Thursday, September 26, 2013

That Sinking Feeling: Stacey Rambold

A Montana teacher convicted of raping a 14-year-old student in his class was released from prison today. Stacey Rambold, 54, was sentenced by Judge G. Todd Baugh to 15 years in prison - all of which but one month was suspended. His student, who I decline to name for reasons of decency, later went on to kill herself.

This case disgusts me for any of a number of reasons. First of all, the idea that a teacher of all people can't grasp the concept of consent is appalling. Secondly, the Judge in question augmented his ruling with the logic that the victim was "older than her chronological age" - we know we have a problem when even the Judges are skating the edges of victim-blaming. Third... the sentence is patently ludicrous. Rape, statutory or otherwise, is a felony. People get longer than this for having a joint in their back pocket on the way home after work.

I don't have much of a stake in the American Justice System, but those of you who do (who, statistically, are a majority of my readers - Hi, America) may want to consider what exactly is going on here.

As for me... I'm just sitting here trying not to hold any of this against anyone.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Morality Trap, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust God

Sir Nigel don't care!
When I was in the ludicrously informal process of RCIA at my local parish, and indeed, long long before, I used to frequent a particular website, a forum for Catholics, which I won't directly link to because I am about to be not very nice to it, and I don't want to direct an angry mob of three or four people, or expose myself to some sort of weird liability problems. Not that I don't doubt they'd notice, or that they'd care, but thems the breaks.

In the beginning, the website was actually pretty useful - I have a problem with depth-first searches for things, so when I started looking at denominations, I went "Okay, let's learn everything Catholicism has to offer". And the website's extensive forum system was perfect for that. I could ask any question, from the most fundamental to the most inauspicious, and get answers, usually at least half-way thought out, which were at worst tangentially relevant. It was a useful tool, and it's where I found about half of the reading list in my Blogger account - ultimately, the community there is what convinced me to become Catholic.

However, as fora go, this particular one was hard-right Traditionalist with a capital T. That's fine. Traditions are good, and the logical reduction of strong faith in a doctrine is a traditional enforcement of the same. However, that sort of environment is not good for a person in my circumstance. I'm a centrist by European standards, but over here in North America I lean left, at least in terms of social policy. You take a guy with unpopular opinions like that and put him in an environment where his default mental state is "student, here to learn", and it leads to some unhealthy places.

I've been on Fora pretty much my entire adult and subadult life. The vagaries of conversing anonymously on the internet are nothing new to me, but... when you're in an anonymous state, you can espouse any belief without threat of exposure or concern for actually believing it, and that was the trap I was falling into on this forum. AS it always happens for me, the account became a character, posting things, on occasion, to just conform with the Trad masses, to avoid the inevitable string of "corrections".

A big part of this website was discussion on whether or not action X or precept Y was moral. A baited question if ever there was one, but Catholics by nature are moral absolutists in doctrine, so it was easy to get mired in the idea that, for example, yes, Harry Potter is all bad all the time. That was where I spent most of my time, when I wasn't sticking my neck out in the chain-letter-like group prayer threads, which were genuinely the most enjoyable and most genuine part about that website.

Moral discussion is bad territory for me. I wouldn't say I am a relativist, for even I have a few doctrinal no-spots that no amount of justification can leverage. I am, however, for lack of a better word, Liberal. I have learned this silly aspect of relationships called Trusting Other People, a subset of which is Parents Trust Their Children, and by extension, I trust the hypothetical children I am yet to father to be able to distinguish between reality (A Brief History of Time) and fiction (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone). I'm not the sort, however, who believes magic is inherently bad in anything - I've done my share of fantasy roleplaying, thrown my share of imaginary fireballs, and I know enough to know you've got your arcane magic (Ouija Board looks an awful lot like 1st-Level Wiz/Sor spell "Augur") and your Divine Magic (Transmute Wine to Blood). A bit of a satirical way to look at it perhaps, but one group can't make claims of the supernatural while damning another group for doing so.

It was that sort of nit-picky morality that made me mad, and between external pressure, and pounding my forehead on the desk with the eighteenth discussion of how magic in the work of Tolkein and Lewis was okay, but Terry Brooks should go do terrible things to his digestive anatomy, that I realized the whole website was a place of extreme cognitive dissonance and that I needed to take one massive step backward.

Which I did, thankfully, and for a time, I lapsed as a Catholic, if full truth could be told. Not being in a place where I had to defend my liberal theology put me in a place where I didn't feel a need to. So I started putting aside the things I "didn't believe". No more confession... but that horridly awkward feeling of "I shouldn't be here right now" in Mass eventually meant no more mass. No more mass because not needing nightly prayers, became not needing any prayer at all.

And I lived that way for about a year. I'd be lying, actually, if I said it was a bad year - a few roadblocks aside, the last year's been pretty good to me. Then, it started coming back - that missing-something feeling. So I started praying again. Started reading more of the bible and less of the fora. My copy of the Catechism is so aggressively dog-eared it makes me want to puke, but I'm out of book-darts and those little postit flags are just so... tacky.

I still don't like confession... but I can't say I don't believe in it. It's therapeutic, for one thing. Can be for anyone. So this week, I might go back. When I do, it won't be with a laundry list of the things I might have done wrong. It will be with the things that genuinely were.

I trust God enough to inspire me to talk about whatever I need to talk about.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Breathing Fresh Air

And you all thought I was done with blogging about the Catholic thing.

I like Pope Francis. I probably shouldn't be surprised, because he's chosen his papal name from my second-favourite saint, he's learned, and he has consistantly, right from the get-go, been about as humble as you can when you're the leader of a billion people and nominal inheritor of one of the richest organizations on the planet.

Yeah, yeah, I know, most of the wealth of the Church is balanced in liabilities, but the opulence remains, which is the key idea here in my mind. The world views the church as having incredible wealth because it has what is essentially the largest collection of objects d'art in the western world. And so far from what I have seen, His Holiness forgoes all but what is mandatory. The day of or after his election he walked to the hotel where the cardinals had been staying during the selection process and personally collected his bags before taking them to the papal residence.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Keeping Track of Money (and a New Section!)

Hello Internet!

I have been in the business of constructing excel spreadsheets longer than I have been in business. As soon as I realized it could handle complex math and even a few simple logic commands I knew I was onto something useful. I never had the patience to learn a formal coding language auto-didactically, but in my own generally-hackish way, I learned to build a few things that just never should exist in spreadsheet form - including, once, a full database. This was before I had learned about Microsoft's database system, Access.

After learning how to do excel formally, I still like to play with it from time to time, even though there's no professional need to. It helps me remember some of the more esoteric commands (such as the various d-series commands like "DSUM"), keeps my logic circuit running, and is genuinely a fun pastime when I have nothing terribly exciting to play on the digital frontier, no new books, and Kat's not around.

Lately I've been looking at my massive, well-curated collection of arcane, ugly, and certainly only functional-to-me spreadsheets and wondering what I can do with them. Mostly-empty spreadsheets cost little to no memory, so they haven't been in the way, but when I see a few hundred files in a directory I wonder if I can't put them to use. I come from the age when an 8 GB harddrive was massive, so I have a few old holdovers when it comes to space conservation.

So, what I've decided to do, is every weekend or so I am going to take one of these old files, turn it into something that anyone can use, and upload it here for download.

This week, I'm offering Monthly Spending Tracker v.1.0. The workbook offers a series of sheets (one for each month in a calendar year), with a column for a budget, a column for the output, and tables to track your income (on the left) and spending (on the right). The package includes my documentation for the file, which outlines more-or-less how it works. I tried to make the system as user-friendly as possible but if you're digging into the code, you're going to run into problems. I'm so used to working without ranges that I only define large ranges such as tables. Most cell references are going to be absolute or relative references to specific cells - best practice for public use documents would be to name literally every reference as a range so that the end user can look at the code and fix their mistakes.

Still, it should do the job.

I will be, in the coming days, adding a new page for all of these downloads.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Return to Living Simply and Launching Project Spartan

Plating leaves something to be desired
So, as it turns out, I haven't actually posted about what I just did. For what looks like the next couple of months, I'm going to be living with my parents in the 3-bedroom condo while I get my financial house in order for The Big Move.

Because of that, and because I was living on my own for an extended period beforehand, I've had to downsize on gear (as a matter of fact, the 55 Gallon, which I was going to put into storage, is now for sale, which people should get in touch with me about). I've already taken a heavy sweep through my clothing looking for duplicates, rags, and those garments you can't discard but also never wear. I eventually want to get my clothing down to the point where it'll all fit in my closet - about five or six outfits, plus work clothes.

It's not just clothing and fishtanks either. Putting all of my stuff into boxes, moving it across town, and then putting it in a room roughly the size of my last bathroom has made it rather obvious just how much I actually own, and how much of it I actually need. I probably don't need the several footlockers full of CAT cable, the endless (but organized) stack of half-filled notebooks, or the tiny mountain of reusable grocery bags that I never remember to use (mostly because they are usually filed badly).

So, I'm taking a few minutes each morning to get back to basics on a lot of this stuff, figure out what I'm doing wrong, what I'm doing right, what I need less of, and what I need more of. I figure it'll help my bottom line in the long run, and having less things should certainly make The Big Move easier.

On a seperate-but-related note, I'm announcing the start of a writing side project. Now that I have the general sequence of the main storyline figured out, the vast majority of what I worked on for a side-plot has been relegated to the ash-heaps. To get some use out of it, I'm beginning a project called Project Spartan, wherein I post short stories about the locality in my storyline known only as "The Commune". The scheduling will be on a not-to-interfere-basis with NaNoWriMo, which should be the kick I need to finally get the first draft of the (new) first book hammered out.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Child Sex Trafficking Allegations Ignored by Police in US & Canada

Ragebunny disapproves, because I have
no self-frowns.
I just want to take a moment in advance of the body of this article to thank everyone for their patience. I'm all settled in (more or less) at the new house and getting ready for the Great Big Move. Thanks to everyone who wished me well on the project.

Recently, as in, a few weeks ago, a story surfaced alleging heavy prostitution on shipping vessels in Thunder Bay, Ontario that service ports in Michigan. The story largely came and went - the police departments in the communities involved essentially went 'well, we've never seen a prostitute on a boat, so it must not be happening'.

Then, yesterday, the CBC ran the article again - this time with an actual victim of the relevant sex trade to corroborate the story. The woman, named Bridget Perrier, recounted a 20-year history of being involved in this trade, mostly against her will, and beginning from the age of 12.

I do want to point out that persons below the age of consent can't be sex workers. Anyone engaged in that particular activity at that particular age are victims of statutory rape. So, by extension of the police not investigating the prostitution allegations, they're also not investigating the statutory rape allegation.

I know a fair amount of mothers (and possibly even some fathers) read this, so what I have to ask you, is whether or not you would be understanding of the police not wanting to investigate your child's allegations that someone had raped them.

The actual details of the trade, as set out, are stunningly dark, so I encourage you to actually read the full article.

One of those involved, a seargent in the police of the American town involved, is skeptical of the claims because "I can look over the hill and see the ships out in the bay, they're not parked at the docks like they used to be." I can't even figure out where to start with such a mind-numbling dumb assertion; is it more relevant that the prostitution is likely occurring aboard the ships, or that prostitution and people-smuggling aren't the same trade?

Sometimes, all I can do is shake my head at the vast incompetence of law enforcement. It seems like the older I get, the more frequently it happens. Don't even get me started on the time I was told I must have robbed myself.