Emotions Are Not The Enemy

When I was an adolescent, I really wanted to be Mr. Spock. I thought that being hyper-logical and unemotional would be far better than being hyper-logical and hyper-emotional. I think there is a particular kind of self-loathing that kids develop when they’re far more intellectually developed than they are emotionally developed, like I was, and it can result in an extreme distrust of emotions and things that are not strictly logical. It took me going through and coming out of an extreme depression to realize that treating emotions as the enemy wasn’t only kind of stupid, but it was also really unhealthy.

Sci-Five!

I think that there is a lot of this in the atheist/skeptic community. I don’t want to fall into the fallacy that women are more compassionate than men, but I do think that the lack of large numbers of women doesn’t help. The association of emotions with women is so strong that it seems many people are uncomfortable with thinking of emotions as important empirically, or important in comparison with logic. It’s not just men who don’t want to be seen as weak, women are also afraid of being seen as stereotypically female and not as rational as men.

Today, Hemant at The Friendly Atheist posted about a woman who, at the hands of her religious upbringing, was taught to be so ashamed of her body that she was unable to breastfeed because she was so uncomfortable with her breasts. Hemant made a real effort to give a feminist response – women have the right to choose what to do with their bodies and it’s not his place to make those decisions for someone else – but he also said “It’s ultimately her choice, but I think I’d feel more comfortable about her decision (as if it matters what I think) if there was a more scientific rationale behind it.”

I recognize in blogging you often say things off the cuff that, given a little more thought, you probably would have worded differently, but I have to say I was a bit flabbergasted that Hemant would dismiss dealing with trauma as lacking in “scientific rationale”, as though any decision made based on emotion is necessarily irrational and therefore bad. And I should say I’ve no reason to think that he wants to change the language, but I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. I love Hemant, I love his blog, I can only assume the best of him, so I hope that the way he worded it wasn’t the way he meant it.

Stop Being so Illogical!

I feel like the atheist/skeptic community does a lot of dismissing of people’s feelings. It happens whenever a woman brings up feeling uncomfortable, underrepresented, or underserved by the community. It happens whenever people point out the small number of minorities, or being uncomfortable by perceived racism. There’s something about emotions that seems to really bother people. If nothing else, I think it isn’t useful to dismiss someone’s feelings as invalid, no matter how wrong you’re sure they are.  Perhaps it’s too difficult a line to walk, but treating people’s emotions as something they should be embarrassed by isn’t only cruel, it doesn’t serve any useful purpose. Ideas and behavior are things worth critiquing, but someone’s emotions cannot be invalid, you cannot argue with someone that they can’t feel something, that’s not how it works. How they respond to their feelings? Yes, that’s fair game, but that they have feelings at all isn’t something you get to say is bad.

Cheer Up Emo Kid!

I can’t help but look at the traditional associations of emotion with women and children and logic with men and be a bit bothered by all this from a feminist perspective. I don’t think it’s conscious, but it seems like because emotions are seen as girly they are also seen as unimportant and weak. And if something is logical or rational, it is manly and strong and important. It’s not limited to this community, but also a lot of my friends who are interested in film, a group that is dominated by men as well. When a movie is technically impressive, it is important, but if a movie relies on emotions, it is not. The King’s Speech shouldn’t have won the Oscar because it’s just a story about emotions, not a technical feat like Inception or The Social Network, because emotions aren’t important.  That’s why some movies go to Lifetime and some go to Spike TV.

I ultimately decided that Spock was more irrational than people because he treated the emotional experience as invalid. Although dedicated to logic, Spock never took the extra step and accepted that human emotion was rational, and existed for rational reasons, and that to dismiss it was very limiting. Ignoring the importance of emotion and emotional health isn’t actually a rational way to deal with people. To pretend that human emotions don’t matter or aren’t important, to dismiss mental health as a non-scientific reason for pursuing a course of action… it is most illogical.

Ashley’s 2010 top 10

Since I’ve just watched all of the Oscars out of some sort of masochistic impulse, I felt like I should do my top 10 list of the year.

1. I Love You, Phillip Morris

2. The King’s Speech

3. The Social Network

4. Waiting for Superman

5. How to Train Your Dragon

6. Black Swan

7. Harry Potter 7.1

8. The Karate Kid

9. Despicable Me

10. Freakonomics

Movies I still need to see:

Made in Dagenham, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, Red, Let Me In, Easy A, Tangled, Toy Story 3, Kick Ass, 127 Hours, True Grit, Winter’s Bone, Four Lions, Flipped, Never Let Me Go, Secretariat, Get Him to the Greek, The Runaways, Ramona and Beezus, Nanny McPhee Returns

I don’t understand religion part 923

How can a person hold these two thoughts in their head?

1. The universe is too complex to simply exist, it must have been created

2. God, something so complex it can create and control universes, doesn’t require a creator

It seems to me that you can have two viewpoints that are internally consistent.  You can believe either:

1. Complicated things can exist without a creator, allowing the possibility of a universe without a creator and the possibility of God or

2. Everything complicated requires a creator, demanding a creator of the universe but denying the possibility of God at the same time

I just had this question with someone who is not a stupid person.  I know that atheist readers sometimes have difficulty grasping that not stupid people can believe in God, I myself have that difficulty at times, but I just cannot understand the complete lack of logic there.  Not only that, but the inability of the person in question to grasp the logic fail of saying that “everything must have a cause, except God” which means that not everything must have a cause, which means there’s no need for God.

Here is a place where it is laid out in much fuller detail, but if anyone can explain to me how those two thoughts exist inside the head of a not stupid person, please do, because he sure couldn’t.

The break up alert phenomenon

Broken heart or perfect opportunity?

Originally posted at Social Axcess

One of the most difficult things about the rapid expansion of social media is the explosion of data that it provides without any real simple solutions to accessing histories or things you’d particularly like to access. This void in the world of Facebook and Twitter has all but invited others to come in and try to take advantage, to offer services that one would think Facebook or Twitter would be providing for you. Because of the sheer volume of updates and information, it is difficult to track down some information that you’d like to have and no social media network seems to be trying to make it easier.

Enter apps like “Break Up Alert”, an app that is approaching a million users despite being only a few days old. All the app does is inform you on changes in your friends’ relationship statuses, something that would normally be in your News Feed but might get lost in the crush of status updates. And it let’s you personalize it –is there a hot girl you know who’s been dating some loser, well you can add them to a list that will focus on people you’re particularly interested in. Sort of a stalker-light sort of program –it takes the work out of stalking.

Now, this is bringing up all the privacy concerns that many people have brought forward about Facebook, but it’s just making access to available information slightly more straightforward. This ability to monitor particular behavior from particular users in Facebook is really useful, though. Unlike keyword searching in Twitter or scrubbing your feeds, this allows you to find something your interested in and be always updated every time something changes

I think we’ll probably be seeing a lot of personalized update systems like this for social networks to allow people to find and be alerted to things they’re interested in. Say you’re interested in movies, there could be an app that consolidates any time someone in your friend group recommends or pans a movie they’ve seen. Or use it the other way, if there’s content you hate, you could block it from your News Feed. Hate constant updates about church on Sunday? Block them. There are so many useful ways to play with data and feeds that I can only hope that people who are better at programming than I am get in on it soon – I’ve got more ideas, call me!

Socioclean is Retarded (it’s satire!)

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I was introduced to a new service for social media called Socioclean.  The basic premise of this service is that it crawls through all your Facebook updates and pulls out anything with any offensive content with a link to delete it.  Bad words, sexual comments, anything that it thinks is racist, drug or alcohol related, or just offensive generally, it pulls.

On the plus side, the application is really easy to use.  You just sign up for the service and then give permission from your Facebook account and it goes through everything for free.  It generates a report that’s easy to read, but this is also where a lot of questions come forward.  The search is not intelligent, it rates everything the same regardless of whether the context makes it offensive or not.

Some things it found offensive: the “ho” part of “yo ho, a pirate’s life for me” (sexual content), talking about vitamin pills (drug/alcohol use), the word “pregnancy” (sexual content), same-sex marriage (sexual content), discussion of melatonin (racist), discussion of my pallor(racist), discussion of a wrongly imprisoned woman (aggressive), and what kind of pot one should use for a recipe (drug/alcohol use).  Other phrases one assumes it would pick up negatively “drunk on power”, “lottery balls”, the name “Dick”, “spotted dick”, and “Osama’s homobortion pot ‘n commie jizzporium“.

It can’t distinguish between me saying that Rush Limbaugh used the word “retarded”, which Sarah Palin said was ok because it’s satire, and me using the word “retarded” to describe Sarah Palin, which is ok because she said it was satire.  It also counts against you any comments by friends on your page, so if you’re buddy asks “Wtf”, you get a hit for using bad words – I confess it never occurred to me that “wtf” would be considered offensive by someone.  And it has no sense of humor “Screw cuss free week” was flagged as “sexual”, despite the fact that the entire point is to encourage cuss words.  I mean really. 

It did not, however, pull up a lot of things that probably were actually offensive in my profile.  I talk about religion, atheism, gay rights, feminism, lots of smack about right-wing politics and probably every other link I post is offensive, though it doesn’t flag them at all.  Any Fox News viewer looking to hire someone is going to be resolutely not impressed with me.  But then I foolishly subscribe to the online mantra originated by Elbert Hubbart, “To escape criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” 

That I received an “F” grade for all the former things and not for the latter makes me question the usefulness of the service, if it really is just using keyword search to determine whether things are offensive it seems to both expand the list and specify context.  The site doesn’t store your data, meaning it has to run a full new analysis every time you want to look, which is irritating but I suppose a useful safety feature.  It does allow you to ignore certain finds, but that doesn’t seem to impact the data analysis it gives you, just lets you look at fewer things on your offensive list. 

Is this useful?  Yes and no.  You’re going to see a list of things that a third party may find offensive, and it goes all the way back to 2005 for my profile.  On the other hand, it misses a lot of things that are offensive, doesn’t flag bad grammar, ALL CAPS, or txt spk, and seems to be about 90% things that are only offensive if you’re not fluent in the English language.

Youtube for Non-Profits

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Expanded from original post at Social Axcess.

I am a big fan of the arts and, particularly, the arts in education.  I’ve spent a lot of time in my life either working on the business side of arts, like in film, or volunteering in artistic communities or for arts groups.  I think people are drawn to causes because they have personal meaning to them in addition to doing good, and I grew up in the arts community.  Creative pursuits made public school very nearly bearable and, in addition to my own anecdotal evidence, many studies support the fact that access to arts has a major positive impact on grades and scholastic success.

The site I write for is about Social Media, with a bent towards businesses, and while most of what they post seems to be aimed at for-profit businesses with a product to sell, non-profits can use a lot of the same tools to make themselves more successful. For example, in the state of South Carolina, the new governor, Nikki Haley, has threatened to completely cut the budget for the Arts Commission and ETV/NPR Public TV and Radio. In response, the Arts Commission has engaged in a small scale social and traditional media blitz, particularly on Facebook, that’s meant a lot of calls and e-mails to the representatives of the state and some spinoff groups joining the cause.  (Full disclosure: I’ve volunteered for SCAC on multiple occasions)

I bring this up not to toot the SCAC or etv’s horn — before the budget is finalized, it’s unclear how successful they’ve been — but because YouTube is launching it’s 5th Annual DoGooder Non-Profit Video Awards and it’s reminded me of how important it is for non-profits to exploit the same marketing and advertising tools that any business has access to. For the YouTube competition, The Case Foundation will give out $10,000 in grants to video winners and they’ll all be featured on the homepage of YouTube –advertising probably worth way more than $10,000 in eyeballs.

YouTube has also launched a page for non-profits which will be a channel dedicated to sharing non-profit messages. Joining not only gives you exposure, but access to Video Volunteers to help make your video a reality if your organization finds the process of making videos out of their reach. There are also lots of tips and guides, so if you’re a non-profit thinking about expanding your online presence, you could do a lot worse than starting with youtube.

This is, of course, great for any non-profit not just the arts.  I think any atheist, secular, gay rights, womens rights, or any of the absurd things I support could benefit, so if you’re associated with one, spread the word.

16-20 75 Book Challenge – Snicket, Fry and Collins

16. The Grim Grotto – Lemony Snicket

At this point, I felt that the series started to lose momentum.  It’s not that the series hasn’t been absurd and over the top throughout, but I felt like there was a big tone shift to a sort of fantasy series rather than a mystery series.  In this book, the orphans end up on a submarine trying to find a missing sugar bowl that Olaf cannot be allowed to get to first.  Perhaps the sea just seems less Victorian than the rest of the series, but I didn’t enjoy it as much.  At the end of the book, the kid’s have once again lost allies and are fending for themselves.  B

“People aren’t either wicked or noble,” the hook-handed man said. “They’re like chef’s salad, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.”

17. The Penultimate Peril – Lemony Snicket

This book introduces a couple characters I wish they’d spent more time with — Daniel Denouement and Kit Snicket.  The kids learn a lot more about VFD and what went wrong and end up spying on any number of familiar faces from throughout the series.  They end up, however, joining forces with Count Olaf to escape being imprisoned or killed and the book ends with them adrift at sea with the count, but of their own choice, not as kidnapees.  B

As I am sure you know, when people say “It’s my pleasure”, they usually mean something along the lines of, “There’s nothing on Earth I would rather do less.

18. The End – Lemony Snicket

The final installment is sort of a Robinsoe Crusoe intrigue on an island out at sea.  This is perhaps the simplest of the books, in terms of perils faced and places seen.  It is the culmination of the theme of how people are morally ambiguous and that safety isn’t always to be preferred to freedom.  The conclusion of the story isn’t particularly satisfactory, but it suits Handler’s tone and worldview rather well.  B

Perhaps if we saw what was ahead of us, and glimpsed the crimes, follies, and misfortunes that would befall us later on, we would all stay in our mother’s wombs, and there would be nobody in the world but a great number of very fat, very irritated women.

19. Moab is my Washpot – Stephen Fry

If you haven’t heard me gush over my love for Stephen Fry before now, then you haven’t been paying attention.  He is the smartest, wittiest, funniest, fabulousest, darlingest man in all the world and my favorite celebrity personality perhaps ever.  Stephen Fry is truly a marvel and nothing makes this “how is this possible”ness of it more clear than this account of his first 20 years.  Fry was an upper middle class pampered little bastard — he compulsively stole, hoarded sweeties and was indulgently and unrelentingly self-loathing and loathsome.  No doubt some of this — particularly the crushing depression that led to his suicide attempt and crime spree that got him thrown in jail — was an early manifestation of his bipolar disorder and struggle with being gay and Jewish.  But it is stunning to read so accurate a telling of the embarrassing overflow of emotions that is adolescence, with all the warts and horror of that time so well fleshed out and described.  I cannot over-recommend this book.  A

Have quotes:

As I go clowning my sentimental way into eternity, wrestling with all my problems of estrangement and communion, sincerity and simulation, ambition and acquiescence, I shuttle between worrying whether I matter at all and whether anything else matters but me.

No adolescent ever wants to be understood, which is why they complain about being misunderstood all the time.

I have always disbelieved that Sicilian saying about revenge being a dish best served cold. I feel that–don’t you?–when I see blinking, quivering octogenarian Nazi war criminals being led away in chains. Why not then? It’s too late now. I want to see them taken back in time and punished then…Blame, certainly, is a dish only edible when served fresh and warm. Old blames, grudges and scores congeal and curdle and cause the most terrible indigestion.

20. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

I’ve had this book recommended to me by three separate book websites that I frequent, but no on I know has read it.  When I saw it for $5 on kindle I thought I might as well read it.  I’ve now finished the trilogy, they’re very good books.  They have a similarity in tone and concept to Battle Royale and Running Man but it’s hard to believe the book is only three years old, it reads as much a classic as The Giver.  A group of kids are selected each year to fight to the death for the entertainment of the populace and as a way to keep the underclasses under control.  The main character is a 16 year old girl from the poorest part of the country and she must pretend to be in love with a boy, manipulating his and the viewer’s emotions, to survive the games. A

11-15 75 Book Challenge – Lemony Snicket and Werleman

11. God Hates You, Hate Him Back – CJ Werleman

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this book, but I can’t say that I really enjoyed it that mut tch.  I’m a big fan of snark and well-worded contempt — I’m pretty sure that’s generally considered a failing, particularly by the DBAD crowd, but I found myself really turned off by the tone of this book.  I suppose I should have known based on the title, buhe lack of restraint or particular cleverness in some of the commentary just bored me.  Perhaps because I was reading Jason Long’s book at the same time or perhaps because I had read most of the other sources he uses.  It does a very thorough job, chapter by chapter through the Bible, which is its greatest strength, and I certainly learned some interesting things, particularly about the New Testament, which I’ve never managed to absorb very thoroughly.  Werleman leans very heavily on Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris in this book, which I found tedious at times.  There were also some fairly basic grammatical and spelling errors.  It does heartily support my opinion that the judeochristianislamomormon god is a huge asshole.  If hell is the absence of that god’s capricious loathsome presence, sign me up.  C

12. The Vile Village – Lemony Snicket

Back in the dark days of thesis pre-pro at film school, a traumatic time I’ve almost succeeded in erasing from my memory, I started listening to the Lemony Snicket books on tape because I’d really enjoyed the film.  I only got through the sixth in the 13 book long series before film school ate my brains.  I never went back to finish them, but I found the kindle copies for free, so I thought I’d pick them back up and hopefully I remembered what I’d listened to three years ago.  Surprisingly, I remembered it like I’d just finished the books yesterday, which makes me worry about my actual ability to scrub the horrors of film school from my brain.  If you’ve been under a rock, the series follows the Baudelaire orphans who stand to inherit a large fortune but are constantly hunted by the evil Count Olaf, who wants to steal it.  They have a lot of dark adventures which inevitably lead to tragedy and loss.  They also slowly uncover evidence of a massive conspiracy that they are somehow at the center of.  In The Vile Village they’ve escaped from Olaf at a horrible boarding school, but he’s kidnamed their only friends, the Quagmire triplets, two welathy orphans who lost their parents and third triplet in a mysterious fire.  The Baudelaire’s are adopted by an entire village which is filled with crows and which proceeds to turn them into chore slaves.  They get messages from the triplets and proceed to rescue them and nearly escape on a balloon — the Quagmire’s make it to freedom, but the Baudelaire’s do not, and are forced to run across a great nothingness to escape Olaf and the village.  These books are hard to review — they’re gothic mystery books for kids, fast-paced, full of adventure, and very dark — if that sounds appealing then you’ll love them.  A

A cloud of dust is not a beautiful thing to look at. Very few painters have done portraits of huge clouds of dust or included them in their landscapes or still lifes. Film directors rarely choose huge clouds of dust to play the lead roles in romantic comedies, and as far as my research has shown, a huge cloud of dust has never placed higher than twenty-fifth in a beauty pageant.

13. The Hostile Hospital – Lemony Snicket

In this episode, the orphans end up at a hospital trying to learn more about VFD, the mysterious organization it seems both Olaf and their parents were a part of.  Olaf finds them and tries to cut off Violet’s head, but the orphans discover that someone survived the fire and end up escaping by getting into the trunk of Olaf’s car.  THis isn’t quite as riveting and the extras not as colorful or lovable as in the other books.  B+

There are many things in this world I do not know. I do not know how butterflies get out of their cocoons without damaging their wings. I do not know why anyone would boil vegetables when roasting them is much tastier. I do not know how to make olive oil, and I do not know why dogs bark before an earthquake, and I do not know why some people voluntarily choose to climb mountains where it is freezing and difficult to breathe, or live in the suburbs, where the coffee is watery and all of the houses look alike.

14. The Carnivorous Carnival – Lemony Snicket

The kids end up at a carnival with freaks and a fortune teller.  They disguise themselves as freaks and find an alley who ends up turning on them and then getting eaten by lions.  They are kidnapped by Olaf and stolen away after being forced to set fire to the carnival and to a room which may have answers to many of their questions.  THis book introduces some moral ambiguity, which becomes a key theme for the rest of the series, and the characters in the books therefore become a lot more interesting, complex and confusing.  A

The sad truth is that the truth is sad.

Miracles are like meatballs because nobody knows what they are made of, where they came from or how often they should appear.

15. The Slippery Slope – Lemony Snicket

This is my favorite of the series.  It introduces Quigley, the previously thought dead Quagmire triplet and survivor of the fire, and the kids learn a lot about the VFD organization.  There’s a little young romance, plenty of adventure and mystery, and more moral questions about the backgrounds and fates of the characters.  The kids escape Olaf, but get separated from Quigley at the end.  A

Having an aura of menace is like having a pet weasel, because you rarely meet someone who has one, and when you do it makes you want to hide under the coffee table.

Response to a ‘Correction’

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As you all know, I’ve been reporting on Social Media for a website called Social Axcess.  I reported on the iPhone confession app, which allows you to figure out which sins you need to confess, and I got a somewhat heated reply from one of the founders of GSMI, the company that owns the blog. His name is Luke Vince and he felt the need to ‘correct’ my article, call me myopic, and spell my name without my middle initial. Perhaps it is madness to argue with company higher ups, but I’m afraid I’m terrible at resisting the temptation to get into a good online discussion.

Usually when I see the word correction, I must confess, I think that there has been some sort of editorial or factual error in another article, but it seems that what this actually is is simply a difference of perspective.

His first ‘correction’, in response to my claim that it’s been a rough couple of years for the church, is that the current assaults (really?) by the “new atheist” (his quotes) movement are nothing new, the church is growing in some places, and always emerges stronger from strife.  These are non-sequiturs, he is arguing against a point I never made.  Regardless of the history of the church or its ability to bounce back, it has been a rough couple of years for it.

The church is shrinking in the West where the majority of its funds come from, and growing in the East, South America and Africa. It is losing members of the priesthood and interest in joining the priesthood, facing a major shortage of priests. It is facing constant negative media pressure because of the sex scandals. I nowhere claimed that the current problems it’s facing are the worst in its history or impossible to recover from, but it would be myopic indeed to pretend that they didn’t exist.

He also says, in response to my claim that the church is slow to respond to things like changing moral opinions and the AIDS crisis, that it is because the church doesn’t succumb to whims or move quickly and that this has served them well.  Obviously, we also disagree on whether slowness to respond to current problems is an admirable devotion to tradition or a dangerous resolution to keep its head in the sand. But we don’t disagree on the actual fact, which is that the church is slow to change.  The glacial response time in condemning nazis, condemning the inquisition, and addressing the complaints of Martin Luther seem to me to show a devotion to slowness that is neither good for the church nor moral.

His final complaint, excuse me, ‘correction’, is that the confession app doesn’t replace any sacraments but rather is an aide to helping Catholics figure out how they’ve sinned.  Nowhere did I say the confession app replaced anything and we agree on the fact that it is a good move for the church, we simply disagree on how laughable it is.  I can’t imagine belonging to an organization that has so many silly rules that I need assistance in figuring out if I’ve broken them or not.

Perhaps I am most disappointed, however, that the writer felt the need to personalize his defense as an attack on me but proceeded not to make one point in response to anything I actually wrote.