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.

Challenges facing Violence Against Women Shelters in Ottawa

[Epistemic effort: I’ve had a month for digesting what I heard, but haven’t actually set time aside to think hard about the implications. I have done my best to cross-reference all the claims that I noted down, but there may still be some mistakes remaining, and there’s a chance that I completely misinterpreted something that was said.]

I went to a roundtable discussion on the challenges faced by women’s shelters in the Ottawa region mid-November, and I realized that I was incredibly privileged in that government regime changes generally don’t affect me.

What do I mean by that? Well, I think there’s this general consensus around my social class, that politics are mostly a form of entertainment, and all of the head political figures all kind of channel Zaphod Beeblebrox while some 50 year old white dude with 30 years in the public service and a job title like Assistant Deputy Chief Underminster of Finance actually controls everything. It turns out that I was very, very wrong, and it’s just that the “middle” class is kind of untouchable politically. The Ford administration has actually meant that some urgently needed social services are now underfunded or defunded entirely, with severe implications for the subaltern classes. There are changes, and people’s lives have objectively gotten shittier. I just didn’t see it.

This realization has made me change from ambivalence to disapproval of my fellow leftists who are/identify as accelerationists, who think that we should just burn the entire current structure down and start anew, because according to them the system in place has a net negative impact on the world. Now that I know that this is not the case, my reaction is “hey buddy if you’re going to burn down this system that millions of people depend upon for some reason or another, you better have a dang good reason, because the people whose lives will be upended the most, and for the worse, will be your poor, your disabled, and your oppressed, not the well-off relatives that you resent for being xenophobic.“

In the specific case of the roundtable, I learned that  women’s shelters in Ontario lost funding, meaning they either didn’t get enough to keep up with wages and inflation, or actually had to cut the number of beds that they had, which was already pathetically few to begin with. Whatever number you had in mind, it’s lower than that. There are 121 in Ottawa as of 2016. Women who flee often flee because they want to protect their children, so each woman that you take in will generally require 2-3 beds. Women stay for 3-6 months while they get their lives in order to move on. So. Ottawa, a city with a population of almost a million, can support approximately 50-60 abused women at a time, and zero men. I am willing to bet money that that is not close to enough. Ottawa is not a uniquely bad city when it comes to supporting battered women; in fact it may be better than average. Society just flat sucks, in general. (If this information made you update your mental model on the services your city provides for women, I regretfully inform you that you should make approximately the same update w/r/t homeless shelters, resources for refugees, subsidized/community housing, support for queer youth, CPS, and so on and so forth.)

The other incredibly shitty thing is that when it comes to supporting the subaltern classes, funding models are exceedingly zero sum at times. Three years ago, women’s’ shelters here were able to ring up 311 (the municipal help line) when they had a woman on the line who needed to get out, but no room in their shelter or in any other shelter in the city. The city would hook them up with a room for, not 3-6 months, but a decent chunk of time. Now, because of rising housing costs and an influx of refugees, the motels, city shelters, and overflow rooms are all full, all the time,  and that is no longer an option for the shelters. This, by the way, is the case even though the mayor, who honestly seems like a pretty cool guy, spent $6.4m over budget last year on shelters.

And, the week after I went to this roundtable, Ford started cutting watchdogs for the province left and right, because according to the party they were ineffectual and therefore a waste of taxpayer dollars. Watchdogs were brought up as a topic during the roundtable discussion as well. According to the panelists, in general they weren’t the most efficient form of advocacy, because it’s hard to bite the hand that feeds you. But it was still useful, and it was provided at no cost to the shelters. Now, the shelters are preparing  to scrape at the splintered bottoms of their barrels to pay for advocacy themselves. I don’t like that, but I am generally not a fan of anything that our current government is doing, so that’s not a big surprise.

Misc notes:

  • Cities don’t have enough money to do anything in the “best” way that we are taught at City Planning School. The way “housing first” is supposed to work: “step one when a person becomes homeless is to give them a stable source of housing, so that they can keep their stuff, have an address which is very important for applying to jobs, and not fall apart mentally.” The way “housing first” works because there are approximately like, negative four affordable units in the city: the city will give you a subsidy of $250 a month for housing. But. Only after you’ve spent more than a cumulative total of 2 years in a homeless shelter, and are not addicted to any substances (“clean”). It is very hard to be clean, if you’ve spent 2 years homeless. Also, homeless shelters are not safe for women generally, so only men stay for long periods of time. This means that men got 80% of the “housing first” subsidies. By the time you get a house because of the “housing first” policy, you already lost most things that a house was supposed to give you.
  • Another fun thing is that, landlords that are familiar with the housing first policy will deliberately push their rents above the affordable housing threshold, because they don’t want “troubled” tenants. I won’t say that landlords are scum because of this, because I can see where they’re coming from. But this goes back to how severely problematic rent-seeking, and the idea of housing as a form of investment/passive income, is.
  • This should go without saying, but battered women will make bad decisions sometimes, like going back to their abuser after their shelter stay. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t help them, because a) you don’t know their circumstances and b) you would likely do the same in their shoes. These women [a/n: I feel really uncomfortable with how the shelters speak of their clientele exclusively using female pronouns, but I mean, they’re women’s shelters.] are doing incredibly draining crisis management on a day-to-day basis. They’re trying to keep food on the table and their kids quiet so they don’t get beat up. Recovery is non-linear. Don’t hold this against them.
  • Lots of women will “hold out” until the shelters have a bed available for them.
  • A common misconception is that a women’s shelter is like, a large hall with 60 beds in one room. In general they’re like motels, with individual suites – some with connecting rooms too or a dividing wall that can be brought in if there are older kids who need their own space, etc. Lots of times, the kids don’t even know that they’re staying at a shelter of some kind, their mothers tell them that they’re just going on a mini staycation or something.
  • We know the solution for solving all these problems – for raising women out of poverty, for effectively transitioning them away from abusive relationships. Things like having beds immediately available, providing childcare, and ensuring that they can keep their pets with them (because they are beloved members of the family, and also something that the abuser can threaten/injure/kill if it is left behind) all help women stay away. The only problem is that we don’t have money, and in fact we are losing funding. Ain’t that a bitch.
  • This year has been especially bad for women. In general, one woman is killed every six days. In 2018, the figure has shot up to 2.5-3.
  • On the bright side, #metoo has had a visible impact, and more women are seeking out shelters – older women, wealthier women, immigrant women.

Articles of Interest, September 2018

I think something that’s unexpectedly nice about having such a delay between when I save articles and when I post them here is that I get to reread the pieces again, the good pieces that are divorced from the culture war and the whole outrage news cycle thing.

Good posts of September:

This great piece on labour day + this great takedown of it (scroll down past the blurb)

And that was a theme that cropped up again in Professor Blumin’s class, that there were two great working class traditions that echoed through the ages, and they were:
1) avoiding work, and
2) drinking

Labour history is so interesting, because it’s political enough that you’re always doing history and historiography at the same time. More than many other fields in history, facts are obscured, twisted, and blown out of proportion for contemporary power struggles, and you always need to think about when the pieces were written and how the world thought then.

Rivethead is going on my to-read list. Should I also start doing a monthly book review post?

Dorms for Grownups: A Solution for Lonely Millennials?

“It’s the best of both worlds,” she told me. “You have roommates, but they’re not roommates.”

One of over a dozen pieces I read over a few days when discussing the possibility of co-housing with friends after graduation. That description of millennials is uh, like, me irl. Co-housing as a concept is something that really appeals to me, and a very ideal thing would be for me to do an internship at an architectural or development firm that does things around this.

Sioux City: Straightening Buses and Getting Route-Length Right

A train that comes every half hour had better have a roundtrip length that’s just less than an integer or half-integer number of hours, counting turnaround times, to minimize the time the train sits at the terminal rather than driving in revenue service. The same is true of buses, except that scheduling is less precise.

A fascinating, practical (but not technical or jargony) guide to how to make good bus routes. Not comprehensive, of course, but I like short interesting tidbits better anyways.

Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong

Since 1959, research has shown that 95 to 98 percent of attempts to lose weight fail and that two-thirds of dieters gain back more than they lost. The reasons are biological and irreversible. As early as 1969, research showed that losing just 3 percent of your body weight resulted in a 17 percent slowdown in your metabolism—a body-wide starvation response that blasts you with hunger hormones and drops your internal temperature until you rise back to your highest weight. Keeping weight off means fighting your body’s energy-regulation system and battling hunger all day, every day, for the rest of your life.

A very long piece but very worth the read. I’ve been saying a lot of the stuff in here for a while – it seems absolutely wild that the recommendations given to fat people are so ideologically driven with absolutely no care given to the effectiveness of the advice. Did you know that we can’t even test the hypothesis that fat people who have lost weight are healthier than fat people that haven’t? Because there is no method available to produce the result that would have to be produced—significant long-term weight loss, in statistically significant cohorts—in order to test the claim? Society highkey needs to get a grip and stop blaming individuals for becoming fat ugh.

One thing though, is that I think it’s very important to cite lots of sources when writing about such a contentious topic, to kind of pre-emptively shut up the nay-sayers? I’ve yet to see a good takedown of Big Fat Lies, which has 27 pages of bibliography to its 197 pages of content. But I know that news sites don’t like to do that, usually citing fake reasons like “it makes the page look cluttered” and having actual reasons like “we don’t want to give more traffic to our competitors”. But that’s a rant for another day.

Getting To A Fifty/Fifty Split of Parenting Duties

The only way to get the child to be parented 100% of the time the way you want to parent him is by doing 100% of the parenting yourself. If you don’t want to do that, you have to accept that sometimes your coparent will do things differently than you will.

#goals, and lots of practical advice on how to get there. Pretty much all the advice also works for housework in general, which is probably more useful for me as someone who is Definitely Attracted To The DINK (D+INK? Four-or-more-I’m-not-picky-INK?) Lifestyle.

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