2014-08-30

Dress provocatively to avoid rape

While I never thought provocative clothing justifies rape or excuses the criminal, I used to think there was a grain of truth in the idea that if you don't want it to happen to you, don't provoke it.

This paper, however, turns that idea on its head:
While people perceive dress to have an impact on who is assaulted, studies of rapists suggest that victim attire is not a significant factor. Instead, rapists look for signs of passiveness and submissiveness, which, studies suggest, are more likely to coincide with more body-concealing clothing. In a study to test whether males could determine whether women were high or low in passiveness and submissiveness, Richards and her colleagues found that men, using only nonverbal appearance cues, could accurately assess which women were passive and submissive versus those who were dominant and assertive. Clothing was one of the key cues: "Those females high in passivity and submissiveness (i.e., those at greatest risk for victimization) wore noticeably more body-concealing clothing (i.e., high necklines, long pants and sleeves, multiple layers)." This suggests that men equate body-concealing clothing with passive and submissive qualities, which are qualities that rapists look for in victims. Thus, those who wore provocative clothes would not be viewed as passive or submissive, and would be less likely to be victims of assault.

2014-08-26

American individualism

To an outside observer, American culture can appear to be sick with individualism: an extreme lack of compassion for others, or any sense of responsibility for them.

I find that the US political spectrum largely consists of the following two groups of people:
  • Those who believe that poverty in the US is caused primarily by that the people who endure it are biologically and culturally different in a deep-rooted way that cannot be helped in a trivial or reasonable manner.
  • Those who take it for granted that everyone is born equal, and so that poverty is artificially created and perpetuated. If only the poor received a trivial and very reasonable amount of help, all would be well.
The first group tend to be conservatives. The second group tend to be liberals. The two cannot see eye to eye because they disagree fundamentally on whether the cause of poverty is nature, or nurture.

With respect to this post, I do not want to make a claim as to whether the answer is either - though if you think the answer is obviously and exclusively nurture, I would advise you to think again.

Instead, I would like to call attention to that the whole nature vs. nurture debate does not even exist in countries that are culturally and biologically homogenous.

To the extent that the nature vs. nurture debate exists, and tends to be unresolvable, it is present in countries that imported a large population of someone from somewhere else, to do some menial job that the locals wouldn't; and now the descendants of imported people are underperforming. Prime examples of this are Africans in the US, and Turks in Germany.

In culturally and biologically homogenous countries, there are also people who are underperforming, but there is no tendency to discuss the reasons, because they're part of the in-group. Everyone is part of the same culture, same biological tribe, so people feel compassion and unity with others, no matter why they are the way they are.

But in the US, there's no cultural and biological homogeneity. And so far, no people on Earth have mastered the concept of treating all humans as part of their in-group, even if they are culturally and biologically their opposite.

It's not a trivial question. Should we? Should we treat as part of our in-group people who not only do not embody our values - but actively work against them? Despise them? Embody their opposite? If I value science and personal freedom, should I treat as part of my in-group a fundamentalist who wants schools to teach only from the Quran, and all women to be forced to wear burqas?

American individualism is a consequence of American cultural and biological diversity. When your neighbor looks different than you, and maintains values that not only differ from yours, but oppose them - you won't trust him. He isn't part of your in-group. When he falls on hard times, you will blame this on his being biologically and culturally different from you. And maybe part of that's true. Maybe his failures are related to that he is different.

It is natural that you will think twice before giving him the benefit of the doubt. And you will resent it if someone unilaterally decides to tax your income in his favor.

I'm not sure if the alternative - closed and homogenous societies - is necessarily better. A diverse community might decrease trust among its residents (because most people other than the self are not in the in-group), but a world of homogenous countries, while encouraging trust within country (in-group), may lead to xenophobia and nationalism towards other countries (out-group).

I'm not sure that's better. At least when there's mistrust on an individual level, peace can be kept through law. It's more challenging to keep the peace when there's mistrust between countries.

2014-08-22

Hershey chocolate actually does taste like vomit!

As a European who first tried Hershey chocolate in my twenties, I find the product disgusting - but I didn't understand why until today. It turns out, it's not just me: Hershey actually uses a process which produces butyric acid - the substance that gives vomit its smell and taste!

From this article:
Everywhere but at home, American milk chocolate — specifically Hershey’s — is known for its tangy or sour flavor, produced by the use of milk that Mr. Landuyt refers to as “acidified.” Although Hershey’s process has never been made public (and a spokeswoman declined to comment on its techniques), experts speculate that Hershey’s puts its milk through controlled lipolysis, a process by which the fatty acids in the milk begin to break down.

This produces butyric acid, also found in Parmesan cheese and the spit-up of babies; other chocolate manufacturers now simply add butyric acid to their milk chocolates. It has a distinctive tang that Americans have grown accustomed to and now expect in chocolate. “I can’t think of any other reason why people would like it,” said Mr. Whinney, of Theo Chocolate.

2014-08-19

Extraordinary knowing

Some time in 2001 or 2002 was the last time when I was near-broke. By that, I mean that my expenses closely matched my income, and I had to pay close attention to how much I was spending, when, and on what. This wasn't unusual at my age, at the time. I was 21 - 22, doing odd jobs as a software developer, and my business hadn't yet taken off.

But this one time during those years, I laid in bed in my rented apartment; I was about to receive a payment for some work I'd done, and the thought came across my mind, "This is the last time you'll be lacking money." It was one of those rare thoughts that feel subtly foreign; as if another entity whispered it to me in my mind. It felt like a kind entity, and a reassuring thought. I was incredulous, unsure if I should believe it. I had no way to know how the future was going to turn out. But I felt strangely confident. I wanted to trust that my luck in life was going to turn up.

It did. That was the last time my expenses consumed my income.

And... I don't think it's so much that I knew it - as it is that I was told.

2014-08-12

Robin Williams

In the last 11 hours, I've read a number of people express a sentiment like: "I never understood people grieving over the passing of a celebrity. But now that it's Robin Williams - now I understand."

I'm one of those people.

He just happened to choose a way to die, and a time to die, that is as tragically beautiful as his work. From Dead Poets' Society, to Patch Adams, What Dreams May Come, Bicentennial Man - his work has made me cry. He was well known as an unusually kind, gentle, and caring person. With a rich career behind him, he ends it in a way that makes us cry for him again. He reminds us that underlying his kindness was pain. He reminds us not to overlook the pain.

A few months ago, this was the last film I saw from him:



I cried. And I loved it.

Be well, Robin.

Be well.