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America's ongoing return to racism, or: Where did all the TV black people go? Aug. 8th, 2015 @ 12:35 pm
So I was thinking about something last night.

From the perspective of an outsider, it kinda seems like America has become more racist over the last few years.

It *really* seems like American television has. And that's odd, and problematic.

See, one of the causes often cited for the rise in the general acceptability of gay people in America is "the Will and Grace effect" - basically, TV representation equals familiarity equals acceptability, kind of thing.

But at the same time, black people have become so much *less* visible, and I wonder if that increases the "othering" effect.

When I was a kid, there were lots of American black people on TV. I have vague memories of loving a show called Good Times, and of course, although now problematically, there was the Cosby Show. At some point there was Family Matters, and into the 90s there was The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. There were no doubt others, but those are the ones I recall from Australian TV.

Meanwhile, not for nothing, but back in the freakin' 70s, there was M*A*S*H, which despite a white regular cast quite frequently featured black (and other POC) secondary characters, minor characters, and extras, with regards to whom their skin colour was not their defining factor, even in episodes that were definitely About Racism.

There was an episode where the doctors determine that a field officer is assigning the most dangerous duty to black soldiers, because he's a horrible racist and he doesn't like a desegregated Army and he wants them out of his unit.

For extended scenes involving dialogue, the main black characters in that episode are one of the soldiers, who nonetheless gets some chat about where he's from and is also shown having been spending time playing board games with Father Mulcahy and other things to suggest that he's actually a person, and an officer, who joins the doctors in exposing the racist commander and forcing him to resign his commission. (Who is also a dentist, and gets to tie the episode's main and sub-plots together and have one of the episode's best lines.)

In another episode, there's a field medic named Moody, who is respected and liked, but at one point turns up being treated for minor injuries to his hands after he's apparently been in a fight at Rosie's Bar. When I was a kid, I never fully understood why he'd been fighting - what he tells Hawkeye is that, "Some guys wanted to know if I could tap dance."

I understand that now, but at the time, all I knew was that this clearly bothered him, because Moody is annoyed that he let them get to him - he knows better, because he'll have something guys like that will never have: self-respect.

In another, meanwhile, there's a wounded black soldier being treated under local anaesthetic for a shoulder injury, so he's sitting on a gurney with no shirt, but some dressings visible. He's a well-built, broad-shouldered sort of fellow, and gets an admiring look from one or two nurses; when he asks if his shoulder is bad, Hawkeye tells him something like, "Are you kidding? I wish I had shoulders like yours. Compared to you I have no shoulders at all, my neck goes straight on down to my hips."

Then he says something like it's going to be fine, don't worry, I think, but... that's that.

Why is it that, forty odd years later, I find it a lot harder to think of characters on broadly popular TV shows whose characterisation is informed by their race, but not defined by it?

Why don't I know of any current all-or-almost-all-black sitcoms? I know I don't really keep up with sitcoms, generally, but you know, there's usually at least one on that it's impossible not to know is there. Currently it's The Big Bang Theory, which seems to include an Indian guy but no black people, from what I know, and for a number of years it was Friends, which managed to exist in some kind of parallel universe New York where there were no black people in New goddamn York.

But back in the day it WAS The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The Cosby Show was huge. Good Times, Family Matters, The Jeffersons - which I don't think I ever even saw, but it was famous enough that I've heard of it in the same way I've heard of Three's Company.

Current Mood: tired

Shut up, Scalia, and meanwhile, Borderlands Jun. 27th, 2015 @ 01:21 pm
The Supreme Court rules 5-4 in favour of marriage equality. Scalia calls it a "judicial Putsch" and claims it threatens democracy because: "They are willing to say that any citizen who does not agree with that, who adheres to what was, until 15 years ago, the unanimous judgment of all generations and all societies, stands against the Constitution..."

Please, explain to me how that argument doesn't also work for literally anything else. At some point, if something is wrong, there must be a point where people recognise that it is wrong.

As far as I can tell, not one argumeent Scalia has wouldn't also apply to a dissent in Loving vs Virginia, in which the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favour of inter-racial marriage.

Meanwhile: I've been playing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.

I'd just like to note that this is a modern shoot-em-up video game in which:

- The main protagonist is female, and modestly dressed.

- The surrounding narrative is framed as a discussion primarily between two women, to which male characters make only occasional contributions.

- There are four base playable characters, and two additional available as DLC. Of the four base, two are female, one male but with a disability, and one a robot; the two DLC are one male, one female. The robot, inasmuch as a box on a wheel is gendered, is gendered male, but that still makes a fifty-fifty split. One of the DLC characters has medium-brown skin, but I'm not sure how she counts from a diversity perspective, since she's the sister of an existing NPC.

- It had previously been established that that particular NPC appears to draw his romantic partners exclusively from the pool of other ruggedly manly men. (Sir Hammerlock is extremely rugged and manly, despite his refined, English-accented elocution.) This information was available if you did side missions which included him mentioning, in passing, his ex-boyfriend, and suchlike comments.

- Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel ups the ante with some gentle flirtation between Athena, the primary protagonist, and Janey Springs, the "black marketeer with a heart of gold" who, it is mentioned, is "not into dudes". It is confirmed, later in the story, that subsequent to the events that the story actually follows, Springs and Athena totally got together, and were even living together.

- Extra bonus: Mister Torgue!

So, Mister Torgue is... an odd chap. He's the super-muscular head of the Torgue Corporation, which specialises in guns that do bonus explosive damage. He's a huuuge fan of explosions. He talks in a non-stop scream that gets captioned in allcaps.

A side-mission has you collecting parts for building lasers on behalf of Janey Springs. Mister Torgue, however, wants you to destroy it, because he's very sad about laser guns.


Springs observes that she "kinda feel[s] sorry for the big bag of muscles" and assures you that if you do as he asks, she'll still like you - it's up to you.


Because she's kind of awesome, Springs comforts him, assuring him that people still like explosions, including her, and he's great.

Springs: Sorry. I'm not into guys.



A nation of contradiction Jun. 9th, 2015 @ 11:17 am
I'm gradually working my way through a biography of Pope Francis. As I read the section about his youth, this naturally involves learning more about the Argentina in which he grew up: a nation in which, as far as I can tell, for many decades a bunch of people did the wrong thing for the right reasons, or the right thing for the wrong reasons, or just the wrong thing for wrong reasons, but other people had their own reasons to think it was right.

It at least becomes slightly less surprising that Argentina could produce Diego Maradona, someone who can be a flagrant cheat and smugly arrogant about it, and even make a hero of him anyway.

Doesn't quite excuse the whole Falklands thing though, even though the weirdly counter-intuitive pattern of Argentinian political history continues there: after all, what you have in the disagreement over the Falkland Islands is a situation where it's Britain vs a foreign power that was once subject to European colonialism, but Britain is actually in the right, which usually never happens.

I figure that's probably why so many people - even English people - assume that Britain is in the wrong on the Falklands, but they're just not. There is, in my view, no argument on which you can base a real case for Argentinian possession of those islands.

First, the clearest (in my view) moral question: What do the people who live there want? Answer, as provided by voting: they unequivocally want to stay British.

Second, though, what about historical claims?

Answer: Argentina's is questionable at best, nonexistent at worst.

The Falkland islands, as discovered by the British, were uninhabited. (There is apparently some archaelogical evidence that South American natives may have visited the relatively barren and storm-lashed rocks that are the Falkland Islands, decided they didn't like them very much, and left again, but the islands had no indigenous population and no trace of pre-Columbian buildings has been found.)

The first proper settlements were made by France and Britain. The Spanish attacked it a bit later. Britain withdrew for a while, leaving behind a plaque declaring it was still totally theirs. The Spanish pulled out (also leaving a plaque) and whalers used it as a base for a bit. Some settlements were attempted out of the United Provinces of the River Plate, which would eventually become Argentina. They didn't go very well. Britain returned and took over in the early 19th century.

If it was ever properly an Argentine territory, it was such only between 1820 and 1833. The Argentine Congress protested British occupation until 1849, then didn't mention it again until 1885, and while the Argentine government maintains it totally protested all the time, like seriously, there's no official record of their making an issue of it from then until about 1950 - but they have to claim otherwise, because under international law, generally speaking if you don't make an issue over territory for fifty years, you don't have a claim any more.

On sex education: this doesn't have to be complicated May. 24th, 2015 @ 06:18 pm
So, there's this ongoing debate in Certain Countries (*cough*) about sex education; between, well, actual education, and a concept I find nonsensical called 'abstinence-only'.

The reason I find it nonsensical is this: it is safe to assume that, of any group of teenagers, the majority of them will, at some point in their lives, engage in sexual activity.

This is true even if they remain purely abstinent virgins until their church-based heterosexual marriage. And most heterosexual married couples these days do, in fact, use contraception.

This means that the use of contraception falls fairly firmly into the category of general life skills that high school education should be teaching, anyway.

I think the approach my school took was actually pretty good. It opened with: "Here are the studies that show that becoming sexually active too young is really quite unhealthy for your emotional and social development. So, you know, keep that in mind. Also, if someone wants to have sex with you, it's your decision, and if they're pressuring you, it's a pretty good sign you should say no."

So far so good, in terms of discouraging us from going right out and banging the first person we saw.

However, it continued, more or less: "However, at some point in your lives, hopefully a fairly significant number of years from now, odds are most if not all of you are going to have sex, at which point it would be good for you to know a few things..."

At which point the class covered sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, methods of contraception, and the success rates to be expected from different forms of contraception with regards to pregnancy and disease prevention.

All in a framework of: We're telling you this now because ideally, it shouldn't be relevant yet, but we want you to know it when it is.

Hmm. Apr. 9th, 2015 @ 08:53 am
Do I *want* to know what this #SadPuppies thing is about?

I've started seeing references to it that also make references to people like Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and apparently hers is a name that I now associate with: "... probably needs to sit on her hands and play the quiet game for a few minutes."

Epic poetry will be written about my suffering Apr. 1st, 2015 @ 07:33 am
Okay, I haven't managed to re-establish the reading-DW habit yet. Or... do it at all, really. But! Reconnecting with the interface, etc! So I shall now tell you about the Most Pathetic Injuries Ever, both of which I have suffered in the last week.

First, my grievous stabbing. By which I meaen a splinter that was just so annoying in its tininess.

See, I'd noticed, suddenly, that when my left ring finger brushed against my middle finger, it sort of hurt. It was super-annoying, so I looked at my finger, and saw... nothing. But there was still pain!

Upon closer examination, I noticed a little dark spot. No, smaller than you're thinking. Like, look at a hair, end-on, right? About, oh, a quarter that size.

Looking at it side-on, I confirmed it was definitely a splinter of some kind, as it stuck out of the skin maaaybe 0.1mm.

I had to borrow [personal profile] velithya's tweezers to get it out, as they are newer and better than mine, because my tweezers don't apparently meet perfectly at the very very tip so it didn't stick out far enough for my tweezers to grip.

Epic poetry will be written about my suffering. Or would've been, except [personal profile] velithya out-suffered me by burning her fingers slightly the next day in a sleep-deprived moment of oops, so I had to out-stupid her injury, apparently, and I managed that HANDILY.

In that two days ago, while eating noodles for lunch, and reading, and also talking to Chas about something, I was a little distracted is the issue here is what I'm saying, I managed to sort of miss my mouth and stabbed myself in the lip with my fork. I didn't think much of it until after lunch when I felt like I had something on my lip and went to wipe it off and found dried blood crumbling away.

I currently look permanently like I have a little bit of chocolate ice cream or something on my chin/lower lip, but it's actually a little scab from where I stabbed myself with a fork, because I missed my mouth, and seriously, there's a reason the toddlers I know eat with plastic cutlery but I am thirty freaking four years old.

So that's my week in Pathetically Trivial Wounds That I Feel More Inclined To Complain About Than I Did About A Broken Leg.

Oh hi. Mar. 13th, 2015 @ 12:38 pm
I'm never going to post again if I keep telling myself that before I can post I have to somehow wrap up everything that's happened since I *last* posted and also catch up on everyone else's journals since then and and and. Because, you know, I'm not going to do that, or at least not all at once.

Hi, everyone, I'm still alive, and I hope you are too. I'm going to try to start catching up, gradually, or at least keeping up with reading from here, again.

Oct. 7th, 2014 @ 07:28 am
Last night my dreams included watching a black woman deliver a bitterly sarcastic stand up routine on the white people who say racism is over.

Then watching YouTube clips of a Rage Against The Machine concert featuring guest vocals from Bonnie Tyler.

I don't even know.

I am behind again on reading, and yet, all about reading Aug. 26th, 2014 @ 07:34 am
[personal profile] seperis made fascinating and entertaining post partly about learning to read and phonics.

It reminded me of primary school, and reading classes, and all the things I found confusing about them at the time.

Not the reading part. I don't actually remember learning to read. To me it always seemed kind of ridiculously, intuitively obvious - I'd learned the alphabet, the letters had sounds associated, but make different sounds under these circumstances, so why are we still talking about this and why are the rest of you reading things out so slowly?

I vaguely remember a sort of frustrated irritation, though, because when we started going over the alphabet in year one we were doing letter sounds instead of letter names, and I thought it was silly and vaguely insulting. "Ah buh kuh duh eh fuh guh..." WHAT IS THIS DO YOU THINK I AM STUPID. "Ay bee see dee ee eff gee." I AM FIVE, I AM NOT A CONCUSSED SQUIRREL.

So reading "systems" like phonics confuse me, because they seem like a good way to lead kids astray in some ways, because... that's not how English works.

But I am a terrible person to work out how other people should learn to read, because I never really "learned" at all.

The trouble only comes if you start it Aug. 15th, 2014 @ 01:07 pm
"... the increasingly heavy-handed tactics of the St Louis County Police culminated in mobile sniper nests training their sights on locals in the streets, and the use of gas masks, rubber bullets and wooden pellets on crowds and the media."

If riots haven't started yet, that will start them.

But then...

But after the Missouri Highway Patrol, led by black police captain Ron Johnson, took over security on Thursday, the demonstrations took a different turn.

"We are going to have a different approach," Mr Johnson said at a news conference, adding that he would go to "ground zero" - the area where Mr Brown was killed and also where the convenience store was burned down.

The resulting scenes stunned onlookers and protesters, as officers hugged residents and walked with them on a largely peaceful march and rally.

Local St Louis reporter Matt Sczesny tweeted that the atmosphere was "almost festive" as police mingled with protesters.

I'm not sure "festive" is an appropriate word choice, but I'm not there, so.

Nonetheless, Captain Johnson demonstrates some key points about dealing with an upset population - don't treat them like the enemy, and they won't behave like an enemy.


So that was fun Jul. 21st, 2014 @ 10:31 am
[personal profile] velithya and I both got sick the day after we came home from Kalbarri.

It could have been worse: It could have been the day before, or we could have both come down with it on the Tuesday, and been nastily sick on Wednesday, the day we had to drive 600km to get home.

As it was, we didn't, and so we came home via Hutt River Province and the Pinnacles in a non-sick fashion. I was still quite exhausted, mind you, because on Tuesday we walked to Nature's Window and back. It's only about a half-kilometre walk each way, but some of it is quite steep paths, and some of it, well.

This is a picture of part of the last section of the trail:

If you look at that jumbled pile of rock and want to know where the trail is, no, that is the trail. There is a certain amount of clambering up and down the rocks involved. There are a couple of places where you can avoid a little bit of climbing if you go along the edge of the cliff, but... that is the trail you have.

And just to show off the ugly-beautiful majesty of the western coastline, a shot from our stop at Pot Alley, outside Kalbarri:

Things Adults Should Know: Committee-Structured Organisations and How To Manage Them Properly Jul. 8th, 2014 @ 12:03 pm
Among the useful things I learned at university that, apparently, many people did not is how to operate a committee-run organisation.

Like, for example, a convention with a convention committee and suchlike things.

Since certain convention groups that are old enough that they should know far better apparently don't, I'm going to lay out some of the requisite principles, and maybe some of this information will make its way to people who need it.

1) Committee Procedures Matter.

Everyone hates the guy who keeps nitpicking about Proper Committee Procedure, and you can definitely take it way, way too far.

However, committee rules have developed because without rules and procedures, a committee is better known as "an argument" or as "sheer bloody chaos".

As such, your organisation should have a constitution which lays out all of the ground rules on which the organisation operates, laying out procedures for the election and/or selection of officers and committee members, terms of office, and means whereby officers derelict in their duties can be removed, etc, as well as a general framework for committee meetings, including defining what constitutes quorum for committee and general meetings and the required frequency with which committee and general meetings must occur.

Someone should take minutes at every meeting, noting the general thrust of everyone's arguments during any discussion, recording in precise detail *every* decision taken, and also recording whose responsibility it is to undertake any actions decided upon.

(And that should always be there. If the committee decides that something should be done, it must also decide who is going to do it, or else it probably won't happen. e.g. "Committee authorised purchase of stamps. Action: James T." Whereupon the trip to the post office is James T.'s responsibility to undertake.)

2) Just because you're not getting paid for this doesn't mean you can be unprofessional.

If you have signed on to a committee, you have accepted responsibility. Take it seriously and do it properly.

3) Responsibility Has A Paper Trail

This is, in many ways, the biggest one. It's a major part of why meetings should always be minuted, but it goes a long, long way beyond that.

You are not going to be there forever, so it doesn't matter if you have an absolutely flawless memory, everything has to be written down so that future committees can get the information if they need it. Collate it neatly, file it sensibly, and keep records of what you did and how you did it and who you did it with and where your money came from and where your money went.

If it should happen, somehow, that one year there's a committee turnover so thorough that nobody on the committee has ever been on it before, they should be able to work out how to run your organisation and how to run its events by looking carefully through the records.

And then we get to the big one...

4) Safety and Event Management: It's Okay To Make Mistakes ONCE

So, you have an event to run. You've set everything up and tried to cover all the bases, but you know there's still a risk of health and safety problems.

Which means, obviously, you have a Safety Officer or several - enough that there is at least one, on-site and easily located, at all times.

So far so good.

But any safety or health issue that crops up is one that, ideally, you never want to have crop up again, so here's how it goes:

- Every issue that has required the intervention of the Safety Officer should be noted in the Safety Log. This doesn't have to be a super-formal document. The Safety Log functions very well if, for example, it consists of a notebook and a pen. But everything should be in it.

11:35am: - boxes being brought in were left blocking stairwell. Cleared to side-room.

1:20pm: water spill outside con suite.

3:50pm: trash dropped adjacent to trash can instead of in.

This includes any incidents of harassment, obviously, and you should have all sorts of procedures defined in advance for how to deal with that, although altogether that stuff is a different post.

But the Safety Log does not cease to be relevant at the conclusion of the event.

After the event, at the next committee meeting, the Safety Officer should go through the log with the committee, informing them of every single event. The committee can then discuss what needs new procedures at the next event to prevent recurrence, whether anything could have been handled better, and have a general sense of what went wrong and right with the plans that were in place.

Anything which will be relevant to future events can then be summarised neatly in a reference document that will be kept for the use of future committees. There should be a collection of documents that are passed on as part of committee turnover that have records of everything important.

There should never, ever be a situation where something bad has happened, and gets to happen again because the previous committee knew all about it but the new committee didn't. Ever.

Thoughts on this WisCon Thing part one: the failure of mindset on the topic of innocence Jul. 1st, 2014 @ 10:56 am
I have been thinking a lot about the problem that seems to exist with large-scale organisations that attempt to be feministy and progressive but nonetheless fail emphatically at dealing with things like allegations of sexual harassment.

I've been discussing it a lot with a particular male friend, because he's an exceptionally good sounding-board when I'm considering ideas that involve being kind of down on men, generally, because he's not okay with that. He's the sort of guy who's totally opposed to men getting away with sexual harassment, but still points out that it's offensive for me to refer to men who harass women as "improperly house-trained", because of the implication that men, generally, are equivalent to dogs.

So here's the first of a few conclusions I hope to collate at some point into a coherent article: the Myth of Innocent Until Proven Guilty.

See, that's the optimistic interpretation to put on a failure to bar a man accused of sexual harassment from the con thereafter: that if there isn't rock-solid proof that he's guilty, it would be unfair to ban him and so forth.

But where this goes wrong is: as soon as an allegation of harassment has been made, someone is guilty of something. Either the alleged perpetrator is guilty of harassment, or the alleged victim is guilty of lying about it. Best case scenario, there's been a hideous miscommunication, but that is still a significant problem.

If you go with, well, we can't punish the man, then you are, in effect, punishing the woman. This is how society, overall, currently operates because Patriarchy. If you are trying to be feminist, and to counterbalance all that massive weight of privilege, you have to operate the other way.

Which is where my discussions with my male friend come into this, because so far, he and I are more-or-less agreed, but he suggested a more nuanced way to resolve this than I had initially been thinking.

See, as a man, he considered, if he was genuinely innocent of sexual harassment but had in some other way annoyed a woman, and that vindictive bitch had falsely accused him of sexual harassment, and for lack of other evidence everyone assumed he was guilty, he would be offended and angry, downright livid in fact.

On the other hand, if the same situation occurred, and the committee informed him that the accusation had been made, but there was no evidence or witnesses and basically it came down to he said/she said, so they were not concluding that he was guilty, because there was no way to know, really, but as a matter of policy for maintaining the safety of women at the convention, they would nonetheless be required to apply the consequences relevant to his alleged offence... he'd be upset, but he'd understand that.

We're not talking criminal prosecution, here. And an investigation, run promptly and carefully, can take into account character witnesses and general behaviour. If a woman has claimed sexual harassment from multiple men, and those men's friends and acquaintances were all in accordance that he would totally never do that, and there was never any proof, well, you start taking less account of that woman's reports. If a man is accused and other people who've met him agree that he's really kinda skeevy, yeah, you go with he totally did that, or at least that he's in dire need of social lessons in "how not to seem like a creep".

If you're pretty convinced his intentions were innocent, then you can have middle-ground consequences, like yeah, he can attend the con, but he's not allowed to volunteer/work at it and he's not allowed in any but the most public, heavily-populated areas without a designated chaperone.

But you have to accept that there is no real option for the assumption of innocence, because someone is guilty. And if you want somewhere to be a safe space for women, then you have to give women the assumption of innocence, and therefore the assumption that they are not liars.

Jun. 21st, 2014 @ 12:58 pm
Just had a chat with one of our new neighbours next door. They really seem quite lovely, and I'm going to find it much easier not to hate them now that they're done with the destruction phase of their renovations.

Got past the biggest hurdle of meeting new people - explaining the whole, no, I don't work right now, because I'm mentally ill, are you going to judge me now? thing. The reaction I got was sympathy, but not judginess, which is something of a relief.

mid-June resolution Jun. 15th, 2014 @ 03:21 pm
I will not murder the new neighbours just for spending six hours drilling into the walls of the building (the same building I live in, it's a townhouse)

nor will I firebomb their house, even though they're not living in it yet

because then they'd start over with their bloody, bloody renovations

All the previous drilling, it turns out, is because the bath tub was concreted in, and they were removing that, and all the tiles, and also the floor tiles all over.

Today they're removing a couple of walls.

They're also going to be moving the location of their front door, apparently.

And installing timber floors throughout the house.

And putting in an entirely new kitchen. (And bathroom, presumably.)

I'm sure it's going to be very nice and the policemen will be very admiring when they come to do forensics when I MURDER THEM and they seem like charming people, just.

Drilling. All the drilling. It vibrates the whole building.

On the bright side, my bedroom is one of the very few rooms in our house that doesn't actually share a wall with theirs, so if they have an attack of stupid and break through the wrong wall, *my* room will be okay.

On another note Jun. 13th, 2014 @ 07:11 pm
I saw someone today register objection to the word "moron" as ableist language.

I... no. No no no.

Terms like "idiot", "moron", and "cretin" were, it's true, once used to categorise people who were perceived as being mentally deficient. But there is no way anyone would use them that way now, because their meanings have shifted.

However, if you decry as offensive any term which has ever historically had an application which would now be offensive, but which now have distinctly different meanings and connotations, then we are going to be very short, very soon, of available words with which we can criticise anyone for anything, and certainly lack for any way to express shades or nuances of meaning thereby.

I consider Tony Abbott to be a moron. He has sufficient intellectual competence to function in society, more or less, and even to succeed in politics, somehow, despite his knack for insulting pretty much everyone ever and his negative charisma, but he's a moron. (You gave a surfboard as your official gift to President Barack Obama, Tony? Hawaiian-born President Barack Obama? You thunderous cretin. Go back to England, please, you're an embarrassment to Australia.)

I don't know many ways to say that he's a moron without using words from that category. "Fool" would have worked a couple of centuries ago, but it has different connotations now. Saying he's stupid doesn't really convey "possessed of reasonable native intelligence, grossly misapplied to the point of simulating a badly-written AI that would fail the Turing test within three sentences, tops".

And that last one is too long to exclaim in exasperation every time you hear that he did something idiotic, because he's Tony Abbott. It happens multiple times daily.

Basketball player identification, cont. Jun. 13th, 2014 @ 06:57 pm
"Which one's Birdman?"
"The one you thought looked like a thug."
"... Well, he does."
"Apparently he's not actually a thug, he's just a bit different. I hear he's like a less weird Rodman."
"The thought of a more weird Rodman is kind of frightening."

"Hey, I know that guy - wait, no I don't. That guy looks like Snoop Dogg."
"That's Bosh."
"He really looks like Snoop Dogg."
"Yes, yes he does."

Congratulations, you have raised being terrible at your job to the level of performance art Jun. 12th, 2014 @ 01:03 pm
"David Cameron's spokesman said on Wednesday it was up to consumers whether they choose to eat prawns that had been produced through the work of slaves."

Okay. That's bad policy, but it's not the spokesman's fault.


"He could not say whether Cameron himself would be happy to eat prawns where slavery had been used in their production."


There is a correct answer to that question if you are a spokesman, and that answer is: "No, of course not." (Especially if you are a spokesman for someone whose family made a fortune out of being compensated for forfeiture of slaves when slavery was abolished.) Even if you haven't asked him, even if you don't actually know, even if you think, privately, that David Cameron would consider the knowledge that slavery was in the supply chain of his seafood to add a delicious piquancy to the flavour, the answer you give the press immediately is no.

Some people are terrible at arguing Jun. 9th, 2014 @ 09:04 am
So, there's this SeaWorld debate. And there was a roundtable discussion.

And in response to a question about whether captivity was unhealthy for orcas, the SeaWorld dude brought out a chart showing that orca longevity in captivity used to be super-terrible, but now it's about on par with survival in the wild.

Dude, you are making the opposite point to the one you want. That's, "Well, obviously it's been terrible, but we've finally caught up and now it's arguably not actively detrimental if you do it really, really well!!!"

Just... no. You are only making a case for animal captivity if they live significantly longer.

For example, circa 2009 at least, there was a female example of the extremely endangered Amur tiger (formerly known as the Siberian tiger, but there aren't any in Siberia any more) at the Highland Wildlife Park. Which kept seeming wrong to me, because for some reason I think of tigers as hot climate animals, but... no, Siberian, and the Highland Wildlife Park sort of seems to specialise in colder animals. They had recently acquired an elderly polar bear who'd been at Edinburgh Zoo, but in her old age had started to struggle with the overwhelming heat of Edinburgh, so had been moved to the Highlands because it's really quite cold there.

But they also had the tiger, and I had a long chat with the keeper, and one of the things about this tiger was that she was unlikely to survive in the wild. She'd had some health issues, and one of the consequences was that she needed to eat every day, where apparently wild tigers would usually eat every two or three days, and she'd be at risk of starving... especially since she had three cubs to rear.

She was a perfect candidate for captivity, therefore, because she was healthier there, and protected from threats like poachers. (And raising cubs! Which were adorable yet, clearly, also incredibly annoying sometimes. She was trying to eat, the cubs kept trying to get at her food, she had to roar at them as they tried all sorts of tricks, it was hilarious and cute and also kind of terrifying because a tiger's roar at close proximity sends RUN MONKEY RUN signals that hit straight to the hindbrain.)

However, had the argument for keeping her in captivity been: "Well, these days they live just about as long as they do in the wild!" that would not have been a good argument.

I should note: I'm not actually a huge fan of killer whales. They're only misnamed in the "whale" part, not the "killer" part, and they're sort of terrifying in some ways. That doesn't, however, mean that I approve of their imprisonment, torture, or early death.

I'm also not a particularly vociferous animal-rights advocate. I have no problem with people keeping domesticated animals as pets and I eat meat. But I am against animal cruelty, and that applies to animals that aren't cute. I don't find most fish cute, either, but I consider catch-and-release recreational fishing to be one of the most horrendous activities undertaken by humans for "sport", too.

Some thinky thoughts May. 28th, 2014 @ 12:01 pm
I may be a bit running late on particularly thoughtful commentary, but I still want to rant slightly on something that's annoyed me recently: to wit, people calling out Mark Cuban as a bigot for saying he'd cross the street to avoid a black youth in a hoodie or a white skinhead.

Primarily because: yes that's bigoted and that was his entire point. Essentially, it could be boiled down like this:

Mark Cuban: I think everyone has prejudices. I, for example, have these reactions in certain circumstances, which is totally bigoted of me, but what's important is what we say and do, not what we think.


Me: What is wrong with you?

Because he actually made a very good and true point. You can't help your prejudices, at least not in the short term. But you *can* decide how you're going to act, and what you're going to say.

Having racist thoughts doesn't make you a bad person, doing racist things does.

I'm now going to talk about my parents in a way that they might not like, but this is an important thing to me.

My parents both grew up in South Africa. Obviously there was pervasive, thoroughly institutionalised racism in all sorts of areas and ways all around them. Neither of them liked it, enough that they decided they didn't want to raise their children in South Africa the way it was or was becoming, and in 1982 they left their homeland and their extended families to move to a foreign country they had never even seen, for the sake of a better life for me and my sister.

I am in awe of the courage of that decision, the sacrifice they made.

However, as I've grown older and watched *them* grow older too, I've become more and more aware of another, ongoing campaign they've been fighting against the influence of the Old South Africa, all my life and possibly all of theirs.

See, my parents are both firmly agreed that Racism Is Bad. But they hail from a society that was deeply, insidiously racist, and a certain amount of prejudice seeped into them nonetheless.

And from what I can tell, they've spent their whole lives fighting it, and fighting even more not to pass those attitudes to their children.

With an adult's perspective, I can recognise the way my parents have, in defiance of average behaviour, become more liberal as they get older, generally speaking. But I can also, thinking back, recall the times when my parents would freeze, just for a fraction of a second, and then be firmly positive in their totally-not-racist reaction to something.

The impression I'm left with is that sometimes my parents' instinctive reactions to things are racist, but my parents are better people than that, and have made the deliberate decision that those thoughts will not decide their actions.

And I admire that. I think it shows tremendous strength of character, I really do. Throughout my childhood I was taught that people of other races are sometimes different, but never lesser. That differences should be respected - you should pronounce people's names properly, even if they're foreign to you, that you should respect their customs when you are their guest, and try to make them feel comfortable when they are yours.

It was my mother, I'm fairly certain, who told me the story of the great society lady hosting a dinner in honour of a foreign ambassador - the kind of dinner where there are a dozen different forks, with "correct" cutlery for every course. When the soup was served, the ambassador, to the shock of many guests, picked up his bowl and drank from it directly, rather than using the soup spoon, tipping it only away from him, and slurping decorously.

Whereupon the hostess, with utmost poise, lifted her own soup bowl and drank from it, then continued her conversation as if nothing was amiss. Some guests followed suit, others did not, but the ambassador was not embarrassed by his error at all.

I have, on occasion, become the instant favourite of friends' foreign relatives simply because, when introduced to them, I listen closely to their names and make sure I'm pronouncing them correctly. To me, this is the most basic of politeness, because if you're casually mispronouncing their name, how are you doing anything but casually disregarding everything about them that doesn't fit your own cultural preconceptions?

... post locked because it's very rambly and off-the-cuff trying to think through things.
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