Repost: Specialist Envy

This is a slightly expanded version of a very old post of mine. I have even more reason these days to understand why feeling this way is silly. I still feel this way.

I am not a specialist. I’m a generalist and a good one.

My primary skill is learning. I break unfamiliar tasks down quickly and optimize and mechanize processes. I read material aimed beyond my knowledge because I can mostly fill in background from what’s implied as well as what’s stated, and I know how to spot what I’m missing and have to look up. I synthesize and extrapolate ridiculously well.

Drop me into unfamiliar chaos, and I start tidying, building a coherent whole from the scattered pieces, even while my hindbrain screams in panic that the task is impossible. I take complicated projects from beginning to end. I come out having learned more, and the projects come out just fine. Sometimes they come out better, because I add something no one else would have thought something like this needed.

I do some of everything, and I do it well, if not outstandingly. It’s just what I do.

But oh, I must admit to a bit of the generalist’s envy of specialists. Continue reading “Repost: Specialist Envy”

Repost: Specialist Envy
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Mock the Movie: Crossover Edition

This Wednesday, we’re doing a Mock the Movie special event. The Curly Hair Mafia are joining us for extra snark and science. Real science. Not the kind you’ll find in the movie. The Curly Hair Mafia are a trio of scientists who show no pity for either bad science or bad assumptions about who a movie’s audience is. We expect them to have plenty to say about this movie.

What? Oh, which movie? The Core. It’s bad. It’s very bad. We’ll all tell you just how bad this Wednesday.

This one is available on Netflix. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Crossover Edition”

Mock the Movie: Crossover Edition

Saturday Storytime: The Destroyer

Tara Isabella Burton reminds us that every unhappy family is uniquely unhappy–though some people may find some resonance with this mother and daughter in an alternate Rome.

Long before my mother destroyed the world, her experiments were quieter, more contained. They did not obliterate continents. They did not rack up the dead.

She began as a domestic researcher in the household of an Umbrian merchant, engineering fish with mirrored scales. She told me how he loved to see his own face reflected, one and then a thousand and then another hundred times; how he filled the fountains with so many that there was no room to breathe or swim; how she woke up one morning to find that they had devoured one another, and left the fountains overflowing with blood.

He did not recognize her genius. For him she was only a carnival magician: a maker of flower stems that shattered like glass, and three-headed dogs, and the many-faced prisms that years later gave me nightmares of mirrors that did not end. Women’s work, he said. Not science. Continue reading “Saturday Storytime: The Destroyer”

Saturday Storytime: The Destroyer

Frivolous Friday: Manly Bratwurst

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Enjoy!

A while back, I tweeted:

Blue cheese is a potent force in the world, people. Don’t underestimate it.

After some discussion on social media, I determined to make up for my moment of weakness by posting a review of the bratwurst here. After all, no one else should be tempted past their endurance the way I was without knowing that giving in comes with a reward. So here we are.

Grand fluff aside, our grocer was having a special on Man Cave meats. I rolled my eyes at the portmanbro of their name, but I was curious what they had on offer. I saw this.

Photo of a package of bratwurst on a wooden counter.
Yes, that’s a package of buffalo bratwurst with blue cheese in it. Yes, it says it’s “craft meats”. Yes, I am sometimes susceptible to foodie marketing even when it comes wrapped in testosterone and has “No girlz” signs out front. Continue reading “Frivolous Friday: Manly Bratwurst”

Frivolous Friday: Manly Bratwurst

Both and Neither: On the Utility of Multiple Models

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons a couple of months ago. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

There are arguments, common arguments, that I’m entirely done with. They can’t be won–the social reason for having an argument–and the debate does little to nothing to clarify the issues–the epistemological reason for arguing. That makes them pointless except as practice debates, and I get quite enough practice on issues I still hold some hope of settling.

What kind of debates am I talking about? These are arguments like modernism versus postmodernism or whether our actions are socially determined or chosen by us. The debates around these topics go on endlessly with much heat and very little light. Proponents of each side hold the other in contempt as obviously wrong.

All these arguments do, as arguments, is degrade our belief in each other’s ability or willingness to reason. Of course, this is a risk any time we enter into an argument with someone, but it’s a nearly inevitable outcome of these particular debates. Why? Because everyone is wrong. That is to say everyone is right.

Confused yet? Great, let’s go on.

Illustration of a pipe over a map with the caption "This is not a pipe nor a territory."
“The Treachery of Images” by Bill Smith, CC BY 2.0

Fundamentally, this is a problem of models. By that I mean that this is a problem we should expect when we take complex and recurring phenomena and work to generalize and simplify it in such a way that we can fit it within the limits of our understanding. We lose something in the translation. “The map is not the territory.” In fact, it may be distinctly unlike the territory in several ways.

We should expect our models to be right, in that they tell us something important about that reality. At the same time, we should expect our models to be wrong, in that they fall short of fully reflecting reality. And when we have competing models that have lasted and have strong proponents on each side? Well, then we should maybe consider that they’re each giving us different pieces of useful information about reality. Continue reading “Both and Neither: On the Utility of Multiple Models”

Both and Neither: On the Utility of Multiple Models

“HB2, The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act” on The Humanist Hour

We’ve got a new podcast up. We had some weird technical difficulties with this one, but the topic and the background provided here make it worth listening anyway.

Of all the recent “religious freedom” legislation passed around the country, perhaps none is so restrictive as North Carolina’s “Act to Provide for Single-sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom and Changing Facilities in Schools and Public Agencies and to Create Statewide Consistency in Regulation of Employment and Public Accommodations”. The short version of the bill’s name is the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act,” but it quickly became infamous as HB2.

Passed as a response to a non-discrimination ordinance enacted by the city of Charlotte, HB2 removed the protections under that law and others like it, attempted to redefine “sex” under the law, and barred transgender people from using restrooms on state property that conform to their gender. The legal and economic consequences to North Carolina were swift, but so far, neither the legislature nor the governor shows any willingness to overturn the bill.

On this week’s show, Jenn Wilson and Peggy Knudtson talk to Chris Brook, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, about the ACLU’s suit against the state. Peggy Knudtson and Stephanie Zvan also speak with Danielle White, a transgender activist engaging in civil disobedience against HB2.

Listen to the show.

“HB2, The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act” on The Humanist Hour

Repost: Sam and Max Rules

This post is ancient, but I still think about it when people tell me I have give someone the benefit of the doubt, to be more charitable. I’ve been thinking about it now as well as Ive been working on a post about relationships and argument.

A bit more than a decade ago, my husband and I played a bunch of LucasArts adventure games. Remember, this was pre-Episode One. Pre-Grim Fandango not being released for Macs for that matter. LucasArts was still okay then. In fact, they were pretty cool.

Sure, the Indiana Jones game was kinda dull, but Day of the Tentacle was a geek’s dream. Personally, though, I preferred Sam & Max Hit the Road. It’s still the most surreal game I’ve played, although Psychonauts came close. But even Psychonauts’ meat circus (really) didn’t quite compare to the combination of conspiracy theory, circus freaks and roadside attractions that was Sam & Max. Gator Golf, anyone? A bigfoot underground? How about a rotating restaurant atop the world’s largest ball of twine?

Photo of a motorcyle parked outside a glass-enclosed gazebo housing a very large ball of twine.
Sam and Max fans will understand why the lack of restaurant in this picture of a ball of twine is disappointing. The bar up the street is quite nice, though.
Photo by Ben Zvan. Used with permission.

Still, my favorite part of the Sam & Max gameplay was the dialog. It was menu based. All the options tended to be snarky, but there were a few that would get a person decked in real life. Really funny, but nothing you’d actually say unless you wanted to end the conversation immediately.

The first time we came across one of these, we looked at each other, figured out how much progress we stood to lose, and picked the least helpful option. Continue reading “Repost: Sam and Max Rules”

Repost: Sam and Max Rules

Putting Asses (and Terrible People) to Good Use

I’m reassured that I’m doing something right in my life when I know so many people who annoy regressives just by going about their lives, by saying who they are, by making art. So it was with the Sad Puppies of Hugo Award infamy. They saw stories about queer people celebrated where they were not, so they knew there must be something wrong with the celebration.

These days, the Sad Puppies have mostly stopped jerking the awards around. They’ve left that to the Rabid Puppies, who are like the Sad Puppies but think it’s good PR to cackle and rub their hands together while monologuing. (Somebody really wants a movie made about him, especially if he doesn’t have to be an interesting bad guy to do it.) But jerking the awards around still means keeping queer and POC writers and themes out of the awards.

Rachel Swirsky, whose story “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” makes puppies feel all squicky, has decided to do something about it. She’s using her Patreon this month to raise funds for queer health care, with the promise to do more things that will make puppies feel squicky and entertain the rest of us as she hits various fundraising targets.

In my family, humor has always been a way of putting crap into perspective. When life hands you lemons, make jokes. And then possibly lemonade, too. It is coming up on summer.

In that spirit, I’m trying a self-publishing experiment. And that experiment’s name is “If You Were a Butt, My Butt.”

If my Patreon reaches $100 by the end of the month [Note: it has!], I will write and send “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” to everyone who subscribes with at least $1.

I will be donating the first month’s Patreon funds to Lyon-Martin health services. Lyon-Martin is one of the only providers that focuses on caring for the LGBTQIAA community, especially low-income lesbian, bisexual, and trans people. They provide services regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.

You don’t have to keep on paying into my Patreon  in order to participate! It’s just fine if you want to sign up, get your silly thing, and just support Lyon-Martin. I’ll send out a note after I release “If You Were a Butt, My Butt,” and remind folks to unsubscribe if they want to.

Those of you who have been following this year’s puppies news may already understand the joke in that stories title. If you don’t, well, it involves gay erotica that is also performance art and a poor attempt at trolling, and you should go read about it. Then consider donating to Rachel’s Patreon this month. It costs very little, and it helps and pisses off the right people respectively.

Putting Asses (and Terrible People) to Good Use

Saturday Storytime: How High Your Gods Can Count

A lovely little creation story from Tegan Moore. Or not so lovely. Depends on your perspective, I suppose.

The visions have been walking among the temple ruins with us for months. They mingle with the tourists, climbing steps next to them in grotesque parallel. They squat and cringe where the human children run to catch up with their pink-shouldered parents.

Something big must be moving, to stir up so much. It makes us all uneasy.

A human boy has a bag of something salty and orange. The morsels fit my fingers perfectly, the shapes pleasantly dry, the crunch between my molars a unique delight. Around me are others, yearlings of my troop mostly, the bold ones. We scrap over the handfuls the boy throws. A big, nasty yearling plucks my crunchy bit straight from my cheek and eats it. I scream at him and he screams at me and we chase each other, fists raised. I would kill him for this, maybe, or at least pull his hair until he bled, if there was no promise of more crunchy things.

The human boy laughs. The bag is tilted as though it might spill. The boy eats a crunchy bit himself. The troop watches his hand move to his face.

A vision rises nearby. This would scatter the troop if there was no food to keep us fixed here, but we want more of what is in that bag.

It is a vision of the turkeys, when they flocked against us. Their eyes are wicked, dark beads. In this vision, they outrun one of our children. They swarm him. Their claws and beaks never seemed threatening when we kept them penned, but the gods have sharpened them with righteous ruination. The child’s screaming echoes through our memory.

The human boy takes another crispy bit from the bag and waves it. The nasty yearling steps forward. The boy puts the food in his mouth. The yearling grimaces. Continue reading “Saturday Storytime: How High Your Gods Can Count”

Saturday Storytime: How High Your Gods Can Count

“Legal Landscape Roundup”, Amanda Knief on Atheists Talk

Bathroom bills and secular invocations and abortion restrictions. Oh, my!

As we come into a presidential election that will determine the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court, it seems like everyone is engaging in last-ditch attempts to enshrine discrimination in the law. American Atheists National Legal and Public Policy Director, Amanda Knief, joins Stephanie Zvan this Sunday to catch us up on what’s happening around the country and what we can do about it. We’ll also get updates on legal initiatives American Atheists has been working on.

Related Links:

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“Legal Landscape Roundup”, Amanda Knief on Atheists Talk