Monday, 22 December 2014

An Obscure Conan O'Brien Reference

When I did that Toronto-based political survey a couple of weeks back, I noted that it asked you if you were male or female despite having previously asked if you if you believe there are more than two genders. I find the question "What are you? Male or female?" to be a little bit offensive, but usually I think of that offensiveness being rooted in an ignorance that will require another generation of humanity to stomp out. When you've already taken note of the fact that many people do not identify with that binary asking people to slot themselves into one shifts a bit from ignorant towards asinine.

I take online surveys just for fun somethings. I am signed up to more than one survey service where they supposedly pay you miniscule amounts to take surveys. They will often ask for your gender and give you two options, so I get this question a lot.

Am I male or female? Well, people who know me probably have a pretty strong opinion on what the obvious answer is. If I don't like answering the "M or F?" question then it's more because I have an issue with the question on principle than because it's actually a tough question for me to answer. If I picked female a few times, or picked another option when actually offered more than two options, it was only out of disrespect for the test makers.


I know I have no intention of transitioning from male to female or from male to something else. On the other hand, Julia Serano's hypothetical offer for $10M to transition - a thought experiment that makes most people realize how deeply they identify with their assigned gender - is something I would snap at were it available for real. The reason I won't start living as a female is because I don't feel strongly about my gender, not because I'm decidedly male.

Even moreso it is because I like to go unnoticed, and I have the sort of body that would be tagged as a male body even after thorough surgery and hormones. People would see me on the street and mentally check off "Woman who used to be a man" or "Man dressed as a woman" right away. I'm not exactly inconspicuous as I am, but that is counterbalanced by my male privilege - I get to be ignored because of my maleness in a way that women don't. Ten million dollars would buy me more right to be ignored than being female would cost me, though, because I'd get to just withdraw from society.

This is an idea I don't really know how to explore. Because I don't always identify with myself, this question is particularly hard for me to approach. I did some digging online about how to think about your gender but that pretty much turned up a bunch of infantile "Are you male or female brained" quizzes. I recall hearing positive things about Kate Bornstein's "My Gender Workbook" so maybe I should look into the updated 2013 edition of that.

I'm not even sure why this matters to me. I'm going to keep being "daddy" and "he" and "sir" regardless of the outcome unless millions of actual dollars are on the real table. I don't have to be a man or a woman to think or feel different ways - I fall two or more standard deviations out on so many scales that there is no need to frame it another way. But perhaps it's worth looking in to. It probably couldn't hurt me to learn more about myself one way or the other.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

More Career Planning

We had another career planning talk. This time it was from someone who had a very interesting and long career instead of someone with a Human Resources background. I appreciate the perspective of actual wisdom, but the whole thing still just bothers me.

The message of this talk was very much that you have to take control of your own career. That's fine advice in a way - it's real advice for the real world. But on the other hand, the fact that people can say that and not identify the problem with it is dumbfounding.

Here is a simple question: Is putting a priority on advancing your career correlated with competence in your career? I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the answer is yes - for example a person whose career is important them might find mentoring and education opportunities that not only look good on a resume but also build actual competence. But those are things you check completely apart from the goal of career advancement. People who are determined to win a race are likely to be faster because they probably train, but you judge the winner by who crosses the finish line first.

We have a system that selects for a criterion that may be unrelated to the ability to do the job. Everyone agrees with this, but they don't think it's a problem.

If you ask people why it isn't a problem, they'll have an answer for you. Many of them will be convinced that this actually is an important factor in success. You want motivated and ambitious staff who are looking to impress. I just don't believe this true. I'm pretty sure that much better than that is a person who sees their current position as a thing worthy of doing unto itself. Others will say that there is no alternative - that obviously people who try to advance their careers are going to have more success advancing their careers and it must be so.

In a limited way this is true. Every system can be gamed, and a person who is ultra-talented at career advancement is going to do better at career advancement than people who are ultra-talented at actual careers. But we should be striving to not make that the easiest road. Ideally, the best way to get a job would be to be good at the job, and conning people into giving you the job would be only for people who are particularly talented at conning. Shouldn't we see an employer offering courses on how to succeed at their own interviews as a symptom of a sickness?

And no one seems to think there is any cost to this system at all. That no one who doesn't care about career development manages to make it into senior management just doesn't seem like a problem. After all, they think, anyone could put in the effort to learn how to walk the walk. Like they say, "take charge of your career" not "be the sort of person who is really very interested in taking charge of their career." Who would be interested in the opinion of someone who was fundamentally driven by a desire to solve problems and get things right instead of by a desire to appear important?

For me, though, the problem is that we are hearing someone talk about career development at all. Is that really what people are interested in doing with a branch meeting? Oh wait, yes it is.

On some issues I'm a genius to the edge of being prophetic, on others I'm just the odd one out. I don't care at all about career development and sitting through talks about it makes me a little sick as I contemplate what a broken system we have. But this is really what people want to hear about. Our culture is a culture of ambition. I'm not better than that, I just don't fit in.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

I Just Can't

Here is CIA director John Brennan on the recently released US Senate report on torture:
"We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs (enhanced interrogation techniques) within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees subjected to them. The cause-and-effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable."
Okay, so apparently before I say it was bad that they tortured people, I had better be damn sure that torturing people didn't result in anything useful. Otherwise, that would make me the monster, right?

Sort of like how if a police officer kills a black man, before we go condemning the killing, we'd better be absolutely certain that the black man didn't do anything that might have made the police officer nervous, and hadn't done anything bad in the past.

Imagine, for a moment, that one of those people who was tortured by the CIA would have otherwise gone on to be the next Hitler. What then?

This is honestly what passes as a reasonable way to think.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Retirement Planning

I signed up at a Liberal Party of Canada 'supporter' so that I could vote in their leadership race. I think I voted for Deborah Coyne, though that obviously doesn't matter at this point.

Anyway, they send me emails, mostly soliciting donations. The other day I got an email asking me what my opinion was on five big issues that will form the Liberal platform for the election about a year from now. One of the questions was about what the government needed to do to help Canadians save for retirement.

I've got some pretty strong feelings about retuirement schemes. I use the word "scheme" for a reason. Basically pensions are Ponzi schemes. They pay out the investors from new capital paid in by new investors. With a sufficiently high interest rate they might escape ponzi land and actually start funding themslves, but the whole reason why we are approaching a looming crisis in the field of retirement is because interest rates are so low to begin with. With interest rates as they are, saving is just kind of nonsense and pensions don't have a magic wand to get around that.

Pensions are certainly more reliable than most ponzi schemes, but that's only because people are obligated to put money into them, either by law or by their employer or union. Ponzi schemes can work for a long time if people don't have a choice but to dump more money in. To make them work forever, though, you'd need to keep expanding the number of people paying in, or expanding the salaries of people paying in, so that they could keep floating the people who paid in before.

We are not experiencing a population boom, we are not experiencing a salary boom. Pensions are in big trouble.

The survey asked what I thought should be done about it and gave me a number of equally futile options. The problem is that we have made pensions obsolete with low interst and stagnating population growth. People who are joining the workforce now have to bear the burden of paying into the ponzi scheme that is going to collapse before they ever get anything back out of it.

So I checked that box marked "other" and told them the real solution to retirement. It's called gauranteed income.

Too many seniors live in poverty, but too many young adults live in poverty and too many children live in poverty. These are not really different problems. The problem is that we live in a society that can easily produce enough food for everyone to eat and people still go hungry. We live in a society that can easily produce high tech gadgets for everyone and yet some children get to look on with envy at their peers from their own low social station. With live in a society where we are letting infrastructure crumble while we have a massive unemployment rate. Sure, things need to be fixed and sure there are tons of people desperate for work, but the work can't be done because despite the fact that there is enough of everything to go around, we still have to ask "Who is going to pay for it?"

For all of history that I'm aware of people have worried about jobs being automated or technology otherwise running people out of gainful work. At times I think this made more sense than others, but the current incarnation of it is completely insane. Major media outlets publish scare pieces about a future where robots have taken almost all the jobs.

Let's put this clearly: In the not too distant future we will be able to produce everything we need to survive plus a huge amount of other stuff just for fun with human beings doing next to no work. This is what we call a crisis.

All the stuff we want. Don't have to work. Crisis.

The crisis, of course, is that a very small number of people will own all of the machines and everyone else will be left to rot. Basically, the crisis is that the rich might one day no longer need the poor.

If that's the crisis then there is an easy answer, and it's not a big clever idea, it's probably one of the oldest ideas out there: kill the rich. The rich may one day not need the poor, but the poor have never needed the rich.

I'm not really an advocate of murder or of revolution. At this point I'd be willing to strike a deal with the very rich. We will cut the cord to their balloon economy and let if float away. They can busy themselves increasing the numbers in their bank accounts as if they were high scores in Joust, and we will give them pretty much whatever stuff they want. It will be hereditary, they and their families will simply be rich forever. But in exchange, they aren't allowed to mess with reality anymore. No more saying what can and cannot be done with land, who gets to live in what houses, what infrastructure projects get funded, which drugs get researched, and so on. We can afford this deal. Frankly, if others want to join them, we can afford that too. We'll make the ticket an economics degree - get one and you too can have all the stuff you want but you aren't allowed to decide how anything works. If you have an economics degree and you don't think this is a good deal for you, I'd love to hear why.

That's not going to happen, but gauranteed income is a real solution. If everyone could afford to live the kind of life that we can afford to give everyone then we could put retirement schemes to rest. Instead of being the society that is worried it will break it's work-until-you're-65-and-we'll-let-you-live deal, we could be a society that simply offers a you-get-to-live deal.

For those of you wondering and who didn't bother too sift through the information I dropped to get the clues, I came out of the Toronto Star survey as part of the Post-Materialist Left. Who knew?

Thursday, 4 December 2014

What Kind of Torontonian are You?

Someone forwarded me a quiz, hosted by the Toronto Star, that places you on a rather nuanced political spectrum. It has eight categories to sort you into:
  • Post-Materialist Left
  • Anti-Establishment Left
  • Social Democratic Left
  • Laissez-Faire Left
  • Faith and Family Right
  • Heritage Right
  • Libertarian Right
  • Steadfast Right
Those who know me can probably guess which of those I fit into pretty easily, though I can see it coming down to two. For each category you can get some information like the proportion of survey participants who fit into that category, the average age of people in that category, the ratio of males to females in that category. The ages are pretty old, with the youngest average age being 36. I guess that just says something about who reads the Star.

I fit into the youngest, poorest, most female of the categories. It told me I was least like the category that was the oldest, wealthiest and malest.

Now, I had to lie a few times. At one stage it asks you to rate some different things against one another and I lied and said that taxes weren't important to me. Taxes are important to me, but I assumed that it would interpret me saying that as saying I want taxes to be lower. I want them to be higher and more progressive. And that's not just to pay for more programs, just all other things being equal we should raise taxes.

But the weirdest thing about the survey is that one of the statements for you to agree or disagree with is "There are more than two genders." Then after you go through all the questions it asks you if you are a man or a woman. Come on! I think it would be really neat if it determined which options to give you based on your answer to that question. If you pick "Strongly Agree" then it asks if you are a man or woman, if you pick "Slightly Agree" or "Slight Disagree" then it asks Man, Woman or Other. If you pick "Strongly Disagree" then it gives you 20-some choices. I would have done that, it would have been a lot of fun.

Anyway, I like doing surveys and I like be fitted into categories I've never been fitted into before. If you'd like to take it here. It is definitely directed at Torontonians, though, it's not really very global.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

No Sleep

My baby's and toddler's don't-sleep-until-after-midnight and wake-up-at-five tag team  has me so exhausted I can't read most of the time, let alone write. I'm still coding, strangely, I guess that uses a totally different part of my brain. Right now having anything to say is too lofty a goal for me, so I'm going to slumber for another few days at least, I think.

A few thoughts until then:
  • People actually refer to people with read hair as 'gingers' as in the phrase 'annoying bearded gingers are ruining sitcoms.'
  • Chris Rock's summary of race relations in America: 'There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they're not as crazy.'
  • I now use single quotes instead of double ones, apparently.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics is awesome. Speedrunning Final Fantasy Tactics looks insanely intolerable.