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Medicine

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.09.18

I'm unusually demoralized and irritated at my job, and also about to leave to go camping for a week. I'm horrified to learn that Andrew Wakefield has set up camp - and seems to be thriving - in Texas.

Anyone seen anything funny lately on the web? I'd like to laugh and shake off this petty anger that's consuming me. This list of drunk people doing idiot drunk things cheers me up. It's not mean-spirited at all - it's actually kind of heartwarming in some weird "everyday people are good and hilarious" kind of way.


 

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Threefer

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.08.18

1. Yesterday I heard the phrase "fixed interval scallop" for the first time, to describe the graph of productivity which ramps up towards each intermittent deadline. This kind of thing.

2. Jammies installed an after-market rear view camera in my minivan. It's a fairly big game-changer. Does this mean that the skill of parallel parking will go the way of the stick shift?

3. So, our president sent Stormy McDaniels dick pics, huh. Just another dizzyingly surreal nail in our collective, national, bed of nails. Just gross.


 

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Product Review: Binders

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.07.18

This Mal Ortberg essay, a product review of chest binders, is both understated and touching. (And yes, If you want to know more about Mal's life, here's a useful tweet.)(That thread includes the comment, "Over at Metafilter we're trying to come up with a recipe for a new cocktail called the Malort Berg, ideas?" which amused me. The MeFi thread is pretty good itself, and where I originally saw the Binders link.)


 

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Texas Primary

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.06.18

I know the early voting numbers have been very positive for Democrats in Texas, but it's worth noting that they're only available for the 12 most populous counties, which mostly tip D already. I'm braced for the actual numbers to be less impressive. But still looking forward to finding out how it goes.

Also: I think it's really interesting to note that, on early voting totals only, Travis County (Austin) went Democratic by a margin of about 3.5:1. El Paso went Democratic by a margin of about 5:1. And freaking Hidalgo County (McAllen) went Democratic by a margin of 8:1. Everyone thinks of Austin as being the lone liberal place in Texas, but it's really not. Granted, Hidalgo County has half as many registered voters as Travis County, but that's still not peanuts. (I know there's fretting about how Latino voters are trending more red. I dunno.)


 

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Strange CPA

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.06.18

I've got a bizarre situation that is in many ways my own fault, and makes me look fairly incompetent. We've had the same guy doing our taxes for almost ten years. (Due to some arcane inheritance stuff, I don't feel like doing them myself.)

Paying him is where my incompetence comes in - I just never track it. I assume that he'll bill us - after all, he's a goddamn CPA - and then I'll pay him. I definitely have paid him before.

I noticed early on that he didn't necessarily bill us every year, and then I'd forget about it, because it's an oddball one-off thing. A few years ago, I started to realize that he mostly does not bill us. I did a search of the online records and came up empty-handed, but they only go back 36 months or so.

Finally this year I emailed him about, and got no reply. And then I called him about it and left a message. He emailed back to say that he got my phone message, and that he'd get it sorted out. When I didn't hear from him, I emailed him a month or two later, and didn't hear back. He still hasn't even billed us for 2017, despite the topic being explicitly broached.

I also jumped through some hoops with the bank to get my old records just so I could double-check when I've paid him. (I am confident that on those occasions that he billed us, I paid him.) I've gone through some of the old records but it's boring and I already know that the situation is bizarre. It's just so weird that it's a CPA!

Now tax season is upon us again, and there's no reason not to go with this guy - I believe he does a competent job, and I definitely need to settle up with him somehow, whether or not I go through the hassle of finding someone else. All I can figure out is that he's monumentally embarrassed about this and not sure how to tell me that I owe him many, many years worth of his yearly rate.

This isn't even an ATM unless you have really good advice.


 

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Slavery

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.06.18

File this under what the fuuuuuuuck:

One day a woman familiar with my work approached me and said, "Antoinette, I know a group of people who didn't receive their freedom until the 1950s." She had me over to her house where I met about 20 people, all who had worked on the Waterford Plantation in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. They told me they had worked the fields for most of their lives. One way or another, they had become indebted to the plantation's owner and were not allowed to leave the property. This situation had them living their lives as 20th-century slaves. At the end of the harvest, when they tried to settle up with the owner, they were always told they didn't make it into the black and to try again next year. Every passing year, the workers fell deeper and deeper in debt. Some of those folks were tied to that land into the 1960s.

Basically, until the 60s there were pockets of slavery that were a nearly-continuous extension of the mass slavery of pre-Civil War, or at least culturally continuous if not perfectly continuous. It's reminiscent of the My Family's Slave article from last year.

There are clearly equally repulsive civil-rights violations going on currently; I'm not trying to be naive about that. It's just jarring to read about something that managed to preserve the 19th century version of American slavery for a full century after the Emancipation Proclamation.


 

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Culture Club: Sex, Gender, The Unspeakable, That Sort of Thing

Posted by Ben
on 03.05.18

This is a guest post by Thorn, who wrote everything in this post following this sentence, as well as the title.

I'm so late writing this that I've probably forgotten meaningful parts of the books I need to write about, but I'm trying to pull something together at last because I do think there's something going on here when it comes to what can be said about gender and sex (in both senses of the word) in the early Culture books. And I think the best I can do is sort of halfass something to throw a few thoughts out and then let people who remember more fight me in the comments, so that's my goal here.

In "A Few Notes on the Culture," Banks sums up the relevant difference from our world with Briefly, nothing and nobody in the Culture is exploited. It is essentially an automated civilization in its manufacturing processes, with human labor restricted to something indistinguishable from play, or a hobby. Elements of that "play" that make belonging to the Culture seem unusual to outsiders in (and out of?) these three books include the drug glands that make self-medication both an art and "play," genital modifications that enhance pleasure and raise outsiders' eyebrows, plus the ability to change from male to female or vice versa at will for reproductive or recreational reasons. (An elaborate thought-code, self-administered in a trance-like state (or simply a consistent desire, even if not conscious) will lead, over the course of about a year, to what amounts to a viral change from one sex into the other. I would certainly be interested in the details of sexual activity and gender identity during that change year, but there wasn't anything in these three first books as far as I know and in fact the only change I mention is Gurgeh's friend back home while he is gone.)

Starting in the middle with Player of Games, which I seem to have misplaced after my ankle surgery and so I won't even be quoting properly (though I'll be accepting arguments on whether this even rises to the level of halfassing, I suppose), we get a special aside from the narrator that in dealing with a non-Culture world with a third gender, pronouns will be assigned in the text based on whether the language belongs to a culture that is male- or female-dominated. So we get the English Patriarchy version. And it's noteworthy that Banks is aware of this and makes his narrator aware, but there's also something weird about it in a book where we're able to manage names for weapons and games that don't exist within our realm but can't be trusted to handle a pronoun. (Rachel Hartman's latest fantasy YA novel, Tess of the Road, has a special gender-neutral pronoun dragons use that gets rendered as itself, ko, in the text, and I would expect something like that or Ann Leckie's versions to be a modern norm. In thirty years, our culture has shifted in ways Banks didn't anticipate we would have in a century.)

Other than that, though, the Culture we see in these books is straighter (and thus, I assume, less threatening for straight male readers) than the Culture at large. I had to be reminded about the lesbian couple among the raiders in Consider Phlebas and while Diziet Sma doesn't seem to remember all the details of her shipwide orgy in Use of Weapons, there are several references to her primary attraction to men. CP's Horza is a shape-changer but very much identified as a man, not interested in gender-swapping if that's even an option. All of the non-Culture worlds at war in UOW seem male-dominated, to use the Banks term, and even women fighters fear rape. There are lurid non-sexual scenes that read to me as almost pornographic (in the "someone is getting off on this and it was written for that" sense) particularly in CP, both the set piece about drowning in human waste and the one about really elaborate ritual cannibalism. In Player of Games, there's alien sex that strikes the protagonist Gurgeh, who is unwilling to go through a gender change and seems fully straight and is trying not to use his recreational drug glands or genital enhancements on-planet, as truly alien yet also seemed plausibly kinky to a modern audience. UoW's narrative is mostly sexually focused on trying to become unbroken or healed after a history of unrequited desire, though it's more complicated than that too. And while orgy options are plentiful, love or what people tell themselves must be love seems more rare but straight and solo. (There's a real lack of drone sex and I don't know what to make of it, which is one of the many ways I find them underexplained. But they do seem to love and hate, maybe. Sort of.)

Coming back to "A Few Notes on the Culture," we get this paragraph: To us, perhaps, the idea of being able to find out what sex is like for our complementary gender, or being able to get drunk/stoned/tripped-out or whatever just by thinking about it (and of course the Culture's drug-glands produce no unpleasant side-effects or physiological addiction) may seem like mere wish-fulfillment. And indeed it is partly wish-fulfillment, but then the fulfillment of wishes is both one of civilization's most powerful drives and arguably one of its highest functions; we wish to live longer, we wish to live more comfortably, we wish to live with less anxiety and more enjoyment, less ignorance and more knowledge than our ancestors did... but the abilities to change sex and to alter one's brain-chemistry - without resort to external technology or any form of payment - both have more serious functions within the Culture. A society in which it is so easy to change sex will rapidly find out if it is treating one gender better than the other; within the population, over time, there will gradually be greater and greater numbers of the sex it is more rewarding to be, and so pressure for change - within society rather than the individuals - will presumably therefore build up until some form of sexual equality and hence numerical parity is established. In a similar fashion, a society in which everybody is free to, and does, choose to spend the majority of their time zonked out of their brains will know that there is something significantly wrong with reality, and (one would hope) do what it can to make that reality more appealing and less - in the pejorative sense - mundane.

To me, it's interesting how much this 1994 optimism doesn't seem to track to even current reality, let alone space communism. Assuming that humans even have a complementary gender is something I'd want hedged-about nowadays, because that's sure not how I experience life in our mundane future. The idea that normalizing sex change will lead to a culture of sexual equality is also one that I guess seems theoretically possible, and yet what are we to make of our protagonists who still didn't want to do it? And does that say anything about our own little-c culture? There have always been Tiresias stories about how eye-opening it can be to swap genders or social positions, but the stories exist at least in part because there's a hope that stories will be enough to open a few eyes to the ways those in power are able to just not notice the inequalities that keep them there. But I think I'm mostly interested in the limits of imagination, the ways certain people are expected not to have to be aware unless they're made aware, the ways writers looking at the future limit themselves deliberately as with the pronoun digression but also maybe inadvertently by making a straight-dude-friendly future world when, c'mon, they have this one already. Maybe it's to ease the way in, but the Notes can go on and on about day-night cycles on orbitals but the sex-change and gestation processes warrant one sentence each and I've quoted the only bit on gender already. "Human" gets used a lot but it clangs for me as not truly inclusive the same way the recent post about the sexist math teacher mentioned he was brought down by a facebook group for Alumni, which made me slightly sad-emoji because maybe we can just break ourselves out of that, laydeez?

I could look back on comments from ages ago and see why I thought I wanted to write about Sapir-Whorfish things beyond gendered pronouns, but I've forgotten completely and should probably just wind this up by what I'm going to try not to make either accusatory or oversharing but to ask what is up with all the simultaneous orgasms? I'm not opposed to them in real life or in fiction, but they seemed to crop up all over the place here and not just the first time Zakalwe had sex with a Culture woman and realized in the middle of that moment that her enhancements meant he tackily couldn't keep up and was misreading the situation. I'm not sure whether to read this as some sort of exhortation to assumed straight male readers about what a sexually satisfying future could look like or if it too is sort of an unnecessarily archaic understanding of the future or what. It's not the Tiresias thing Banks suggests above where once you know the other side's experience you're going to be a more involved and understanding lover, because the characters aren't even gender-changers. I am pretty sure this is something that happens in all three books, or at least that I started keeping track while reading the first, and I'm sort of confused by what the focus is supposed to be and why this is such a Thing. (Again with the caveat that of course it's fun to have orgasms and I'm not judging how anyone does that, just curious about how it's being engraved in text.) I tried to look up whether anyone else has written about this and found that google helpfully includes everything that includes the words Iain Banks climax as sufficient for simultaneous orgasm Iain Banks, which in fact it isn't at all.

I realize mostly what I'm saying is that the books felt of their time rather than of ours and I found myself connecting emotionally with female and drone characters who aren't the main protagonists. I felt we didn't spend enough time in the Culture to see what non-exploitation means in women's and parent-child relationships, though Diziet Sma gave one clear vision of the first. And yet that's not really a complaint and certainly not a surprise. I appreciate stories about a future where pleasure and relaxation exist even if it does still mean ankle and foot injuries heal slowly. I would have preferred more domestic stories to world-saving ones, but that's just what I like in general. I'm not planning to recommend these to our DSA reading group but I'll certainly read more if someone else does.


 

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Guest Post - Let's talk about it.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.05.18

Nworb writes: maybe we've covered this before but welcome to the fuckchain.

Heebie's take: It's the new terrordome. Which I always thought was Terradome until I just looked it up, even though I literally had the album as a youngster which hopefully impresses you - not just a nerdy math major was I, but one with major street cred.

Anyway, two thoughts:

1. this is not the sex robot thing from this thread, although it is still sex plus technology:

LegalFling, which was introduced to users in beta on Monday, lets users give explicit sexual consent via an agreement, or a "live contract," a dynamic document that users can continuously interact with and update.
And yes, these agreements could hold up in court, said Andrew D. Cherkasky, a former special victims prosecutor who now handles dozens of felony-level sexual assault cases each year as a criminal defense attorney. He emphasized, however, that what LegalFling offers are not technically contracts, but documentations of intent, which are legally viable.
LegalFling aims to make the sexual dos and don'ts explicit in a "fun and clear way," according to its website.

2. On the subject of sex, I highly recommend Esther Perel's podcast Where Should We Begin. It's literally a couples therapy session, mostly focusing on relationships and sex. Perel is incredibly smart, and if nothing else, it's worth witnessing what an excellent therapist does in a session. Unless this kind of thing is hopelessly boring to you, in which case don't bother - it's what you think it is.

She's incredibly good at threading the needle between (1) bringing in years of experience, and (2) not shoe-horning anyone into a trope that doesn't fit. She's constantly asking questions to clarify what's going on for them personally, and always checking in to see if what she says fits, but so quick to untangle the layers of what might be tangling them up. Some of the couples are miserably inept at communicating, others are very close and connected and are highly skilled at communicating well.

One of Jammies' friends commented to him recently that American therapists are too hands-off, and I think there might be something to that. Having very little feedback from the therapist for multiple sessions in a row would drive me crazy. I'm sure that it's borne out of respect for American Rugged Individualism and Whatnot, but fuck that. Meddle away, Therapist.


 

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What's The Plan?

Posted by Ogged
on 03.05.18

There's a lot of freaking out and tut-tutting about the rise of the far right here and in Europe, but what exactly is the counter-proposal on offer by the resident liberal governments? Given that all but the quite rich live with economic precarity, and that the wave of migrants is desperately poor, speaks a different language, and for the most part practices a different religion, we're going to have to do much (much) better than "suck it up, working folks, it's your moral duty (from which we, the rich and elite, are conveniently insulated)." The utter failure of the governing left to offer solutions commensurate with the problem is goddamn culpable.


 

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