I’m Now Officially an Ex-Blogger

March 14, 2007

I wanted to wait a day or two with this to avoid being in the embarrassing situation of posting a serious post right after announcing my exit. But I’m dropping off the blogosphere, entirely. I’ll keep reading a few blogs, comprising a subset of my current blogroll, but I’ll probably not comment except by email, and certainly not keep posting here or on Appletree.

The one exception is that I committed to hosting the Carnival of the Godless here on April 1st, and I intend to stick to that commitment. So this is actually my penultimate post.

Everything I said in my almost-exit post still holds, except that this is final. I’ve gotten my book count from 6 to 9 since I last complained about not reading, and frankly those last four days have felt so good, so relaxing, that I almost feel dumb for not having quit earlier. I’m not going to Yearly Kos or any other blog-based event, unless it’s non-boring (i.e. unless it shows me the back of my own ear).

If you still think I post good stuff and should stay, there are other places for you. The big one is of course Majikthise, hands down the best blog on the sphere, with a blogger who’s one of the few people who have made me feel dumb in comparison. 3QD similarly has highly intellectual posts about every issue known to (wo)man. But other than that, the treasures are among the small players.

- A short list of global injustices includes slavery, genocide, malnutrition, gaming consoles, and the fact that Stentor’s Debitage isn’t getting more traffic (recent highlight: conservative moral relativism).

- Lynet’s Elliptica is a lot like this place, only without the news-related rants you can get off Google News and the bitter impatience (recent highlight: laughing at Luskin).

- If you know Feministing, think of Bean’s A Bird and a Bottle as like Feministing, only fluffless, incisive, and massively underrated. As an added bonus, Bean is the only blogger I know who talks about the Abu Ghraib-style abuses occurring in domestic US prisons (recent highlight: girls in custody).

- The anti-fundamentalist, anti-stupid posts on Skatje’s Lacrimae Rerum are a gem, and the longish comment threads tend to only generate more gems. Plus, Skatje’s a conlanger, so it’s even better (recent highlight: a tragedy in one act).

- Tyler DiPietro’s Growth Rate n lg n is what I strived to be back when I was blogging on UTI (recent highlight: John Hawkins and the predictability of recurrences).

- Jessica and Jenny claim to be Just Dreadful, but in fact they show how spontaneous feminist blogging should look like (recent highlights: Jenny on the Phoenix New Times and Jessica on a failed abortion and an undiagnosed pregnancy).

- Bruce’s Crablaw is how (soft-core) libertarianism should be: focused on reckless government waste, investment in the future, and stupid restrictions on personal habits (recent highlight: Maryland’s truck nuts bill).

- Katie is more than just a Liberal Debutante – she’s a burgeoning ecology/feminism/science blogger who’s not delusionally infatuated with any of the three and who’s about to start doing some serious paleontology blogging (recent highlight: Guatemala sinkage).

- The East Asian blogging and the simple explanations of arguments I intended to engage in can be found on Battlepanda (recent highlight: Gore the energy hog).

- In my almost 7 months of blogging, I didn’t nearly link to Eteraz and its highly reflective posts about Islam and Middle Eastern politics as much as I should have (recent highlight: the future of Islamic theocracy and political liberalism).

- If you think liberals are historically ignorant and therefore need to be softer toward fundamentalists, give Accidental Blogger Ruchira ten minutes to set you straight (recent highlight: informed choice or Dawkins’ deluded?).


Lived Experience

March 14, 2007

Lynet‘s point about the difference between different applications of lived experience is strong enough to require me to clarify my general anti-anecdote position. To summarize the original bone of contention, I said just taking women’s (and minorities’) word for it whenever they say something offends them is akin to taking pro-Israeli Jewss whenever they say criticism of Israel is illegitimate. Lynet responds,

You seem to have some concern that anyone could pick a particular word or phrase, claim to be offended by it, and demand that it not be said. One point that needs to be noted is that such a demand is considerably more reasonable when the word or phrase in question is not necessary in order for some particular statement to be able to be said at all. Thus, for example, demanding that no-one criticise Israel for fear of being anti-Semitic stifles an important viewpoint, and should be disallowed. On the other hand, asking that people not refer to women as ‘cunts’ only stifles an important viewpoint if you really do think that the word ‘cunt’, with all its implications, is best way to get your viewpoint across.

I suppose in this case a better analogy of “cunt” is to “apartheid.” It’s not really necessary to invoke the word “apartheid” in reference to the situation in Israel; I manage to criticize the occupation perfectly well without having ever used it, except for one instance in which a South African UN official said so. The term itself is offensive to many people, including many who oppose the occupation, precisely because it has a strongly delegitimizing connotation. Since so much of Zionism is concerned with the very legitimacy of Israel, comparing it to such a pariah state as South Africa under apartheid touches a nerve.

In fact, I don’t use the word “apartheid” for the same reason I don’t use “cunt”: precisely because it’s so emotionally loaded. I strive for factual arguments, which is why I tend to avoid touching people’s nerves. But at the same time, I defend people who use the word “apartheid” against accusations of recklessness or anti-Semitism. Just because a group claims to be oppressed doesn’t give it the right to control anyone else’s vocabulary.

The “claims” part is crucial; although it’s possible to separate oppressed from non-oppressed groups, in practice the left tends to separate the two based primarily on political alliances. In cases of serious oppression, such as legal discrimination or economic and social inequality, there are ways to separate the two without any a priori assumption about who is oppressed and who isn’t.

And that brings me to my main point. Lived experience in such matters as gender and race is very useful as a motivating example. Betty Friedan’s research into the condition of housewives began with an observation about herself and her college class.

But just as motivating examples in mathematics aren’t proofs, so are motivating examples in social policy not evidence. The problem is that people routinely get offended over frivolities, and, in a suitably radicalizing context such as a consciousness raising group or a housegroup, turn them into very deep and utterly wrong theories about the world. Susan Brownmiller’s theory of a rape is a good example of this on a large scale.

Part of this stems from confusion between legal reasoning and scientific reasoning. The law is inherently based on anecdotes, both in its reliance on eyewitness testimony and the common law system’s emphasis on precedents. A sexual harassment lawsuit’s success depends on whether the plaintiff can produce several women independently claiming harassment by the same person or witnesses to a single act of harassment.

But that’s not a good basis for social policy. Social policy should inform the law, not the other way around. Even branches of feminist and antiracist movements that aren’t overtly policy-related are in the realm of social science, which has more statistical standards of evidence.

And that brings me back to claims that the word “cunt” is oppressive based on women’s lived experience. Lived experience is only the first step; it has to be followed with rigorous inquiry into the evidence that underlies it. For example, is there any longlasting psychological trauma associated with “cunt” (or “apartheid”) the way there is with “nigger”? Is there any evidence that in general, gender-neutral language promotes less sexism given that e.g. China is perfectly sexist even though spoken Mandarin is almost entirely non-sexist?

That, ultimately, is what matters. Anecdotes can give powerful indications a trend may hold, just like motivating examples in math can give strong evidence for a theorem that will take a hundred years to prove. But there’s a reason conjectures need to be proven to be considered full-fledged theorems.


Niche Blogging

March 13, 2007

The blog advice posts tend to emphasize the need for a niche, a specialty. Katie talked to me for over an hour trying to convince me to just find one and blog about it. The problem is, I’m not into that kind of thing at all. Or, rather, I could be, but I’d have to switch niches every two weeks to avoid getting insane. Talking to people who take the time to read my posts is worthwhile, but I don’t think they’d give me a lot of time for that at Bellevue.

My posts are an eclectic mix of math blogging, heterodox feminism, dystopian warnings of the religious right, economic policy, and Middle Eastern politics. All of these interest me just enough to have a small community of commenters interested predominantly in them – e.g. Foxy, Bean, Tyler, Bruce, and SLC respectively. So I can’t neglect any of them, which again deprives me of the niche. Being right tends to help matters, but in more serious politics it’s only an impediment.

Which again brings me to why I’m probably hours away from writing that post I owe Lynet and then officially saying I’m done. I have 33 blogs on my roll that cover among them all the topics I talk about, only generally in more detail and without segueing to entirely different issues. There’s no room for a math/secular/feminist/policy/ME blogger; that’s what feeds are for. And if it’s the writing style that counts, isn’t that independent of the particular issues covered?


Priorities Meme

March 12, 2007

This is something I’ve been intending to do for a while. It goes back to a discussion thread here about political quizzes; I’m genuinely interested in looking at people’s political views. A big part of it is priorities, which is what I want to start with at this time. Simply put, what political issues do you consider the most important?

You only have a finite number of total priority points, for lack of a better term. You can divide points among issues however you want; the interesting part is the ratios, not the absolute numbers. For example, here I’m using 100, but if you feel like using a different scale, go ahead. The idea is to list the issues you evaluate politicians, political movements, etc., based on.

If you want, you can put a position next to each issue. And finally, you can give multiple slates of answers if you follow more than one country’s politics. Obviously, EU integration is a higher priority in British and German politics than in American politics, while health care is a lower priority.

In the US, my priorities are,

Abortion – 15
Iran – 15
Eavesdropping and domestic spying – 13
Iraq – 9
Health care – 7
Immigration – 6
Free trade – 5
Farm aid – 5
Gay rights – 4
Budget balancing – 4
Stem cell research – 4
Climate change – 3
Welfare – 3
Education – 2
Alternative energy – 1
Taxes – 1
Affirmative action – 1
Military spending – 1
Minimum wage – 1

All of these track the gamut of acceptable political opinions. All other things being equal, I’d rather see a pro-life President who’s for dismantling the national security state entirely than a pro-choice President who supports a police state. But the gamut on abortion is wider than the gamut on civil liberties in the US, so abortion gets 15 points to civil liberties’ 13 even though only the latter is the subject of serious dystopian fiction.

If you respond to this on your blog, let me know by email, comment, or trackback. I’m not blogwhoring; I’m genuinely interested in archiving people’s political priorities.


Zionism and the Left

March 12, 2007

Three eons ago, I wrote something here about how both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian politics originates in the left. On 3QD I expanded this to a full-blown article about how Zionism ceased to be considered left-wing, for reasons that have nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This is important insofar as it’s always important within the left to sort groups into oppressed and non-oppressed. This is also useful in segueing into the post I promise will come very soon about lived experience; part of the appeal of lived experience is that once a group has been determined to be oppressed, it gets to define its own experience in left-wing circles.


Yearly Kos Ticket for Sale

March 11, 2007

As I said in my previous post, I’m becoming increasingly sure dropping out of the blogosphere is a good thing (well, after I finish the posts I owe people). As such, I see no reason to attend Yearly Kos, which means I have a $100 registration for the convention that I have nothing to do with. At least I haven’t reserved a flight ticket or a hotel, which would cost me another $739.

It goes like this: if you want to attend the convention, feel free to use my ticket. It’s only $100, down from $225 currently available. I burned $50 on it yesterday at a fundraiser, but that out of my own personal stupidity, so there’s no point in inflicting that cost on anyone else.

So you can freely get a ticket from me for less than half the minimum price. But the catch is that usernames for convention registration are based on email addresses, so there’s no way for me to transfer the registration to an account you solely control. I can give you the password and promise I won’t reset it unless you ask me to, but I can only give you my word.

So a possible solution is that I’ll give you the password and you’ll pay me only once you’ve received your badge at the convention. Once you have a badge, even if I shut you out of the account it won’t matter.

Any takers?


Post-Slump Links

March 11, 2007

Since every hour that passes I’m more certain I’m not going to keep blogging, here are a few good links for your perusal:

Stuart Staniford of the Oil Drum explains carefully why the Saudi production decrease is due to peak oil rather than a voluntary reduction. The minutiae of the Saudi production curve are more consistent with a post-peak slump rather than with a voluntary reduction meant to give Saudi Arabia the power to flood the market at any given time.

C. L. Hanson notes that the two basic principles of relationships – that people have the right to say no to sex and that people shouldn’t sleep with anyone but their partners – are incongruous. As such, she talks about how cheating can save relationships.

Stentor rebuts market-based arguments against environmental legislation. He explains specifically that air pollution needs to be curbed collectively since air is naturally a shared resource. This isn’t an especially novel argument – the tragedy of the commons is a recognized market failure – but some libertarians’ hostility to it requires repeating it more than should be necessary.

Melissa Franklin, Harvard’s first tenured female physics professor, speaks at a conference about women in science that has just given her an award. She recounts experiences ranging from students’ crying because they couldn’t finish their problem sets to sexual assault.


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