Articles of Interest, April-May 2019

Articles of Interest is a bi-monthly post on the five or so most interesting things I’ve read during the titular two-month period. The intent is for there to be a few weeks of “lag” time between when I first read the articles and when I curate this collection, so that my selection isn’t biased by ongoing hype or sensationalism. The articles aren’t necessarily published during this period, although many of them are – I choose my collection from what I’ve bookmarked over the two months. Here are my picks for April and May:

Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Computron feels no emotion towards the animated television show titled Hyperdimension Warp Record (超次元 ワープ レコード). After all, Computron does not have any emotion circuits installed, and is thus constitutionally incapable of experiencing “excitement,” “hatred,” or “frustration.” It is completely impossible for Computron to experience emotions such as “excitement about the seventh episode of HyperWarp,” “hatred of the anime’s short episode length” or “frustration that Friday is so far away.”

I’ve been in fandom for half my life, and it’s a delight to see it so lovingly represented – not just the love of a piece of media, but the familiar intercommunity dynamics that spring up around the love. The friendships that emerge, the petty squabbles between fan factions. The way your burning desire to get a smidge of extra insight into this universe you love will force you down multiple rabbit-holes of topics relevant to the fandom in question, until, say, your historical cdrama discord server also becomes your de-facto place to ask about the interplay between Taoist and Confucian philosophies in the Southern and Northern Dynasties and yell about traditional silkworm cultivation. A short and beautiful piece of fiction.

Heaven or High Water: Selling Miami’s last 50 years by Sarah Miller

I asked how the flooding was.

“There are pump stations everywhere, and the roads were raised,” he said. “So that’s all been fixed.”

“Fixed,” I said. “Wow. Amazing.”

I asked how the hurricanes were.

He said that because the hurricanes came from the tropics, from the south and this was the west side of Miami Beach, they were not that bad in this neighborhood. “Oh, right,” I said, as if that made any sense.

I asked him if he liked it here. “I love it,” he said. “It is one of the most thriving cities in the country, it’s growing rapidly.” He pointed to a row of buildings in a neighborhood called Edgewater that were all just three years old. “That skyline was all built in the last three years.”

4000 words of pure “thanks, I hate it” energy, if you’re into that sort of thing. Also in general Popula’s a cool website which is Doing Things On The Blockchain if you’re into things like that and you should go check it out!

Susan Sontag Was a Monster of the Very Best Kind by Lauren Elkin

You won’t find Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Hume or György Lukács nonchalantly dotting the page in criticism today; it is supposed that readers aren’t up for it. But Sontag charges in and dares to distinguish between their good and mediocre work. She isn’t afraid of Jean-Paul Sartre. Writing on his book on Jean Genet, she notes: ‘In Genet, Sartre has found his ideal subject. To be sure, he has drowned in him.’ She stood up to men held up as moral giants. Albert Camus, George Orwell, James Baldwin? Excellent essayists, but overrated as novelists.

Until this article mentioned it, I kinda… never really thought about how you can dunk on well respected thinkers of previous generations? I mean, an in-group kind of dunking, a skewering of their work by people who also exist in the same space. Like, I don’t care about any critique that stemlords care to launch because they’re very, very bad at engaging in good faith with philosophers. But I didn’t realize until Elkin pointed it out, that I want to read more about the thoughts that other women/PoC/queer folk/disabled people/members of the subaltern in general had, doing close readings Locke and Rousseau and Marx. So, for now, I’ve picked up a copy of On Photography, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Comrade Vine died for Workers Rights™

I once attributed the death of Vine to executives shrugging at the popularity of Black youth comedy, foolishly saying, “we can’t monetize this!”

Nope. They just refused to share.

A very welcome reminder as we all watch YouTube and Twitter fail time and time again at kicking Nazis off their platform, and an interesting look into what labour activism can look like in digital spaces.

“Hey, how’s this for autism ‘awareness’ month: some percentage of you who are reading this tweet are #actuallyAutistic and aren’t aware of it.” A very long twitter thread by @mykola

When you think about interacting with people, how much effort do you put into being understood? Are you compensating, without realizing it, for the fact that nobody understands you unless you reframe it in terms you’ve slowly learned they grok?

When you see a complex system, does your brain get excited? Do you just automatically find that your awareness can easily flow through the system, consider its many parts in relation to each other and the whole, etc? Do you understand more than you can say in this context?

When you first entered ‘society’ (for me it was kindergarten) did you have a sense that everyone else must have somehow already known each other? That they all somehow knew the rules and you didn’t, or something? Did you spend 5, 10, 15 years playing catch-up?

Look: a lot of people can say yes to a lot of these questions and not be at all disabled, right? And because Autism is often spoken of as a disability in and of itself, anyone who has a ton of autistic traits but is doing fine in life doesn’t get diagnosed.

There’s a common refrain on parts of tumblr that I’ve taken to heart, about how people should use assistive devices more. Even if they don’t “need” it, even if they “aren’t disabled”. I’ve been mentally referring to this as “the shower chair creed”, after this thread (perma). So I decided that since I recognized enough of myself in this thread, as well as this other very pointed tumblr post (perma), I should go ahead and pick up some books on autism, social skills, and coping mechanisms for living in neurotypical society. It’s been an ongoing thing, interesting and scary in turns. But all in all, it’s been pretty rewarding to explore myself in this new light, and I think if you recognize yourself in the thread you should do it too.

Articles of Interest, February-March 2019

Articles of Interest is a bi-monthly post on the five or so most interesting things I’ve read during the titular two-month period. The intent is for there to be a few weeks of “lag” time between when I first read the articles and when I curate this collection, so that my selection isn’t biased by ongoing hype or sensationalism. The articles aren’t necessarily published during this period, although many of them are – I choose my collection from what I’ve bookmarked over the two months. Here are my picks for February and March:

Buckminster Fuller’s Chilling Domes (with further commentary and notes here) by Stuart McMillen

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I discovered Stuart McMillen during this interval of time, and summarily binged through his modest and very high quality archive of comics. I don’t endorse all opinions that McMillen espouses in his comics, but I do think that they’re all good and thoughtful reads. Two of them were in fact readings for the salon sessions I hosted last term: Supernormal Stimuli and Deviance in the Dark.

But I’m choosing to feature Chilling Domes, because while I enjoy culture war hot takes, they’re a pretty common sight in my corner of the internet. Conversely, it’s an incredibly rare delight when my interests in radical planning initiatives and quirky mid-century polymaths get indulged, at the same time. And an even rarer delight when that happens without the polymath getting real authoritarian or racist.

Check out the notes too for more on the physics and some plausible sounding explanations for why this phenomenon hasn’t been further explored in the almost-century since.

A Surgically Sculpted Face, the Newest Back-to-School Necessity by Wang Lianzhang

Chen isn’t worried she might not like her face after 10 years. “I can do more surgeries to change it again,” she says. “Any woman who can make the cruel decision to be pretty is brave. They will have better chances to make money and they will have a stronger desire to make money. They will be more hardworking than anyone else — because that’s the only way to cover the cost of further plastic surgeries.”

If you only had time to read one piece out of the five, make it this one. It’s such an interesting, meaty piece. And it’s talking about a social phenomenon that I guarantee you will make its way across the pond in the coming decades. It touches on so many interesting things! The role of social media in making being pretty more important than ever! The changing perception of what plastic surgery is (empowering, practical, incremental, something you can take out a loan for because banks recognize it as a good investment to boost your earning power)!! The very existence of FACE TRENDS!!! Can you imagine having to get a new face every five years to be considered stylish??? Holy CRAP.

I will say that this piece made me realize that maybe I’m not as transhumanist as I thought I was. I felt vaguely unsettled by the way that the interviewees spoke negatively about their original features. I thought the “before” picture of Chen Siqi was quite cute and I felt sad that she didn’t, or that her culture didn’t, and that in either case she felt better after having it changed. But since I feel comfortable with my own features, I’m definitely not in a position to judge, either.

And there’s some really interesting sociological aspects to transhumanism to think about here. If people want to augment their bodies with improvements that aren’t actually improvements but just because of societal norms or trends, would allowing that be a net positive for society? What are the circumstances under which it wouldn’t be? The closest frame of reference that I have is the Discourse surrounding facial feminization surgery for trans people, where body dysmorphia is seen as a reasonable justification for surgery. It looks like in plastic surgery circles though, dysmorphia in general is a big no-no. From this piece: 

A small percentage of patients have body dysmorphic disorder and will never be satisfied with their appearance… it is essential for hospitals to hire psychological counselors to evaluate the patients.

There’s also this recent piece on incels getting plastic surgery (which JSYK I’m breaking my no-hype policy to post; this week it’s been linked everywhere and I’m extra grumpy about it because to add insult to injury it’s kind of bad and irresponsible as a piece of journalism), which had something similar to say:

Some surgeons will not operate on patients they believe may have body dysmorphia. “To me, that’s a red flag when someone has 200 pictures of themselves on their phone,” says Joe Niamtu, a cosmetic surgeon in Virginia, who declines to operate on many young male patients seeking sculpted faces. “The risk is they’ll never be happy.”

That’s going to be an interesting tension to observe.

And lastly, here is a hot take: when our generation reaches boomer-age, one thing our grandkids will post in the 2070 equivalent of r/forwardsfromgrandma would be memes about how much we suck because of our regressive af views on cosmetic surgery. We’ll be writing very embarrassing opinion pieces about how our kids are super selfish for choosing to not look like us at all, and it’ll get as soundly mocked as this piece is now. And they would be entirely correct for mocking us.

Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same by Justin Fox

A TL;DR: In the mid-90s someone discovered that building codes classified wood treated with fire retardant as noncombustible, and because “stick construction” brings down the development cost of housing by 30% it’s quietly overtaken the States and Canada as well as a handful of other wealthy nations since then. It would depend on developers working against their own economic interests to close this loophole, and in the meantime there’s been quite a few sketchy fires and close calls. Some municipalities and industry professionals are starting to raise alarm bells about this issue.

Glenn Corbett, a former firefighter who teaches fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, took me on a tour of some of New Jersey’s “toothpick towers,” as he calls them, pointing out places that fire engines can’t reach and things that could go wrong as the buildings age. “You’re reintroducing these conflagration hazards to urban environments,” he says. “We’re intentionally putting problems in every community in the country, problems that generations of firefighters that haven’t even been born yet are going to have to deal with.”

So that’s interesting and terrifying. But not really interesting and terrifying enough to be top 5 out of the hundred or so things I’ve read in this 2 month period by itself. It’s here because it made me reflect upon the planning education that I’ve gotten in the last four years, in a university that’s known to be the most STEM-oriented in the country. A planning education where I’ve taken seven or eight social justice-oriented courses, three being mandatory. A planning education where I’ve heard the term “stick construction” exactly once.

SlateStarCodex published a photo essay on the 2019 APA Annual Meeting, and his third thing is a similar observation about the psychology field. Like psychology, planning is a field where you do need a considerable amount of Wokeness to do your job properly. But should I have been learning more about building codes?

The Route of a Text Message by Scott B. Weingart

My leg involuntarily twitches with vibration—was it my phone, or just a phantom feeling?—and a quick inspection reveals a blinking blue notification. “I love you”, my wife texted me. I walk downstairs to wish her goodnight, because I know the difference between the message and the message, you know?

It’s a bit like encryption, or maybe steganography: anyone can see the text, but only I can decode the hidden data.

My translation, if we’re being honest, is just one extra link in a remarkably long chain of data events, all to send a message (“come downstairs and say goodnight”) in under five seconds across about 40 feet.

This is just such a neat piece of longform writing. I don’t know what else I can really say about it, I just really enjoy pieces that is a person enthusiastically infodumping about a thing that I know just enough about so that it barely doesn’t goes over my head. So that it barely punches me in the face, I guess? What makes this piece particularly appealing is the romanticization of tech that is a constant thread throughout. Not in the “it’s going to save us all” type of way which is boring and dangerous, but in the “look at this thing that we built, that generations of humans had a hand in shaping, that now exists in the world and against all odds works for us despite how much of it is cruft and duct tape” type way, which is MY JAM.

Fantasy Birding is Real, and it’s Spectacular by Ryan F. Mandelbaum

“Fantasy birding is basically the offspring of three unrelated obsessions of mine,” says Matt Smith, fantasy birding’s creator. “One is obviously birding, which I fell into pretty hard as a kid in Mississippi. The second is sports, baseball in particular, which always turned me on because of all the numbers. And the third is making things for the web.”

I just. Really love weird internet communities. They’re like online equivalents of stores that sell just one thing, which is another thing that I love.

And if you’re not familiar with 21st century birding, you might be surprised by the pretty impressive amount of online infrastructure and citizen-science-stry that happens when it comes to birds, which makes fantasy birding possible. I remember learning about the Cornell Lab and eBird in my second year field ecology course, and being blown away. I kind of thought that birding was a thing that retirees did with guidebooks from the seventies and a trusty set of binoculars? But reality in this case was so much cooler. And sometimes, you just need a reminder that reality is pretty cool, you know?

Articles of Interest, December 2018-January 2019

Articles of Interest is a bimonthly post on things that I found on the internet that are interesting. The intent is for there to be 2-3 weeks of “lag” time between when I read the articles and when I review them, for hype to die down on any given hot topic. This is why this post is being published near the end of February. Featured articles aren’t necessarily published in the titular two-month period; that’s just when I read the pieces for the first time.

I’m going to do something slightly different for this edition. Instead of looking at the articles that are the most “interesting” per se, I’m going to use them mostly as a proxy to talk about what’s going on in my personal life. Cool? Cool.

Gwern on nicotine

When someone or something says that “nicotine” is harmful and you drill down to the original references for their claims, the references often turn out to actually be talking about tobacco rather than nicotine gums or patches…  Technically, nicotine is not significantly addictive, as nicotine administered alone does not produce significant reinforcing properties.

This is actually a piece that I first read in November, but to be fair I’ve reread it half a dozen times between December and January. For a while now, I’ve been idly thinking about experimenting with nicotine for a) being a more alert and competent student in 8:30 classes and b) positive habit formation, and this is the post that made me start to do more research on it in earnest. I won’t bother summarizing all the interesting things about nicotine here because it’s not worth the effort when Gwern’s writeup is so stellar. But here are some more personal insights:

Even though now that I’ve done enough research to be entirely convinced that nicotine lozenges are incredibly safe, and resolved to take them in an incredibly responsible and safe manner to reduce the already minuscule chance of addiction (never two days in a row, maximum 3 times a week), I still haven’t worked up the courage to buy them on Amazon. This is weird, because I didn’t have nearly the same amount of reservations when it came to starting caffeine, alcohol, and more exotic substances. I think that this is the case because of two main reasons.

One, the anti-tobacco lobby did a pretty good job. What can I say, the experience of having to design a poorly researched anti-smoking poster in fourth grade must have really stuck with me. The second thing is that tobacco is low-status to someone in my social class, moreso than coffee, alcohol, and weed. I remember getting super defensive about trying it out when I first broached the subject with my friend group. I literally think that some of them would have reacted more positively if I told them that I was contemplating starting up a coke habit. And, well, status and class is a very powerful reinforcer of norms, who would have thought.

How To Build a Lumenator (And some other articles on winter illumination)

Once upon a time, a friend was sad. Specifically, they had seasonal affective disorder. They tried to fix it by adding lights to their room during the winter.It didn’t work.They tried adding a LOT of light.It worked.They called the giant bundle of lights they assembled a Luminator. Other people wondered how they, too, might summon a sun into their living room. The task was not exactly complicated or hard, but it was a little confusing and inconvenient. Instructions were passed around by word of mouth, and individuals cobbled together luminators in their own homes. Some of them has seasonal affective disorder, and some just liked their rooms to feel line sunshine all the time.Bit by bit, people’s lives grew brighter.

Aaaaaand, now I have a lumenator!

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It pumps out around 10,000 lumens, and it’s bright enough that when you turn it on in the middle of the day with the windows open, it still manages to make the room significantly brighter. I’ve had it for a month now and while I can’t say for sure whether or not it’s made my SAD go away, it does make me ridiculously happy and I will enthusiastically LUMENATE the rest of my house bit by bit.

I first came across this concept in Eliezer Yudowsky’s book Inadequate Inequilibra, which I highly recommend.

[NSFW – cw for female breasts] Posts wrongly purged by Tumblr’s NSFW ban, like this one

Another one:

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I’ve been collecting these posts as they come up with the intent of writing a post-mortem after the dust settles, and I’m up to 30ish. I’m very glad that I did, because there were some important pieces and criticisms that are now gone.

There were shitposts, and people talking about their mixed feelings for this platform that they grew up and into themselves on, and informative pieces on the broader implications and why tumblr did this in the first place.

I’ll start on that soon, it’s been a while since I did any sort of interesting longform.

“Where’s My Cut?”: On Unpaid Emotional Labor, Jess Zimmerman

We are told frequently that women are more intuitive, more empathetic, more innately willing and able to offer succor and advice. How convenient that this cultural construct gives men an excuse to be emotionally lazy. How convenient that it casts feelings-based work as “an internal need, an aspiration, supposedly coming from the depths of our female character.”…Housework is not work. Sex work is not work. Emotional work is not work. Why? Because they don’t take effort? No, because women are supposed to provide them uncompensated, out of the goodness of our hearts.

Since I’ve moved back to Waterloo for my school term, I’ve started hosting some bi-weekly salons to try to mitigate the damage academia is doing to my sense of intellectual curiosity. We started experimenting with doing readings before the meetups and this is the one that I picked to go along with our topic, emotional labour. In a more ideal universe I would have assigned the metafilter thread instead, but we’re all tired students and no one really has the time for 50 additional pages of readings.

I was thinking that everyone would agree with Zimmerman at the beginning of the session and I could then lead people to a more nuanced “actually maybe what Zimmerman is promoting also isn’t that great” state, but what ended up happening was that people were dunking on the article right away. At first I felt a bit put out by this because oh no I couldn’t flaunt my intellectual superiority, but honestly being surrounded by really smart and critical people is cool af, so I got over it pretty fast and now I basically don’t come to salon with any sort of agenda in mind and I just bask in everyone’s conversation. It’s probably an even better thing for my mental health than the lumenators are. If any of my salon members are reading this, sorry for thinking that you were dumber than you actually were 🙁

[NSFW – cw for blood, and graphic bodily harm] Welcome to Hell World

In January of 2005 in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, Samar, five years old at the time, was riding in the back seat of her parents’ car as they returned from bringing her young brother to the hospital. It was getting dark, and nearing curfew, and her father, likely aware of this, was driving faster than normal. Fearing that the driver was a suicide bomber, an army patrol in the area that evening were given permission to open fire and so they did because that is what army patrols do.

I understand if based on the excerpt you already feel tired and don’t want to click through; if I didn’t know the author I would feel the same way. Luke O’Neil’s newsletter is always gut-wrenching and never fails to ruin my day, but I never fail to click on it the instant in appears in my mailbox. He’s got a writing style that hooks me in the belly and he’s good at humanizing the people who aren’t being humanized enough, cutting through the bullshittier parts of the culture war woven by those in privileged coastal enclaves to tell you about the blood and the sweat and the suffering of those actally being crushed by what’s happening in the world today.

If I had to choose only one newsletter to subscribe to, hell world would be it, and I’m so happy that I’ve found it even though it only ever makes me sad.

Thus concludes this ed of articles of interest, hopefully I’ll have a “real” blog post up before the next one hits!

Articles of Interest, October-November 2018

Oops, it’s December. Thankfully, this blog is my private property, so I can do things like announce a special double feature, even though what I’m actually doing is just giving you half the content in twice the time. It’s fine, guys. It’s fine.

Some good posts I read in the last two months:

The fantastically named Big Block of Cheese Day dot tumblr dot com on a reasonable comments section on a conservative blog (archive)

While failson men surely do deserve moral blame for not pulling the trigger, there are significant cultural norms that have mutated to make it even more difficult. How many marriages, throughout history, that grew into a state of love and commitment began with a shotgun wedding and a full belly? In a culture where birth control is available, few expect marriage before cohabitation, and sex is free and easy, how much blame are we assigning to the men? Of course they are behaving this way. They are living out what was taught to them.

I wish there was more of this content on the internet. I think a lot of conservatives are rightfully upset at the system and might be in a lot of pain, and while I don’t blame them for lashing out, I can’t understand them when they do that. Recently though, I’ve found a handful of good right-leaning sources.

American Affairs Journal, which I might have linked in a previous articles post consistently serves up really good, intelligent #discourse, and I’m honestly pretty surprised that they consider themselves right of centre. Ozy, who is a very smart, lefty feminist, also has a list here of content creators that I will check out eventually.

This piece on how quietly radical The Little Mermaid is (archive)

There is a reason the destruction of Ariel’s grotto harrowed me more as a child than any other scene in a Disney film. I could hardly watch it. I hid my face. I begged my family to skip scene. I was reduced to a sobbing mess. On a personal level, it harrowed me more than the destruction of Cinderella’s dress. 

That reason is because, in watching the scene, I felt the pain of a place of refuge being invaded. By the time we reach the destruction of the grotto, we are as emotionally invested in Ariel’s collection as she is because we see that the objects are more than objects. They are extensions of herself, encapsulating all her feelings of hope and hopelessness.

Destroying those items is like annihilating a part of her soul.

That is why I hate the “she gave up her voice for a man” line of thought so much. Because it so blatantly disregards the context of the film. Because it paints Ariel as a shallow teenager. Because it places blame for what follows solely on Ariel’s shoulders and absolves Triton of any wrongdoing.

Auuuurgh I love it I love it I love it. It’s kind of really messed up that a lot of Disney Princesses movies are actually quite radical, but because they are marketed towards girls, lots of people tend to automatically dismiss them and assume that they’re just about “getting the guy” etc. It actually seems like Disney itself has started doing this recently, as point out by this piece that actually made the shortlist for this post. Of course that isn’t too
surprising, unfortunately many examples of a franchise “selling out” exist. Here is a piece on something similar happening in Star Trek as well. One place, conversely, where this definitely DID NOT happen is Star Wars. I will fight you on this. I don’t even like Star Wars that much but I’ll put em up. TLJ has stuck to its roots so hard and I love Rey and Finn and Poe forever. Now, you won’t ever catch me ousside because I don’t go outside, but I am Extremely Logged On and, like, the sidebar tells u like 5 ways that u can reach me by right there. Let’s start dukin it out on LinkedIn. See if I care. I don’t, unless you’re talking smack about TLJ. Let’s move on before I embarrass myself further.

This Wired piece, which confidently proclaims that [thing that I have never heard of] is “synonymous with online communication in its best, worst, and, above all, most vital forms.”

…I won’t blame Wired for being out of touch though. It’s just that the piece was written in 1997.

To be on The Well in 1985 was, even in the technically hip Bay area, to be that rare person for whom a modem was just another tool. Owning one that transmitted data at 1,200 bits per second put you on the cutting edge. The Macintosh had 128K of memory and no hard drive. Most personal computers were DOS-based. MCI’s email service, MCI Mail, had recently come on the market, but it had nothing to do with bringing people together in groups. The university-centered Arpanet was a closed society whose members had little awareness of what a few people in Sausalito were doing. Moreover, Arpanet—and the Internet that was quickly supplanting it—was an experiment in the technical problems of computer networking itself. Studying the cultural effects of bringing people together online wasn’t on Arpa’s agenda. Small BBSes were around, but they had about them the whiff of a lonely nerd’s hangout. Although The Well had no shortage of shy Unix hackers, something about it felt different.

So many of the features described here, and the way that the container shapes the culture of the place, and the drama that played out, are things that I’ve seen shades of during my decade on the internet. It’s mid-December and Tumblr is going to start banning blogs in five days. I realize that the reason I stagger these is so that I can look at the pieces with clear eyes, emotionally removed from the heated argument of the day. But this piece is 20 years old, and there’s too much for me to talk about here. People who I’ve followed for years and years are moving off, and my community is preparing to scatter. There’s a chance that this all blows over and things don’t end immediately, but that doesn’t matter. The death spiral has begun, and whether it takes two months or two years, everyone’s going to leave.

There won’t be anything like Tumblr when it’s gone, because of the way that it was built. Even if the community remains the same, the content will change. This was true when people moved from LiveJournal to Tumblr in 07 and after en masse, and it is true now. The Well, and the way that it was described, reminds me a little of Tumblr, and 4Chan, and Discord, with fainter shades of everything else. But there will never be anything exactly like The Well ever again, specifically because of the hard limitations then that can only ever by artificially imposed now.

But like the way The Well left ripples in internet culture, Tumblr will do the same. And everything will change, and everything will stay the same, and the children of gen Z will stumble across an epitaph of Tumblr, written in 2023, and will have these realizations too. So it goes.

This piece on rape culture, also from 20 years ago but unfortunately evergreen

All acts of violence that change our lives are also acts of betrayal. Rape is betrayal. Sexual abuse is betrayal. Finding out that your country is capable of vast atrocities is betrayal. Currently, our cultural vocabulary includes an image of the veteran who, though he may have been through episodic fragmentation, has come out stronger and, perhaps, more fully human. We have no such images for raped women. We don’t ever expect them to feel safe without a concerted mental effort and a protected environment. Logic alone would dictate that people who have been under fire and seen people blown to bits would have issues of safety as intense as people who were raped or abused, but we still judge their capability by separate standards. While some of that bias can be chalked up to old stereotypes that call men tough and women sensitive, that doesn’t account for all of it. Both rape and war involve traumatic violence. In recent years, feminists have fought hard to portray rape as an act of violence and not lust. While this has been necessary and difficult, it is somewhat misguided. The real problem is not that we treat rape as sex, but that we treat it as theft.

Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines rape as forced sex and also plunder—”robbing or despoiling,“ to be exact. Therefore, a raped woman is the victim of theft. You weren’t just violated, we tell her. You were pillaged. Something of intrinsic value was stolen from you. The fervent belief that this is true is evident on all sides of the issue. From traditional cultures that treat a raped woman as bankrupt to progressive movements that speak in terms of “reclaiming” oneself and “owning” the experience, we consistently use the language of theft. We tell a woman loudly and clearly that if she was sexually violated she has been robbed, and that the objects stolen were purity and innocence. With the best of motives, we still say to her, “I’m sorry for your loss.” We will ask her to “reclaim” her experience, rather than realize its effects. The truth is, if you were raped or abused, nothing was stolen from you. The low-life who did it threw his soul in the trash, but yours is intact. As long as we cling to the concept of rape or abuse as theft, we are ultimately led back to the belief that a woman’s worth and sense of self lie in her sexual purity. As long as the artifacts “stolen” are her defining virtues, we can speak of her condition only in terms of ownership and loss. To imply that deep within every woman is something essential that can be seen or touched, a vessel containing the real her that can be stolen by someone else, is an absolute objectifi­cation of women.

This piece is angry, and passionate, and says something that I 100% agree with. Activism can never be entirely detached from the culture of its birth, a culture that permeates everything they do. And indeed I’ve seen some shenanigans within the SJ sphere that, “conservative protestantism with a
gay hat
” (archive) very, very accurately describes. I would say that activists need to self-crit a lot more, but leftbook has ruined that phrase for me forever, because on there it basically means “I made a wild assumption about your level of privilege based on your Facebook profile, I have concluded from that that you are more privileged than me, and therefore you must defer to my opinion.” Yeah, I know. Leftbook. Worst three months of my life.

Lastly, this piece on the Chinese diaspora in Canada, and why it’s not a given that new immigrants vote left. 

By being barred from white and English-speaking labour markets, deskilled workers, undocumented workers, and migrants who don’t speak English are often forced into industries and sectors where regulations are weak and worker protections are low. Take, for example, the issue of wage theft: in a 2016 survey of 184 Chinese restaurant workers in the GTA, 43 per cent reported being paid below minimum wage. In one widely publicized incident, it was found that Regal Restaurants had stolen wages totaling more than $650,000 from over 60 Chinese restaurant workers in the GTA.

It is precisely the working-class and deskilled immigrant experiences that the right-wing operatives have tapped into, asking loaded questions like, “Is it fair that you worked so hard through all those poor jobs, just to pay taxes to support these ‘fake’ and morally questionable refugees?” These ideologies, when unopposed, move working-class people away from developing class consciousness and identifying their true oppressors.

Sadly, the left has often been uninvested in the struggles of Chinese and other racialized working-class immigrants. Some NDP campaigners told us they were instructed to avoid canvassing in Chinese communities in the lead-up to the recent elections, as it was assumed that Chinese Canadians would not be interested in left-wing demands. Based on these racialized assumptions, one NDP canvasser told us they expected “people to slam their doors in my face.” Instead, the canvasser discovered that when they actually spoke to residents in their language, “most [residents] found the NDP’s policies agreeable.” It was the lack of sustained political education, organizational power, and leftist Chinese media long before the 2018 election that ultimately meant many of these neighbourhoods voted for Progressive Conservatives.

I had such a hard time finding a short passage to excerpt, guys. I wanted to copy paste the entire thing. It’s a great primer into the Chinese diaspora in Canada. It talks about the death of Asian-American activism in the 70s, and how the ripple effects of that led to the PC party being able to tap into the racism that Chinese people continue to face, and why they voted overwhelmingly for the Fords, Rob and Doug. How the Liberals declawed them, and how much the NDP dropped the ball. And sweet Jesus, the amount of fake news that gets circulated around on WeChat. If you’re Chinese, and even if you’re not, you need to give this a read. I can’t believe I’m just finding out now about Briarpatch mag, because they. Are. Amazing!!!!!

At the same time, reading this piece makes me kind of melancholy. It kind of sucks that I’m unable to talk about this with the people that I want to the most: my parents. My Chinese is getting more broken by the day and it wasn’t too good to start with, because I moved here when I was six. There’s basically zero chance that I can get it to a level where I can talk about complex topics with my parents. I wonder how they feel, too, about having an adult daughter who has never had an intelligent conversation with them, who they have to keep simplifying their words for.