Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Regarding the Stedman/de Botton Kerfuffle

I'm already sick of the Stedman/de Botton bickering. Like many of the longstanding issues in the atheist community, this one seems to crop up every so often, and people start chewing on it again and never seem to come to a resolution. As far as I can tell, the situation is this:

1) Stedman and de Botton are widely agreed to be - in politest possible terms - flawed.
2) The diplomat camp is reading them charitably, focusing on the things they say that are correct, and attempting to find common ground so that atheism can present a unified front.
3) The firebrand camp is calling them out on their accommodationism, so as not to cede ground to religion.

I've wrangled with this a bit, but, as usual, have come down on the firebrand side. I'm an ex-religious person. One of the biggest reasons that I left religion was realizing that the values about it which I embraced were, in fact, independent of the belief system. Even Hemant at Friendly Atheist says that de Botton is "...basically throwing secular values under the bus for the sake of making his point." WE CAN'T LET HIM DO THAT. Above all, we can't let the religious side - in this case, speaking through de Botton - frame the debate, or we've already lost. We can't concede these values to religion, and then try to reclaim or rebuild them. Fuck no. This imprecise language just bolsters religious belief, all religious belief, any religious belief as the source of morality, and relegates atheism to a second-class, impoverished philosophy that we all (except for Stedman and de Botton, apparently) know it's not.

I know this language that Stedman and de Botton are using. They're speaking Christian - it's my native tongue. It will only make the religious more confident, only make them pity us more. We can't play into their myth about us - we have to draw a line and show them the reality of atheism and morality.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On Violent Video Games

No, not like that.

I was talking to someone the other day and I mentioned that I play first-person shooters. I mean, not in the most technical sense; a lot of them are actually third-person over-the-shoulder shooters, but "FPS" has become a well-understood genre. A genre that I really like, one that I get a thrill out of, one that is decidedly more exciting for me than real-time strategy or even than RPGs, although I enjoy those too. I like my twitchy trigger-finger reflexes and the satisfying feeling of a headshot (pardon the pun) well-executed.

My interlocutor, sensing common ground, started throwing out the names of several popular war simulation games, but I pretty quickly balked. I hadn't realized it before, but there's a pretty sharp divide in my mind between the sci-fi fluff of space-marine shooters and games based on actual, terrestrial war. I've always espoused the position that video games are fantasy, and that violent games are too quickly demonized when something horrific happens in the real world. But at the same time, there's a pronounced absence of war simulation games in the stacks of cases in my apartment, and even when they were bought for me as a kid, they sat by unplayed. The closest I ever came to a war simulator was an N64 game about plastic soldiers.

I'll be the first to admit that I glory in FPS carnage. I like spattering alien halls with alien blood in alien colors, and I'll shout battle cries upon shotgunning an opponent. But I think I've never picked up war simulators because something about that level of glee disturbs me when it's other human beings that I'm slaughtering. Aliens are easily othered, and I don't think I have a problem with that: they're designed to be mindless and unsympathetic, their evil only minimally complicated, perhaps for a dramatic and regrettable plot twist.

But I think something feels instinctively wrong about directing that killing thrill at other humans, especially since it already happens far too often for comfort in the real world. I'm not saying my moral sense is superior to anyone else's or anything, and I may just be retrofitting my new-found awareness of the kyriarchy to a pattern in my gaming tendencies that I'd never noticed before. I can honestly say it was never a conscious decision to steer away from realistic war games. But I think it just became one. For me, anyway.

Ultimately, I think it was this ad that did me in. I mean, yeah - those guns and explosions are awesome. But then I wondered who the targets were, and I felt a little icky.


EDIT: I've been thinking, and I realized that I did kill humans (albeit in a science fiction setting) in Star Wars games as a kid, specifically in Shadows of the Empire. I also had a brief fling with Splinter Cell on the Xbox, which, for those of you who aren't familiar, is a sneaky, black-ops type game, with decidedly human military opponents. Neither is a particularly realistic representation of war, but both did involve me having no issue killing other humans. So hmmmmm.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


This is a quick addendum to my previous post on Elevatorgate.

It seems that there are really two issues involved in the Elevatorgate kerfuffle, or rather, two things that people are trying to communicate.

1) Don't do that thing because in the current climate, it is likely to make the woman you're doing it to intensely uncomfortable.

2) Don't do that thing AT ALL - just because you've decided that you'd like to have sex with me doesn't mean it's OK for you to now ask me to have sex without any preamble. Give me the same opportunity you've had, of having time to decide whether I'd like to have sex with you. This makes me feel less like a piece of meat, whose only option is to react to your action rather than make my own decisions.

EDIT: Edited for grammar/clarity.

Because Enough Hasn't Been Said Already

BIG FAT CAVEATS: I DO NOT claim to speak for anyone in this post, and I can't know details I wasn't there to see, and I don't have Elevator Guy's firsthand account. A lot of this is interpreting the situation through my own lens and trying to figure out how I feel about it. I'm very very very new to feminism of this stripe, but I'm finding myself going "...YEAH! Uh, what they said!" with respect to a lot of it.

I'm going to weigh in on the Rebecca Watson-Elevator Guy thing. Mostly to clarify my own thoughts in my own head and figure out what, exactly, I'm thinking, and open myself up to constructive criticism. I want to learn from this, I'm just not sure what I should be learning.

I'm going to go a little light on the links in this post, since if you have any idea at all what I'm talking about, you probably know where to find the context.

The basic facts: Rebecca Watson was speaking at an event about feminism and skepticism, and had spent the day essentially saying "Don't hit on me." She spent the evening at a hotel bar, and when she decided to end her evening, said she was tired and was going to bed. Elevator Guy, albeit without his direct input since we don't know who he is, has apparently been confirmed to have been in earshot of both of these things. He still decided to follow her into the elevator and ask her to his room to continue speaking over a cup of coffee. This is, at best, ill-advised.

I've had my share of unpleasant experiences, but I've never been a victim of violent sexual assault or rape. Perhaps because of that, and because I've grown up around painfully awkward but nevertheless lovely men, I give Elevator Guy the benefit of the doubt on this one. I wasn't there, so I don't know, but regardless of whether he was hoping for intimate conversation or intimiate... intimacy, I'm betting he was well-intentioned. REGARDLESS, his actions were still creepy and could easily be construed as threatening.

First: He heard Rebecca's talks, he heard her say she was headed to bed, and he decided that this was still a good time to approach her for possibly sexual purposes. That shows that he finds his own ends more important than her expressed wishes, which, frankly, he has been socialized to do.

Second: He made his request (as far as I know) without attempting to engage her in a public setting, instead waiting until she was isolated and he was alone with her to ask her. This kind of abrupt escalation with no attempt to communicate interest beforehand shows me that you have made a decision about me LONG before you've given me time to make a decision about you. You've decided that you want to be alone with me, but you haven't given me the opportunity to decide whether I want to be alone with you. That disparity tends to set off alarm bells, because now we're in very different places with respect to our desires, and you've put me in a situation of rejecting you before I even have any idea who you are and what you're about. You might be a very nice person, but suddenly we're on very different pages from one another, and especially for women, that can be a scary place.

Why scary? Because now, literally all I know about you is that you have sexual interest in me. And I'm alone in an elevator with you. I don't know how long you've been interested in me, how deep that interest goes, how far you're willing to go to satisfy it, or how much you know about me already. But you've shown me that you've been thinking about me when I don't even know who you are, and that you're willing/clueless enough to completely ignore the context and my expressed desires and my sense of my own safety to tell me so. That swings the Schrodinger's Rapist pendulum, and I'll bet you can guess which way. Add to it the fact that men in our culture are generally taught that it's okay to press for what they want; and that "no" often means "yes," or even "maybe later;" and that for whatever reason, in sexual situations, normal methods of refusal apparently go deliberately misunderstood; and you've put me in a situation that appears pretty fucking threatening. Speaking as someone who's been in similar scenarios, it's a pleasant surprise when a man just takes "I'd rather not; I'm tired and want to go to sleep" as an answer and leaves me alone. Typically I'm bracing for further attempts at convincing, that I will have to deflect as politely as possible for the duration of this elevator ride.

Now you tell me, folks who are saying that this was just an innocent encounter: is any of the above okay? Should anyone be made to feel that way? Is it possible for men to be a little more context-sensitive, or should we refuse to point these things out to them because they're well-intentioned? Obviously, these are just my thoughts on the situation, and I CANNOT in any way speak to how Rebecca Watson felt in that elevator, but this is how I would feel. I'd love to live in a world where I could take this request at face value and have no expectation that a rejection on my part would mean anything more than "I don't want to come to your room/have sex with you right now" - a world where that wouldn't be taken personally, a world where I wouldn't fear for my safety saying that in a place with no exit, a world where that wouldn't reflect badly on me (both in other people's minds and in my own mind), and a world where this guy and I could even get to know each other further the next day. (In public.) But that is not the world that I, as a woman, live in, and it's become increasingly clear from some of the responses to this situation that a lot of men (and some women) don't see that, and are upset that Rebecca's pointing it out when they don't think it exists. Guys: it's not about you. It's not about how you can ask women out or how you can get laid or how you have the very purest of intentions. It's about how women can feel safer in society. So, um. Shut up and listen, I guess.

MORE BIG FAT CAVEATS: This post is obviously rambly and ill-formed, and is made up mostly of my own feelings on the matter. I don't claim to speak for any of the participants here. I'm just trying to nail down where I stand on it, because I think it's important enough for me to be able to articulate my opinions clearly. The Stef McGraw and Richard Dawkins side of things might be its own post later, or I might not get to it - we'll see.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

First Taste: Sweet Miss Giving's

Remember how I said that those food trucks I so wistfully follow only rarely make it down to Hyde Park?


I threw on some clothes, hopped on my bike, and booked it over to Ratner. At first I didn't see anyone in the truck, but through the magic of Twitter, I was able to locate driver Tony, who was incredibly cheerful despite the cold.

I had just started following this bakery on the recommendation of the Gaztro-Wagon folks. Their truck is fairly new, but the bakery has been around for a while. They do good work, too. From their website:
Over 50% of our profits go directly to Chicago House and the bakery doubles as a comprehensive jobs program. At any given time, more than a dozen disabled adults are getting real-world training and experience in our kitchen – as bakers, delivery assistants, packaging specialists and customer service representatives.
Chicago House provides housing and aid to HIV-affected families and individuals, including people struggling with poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness.

Well, their motives are certainly pristine and laudable. How do their cupcakes hold up?

I opted for the red velvet, their signature cupcake.

Cute, no?

My first thought was "That is... squat." My second thought was "That means I can fit it in my mouth!!"

And fit it in my mouth I did. Mmmmm.

The crumb was dense and moist, exactly the way I like it. It was an incredibly rich cake, with a solid cocoa flavor that wasn't overly sweet. The tangy cream cheese frosting was probably my favorite part - I was tempted to lick it off the cupcake, but the cake and frosting combined were just too good. The frosting was super light and airy, and didn't overwhelm the cake. I think the ratio of cake to frosting was absolutely perfect, and the texture and flavor balance between the two was very well done.

In summation: Beautiful flavor and texture balance, loved the frosting. A.

P.S.: I also bought a German chocolate brownie, but that one is MINE ALL MINE and you'll just have to buy your own to see how delicious they are. Fortunately:


Friday, December 10, 2010

First Taste: more Cupcakes

I had an appointment downtown at 9am today. Before I went in, I checked Twitter and saw that the more cupcakes truck (website, Twitter) was only a couple blocks away, parked near Christkindlmarket. Since I'm not often downtown, and the food trucks that I so wistfully follow rarely make it out to Hyde Park, I knew I had to jump on this chance. I crossed my fingers and hoped they would still be there in an hour.

I left 25 East Washington and headed west to Clark and Washington. I passed Christkindlmarket, just waking up for the day - nothing was open, unfortunately, but I did stop to look at some of the window displays and to savor the smells of currywurst, baked apples, and fruit fritters. I found a store which sells glass pickle ornaments - a German must for a Christmas tree, for those of you not in the know. I made plans to return when the stores were open and bustling.

Then, there - on the southwest corner of the intersection - a van with a display window in its side, and an awning propped open. Inside stood an attractive, friendly young guy who, based on the tea in my hand, recommended that I go for the salted caramel over the red velvet. There were thirteen flavors in the truck today, and I probably could have tried something more exotic, but I wanted to see how more managed a familiar flavor. I handed over my cash (about $3.50) and he handed me back a green-labelled takeout box, curiously hefty.

I got home and plunked the box on the kitchen table for immediate investigation.

I felt no remorse as I tore into the cute little package, revealing a gorgeous mini cake suspended in the center.

It was taller than I expected when I pulled it out...

...and the cake a lighter color.

Oh, well - nothing left to do but take a bite.

As you can see, there was an oozy pocket of caramel in the center of this gorgeous cupcake. It had soaked slightly into the surrounding cake, as well, adding a creamy texture and that lovely, almost smoky toffee flavor to every bite. The amount and sweetness of the frosting was, to my taste, exactly right. I could still get my mouth around the majority of the cupcake, and the frosting tasted like a lightly sweetened whipped cream. The cake itself was fairly sweet, which is fine, but the texture was a bit stiff and spongy. This may be for purposes of practicality; I love dense, moist, melty cake, which I imagine doesn't travel terribly well. This cake's crumb was airy and open, but strong.

In short: great caramel flavor, not too sweet, spongy crumb. B+

EDIT: It occurred to me that maybe my problems with the cake were just because the cupcake was on the chilly side, having sat out in an open van and then carried around outside and then eaten a mere five minutes after I got home. I'll have to try one at the storefront for comparison (this is my disappointed face).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Latke? But I hardly know 'er!

I made these.

They were good - a touch bland. I might salt them a little more next time, or include some seasonings. Is that an okay thing to do? I am Not Remotely Jewish, so I have no idea what's appropriate here.

The most important part, though, is the amount of time it took me to grate all the grating-required ingredients with my brand-new Cuisinart. It ended up being 33.2 seconds. I timed it. (Not really.)

Happy Christmahanukwansolsticewhatever!