped at Costco yesterday:

IMG_1436

The most insidious thing about the display is that it is about Halloween purposely without saying so.   The boys costumes were labeled “Boys role-playing costumes”, and the girls costumes were called something similar.   Oh please!   The only time that Costco has sold costumes in the past was for Halloween.  How is this year different?

I suppose this was inevitable.   Commercialization of Halloween has done nothing but increase over the last decade.  Where once it was a holiday where you carved a pumpkin and threw together costumes for the kids (or if there was a costume party on a nearby weekend, adults), now there are lights, decorations, and professional costumes of all shapes and sizes.  While the All Hallows Eve religious context of the occasion was always a little shaky in minds of many, this stabs a stake right through its heart.  I fear it shall not survive the commercial onslaught.

 

 

 

Feeling His Love…

… because God surely must be holding us tight today.

IMG_1432That is all.

Why My Patience With All News Media Is Growing Rather Thin

A friend on the Blue & White Network posted a link to a breaking bit of news from a major market television station web site regarding capital punishment in California.  The story led with the line:

A federal judge in Orange County on Wednesday declared the death penalty “unconstitutional” in the state of California – the first ruling of its kind in the United States.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney in Orange County called the system “dysfunctional” and “arbitrary” in his 29-page ruling.

My immediate reaction was three fold.  First, I know that capital punishment in California has been under assault (pretty much unsuccessfully) for some time now, so this was news.  Second, I don’t claim to be an expert on capital punishment but I had the fuzzy recollection that the United States Supreme Court had issued some kind of ruling back in the 1970’s that invalidated capital punishment on constitutional grounds until states had modified their procedures.  Third, I recalled that Charles Manson got his capital sentence commuted to life in prison because the courts had invalidated California’s capital procedures before.  So… the “first of its kind” hyperbole smelled fishy to me.

Using the Web for what it’s good at (finding somebody’s version of the facts quickly), I was able to find two pieces of information in Wikipedia in under 10 minutes:

  1. The California State Supreme Court voided the death penalty in California under the State Constitution in 1972 in State of California v. Robert Page Anderson.  California modified its Constitution to re-institute the death penalty.
  2. In the same year, the United States Supreme Court created a nationwide four year moratorium on the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia, stating in scattered, non-controlling opinions that the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment and violated the Constitution.  This forced states to re-write capital punishment laws to implement more uniform impositions of the death penalty in order to pass Constitutional muster.

Now, if I, as a curious reader, can find this out with almost no effort, why can’t a reporter who is informing thousands or millions of people do the same thing?   It provides essential context, and helps avoid the kind of hyperbole that rattles cages and calls people to arms.

I know so many people today who are so angry about the state of this nation or the world because some blogger or talking head on TV or web site told them however overtly or subtly that the should be angry… generally over things that 20-30 minutes of research can put into context with a few facts.  That context goes missing, and we get people thinking that Steven Spielberg killed a triceratops — a dinosaur that went extinct 66 million years ago.

Perhaps that’s my problem:  I’m in love with facts.