Friday, May 30, 2008

What If You Are Special?

OK, so there's this way of thinking that goes like this: if you don't know whether you're "typical" or special with respect to some unknown thing, then you should assume you're typical.

Since, you know, odds are that you are typical.

So, for instance, when people talk about crazy shit like the end of the world, they use this reasoning to predict "with 95% "confidence", that humanity will disappear within 9120 years." That's from the Wikipedia entry on Doomsday arguments. The idea is that you and I probably aren't among the very first people to live, and we're probably not among the very last people to live. Probably. So, probably, we're somewhere in the middle. Which if you add in a few
assumptions, leads to the 9120 number.

Then also there's that book I wrote about before on C and C, Stumbling on Happiness. There, Dan Gilbert says that since most people are really bad at predicting how happy or unhappy something will make you, you should inform yourself by asking how happy or unhappy that same thing made other people.

So, if you're not sure how upsetting it will be when your team loses, or how happy you'll be when you get a raise, you should just check with someone else whose team lost and who got a raise.

This assumes you're pretty typical, which, probabilistically is probably a pretty safe assumption. But what if you're not? If you're not typical, there's no way to reason yourself out of a clearly false conclusion.

So maybe you know that, statistically, almost everyone is happier being married. It seems to follow that in the absence of knowledge of your own specialness, you too should assume you will be happier married. But if you're in the minority of people who just isn't going to be happier being married, well, there's no way you could factor that in. There's no way not to come to the wrong conclusions.

It almost makes you think there's something fishy about the whole thing. I mean, if I don't know anything about how typical I am, how can I assign a probability to my own typicality? Maybe I'm so underinformed about my own typicality that I should just assume ignorance.

In that case, coming up against questions like whether to get married, you'd have to guess, you know, or punt. Kind of wing it. At least then there would be the off chance that if you're atypical, you'll make an atypical decision. And maybe live happily ever after, who knows?

Unless, of course, the world comes to an end.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lucky, Good, Etc.

So the Lakers won last night, if you weren't paying attention, by three points, on a non-call on a foul by Derek Fisher on Brent Barry. The only reason I know it's a foul is because the TNT guys told me it was, otherwise I wouldn't have known. Also they told me that Barry didn't deserve to get the call because he didn't dive into Fisher and he didn't sell the foul and he put the ball on the floor.

Anyway, I don't have a particular problem with the non-call because, as Phil Jackson pointed out, the shot clock should have reset for the Lakers on an earlier play and then we wouldn't be having this discussion. Also, the Lakers played a lot better than the Spurs, and if the Spurs had played a little better we wouldn't be having this discussion.

But still I had flashbacks to that one game a while back against Sacramento where the Lakers got bailed out by the refs, and my friends, Lakers haters to a man (or woman), rode me unmercilessly about it.

I think I spent the aftermath in that game pretty much in denial. I wanted to believe that it was completely fair that the Lakers won, that they deserved each and every one of those calls.

It's been a few years, and I demand less of the world around me. I'm prepared to admit my team got a few calls, a few lucky bounces of the ball. I still kind of have an internal issue thought. Would I rather the Lakers win in a non-heroic kind of way, does the win mean that much, or would I rather they not win? How about if they didn't win in a super-heroic way? Would I rather root for a team of martyrs, or a team of plutocrats?

I don't know. It doesn't matter that much. I hate goddamn Tony Parker, though.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Andy Rooney Hour

You know what I hate? People who can't be bothered to open the door for themselves. You're at a two-way, two person, in-out door. . . the kind of door where one person can be going in at the same time another person is going out. And someone is coming right at you. You're going out: you push open the door on your right, figuring the other person can pull open the door on his right, and you can have, like, simultaneous useful door experiences.

But what does he do? He stands in front of you, waiting for you do open your door. He gets in your way, and grabs the open door. He waits for you to struggle past him, then surges in past you. Sometimes these people even say "Thanks," as if you are holding the door for them.

Dude, I'm not holding the door. I'm passing through it. And that evil look of menace is because I'm thinking, "You're a healthy young person! Open your own god-damned door and get out of my way! It's not going to kill you!"

'Cause you know, young people are the worst offenders. I was just on campus this morning and had like five door experiences like this and then I took the subway downtown to the financial district and all the grown-ups just pulled open their own doors. Like normal people.

I'm even more annoyed when people use those handicapped door-openers -- also something that is huge on college campuses. iPod in ears, backpack on back, two free hands, person uses hip to bump up against the blue button to electronically open the door. Young environmentalists my ass. Also those things break all the time, and then actual handicapped people can't get in!

If you can open the door, open the door.

I also hate when people eat with their faces right in their food and when bicyclists ride on the sidewalk and are rude about it. Yesterday I made a little noise of annoyance at a bicyclist on the sidewalk as he rudely rode past me -- going quickly! on a very crowded sidewalk! without looking! -- and what did he do? He made the noise right back at me.

That was actually kind of funny and I had to give him credit. But not so much that I think it's OK to crash into people on the sidewalk. If you must bring your bike on the sidewalk, please treat pedestrians with care!

And get off my lawn, you kids!

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Bar-Raiser From Way Back

Me. I'm a bar-raiser from way back. That is, I raise the bar.

When I first started graduate school, it was basically to get health insurance and reasonable work. When I switched to studying philosophy at age 30, I thought, well, whatever; I'd rather have a loser job and a degree in philosophy than a loser job and no degree in philosophy. At that time, I was about 15 pounds heavier than I am now -- quite plump -- and I never exercised. I smoked.

I remember the first time I went to a professional conference on my department's dime. The conference was in the Hilton, or the Hyatt, or something; I hadn't stayed in a place like that ever in my life. "Oh My God," I thought. This is the life. I might even get to do this again!

Sure, well, now I go to our professional conferences three times a year: we have one in the West, one in the East, and one in the middle. I go to all of them. I have a research fund. And I'm all, "What do you mean I gotta pay extra to work out? What? There's no hot tub?!"

I don't have a loser job; in fact I'm a philosophy professor. I live in a fun big city. I've lost some weight; I exercise; I don't smoke. I never dreamed things could turn out so well.

So. Do I spend my days in goggle-eyed amazement and happiness? No.

What I do is compare myself to people who are way ahead of me -- teach at better places, have written more stuff, have other accomplishments like children or speaking five languages -- and I say to myself, "Why am I so behind?"

Poor me! Waah! Time is running out and I'm so behind, boo-hoo!

It's completely ridiculous. But I can't help it: I'm raising the bar. If I've got a good job, I want a better one. If I look pretty good, I want to look great. If I travel to France every year, I want to go to Italy.

It's moronic. All I can say in my own defense is that almost everyone else is just as bad, as far as I can tell.

So there.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Why I Am Not A Blogger

OK, so of course I am a blogger, insofar as I write here at C and C, and this is a blog.

But I've never thought of this as a "weblog," -- as a diary, or a running commentary on my life, or a running commentary on anything, really. I just figured I had a few thoughts I wanted to set down occasionally, that I'd like other people to read, and that this would be an appropriate and simple format in which to make that happen.

So I didn't start out thinking of anything as "timely" or even time-sensitive, or current.

But I'm struck by the way the format imposes its own rules. I mean, when I read things in blog format, I always want to read what's "today," and not what's "yesterday." There's no real reason for this; I mean, a lot of what people are thinking on Feb 23 is just as interesting on May 6 as it is in February. Not everything, but a lot.

At first I thought this was a kind of news-obsession: people want what's new. But then I started to see it as more akin to "Doing today's crossword" than "Reading today's news." The February Times crossword isn't any less inherently interesting in May than it is in February, and yet, darn it, I want to do today's puzzle.

A big part of that pleasure, for me, is doing the puzzle of today: doing the puzzle everyone else is doing. It's the same thing that makes TV and radio more fun than video. At least to me. I like the feeling of watching what's on.

Reading current blog posts is like reading what's on.

But see, then, if you're writing a blog, you get sucked in by that, to producing in a what's-on, what's-the-news, what's-happening-now sort of way.

But as with most people's lives, my life doesn't have a lot that's new. One day is pretty much like the previous day.

Ideally, I guess a blogger would have a stock of ideas, and present them in conjunction with current events and news and opinions related to those ideas. Like if you have something you want to say about sex, and it turns out to be the 10th anniversary of Viagra, that's perfect.

But that requires a lot of mental energy and outward attentiveness. Like, you gotta pay attention to what's going on. Out there in the world.

I'm not interested enough in the outside world to pay that kind of attention. I read the New York Times pretty regularly, and usually some local paper wherever I am. On the internet, there are like five sites I like to visit regularly. Otherwise I get bored. In fact, I am really easily bored, which is what I was going to write about today before I got distracted thinking about how not-timely, not-current, and, well, boring that was as a topic.

So in spite of everything, I wish there was some format on the internet that was less blog-like. Like a page, with categories, where stuff gets added, and a person visiting for the first time would see a topical arrangement of things rather than a chronological one. I guess this is sort of what social networking is about, but I don't want the social networking part, just the page part.

Sort of like a Myspace page without the Myspace.

Which reminds me, I was visiting Connecticut recently and there was a giant sign on a church: Come visit myspace! My space being the church, I'm guessing the author was Himself. Wouldn't that be awesome if there really were supernatural beings with webpages?

I can see it now: God's page on Facebook, with injunctions to love one another and live a good life, and the comments section with people complaining, "Dude, you're so self-absorbed!" "You suck!" "And you're fat!" "Get a life!"

People. They're kind of awesome but they're also kind of a pain-in-the-ass.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The True Fantasies Of Young Men

A week or two ago I read this graphic novel, Lily. The picture is above.

It's about a girl who is visited by four of her other selves: three future selves and one past self. They all have things to work out, issues, whatever.

I couldn't help but notice it's written by a guy. And illustrated by a guy.

That's fine. It's a good book, mostly, with interesting characters and a nice drawing style.

But I found myself noticing something about the story, guy-wise.

****Spoiler Alert*****

What happens in the book is that the girl is in high school, and she has a major crush on her dreamboat theater teacher. She's friends with a well-meaning but awkward guy her own age, who is in love with her. It's obvious to everyone that he is in love, but the girl doesn't notice. She's wrapped up in Mister Drama.

A big part of the story is that the 80-year-old self lets on to the teen self that she spent her life alone and lonely, and kicking herself for not pursuing the Nice Teen Guy. The older woman basically re-engineers the main character's life so that she recognizes Teen Guy for the gem he is, and goes out with him.

Um, OK. But I couldn't help but think this was kind of a guy's view of things. . . That girl who won't give you the time of day? Wouldn't it be awesome if she ends up alone and sad because she wouldn't date you? Wouldn't it be awesomer if she could know, now, that she'll end up alone and sad without out, and change her ways?

It also has that element of, you know, the only reason she's not dating the Teen Guy is that she's got her eye on Drama Teacher. You know, like she's just distracted. Sure, show her a good thing, she'll just, change her mind. "Oh, Johnny, now I love you! I wasn't paying attention!"

I know women are often attracted to bad guys and often not attracted to nice guys, especially when they're in high school, but I don't think just pointing out the error, or even threatening girls with life-long loneliness, is really going to change anything. So this book? Maybe kind of a Guy Fantasy. And not in a good way.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Some Thoughts While Watching Basketball

It's something really hot here in Bakersfield, CA and I've got the air-conditioning going, and the Hornets are four points down to the Spurs, and it's all a little strange. A minute ago the Hornets were on a perfect cinematic run against the always semi-villainous Spurs and I was getting really into it, but now it's turned back into a normal basketball game.

I haven't blogged in a while; I haven't done Sudoku and I'm feeling a little adrift, because I have a deadly habit of identifying myself by my activities. I am someone who puts numbers in little boxes or I am somebody who roots for the Lakers in an active and semi-knowledgeable way or whatever. But you get into stuff and you get out of it and all you're really left with is the knowledge that Dell Curry was that player with the little white patch of hair.

One of those new WNBA commercials just came on, in which the various WNBA players mouth the most commonly held opinions about the WNBA, with footage that contradicts the words. E.g. "girls don't play defense" and then you watch the player in question knock somebody down.

Chris Paul just made a buzzer beater, we think. I don't know. There's so much about the world that I don't have a clue about, and it bothers me that it just keeps moving and changing and there are even more things that I won't know, like just how good Chris Paul is.

Bad Habits: A Theory

I have a theory about why it's so hard to quit bad habits.

My theory is this:

For a habit to be a "bad" habit, there has to be something that makes it bad -- there's something about the consequences of engaging the habit that are undesirable.

Often, the reason the consequences are undesirable is because of some defect, weakness, or imperfection in one's self.

Quitting the bad habit is only necessary because of this imperfection. But to enforce a decision to quit often requires continued mental focus on the reason it's a bad habit. That is, on a defect or imperfection.

But reflecting on defects and imperfections is not only unpleasant, it's also just the kind of thing that makes you want to engage in bad habits. Indeed, engaging in the bad habits is a kind of way of pretending that you don't have the imperfection at all.

When I was a teenager, I often didn't wear a seat belt. (Don't worry, I always wear one now.) Part of the reason, psychologically, was that choosing to put on the seat belt required me to consciously acknowledge that I was mortal, and indeed, was about to put myself in danger of death and grave injury. I didn't want to think about that. Not wearing the seat belt you can pretend you are immortal.

Now, I'd like to lose weight. But choosing not to indulge my hi-carb tastes means reflecting on the fact that I am not happy the way I am. I have to keep in mind that I am not the weight I want to be. It's not a nice fact to reflect on. I'd rather ignore it. If I ignore it, I can pretend I am just perfect - - indeed, I can pretend I am the kind of being for whom eating doesn't even lead to bad consequences at all.

Even dealing with my teeth makes me conscious of death in a way I find hard to handle. I am decaying. Eventually I will die. Who can deal with any of it? But don't you have to face up to it to be motivated to floss?

Honestly, it's exhausting. It's no wonder given half a chance we're the overindulgers we are, driving around talking on our cell phones with the music playing.

Just trying to drown out death! No big deal! Carry on!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Oh Canada

This is where you get really happy about Canada:

Some poor family was traveling from the Philippines to settle in Canada, and during a rushed connection they left their small child behind. I guess the father thought the kid -- a toddler -- was with the wife and grandparents, and the grandparents thought he was with the father.

The Yahoo story included this passage:

"According to the Vancouver Sun, airport security found a Tagalog-speaking Air Canada agent who looked after the child while his father flew 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) back to Vancouver to pick him up and then return to Winnipeg to rejoin the immigrant family on their first day in Canada."

The best thing about Canada is that things that would be a major trauma in the United States are just normal things people deal with here. Right: they found an agent who spoke the kid's language and got the family back together. No problem.

It reminds me of this thing at my gym, where for a couple of hours every couple of days there's a no-males-allowed-in-the-women's-section thing. Normally guys are allowed in to act as personal trainers or whatever, but since there are some Muslim women who want to work out without guys around, there's a few hours where no men are allowed. There's a little hand-made sign explaining.

As you all know, I love the US. But you just know that in the States there would be a federal case about something like this. Here, it's the quietest of compromises.

It's just no big deal, eh?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Irrationality: What Is The Deal?

Today I did something that is a paradigm case of irrational behavior. I was in line at Starbucks, and although I wasn't exactly hungry, I wanted something. Along with my coffee I ordered a chocolate doughnut. I know from previous Starbucks adventures that those chocolate doughnuts are mm mm good.

I brought it back to my table, and I did some stuff on my computer, and I drank my coffee. The work I was doing was pretty absorbing, and I found myself sort of forgetting about my doughnut. After a little while had passed, I actually was hungry. I hate eating sugary sweets on an empty stomach; it always makes me feel kind of sick. What I really wanted then was a small, pre-workout, healthy snack. In the mall where my gym is there's a food court, and in the food court there's a sushi place that is super-convenient, and at the sushi place they sell these little snack-sized packs of nigiri. About $3.75 plus tax. They're kind of the perfect little snack.

I decided I'd wait, have a sushi snack, digest a bit, and then go to the gym. Now, the thing is, I don't know what the fuck I was thinking when I ordered the doughnut, because I'm trying to lose weight, and as I said, I wasn't even hungry.

So when I realized it was in my power to forgo the doughnut, the idea of giving it up grabbed me in a big way. So what did I do?

I threw it away. In the garbage.

If you were trying to come up with an example of someone who behaved irrationally, in the sense of being self-undermining, this is a textbook case.

So. What happened? Was it

1) I "changed my mind" twice: once when I went from "I'm watching my weight" to "I'll take that doughut" and once when I threw it away.

2) I suffered from "weakness of will" when I ordered the doughnut, and the will magically reappeared in time for me to throw the doughnut away.

3) I was never sufficiently committed to watching my weight, or to eating the doughnut.

I'm asking seriously. Socrates is famous for having thinking there is no such thing as 2) -- you always do as you just best at the moment, so the problem is with your judging not your asking.

Some other philosophers think 3) is right, but I've always had my doubts. I don't need full commitment to things to carry them out, do I? I mean, it wouldn't be better to be "wholehearted" about doughnut eating, would it?

I'm thinking maybe it's 1). And then, what I don't get is, how are you supposed to know when your changing your mind is going to lead you down the path of utter ridiculousness? Or isn't that something to worry about?

Respect And Negativity

Here's what I feel kind of blindsided me about getting older: to get respect and admiration, you have to make other people feel bad.

When you're young, it's easier. If you do great on an exam, and your friend does poorly, it's sad for your friend, but it's not that big of a deal. Everyone tells themselves, well, he'll find something else he's better at; everyone's got their own talents; everyone takes time to come into his own.

But if you're in your forties, and you're doing great at something and your friend is doing poorly, it's much weirder. Because, really, what else are they going to do? This is kind of it. Even in a micro-way, when you've got a group of people who basically like one another, and one of them does something great, there's always that undercurrent of worry and jealousy. I mean, I know there's worry and jealousy when you're young, too, but somehow the stakes are weirder and higher as you get older.

Even more upsetting to me than these little negativities are the ways most interesting jobs actually require you to make other people feel bad -- or at least make them feel frustrated, or annoyed, or resentful.

I work as a professor. It's my job, in teaching, to do lots of things I know will make my students feel bad. Indeed, if they're completely satisfied, and unmotivated to try to do things differently, I've sort of failed, because I'm supposed to make them make an effort to improve. It's also my job, in research, to make arguments showing that other people's arguments are wrong.

I feel like the amount of the respect and admiration I get for a job well done is directly correlated with how much negativity I'm able to put out there.

When you're young, you can have respect and admiration on the basis of promise: oooh, this person's bright, she's going to go far! This kind of respect and admiration can co-exist with no one feeling bad, because, you know, the person hasn't really done anything yet. It's all still to come.

As you get older, though, you gotta deliver. And then, either you lose, or someone else loses.

Either way, you got yourself some bad feeling. Among the gazillion other reasons I think women find it harder and harder as they move up various work hierarchies, I think this is one. Whatever you think about the genetics, we are directly socialized not to want to make people feel bad. So we back off. We back off, and then we're not doing our jobs. And we all know what comes next.

The only job I could think of where making people feel bad isn't part of doing a good job is being a doctor. Or maybe a nurse. Maybe I should drop everything and go back to medical school?

Friday, May 9, 2008

What Are We Drinking?

So when you turn on the tap here, the water comes out into whatever receptacle you put it into with a kind of white froth on the top.

I am not really squeamish, and I feel like the Britta filter, in my incompetent hands, is more of a problem than a solution because I never change the filter and so wind up drinking little charcoal particles. Still, lines must be drawn, and the foam is starting to get to me, as is the guy who talked to me about the blisters on his hand and the kid with a staph infection.

Do I care? Should I care? I dropped my tuna sandwich on the ground today and picked it up and ate it. These are some of the core principles of my upbringing, and I stand by them. Nevertheless, every now and then I think I should care more.

Now, I guess, would be a time to wonder about my absolute phobia of infesting bugs: lice, bed bugs, etc. All those teeming masses. When I am very anxious I wake up in the middle of the night convinced that I have bed bugs and I tear the covers apart hunting for imaginary bugs.

Sometimes, here, the whole city smells vaguely of manure. It's not as bad as it sounds, the effect, but it's a little strange, because at first you think it's something specific that happened near you, but instead it's just a product of the direction the wind is blowing.

Now Everyone Is Famous Forever

Chuck Klosterman had perceptive essay in last month's Esquire (you know, the issue with the annoying picture of Jessica Simpson shaving?)

His theme is that "Teenage superstar Hannah Montana would be nothing without the Internet. In fact, she is the Internet."

OK, I sort of had a vague idea who Hannah Montana was, but I didn't know the show was about a girl acting as a character. That is, I didn't know that in the show there was Hannah Montana the girl and Hannah Montana the star and that Miley Cyrus plays both of them.

Klosterman says the reason the show is so spectacularly popular is that HM is dealing with a problem every teenager currently has: how to finesse the co-existence of your real, personal life with your created, public image on the internet.

If you have an internet presence, you're crafting an online identity. And this raises all kinds of questions: how much reality goes into that identity? Does it matter? What happens when people meet the real you? Should they?

Klosterman says, the show "premiered at a specific point in history when millions of young people arbitrarily decided they were 'kind of famous.' Most of them would never say that overtly, because no reasonable person ever would. But this is how they feel."

Clever. That may well be true.

I thought of this article the other day when I was reading the Toronto Globe and Mail, and their "Life" section had a story on how lots of people (read: Americans) are paying for professional retouching for their photos on Facebook and Myspace. It made me think, Chuck K. is right: celebrity isn't just for celebrities anymore; it's for everyone.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


There are some things that just don't come naturally to me. Which is something I was thinking about as I was hanging my suit pants up this evening, because although I know which way I want my pants on their hangers to face, I always hang them up differently, every time. I have no built-in sense of how to attach the pants to the hangers so that they face the way I think they should look. Which is a little strange, because I hang my pants up a lot.

I guess the kind of triviality this embodies is hardly worth mentioning, but I feel like there's a lot of that floating around in my life, things that I do often that I don't have a system for, or that I have a system for that fails often.

Example: I lock myself out more than the average person. Once I locked myself out four times in a month. That was exceptional, and probably a cry for help. But still. Since I moved to Bakersfield I have left my keys in my office twice.

If you make these kinds of mistakes you get good at retrieving them; I have excellent mistake-fixing skills. But there's still something upsetting about that since of friction in the way you move through life; it makes everything seem a little off.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Quitting Quitting: My Diet Coke Habit

I'm quitting quitting Diet Coke.

I love Diet Coke. Actually, I love diet sodas of all kinds. Now that I think of it, I love artificial sweetener in almost anything.

To me, artificial sweeteners are infinitely superior in flavor to sugar and corn syrup - at least in beverages. I don't know how they are in, like, baked goods and candy. Maybe not as good. But in drinks, oh boy, give me Splenda, give me Nutrasweet, hell, give me saccharine for that matter.

Artificial sweeteners are light where sugar is heavy. They're smooth where sugar is sticky. They're the foxy to sugar's lumpen. Diet soda is thirst-quenching and perfect where regular soda is like eating a cough drop.

A couple of months ago I tried to give up diet soda, and artificial sweeteners generally. I had three reasons:

1) Some research shows they're maybe not that good for you, and research definitely shows that all the phosphorous in cola drinks is not good for you in large quantities. Since Diet Coke was my main soda of choice, I was drinking a lot of goddamn phosphorous.

2) Some research shows that the sweet flavor screws up your insulin, and you end up eating more to make up for it. I admit it: I thought, well, maybe I can lose a few pounds this way.

3) For me diet soda goes naturally with all kinds of other junky food, like french fries, and chips, and pizza. If I drank water, I figured, I'd eat a salad.

Well, it doesn't take an expert on human psychology to figure out that 3) was going to be middling at best. Basically I found other junky foods to eat -- sweet ones instead of salty ones.

And perhaps because of this, I didn't "lose a few pounds." If anything, I gained a few. Now, it's possible I gained a few pounds in spite of giving up diet soda, not because of it. We'll never know. But the increase in my jam and cookie consumption suggests otherwise. So 2) was kind of a bust.

That leaves 1). Still a good reason, but not enough to motivate the true lover of diet soda. It's just too abstract.

So I'm giving up giving it up.

Last night I went to see Iron Man, and I was kind of peckish in that late-afternoon-you-don't-really-need-popcorn-but-ooh-you-want-some kind of way. Since I gave up giving it up, I ordered up a nice, small, Diet Coke. (Which came to $3.71 Canadian. I know, I know, but Wow!)

The Diet Coke was delicious and perfect and calorie-free. The movie was awesome. And Robert Downey Jr., well, let's just say it was a perfect trifecta of pleasures.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

I'm An Anti-Hoarder

Some people have a psychological problem where they can't throw anything away. They're hoarders.

I have a psychological problem where I can't not throw things away. I'm an anti-hoarder. A thrower-awayer. A de-clutterer. A house purger.

I get a serious kick out of getting rid of stuff, and I get a serious case of the heebie-jeebies when I'm around a lot of cluttery junk. I almost enjoy getting rid of stuff as much as I enjoy buying stuff. Not quite, but almost.

Yesterday I did a major house purge. It was awesome.

I threw away pieces of paper. I threw away old towels that could have been still useful, but were too ratty to donate to the thrift store. I threw away some pajamas tops that I'd bought at a thrift store that couldn't be washed with anything else and thus were driving me crazy.

I made a giant stack of books to take to the used bookstore. I live in a smallish space, and I'm determined not to buy any more bookshelves, so now that I've got some new books I had to get rid of some old ones. Mostly I'm getting rid of novels I started and hated, or novels I sort of enjoyed but were too stupid to want to keep around the house. I say it's a resolution, but the truth is, I was excited and happy to get rid of these books.

I threw away an old wood cutting board that had gotten all moldy-colored on the bottom. I threw away an apple corer that I never use because I prefer knives. I threw away a cookie cutter in the shape of a buffalo. Cute, but when's the last time I made cookies? Never.

Those last two kitchen items were the only thing I felt bad about throwing away. They could have been used; in a perfect world I'd have found a new home for them. But there were only two of them, and they were small, and I was lazy. In the trash they went.

In a kind of fit of craziness, I threw away old mementos and letters. Who needs them? After all, I'm anti-nostalgia. That's when I started to think, "Maybe I am insane?"

Because the truth is I've gotten carried away before. Absurdly, my need to purge extends to my digital life, and I often delete old electronic documents. Once I accidentally deleted all my copies of my CV and I had to remake it from scratch.

Overall, though, I'd say the house purging desire is a healthy one, and only occasionally does it veer into madness. And if I ever get tired of being a professor, I figure I can become a professional. I would love to go throw other people's stuff away.

The only real thorn in my side, house-purging-wise, is the environment. When I was a kid my father did a yearly house purge, bringing the same pleasure to the task that I now bring to my own. "If in doubt, throw it out!" he'd chant, while dumping old boxes of crayons, markers, and half-used pads of paper. "We'll get new ones if we want!" he'd say.

I would love, love, love to throw away old pens, half-used boxes of greeting cards, packages of mailing labels, and old pads of paper. But the thought of the land-fill stops me. I'm proud to say I've got a half-used box of greeting cards that I've had for about ten years, sitting in my drawer. Ten years! I use one of them every so often. I've thought of trashing them about seventeen times. How's that for the triumph of rationality over desire, guys?


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Some Blogger, I Don't Know . . .

I read The New Yorker regularly, and I thought the April 21st issue was full of great, or at least interesting, things. I loved reading about the tigers. I loved the crazy journey to China to see how toy puffins are made. I loved the elevator story. (Sample excellent sentence from the elevator story: "to take elevatoring lightly is to risk dooming a building to dysfunction and its inhabitants to a kind of incremental purgatory." To which I say, "Dude, that is so true!")

I was honestly kind of appalled by the pro-vengeance thing, but you can't say it wasn't interesting. I even sort of enjoyed the crazy cold water swimmer, and especially the photo of her in the water with, what were they, porpoises or something?

Here I just have one tiny obsvervation to offer. Twice in this issue, writers quote bloggers by saying in effect, "some blogger" or "a blogger at X." In both cases they're quoting someone extremely easy to identify. Why not put the person's name?

In a short talk Talk of the Town thing about Robin Morgan's "Goodbye to All That," they quote a passage critical of Morgan, and ascribe it to "one blogger." A quick google search shows it's Ann Friedman, writing at Feministing. Why not say so?

Then there's Nancy Franklin writing on The Hills. I love Nancy Franklin. I don't even watch TV but I always read her reviews. Franklin writes of a subset of the cast, "A writer at called this branch of 'The Hills' the 'axis of vapid.'" A quick google search shows it's Moe Tkacik. It's not even like "A writer" is so much shorter than "Moe Tkacik."

Maybe I'm being oversensitive. If I am, it's not because I'm writing a blog. There's a difference between an anonymous chitter-chatter (which is what C and C is for now, for better or for worse), and something presented as one's own. Why not give a little credit, guys?

Consent To Bodily Harm: A Paradox?

The Toronto Star had an interesting story yesterday about a court case. I've tried and tried to find it on their website but I can't so it's lucky I saved the dead-tree-format version I was reading over my dinner.

The headline is, "People Can't Invite Violent Sex Acts, Judge Rules." The case involves a couple who routinely engaged in what's described as "raunchy" sex, over a period of years. Some of that was sado-masochistic. They had a safe word.

The guy is accused of sexual assault for having choked her to the point of unconsciousness and then, well, maybe you're reading this over lunch or something, so let's just say, he's accused of having followed this up with further sexual acts while she was "out."

The accuser called the cops one month after it happened, and then later tried to recant, explaining that since it was a consensual interaction, there was nothing he did wrong. The accuser says she "routinely" consented to being choked.

OK, let's pass quickly over the whole report-it-one-month-later-then-deny-there-was-anything business. About that we can just say, something is f***ed up between these two people.

What's more interesting to me are the comments of the prosecutor and judge. The article says that the prosecutor (or as we call it here in Canada, the "Crown counsel"), argued "successfully" that "an individual cannot consent to bodily harm, such as being choked to the point of unconsciousness." The prosecutor called it "paradoxical" that one who was unconscious could be "in a position to enjoy heightened or intensified sexual gratification."

Later it says quotes the judge saying, "Even if she had consented previously - or on that night - she cannot legally consent to sexual activity that takes place when she is unconscious."

This makes it sound like according to the judge, the accuser could have consented to being choked. And maybe she could have consented to being choked to the point of unconsciousness. But she couldn't consent to anything that happened when she was unconscious.

So, does this mean that to engage in any sex act legally, each party must be in a position to give consent at the moment of sex? Then if two longtime partners want to get really drunk and have sex, or if a guy has sex with his wife in the middle of the night and she falls asleep in the middle, or if one person wants to get really stoned and have their partner have sex with them, all those things would be sexual assault.

It also makes it sound like according to the judge, there's nothing paradoxical going on, and it's not a question of bodily harm. It's just a question of the possibility of consent, and when and how it's required.

On the other hand, the judge also said, "the reasonable man would conclude that choking someone to the point of unconsciousness does interfere with that person's 'health or comfort,' and can, in some cases, endanger life."

I don't know what the law is, but if there's a law against making other people uncomfortable, we're all in big trouble.