Yay constantly learning

The Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast has been running a series of sponsor ads recently from The Great Courses. As part of their sponsorship, TGC is running special offers. I used one advertised on SYMIHC and bought “The Masters Of War” for dirt cheap.

It’s kinda awesome.

I really love learning new things. I love hearing new people tell me about things with which I am already familiar, because then I learn new things. I love topics that are complete mysteries to me, because then I learn new things. I love revisiting information I once had but haven’t seen in a while, because then I learn new things.

I love new things.

This week I’ve been watching “Masters of War,” which I downloaded, and catching up on The Ancient World podcast, and reading Storey’s Basic Country Living and Greg Rucka’s novel Bravo.

The world is full of new things to learn.


July 29 2014

I would like a squishable manatee.

I would also like to hide a tool box in my hair.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself


Elise Matthesen Guest Post: What Happened After I Reported

ETA: Comments are open.

[This post is written by Elise Matthesen, in regard to her experience reporting Jim Frenkel for sexual harassment last year. It is being simul-hosted by a number of other sites.

I'm going to be afk for much of the afternoon, so comments will be disabled until I have time to moderate them.

The "I" in the following post is Elise, not me. I am hosting it here on her behalf.]


What Happened After I Reported

Last year at WisCon 37, I told a Safety staffer that I had been treated by another attendee in a way that made me uncomfortable and that I believed to be sexual harassment. One big reason I did was that I understood from another source that he had reportedly harassed at least one other person at a convention. I learned that she didn’t report him formally, for a lot of reasons that aren’t mine to say. I was in a position where I felt confident I could take the hit from standing up and telling the truth. So I did.

I didn’t expect, fourteen months later, to have to stand up and tell the truth about WisCon’s leadership as well.

More than a year after I reported, following an outcry when WisCon revealed that they had lost other reports of misconduct — and after the person in question had not only attended WisCon 38 but had been one of the volunteer hosts in the public convention hospitality suite — WisCon appointed a subcommittee to investigate my report, along with others they had received about the same person, and to determine what action would best benefit WisCon.

That subcommittee made their statement on Friday, July 18. Their decision seemed to focus on the rehabilitation of the person, and to understate the seriousness of the conduct. I found their decision inadequate and troubling, and could not understand how they had arrived at it. A week later, on Friday, July 24, I compared notes with Jacquelyn Gill, a member of that subcommittee. (I am incredibly grateful that she made a public statement about her experience on the committee, which allowed me to reach out to her.) We discovered to our mutual dismay that WisCon leadership never gave her all the details I had reported as evidence upon which she could make her decision. Instead, WisCon leadership gave her a version that watered down my account of the harassment, including downplaying the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading.

I don’t know whether the relevant details were removed or summarized away from the report I made, or were never written down in the first place. As yet I have seen no evidence that the safety logbook itself contains them. I wonder whether the chairs at WisCon 37 were ever even given the details.

When the subcommittee was formed this year after WisCon 38, Debbie Notkin chaired it. While I can see the sense of having the Member Advocate – which was also Debbie — participating in the subcommittee, I was shocked to learn after the decision that the Member Advocate was also the chair of the subcommittee. To my way of thinking, that was a clear conflict of interest which I would have balked at, had I been informed. Still, since she was present when I reported in detail, I can’t imagine why she didn’t see that the watered-down summarized version presented to the subcommittee was materially different than what I reported. Despite that knowledge, she allowed the subcommittee to base their decision on inadequate and frankly misleading information. And the subcommittee cooperated with that. The subcommittee performed no follow-up with me or the witnesses, or with other reporters and their witnesses.

What has happened here is beyond my comprehension. People other than me will have to figure it out and do whatever needs to be done. I hear Ariel Franklin-Hudson has built improved systems for collecting information on incidents, and that’s needed, but what went wrong here is deeper than that.

A proper harassment investigation takes some thought and training, but it is well within the abilities of a good-faith WisCon committee to conduct one. Experts who train people on harassment investigations emphasize the essential elements of an investigation: (1) act promptly, (2) gather all existing written information and reports, (3) based on those, thoroughly interview the complaining witness, the accused, and any witnesses to the complained-of conduct, (4) ask those witnesses for other witnesses or evidence (like documents) that might help illuminate the situation; (5) document what you learn and maintain control and privacy of the documents, and (6) make a decision based on all of the information that you’ve gathered in a methodical and effective way. WisCon, instead, lost reports of complaints, selectively interviewed only the accused, failed to conduct follow-up interviews with complainants and other witnesses, and failed to probe whether the reports on which they relied were complete or accurate. In other words, in addition to disputing the result, I think that the process was haphazard.

I will not blame Debbie for everything that went horribly wrong, because this isn’t just one person. Debbie made a grave error of proper investigation and decision-making, but this is not just Debbie. This is the safety chairs who didn’t investigate further. This is the con-chairs who didn’t follow up and didn’t ever interview me and Lauren. This is the subcommittee members who didn’t push further and contact me and Lauren and Mikki. This is lots of people, some unwitting, some just preferring not to look at the ugly stuff, not to learn something that would require that they confront someone — or confront their principles.

This is a system. And it is fucking powerful and it is fucking broken. I’m not the only one who’s said so. I don’t like putting these details out here. But this is all I have left to do, at this point: stand up and tell the truth.

I would prefer that what this has cost all of us not be wasted. If you care about WisCon, rebuild it. I wish I knew how. I’m at my limits. But as Kameron Hurley said,

“There’s a future that needs building, but somebody who’s actually courageous and principled needs to take up the fucking spade and build it.

“Is it you?”

Continuous is not the same as constant

In the last four years I’ve developed, for the first time in my life, the habit of working out. I love weight training — purely love it. I love lifting heavy weights, I love moving my body (itself a rather heavy weight) through the world in new and novel-to-me ways. I love the growth and improvement, the sense of accomplishment I get from learning to do new things.

I enjoy reading fitness books. The New Workout This, the Ripped Body that. 30 Days to Whatever Things We Put On the Cover. I find these books, while frequently implausible in their claims, to be inspirational. The more reasonable ones are still laughably out of my reach for the most past. I am not a testosterone-fueled twenty-year-old cis-male. I am never going to look like your cover photo. But I find them encouraging — aspirational rather than despair-inducing.

There is one thing, though, endemic to fitness books and programs, that I must willfully ignore. The idea of constant improvement.

There’s a mantra in fitness that each workout ought to bring some small modicum of improvement over the last one. A bit more weight. A better time. One more rep. A bit farther. If I adhere to this thinking, I inevitably hurt myself. My tendons get horribly sore and inflamed to the point where I can’t go about my daily life activities. The idea that continuous improvement must mean constant and unceasing improvement is a recipe for disaster for me.

So I read the books, and watch the YouTube videos. And I go and work out. And I ask myself what a reasonable metric for improvement might be. Measurable improvement each week? Each month? I’m past the age of forty — maybe simply Not Losing Physical Ability is metric sufficient unto the day?

I don’t have a clear answer on this point. But I do know that, each time I go to the Y and lift, I should NOT exhort myself to lift heavier weights every time.

Nopetopus says nope.


No manifestos, only habits

I’ve mentioned before that I am a reformed procrastinator and slacker. I spent a great deal of my young adulthood not participating, not committing, not getting involved. “I’m not good at projects,” I would say, and avoid starting any. This was completely true; I was terrible at finishing things.

Much later in life I read something that resonated for me. Namely, that nothing is ever “done,” it’s only “done enough.” That perfectionism can lead to fear of failure, and that fear of failure leads to decision paralysis, and nothing ever gets started because one is so worried about not finishing.

In my house we summarize this with the saying, “there is no ‘clean’, there is only ‘cleaner.'” The house will never be CLEAN. But it can be cleaner than it is right this minute, if I just pick up one damn thing.

There are a number of books and programs that I like because they fit this ethic.

I love Unfuck Your Habitat. UFYH has a basic theory, which is that no-one deserves to live in filth and squalor. Moreover, that everyone can makes things better, one tiny step at a time. UFYH is against marathon cleaning, in which everyone ends up exhausted and depressed and crabby. UYFH is about twenty minute of cleaning, then a break, then another short clean.

UFYH is about making new habits that will help you enjoy your life.

I appreciate, and somewhat use, the Getting Things Done program. (Book, program, motivational lecture series — it’s kind of a vaguely cult-y thing.) GTD proposes systems for handling decision-making that ultimately reduce one’s cognitive load. The idea is that the fewer things you have hanging out it the back of your mind, causing you stress and anxiety, the more executive function you will have for actual decision-making. I, personally, find this to be the case.

GTD is also about new habits.

I like Nerd Fitness. the core principle of NF is that we can all change out habits. That changing one’s life (fitness, diet, health) is a matter of changing tiny things every few weeks.

NF argues that sweeping changes don’t last, but habits do.

Now, all of these sites are somewhat hectoring in tone. They all take as a fundamental premise that we humans are kinda lazy, kind unmotivated, and a bit fearful of change. So there is a certain amount of “oh for pity’s sake, what do you mean you can’t do this one tiny change?” This works well for me. It might not work well for you.

But at that same time, all three things are full of cheerleading, and motivational remarks, and applause for fulfilling basic accomplishments.

I don’t know about you, but some days I really appreciate applause for fulfilling basic life accomplishments.


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I have two essential reactions to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

First is that I have lost the ability to not-see issues of representation in my fiction. I spent a great deal of time wondering why on Earth the human lead, Malcom, could not have been a woman of color. I couldn’t think of a single story-related reason for it.

I also noted, with tired resignation, that for a story set in California, the background characters were AWFULLY white.

But my second opinion is that, yes, it’s probably true that a chimpanzee does not suffer the recoil penalty when dual-wielding assault rifles.

Once a gamer, always a gamer.


Conventions, missing stairs, confidentiality, reporting

What’s the difference between gossip and informing communities of potentially hazardous individuals?

When do I have responsibility to share what I know about boundary violators, harassers, and sexual predators with the community?

When does silence become protecting harassers?

When does community protection trump the confidentiality rights of the victim?

What is the obligation of a convention in dealing with third-party reports of harassment?

Think on it:

You, reading this, right now — do you know of any unreported instances of harassment, assault, rape, or boundary violation among people you know? How many friends-of-friends in your social circles are known to you as committing acts of questionable judgment and motivation? How many people do you see at every convention who you know to have committed rape or assault?

What do you do with that information?

Do you know all the facts?

Do you know whether they’ve been reported or not?

Do you know who the victim is, and what they want?

Think on it:

Does the victim’s right to privacy trump the safety of future victims?

Does the safety of future victims trump the privacy of those victimized in the past?

If you have all the facts, all the knowledge, do you get to make that decision? Do you get to tell the concom, the police, the internet?

Are you responsible for the publicity horrorshow that happens to the victim when her or his name and story become public because you said something?

Are you responsible for the next victim’s pain down the road because you said nothing?



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