zeborah: Four zebras and their reflections in the water they're drinking from (reflective)
2017-03-24 08:05 pm

In which she has a polsci theory

Of course I'm not a polsci expert so this may be old news or it may be bunk or it may be both. But my theory goes:

Every possible political/economic system has its strengths and its weaknesses, its virtues and vices. They're each good for some things, terrible for others. This includes capitalism, and communism, and totalitarianism. (I don't say that they each have equal proportions of bad and good.)

So a pure capitalist society can't be perfect. No more a pure communist society, no more any society that's purely one system because humans are too complicated for any one solution to cover all the problems.

If you try to solve all the problems with one system, things start to fall apart (kind of like now). At some point people look for a new system. When things fall apart enough, people actually try to implement it, and it does really well at solving the problems with the first system. So they idealise it: this is progress, this system is our future.

The problem is that part of the reason it works so well is that the old system is still solving a lot of problems too.

Capitalism is fantastic! Competition! Efficiency! Choice! Opportunity! But those things only work to any extent for as long as we retain the old-fashioned safety nets of social responsibility. When we pursue capitalism as if it can solve every problem, cracks appear and people fall through them.

Whatever the solution after capitalism, I bet it will be eventually be the same. But if it was possible to find that sweet spot in the transition period and -- not stop there. A two-solution system is hardly perfect either. But if we could, instead of racing forward past that transtion point into a new one-solution system, hover there and reach sideways to add a third, and fourth, and fifth solution into the system, getting a happy medium of systems without getting all competitive about the ideologies....

(Except maybe totalitarianism. Certainly a very little totalitarianism goes a very very long way.)
zeborah: On the shoulders of giants: zebra on a giraffe (science)
2015-10-21 10:42 pm

In which she knows what happened to your hoverboard

or,
Forget your goddamn hoverboard — where's my utopia?

Every now and then someone writes some screed that seems to presuppose that science-fiction began with Star Trek or Campbell and that the movement to include social themes is destroying the genre. This is a patent nonsense: firstly because the genre is flourishing; secondly because social themes were always part of those stories; and thirdly because Campbell and Star Trek were mere johnny-come-latelies to a centuries' long list of illustrious foremothers.

But the fake geek guys don't actually care about the history of the genre. All they care about is what they read and saw when they were growing up. That's why the catch cry among the current generation is "Where's my hoverboard?" They saw Back to the Future Part II, they imprinted on the hoverboard like a newborn chick on its mother and, ever since, that piece of cheap technology is all they want of the future.

What this doesn't take into account is that hoverboards don't come from nowhere. Someone, or more likely some team of people, has to create them. Back to the Future Part II has no interest in exploring this. It's not the kind of story that delves into social themes; it's the kind of story that knocks a woman unconscious and leaves her in the alley to keep her from interfering in the men's adventure. So it simply has our white male hero steal the hoverboard from a native of the time period and proceed to trash it.

Star Trek, though it was (self-)consciously interested in social themes and depicted the future as a utopia, wasn't much more forthcoming on how its technology or that utopia developed. Which came first, the replicator or the society with no need for money? Zefram's warp drive seems necessary to meet the Vulcans and enable humanity's next step of societal 'evolution'. It's never spelled out and there are a few counterpoints — the Prime Directive at least seems to recognise that technology isn't a panacea — but by and large the general impression, imbibed by the generation raised on the show(s), is that if we get the technology right, society will fall into place.

This isn't entirely unfounded: technology can greatly improve quality of life. Birth control, immunisations, water filtration, solar power and cellphones have, together and severally, incredible transformative power. But it's not the whole story. We still need to figure out how to get our hoverboard.

And this is something that the ovular works of science-fiction took an intense interest in. Whether their utopias were reached by the imagination, a polar vortex, a dream, or time travel, they didn't want to just revel in cool technology (although they did that) or the fantastic adventures it enabled (though they did that too). They wanted to know How do we in the present get some of this? And the answers were based in social justice.

Suffrage, says The Blazing World. Education, an end to early marriage, and keeping men secluded in mardana, says Sultana's Dream. Physical and mental training for women, suffrage, prostitution reform, and farming, says Men's Rights. Free and universal education, class equality, parthenogenesis, and eugenics, says Mizora: a Prophecy.

Yes, eugenics; no, these authors were not perfect. (None of us are: we can but keep striving for it.) But they were right about extending education. The more people we educate, the more people can contribute to advancement of society, knowledge, and technology. Like science-fiction, computing was literally founded by women, and we wouldn't be anywhere near where we are today without the integral contributions of LGBT people, of people of colour, of people with disabilities.

But our society doesn't make it easy for any of these people. In the news recently have been the stories of women who left astrophysics because a prominent lecturer at their university harassed them and countless others for years with impunity. The same happens in science-fiction fandom. It happens in computing. And it happens in engineering. People who don't meet the cis-het white male standard get chased, sidelined, and ignored out of the field.

So where's our hoverboard? Let me tell you: it was supposed to be created by a team of engineers who met at a conference and discovered a shared passion and a mutually complementary set of skills. But in our timeline, none of these people are in the field any more. Maybe they got shot at the École Polytechnique. Maybe they got arrested for building a clock. Long story short, if we want a hoverboard we're going to have to take our DeLorean 30 years back in time and fix whatever went wrong.

No DeLorean time machine? Well, in that case maybe we'll just have to settle for fixing the things that are still going wrong in the present.

So first we need to build our social justice utopia and then we'll get our hoverboard. And a lot more besides.
zeborah: Zebra and lion hugging (cat)
2015-08-24 07:00 pm

In which she finds out which cattery not to book next time she goes on holiday

Ordinarily I get my sister to catsit when I'm out of town, but a full week after booking the holiday I realised that since my sister would be coming out of town with us, this wouldn't be practical. (In the event she didn't come with us because she was sick, but that didn't change the unavailable-for-catsitting status.) So I booked a cattery.

It was a very quick process, involving basically a telephone conversation. I was fluttery at the absence of formalities because I was expecting them to require a deposit if nothing else, or even to get a copy of Boots' vaccinations before the fact. But they were unconcerned so I figured I was just anxious at leaving Boots in a cattery for a week and a half knowing that last time I had to take her away from home during earthquake repairs she hid under the motel bed for three days, and so she was going to hate a cattery.

Now one reason I chose this place was she offered pickups and dropoffs, which is helpful since the bus website suggests they don't carry pets. So at the appointed time on the evening before leaving on holiday at oh-dark-thirty I awaited her arrival. And waited. And waited. Trying to keep Boots inside and yet not stressed all the time. So I phoned and apparently she'd forgotten. Illness or something; okay, there's a lot of nasty stuff going around here at the moment.

So it's fine, she rearranges her evening and turns up with her daughter in the backseat, and I hand over Boots and her food and medicines (both her regular food/medicines and her post-minor-dental-surgery food/medicines, along with an instructional schedule) and so forth and am all helicopter parent while the cattery woman is all "I've got this". We confirm the date and time she'll drop Boots off post-holiday. She gives me her card and asks me to drop her an email so she can send me some photos to prove Boots is enjoying her stay.

I sent her the email, mentioning my email access would be intermittent. Two-thirds of the way through the holiday (which was otherwise lovely, I may or may not blog about it separately) I realised she never so much as acknowledged the email.

So late last night I got home (and dreamed of cats and medicines), and this morning at the appointed time I expect my cat to be returned to me. Yet the appointed time passes with no Boots. Still no Boots. So I ring again, and get voice mail on both landline and cellphone. I continue ringing and leaving messages throughout the day. At 4pm I'm literally putting on my coat to get the bus and find out what the hell's going on when I finally get through to her.

"Oh yeah," quoth she vaguely. "I wasn't sure whether it was today or tomorrow. I think I was expecting a phone call."

Nope. A) I was always clear about the date. If she wasn't, she should have written it down when she specifically told me she was diarying it. Or emailed, at any point. Or phoned, ditto. B) We specifically agreed that Boots would be dropped off at this particular time. C) If you're expecting a phone call maybe you should actually answer one of your phones.

So anyway, we agreed a new time. Then followed two more calls to determine which cat carrier is Boots's. I-- I would have expected her to have been keeping track of other people's property herself?

Apparently not. Because when (with both daughters in the back seat) she drops Boots and supplies off (and a new excuse: she was being audited today so busy all morning) I discover upon unpacking (after she's driven away) that I am further missing not only Boots's food dish but also the collar from around her neck with the magnetic nametag that lets her get in and out of the house.

I've taped the magnetic cat flap open, and found a substitute food dish, and left a polite message on the answerphone saying no rush (because those kids do not need to keep getting dragged around) and just leave them in my mailbox if I'm not home (because I'd actually just as soon not talk to her again); and not saying that I'm not yet feeling any great rush to pay my bill either (those magnetic tags are not cheap).

Online reviews for this place are all positive. Probably most people wouldn't run into these problems as they'd pick up and drop off themselves, so no waiting around and they could point out the cat carrier, missing collar, and food dish at the same time, sans drama. But, wow. This is one business card I'm keeping in my stack just so I can scrawl never again all over it.

(But Boots is now home! And exploring everything. Yes, Boots, eat the business card with the dollar figure and bank account number on it so I can legitimately say "My cat ate the bill," that would be awesome. No? What if I accidentally spill deliciousness on it? Aw, fine.)
zeborah: Fezzes are cool.  Amy and River blow it up. (cool)
2014-11-06 11:26 pm

In which she woke up and Moffat-era Doctor Who was all just a dream

Not really. That doesn't happen in real life. (In real life it's a glorious Saturday morning, you've done all your chores and it's only 8:30am, the whole weekend ahead of you, and then you wake up and it's Tuesday and it's raining.) But wouldn't it be cool if it did?

Spoilers for season 8 ep 11, the '3W' episode )
zeborah: The Eleventh Doctor holds a mop. Text: Clean all the things? (Doctor Who)
2014-09-02 08:50 pm

In which she watches the second episode (Doctor Who 08.02)

I'm determined to go into this one trying/expecting to like it, in the hopes that my recent dislike of All the Doctor Who is at least partly due to justified bias against the Moffat.

This lasts literally four seconds. )
zeborah: Fezzes are cool.  Amy and River blow it up. (cool)
2014-08-24 06:25 pm
Entry tags:

In which another Doctor

Standard warning for how I don't think Moffat is all that (at this point I just watch like one watches the depressing parts of the news - in order to keep up with current events rather than to enjoy oneself - and then I come here to rant about it because you just can't keep it bottled up) so if you do think he's all that or even half of that you probably just want to move along.

Spoilers, sweetie (S08.01) )
zeborah: Fezzes are cool.  Amy and River blow it up. (cool)
2013-11-25 09:56 pm

An anti-squee post for Day of the Doctor (and the Five(ish) Doctors)

People who enjoyed the episode have the entire internet to squee in. To them I will cheerfully say, "It was classic Moffat. So how about this weather?"

To everyone else, I dedicate this post. Warning: squee-harshing about to commence )
zeborah: Zebra standing in the middle of the road (urban)
2013-08-29 05:50 am

In which truly she is in hell

I'm at the airport with an hour to kill (because SuperShuttle, while SuperAwesome, are also SuperCautious about departure times), and I can't whinge on Twitter because Twitter refuses to load.

DownForEveryone.com claims it's just me. :-(

I mean, I suppose I could do some writing...
zeborah: Zebra looking at its rainbow reflection (rainbow)
2012-03-22 09:35 pm

14 reasons why people begging for food money mightn't want your hamburger

I haven't been in the position of begging for food money (I've busked, but that was for pocket money, so and also it's not the same) so these reasons are from my imagination, not experience. As such, they likely lack nuance and I'm probably missing piles more.
  1. They don't know where that hamburger's been.
  2. They're vegetarian.
  3. They're gluten-free.
  4. Or lactose-intolerant.
  5. Or have other allergies.
  6. Or other medical conditions.
  7. Or just want to eat healthily to prevent future medical conditions which they won't be able to afford to treat.
  8. They've actually just eaten. It's just that they'd like to eat tomorrow too, but it's forecast for rain: miserable and unprofitable weather for begging, and a dollar keeps better than your hamburger.
  9. They've actually just eaten. It's just that they'd like to feed their kid too, and a hamburger is a poor substitute for formula.
  10. They lied. They don't need money for food. It's just that they don't have a card that says "Need money for toothpaste and toilet paper".
  11. They lied. They don't need money for food. It's just that begging for food money gets more money than begging for shoes-that-don't-leak money.
  12. Let alone for condom money.
  13. They'd love a hamburger right now. But begging for charity is soul-destroying enough at the best of times, let alone when someone implies they're a drunken gambling-addicted drug addict not to be trusted with bit of spare change. Honestly they'd rather starve for another day than accept your right to judge their sincerity.
  14. Bugger the burger. They've had a shitty week and they deserve a beer, dammit.
Not that I'm saying one should always give money to beggars. There's plenty of reasons one might choose not to, or not be able to. (Sometimes I choose not to because it's a nuisance wrestling my purse out of my bag. No claims of sainthood from this corner.)

I'm not even saying one should never offer a hamburger to beggars. Just, if they refuse it, that isn't evidence that they don't need the money.
zeborah: Why yes! I am the language police. You have the right to remain silent.  Anything you say will be used against you. (PC)
2010-10-31 11:59 am
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In which she offers a PSA

I am, at the moment, full of fierce and heartbroken despair and rage at the patriarchy.

Nothing terrible happened. Just one little thing, no worse than every other one-little-thing-after-another, except that it came in a place that ought to be safe, from a person who ought to desire my safety and happiness.

There are excuses. There are always excuses. Plus I could have prevented it all by just keeping silent, or being politer. Well, no, politer wouldn't have worked. Silent might have. I could have responded to the things being said with silence. Your heart doesn't get broken that way; just abraded.

I also had some good support from others there. That was nice. But emotions aren't integer variables, negative and positive, that add up and cancel each other out. The strings of the heart concatenate; the hurt is still there.

So that was the trigger, but there's a whole lot more gunpowder behind it. So last night and today I rage and weep and hate with a burning hatred the whole damnable kyriarchy. I don't exactly like telling the whole world that I am at present a hysterical bitch, but there it is.

Which means that if I see someone being a jerk on the internet, I'm liable to call them out on it, and if I'm not sufficiently careful of their poor oppressed privilege I'm not really going to give a flying damn.

If this bothers you, you may want to preemptively ban me from commenting on your journal for a while or something.

Comments are off. I don't want sympathy (qv concatenation). I want someone to make the world better. Faster.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
2010-10-22 10:47 pm
Entry tags:

In which she opines on freedom of speech

For the purposes of this post I shall focus on freedom of speech in the USA, whose First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press [...]

People abiding in the United States are constitutionally protected from the specter of a law forcing them to say one thing or forbidding them to say another thing. They are likewise constitutionally protected from the specter of a law forcing the press to espouse some point of view or to suppress some other point of view.

This means that people abiding in the United States need never fear being arrested or prosecuted by the government for what they say or don't say, and this is a very good thing indeed. It also means that people can trust that US newspapers and TV stations aren't all just mouthpieces for the government (unless of course those newspapers and TV stations all individually choose to be, which seems unlikely) and this is also a very good thing.

Note however what this amendment doesn't say. It doesn't say that a press may not espouse a point of view or suppress a point of view. (If it did say such a thing, that would be a law abridging freedom of the press, and it's just said that there shall be no such law.)

It doesn't say that a non-governmental organisation may not espouse a point of view or suppress a point of view. It doesn't say that a person may not espouse a point of view or suppress a point of view. (If it did say such a thing, that would be a law abridging freedom of speech.)

It doesn't say that a media channel may not fire someone who has said nasty things. It only says that Congress shall make no law that a media channel must, or contrariwise that it must not, fire such a person.

It doesn't say that a convention may not refuse to honour someone else who has said other nasty things. It only says that Congress shall make no law that a convention must, or contrariwise must not, refuse to honour them.

Even if you count "honouring someone" as a speech act or as enabling a speech act, which I think is stretching things rather a lot.

Because the fact that one person has freedom of speech does not mean that someone else is obliged to pay for or otherwise actively support that speech. It doesn't give anyone the right to demand a column in the newspaper, or a segment on Fox News, or a minute on the radio airwaves, or comment space on someone's blog, or a podium at Wiscon.

Wiscon/SF3's decision to disinvite Elizabeth Moon as Guest of Honour does not abridge her freedom of speech, even if you think that organisations as well as government bear some moral responsibility for upholding that freedom. She can still write books. She can write blog posts. She can call up talkback radio. She can chat with her friends in the coffeeshop. She can speak at any other convention that's willing to have her. She can even, I believe, attend Wiscon and speak with people there; she just won't be officially honoured for it.

So she can still say anything she wants to say, and she will never, in the USA, be arrested for it, because Congress shall make no law abridging her freedom of speech. She just has to find somewhere else to say it than Wiscon's Guest of Honour podium (nor will she find this hard).

And if anyone really thinks that everyone everywhere in the US has the moral obligation to uphold everyone else's freedom of speech by providing them a platform to speak on, then six weeks before Wiscon/SF3 made their decision you should have been protesting Elizabeth Moon's mass deletion of comments from her post. Wiscon/SF3 aren't the ones engaging in censorship here.

(Personally I think she not only has the legal right but also the moral right to censor and otherwise control what's said in her own space. That she chose to exercise this right in this way and this context, however... was not the most constructive way to show respect for the people involved, shall we say.

(--Incidentally, my own personal policy on censorship is that if someone posts a comment to my DW or LJ which I feel I cannot in good conscience allow to remain here - which will generally be because it's hurtful to some third party - then I'll delete it and, where possible, email the text back to them so they can repost it to their own blog if they so choose. People are free to speak, and I'm free to refuse to host that speech.)
zeborah: Irony means what we point to when we say: That's not ironic. (irony)
2010-07-13 04:56 pm
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In which feminine hygiene products are perhaps not the best source of a good education

Do they still make those bubblegum wrappers with the jokes on them? You know those jokes that had been carefully selected from a jokebook entitled The World's Unfunniest Jokes, by people who've heard of jokes but maintain their impartiality through a strict and willful ignorance of what this joke thing is all about, and who then painstakingly rewrite them so as to leech from them any remaining hint of comedy?

Well, for those of my readers who don't themselves experience that time of the month when you pour blue fluid(*) onto a Feminine Hygiene Product and then go out and ride a horse in white pants, let me just say that FHPs often come wrapped in a similar manner. Except instead of unfunny jokes, we get unfactual factoids.

The ur-FHP Factoid for me will always be "If you put a grape in the microwave it will explode." To be fair, this would probably be true if you inserted the important clause and then turn it on. And "A full moon always rises at sunset" is true for values of "always" that include "at certain latitudes, or at least at certain times of the year", so I'll pass these ones by.

I'll also pass by those familiar factoids like "The human body is made up of ninety-random percent water" and "When you sneeze, the air comes out your nose at randomty miles an hour."

But every so often my eye gets caught by something like "23% of all photocopier faults are caused by people sitting on them and photocopying their buttocks." Which. I. What? I mean. I'm pretty sure that ninety-random percent of all photocopier faults occur at my workplace alone and I'm also pretty certain that I would have noticed if any of our students had decided to drop their pants, sit on the copier, and attempt to scan their buttocks and do you know how I'd know? Because then they'd have to jump off and waddle across the library casual reading area and main entrance to me at the help desk in order to tell me the photocopier wasn't working, and I'd come back across the room and discover that the photocopier was flashing a "Cannot recognise paper size" error message on its clever little screen.
Maybe this statistic was collated in the first week after the first photocopier was bought by the first company ever to use one, which coincidentally happened to be the week of said company's annual Christmas party?

Because otherwise I can only presume that the writer of this factoid has never actually used a photocopier. Other than, perhaps, to photocopy their buttocks.

And when they print stuff like that, it causes me serious doubts about the scholarship behind their claims that "Human thighbones are as strong as concrete" or that "The first known contraceptive was crocodile dung, used by the Egyptians in 2000BC". Don't get me wrong, I don't doubt that these things could be true! But so easily is scientific integrity shattered that I'll never again be able to take it on faith from my [brandname] Feminine Hygiene Products.


(*) Actually I just remembered an ad in New Zealand a few years back in which someone murders someone, disposes of the body, but just as the police sirens approach she notices a small but incriminating pool of blood remains. Oh noes! But wait, she has a brilliant idea! She grabs a [brandname] pad, quickly soaks up the blood, and we cut to the police leaving again, thwarted. Ladies and gentleman, Feminine Hygiene Products, your ultimate murder alibi! (Possibly works with Handee towels too.)
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
2010-02-18 02:02 pm
Entry tags:

In which she vents and recites Latin

Dear colleague,

You've never managed to get a foot in the door at this event [tomorrow]. When I suggested trying again this year you said they just wouldn't want us. Last Thursday morning you finally said you'd email the head honcho. Then on Friday and Monday you were on leave so I thought I'd better follow up with him in case he'd emailed you back, so I phoned him. It turned out you hadn't emailed him yet, but I managed to get us our 3-minute timeslot in the event anyway.

I admit I screwed up in not showing you yesterday a copy of the powerpoint I threw together. And when, having created a 15-slide show (I go through photos quickly), I suddenly got told by the organiser that we were limited to 4 slides, or could I get it down to 10? I admit I was kind of flippant in just scrunching a bunch of those photos with timelapse onto a single slide so we'd keep the same 3-minute content.

But I was under a time constraint to get it to her, so I did it as quickly as I could. So when you then saw the slides and said it was off-message, and then refused to tell me in what ways it was off-message, only saying that we should talk about it with our manager 'later', that's really not helpful. If you'd told me the problems I could have fixed them and sent it immediately to the organiser, but 'later' is too late. As I told you but it apparently didn't change your mind.

So now, later, I finally know what you meant when you said that. And, duh, it's too late, though I've fiddled with the script as best I can.

And anyway if we don't cover all the things you want to cover, what's the difference? If I hadn't forced things along we'd never have got permission to even come to this event anyway.




<deep breath> It's the crazy time of year, and we're merging two teams together, so culture clash. And delays in construction making everything crazier. So stress. If it weren't Lent I'd go for chocolate about now...

Oh, hah. The thing I worked out about giving up chocolate for Lent last year is that when I want chocolate I remember to think about Lent and stuff. So thinking about chocolate now reminds me that I want to read through the Psalms, and then Psalm 8 comes into my head, and Psalm 8 is just awesome, so now I feel quite an awful lot better.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
2008-12-09 06:35 pm
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In which she ought to let her killfile do its duty

Normally I have DF plonked but he replied to something Irina said and I wanted to know how obnoxious he was going to be. It wasn't too obnoxious except that he said:
The bizarre way in which systems of taxation intertwine with voluntary arrangements among human beings.

Which is the sort of thing that makes me want to say, "But taxation is a voluntary arrangment among human beings too!"

But then someone would say that the state enforces taxation on pain of death. You what? was my response when I first heard this concept, but apparently it breaks down like this: you don't pay your taxes, therefore the state imposes penalties, which you ignore, so it confiscates your property and/or comes to arrest you, therefore you defend yourself and your property with a gun, therefore the state shoots you in defense of its officers. Personally I think that the step where you defend yourself with a gun is not strictly under the control of the state, but I've never yet managed to make this clear to someone holding this point of view.

Next time someone tries to convince me of taxation-or-death, however, I think I'll complain that the state has everyone enslaved. After all, if I choose not to work, then I won't get money (even this great socialist country of New Zealand will stop a person's benefits if they don't make some kind of show of looking for work) and if I don't get money then I can't eat and I'll starve to death. The state is forcing me against my will to do work on pain of death! Oh noes!

I probably won't say this, actually, because it's as stupid an argument as taxation-or-death. Maybe I should instead counter by nodding wisely and saying that New Zealand forbids littering on pain of death: you litter, and a police officer asks you to pick it up, and you draw a gun, and the police calls the SWAT team in, who, when you refuse to put your gun away, shoot you in self-defence.

I mean, seriously, guys, there is a piece of logic here that is missing.

The point is that society has to organise itself somehow, and our society has organised itself (by the combined choices of its constituents over the years - it's almost like market forces, really) such that people who can work generally work and pay some percentage of their money for a) the support of people who can't work, including b) themselves when they were children and when they will be elderly, as well as for c) large-scale projects which are more likely to be organised by the state than by unrestrained market forces.

It doesn't work perfectly, of course, because it's got humans in it. But it does work, which is why it's still here.