Pain Update

I’ve gotten nothing done today, on account of having recently discovered Battle for Wesnoth. On the one hand, this is bad for productivity. On the other, it is really cool to be able to waste a day playing a computer game and not be in excruciating pain. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do that. Hopefully this keeps up. Well the being able to anyway, perhaps not so much the actual ratio of gaming-to-work. It’s been a little while now that I’ve been generally comfortable spending most of the day on the computer, whether it’s being productive or not.

It’s difficult to describe why this is a really good thing, outside of less pain being generally good. It’s not just about being able to do this particular thing—it’s about having another thing on the list of Things I Can Do to Relax and Wind Down When I’m Not Working. That list has, for a long time, been really, really short. There aren’t a whole lot of things that fit in the goldilocks zone between “at least some movement” and “but not too much movement”.

Imagine you literally can’t spend too long watching a movie, playing a game, reading a book, or any number of other things that require simply being still for a while. Then imagine that too much exercise is a similar problem. Now make a list of the options that leaves you in terms of things you can do to relax.

It’s not a very long list.

That’s why today is a good thing.


Just finished the first phase of getting started on Tumblr. I’ve loaded about a billion of my old posts (the ones I actually like, anyway) into the queue, so if anyone who’s started reading my blog recently wants to take a look at things I wrote a while back, that should be updating twice a day until it’s done burning through those.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

Things There Should Be Words For: Types of Anger

I’m starting a post series. I find myself dissatisfied with the English language on a pretty regular basis, and I’ve decided to complain about that loudly and serially. There are a lot of concepts that are important or ubiquitous enough that they really could use finely-tuned language, but where the English language doesn’t deliver. This is the series I’ve designated for talking about those concepts, about why they’re important, why the current language surrounding them is insufficient, and about what might work to fill in the language gaps (assuming I have any halfway decent ideas). I think language has a tremendous influence on how we see and share the world around us and that improving it is vitally important for dealing with problems, both large and small.

Without further ado, here’s today’s thing there should be words for:

To introduce this first one, I’m going to quote Miriam at Brute Reason talking about one difficult aspect of dealing with depression:

“…the burden of trying to explain my mental quirks to everybody I interact with regularly is one that I can’t even fathom, let alone take on.

For starters, people get defensive. I’ll say something like, “This is not your fault and it’s probably just because of my depression, but when you sign off in the middle of a serious conversation, I feel hurt,” and they hear “YOU ARE HURTING ME YOU TERRIBLE FUCKING PERSON.” Or they hear, “I expect you to change your IM habits to conform to my needs.” And they respond accordingly.”

One of the most important distinctions to be able to make in conversations about feelings is the distinction between talking about feelings to express them, talking about them to examine, request, or demand a particular course of action, and talking about them to place blame (and all the grey in between). There are many different conversations that could follow a statement as simple as “this bothers me”:

“This bothers me and I want to talk about it to figure out why.”

“This bothers me and I want to talk about it to figure out what can be done about it.”

“This bothers me and I therefore want you to stop doing it.”

“This bothers me, you terrible, horrible person, you!”

etc, etc…

If you’re on the receiving end of a “this bothers me” type statement, it can be very difficult to determine which of the above conversations is happening. “It bothers me when you X” can as easily be the segue into the “This bothers me, you terrible, horrible person!” conversation as the “This seems to be bothering me and I want to talk it out to figure out why” conversation. Discussions like this are complicated further by the fact that they’re generally emotional (or else the conversation probably wouldn’t be necessary in the first place), and as a result, the “This bothers me; you suck!” accusatory language can leak into the conversation as a result of one or both parties being emotionally raw and slipping up.

These are important distinctions that need to be made quite often. Unfortunately, it’s not terribly easy to make them succinctly.  I think that having simple, concise vocabulary for this would make this kind of communication way easier. Simple qualifiers that distinguish “Let’s examine this” anger, from, “Something needs to be done about this” anger, from, “You are a smelly jerk and I hate you” anger. I’m not sure how to go about coming up with them, though.

Off the top of my head, the best I’ve got is traffic light colors. E.g. “green” anger meaning “likely irrational anger that needs to be talked about”, “yellow” anger meaning “anger that may or may not be rational, or may require certain actions to be taken”, and “red” anger being “I’m angry at you, and I think this anger is justified and at least partially your responsibility, and here’s why”.

Thoughts? Better ideas? If anyone has particularly good words or phrases that they use to express any of the things I discuss in these posts, I’d love you to post them in the comments. I would like this to be a place to share or invent useful language, in addition to being a place to complain about how inadequate current language is.

A Wonderful Video on the Future of Education

I have strong opinions about the state of our educational system today, and they are more or less that it takes an incredibly inadequate system to make something as inherently wonderful as learning and make it as inherently miserable as it is for so many people in the system.

I’m optimistic, though, because people who truly love and understand good teaching, now, thanks to technology, have easier and wider access to the audiences that so desperately need to have access to them. I think our educational system is fucked, and I think that large swaths of it will soon be obsolete, as it becomes more and more obvious how much better education can be. I truly believe it can be better by orders of magnitude that we can’t even imagine right now, and I’m happy to see that process accelerating  Also, frankly, I’m a little schadenfreudically (totally a word) pleased at the idea that some of the institutions that made it so miserable for me probably aren’t going to manage to keep pace.

Anyway, the video:

In Which I Attempt to Give Tips on Dating

There is all sorts of advice out there about meeting people and dating them. Most of them are far too scripted and full of assumptions to be all that useful in real life. Allow me to contribute a few to the list that have sometimes helped me. In no particular order:

My Five Dating Tips

Tip #1 If you’re new to dating, don’t get discouraged by failures, BECAUSE JUGGLING!

I first started trying to date in high school, and for quite a while I experienced literally nothing but rejections. I spent a lot of time being angsty and I was pretty well convinced the book was closed on my ability to ever date (seriously, in old Livejournal entries, I “give up on finding love” practically every other week). If I could talk to myself then, I’d say roughly this:

Try juggling 10 times in a row. If you’ve never tried before, you’ll fail every time. If you assume that means you’ll never get the hang of it, though, you’re being silly. Your first tries aren’t representative of your potential. Hell, I couldn’t juggle at all the first 100 times I tried. Probably took 500 or 1000 or so before I could consistently keep 3 objects up in the air. If I had assumed my ability would never change based on my first few attempts, well, I would’ve been thinking about it all wrong. You get better at all this shit with time.

When you’re starting out, you’re still getting the hang of everything, including talking to people you’re interested in. You may have been rejected a whole bunch of times, feel “incurably” nervous around people you’re interested in, whatever. You’ve got your entire life to practice and figure this stuff out, and there’s absolutely no point or accuracy in judging yourself based on your first few years unless you let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy by giving up. Thing is, that’s the same as giving up on being able to juggle because you can’t do it the first 10 times you try. Of course you can’t. Because it’s the first few fucking times you’ve tried! Sex is complicated, people are complicated. When it comes right down to it, moreso than juggling.

Most people suck at this shit starting out. That’s because it takes a while to figure it out. I’m still figuring it out, but now I know what I know: the things I still haven’t got the hang of, I just need a lot of time and a lot of practice to get them right.

Tip #2: Wear conversation starters. For best results, wear targeted conversation starters.

I do this halfway intentionally and halfway accidentally. You can tell I’m a geek from a long way away. From closer, without too much trouble, you can tell that I’m poly and kinky as well. Most of my wardrobe is geeky in some form or another. I have jewelry and even belt buckles with geek/kink/poly bits on them.

What’s the hardest part of approaching someone you want to talk to? For me, at least, it’s having a thing to say. If someone’s wearing, say, double-helix earrings, though, then I both (a) know there’s a much better-than-averge chance we’ll get along, and (b) have something to start a conversation with. Correspondingly, I know it’ll be easier for people to approach me if I wear things that start conversations, and it’ll be more likely they’ll be conversations I want if the things I wear communicate what type of person I am. Last month at a con, for example, some kinksters completely unknown to me introduced themselves after recognizing a kink-themed shirt of mine.

This is a big help for meeting people in general, as well, not just dating.

Tip #3 A simple trick for maintaining tension through establishing consent

So, consent is important, but it’s easy to worry that it will ruin the moment. Generally, I find that moments are far more often ruined by crazed obsessing over the maintenance of the moment, so before I continue let me say that I think the ideal is to just stop worrying about it in the first place. Think of this tip as training wheels to move you toward the goal of just not giving a shit about moment-ruining. I haven’t done it much recently, but it has a fond place in my heart from earlier dating escapades. Bear in mind that like all things that follow any sort of script, context matters. This isn’t appropriate for all situations. If it fits the situation, the person, and the vibe, though, it’s highly enjoyable. At least, I’ve found it so.

The trick is: if you want to, say, kiss someone, ask for consent. Then, if they consent, and you feel the lovely tension is somehow broken, tell them you will kiss them. Soon (generally for me this has been within a couple of minutes of “soon”).

You want a good tension builder? Make it so someone knows a kiss that they want is coming, but they don’t know when!

Tip #4 Make the giving of compliments its own reward

It’s good advice for all of life, but in particular it’s helped me learn to communicate my attraction to people in noncreepy ways.

A few years ago, one of my friends told me they were attracted to me. I didn’t reciprocate, but it was still an awesome thing to hear. I think about things like that years later and they still make me feel good. The feeling that comes from knowing that someone you respect finds you attractive is awesome.

At some point over the last year or two, I realized that giving people that feeling is its own reward, and suddenly I was a lot more comfortable telling people I was attracted to them. I was more comfortable with it because knowing I might be making someone feel good that way made the compliment its own reward. Making the compliment its own reward meant that it didn’t matter so much if the person reciprocated the attraction or not. Obviously I still like it when attraction is reciprocated, but these days I find it much easier to be pleased with having told someone I’m into them even when they don’t reciprocate. I know, if they respect me as a person, that they’ll probably really appreciate that I’m attracted, even if they don’t reciprocate.

This means I can tell people I’m into them much more comfortably, without those people feeling the weight of expectation and how-do-I-tell-them-I-don’t-reciprocate that often accompanies the expression of interest. The fact that I’m enjoying the compliment for it’s own sake tends to show through in the delivery.

If I’m worried it won’t show through, in particular if it happens to be an online conversation, I’ll occasionally add something like the following:

“Disclaimer: I’ve always really appreciated when people have told me this kind of thing; I’m not telling you it to ask for reciprocation; just because I like hearing it when it’s directed at me, and I assume other people like hearing it, too, so I try and share when I can.”

As always, Franklin Veaux writes very well about this idea also.

I’ve gotten much more comfortable expressing attraction to people since I’ve started thinking about it this way, and as a result, I’ve discovered that a lot of the people I’m attracted to are attracted back, but were just as afraid to express it as I was.

Tip #5 Think less about what you do, and more about how you feel

So much dating advice is about what to do. That isn’t, as a general rule, nearly as important as how you think and feel about dating. Keep that in mind. Emily Nagoski talks about this better than I could, so I’m going to yield the floor to her on this one.


There you have it: a few things I’ve picked up over the course of my dating career that I’ve held on to. Hope this helps somebody.

Life Update

So it’s about time for another one of these, I think.

Things have been going decently well lately. I’m finally all registered up for school, I’ve got a job-like thing using Rails, and I’m meeting people.

I have, as I mentioned before, been having some issues being productive. I did set myself a quota for work during the week, but found that I have concentration issues trying to keep up with that. This was unexpected and frustrating, given that I didn’t have similar issues when I was working 40 hours a week over the summer. My best guess is that the social stimulation helps keep my ability to concentrate going. Either way, I want to find a way for that to not be a problem. I’ve been looking at ways to work in a social setting. Nothing really promising so far—the search continues.

I’ve been really frustrated with my body lately. I’m still healing from injuring my arms about 5 months back now, and I’m learning as well that I need to be very cautious with ab exercises. It feels like every time I get into exercising something new happens to keep me from being able to do it. I have been keeping up with biking insomuch as my level of in-shapeness allows. Improvement on that front has also been aggravatingly slow.

On the brighter side of things, I seem to have been able to tolerate an enormous amount of sitting lately. Very strange, given how much trouble that’s  been historically. I still have bad moments and bad days, but in a general sense, these days, stress has been the principal aggravator of symptoms when compared with sitting.

The blogging has been an experience of surprising extremes lately. A lot of people seem to enjoy the things that I write, which has been wonderful to hear. Absolutely wonderful. On the other side of things, I’ve been dealing with some problematic commenters on some of my recent writing, and have been trying to figure out how best to deal with that. It has, at times, been incredibly exhausting, and I have even greater sympathy now for the people in the Atheism+ community in particular who have to deal with so much worse on a regular basis.

Being social has been a bit challenging lately, since my weeks don’t have any enforced social time, and I’m at least a quarter-hour of travel from any places where social things happen. I’ve been thinking about getting back into dancing, perhaps contra dancing, once my body is all healed up. The wait for that to happen is frustrating. I would probably be healing faster by doing regular PF-ROM exercises, but I find it difficult to get myself doing them regularly.

Depression has been hanging  around in a non-committal sort of way, lately. Not in an extreme way, just in a sort of general bored/malaise sort of way. Not even really a way that I think I would label depression. More like, there’s a sense of the potential closeness of depression, but not an immediate sense of it. I need to get out and do things. Problem being a lot of the things I want to do require my body not to be so fucked up. Frustration.

All in all, moving toward a number of goals in a frustratingly slow way.

I am getting much better at touch-typing, though, so that’s good. And I most likely tested out of English for the final time this past week. So that’s also good.

For Those Who Don’t Understand Schrodinger’s Rapist

It continually astounds me how many people don’t seem to understand the basics of the Schrodinger’s Rapist analogy. Being that my blog has been getting some traffic from people who don’t get it, I thought I’d take a stab at elucidating the idea. If you haven’t read the original post, go there now, and I’ll wait here while you finish.

Okay, good. Now, the Not-Really-Getting-It responses to this analogy are generally along the lines of:

  • You think all men are rapists! (incorrect)
  • You think all men are potential rapists! (correct or incorrect, depending on what you actually mean)

The “all men are potential rapists” bit is not saying what many people seem to think. It’s not saying that you in particular, Dear Reader Who Would Never Rape Anyone, might rape someone. It’s saying that an unknown person in public that you have no information about could potentially be a rapist. That is what you, Dear Reader, are when you approach a stranger in a public place. To that stranger, you’re an unknown. You know yourself out to ten significant figures, but a random stranger can guess out to one or two at best.

Imagine a friend asks you to play a game of Russian roulette. Serious Russian roulette, with a six-shooter and a single bullet. If you say no because you don’t want to die, is it appropriate for your friend to object by arguing, “What, do you think all of the chambers are loaded?” Of course not, because that’s not the point, is it? The point is that one of them is loaded, so each turn of the game you play could potentially kill you.

In this Russian roulette scenario, you, Reader Who Would Never Rape Anyone, are an empty bullet chamber. But not all of the chambers are empty, and on a given turn, the people playing the game have no idea whether the chamber that’s lined up to fire is you or one with a bullet in it. Until the gun is fired, Schrodinger’s Bullet. This is analogous to the type of situation Schrodinger’s Rapist is describing.

If you still think the most reasonable response to Schrodinger’s Rapist is that it’s ridiculous because not all men are rapists, I have made a list of other arguments you ought to be comfortable making, to illustrate the point.

  1. You’re about to have sex with a new partner. That partner asks you to get tested for STIs beforehand. You respond with, “What the hell? Not everyone has an STI, you know!”
  2. You get bitten by a wild animal. Your friend suggests you get rabies shots just to be safe. You respond with, “What the fuck? Not all wild animals have rabies, you know!”
  3. Your friend advises you to wear a seatbelt. You respond with, “What the shit? It’s not like you’re going to get in a crash every time you drive, you know!”
  4. You want to have sex with a new partner, they want birth control to be used. You respond with, “Seriously, do you think women get pregnant every time they have sex?!”
  5. Your friend suggests you get a flu shot. You respond with, “Jesus, do you think everyone gets the flu every year?!”

Does it make sense now? Schrodinger’s Rapist is not an argument of personal accusation, it’s an argument of statistics and precautionary measures. It’s an argument from trying to make the safest decision while not having all of the information that would be ideal to have. Not everyone has an STI, but a new partner could potentially have an STI, which is why people get tested. Not every wild animal has rabies, but the one that bit you is potentially a carrier of rabies, and it’s better safe than dead. Not every car trip ends in a crash, but every car trip could potentially end in a crash, which is why you wear a seatbelt. Not everyone gets the flu every season, but there is a chance that you could get it, so you get inoculated.

If everyone could see a random stranger on the street and just know, “Oh, that one’s not a rapist”, then the whole analogy would break down. The same way Russian roulette wouldn’t make sense if you could look inside the gun before pulling the trigger. Obviously in the real world, though, we don’t magically know who’s who. A random stranger cannot magically tell that you, Dear Reader, are not dangerous, the same as they cannot tell which chamber has the bullet, which animals have rabies, which car trip will end in a crash, etc, etc. In short, the salient point is that just because you know you’re not a rapist doesn’t mean everyone else does*.

Now, this blogger entreats you, implores you, can we at least move on to criticisms that actually demonstrate an understanding of what they’re arguing against? They don’t even have to be good ones, I promise, I just want them to be a nonzero level of relevant.

For a discussion of the claim that Schrödinger’s Rapist doesn’t make sense because most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows,  or because rape isn’t common enough to justify this type of risk assessment, see the follow-up to this post, For Those Who Don’t Understand Schrodinger’s Rapist, Part Two.

For those who think that the racism analogy is appropriate: You should read these links (Shuffling feet: a black man’s view on Schroedinger’s Rapist, Being Cautious of Men Versus Being Cautious of Blacksrelevant Reddit conversation), and then you should acquaint yourselves with the relevant statistics: crime statistics by racesexual assault statistics by Stop Street Harassment, sexual assault research by Hollaback.

* Which we hopefully all picked up back in the concrete-operational stage, if Piaget is to be believed, yes?

Sidenote: Many comments on this page have not been approved. For the curious, there is a commenting page that explains why some comments do not get approved.

Sidenote 2:  Another excellent analogy: Consider the Bank.

Talking About the Good Things

This is a post about things that are going well, and cool things that have happened lately. For at least this one post, I am going to disregard my apprehensions about coming off as obnoxious or bragging or this, that, or the other, and just talk about awesome things that are happening. Because I need to do that; we all need to do that sometimes. So here goes. Shameless excitement to follow. Also lots of sex-related things, because the last year has been nothing if not full of changes and exploration where that’s concerned.

Fair warning: many potentially obnoxiously navel-gazey, self-congratulatory paragraphs to follow. Seriously, you are under no obligation to read this.

Continue reading

I Knew This Day Would Come

I made a brief comment policy thing. It’s in the bar up top.

This is the first time I’ve had to think hard about which commenters to approve and disapprove, so there will almost certainly be some inconsistency in what gets approved and what doesn’t while I’m figuring out exactly what types of discussion I want to be permitted on this blog. Some things I may let through because I want to see what happens when I do and use the outcome to inform my decisions about approving/unapproving people in the future. Other things I may not let through and later decide I’m okay with allowing similar, at least provisionally as an experiment.

So, you know, humans, inconsistency. It’s all part of the game, really.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

I’d Rather Ten Guilty Trolls Go Unbanned

Matt Dillahunty was recently involved in an incident on the atheism plus forums. The pertinent details with respect to this post are that he posted with an account not associated with his name asking why another poster had been banned. His post was rejected by a moderator who said that they thought it was concern-trolly, off-topic, and TLDR. Matt disputes these details, but unfortunately due to the way the forum was working at the time, the post is unrecoverable, and that discussion is a nonstarter (this issue has since been fixed—unapproved posts are no longer automatically deleted). In the aftermath of the incident, Matt has been talking about the need to give new commenters the benefit of the doubt that their intentions are not trolly. I want to talk about why this reasoning is flawed, and why blanket benefit of the doubt is not possible in some situations if a movement is to be effective*.

Here are the facts we need:

  1. There is a cost to dealing with trolls. It takes time and energy. Sometimes a lot of time and energy.
  2. A movement has a finite amount of energy.
  3. It is not always trivial to distinguish trolls from the earnestly curious or concerned.
  4. More confidence that someone is or isn’t trolling can only be gained by expending more energy engaging the person, or by looking at their reputation for trollish or nontrollish behavior.
  5. There are a number of key phrases and ways of addressing issues that longtime participants of atheism plus rightly identify as red flags that increase the likelihood that someone is a troll (think how you feel when you see someone say something like, “I’m not a racist/homophobe/sexist, but…” in other contexts—are you more or less likely to give someone the benefit of the doubt after they open with that? Crommunist recently wrote a wonderful post about this type of thing that I highly recommend).
  6. The atheism plus movement is under heavy attack by trolls.

So you have a movement. It’s a movement under attack. You have a finite amount of energy, and an imperfect means of determining who is going to be costly to engage with. You have determined that there are a few red flags you can look for that correlate with trolly behavior (though they aren’t perfect). They unfortunately overlap with what some well-intentioned commenters will also say:

A troll trying to look genuinely concerned to avoid banning will say things like: “I’m just curious”, “I have some concerns”, “I just think you’re overreacting”, etc.

A person who is genuinely concerned will say things like: “I’m just curious”, “I have some concerns”, “I just think you’re overreacting”, etc.

If a forum is being constantly bombarded by trolls, there is a very real chance that the majority of people using flag phrases are trolls. Differentiating between the well-intentioned ones and the trolls is not easy. Mistakes will be made.

The default benefit of the doubt approach costs a lot of energy. It’s all well and good to say, “I’d rather ten guilty trolls go free than one honest questioner be dismissed as trolling”, if you’re not the one dealing with the constant attacks. When you are, however, you come to realize that there simply isn’t the time or energy to give everyone who throws out a few of the early warning signs of being a troll the benefit of the doubt. If this movement had to do that, there would be no one left in it.

Nearly everyone I have had an argument with about atheism plus has started out sounding reasonable. One of those, early in the /r/atheismplus subreddit’s existence, later devolved into asking us when we were going to start shoving our dissenters into ovens. You know, like Hitler did. This commenter is an extreme example, but the general pattern of going from apparently reasonable to batshit is not. This person opened the conversation in a way that was apparently innocuous. They were curious, trying to understand, had some concerns. They were given the benefit of the doubt. They did not deserve it.

Matt, you may have opened your conversations on the forums in ways that seemed innocuous to you. You were not given the benefit of the doubt, even though extending  the benefit of the doubt would have paid off in your case. That is unfortunate, but in context, it’s unavoidable. We cannot both avoid expending huge amounts of energy battling trolls and avoid ever banning (or not approving posts by) false positives.

Saying we should always give new posters the benefit of the doubt is making the perfect the enemy of the good. When the majority of trolls open conversations in characteristic ways, people who open conversations in those ways may not be given the benefit of the doubt. Good people may not be given the benefit of the doubt. That sucks, but it’s the only way to keep the movement from being driven into the ground by trolls, especially when you’re talking about posting in spaces designated as safe.

It sucks that an environment has been created where your concerns couldn’t be assumed legitimate, Matt, but your proposed solution is unworkable given the context of the situation. The problem is not atheism plussers failing to give blanket benefit of the doubt, the problem is a volume of trolls that makes giving the benefit of the doubt to everyone an impossible solution. If we literally had to give every new commenter the benefit of the doubt, the trolls would win. The way they’ve driven Jen and others off of the internet, they’d succeed with the rest of us as well.

You could, if you wanted, try to make the argument that the level of trolling is not bad enough to warrant the current balance of benefit-of-the-doubt that is given to new commenters. Making the argument that we should always extend the benefit of the doubt to new commenters, however, regardless of context, is a context-blind solution to an extremely context-dependent situation.

* There is a lot of conversation going on around this whole incident, and I want to state explicitly that this post is only intended to address the “Give new people the benefit of the doubt” part of the discussion. I have complicated opinions about other aspects of this discussion. They will be in their own post if I decide I want to weigh in on them.