Police violence and public opinion

After watching Straight Outta Compton, I looked over the recent violent arrests of black people (e.g. Sandra Bland, the video with subtitles was deleted, but you can always watch just video and read the transcript of the dialogue here). In the movie, a few interactions with the police from the end of 80s were depicted. It is worthwhile to compare what have changed over the years. Also, reading comments in the link above made me think that most internet users do not have a benefit of many points of view. Pretty much all agree that the officer who arrested Sandra is not suitable for his job. For me, however, reading his description of the accident at the end of the transcript was worth it. He seems genuinely surprised by what happened. Chances are, this is his first time trying to give ticket to a social activist, or even just a person who knows his rights. I don’t know what kind of people live in Texas, but it seems that all off them switch into “Yes, sir” mode when being stopped. I would go even further and switch into “please don’t fine me I’m a poor student” mode.

Now let’s look at the movie. The main characters always maintain their cool: when face to face with police officers, they don’t raise their voice, don’t show emotions (though they are angry as expressed in their songs), and don’t resist slamming their faces into much more solid objects like cars and sidewalks. They are not really in the “Yes, sir”, mode, they stand their ground. But they have a very clear understanding that using force against the police is a bad idea. They try to make a cultural change instead, make problems of criminal neighborhoods a topic of public discussion.

Modern day activists also do that, but they somehow fail to understand that protesting in single individual cases is not going to change the whole picture. If you want to change the way police works, get a job in the police, organize seminars on gender biases etc. like Las Vegas police does. I think modern day activists are way too obsessed with their sense of justice towards self, and therefore every person of authority has to treat an activist 10 times nicer than he would treat an ordinary person. And activists would say that authorities ought to treat everybody that nice. But the problem is, it will reduce the efficiency of police workers, and increase their risk at work. Imagine taking your ordinary police station. Now make everybody in that station 10 times more nice. What’s gonna happen? First of all, there will be a slick criminal who will take advantage of that. There are actual cruel crimes that can be stopped by randomly pulling over cars and asking a few questions. Police can stop people on drugs before they car-crash into someone. Police can stop human trafficking, illegal gun ownership etc. etc. by randomly pulling over people in cars. Of course, it does not statistically make sense to pull over single women drivers.

So the proposal of the modern day activist is that police should have two faces: one when dealing with “normal people” who “clearly” mean well – the “10 times nicer” face. And another for dealing with “actually suspicious people” – there the “10 times nicer” face will fail, and police should be cruel but effective. And the logical fallacy of this approach is clear even from the wording: once we split the people into “normal” and “suspicious”, there will be 10 times more offended voices of those who think they are unfairly categorized in the suspicious group. Like in the movie, when N.W.A. was outside a recording studio in an all-white neighborhood, policemen who saw them immediately pulled out guns, thinking they are on some gangster business.

Learning social skills

There’s surprising amount of resources, and actual classes, worksheets, internet discussion, as long as you identify as having low social skills. A quick overview confirmed that it is helpful in most extreme cases, and gets you up to the mediocre level. The target audience of my blog are those who are trying to take a leap from mediocre to socially successful, whatever that means. From being able to get through all the conversations in the day without embarassing yourself/offending anyone – to actually attracting conversations, being valuable for your peers, being invited everywhere and considered the very best friend.

The way people learn that is by copying their role model. By being around very social people, observing how they treat their friends, and actively wanting to be like them. At first a person may embarass oneself in this imitation, but it’s all typically happening even before high school, so embarassments, though painful, are not the end of the world.

Now, the problem is that people with good social skills that you may learn from tend to use them on their friends, people they care about. And then they just autopilot around everybody else. And if you don’t already have good social skills, chances are they will autopilot around you. So even if you spend a lot of time with them, you may not see much of what you can imitate. To grow, you need to actually talk your way into the company of friends, where everybody cares about each other and has better social skills than you. Typically those people won’t care about you, unless they need you for something. But luckily that’s not the goal here. Goal is to be around them and observe how they treat their friends, not to be their friend.

Ideally, every person who’s in tech careers with rare chances to learn social skills should have an opportunity to surround oneself with more social people and get up-to-date. Unfortunately, the opposite happens for me – I spend most of my time with people who are even less social than me. Not that they are bad friends, but it shouldn’t be my job to get them to improve their skills. I should focus on my career – there are tons of less successful in their careers but very social people around our school to help us all.

Who’s having fun in the feminist subculture?

After looking at wave after wave of internet justice, viral stories of the abused, I can’t help but wonder – is there anyone having fun in this “friendly and supportive” community of, say, allies of women in STEM? Or is it just a sad place full of people who’ve been treated unfair? Certainly people who got a job, e.g. popularizing science, creating empowering women images etc. are having a lot of fun with their creativity. Some of the internet shaming walls are making fun out of the abusers, which probably makes someone happy as well. But for me somehow, the interaction with the women-allies community did not have any particularly fun episodes. The shaming walls are entertaining, but just as much as they are cruel and blind. I’ve participated in some of the “girl-scientist” projects, where we did fun things to interest them in science. That was a very good experience, but somehow you need to be a special kind of person to enjoy working with kids. For ordinary folks, it’s exhausting! Also, it’s a little bit besides the point, because obviously the girls themselves didn’t know that we were making this event because feminists told us so. We never explained to them how they should become empowered as soon as the classroom stops pushing them into their gender roles. So this event never mentioned anything about underrepresentation of women in STEM, much less about issues of harassment. It was just a fun event, but technically we cannot call it a part of what is “feminist subculture”.

I’d like to point out that reading viral news can be addictive. Everyone of us has an offense-seeker inside, and a very fine sense of justice for people on the other side of the globe that we never knew existed. So every time the news mention something about an offensive statement of a politician, or a harassment scandal – we click, not expecting that much fun, but expecting gratification of our disturbed sense of justice. One can compare reading viral diversity news to cigarettes – few of the smokers would say cigarettes are fun, but surely they bring momentarily satisfaction.

Are educational meetings fun? The ones where the concepts of consent are explained to clueless audience, and such. For a sensitive person, they may inhibit your communication skill completely, as you’re afraid to get into a story. But if you are a little bit more tough, then they might be a good place to meet social justice-minded people. But not a good place to argue with them. Whatever the modern political correctness is, if you think it’s a good idea to point out inconsistencies in it to the authorities who enforce it, it’s not. It won’t be a very good experience for you to get into that argument, mostly because that same authority figures get a lot of outlandish accusations, so even if your suggestion is constructive and useful, they are likely to discard your opinion as just another troll’s.

But if you actually have a troll friend, it may be a good idea to bring him in one of those meetings and enjoy the mess and anger that he causes. I personally never enjoyed trolling, but it’s always nice to feed a friend a tasty meal. Be aware, though, that as much as there are tough-skinned people, there are also actual victims around. If someone is actually getting hurt by words, maybe it’s better to tell your friend to shut up.

Are dance classes useful?

What’s the goal of a person who goes there? There are two: to enjoy dancing and to meet new people. You don’t have to come with a partner, pretty much every class has a rotation of partners. You don’t have to be particularly agile, most classes are self-contained and don’t require any prior knowledge. It makes sense to compare them to free food events in an American university. Once in a while, community encourages you to come out and socialize, and you don’t have to be successful, or charismatic, or even well-dressed. It’s a kind of “free food” in the department of meeting people of the opposite gender: anywhere outside the dance class it is hard to get introduced to a person you don’t know, but would like as a romantic partner. If your paths do not cross, you may well end up not knowing their name even though they are in the same building with you for years. But on dance classes, you have it easy. People of the opposite gender just introduce yourself to you as you go around the circle. Only thing you need is to remember their names – and every 3rd (or so) of them will be available to dance with afterwards. This suggests that if you want free socializing as your goal, then consider joining the class during the times of the year when gender ratio is not too depressive for you.

But replying random “How are you?” questions from people who know nothing about you gets tiresome. In my experience, people who you meet at the dance class, although friendly, never really become your friends in real life. I never met them during lunch in the university’s cafeteria, or during other events. And our university is a small one, only about 1k people, so it must be worse in town, or in a bigger school. It’s good to have an existing friend or two of yours going to the class that you chose to commit time to, so that you have more to talk about with at least someone in the room.

So what about the other goal, enjoying dancing? It turns out to be hard to enjoy dancing if you mess up and notice it. Two ways out of it: stop noticing that you mess up (that’s the choice of people who come to the community dance lessons, many neighborhood seniors who you’ll get to dance with), or become better. But becoming better means commitment, which is not always possible. If the class you go to is sufficiently beginner-friendly, and has good gender ratio, it may be a good choice to attend it for a few month. That will make you comfortable with the basics. After that, the classes will become more complex, and the gender ratio will change not in your favor. The friends that were going with you will drop out, so altogether, it becomes a bad choice for you to keep going. The skill that you have learned will be forgotten within a month or two. So what was the point?

There are a few possible pro-dance class arguments. First, it doesn’t take as much effort and circumstances to keep the dancing skill in a particular dance as to learn after you forget everything. If you put in that effort, the next time “free food” in terms of gender ratio and new students eager to meet you appears, you notice that and come. Second, even if you forget the particular dance, sometimes when people are drunk in the bar, it is sufficient to smile and demonstrate something approximately resembling a dance. Third, even if you forgot the dance, you can still claim you’re practicing it in a conversation, which will make the listeners feel a little bit of respect. Finally, the dance encourages you to look in the mirror and see if the moves you do (or the clothes you wear) look silly, and often gives you specific examples how to improve. In particular, ballroom dances helped a lot with my posture.

Next level of jokes

As I used to be an aspiring party journalist, here’s one about the party in our group: “It’s 8pm and half the people left? Seriously? You would spend a night in the noisy clubs and bars where every minute of talking is exhausting, but leave from a perfectly nice party?!  While 1am under my window – still drunk people being loud. ” As one of the postdocs explained to me, he left because he didn’t want to be the last guest leaving.

Recently our school organized a discussion about women in STEM. There I reached the next level of political correctness –  rested in a comfy chair in the back of the room, I politically correctly slept through the whole thing! I did try to bring my libertarian friend there, I want to train him on high level mobs, and idealists are a good source of XP. He multiclasses in internet trolling.

Pretty much my ordinary day: find a *really good thing* to do on the weekend, then ask a few dozen fellow students just to realize that nobody cares. But then last time, I’ve been told that a person I don’t know is going to the movie the same day. I just messaged him like I totally don’t have any friends and even though he was going there with a girl, he allowed me to join them. Bad idea, don’t do that. But I wasn’t able to mess up their day, because if the first thing they talked about was flying airline carriers,  how would you mess that up? There’s no way to divert them even more from getting close to each other.

The movies that I saw deserve a few jokes as well. It seems that for the time while I was not watching anything, the trends changed and directors became more careful with the women characters. It’s dream come true, for certain activists. During the total 3 hours that I spent on movies, there was not a single “eye candy” woman character on the screen. There were hardly any background women characters at all. All women characters had well developed storylines and were relatable. Lol. Are future teenagers not going to talk about which actress has bigger boobs anymore? This makes me sad.

Mad Max is so real, though. It is crazy after a decade of computer graphics  to see real costumes, real explosions and real stunts. I thought to myself: “People can actually do this? No shit!” Kind of wanted to wreck havoc with my own car after coming out of the theater. Is there any place where one can do this, actually? Can I put it on my insurance? Apparently, the sales of edible spray paint went up after the movie. And the new logo for it is “What a lovely spray”. Last thing about Mad Max: the director wants us to watch it as a b/w, silent film. To maximize the madness (puns 1:0).

The Ant-man was surprisingly fun. I’m glad someone in the industry also doesn’t take Avengers universe too seriously. But to be fair, I think the best actors, the ones who we become real fans of by the end, are the ants. They are so boss. I totally view the ants in my office in a completely different light now. And how to make quantum mechanics make sense: the screenwriters, the director, the actors and the science consultant have to undergo How-to-not-be-a-crackpot training.

Dealing with ex’es

All of this is very personal, but I feel like there are nontrivial things about this situation that may be of independent interest. I’d like to address the way to deal with an ex- romantic partner. Almost always, this person deserves some respect, just for the fact that they tolerated us for an extensive period of time. But to my surprise, how nice I am to them now is not proportional to how nice they were to me during the relationship. Instead, it’s more like inversely proportional. The person that was more sweet to me appears not genuine when the relationship ends – I ask myself if all those feelings were a lie? Whereas the person that expressed more dissatisfaction with the relationship as it progressed seems more logical and trustworthy – since the relationship has actually ended, maybe they were right. Of course, I should specify that in both cases I talk about the relationships that end due to circumstances and unwillingness to overcome them, not jealousy or character mismatch.

There is a form of jealousy that bothers me though. Basically, since I am at the very bottom of life, pretty much any next romantic partner they have will be better off than me. And I tend to feel bad when it is thrown in my face. I feel like everybody should have a reasonable humility about their financial status. I don’t want the first thing I learn in a rare conversation with an ex to be that they are buying a new house etc. That may well be a big thing for them, but if they want to get along with me, maybe changing the subject would be a good idea.

But that’s not only about financial status. They may also be at a different stage of life than me, with children being the new priority while for me it’s still work. In that case, it becomes meaningless to keep in touch just because even though we could have been friends at the same stage of life, it’s unlikely to be friends when stages of life mismatch and there’s nothing that we have in common anymore.

I prize myself for the fact that even if I feel more bored and irritated by a person by the end of the relationship compared to the first impression, I still am able to find good sides in that person, and come up with ways to have fun spending time together. So if the relationship ended, it’s definitely not because I became bored. Just in terms of finding stuff to do, I can go on forever with any given person.

Finally, being friends right after the relationship has ended is not a good idea altogether. Every time they are reminded about us, the feelings get continued. It is wise to have a break from seeing each other, even if one of the couple tends to ask for attention. When it is clear that the relationship is over, feeding the lonely feelings only makes things worse. One shouldn’t be rude to the partner, but should restrict communication. And it’s important to be very clear about the reason why communication is being restricted (reason is to let the feelings die quietly) – ambiguity adds a lot to the pain of breakup. All of the above is easier said than done: how would you say to a person that’s not logical that the feelings have to “die quietly”. The only thing you can do is be nice and very clear about the fact that the relationship did not work. And within a period of about 1 year it is impossible to predict how much the other person is missing you/hating you after the breakup, so demanding them to be your friend within that period is not such a good idea. Then the feelings get reevaluated, and reminding that person about yourself becomes safe.

Stuff bloggers say on a bad day

This vintage ad board is an obvious exaggeration, and also making fun of women’s mood swings is considered sexist nowadays. Of course, all the posters from the 50’s are sexist. However, my mood is also not that stable. I’d like to give an example of ups and downs that a guy would experience, in words that I used 2 years ago to talk about myself:

Down: I was barely able to sit in one room with other people without wanting to kill them.

Up: Today I’m remembering how am I supposed to live, have fun and be friendly. Maybe even cheerful, but it’s still far from that. So, I’ll try asking people: What are you doing over spring break? Do you want to friend me on facebook? Your new haircut is nice. Can I help you?

Obviously, my description of “down” state from back then is alarming. Pretty much everyone here is familiar with the school shooting stories, so it is not okay under any circumstances to express how annoyed you are by saying you want to kill somebody. Only if it’s clear that it’s a joke, like with that vintage ad. Or else people would be unnecessarily worried. So one needs to find some other words to express your negativity. Here are some more lines from back then, which maybe work better than “wanting to kill them”:

(1) What I thought to be just my imagination, is rapidly becoming a reality. I notice things that are just not supposed to happen. Every step in my life becomes dramatic as if it’s a cheap farce. Why couldn’t I just see her boyfriend in the crowd, or catch a glimpse of his nametag! No, he had to come onstage and let them make a clown of him. So symbolic. But I don’t need this second meaning anymore..

(2) Why couldn’t I just see (another her) boyfriend in the cafeteria in the middle of the day? No, in the cafeteria she walks alone. It had to be after I waited 4 hours for her to appear at the party! Imagine how I felt, when she appeared with a boyfriend. And she never let go hugging him. I thought I would be able to just dance beside her, but no.

(3) So I wasted all my pickup lines on that girl, and all along she had 6feet boyfriend somewhere. She never told.

This works a little bit better. Basically, here I complain about the ambiguity that girls around me like to keep about having a boyfriend or not. Although they don’t have to publicly announce their status, learning it the hard way actually hurts.

One may think that because of these disappointments I would become a skirt chaser: stop respecting women’s choice and try getting them to be with me by all means. Pushing girls to talk to me, making them uncomfortable. But none of that happened. I didn’t chase anyone in the US. Every time I report an awkward episode on this blog, it’s typically unintentional. I’m just an uncomfortable person to be with. Too serious, too asocial.

One may think I am traumatized by the events described in the quotes above. But in reality, I did’t blame anyone for the fact that my life was so boring. I seriously considered lying about my life back then, just to make it sound more like lives of other people.

So unlike most of internet dwellers, I possess both of the character traits: the sad emotions about girls I barely know, and the fear of being wrong if I hit on them. I am not intrusive at all, I always stop at the slightest doubt that it may be uncomfortable for other person.

But the ‘I’ from Russia ago didn’t have these properties. I liked everyone in the world, didn’t care about ‘macho men’, and was hitting on the girls and embarrassing myself all the time. Let me conclude with the motivational speech I used to give myself on the pages of this blog:

I think I have to resurrect that personality from 3 years ago. I have never used this personality in the US. In California, at least. But I think it’s time. World is calling for me. That’s why I kept this blog – so that I can leap back in years and get that carefree feeling back again.

By ‘world is calling’ I mean two Asian girls who looked at me today, on Pie day. I don’t even know them. One liked my rollerskates, the other reached for her backpack in the library, and our eyes met. She laughed and smiled to me (maybe, I didn’t really look straight at her). The current me didn’t really want to start a conversation (I’m old!). But the me from the past certainly would say something!