Is tap dancing exploitative?

Many vocal people, conservative and progressive alike, argue that sex-workers, erotic dancers, and porn-stars should be prohibited.

Personally, I’m fine with anything that people choose to do for a living, which doesn’t clearly harm others, and when there are viable alternatives from which to choose. For instance, I think that regulated prostitution and dwarf throwing should be legal - and indeed that there’s nothing particularly disdainful about either.

And yet curiously, amateur pole-dancing leaves me feeling quite ambiguous. And I haven’t even begun to think through my response to male pole-dancing.

An encounter with workplace bullying

I used to work in an office where - I realize in hindsight - I was being covertly bullied. I didn’t see my manager as a bully at the time, though - and nor did I take his maliciousness personally.

There were advantages to such perspective.

Instead of looking for someone else to redress his behavior, I looked to myself when thinking about how I could best address my situation. I did ask him for more training, clarity, and feedback. Yet I chose to take a zenned-out, moral relativist perspective when it became apparent that none of this was going to be forthcoming. 

I started to look harder at how I could ensure my own self-care. I figured it wasn’t a question of whether my workplace was dysfunctional. Rather, it was a question of whether our values were compatible. I wasn’t going to argue with him, or anyone else, whether the place was bad on some absolutist level. Instead, I debated with myself whether I could (or should) tolerate it. 

After a few days of deliberation, the answer I came to was ‘No’ - and so I quit.

Why we all can’t just be humanists (yet)

In demanding to know why men are so angry, The Guardian points out how “Women are not committing most acts of mass and individual violence, nor are women lobbing out most death threats online or raping most college students." And yet nor do women make up the greater share of victims of violence, death of even rape - that dubious honour goes to men. As a researcher at Stanford points out, “Reported homicides of women and children are much lower than for men”. And yet we tend to focus on men’s identity as culprits - that is, as the perpetrators of violence.

I’m not arguing against the image of men as resourceful agents who are expected be able to care of themselves - even though I’m sure that a lot of male victims of violence wish they were treated with as much sympathy as female victims of violence. After all, any time that guys ask for consideration re their safety and feelings, they’re typically told to ‘Man up’. Even those who would argue that gender issues are not a zero-sum game will also ridicule those who try to raise such issues - shutting them down with the “What about teh menz?!” card (though there are some constructive counter-efforts).

Diversification versus specialization in work and play

My job titles have varied quite dramatically over some 15 years of professional work - from teaching English, to shelving books, to project management. I wonder though whether this is testimony to the benefits of diversification - or might it be proof to the contrary?

Having lots of different skills has meant that I’ve been able to apply for lots of different jobs - and that I’m not at such great risk should one of my specializations become irrelevant. However, it’s also meant that I’ve been a lot less competitive in any one of those professions. I like to think that this has kept things interesting - as Mickey Knox remarks in Natural Born Killers: “In this day and age a man has to have choices, a man has to have a little bit of variety.” However, I’ve also gone from contract role to contract role while a number of my peers have held secure, permanent roles and enjoyed their long-service leave.

Professional FOMO - how open-plan offices are like an overflowing inbox

Design and Technology blog ‘Gizmodo’ recently published an excellent article regarding the new Google Inbox - titled Google Can't Fix What's Really Wrong With Email: Us:
“In the early days of the web, email was a simple metaphor; one of the very earliest instances of skeuomorphism. Just like a real-life letter, it had an address and a body. But maybe most importantly, you went and got it yourself; you'd check your email by actively connecting to the internet, the digital equivalent of walking down the driveway. I don't need to tell you how much that's changed, and how today, most of us are email-accessible in all but the most intimate moments of the day.”
Google Inbox, Gizmodo argues, is designed for people who aren’t using their Email properly - for everyone else, however, it’s horribly over-engineered. From the little that I’ve used Inbox so far, I tend to agree - but then, I consider myself in their latter category.

Inbox is trying to offer a system solution to what is really a process problem. And the problem with throwing system solutions at process problems isn’t just a waste of time - it can actually compound the problem. Consider Parkinson’s Law of Data in Technology - "Data expands to fill the space available for storage". Similarly, the better that we make our tools to ‘manage’ noise, the more noise that will be sent our way.

The key to freedom is not to make a more comfortable shackle - it’s to get rid of the chains.

Open-plan offices - what are they good for?

One of the reasons that I’ve held such disdain towards the forced socialization of open-plan offices is because they remind me of being a kid - when school was not as a word, but a sentence. I was locked in a room full of children - teachers and parents assuming that we’d all get along just fine, when in fact it felt like something out of Golding’s _Lord of the Flies_ - or Sartre’s _No Exit_:
“It's obvious what they're after— an economy of manpower— or devil-power, if you prefer. The same idea as in the cafeteria, where customers serve themselves … I mean that each of us will act as torturer of the two others.”
With these various visions of hell - whether they be the school playground, the backyard at home, the military barracks, or indeed the open plan office - the choice to ‘throw us’ into a room with potential competitors, and made to fend for ourselves (a theme made explicit in many a young adult novel and movie), isn’t made out of compassion, but out of a consideration of finite resources. Basically, it’s cheaper:
“The "flexibility" of the modern office … mainly just means freedom for the most powerful forces to assert themselves. The factors that really seem to create freedom and flourishing at work are rather inflexible by comparison: good legal protection for employees. Strong unions. And walls.” (Oliver Burkeman)

Might smoking be good for your health?

Comedian Ed Byrne makes use of some creative accounting in his study of smoking’s benefits:
“I know that every cigarette I smoke takes five minutes off my life, but I also know it takes ten minutes to smoke it. That's a clear five-minute net gain I reckon.”
I’m a committed non-smoker. However, working as a barista for several years, and watching my hooked colleagues take frequent breaks out the back of the shop - while latte orders kept coming in - and I began thinking of smoking in a similarly positive (albeit hazy) light as Byrne. Consider also that taking mental time-out behind an espresso machine usually consisted of getting high on one’s own supply - and that a day could see the consumption of enough caffeine to make tobacco a safer drug of choice.

Now in an office, I get to take my own breaks at a time and place of my own choosing - and apart from the ornamental Aeropress that sits on my desk, there are few temptations to take anything much stronger than green tea. Yet I’ve traded the hard floor of the cafe for the ergonomic chair of my workstation, and as numerous news outlets are now clamoring to inform us, the effects of sitting down for extended periods cannot be undone even with working out. In fact, it’s worse than being overweight … or even smoking for that matter.

Is chaos essential for creativity - or does it just really help?

I’ve been asking myself whether order breeds order - that if I keep up some good habits in small areas, that these will eventually translate and compound into good habits in big areas. For example, by keeping my kitchen bench very clean, and taking the rubbish out frequently - routines that I have historically considered as signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - I might also bring greater clarity to my life in general.

This is akin to the ‘Broken windows theory’ - how the best way to reduce major crimes (so that people can get on with their lives) is to nip the small crimes in the bud. This theory at least has come under a lot of scrutiny - and it seems like it might well be on the way out. For one thing, ever since the New York Police Department went on their informal, selective strike and stopped policing minor violations, a lot of people loved this new style of policing - and the city is yet to descend into anarchy. It’s also meant that the police have arguably been able to bring more energy to bear directly on to major crimes - they are now, to use Covey’s language, in the ‘Important and not urgent’ quadrant.

‘Memories - you’re talking about memories’: internal autotomy and childhood PTSD

Five friends - women in their mid- to late- 30s - have revealed to me that they’ve lost sizable chunks of their past. Much of their youth - particularly of their teenage years - remain a mystery, they explain.

For one friend the ‘mystery’ resulted from tripping and falling down a long staircase, damaging her brain - when her partner found her, she didn’t know who either of them were. With the others, however, their traumas were located in their childhood - and while they experienced some degree of physical trauma, it was the emotional abuse that left wounds so great as to be akin to those of combat veterans, and POWs.

Some throwaway solutions to domestic violence

Much has been said of the harms of domestic violence. However, solutions to domestic violence seem to be frustratingly absent. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but when it comes to discussing how women can live safer lives - any efforts to do so are seen as victim blaming, and when it comes to how men might reduce rates of gender-based violence, ‘Don’t rape’ seems to be the most common refrain.

I’ve thus collated a few ideas of how every civically-minded member of society might be able to help rates of domestic violence.

How financial independence can help you find your people

I don’t feel like I have to quit my job to have a rich life - but my life has been a lot richer when I’m not afraid of doing so.

In fact, there are numerous disadvantages of ‘early retirement’ - the two most evident being the challenge of motivating yourself to work a well-paying but soul-crushing job without dying of stress; the other - figuring out what to do with all that free time so that you don’t die of boredom.

The benefit of Financial Independence is that you don’t have to worry if the answers to those questions don’t appeal to you. There are ‘middle grounds’ that are substantially empowering, and enriching. Being financially independent doesn’t mean that you have to live a life of the bored rich for the rest of your life. In fact, being financially independent is more likely to mean that you’ll never want to retire:
“For most of these couples, early retirement means partial retirement. Instead of leaving the workplace completely, they downshifted into jobs that are more meaningful.” (GRS)
Rather than detracting from our careers, financial independence means that we’re more able to seek out the things that actually made us passionate about our profession in the first place.

Some cultural and logistical hurdles to downsizing (and living it up)

Boredom is the biggest fear that people cite whenever I bring up the topic of early retirement (or even part-time work): boredom as a result of not having enough to do. There’s the fear of the inactivity and lack of purpose resulting from not having a job - ideally, one that consumes five days out of seven for forty-five years of our lives. And there’s the anticipated boredom from not having the ‘nice things’ that allow us to keep up with the Jonses - being unable, for instance, to upgrade to the latest smartphone, or go on a whirlwind tour of Europe or North America.

It’s a dubious fortunate that my ‘career’ has given me many such opportunities to confront this predicament - with contracts having ended, or ‘permanent positions’ made redundant. I’ve happily spent one- or two-year-stretches of unemployment on my own projects (usually writing and studying) - and chilling out with free activities like cycling, playing computer games, or hanging out with friends. Eventually, when the savings start to look sparse, and/or professional work begins to look like a novelty again, I manage to find another job, and start the cycle again.

The fine line when engineering for financial effectiveness

In the Financial Independence lifestyle, ‘Engineering’ things correctly seems to require a very fine balance. On the one hand, knowing skills like how to maintain a garden or paint your house - areas in which I admit to being largely deficient - seems to be a keystone in living cheaply and self-empowered.

It’s also really important to focus on getting a system in place that makes your lifestyle of choice practically a fait accompli - rather than trying to put in ad hoc solutions for every problem. As Jacob Lund Fisker advises:
“If you want to influence anyone, including yourself, I submit that the most efficient approach is to change the environment around the cause. Don’t focus on the cause itself. This will be much easier on your mind. It will require less mental fortitude.”

Freedom of the press versus the right to privacy

Seventh Heaven actor Stephen Collins has recently come into the limelight after his supposed-criminal confessions were leaked. As he describes: “News organizations published a recording made by my then-wife, Faye Grant, during a confidential marriage therapy session in January, 2012. This session was recorded without the therapist's or my knowledge or consent.”

It’s largely irrelevant whether it was his ex-wife - or the police to whom she delivered the tapes - that leaked these recordings. What is more crucial, I believe, is that the media went on to dignify this illegal wiretapping by celebrating its existence.

Apparently this kind of thing is completely legal now. However, you would think that this inconsistency would stand out as even more alarming when the Confidential Informant in question happens to be North Korea - and that by publicising Sony’s embarrassing emails, the media outlets are playing right into the military dictatorship hands.

Corporate bowdlerization - the new historical revisionism

I watched the Nolan movie _Interstellar_ last night at the Astor Theatre, and was very fascinated by a scene in which a US high school teacher shamelessly berates an ex-NASA pilot for believing that the Apollo moon landings actually took place. As the teacher explains:
“This is one of the old federal textbooks. We've replaced them with corrected versions. The new textbooks explain that the Apollo lunar missions were faked in order to bankrupt the Soviet Union. I believe it was a brilliant piece of propaganda. The Soviets spent years trying to build rockets and other useless machines. The kind of wastefulness and excess that the 20th century represented. Your children would be better off learning about this planet, rather than reading fantasies about leaving it.”

“Sleazebags, saddos and weirdos” - the resort to rhetoric

Recently, the Guardian featured a number of articles regarding gender politics and power relations. Specifically, articles that were antagonistic towards men - and the PUA scene in particular. The articles are as follows:
While I’ve little sympathy towards misogynists, a few things in these articles require flagging.

For starters, they seem to tend to be very emotional articles themselves. They make personal attacks, characterizing their subjects - and those who would associate with them - with very derogatory and judgmental language, such as “Sleazebags, saddos and weirdos.” This is more reminiscent of language that would be thrown around in high school - a typical example of “demeaning ... by using words that have historically been used to justify discrimination.”

Compassionate - and compersionate - detachment

I’m a big fan of the Buddhists practice of compassionate detachment. This can be defined as “the way in which I relate to others when I allow them to deal with their own problems and become responsible for their own issues, while I express a loving concern for the nature of their current predicament, and simultaneously stay detached from the outcome.” (Helen Abbott). Ralph Brown provides an excellent illustration of the benefits of compassionate detachment in his childhood encounter with a cocoon:
“I stood fascinated by the whole process, but wait… something was wrong. The butterfly seemed to struggle and not be getting anywhere. I decided to help. Very carefully I began to pull the silk from around the butterfly until I had a hole big enough to tear the cocoon open. With a “plop” the butterfly hit the ground. It wasn’t the magnificent flying creature I had envisioned. Its wings were rolled up tight and it eventually died. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. Instead of being a witness to the wonder of the butterfly’s flight, I was the cause of its death.
Had I known then what I know now about compassionate detachment, that butterfly would have lived to fulfill its life’s mission. I learned much later in life that the struggle I had witnessed was actually necessary for the butterfly to live. The effort to get out of the cocoon causes fluid to be pumped into the wings and without that fluid the butterfly can’t unroll. By stepping in and interfering with this process I didn’t allow the butterfly to develop according to its nature. I prevented the struggle that was necessary to make it strong.”

Office Happiness: Tolstoy’s lessons for the workplace

In Tolstoy’s novella ‘Family Happiness’, Sergey - in an effort to respect his wife’s autonomy, and let her come to her own (foregone) conclusion regarding the hollowness of aristocratic culture and the good life of the countryside - allows Masha to explore the decadent life of Russian high society. And yet things don’t go exactly according to plan ...
"If you loved me," I said, "how could you stand beside me and suffer me to go through it?"
"Because it was impossible for you to take my word for it, though you would have tried to. Personal experience was necessary, and now you have had it."
"There was much calculation in all that," I said, "but little love."
And again we were silent.
"What you said just now is severe, but it is true," he began, rising suddenly and beginning to walk about the veranda. "Yes, it is true. I was to blame," he added, stopping opposite me; "I ought either to have kept myself from loving you at all, or to have loved you in a simpler way." -- Family Happiness by Leo Tolstoy - Chapter IV

The gender imbalance in government and business - theories and possible solutions

Most of us are attached to the nice idea that everyone is capable of excelling in any area that they like. As a result, when we see the low number of women in positions of power, we’re likely to argue that there’s something intrinsically false about those aforementioned democratic and capitalist institutions:
“The assumption behind gender quotas is that women are present in low numbers because something has gone wrong in the political recruitment process, rather than—as opponents of quotas insist—that women participate in a fair system and are consistently defeated at the party and electoral levels simply because voters find them less qualified to serve.” - The Atlantic
Yet, by arguing that our institutions are not actually meritocracies, we’re accusing the ‘interview panels’ of false consciousness. This would suggest, in the case of corporations, that the primary motive of business isn’t profit after all - but ideology. As Tech Founder Evan Thornley (satirically) discussed, there are enormous savings to be had in hiring cheap labor from the pool of female IT professionals. While his comments have come under plenty of fire, they do raise a very important question: why aren’t bottom-line driven corporations all rushing to hire cheap - but high-quality - labour, in the form of female professionals, who can supposedly underbid their male counterparts? [Were such opportunistic corporations to actually follow Thornley’s advice, and hire women because of the gender-pay-gap, this would still be a good thing since, as Alex Tabarrok argues, it would actually push up the wages of all women.]

Work-life balance for all - emancipation from the ghettos of gendered work

Wanting to get meaning and balance from our workplace is totally reasonable. And we all - young and old, male and female - deserve to be respected in our offices, in so far as the market is able to afford.

‘Insofar as the market is able to afford’ is an important caveat. The problem is an economic one. Women are able to remain competitive for work such as PR because they are typically able to ‘underbid’ their male counterparts. Similarly, men are able to remain competitive in jobs such as Marketing Executives because they are able to ‘overdeliver’ - for instance, through unpaid overtime, more frequent traveling, and less flexibility in hours - compared to their female counterparts.

Yet if the problem is economic, so will be the solution. As Harvard economist Claudia Goldin writes:
“The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours.”

The Blue Ghetto and the challenges of work/life balance

Work-life balance seems to largely be considered the prerogative of women:
“We’ve found that for girls, their interests play a really large role in their career choices. For boys, however, it’s much more about their perceived skills and values. This fits a lot with early socialization - how parents want girls to be happy, and boys to be successful.” (Helen Watt).
Yet ask any father-husband-breadwinner and they’ll likely concede that they never managed to ‘have it all’. Employed men who seek family leave are stigmatized. The only times they typically get to spend the kinds of time with their family that they really wanted to was when they’d lost their job - the impact of which probably negated any possible joys.
“The reality is that the workplace will punish him [a father seeking to spend more time with his family] just as severely as it presently punishes women who try to create flexible career paths for themselves. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s pregnancy report also found over a quarter (27%) of fathers and partners reported experiencing discrimination when requesting or taking parental leave or when they returned to work. So both men and women are subject to ‘gender backlash’, being punished by behaving outside the stereotype for their gender.” (Women’s Agenda)

For love or money? Supply, demand, and work-life balance in Creative professions

Women are the champions of healthier work-life balances. There are numerous articles, by and for women, on whether it’s possible to ‘have it all’. This is a brilliant goal towards which to aspire, and I’m terribly curious about how discourse and reality of work-life balance progresses. I note, for instance, that men have historically failed to achieve such balance.

Today, work-life balance is now a major preoccupation of the latest generational cohort to enter the professional labour pool - men and women alike. Maybe this is because young people have watched their fathers dedicate themselves fully to their careers, and to the earning of money - only to watch all of that loyalty rendered to nil when the GFC hit, or when they died of heart disease. However, I would just as readily argue that it is the result of having watched their working mothers - who are typically much more ‘present’ in their children’s lives - managing to be rounder individuals as well.

When ‘rocking the boat’ can save you from sinking

Working on a couple of university projects helped teach me some valuable lessons that I’ve carried with me since. Throughout the first project which I supported - first in the Change Management team, and then in the Training and Documentation - there was a huge emphasis on everyone getting along well. Management’s focus was on the long game, and we were invited to numerous workshops where we shared our feelings and concerns. Later, at another university and on an almost identical project, I realized the wisdom of their ways. Morale dropped to the point where key personnel - the living carriers of their business knowledge - walked out from the stress. Both projects had their technical problems, but at least we were able to look at each other in the eyes afterwards at the first Uni. These experiences taught me that harmony and effectiveness are not mutually exclusive - they’re mutually necessary. Jumping straight into solutions doesn’t actually result in better outcomes - sometimes we do really need to talk through things.

Since then, I’ve gone on to coordinate projects and lead teams, and one of the highlights has been when I’ve worked with people who are as enthusiastic as I am about the challenge at hand. However, if I get a sense that a client is already set on moving in a specific direction - if they just want to ‘get things done’ - I get them to cool their heels and tell me about what it is that they’re actually after.

“The tragic rush to accuse” - anonymous allegations, trial by media, and the death of due process

A Canadian radio host is accused of beating numerous girlfriends and sexually harassing colleagues. He argues that the beatings were consensual - even provides corroborative video evidence to his employer. He has been charged by the police, released on bail, fired from his job, and by all appearances his career is ruined - all before the trial has even begun. “Crucifying and/or psychoanalyzing Jian Ghomeshi is not the point,” Salon cynically observes. “For better or worse, he’s toast.” And as the Macleans Newsletter observes with similar sarcasm:
“In another quaint touch, the judge reminded the assembly that the accused is “innocent until proven guilty.” Outside that legal orbit, of course, a different reality has prevailed. The seismic response to allegations levied against Ghomeshi meant his reputation lay in tatters weeks before criminal charges came down.”
Not far away in space in time, two Canadian MPs who have been expelled after anonymous rape allegations were made against them:
“The women thus far have refused to come forward to police … There is no formal complaint of any kind, the two men have had no opportunity (but for what they may read in the press) to know what it is they are being accused of, let alone to defend themselves. They haven’t been charged, let alone tried, let alone convicted, but their reputations are in tatters, and their careers, yet thus far, no one but them seem to be much bothered by it.” - National Post

Some throwaway strategies for saving money, earning more, and retiring early

Keep working

One redditor argues that if you want to retire early, you need to stay employed at all costs; not necessarily at the same job, but always having another waiting for you if you switch over.

Get fit for free

  • Cycling to work would save me $50/week in public transport costs - which equates to $2500/year. 
  • Use your own body weight for training - go to the park and use the equipment there.

Track everything

Those in the United States have access to the wonderful There are several Australian alternatives of varying quality - reviews of which are available on Quora, Reddit and TechSupport. I’ve chosen to sign up for ‘Pocketbook’ online, and synced it to my savings accounts. More information in the 'Afterword' below ...