Sunday, July 27, 2014

Inferrence Amiss: Netflix Profiles

Netflix uses a variety of data analysis and inference methods to provide users with suggestions but also for their own corporate usage.  While it is a year old, this Wired article sums the process up with reasonable comprehensibility.  My Netflix profile indicates that my "taste preference" is "Critically Acclaimed, Witty, Visually Striking Movies."  And somehow, that category includes: Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, something called Sita Sings the Blues, six French films, one Italian film, the oft (should be off-ed because it's been so over-) quoted Monty Python and the Holy Grail, two Wes Anderson films, a Woody Allen film, and The Graduate. 

Also, my top picks include, Murder She Wrote, Columbo, From Russia with Love, Pokemon (!?!?!?), The A Team, Ghostbusters, Patriot Games, My Little Pony, and Top Gear.

This all leads to a very sensible question: What the hell have I been watching?  And really, Pokemon and My Little Pony?  Horrible.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an episode of Mork and Mindy to finish.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Nature, Literature, and a Happy New Year

I've written before about my yearly escape to regroup and regain my sanity.  I call this Rita New Year.  This year, I had my New Year in July.  It was almost relaxing, and I'm partially regrouped.  For all of my ability to be social, I prefer solitude or near solitude.  This is especially true when the scenery is so gorgeous and you have a (many) books to read.

Roses from my mother's former garden
Two years ago I was on the tip-top of this mountain, amazing.
The prairie...


I lasted two days into my trip before visiting a local bookstore; one of the best I've encountered.  The sometimes cool thing about South Dakota is that it exists in a time warp.  Therefore, there are still some awesome things available.  And, people hold onto things for a long time which means they are old and tend to be in fair condition, books included.  This bookstore had 10ft high oak shelves, which required the use of one of the little rolly step-stool things that good bookstores and libraries have.  There were also books stacked in front of the shelves 5-6 high, 4-5 deep.  It smelled like ink, paper, and dust, always promising.  If you've never purchased or checked out a book based on smell and/or touch alone, you've missed out.  Glossy pages, delicate smooth pages, just noticeably textured paper, rough heavyweight paper, crisp almost starchy pages...sigh, yes, tactile response in reading is important.  Sometimes there is a satisfying sound, shhhpt, when the pages turn.  Then there's the whole weight and balance of the book.  So seductive for inanimate objects; I'm totally in love with the written word.  I spent about 2 hours perusing the stacks.  I left (using great self-restraint) with only 11 books, almost one book per 10 minutes looking.  I didn't find any of the Kittredge Shakespeare editions from the '30s and '40s by Ginn and Company, unfortunately.  I'm ten away from a complete collection, but they are surprisingly hard to find, especially in the wild.  I'm always extra excited when I find one.  Excellent selection of '70s sci-fi/fantasy series though.  I'm set until August.  If only I could have stayed and read my books instead of coming back, so tempting I almost didn't.  Books and reading are such a part of my existence, it's like love and breath and dreams and happiness and peace in a little package just for me.  Luckily, they are also highly portable, and so I can continue to be drawn in and satisfied even after I've arrived back to hipsters and concrete.  Therein lies my sanity for the remainder of the year...

Removed from natural habitat.... in captivity...(after returning to the land of hipsters)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

You Must Be This Tall to Ride

There’s this:
“Even when a girl rejects your advances, she KNOWS that you desire her.  That’s hot.  It arouses her physically and psychologically.” – Above the Game, a “pickup artist” guide

And this:
“Men are notoriously bad at reading women’s minds and body language.  Don’t think that you’re any different.  From now on you must ASSUME that she is attracted to you and wants to be ravished.  It’s a difference in mindset that makes champs champs and chumps chumps.” – Above the Game, a “pickup artist” guide

And then there’s this:
“He told police he raped, choked and fatally stabbed the girl when she rejected his advances as they drank at the abandoned 18-acre site on a hillside overlooking Waterbury.” – Associated Press

And this:
“Man Hurls Glass in Woman’s Face After She Ignored Him in City Bar” - London24

And this:
“Suspect commits deadly shooting after reportedly being rejected by woman in Detroit gas station” – WJBK FoxDetroit

In a recent post, I made reference to the DJ who covered my friend’s wedding.   He approached me, invaded my personal space, got annoyed when rebuffed, and watched me all night.  His interest was noted by the bride’s dad, who made sure to give him a good stare down every time he tried to linger at our table (as if the DJ wasn't his own biggest cockblock to begin with, but thanks Dez).  The situation has been bothering me.  I've been thinking about it a bit more.  A good friend suggested that in the future I accept the "compliment" by saying thank you and moving on.  I'm grateful my friend gave me the opportunity to reflect more on the situation, although perhaps in unexpected ways. 

I don't think my friend was trying to be at all disrespectful when he suggested I let the DJ's behavior slide and take it as a compliment.  If anything, he was trying to be helpful in a way that could assist me in letting it go while not wasting emotional energy on the situation. And maybe it seems perplexing that disrespect could be used to describe his comments at all, perhaps unaware or naive fits the statement (not the person) better.  His comments prompted me to think on a larger scale in regard to the messages people receive about what is and is not acceptable in terms of advances and statements of interest.  I find it unlikely any of my current friends, male or not, would genuinely suggest that anyone, women included, should feel complimented by all people, men included, who hit on them. Instead, I suspect they would indicate that it is perfectly ok to reject their advances.  I wonder, though, how much of this is due to the friends I have versus the larger social perspective.  The idea that someone should be flattered or complimented by someone else taking an interest in them regardless of the intention behind the interaction is shortsighted, dangerous, and unfortunately pervasive in US society as reflected in the statements listed above.  It's like the dog telling the fire-hydrant to be grateful it's the first one on the block.

My friend also suggested that men are often thinking simply of a sexual encounter in these instances, and most, when rejected, will move on.  And again, I wonder, how is that a compliment?  Guy: "She'll do." "Hey, you have a really classic look, I feel like I know you." Girl: "Not interested." Guy: "Too hard, need something easier, Feminist Bitch" (moves on down the line) "Hey, you have a really classic look..." So, women should feel complimented that men think they're worth having sex with, and yet, if you aren't interested or are too difficult to persuade they'll just happily move on to someone else?  Really?  Like women are carnival rides?  Women who set boundaries around sex are not "feminist bitches," and the notion that men get to be indignant about those boundaries and label women is unacceptable.  No one is entitled to sex, and women are not required to fulfill men's absurd, narrow, entitled requests.  It's one thing to approach someone and be frank that you want to have sex.  Just fucking ask.  Introduce yourself, get the other person's name, and then state your question (this is a quick way to get “enthusiastic consent” a brilliant concept).  Depending on where you're at, this could go very well or very poorly.  Choose wisely.  Why waste time on pretense when it's obvious that is all your conversation is?  Sex for the sake of sex is fine. Some people should have more, some less, some probably not at all. Otherwise, build a nice foundation; have a genuine discussion about something, get to know the other person slightly, and then ask.  Do not, however, pull the DJ-esq bullshit involving horrible lines and an overbearing entitlement to the woman as your property as soon as you see her.  I think that is what really gets me about the DJ; the entitlement and he insulted my intelligence.  If you have to insidiously persuade, scam, or otherwise bend the other person's will to have sex, that's a problem.  The DJ was clearly following the used car salesman’s book to hooking up.  There was nothing he could have said based on his initial presentation that would have prompted me to consent to anything.

After reflecting on the DJ situation, I realized many men, possibly including my friend, have probably never been in a situation where any kind of engagement (positive like a smile or negative like "get away from me") has been taken as both immense interest in the other person and permission for anything and everything.  I've worked with enough sex offenders to know the Above the Game pickup artist information by heart.  Always assuming that all women are attracted to you and therefore "want to be ravished" is not what "makes champs champs and chumps chumps." When followed, that assumption makes felons felons and non-felons felons...guaranteed.  The positive response is seen as an open invitation, the negative response is seen as a challenge to be dominated. 

Am I overly cautious in situations like the DJ, yes...and no.  My excessive caution has served me well in some ways, although not perfectly.  Can I step outside of my rigid interpersonal defenses in regard to come-ones and see that not all men are skeezy douchebags?  Yes, I know a number of respectful, highly attractive men.  I even trust a couple of them.  Yet, when I have attempted to be more flexible and use the socially prescribed, polite "thank you, moving on" cues, I have been reminded in the worst ways that my actions only account for some of the outcome.

For example, last year I was assaulted in the middle of a crowded bar.  I was in the company of my partner and four good friends.  The guy who assaulted me was one of the bar owners.  He seemed to be on good terms with a friend, so I let my caution dial back while letting some of his attitude and comments about my "hot boots and red nails" slide...I'm not big on public drama.  Definitely one of the worst choices I've ever made. Also, I was in a large group of people and felt safe, as I had every right to...however idealistically misguided.  The night progressed, so did his blood alcohol content and his obnoxiousness.  Luckily, our table only fit five people so the space limited our interaction somewhat.  It wasn't until near the end of the night that I started setting boundaries and making "back off" cues.  As I was getting ready to leave, and my partner left to pay the tab, the guy restrained me from behind, groped me, rubbed himself against me, kissed the side of my head leaving copious amounts of spit behind, and made a comment about what I "wanted" sexually, as if he had it on good authority and it involved him. Stunned, horrified, and struck with fear, it ended when my partner scrambled back across the room after seeing my horrified face and literally pried him off of me.  I nearly wrecked my car driving home on account of dry-heaves, uncontrollable shivering, and anxiety.  I threw my boots away the second I pulled into my driveway, and I have another pair I haven't worn since then.  I had a painful bruise where he gripped my upper arm.  And I had one of the most difficult, terrifying, and humanity affirming conversations of my life with the friend who knew the guy…after I went back and forth for a couple of days before finally deciding to talk with him.  Gratefully, my fears were unwarranted and my indecision was unnecessary regarding our discussion as my friend responded in the most supportive way (definitely one of the best decisions in the situation). 

The next few months proceeded with a mixture of high anxiety, and a constant fluctuation between insomnia and nightmares.  Perhaps worst of all, it briefly affected my clinical work, an unforeseen impact.  I did what I needed to in order to regain balance and a sense of safety but it took time.  I felt the need to do it rather quietly without any attention or further discussion.  I also had to process my role in the situation.  Coming to terms with the fact that I was physically powerless in that moment and completely froze without defending myself was painful...even though I was physically not a match for the guy.  After all, I've trained in self-defense with two high level black-belt women over a period of years here and there, and I was in a fairly crowded bar, surely I could have drawn a bit more attention.  Could I have made other choices? Absolutely. Would it have made a difference? Maybe.  In that situation, I was damned either way, I think (although I wish I had screamed "GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME" so I didn't [irrationally] feel so much like a failure and at fault).  Was any of his behavior, even upon initial greeting, a compliment? No, not even close.  Did I feel “aroused”?  Only so far as I simultaneously wanted to cause him grievous bodily harm and burn all of my flesh off.  Given this experience, there was no way the DJ was getting a pass, especially when I was basically traveling alone and in a barely familiar location.  That rigidity doesn't make me a feminist bitch; I don't need to justify myself in choosing the people I spend time with socially or sexually.  

I have no objections to flirting with people or sharing genuine compliments with someone.  I do my fair share of both, and I find them fun as well as important in maintenance of social skills and relationships. And, social situations can be really challenging- even more so when it comes to possible sexual interest.  The salient difference in the situation with the DJ versus other encounters was the intent and attitude behind the interaction.  There was nothing respectful or genuine in his presentation, tone, choice of words, or physical proximity.  He made it clear I was an object to be had and nothing more.  There is absolutely nothing complimentary about being a dehumanized, targeted object.  Nothing.  Despite this, socially it is still considered unacceptable or rude for women to react with almost anything but politeness and gratitude when shown male attention (take it as a compliment).  This is especially true if you are not exactly attractive by social standards.  Also, it can be dangerous for women to respond with anything but positivity in some situations.  Violence in general is unacceptable; the levels of violence against women on account of being women are unfathomable.

(I will add a caveat regarding BDSM preferences that fall into dehumanizing people etc. by stating that when these behaviors are explicitly consensual I think the discussion changes almost entirely.  There are a great many highly intelligent and often well-educated people who enjoy BDSM while still having immensely healthy relationships. Objectification propelled by entitlement and a disregard for women is the focus here.)

The bar incident is a more overt example of the issues women face in regard to advances by men.  The DJ did not physically assault me, but the subtlety of his actions does not belie the impact or the social implications.  When you are a generally nice person with good social skills, nice manners, and respect for people, it's difficult to envision a) that other people are not the same in similar situations and b) that responding in a nice, polite way would lead to increasingly worse outcomes.  Striking a balance between being friendly with new people and making it clear friendly is not an open invitation is difficult.  Failing to recognize and therefore tacitly sanctioning the instances where the message is clear but simply ignored compounds the situation; that is something that can be changed.  A tall order, but necessary for the benefit and safety of all riders...