December 6th, 2006



On the way to today's scan, I listened to another person on the PTC shuttle talking about protesting people buying porn-ish things on campus by hanging around the vendor and telling customers, "You're not going to buy that, are you?". She noted that from watching people buy it unbothered versus with her intervention that she could stop the vast majority of purchases, and saw it as a victory for women. Porn and objectification are an interesting topic for a lot of people, and cuts across political boundaries. I find myself both libertine enough that I am certain that the reasons against are not strong enough to justify a ban as well as bothered at the inconsistency usually present in such arguments. As I understand, some people are concerned that enjoyment of porn, by regularly invoking fantasies focused on the physical side of sex, will lead people away from caring about the (possibly present) emotional side of sex (and relationships), and/or that the specific content of porn, much of which involves female submission, tends to create a disrespectful attitude towards women. Some also would claim that sex urges, indulged in any way that lacks social boundaries (even that of a single other person) encourages harmful sorts of deviancy and an autistic understanding of relationships/sex. Some of these are stronger concerns than others. The specific argument of "exploitation" I dismiss out of hand - I don't think people who make that argument generally care about exploitation, or they would typically understand labour in general in a different light. Employment in most cases is specifically about exploitation and people being thought of as less than an entire person - I think that that kind of treatment is far worse than being considered by some to be a sexual object ever could be. Beyond the level of treatment I receive as a skilled, reasonably respected Sysadmin/Systems Programmer type working in academia (I am treated pretty well), I've seen people treated very badly, from friends who had to work at credit card companies to pay the bills to telemarketers who were hired in past jobs. Employment-in-the-normal-job-sense exploitation is widespread, and to a certain extent inherent in any society - any society needs a good amount of labour to support itself comfortably, and that requires getting people for such labour, treating them in the grossest sense as gears. An ideal I hold is that people should be treated by their plcae of employment as human beings, at least partly like a family with a lot of chores. Universities can be like that (not all are) - that's why I like working for academia. If such task relations were extended to more of the economy, and efforts to continue to evolve it to be both more effective in discouraging freeloaders and better at fixing problem relations when they crop up, the type and degree of this exploitation (needed for society) can be made less harmful. Returning to sexual relations, relationships are based partly on sex. I consider that a strong biological tendency that we can only counter with great effort (and considering how we're wired, tampering with it is unlikely to make us happy) - only in age as libido (presumably) fades does this characteristic disappear. I don't think recognising this means one must treat the opposite gender solely as a tool for sexual satisfaction, but integration of respect and broad bases of compatibility is the responsibility of both genders. In societies where both genders can support themselves well (an important thing to strive for), people can be selective and reject people who treat the other gender poorly. If and where this fails to happen, it's worth looking at the reasoning. I sometimes worry that we have genetic/biological tendencies that operate against us in these areas - if, for example, we were to imagine that there are tendencies of women to have a liking for men who are powerful and occasionally brutal (presumably in the EEA getting more resources for a possible family), or things of that sort, then there are interesting challenges to our position as advocates of gender-equity that will need to be considered.

On a similar topic, at BIRC I again read some articles that were posted on the walls about some local researchers into aging and adolescence, in particular on how adolescent brains mature as they progress towards adulthood. It worries me when I see people who are opposed to "ageism" to the extent of applying it to teenagers in all cases - when they deny both biology and experience, it feels to me that they're primarily working to support their vanity (if they're that young) or doing it out of solidarity for some reason (either to look cool or because it fits into their political position in some other way). It bothers me in either case. Several political stances have an undercurrent of "me me me me me" just below the surface though...

Today ended the chainmail class. I didn't get as far into my final project as I would've liked, but that's not apparently a big deal, gradingwise. I enjoyed the class - more than just keeping me intellectually active, it was also socially good for me. I also maybe have a new hobby (provided I learn how to make mandrils so I can make rings). There are other complexities I won't describe that if you know me you may know about. I hope I either get into the class I was interested next semester or find a good alternative class to take - I don't want next semester to be a work-only one, because I'd get bored. I honestly can say that I've pretty much mastered everything I need to know for my job, and I'm a bit bored by it, even though I know it's good for the world (research), I'm very much needed by them, and it's very comfortable. I suspect over the course of my life I'll work a number of jobs and gain a lot of skills. I shouldn't let having mastered a few lock me down to any particular one. Returning to the point, the class was awesome, and I'm going to miss both the content and the stuff that went with it.

I am still enough of a geek that reading about SQL dialect improvements in my favourite database sofware makes me very happy.

There are some very noisy efforts to ban all smoking on campus over the next few years. I can't say that I have no opinion on the matter - I have a lot of opinions and basic perspectives that have refused to gel into a solid position on the matter. There are three main points that are prominent in my consideration:

  • Giving people autonomy generally makes them happy (for that autonomy, not necessarily in doing what they want, as people often don't know what's good for them, or even what they want, and make incredibly dumb decisions). I am reluctant to move against autonomy in personal (nonpolitical, noneconomic) matters without good reason.
  • Smoking might or might not be considered a form of unintended "passive assault" on other people. It's unhealthy to be around a smoker, indoors or out. Some people say "move away from them", but that's particularly unconvincing as one could say the same thing about really violent people. The basic argument/issue remains though.
  • Socialised health care (which I support) by default makes public health a public concern. This doesn't bother me so much, although working out how it should work with autonomy is possibly complex. Some people have suggested having some kinds of risky behaviour result in financial penalties on use of such health care. The degree to which this resembles "coercion" and the amount of possible resentment people will have forit is an open issue/problem.
I sometimes smell cigarettes and cigars in public that smell really, really good (I've never smoked, except once some marijuana in Amsterdam, which didn't work very well for me). Some part of me will miss occasionally smelling the nice stuff if it ever is banned, although I doubt I'll still be around here in 2010 for it to be a concern.

Outside-the-box does not come out-of-the-box

I had two wonderful, amazing conversations today. The first was with an Italian on his job experiences in Italy, and European attitudes towards work (packed in with other conversations that I will not relay). The second was with a Korean academe (South Korea) on economic politics in Asia. Talking politics with non-Americans is wonderfully refreshing - they tend to understand my positions better, share them to an extent, and they understand how the world works. I also appreciate it when they correct me when I get facts (as opposed to opinions, where there's so such thing) wrong. There were some things I didn't understand about North Korea and its relation with South Korea that I was set straight on, and Korean investment in Africa was something I was completely unaware of (I knew China was betting on South America - it makes sense in retrospect that other players there are scouting other developing areas to partner with). I like being corrected when the people doing so are actually educated and correct. It's irritating to be "corrected" by people who are actually wrong in their correction and either don't follow the issues involved or have done so with so little insight or time that they don't have the grounds for having a position. Both of these people were quite intelligent and well-read, and so conversation was great.

On the way back, I saw someone kiteblading on Flagstaff Hill. He managed to blade a good ways up the hill, although the wind was poor enough that it took him a lot of patience to wait for good gusts. I should try that sometime -- I think I have rollerblades somewhere.