Tuesday, January 07, 2014

On rape

A few weeks ago I caused a fuss on Facebook by sharing a post which suggested that the responsibility for women getting raped lies with the men who rape them. Some (male) readers disagreed with that statement, suggesting that women shared the responsibility for not being raped, and that they could avoid it by changing how they dressed or staying away from certain parts of the city. One reader said that women's duty of self-care should prohibit them going to certain areas of the city, just as blacks wishing to avoid harm should not attend KKK meetings.

Here's my response.

<tl,dr> Bullshit: women are raped because men rape them, not because of where they go. Women are raped because men rape them, not because of what they wear. To say anything else exonerates men from responsibility for their actions. </tl,dr>

And now, the long version:

I object to those statements, as did most (notably: all female) commenters, for several reasons. First and foremost, their words make rape an accepted facet of urban life — on a par with traffic accidents or dogshit on the pavement. Stating that rape can be avoided by not going downtown (or wherever) is a statement that women who do go downtown should expect to be raped there (as if the men in that area were exempt from moral and legal standards).

No part of any city should ever be off-bounds to any citizen. Anything less than that is an intolerable civic failure which must be corrected.

Furthermore, the KKK is a false analogy: city streets are not private places, and walking to one's car is different from attending a meeting behind closed doors. It would be very difficult for a black man accidentally to walk into a session of the KKK: there aren't many such sessions, and by and large they do not take place outdoors on city streets, and when they *do* in the form of a rally, the huge burning crosses are a pretty clear warning. Rapists don't carry warning signs with them.

It's also simply incorrect: rape is not about geography. Women are raped in parks and on riverbanks, in elevators, in shopping malls and in parking garages and in university libraries, in airports and on trains, in nice suburbs and in gentrified "artistic" neighbourhoods.

The second statement was that women who dress "provocatively" should expect to be raped. I'm sorry but I'll have to ask you to explain what that word means here. I know what provocation is, and I don't see how it applies. Did her short dress insult your mother? Does her sexy blouse belittle your golf score? Was her visible panty line rude about your wife's cooking? This too is nonsense, and men hearing it should feel insulted because it states that you are unable to control yourselves: one glimpse of a thigh and the inner barbarian *must* rage out to perform violence. Are you really that weak-willed, guys?

Here's an exercise for anyone who thinks that sexy clothes cause rape: Have you ever seen a woman who was dressed (in your opinion) in a way that was "sexy" or "provocative"? I'm willing to guess that the answer is yes. Question: did you rape her? I'm willing to guess that the answer is no. Why not? If a woman's clothing really does inevitably causes men to rape them, then why did *you* not rape her? Think about that.

It's also simply incorrect: dull clothing is no protection. Women are raped wearing sweatpants and t-shirts. Women are raped while wearing jogging outfits. Women are even raped while wearing head-to-toe burkas that reveal nothing but their eyes! Google "what I was wearing when I was raped" if you want to see some examples. Here's one to start with.

My neighbour was raped in her own bedroom by a man who scaled the scaffolding on the next house along, jumped onto her balcony and broke in.

Tell me, please, what should she have worn to avoid that? Which part of town should she have stayed away from?

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Eight things

Eight things you didn't know about me (demanded by Stephanie).

1. Whenever I walk past a door or window-that-could-be-walked-through that should be shut, I give it a push or a pull to confirm that it is. This can happen several times an hour.

2. I alternate between rising very early and staying up very late, over a cycle of many years. For the last five or six years it's been the late phase, presently my usual bedtime is around 2am.

3. There's always a song playing in my head, from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep. Right now, for example, it's "La Vie en Rose".

4. There isn't a day that I do not berate myself for cowardice, laziness, stupidity or all three.

5. I talk to myself in three languages, depending on which inner voice is speaking to whom.

6. I'm very numerate: I can do math in my head as fast as some people can use a calculator, and I can usually tell whether a three-digit number is prime or not just by looking at it. Despite this, I feel that I am bad at math.

6a. I love the concept of cognitive dissonance.

7. My memories are fully engrossing, presented in all senses. When I remember standing on the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence, I don't just have the view, I remember also the wind on my face and the smell of the cypress trees and how sore my feet were and the taste of the ice cream (lemon) that I ate there.

7a. This kind of engrossing memory often happens while I'm walking around town, I will spend several seconds with my attention completely occupied by an afternoon in Italy 35 years ago. While this happens I will continue to walk along the route I set out on, without stumbling or being hit by a car or walking into other pedestrians. I call this "autopilot", and it fascinates me.

8. I can (and do) pick things up with my toes.


Thursday, October 03, 2013


Why does the GOP hate health care reform? Simple: look where the savings actually come from: reducing the amount of money people pay insurance companies. Health care reform would reduce the insurers' profits.

Rich people stand to lose money.

That is abhorrent to a Republican. They don't give a shit about your health or your finances or which doctor you see; the GOP is protecting the wealth of its owners.

That they are able to sell "I will take money from relatively poor people and give it to enormously rich people" as being for the benefit of those relatively poor people speaks volumes about the quality of information in the American media and the integrity of its journalists.

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Cognitive assonance

Cognitive dissonance is the distress and confusion that sane people experience when they discover that they are holding two beliefs which contradict each other.

We need a word which expresses the opposite of that for people who hold contradictory beliefs while experiencing no distress or confusion whatsoever, either because they don't understand the contradiction or because they are actively ignoring it since both beliefs serve greater ideals (using the word loosely) which they cannot bear to have examined.

A particular subset of Americans justify their ideal of reducing the power of government through the belief that their government is incompetent, ill-informed, slow to act, and clumsy when it does act.

The same people justify their ideal of freely bearing arms through the belief that their government is supernaturally competent, omniscient*, swift to act, and brutally efficient when it does act.


* Not that they would know the word, generally.

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Signs of Spring

This is a compendium of posts from another place, gathered here for your convenience.

(March 20)
I guess it is Spring after all. I saw a ladybug and killed a mosquito yesterday.

(April 12)
Signs of Spring: moving the plants outdoors again.

(April 14)
Just had coffee and cake in bright sunshine, in the garden behind the office. I'd say that it is a good 12 °C (20 °F) warmer than on Friday. Perhaps this is finally Spring?

(April 15)
1. The lizards have emerged from hibernation and were sunning themselves on the stone wall by the railway gardens as I walked to lunch.

2. Over the span of a single weekend I went from walking on the north side of the street to enjoy the warmth of the sun, to walking on the south side of the street to avoid the heat of the sun.

(April 16)
3. Hay fever. Ah well, it can't all be golden.

4. The local restaurants have budded out, covering the sidewalks in tables and chairs.

(April 17)
5. Eating icecream outdoors in the garden behind the office, in shirt-sleeves.

(April 18)
6. It takes ages for the water to run hot, because the heating is off.

(April 19)
7. Cold rain on the weekend. Eh, whatever.

(April 23)
8. Feeling a tickle on my arm at work, and looking down to see an ant wandering along between the hairs.

(April 24)
9. The joyful shrieks of the kids at the daycare centre, as the pretty brunette caregiver hoses them down in the garden.

10. Dandelions, hundreds and hundreds of them, covering the road and railside verges.

11. Eating an icecream cone as I walk back to work after lunch. (Maracuja / Peach Cream, since you asked).)

12. Magnolias!

(April 25)
13. Comfortably wearing a short-sleeved shirt to work.

(May 1)
14. Entering the yellow phase. Tulips, daffodils, goldenrod, other stuff I can't name.

15. The swifts (not swallows) are back! Heard (and saw) them screeching and wheeling above the rooftops today. Bliss.

(May 2)
16. A fragment of eggshell on the pavement, quite small; the palest turquoise with tiny flecks of fox-orange.

17. A bright blue butterfly crossing my path.

(May 6)
18. Towering clouds stacking up miles high into the sky.

18a. And rapidly turning very dark indeed, and giving forth much lightning and thunder.

18b. And me hurrying to get home before the storm, making it to the very streetcorner of my block before the first drops fell.

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

On improving password security

It occurs to me that password security could be simply but greatly enhanced if the systems were to consider not only what we type but how we type it. I just had one of those strange standing-outside-yourself moments as I watched my hands entering my password for WoW, and realized that the way I type is nearly as distinctive as what I typed. A system that ignored the letters and paid attention to the "granularity" of my typing (speed, hesitations, keystrokes that run together) would identify me pretty well too. My WoW password is:

one two, three, four-five-six, seven, eight-nine ten

Anybody who had discovered the letters of my password and was typing while reading them would be typing very differently indeed, probably:

one two three, four five six, seven eight nine, ten

Not even remotely a match.

Software companies: start your engines.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


Just had a strange little brain fart (as we in the trade call it). To set the scene, I'm in the kitchen intending to make tea. The teapot is sitting there with its lid on, still holding the dregs of last night's cuppa. Next to it is the coffee maker, and next to that the kettle which is coming to boil. While standing around, I notice that the coffee maker is closed, and intuit that this morning's used filter is still in it. So I open the little door and take the filter out, toss it in the bin, and walk to where the tealeaves are waiting — next to the coffee filters. I pick up a coffee filter and put it in the maker, then go back to get the tealeaves. I measure two teaspoons of leaves into the filter … and then suddenly wake up because I am caught in a dilemma. Two is the right number of spoonfuls-of-tealeaves, but the wrong number of spoonfuls-of-stuff-in-a-coffee-filter. I don't know what to do!

Fascinating to see one's thought processes at work.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Spring, almost

At home, having a day off while the boss is in the Black Forest. Listening to the sound of birdsong through the open window, for the first time in 2013. Spring surprises and delights me afresh every year, this sudden transition from silence to symphony, from absence to abundant presence, from stillness to activity, from midafternoon darkness to the Blaue Stunde as I walk home after work.

I saw a wonderful thing a few days ago, walking to lunch. To set the scene: it was the first day of nearly-Spring: crisp weather, bright sun and a perfectly clear sky. As I was walking down the street, I noticed a trio of hawks circling above the trees in the churchyard. They were flying very low, just clearing the rooftops, and I imagined that they were scouting for nesting sites. I watched for a while, and then my eye was caught by a strange rapid flicker of light overhead, way up high in the sky, like the tiniest imaginable strobe lights going on and off. It took me a while to figure out what I was looking at, but I eventually resolved it into a pair of V's of black-winged cranes flying north over the city, returning from their winter grounds in Africa. They were so high that I could only see them as dots: black left wing, white body, black right wing. The flicker was their wings flapping, briefly covering the white of their bellies.

It was the most incredible sight. I watched for several minutes until they were finally out of sight.

It was like a message from Life, saying "don't give up."

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Victoria BC

Starting a new year in a new place. Sis and BIL have moved from Regina and are now living and working in Victoria, on the Pacific coast. As I write I can see the sun glinting off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Olympic Mountains behind that. I think I'll miss Regina, but this seems a very pleasant place to live.

I wasn't intending to be here, actually, I should have been back home in Germany a week ago. But there's no work that particularly needs doing, and my mother asked me to accompany them on their annual pilgrimage away from the depths of the Torontonian winter. By the time I leave on Thursday I will have been here a full month, 19th to 18th. I will be so very happy to get home and be able to close a door behind myself. I love my family, but my gods I really need some time alone.

My father continues his slow decline. There are some days when his hands shake so badly he can hardly feed himself. His handwriting, once elegant, is as scratchy and wobbly as a four-year-old's. Some days he can walk without his cane, others he wobbles even with the cane and needs to take a rest after walking from bathroom to sofa. He needs help getting dressed — hell, he needs to be reminded where his clothes are kept.

Probably most distressing to him is that he's losing the ability to converse: his memory is so bad that he forgets what he was saying before he reaches the end of a sentence. This is in part because he tries to speak elegantly and properly but is losing his vocabulary, so he spends all his attention on recovering the right word and loses the thread of his thought.

Mom cannot face his condition, she flips between supportive sympathy and harsh cruel-to-be-kind determination. She will not consider any alternatives to staying home to take care of him, even as she bemoans that she has no life of her own because she is compelled to stay home and take care of him.

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Saturday, December 01, 2012


Were someone to ask me to curate a collection of [pick a number] significant human-made objects, one of the first to come on board would be a pull-toy mouse from the British Museum's Egyptian collection. I'm not sure of the date, but the number "4000" is in there somewhere: either 4000 BCE or four thousand years old; I tend to the former. It's small, not much bigger than lifesize, and fairly crude, as you might expect of something made with technologies that were around then: clay body tapering to a point, little wheels for the feet, and a string to pull it by. It's a very simple object, dusty and dull even by the elevated standards of the British Museum, and I am certain that many visitors never notice it. I find it evocative and deeply moving, and it would have pride of place in my collection.

(Reminded of this by reading Celia Pearce's "Communities of Play")