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megpie71: Animated "tea" icon popular after London bombing. (Default)
megpie71

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megpie71: Slave computer, captioned "My most humble apologies, master" (computer troubles)
Friday, January 6th, 2017 09:00 am
Centrelink crisis 'cataclysmic' says PM's former head of digital transformation

The notion that the current Centrelink crisis is a result of a culture of "don't want to hear bad news" in Centrelink management doesn't surprise me at all. Centrelink management has long had a culture of shooting the messenger bearing bad news, because it doesn't agree with the glossy picture they're trying to sell their Minister (not to mention themselves). It really is one of the main ways the particular algorithm being used (compare total incomes reported against the ATO total for the financial year to determine whether income has been reported accurately, then average the ATO total across 26 fortnights to determine whether there's a debt) could have survived even cursory testing.

I suspected the whole thing was developed in-house, and it's nice to have those suspicions confirmed, but the point to be raised here is Centrelink's programming staff are not sourced from within the group of people who have worked on the customer contact end of Centrelink's operations. Instead, they're sourced from within the IT industry, and generally from a group of people who have had next to no contact with what could be considered the bulk of Centrelink's business (their parents may have received Family Tax Benefit for them while they were in school, but that's pretty much it). This is where a blind spot in the bureaucracy intersects with a blind spot in the IT industry - the bureaucratic insistence on "no bad news" intersects with the IT industry article-of-faith that if you can figure out programming, you can solve any problem at all with no additional knowledge required (and if you did need extra knowledge and didn't get supplied with it by the client, this is the client's fault for not knowing you'd need it).

So basically, what's happened is a programmer (or group of programmers) in Centrelink's IT section has been handed the job of figuring out how to automate the process of debt recovery sparked by income data matching, and they've done this effectively starting from scratch (and probably reinventing several wheels along the way) with absolutely no reference to existing processes and procedures, or to the knowledge bank of staff who were doing this job at the time. When the program was tested, it passed all the standard tests to see whether it would break the Centrelink desktop environment (this is mandatory for all products on the Centrelink network, whether they're being rolled out to all staff or not), so it was assumed to be Just Fine! If someone in the debt recovery section raised the problem of "we know this is going to raise a lot of false positives - something like nineteen out of twenty of the issues data matching raises aren't actually valid debts" with their manager (assuming they found out about it ahead of time), the caution would be buried, because nobody wants to hear bad news in Centrelink's upper management.

And thousands of people across Australia got asked to justify their receipt of social security benefits they were legally entitled to, because they made a typo in their income reporting once (or because the business they were working for made a typo when they created their record with the ATO), or because they got a good job after having been on social security (and this averaged out over the course of twelve months to be higher than the fortnightly cut-off limit), or whatever. Things which probably could have been picked up very quickly and resolved with minimal fuss and bother to the person affected if there had been any efforts at inserting a human element in the whole process to just double-check the results of the first couple of weeks, and then remove the bugs.
megpie71: AC Cloud Strife looking toward camera in Sleeping Forest (WTF)
Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 02:04 pm
The "toilet" argument is the one which says "of course trans* and gender-queer people shouldn't be allowed to use the lavatories appropriate to their preferred gender presentation" because somehow women will get their modesty affronted by having a person with a penis in the ladies room. I always get stunned by this argument, mostly because it shows a degree of wilful blindness to some necessary differences between masculine and feminine public hygiene set-ups which really needs to be addressed.

So, for the benefit of all those guys who haven't been in the ladies' lavs since they were tiny tackers escorted there by their mums, here is a description of the average set-up of every single women's public toilet block I've ever been in for as long as I can remember:

Long and involved description under the fold )

So, to be honest, I absolutely fail to see how anyone's modesty is going to be affronted by someone who is trans-female, or female-identifying-today gender-queer, getting into the queue to use the stalls in the ladies. No matter what their (or your) individual plumbing hook-up appears to be, nobody else is going to be able to see it in use, or be offended by its presence.

I mean, on the other hand, if the people who are worried about the prospect of trans* or gender-queer people using the appropriate lavatories for their identifying gender are men worrying a trans-man or a male-identifying-today gender-queer person is going to go into the gentlemen's lavs and snigger at the willies on display at the urinals... well, just say so, guys. (And maybe use the stalls to pee). But please, don't push the whole mess over onto the women and feminine modesty.

(Oh, and if anyone who is trans-negative and female-identifying wants to explain to me either: a) exactly why and how their modesty is/would be affronted by a trans* or gender-queer person using the ladies' lavs at the same time as them; or b) how they'd know if a person in one of the other stalls was a trans* or gender-queer person; or even c) why they can't just deal with their problem by waiting for the trans* or gender-queer person to finish their business and leave; then feel free to do so in the comments.)
megpie71: Impossibility established early takes the sting out of the rest of the obstacles (Impossibility)
Monday, October 12th, 2015 11:58 am
In the interests of my continuing mental health, I've had to banish a few words and phrases from my vocabulary. One of them is "should".

"Should" is a word which has disappointment built-in from the start. It's a word used to talk about ideal situations, ideal results, ideal worlds. As such, to someone like me with an anxiety disorder, it's essentially poison for the psyche. Because, you see, one of the things at the core of any anxiety disorder is this: we want the world to be perfect. Perfection implies control.

So to someone with an anxiety disorder (and this also includes the vast majority of people with depression, since the two conditions tend to be co-morbid to an astounding degree) a "should" is not a vague ideal to be used as a general directional indicator. Instead, it is a definite goal, which needs to be achieved (in order that the world be perfect). So phrases like "you should know better" or "you should be able to do better than that" or "I shouldn't need to tell you" and so on aren't just expressions of regret for one single instance - they are clear indicators that we have failed on a comprehensive level to achieve the goals set for us[1]. The world is imperfect and it's All Our Fault.

As you can guess, that kind of feeling doesn't do much for anyone's anxiety levels.

Then there's the other kind of "should" - the ones we tell ourselves, the ones which come with the invisible tag of "but I won't". "I should stay on this diet... but I won't". "I should Clean All The Things... but I won't". "I should do this disagreeable task... but I'm not gonna!". Again, not only is the world imperfect, and not only is this All Our Fault, but we're also unable to even rely on ourselves to do things. How hopeless are we?

(Something else which doesn't do much for anyone's anxiety levels).

However, banishing "should" (and its close cousin, "ought to") from your mental vocabulary is a hard thing to do at times. For a start, there's all the externally imposed "shoulds" - the expectations of parents, partners, friends, children, teachers, employers, co-workers, advertisers, marketers, manufacturers and so on. ("You should buy $PRODUCTNAME!") Plus there's all the internal ones, yelled at us by our jerk!brains on constant loop - including the ones which come up as part of the memory tapes bringing up old humiliations to dance on the stage of the Grand Olde Embarrassing Recollection to remind us of what we "should" and "shouldn't" be doing, or have done.

What's the solution to all of this? Well, the one which worked for me was basically stepping back from what I "should" be doing, and asking myself "what, realistically, can I do?" This one works particularly well for the memory tapes. Asking myself "okay, what am I able to do about this problem/issue, right here, right now?" tends to make the tapes suddenly grind to a glitching halt - because usually the answer is "nothing". I can't fix past mistakes from the present. I can make an effort to alter future behaviour, but other than that? There is literally nothing I can do.

This works well for other people's expectations of you as well. I have a lovely little icon (created by Copperbadge a while ago) which reads "Impossibility established early takes the sting out of the rest of the obstacles". If other people want you to do something, if they think you "should" be able to do it, ask yourself: "can I do this?" Are you physically, socially, mentally capable of performing the task they're asking? (This includes such things as "do I have the skills needed?", "do I have the available spare capacity?", "do I have the available spare time?" and, of course, "do I actually want to do this?"). If the answer is "yes", then perform the task. If the answer is "no", then tell them so - give reasons if the person asking is a reasonable person (unreasonable people don't deserve reasons for your answers, because unreasonable people can't or won't be reasoned with).

By bringing things back from the ideal world of "should" to the actual world of "can I, am I, do I, is this" you wind up being a lot more realistic about your own capabilities, and a lot less prone to stressing yourself out over things which are outside your own control.


[1] You'll note one of the apparent "goals" being set there is fully functional human telepathy. Nobody said the goals of a "should" were ever either realistic or achievable.
megpie71: Kerr Avon quote: Don't philosophise at me you electronic moron; answer the question (don't philosophise)
Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 09:49 am
[Inspired by: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-11/abbott-defends-indigenous-communities-lifestyle-choice/6300218 - particularly the comment thread]

I was born in Western Australia, and I lived most of my life until I was about 27 in the south-eastern suburbs of Perth. I then moved to Canberra, in the ACT, and lived there until about mid-2006, when my partner and I moved back to Perth.

I hated it in Canberra. The land wasn't right. The way the sun rose wasn't right. The way the sun set wasn't right. The water wasn't the same. The seasons were all wrong. The city was put together strangely. I never felt settled, never felt "at home". I felt displaced.

I went to London for a month in August 2002, on holiday. I felt more "at home" in London during that one month than I had in three years living in the ACT, despite the different hemisphere, different latitudes, different everything.

I went back to the ACT, and lived for another four years in exile, before returning to Perth, Western Australia. Since then, I have come to wonder whether the profound feeling of "home" I feel living here is akin to the Indigenous notion of "country". Whether that horrible feeling of being displaced, of being exiled, is what they feel when they're forced by circumstance or government policy to move away from their country. I know that for me, songs like "My Island Home" now have a whole new meaning, because I hear them through the filter of my experience living in Canberra.

This is part of why I feel angry and upset about the WA state government's decision to close a number of remote communities. I would not want to push that feeling of displacement, of always being in the wrong place, on anyone else. It would be a wrongness, an evil, a wicked thing to do. I am angry the government of Western Australia is doing this in my name. I am upset the Premier, Colin Barnett, is implicitly claiming he has the support of white Western Australians to do this. His government does not have my support, or my consent.

These days I'm living in the south-western corridor of suburban Perth. The sun rises in the correct way, over the right hills. The sun sets properly, over the ocean. The ocean is there, within reach - I'm about twenty minutes drive from the beach, if that. The seasons flow correctly, from dry heat, to stormy heat, to gradually cooling dry, to cold and wet, to gradually warming and drying, to dry heat again. The city is the way it should be, the right mix of architectural styles and geographic features. I'm home. I would say I'm in my country, and I would challenge anyone to uproot me from it.
megpie71: Impossibility established early takes the sting out of the rest of the obstacles (Impossibility)
Tuesday, July 1st, 2014 11:46 am
I have chronic endogenous unipolar depression. This is a technical medical term. Chronic means my depression is always there, as background noise in my life. Endogenous means there is no identifiable "reason" for my depression other than "my brain hates me and wants me to be miserable". Unipolar means I get major depressive downs, but I don't get manic highs.

Continued below the fold )

Employing me, or someone like me, requires a workplace which allows me to vary my workload in order to cope with the changing mental weather. It requires a workplace where my boss is going to accept me saying "I'm having a bad week at the moment; can I please not be put in customer-facing situations unless it's absolutely necessary" without either complaining, attempting to force me into situations I've said I'm ill-equipped to handle, or attempting to guilt me into performing according to their plans. It requires a workplace where I'm allowed to say "I'm feeling overloaded, can I go home?" (and where there's an acceptance this point may well occur twenty minutes into the working day). It requires a workplace where I don't feel required to meet the performance standards set by persons who don't have my rather interesting set of obstacles to performing at capacity. It requires, in short, a workplace which Western Capitalist society is profoundly ill-equipped to supply.
megpie71: 9th Doctor resting head against TARDIS with repeated *thunk* text (Head!Tardis)
Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 09:50 am
Your government is like your operating system for your country. Now, there are a lot of different OSen out there, some better suited to their purpose than others. The US government is basically a very old, very buggy version of RepresentativeDemocracy (RepDem) 1.51, complicated by the problem that you haven't been applying upgrades for a long, long while (I think the last attempt to patch the US OS was the Equal Rights Amendment patch, and it got rejected by the buggy hardware even though the majority of the programs running on the system support it, as well as it being a major requirement for a lot of world networking). Basically, your country is running on a fairly old and buggy legacy system.

(By comparison: The UK is running some kind of bastard hacked-together hybrid of Monarchy 3.5 and Westminster 1.314; Australia is running Washminster XP; France is on Republic 5.0; and New Zealand is trying some sort of Linux-derivative thing called MMP 1.0)

Your system has currently wedged. One misfiring process has managed to wedge the entire system such that nothing is capable of happening. Your country is currently sitting there with the blue screen of death blinking at them, showing a large amount of hexadecimal gobbledegook, which is only really useful to a constitutional lawyer or other such systems architect. Some of the less major processes (the ones running the display etc) are still running behind the scenes, because they're handled by separate data paths, and don't need access to the CPU to operate. But the majority of functionality is gone. For ordinary users, a reboot would fix this - switch the whole system off, replace some of the defective components in the hardware, and restart. Unfortunately, the OS controls the power supply (which is really poor design, by the way) and since the OS is wedged, you're not able to even partially reboot until a scheduled outage in 2014.

My guess, as a former tech support type, is that your system appears to have a serious viral infection - it looks like you have a serious infestation of all of the neo-Con group of viruses, ranging from Objectivism, through (g)libertarianism. Gods, you've even got anti-Communist hysteria running on there, and that's a really ancient one which doesn't even RUN on most systems these days - it's been obsolete since about the mid-nineties. This is causing the system to hang when you attempt to install a working anti-virus program (your current anti-virus isn't working; it's been corrupted by the neo-Con viruses to the point where the OS doesn't supply necessary resources to a lot of programs in order to prevent virus infection).

Ideally, you need to restart your system in safe mode, install an up-to-date anti-virus program, scan your entire system to root out or at least quarantine the Neo-Con viruses, including that really weird "NRA" variant you have in there, and then restart things gradually, to see whether you've rooted out the worst of the problem.
megpie71: "Well, when I was a little girl, I thought I'd like to become a scientist, so I became a scientist" (feminism)
Friday, September 20th, 2013 08:23 am
Julian Burnside writes a very interesting response to the problem of hate mail and the sorts of vicious comments which are made to people who stand up for causes in public in The Conversation today.

His response was (to put it bluntly) fascinating. He chose to engage with those people who sent him hate mail over the asylum seeker issue, treating them as reasonable individuals, seeking to find out why they felt as they did. Oddly enough, by treating these people as though they were reasonable individuals, he discovered the vast majority of them were reasonable individuals, able to engage in civil discourse, and discuss a position calmly and in a considered fashion.

Which is great, but before people go around recommending that (particularly) women who are harassed and abused and trolled on the internet make efforts to discuss things civilly with their tormentors in an effort to bring them back to the path of light and reasonableness and politeness, let's just consider a few extraneous factors in the case. Firstly, Mr Burnside is male. He's white. He's a lawyer who is well-enough off to be able to afford to perform copious amounts of pro-bono work. All of these things mean he has privilege in our society. He is, in fact, extraordinarily privileged, with a high amount of social status.

All of this means if Mr Burnside goes to the police with, for example, a collection of abusive emails all emanating from the same email account, he's going to get a different reception than I did when I tried it. He's going to be treated with a lot more respect if he brings a screenshot of a tweeted death threat than, for example, Caroline Criado-Perez was when she brought the torrent of abuse she was handed to the attention of police. He'll get a more concerned and sympathetic reaction to someone publishing his address and other personal details online than, for example, Kathy Sierra did. If he's assaulted physically, the police will take this much more seriously than an assault on someone who is, for example, indigenous Australian.

Plus, of course, any abusive communications Mr Burnside receives are coming at him from a different angle to the ones received by women like me.

The abusive emails and letters Mr Burnside receives are examples of what I'd call "shouting up" - shouting up at the windows of the privileged from the street. The primary goal is to be heard, and to be taken seriously. A white man who sends an abusive email to Mr Burnside is hoping to catch Mr Burnside's ear, to be heard. When Mr Burnside does listen, and does engage with them, they're polite - they've achieved their aim, which is to begin a discussion.

By contrast, people who are identified as women, or people of colour online are abused for an entirely different set of reasons. Generally, this abuse is what could be termed "shouting down" - an attempt to silence the persons speaking up against the power dynamic in our society. A white man who sends an abusive email to a woman, or a person of colour, will generally react with rage and escalated abuse if they respond by attempting to engage, because this is precisely contrary to the intent of their action. They don't want to talk to us. They don't want to even HEAR us. They want us to shut up and go away and stay shut up, and stay away - and they'll keep up the torrent of abuse and harassment until the point sinks in.

Or, to put it even more bluntly: Mr Burnside receives abusive email when he speaks up on disputed topics. Women and people of colour receive abusive email when they speak.

So Mr Burnside's solution to the troll problem, while fascinating in its particular context, is not scalable to deal with the larger issue.
megpie71: AC Cloud Strife looking toward camera in Sleeping Forest (Cloud 2)
Sunday, September 8th, 2013 08:56 pm
So, I seriously need to do something about my anxiety problems.

I've spent the past five weeks of the election campaign getting steadily tighter and tighter wound, envisioning all the various ways the next three years can go catastrophically wrong. It's not that hard, given access to a number of news feeds - all it requires is a look at the US and Europe, and figuring out how the parties currently in charge of Australia are going to implement austerity this time around. Because, let's face it, they're going to implement austerity whether we need it or not. The Proprietors want it, so we're getting it. Less government "interference", less "handouts" (particularly if you're in the lower income brackets) and less government service. Goody goody gumdrops.

Anyway, I've spent the past five weeks dreading what's going to be happening. Yesterday, I did the best I could against the onslaught. Now I'm stuck with the results of the past five weeks, and there's nothing I can do about it.

I've spent most of today feeling exhausted - physically, mentally, and psychologically. I really just want to curl up and go to sleep, and hopefully not have to wake up again. All that wound up tension is unwinding, because there's really nothing I can do at this point. I have a feeling I'm going to be having another depressive crash as a result, lucky me.

But really, I need to figure out a way of avoiding getting into these anxious states in the first place. It seems to be all tied in with the amount of feeling I do - I seem to feel things too deeply for my own comfort a lot of the time. I can't be detached, or isolated. I care too much, and that caring leaves me vulnerable, because the caring makes me angry, and the anger makes me anxious, or depressed when it goes sour. It's like I was born without the top layer of skin - I'm all raw, all the time, and all exposed nerve endings. So yeah, I can see why the SSRIs help, even though what they do isn't to actually stop me feeling - at best what they do is put a delay between the contact and the reaction (meaning I stay in contact with the harmful stuff longer, and it hurts me more before I pull away). But it slows the impact of the hurt, makes it possible for me to react to it.

I dunno. I think what I need is some way of not caring about things as much, of not having as much passion about the world, of not having everything so close to the surface. But on the other hand, that's ME. I've always been like this; it's part of what makes me who I am. Would I still be me if I stopped reacting so readily to things?
megpie71: Impossibility established early takes the sting out of the rest of the obstacles (Less obstacles)
Thursday, September 13th, 2012 10:26 am
It's R U OK Day here in Australia. It's a national day dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues.

So hi, I'm Meg, and at the moment, I'm not OK.

I have chronic endogenous clinical depression. Chronic means this is long-term, it isn't something that's going away any time soon. Endogenous means there's no readily apparent "reason" for why I'm depressed. Clinical depression is the name of the mental illness I have, and as the previous two sentences point out, I don't just have this illness one day a year. It's for life, not just for today.

At the moment, I'm having one of my periodic "black" times. I'm dealing with a depressive attack, which means I'm displaying all the symptoms of depression. I'm feeling vulnerable, self-critical, guilty about long-past offences, unable to be cheerful, unable to find happiness, worthless, useless, hopeless, and I have recurrent thoughts about how I (and the world at large) would be better off if I were dead. Or in other words, I'm depressed. Again.

I've been feeling more or less this way for most of the past two weeks, and I'll probably continue feeling this way for at least another week and a half. I'm not doing much by way of housework, and I'm having to struggle to keep up with my university commitments. I have a lot less energy than I used to have, and while I'm feeling tired all the time, I'm also not sleeping well (I'm dreaming a lot more, and my sleep is a lot more physically restless than it used to be - I woke up this morning with my covers all pulled loose, which is a pretty good indication that there are problems). I'm irritable, and the person I'm most irritated with is myself.

How do I know all of this? I know it because I've been dealing with the depression since I first started going through puberty (my first real feeling of dealing with suicidal impulses was back when I was about ten or eleven, and it just kept going from there). I'm in my forties now, and I'll probably be dealing with this until I die. So I've learned to deal with it.

I've tried multiple anti-depressants. They don't work for me. Or actually, that's probably mis-stating things. Anti-depressants don't work to deal with the sort of depressive episode I'm dealing with now - they're not for acute short-term treatment, because even the most rapid-acting of them take about a couple of weeks to build up to levels where they're going to be effective. The other side of it is that for me, taking antidepressants on a long-term basis is analogous to walking around on crutches all the time just in case I happen to break my ankle again. The effects of antidepressants - the loss of libido, the anorgasmia, the feeling of losing about half my emotional range (yeah, I don't feel as far down... but I lose all the up, too), the mental fogging that comes with doses strong enough to actually stop the depression in its tracks - all of those are a bit too high a price to be paying for the dubious privilege of not being depressed for the year or so it takes my brain to figure out how to be depressed anyway.

I'm also a bit sceptical about anti-depressants in general as well, mostly because we don't know how they actually work to treat depression. By which I mean: we don't know how reduced serotonin or norepinephrine levels, or strange dopamine levels, or odd amounts of endorphins at the neuron level affects things to make depression visible at the cognitive and emotional levels. It's in the bit of neuropsychology which could best be described as "Step Two: ????". There's also no diagnostic tests available to check neurotransmitter levels in the brain - instead, they have to be guessed at from behavioural and self-reported cues. Which means that the medication-go-round with mental health issues is mostly a case of "well, try this and see whether it works", and if it does work, well, that probably meant your levels of whichever neurotransmitter that one was supposed to be targeting were out of whack. Or something. Probably something.

So at present, I'm back to the tried-and-true strategy which got me through from early puberty until I was about thirty: I just bulldoze through it. Because here's the crucial bit: I've been living with depression since I was fairly young. So I'm used to it. I've accepted it's part of my life. I am going to have days where I'm going to wake up and think "oh damn, I'm not dead. Now what?". I am going to have whole weeks where the most I want to do is sit in a corner and cry. I am going to have months where fun just isn't on the agenda, because I don't know how to have fun. I'm going to be living a life where if someone tells me "just cheer up", I'm likely to shoot back with "how?", and actually get a certain amount of sadistic enjoyment out of watching as they flounder. I'm going to be living a life where the "think positive" types are going to receive a quick rundown of just how useless trying to think about the positives in the middle of a depressive storm is - as I've said elsewhere, I've tried it, and what happens is I wind up absolutely positive that the world would be a better place if I wasn't part of it.

So I get up in the morning, think "oh fuck, still not dead," and carry on. I have routines set up. I have an alarm which goes off at 8.30am every morning to remind me to get dressed, and to take my thyroid meds. I set myself limits on what I'm expected to achieve each day, and those limits are low - they're set for what I can achieve in the middle of the worst of the depression. I'm prepared for the days where I don't want to do anything, and where all I want to do is hide, and I give myself permission to take days where all I'm doing is sitting and watching a DVD, because any other form of intellectual or physical effort feels like too much.

It's like the weather. The storm will pass. I'll feel fucking rotten while it's doing that, and any obstacle is going to seem impassable, but it will pass.

So yeah. I'm Meg, and at the moment, I'm not OK. But I'll probably be OK in a couple of weeks. So that's OK.
megpie71: Avon looking unimpressed, caption "Bite Me" (bite me)
Friday, May 11th, 2012 10:46 pm
I'm busy re-reading some back issues of Tiger Beatdown at the moment (great blog, love it to bits), and I'm currently going through the stuff from about late August last year - back not long after Sady posted her critique of either "Song of Ice and Fire" or "Game of Thrones" (whichever one is by George R R Martin, anyway) and started getting inundated by the nerdrage. And one of the things I'm realising is that while I may be am a geek (I geek statistics, for fuck's sake; there's not much more out there which is geekier), I don't really identify myself as a member of a particular geek community.

There's a reason for this. The majority of the most vocal geeky "communities" out there tend to be represented in public by people who are possibly their least likeable members. The ones who are blatantly and openly sexist, for example. The ones who are ardent Mansplainers. The ones who take out their rage at the Mean Girls and Jock Guys from high school on the internet at large. The ones who perpetrate the worst acts, and then try to excuse it on grounds of being geeky, being fans, being nerds, having been bullied at high school, or basically anything other than "I'm finally on ground where I feel unassailable, so I'm going to make everyone else's life hell".

Basically, a lot of the problems I have with identifying as a geek, or identifying as a member of any particular geeky or nerdy community (including fandom, in a lot of ways) is that I get a strong feeling that I'm immediately supposed to become entirely passionate about the subject in question. For example, I consider myself a fan of Dr Who - I've been in love with Doctors One through Seven for years now (since I first started seeing episodes of Dr Who at around age five or six - so about 1976 - 1977), and even found a few good things to say about the telemovie which introduced the Eighth Doctor. But recent Dr Who fandom, I find, is entirely too damn polarised. One has to be 110% passionate about the subject, one has to be completely and utterly engaged with it, one cannot criticise things AT ALL (when at least part of what I loved about the Old School fandom was their willingness to engage with the wobbly sets, point out the plot holes, make fun of the scenery chewing, and the regular double-entendre of "we must act now!"). Instead, in order to prove one's membership of fandom, one has to be completely passionately devoted and delirious about the subject to the point where I'm certain the actors and writers must find at least some of this just a little scary. That's not the fandom I want to be identified with.

I'm a fan. But that doesn't mean I'm blind to the faults of what I'm seeing. For example, I have a lot of problems with a lot of what Stephen Moffat (the current show runner for DW) writes, and have done since I was first watching "Coupling" on DVD. Yes, he's capable of writing good dialogue; yes, he has a nice touch for comedy; yes, he can handle drama very nicely too. But he also has a rather nasty streak of often unremarked-upon sexism in his writing.

I have problems with the current formula timewise, because it tends to lend itself more to the one-shot sequences - one of the things I liked about the old format was the way that a plotline was strung out over multiple weeks. I dislike the high-tech effects, too, because quite frankly one of the things I loved about BBC science fiction back in the late 1970s and early 1980s was the way that the BBC's effects team worked to suggest so much with so little. Watch "The Ark In Space" - there's a moment in there where an actor manages to pull off a very convincing performance as someone who is undergoing an horrific transformation into a totally alien creature, and all he uses to do it is a green-tinted bubblewrap glove. These days it's all CGI or high budget effects, and we lose that wonderful combination of good scriptwriting and good acting skill which put the BBC stuff several cuts above what came out of the US studios in my book.

I don't like the constant "reunion" episodes at the end of each series - that was one of the things the old format had very right, I thought - the ability to convey that the Doctor went out of the lives of these people, and their lives went on without him. What isn't pointed out quite as obviously is that as far as the Doctor's life goes, he had to go on without them - and he'd lived over nine hundred years by the time Tom Baker's tenure was done (I'm not too sure how old the character is by the time Christopher Eccleston stepped into the role, but I'm sure by now he's hit his millennium). The Doctor has had to learn to be very good at leaving people behind, and learning to live with that. Bringing everyone back at the end of each season for a grand final reunion is just rubbing it in, to my mind.

Now, yes, I do have these problems with New Who. But that doesn't mean Old Who was completely faultless either. As I said before, there were the wobbly sets, the zip-up-the-back rubber-suit aliens, the chewing of the scenery, the stories with the Obvious Filler chase scenes, the Monster-of-the-Week format, the recurring monsters who weren't used to their full capacity. For example, the Daleks were sometimes used as rent-a-thugs - yes, in some of Terry Nation's scripts, back before he wrote "Genesis of the Daleks". Then again, Terry Nation actually meant for the Daleks to die off at the end of the first storyline they were introduced in, but they became fan favourites, so he was stuck writing them for about twenty years. There's actually a lovely story in the commentary or interviews on the DVD set of "Genesis of the Daleks" where the script editor points out that "Genesis" was the second storyline they'd requested from Terry for the Daleks - the first one was a rather predictable chase sequence, and it was knocked back as a result. So then he sat down and did a full retcon on the origins of the Daleks, and a new legend was born. But that was the other great thing about Old Who - while there were some absolute shockers, there were sometimes these unregarded gems in the middle of things. For example, the 5th Doctor story "Kinda", which actually turns out to be a very interesting piece of genuine science fiction storytelling (provided you're willing to ignore the giant snake effect at the end).

I count myself as a fan of the Final Fantasy series of games, too. But I'm aware they're not perfect. They're written from a Japanese perspective, which means that yes, there's a lot of embedded sexism in the way that gender roles are visualised, and yes, there are a lot of in-game tropes that I sometimes don't have the cultural background to understand. In the earlier ones, the graphics are clunky, and in the later ones the hero-figures are, quite frankly, irritating (Tidus and Vaan both inspire me with a strong desire to thump them over the head). The fixation on providing add-ins to the Final Fantasy VII continuity annoys the crap out of me (particularly the whole business of Crisis Core - Genesis wins my personal prize for "video game character I'd most like to slap"), as does the tendency to create sequelae to just about everything (whether or not there's actually a story hook to hang things onto). The outfits for the female characters in the later games tend to be somewhat stripperific (exhibit one: Fran the rabbit-woman and her "playboy bunny" armoured lingerie), and Tetsuya Nomura definitely majored in "impractical armour", since I think the last properly-armoured major character in the FF series was Cecil, in FFIV! Don't believe me? Check Dissidia. Bartz from FFV is wearing a tunic. Terra from FF6 wears a mini-dress and leggings. Cloud (FF7) is in cargo pants and a knitted top, with one paudron. Squall (FF8) wears leather pants, a t-shirt and a leather jacket (at least he wouldn't get too seriously flayed in a motorcycle crash). Zidane (FF9) is wearing boots, a poofy shirt, and trousers (all apparently fabric). Tidus (FFX) is at least wearing that glove-cum-arm-protector thing. But really... there's at least two (if not three) of these people who live in cultures where a battlefield generally means there are bullets flying around. Is it too much to expect they're going to have at least a little bit of protection from high-velocity lead poisoning?

(And yes, this is my geeky side coming out again - I'm a practicality geek, I'm a plothole geek, and I qualify for life membership of the Overthinkers Club. I am the type of person who will spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make the worlds of Blake's 7 and Firefly co-exist, who will write a long and involved post about the political and economic situation of Minas Tirith post-Ringwar, and who will spend much time and effort trying to figure out what the fsck is going on with the world of Final Fantasy VII to create the Shinra Electric Power Company).

I find things interesting because they make me think. Even if what they're making me think is along the lines of "how the fsck does that work again?" I'm not set up correctly for unthinking adoration and devotion of my source material. I'm more set up for mild-to-moderate irritation at various qualities of it, and a willingness to make snarky comments about it. I get pissed off when the only fan-space I'm allowed to inhabit is one which requires total and utter worship of the creators and everything they do - I think that fan-space not only insults me as a fan, it also insults the creators of the original work, because it sets them up as beings incapable of handling critique, incapable of handling dissent, incapable of handling any different viewpoint to their own. I write myself, and what I find I appreciate most as a writer is not the person who writes a simple "loved it, plz rite moar!", but rather the person who asks questions, the person who offers bits they liked and why they liked them, the person who engages in dialogue about what I've written (I so rarely hear from these people - I've started being a bit more open with being one myself in the hope of encouraging more of them!), and the person who isn't ashamed or afraid to tell me "this sucks, and this is why!". I'd like to believe that the creators of some of my favourite fan properties have a similar attitude toward criticism.

My point is, being a geek, or a nerd, or a fan, should not mean that we switch our minds off and become uncritical worshippers. In fact, I believe very strongly that as a fan (of a series, a genre, or a writer), I'm in a better position to offer criticism, because it's coming from a position of overall love.

I'll be honest, though - I'm more than just a fan, more than just a geek. So I'm always going to be a little on the outer with these communities, always feeling I don't quite fit in, because I just cannot maintain the posture of unquestioning adoration which appears to be required. I can do enthusiasm. I can do critique. But I think I'm a bit too old and cynical for adoration these days.
megpie71: Text: "Thud.  Thud.  Thud.  Splat." (ewww messy)
Friday, October 21st, 2011 10:33 am
This is something which has been coming out of a bit of reflecting I've been doing about online culture, and about privilege and the nature of it. One of the more esoteric forms of privilege is what I'll call "USAlien Privilege".

I should define my terms. A USAlien (to coin a phrase) is a citizen of the United States of America who has never been required in their ordinary lifetime to deal on a day-to-day basis with anyone from a different cultural background to their own, or to interact on a regular basis with anyone who isn't a fellow citizen of the United States of America. (Fellow alumni of alt.fan.pratchett would probably recognise the term "Merkin" as a synonym).

USAliens tend to conduct themselves as though there is no other way of doing anything aside from the way that it's done in TheirTown, USA, and will also tend to regard any suggestion that other ways of doing things either exist, or might possibly be preferred by persons not living in the USA as either utter falsehood, heresy against any extant deity, or at worst, utter treachery (optional subtype: communist/socialist). They do not understand cultural references to anything other than the hegemonic aspects of US culture, and will tend to regard such references with suspicion at best, outright scorn at worst. Their knowledge of other cultures is rudimentary, to say the very least, but they will expect persons who have never lived in the USA to have a level of knowledge of US culture equivalent to their own (if not greater).

It's a frequently encountered form of online privilege, because the USAlien will automatically assume that they have the right to have everything repeatedly explained to them (often in tedious detail) rather than engaging in any active learning of their own. As a member of a non-USAlien culture, a person from outside the United States of America will be expected to supply this knowledge, in convenient bite-sized chunks, without query, and without any expectation of having any of the oddities of US culture explained in return.

Some little manifestations of USAlien privilege which can be highly annoying to those of us who aren't US citizens:

* The whole "everything revolves around the USA" mindset.
* "Everyone shares our holidays"
* "Our politics are the world's politics"
* "Our issues are the world's issues"
* Actually, the whole "we are the world" mindset in general is highly annoying, to be honest.
* "If it's done this way here, it's because this is the One Right Way of doing things".
* Historical context? Wot dat?
* If it isn't happening in this particular USAlien's back yard, it isn't happening anywhere.
* The entire circular gospel of US Exceptionalism (The United States of America is a special case because they are The United States of America because they are Special because...)
* Moderation is for wimps - everything happens at the extremes
* The idea of supplying an external frame of reference (for example, for timezone-specific data) just Doesn't Occur.

It all gets a bit wearing, to be honest. Particularly since, as per the standard rules of argument vs Privilege, the less privileged person is automatically In The Wrong the moment they point out either that the privilege exists, or that the privileged person is talking from a position of privilege. I can expect to have my own country and my own culture 'splained to me by USAliens (and never receive even so much as a "sorry" in response, should I take it upon myself to correct them) and be expected to take it without comment. I can expect (and have received) a screenful of abuse as a result of offering an alternative scenario to a rather esoteric aspect of US culture, and I will be expected, again, to take this without comment, and often to apologise to the person who is abusing me for having offended them through my ignorance.

If at times I seem to be a bit overly-aggressive in waving my (non-US) nationality around, it's because I've learned to do so as a way of preventing such abuse.
megpie71: Impossibility established early takes the sting out of the rest of the obstacles (Less obstacles)
Friday, October 7th, 2011 08:52 am
Whadda we want? "Different ancestors"

When do we want it? "A couple of hundred years or so back, when it would have made a difference"

Not the rallying cry of the century, is it? But that's what should be screamed up at the windows of Wall Street; it's what should be rattling the windows of the privileged around the world.

One of the dirty little secrets which isn't often aired about the upper echelons of the rich and powerful (particularly in the USA, where the myth that anyone can come from dirt poor to stinking rich in a generation is still a powerful memeplex, peddled by extremely powerful myth-building corporations) is that by and large, they got where they are now by building on the gains of their ancestors. They didn't get where they were from nothing. They didn't pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. They pulled themselves up using a rope braided from the bootstraps of many ancestors, over countless generations, on both sides of their families, and reinforced by the bootstraps of countless non-family members as well. In the ranks of the extremely powerful, there's often a certain degree of both metaphorical and literal kinship.

Another dirty little secret: the secret to getting rich quick is to get rich slowly, over three or four generations, and then explode on the scene, flashing the wealth in an obvious way. This isn't to say there aren't the occasional rapid accumulators - people whose financial, technological, scientific or marketing genius was in the right place at the right time, people whose cultural input hits the zeitgeist in the correct spot to send the jackpot rattling down - but they're as rare as the lottery millionaires or the ones who broke the banks in casinos. By and large, the ones who are at the top now are the ones whose ancestors have been accumulating steadily since the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.

It's different for the rich )

(Whadda we want? "Different ancestors"

When do we want 'em? "A couple hundred years ago, when it would have made a difference!")

It's different for the working-class )

Another dirty little secret of the rich and powerful: not many of them have had much exposure to people outside their social class in a context which isn't employment-related. So when they speak of the lives of ordinary people, it's usually from a position of profound ignorance. Marie Antoinette, when she said "let them eat cake" (or more accurately "well, why don't they eat cake instead?") was speaking from a similar position of ignorance - the ignorance of the very possibility of a reality where both bread and cake weren't in ready supply. So when they speak of how "simple" it is to make money, or stay debt-free, or whatever, it's because they really aren't aware of the full context of what's going on here. They've never had to learn that context, and for many of them, unless they absolutely have to face it, they never will learn that context.

They had the right ancestors, you see. Simple as that.
megpie71: Text: "My grip on reality's not too good at the best of times." (reality)
Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 04:48 pm
First up, have a read of this entry and the comments thereupon.

Next up, we pause for a note on context and perspective - that of a chronic perfectionist with an anxiety disorder to show for it, plus chronic depression which feeds into the anxiety and vice versa.

Those two things considered, might I offer an alternative path toward the great goal of Getting Things Done.

TL,DR - Years of strategy below the fold )
megpie71: Animated "tea" icon popular after London bombing. (Default)
Sunday, July 10th, 2011 03:14 pm
There's been a fair bit said lately about how making money from fandom isn't the aim of people who are in fandom. I'm going to burble for a bit about what I think might be the reasons why.

Effectively, it boils down to there being three main types of people. There are makers - people who make things, whether this be through material creation such as cooking, sculpture, tailoring, rebuilding an old car body into a working car, etc, or through intellectual creation such as computer programs, writing novels, and yes, fanfiction. Makers make things because that's how they get their psychological satisfaction - they can point to things and say "I did that". Makers make things because the making itself is psychologically rewarding - a maker would be making things if they were living in luxurious splendour in an isolated compound in the middle of nowhere with no connection to the outside world.

The next group of people are the breakers. Breakers destroy things. They take them to pieces with no intention of putting them back together. And yes, they get psychological satisfaction from this. An extreme breaker is a force of entropy, and they're the type of person who'd be destroying the raft which is protecting them from the sharks. They're not necessarily bad people - I regard them as being a necessary part of the universe, since if you allow makers to make things unrestrained, the universe rather rapidly becomes cluttered.

Finally, there are the takers. These are the people who take things and use them. They don't destroy it - they may take it apart and put it back together in a slightly different order, or repaint it - but they don't make anything new, either. They just use what's available, without making any major alterations to it. They can do making and breaking activities, but they'll do them out of necessity, rather than out of any particular passion - it's the difference between cooking yourself a meal because you need to eat, and cooking a meal for friends and family because you want to share your enjoyment of the food.

Everyone has bits and pieces of each of the three types in them. We all have a bit of maker, a bit of breaker, and a bit of taker within us, and our various maker, taker and breaker facets reveal themselves differently concerning different fields. But generally one facet tends to predominate. If a person is a majority maker type, they'll get their psychological fulfilment from maker activities - the creation of something new, something different. If a person is a majority breaker type, they'll get their psychological satisfaction from breaker activities - the destruction of existing structures and items. The problem arises when a person is a majority taker, because taker activities don't really come with an inbuilt measure of psychological satisfaction. A maker can point to all the stuff they've made, a breaker can point to all the stuff they've destroyed. So majority takers tend to use money as a scorecard (note, they're using money - they've not created the idea, they're not destroying the structure, they're just using it within the framework available) to measure what they've done.

This tendency to be using money as a way of keeping score leads to majority takers being mainly interested in ways of boosting their score (or their supply of money). To them, this seems to be the only legitimate activity, or the only legitimate reason for involving themselves in making or breaking activities - if I'm not getting paid for it, they think, why bother?

So a majority taker will tend to be bemused by a majority maker's tendency to create new stuff and not sell it. Or to create new stuff and just show it off to their friends. Or just to create new stuff, without any notion of whether or not it can be sold. Or creating new stuff that they know they can't sell, that it isn't legal to sell, where selling it can never be a priority. They sincerely do not comprehend that makers do things for the love of making. To be fair to them, the majority taker will also be completely overwhelmed by the majority breaker's tendency to saw off the branch they're sitting on, or to destroy things simply because they exist - again, there's the whole "if you're not being paid, why bother?" thinking to deal with.

Bringing this back to specifics, and in particular the specific case of Mr Mander and the LOTRFF archive, I get the strong impression that Mr Mander is primarily a taker, rather than a maker or a breaker. His resume doesn't actually list any making hobbies (he's not a cook, a musician, a programmer, an artist, a sculptor, a writer) - instead, he lists things like advertising, poker and magic (which are about manipulating your audience) and lucid dreaming (which is about manipulating yourself). He's stepped into a primarily maker culture (that of transformative fanwork) that he really wasn't aware of previously, and its his particular misfortune that he's stepped into a very active, very noisy, very old-established part of this primarily maker culture. His previous two ventures have been into less active, or less established parts of the fandom world, and he really wasn't prepared for what he was confronted with.

So, for Mr Mander, and any other primary takers out there: trust me, maker cultures are gift cultures. We get our satisfaction from the process of creation - we make things because that's what satisfies us (and heck, we don't even have to finish making the things to get the satisfaction, she says, looking at the large pile of unfinished fic on her hard drive). We don't want to sell it; however, we'll readily share. We aren't interested in the money because by and large, we don't really need it to feel happy about the process of creation. This doesn't make us stupid, it just means we have different priorities to your good selves. What we primarily want from our places where we display and store the products of our making is that they exist, and that they remain in existence, even if nobody profits from them; even if nobody likes what we've done.

It's worth noting: copyright law is a taker's way of understanding makers - it puts a monetary value on the results of creation, so that a taker can understand what's so important about intellectual property. But fan fiction and other such transformative works are still part of the same maker mindset as literary, musical, or artistic creation, so often there's an understanding between the two groups of makers - so long as the fans don't attempt to profit from their works (generally they don't want to anyhow), or deliberately bring those works to the attention of the IP creator (because then they have to take action) they're allowed to carry on making them, and the original creator will feel somewhat flattered by all the stuff their stuff has inspired.