Hush, hush, keep it down now

10 04 2019

Over 8 years ago the economist Robin Hanson wrote a  post on “gentle silent rape.”

It was a thought experiment, an attempt to understand why rape is punished more often and severely than cuckoldry, something he found “puzzling,” given that, as he had argued in a previous post

Biologically, cuckoldry is a bigger reproductive harm than rape, so we should expect a similar intensity of inherited emotions about it.

Men would rather be raped than cuckholded, he’d said—no mention is made of what women prefer—but in trying to figure out what, besides sexism, could account for the discrepancy in the social response to rape and cuckholdry, he wrote that

It occurred to me recently that we can more clearly compare cuckoldry to gentle silent rape. Imagine a woman was drugged into unconsciousness and then gently raped, so that she suffered no noticeable physical harm nor any memory of the event, and the rapist tried to keep the event secret. Now drugging someone against their will is a crime, but . . . .

Now compare the two cases, cuckoldry and gentle silent rape. . . . Consider also that it tends to be easier to prove cuckoldry than rape, so if we avoid applying the law to hard-to-prove harms, that should favor punishing cuckoldry more than rape.

I cut out all sorts of nonsense—by all means, go read the entire, short, post for yourself—as it focuses on what should be the appropriate punishment for cuckholdry (fines? torture?), and I, like so, so many others before me, want to focus on the gentle silent rape.

Why now? Well, I heard a couple of interviews with Miriam Toews, a Canadian author who wrote a novel based on the real-life mass drugging and rape of Mennonite women by Mennonite men in a Bolivia, a years-long ordeal which was only exposed in 2009.

I’d never heard of this before, and I won’t go into the entire, horrifying and enraging tale here—again, click on the links to read what happened—but upon listening to an interview today I was reminded of that old Hanson post: Hey, didn’t some economist write about the relative non-harms of rape of which the women have no memory?

It was a bonkers post, one which Hanson continues to defend (while declaring that any mention of him as pro-rape is “bordering on slander“). Hey, he’s just, y’know, asking questions.

I’m all in favor of asking questions, and it’s important for scholars to turn conventions inside-out. To analyze a phenomenon fully, it makes sense to poke at it from every angle, to press even on the sore spots.

But if, as Hanson claims, you’re simply “trying to understand the world and work out puzzles and theories,” then you’ve got to bring those puzzles and theories back to the world you’re trying to understand.

He says he’s a “nerdy intellectual type” who’s “probably personally less able to and inclined to think those things through,” which is a helluva statement from someone who’s trying to understand the world.

It’s also irresponsible as hell.

By all means, apply your “simple evolutionary heuristic to ask roughly what would we guess the overall level of concerns about these things to be”, but then you need to, as the economistically-minded are so fond of saying, “mark to market”, to see if that heuristic or puzzle or theory actually does tell you anything about the phenomenon you’re prodding.

Had he done so, Hanson might have come across the story of the Mennonite women in Bolivia, might have considered whether gentle silent rape was even a thing worth conjuring, and whether he had any understanding of harm, much less the world, at all.


While my guitar gently weeps

3 08 2014

I need to play my guitar every day.

I do not play my guitar every day.

To be clear: “need” is not about need or desire in an of itself, but in terms of getting better; if I want to get better, I need to play every day.

Which I don’t. Play, I mean. The desire is there; the follow-thru, not so much.

I do play every other day, and if I miss my every or other day, I do get a bit anxious and feel that I’m missing something (i.e., experience a “need” more akin to the first definition); it would help if that anxiety kicked in a bit earlier.

Anyway, if I want to get better, why don’t I play more?

For starters, I suck. I don’t hold down the strings hard enough, my chords fuzz out, and too damn often I nick the A or G string when I’m aiming for D. And because I don’t look at either my right or left hand while playing—that discipline at least has held from those yay-old lessons—I too often reach for the wrong fret.

It’s a mess.

Now, when I do practice, and especially when I practice every day, all of those problems are lessened (tho’, alas, not eliminated)—which brings me back to the question: why don’t I play more?

And here’s the thing: I think too much when I play.

I hate HATE when anyone tells me I think too much: NO SUCH THING! But there is something about letting one’s mind drift which may work better than focusing. When I read, I focus, and when I learn something new, I focus, but I don’t focus when I write, my best runs happen when my mind wanders, and I only got over the hump in pot-throwing when I stopped trying so hard.

I think I have to stop trying so hard with the guitar.

The pot-throwing is instructive: I took a class at Minnesota, and went in periodically during the course to work on my pots (small, uneven, terrible), and I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much. I was continually frustrated—the more I wedged the clay the more air bubbles appeared, the more careful I was in centering the chunk on the wheel the more off-center it became, and raising the sides? Pfft, forget it. I don’t think I’m misremembering when I state that one lesson-night resulted in tears.

And then I got it. I was never great or even truly good, but I got enough that I thought, Hey, I can do this, and so I was more willing to put more time in at the studio. I was also, crucially, more willing to roll with the vagaries of clay and pot-throwing: some days every pot I threw turned out, some days none did, and I was okay with that.

I’m not zen, but I got pretty zen about throwing pots.

I can’t figure out what exactly led to that switch. Something allowed me to hang back from my own throwing, and thus to go more deeply into it; detachment allowed for enjoyment, which led me back into the studio.

I’m not sufficiently detached from the guitar-playing, it seems. I have noticed that when I’m thinking of something other than the notes, I tend to play them much better, that when I bore into the bars I clench up trying to avoid mistakes with these notes and worrying about the notes to come. And I don’t enjoy that.

So: I need to find some reliable way to zone out and let my fingers do their walking. Were that to happen, I might find myself wanting more to hear what they play.

You thought you’d try a little danger

9 07 2014

Ohhh, I’m so lucky I don’t have a smartphone.

If I had a smartphone, I’d be on Twitter, and if I were on Twitter, I’d never leave.

I’m not at all tempted to join Facebook (ha!), but I see Twitter as a kind of endless cyber-can of deliciously salty Pringles.

The only defense I have against deliciously salty Pringles is not to buy them. If I have them in the house, I scarf them all down in one or two (sometimes—rarely—I can stretch it out to three) days, after which I tip the can back so I can suck in those  remaining splintered bits.

So, Twitter=Pringles—only in this case it would be the tweets I’d write rather than consume that I’d find so addictive.

Women shouldn’t have sex. . . with people who think women shouldn’t have sex.

Brand loyalty is for suckers.

Know where you live, live where you are.

These aren’t bad, really, but I often think I’m more clever than I am, and could see myself dropping  line after line thinking each were a bon mot, when really they’d be less literary than littering.

Which would be embarrassing, but even worse would be that I’d have yet another distraction from my work: instead of thinking, I’d be twinking.

*Uhkf* It’s gonna suck when my dumb phone dies.

Itty-bitty posts: the intro

28 07 2013

[UPDATE: Actually, these are now categorized as “quick hits”, because itty-bitty should really ever only be applied to a kitty, not a blog post.]

So I have this habit of thinking “oh, I could blog about that” and then forgetting thinking there isn’t enough for a post or just plain lazing away from blogging about that.

I don’t know how much I could do about the lazing and forgetting (hm, I wonder if those two are connected. . .) but I have put together “quick hit” posts to collect the bits into one respectable post. I don’t want to offer a single appetizer (or snack or tapas or amuse bouch) but a full meal; not just a single shot, but a bottle; not just a song, but an album; not a trailer. . . okay, this is getting out of hand, isn’t it?

Anyway, the point is, I try to offer a full thought, and when I can’t, I, um, don’t.

BUT NO MORE! Today, in exciting blog news, I’ll try to offer itty-bitty posts about what hits me when it hits me and see if this, ah, well, to see if this works, I guess.

So, to keep this itty-bitty, I’ll stop here.

Next thought: next post.

Rage against the machine

20 03 2013

*Update* Check out Conor Friedersdorf’s review of anti-anti-war commentary.

I don’t even remember why I was against the war.

It’s easy, now, after the lies and mess and blood and money and vengeance and torture and horror and exodus, to say What a monstrous disaster.

Did I see all of this coming? I don’t know. I was skeptical, fearful of the what-ifs, but did I foresee the monster we would become, the disaster we would inflict on ourselves and the people of Iraq?

I doubt it. I doubt it.

I don’t feel vindicated for having been right. I didn’t have to argue myself into skepticism, didn’t have to fight my way past the shiny objects dangled in front of the American people in order to arrive at the summit of wisdom.

There was no summit, and I claim no wisdom. Is it really that hard to be skeptical of unnecessary war?

This is why I rage and despair in equal measure at those pundits who say “I was wrong, but I could have been right, so. . . .” They couldn’t be bothered to perform the most basic act of citizenship: to think, to think beyond one’s desires and sorrows and glee—and you betcher ass there was glee at the prospect of war—about what we were, truly about to do. Could they not be bothered to wonder at their own anticipation?

I am ungenerous in my interpretation of the commentators who supported the war, ungenerous in my reception to their ex post facto “soul-searching”; I read their apologies as justifications.

This is unfair (at least to John Cole), but I don’t care. They lost nothing by being wrong, suffered no consequences for whooping it up as the Congress and the Bush administration led us into destruction. They are sorry only that the destruction was inglorious, rather than shockingly awesome.

Again, this is unfair, I know, I know.

And it puts too much on the sideliners, not enough on the Congress and the Bush administration. I vent my rage at the pundits because I despair of influencing the politicians.

Once a president decides to go to war, that’s it, we’re going to war.

Pundits make the pitch easier; protesters are, if not ignored, a useful foil. But, truly, nothing any of us says, matters. We don’t matter, except, perhaps, to ourselves.

If a president wants war, war is what we get.

Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto

11 03 2013

It’s a bit of a pickle.

How does one—how do I—create the conditions for a good debate on an issue which I think is not debatable?

This is a 100-level class on contemporary issues—and the students are high school seniors, to boot—so the constraints on debate are different, stricter, than what I’d allow in a 300-or-above-level class. I can trust my experienced students to stretch themselves around and take apart emotionally and ethically tricky issues without worrying that they’ll become undone; I can trust that they’ll use, rather than lose, their minds.

(Of course, not every student bothers to stretch herself, but lack of engagement is, in this context, less problematic than over- or mis-engagement.)

I want the intro-level students to learn about these issues and learn how to think for themselves, but it’s a damnable paradox that I have to structure the hell out of the classes (trans: do a lot of underground thinking on their behalf) in order to enable them to think. I don’t want to steer them; I have to steer them.

So, anyway, specifics: how do I have debate about sexual equality when I don’t think this is debatable?

I’d never have a debate about racial equality in this course, so why a consideration of sexual equality?One response is that sexual equality is a conventionally controversial issue in ways that racial equality is not. Very Serious People (to borrow an epithet from Krugman) are allowed to harrumph on the “natures” of men and women in ways that would be decidedly non-kosher if applied to ethnicity.

It’s a real, live issue, in other words.

Another response is that I did a shitty job in defining the issue as “sexual equality” as opposed to, I dunno, something else. Difference and equality, maybe? Changing sex roles? With either of those approaches, at least, I could find good, solid arguments from a number of different sides, that is, I could encourage debate in ways that don’t insult logic, evidence, or my own (and my students’) humanity.

I did manage to find a few pieces which approach the issue from the difference/equality perspective, so the students leading tomorrow’s class should be okay. Still, it could have been better.

This is what I get for thinking We should talk about this without figuring out ahead of time This is how we should talk about this.

Falling catching up behind

22 03 2011

I am very grateful for this freelancing project but I wish it weren’t killing me.


I don’t understand why we’re bombing Libya.

I mean, I do, but I don’t.

What comes after?


dmf has kindly linked to Fish’s latest post on the Times‘s editorial page, but I am NOT in the mood for Fish right now.

He’s a smart and provocative thinker who I take seriously, which means I end up screeching at him when he says something not-smart and provocative.

Can’t take that right now (see first item).


Haven’t decided what to do about the Times‘s paywall.

I think they have every right to try to get money from folks like me who for the past number of years have given not one jot of money to them. And I’m ambivalent enough about workarounds (it seems like a cheat) that I’m, well, ambivalent about what to do.

I’ll probably end up ponying up.

We’ll see.


Given that I can’t read Fish right now I certainly can’t talk about all of the WOMEN-HATING SEX-NEGATIVE PUNITIVE OFFENSIVE CONDESCENDING PATRIARCHAL DANGEROUS POLITICALLY EXPEDIENT COMPLETELY FUCKED-UP BULLSHIT anti-abortion bills currently being considered or laws recently passed by any number of BACKASSWARD state legislatures.

So I won’t. Check RHReality Check, instead, and Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon is relentless, as well.


My poor kitties. I’m damned near chained to my computer and they are bored bored bored because I won’t play with them.

I’ll try harder, darlin’s, I will.


Yes, this is as far as I can think after unleashing thousands of words meant for someone else.

Truly, I am a ghost.