pet peeve

Why is it that certain people feel a need to give “the grand tour” to new house guests?  I don’t need to see the bathroom in your master bedroom suite.  “And here’s where I take a monster dump every morning.  Whoo-ee!  Man does it stink in here afterwards.  Okay, now on to the S&M dungeon.”

I know what a house looks like.  Not to brag, but I’ve seen a house or two in my day.  I’ll ask if I need to know where the bathroom is.  I don’t really care about the rest of it.

Unless, of course, you actually do have an S&M dungeon, in which case I definitely want to see that shit.  But then I will probably be totally creeped out and never visit you again.  So plan accordingly.

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alien life

There was a bit of (unwarranted) hubbub last weekend about an article proclaiming evidence of extraterrestrial life.  I’d like to make a few observations regarding this.

  1. According to the article in Yahoo! news, the paper was published in the Journal of Cosmology.  If and when extraterrestrial life is discovered, the scientific article about it will not appear in the Journal of Cosmology.  It will appear in Nature, or Science, or possibly both.  There is a pecking order among scientific journals.  The Journal of Cosmology is not at the top of this order.
  2. The “science” in this article basically amounts to “Hey, look at these neat photos we took of the inside of a meteorite; don’t they look like things that were once alive?”  This is weak evidence at best.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  Maybe the researchers are correct, but the point here is that they have certainly not proven that they are correct.
  3. It wouldn’t shock me to learn that microbial life exists elsewhere in the universe; even the galaxy; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if existed in this solar system (below ground on Mars, perhaps, or in Europa’s seas).  As exciting as it would be to have this suspicion confirmed, that’s not really the dream, is it?  Intelligent life is what we’d really like to find; someone else with whom we could have a conversation.  Well… there’s intelligent life right here on earth with whom we can’t communicate (whales are my favourite example – they clearly communicate with each other, but we can’t understand any of it).  What makes us think that we’d have better chances with an extraterrestrial species with whom we don’t even share a common biology?  That’s dumb.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to get in some practice communicating with other species here at home before looking elsewhere?
  4. SETI’s strategy is basically “Well, if we were going to broadcast signals to other civilizations, this is how we’d do it; let’s see if we can find any evidence of anyone else doing that.”  So far, this has not produced results; but this lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.  It just means that anything out there doesn’t think the same way that we think.  No surprise.
  5. I make it sound like there’s an order in which big scientific expeditions should proceed, but really, all the steps pretty much proceed in parallel.  (Technology improves, we search for signals, we study communication with other species here on Earth all at the same time.)  And this is as it should be – messy, and constantly evolving.  The point I’m trying to make is that we are not ready to actually meet with success in this endeavour.  Far from.  We’re just not smart enough to find other civilizations, recognize them if we did find them, or communicate with them if we found and recognized them.
  6. BUT – we still need to keep looking.  Because eventually we will be smart enough, and we’re not going to know when we get to that point unless we keep looking.

memory

I’ve been writing a lot of serious stuff about yoga lately, so I thought I’d lighten it up a bit with a memory.

When I was little, on car trips I’d look at the highway median and think that it would be the perfect place to hide out for someone on the lam.  Who would think to look there?  And wouldn’t the four lanes of asphalt hide your scent well enough from police dogs?  (Do they even actually use dogs to track people who are on the lam?  And does anyone but me say “on the lam”?)  There’s usually a copse of trees, not quite dense enough to hide someone who’s standing, but probably enough to hide someone who stays low and is well camouflaged.  Food could be problematic, but I figured there was probably enough edible plant life in the median to make do.  Plus, you know, road kill, if you’re not too picky about your protein sources.

gender studies 101

Actually… probably more like 501.  Best put on your thinking caps before proceeding, folks.

Thanks to a link my friend Green Weaver posted to facebook, I’ve spent some time over the past week or so reading articles on gender non-conforming kids.  It doesn’t go far enough by half just to call this an interesting topic; it’s fascinating, hopeful, challenging, and deliciously complex.

Warning:  I really pared down my writing on this post so as not to repeat territory already covered by the links on Accepting Dad’s blog (link above).  So unless you’re super-familiar with the topic already, it’d probably be best to read those articles first.  Some of the following is not going to make much sense otherwise.

What is gender non-conformance?  Although most of us feel that our gender identity matches our phenotype, some do not.  This is challenging enough in adults who have to grapple with issues of identity and change and acceptance; it is even more complicated in children.  Is gender non-conformance genetic or is it learned behaviour?  Is it a phase or something enduring?  Either way, what’s best for the children, immediately and long term?  Very tough questions.

As I understand it, there are two basic approaches:  either force affected kids to deny their feelings and adhere to societal expectations about their gender phenotypes (let’s call this the Toronto approach), or allow them to explore life as they wish (the Boston approach).  Unsurprisingly, I whole heartedly support the Boston approach.

We can look at this in terms of minimising risk.  Worst case scenario with the accepting (Boston) approach:  you get some weird looks from the neighbours because your little boy now dresses like a little girl (or vice versa), possibly you lose some evangelical Christian friends who tell you that you and your kids will go to hell (this of course could be viewed as a benefit), and maybe your kid reconsiders in a few years and transitions back to her or his original gender (some evidence indicates that gender non-conforming kids overwhelmingly do not grow up to be transgendered adults – though this evidence is reported by the Toronto clinic and has not (as far as I’m aware) been peer reviewed, so it may be suspect).  In short, I fail to see how any real damage could possibly result from allowing kids to try on other gender roles.

On the other hand, let’s look at the worst case scenario with the forced-to-maintain-birth-gender (Toronto) approach:  first off, your kid is miserable and feels that his/her feelings and needs are not deserving of consideration.  Possibly/probably, she or he ends up engaging in self-destructive behaviours.  Suicide is not unlikely.

The best case scenarios put forth by advocates of both the Boston and the Toronto approaches are essentially identical:  kids who grow up to be happy, healthy adults.  Because they are identical, we can discard them for purposes of comparing the approaches.  What would really help would be to know whether each approach works; however, this is very new territory, so we don’t have a whole lot of long term efficacy data (as far as I’m aware).  This leaves us only minimising risk as a decision making tool, and in these terms, the Boston approach is clearly superior.  QED.

And that, believe it or not, is the easy part.  What follows below is what really makes me wonder.  So, if you don’t want to be kept up nights trying to answer questions which may be unanswerable, it may be best to stop reading here.

All of what I wrote above applies to pre-puberty.  A newish development of the Boston approach is staving off puberty using hormone blockers, then prescribing hormones to induce the puberty of the kid’s self-identified gender.  This is where it gets somewhat more ambiguous for me.  For kids who are genuinely transgendered, this is clearly the right course of action.  But what about those (if any) who aren’t, and how do we tell who’s who?  What if the Toronto data is correct, and gender non-conforming kids usually don’t grow up to be transgendered adults?  Or – what if the Toronto data is biased by the fact that puberty had already occurred for all of their subjects, thus poisoning their bodies with the wrong hormonal mixture and totally changing their brain chemistry?  Would these people have been happier as adults if they’d transitioned as kids, even though they don’t currently identify as transgendered?  This is what I suspect (at least in some cases), but I don’t think there’s any way of testing my theory.  It would be unethical to run a case/control study comparing the Boston and Toronto approaches; with the hypothesis that one approach works and the other does not, too much would be at stake for the subjects.  And I don’t know if the two clinics are maintaining follow-up data that would be useful for purposes of comparison.

Another difficult question, and more (I think) to the point that Accepting Dad was making on his blog – why dichotomise?  Do we really have to shovel kids into one pigeon hole or another?  What about kids (or adults for that matter) who don’t want to change gender, but aren’t satisfied with the expectations placed on them because of gender?  (Here, too, though, I think the Boston approach is clearly superior.)

So… my idea is this.  Let gender non-conforming kids (and all kids for that matter) be who they wish, and try on whatever roles they want to try on.  Most of what we think of as gender is pretty outmoded anyway; it’d be better for everyone if we all started transitioning away from our biases.  And when puberty approaches, it’s inevitable that things will get messy (as they always do with puberty).  A certain amount of suffering may be unavoidable; I think the crucial thing before committing to any dramatic and largely irreversible course of action is to determine how damaging the alternative would be.  If a kid is going to be absolutely miserable without transitioning, then she or he should begin the biochemical process of transition.  A certain amount of suffering, as I said, is probably unavoidable; but that’s part and parcel of the human condition anyway (Buddhists proclamations to the contrary notwithstanding).  No one should have to be miserable, though.  And of course, hormonal interventions which are begun prior to puberty are going to be far, far, far more effective than those begun after puberty; so by all means, for kids who need to transition in order to be happy and healthy, sooner is better than later.

Caveat to all of the above:  I’m not a medical or psychology professional, or really in any way qualified to weigh in on this topic.  I do have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a concentration in psychobiology, and I have been working in (unrelated) medical research for over ten years.  My main qualification, though, is that I’m very interested in people, generally, and all of our glorious, unclassifiable, messy intricacies.  And I am interested in people being able to live the lives they want to live.

is the witness self organic or post modern?

A student at the yoga studio asked me this question about a month ago; she said she hadn’t been brave enough to search for an answer online because she thought she’d be overwhelmed by badly written blog posts.  Well, I was brave/stupid enough to do a Google search, and found nothing of interest.  Here are my thoughts on the issue, copied from an email I sent her in response:

This is a great question; it forced me to ask “What is the witness self?”, “What is organic?”, and “What is post modernism?”.  The answer I gave you on Saturday (“You’re drawing a false dichotomy between organic and post modern”) looks like a cop-out; in fact, I thought it was an elegant evasion when it first occurred to me.  The more I’ve thought about it, though, the more I think this is the right answer, or at least it’s the best answer I can give.  Here are my current thoughts on the question:

The term “post modernism” (as I understand it) came into vogue in the 20th century.  It’s very, very tempting to make the leap to concluding that post modernism, therefore, did not exist before the 20th century, but I’m not certain that that’s true (any more than we can say that gravity didn’t exist before Newton).  It just hadn’t been codified yet.  I think we could think of any rejection of dichotomized or blindly context dependent thinking as post modern, or proto post modern if you’re feeling linguistically courageous.  So in this sense, we can definitely call the witness self post modern, simply because it acknowledges nuance and ambiguity without judging or categorizing (which I think is what post modernism at its best does).

But this doesn’t mean that the witness self is not also organic.  I think we can look at the witness self as an eventual (perhaps inevitable) development of self-awareness… and (ta-da!) we can say the same of post modernism.  Hence, post modernism is organic!  Surprise!

An interesting (to me, anyway) follow-up question is:  Why do we draw a line between organic and post modern?

I hope all of this doesn’t make your head explode.  Please let me know if I’m completely off my rocker here, or if I’ve just confused the issue further.

Pet Sounds

I should start by saying that I’m not even going to attempt a review; I’m just not qualified.  However, I’ve been listening to this album a lot lately, and the sheer genius of it is staggering.  I find myself mulling over the following questions, though:  would I appreciate this album if I knew nothing about Brian Wilson and his struggles?  To what degree is my appreciation of this work dependent on my loose familiarity with the author’s story, and (more importantly) projection of my own?  I guess the same question could be asked of any work of art; that’s probably the point of art, actually – to locate yourself in it.

bad ideas as a creative exercise

I went to the Bakery during my lunch break to order a cake for my grandmother’s birthday tomorrow (I would have made one from scratch, but I completely forgot about her birthday until yesterday, and I just don’t have time). When the girl behind the counter asked me if I wanted anything written on the cake, I really really REALLY wanted to say, “Yes, could you please write ‘CONGRATULATIONS! YOUR TEST RESULTS ARE NEGATIVE!’ or ‘SORRY THE CONDOM BROKE’ or ‘DON’T WORRY, IT’S JUST A COLD SORE’.”

I often spend my idle time thinking up the worst possible things I could say or do in various situations. I find that I do this much, much more when I’m nervous. I think maybe sometimes I’m just starved for a creative outlet. When my sister asked me what sort of ice cream I was going to make with my new ice cream maker, I told her my first plan was tuna raisin surprise. She actually believed me.

So what other wildly inappropriate things could I have asked the girl at the bakery to write on the cake? And are there any worse flavours of ice cream than tuna raisin surprise?

(Afterword: I made a batch of pumpkin ice cream last night. I’m out of cinnamon, so I used allspice instead, and some maple syrup. Amazingly good.)