Why do self-identified progressives/liberals use Uber/Lyft? And am I really any different?

I only need one reason to vote against California’s 2020 Proposition 22: it requires a 7/8 majority in the California legislature to be amended unless it is overridden by another proposition (meaning another expensive campaign – the Yes on 22 campaign, at over $180 million dollars, primarily funded by a few corporations, is already the most expensive campaign for a ballot measure in California history). The original AB5 law had glaring problems, has already been amended by the legislature, and can be amended again. Any law like AB5 or Prop 22 with massively uncertain social and economic effects needs to be open to amendation by the legislature and not require a clunky voter measure to fix. For this reason alone, I urge all California voters to VOTE NO. If you support any clauses in the proposition, it is much better to pester your representatives in the legislature to pass appropriate legislation so that if it backfires and does not work out the way you hope, it can be fixed.

That said, what I really want to talk about how people who claim to be progressive, in favor of fair pay, an equal economic playing field, and rule of law, still choose to patronize Uber/Lyft/etc.

Last year, when I was in Juneau, I needed a few car rides, and I wanted to share them with other people so I could split the fare. I knew, from talking to locals, that there were very few Lyft drivers in Juneau and that they charged even higher fares than the local taxi companies. I passed on this information to other tourists in Juneau, and they still chose Lyft. At first, I could not believe it. Why would anyone choose a more expensive service with less availability? It was only when they tried to get a Lyft and failed because no driver was available that they finally listened to me, called a local taxi company, and were shocked that the local taxi company charged less, even though I had already told them that would be the case. When I asked them why they tried Lyft even after my warning, they said “because it’s convenient.”

And not all tourists heeded me even after they could not get a Lyft ride. Even when they knew they would have to wait more than an hour for a Lyft, they refused to do a price comparison with a local taxi company and preferred to wait for the Lyft rather than get a taxi which would arrive much sooner.

I finally figured out that, by ‘convenient,’ they mean it’s their habit to always choose Lyft, even when someone is telling them they will have to wait longer and pay more. They are not in the habit of dealing with any of the taxi companies in Juneau. There is some psychological benefit that is worth spending more time and money on. Continue reading

How to Get Allos to Read About Ace Issues

Content Warning: F-bombs

A few days ago, Blue Ice-Tea left this comment:

What’s needed is more resources that will give allosexuals a better understanding of asexuality and introduce them to ace 201 issues – but how do you get allosexuals to read them? Do you have any thoughts on how the book could have been made to appeal more to non-ace readers?

I gave a quick answer, but after thinking about it for a while, my answer has changed.

To get allosexuals to read about asexuality and ace 201 issues, we need to poke their pain points. We have to (non-sexually) sleep with them, know what keeps them awake at night, hit them there, and offer a salve (or at least hint at it).

Continue reading

Quick Impressions of Ace by Angela Chen

I’ve been avoiding reading reviews/commentary on Ace by Angela Chen so that I could write this post with minimal influence by others.

First of all, as someone who has been reading ace blogs for more than ten years (wow, has it been that long?), none of the broad themes in this book are new to me. I did not know most of the specific stories profiled in this book, and it has some angles/nuances which are new to me, but no brand new high-level concepts.

I think, at this point in time, it would be difficult to publish a book about asexuality for a general audience without including a lot of asexuality 101. I appreciate that this book managed to include any asexuality 201, but only the most familiar (to ace bloggers) 201 material. For example, the book references the classic ace blog post “Hermeneutical Injustice in Consent and Asexuality”. That is Asexuality 201, but it’s 201 that is so thoroughly established in the ace blogging canon that it’s not news to anyone who has been around ace blogging for a while.

Continue reading

I Went Into the Book for Persuasion Advice, and Came Out with the Realization that I’m a Vulnerable Target

Many people want to learn how to persuade others, but few want to admit that they themselves are vulnerable to persuasive techniques and would benefit from countering them.

“Many people” includes me. I picked up Influence by Robert B. Caldini mainly because it appeared on a recommended book list, but also because I would like to improve my ability to persuade others. So I was a bit surprised when I learned that Dr. Cialdini looks at it from the other perspective, that his main focus is learning how to defend oneself from persuasive techniques.

I can admit it freely now. All my life I’ve been a patsy. For as long as I can recall, I’ve been an easy mark for the pitches of peddlers, fund-raisers, and operators of one sort or another…With personally disquieting frequency, I have always found myself in possession of unwanted magazine subscriptions or tickets to the sanitation workers’ ball. Probably this long-standing status as sucker accounts for my interest in the study of compliance: Just what are the factors that cause one person to say yes to another person?

Dr. Cialdini covers six categories of techniques to get “compliance” from others, but they all share a single pattern. We get too much information to process everything. We need psychological shortcuts to make decisions without exceeding our brain’s capacity. The shortcuts which we are accustomed to using will steer us in the right direction most of the time. For example, one of the “compliance” techniques is “social proof” – do the same thing everyone else is doing. If we are uncertain about what we should do, most of the time, doing the same thing which similar people are doing will be much better than doing something random. Reading a #1 New York Times bestseller is almost certainly going to be a better experience than reading a randomly chosen published book. Because these shortcuts are not based on carefully evaluating all available information, they can backfire. Sometimes they backfire by accident, and sometimes someone exploits them for their own gain.

At the end of the book, Dr. Cialdini urges readers to retaliate against anyone who exploits these shortcuts in a dishonest way. He says that, as we are swamped with more and more information, we depend on these mental shortcuts more than in the past. We cannot afford to lose these shortcuts. Therefore, we much punish people who reduce the effectiveness of these mental shortcuts by fraud. For example, if a company advertises a product in a way which suggests it is popular when it is not, in fact, popular, Dr. Cialdini says that he will send a letter to the company saying that he will boycott their products forever and that they should fire their advertising agency. Continue reading

I’m Learning How to Not Finish Books

Before now, I was one of those readers who only occasionally dropped books even when it became apparent that they were not giving me enough to justify the time/energy I was pouring into reading them.

Does this have something to do with formal education, where students are pushed into reading books they otherwise would not read because of academic pressure? Perhaps. I think it has more to do with some of my favorite books which I read before the age of 20 being books which I initially dropped, only to return to them later and discover they were awesome. After discovering that some of these books which I had initially dropped were wonderful, I lost trust in myself in figuring out if a book was really good before I read the whole thing. That does not mean I never dropped books before finishing them – I think that is practically impossible even for the most committed of readers. I did, however, charge through a lot of books that failed to engage me, simply because I had already started them and I was not sure that they would not turn around.

Then I realized a huge flaw in this approach: my life is finite. Continue reading

Finding Oral History in Print is Validating

I feel like I owe my ancestors an apology, for having the doubts I once had about the history they passed down to me.

My great-great-grandfather Harry served as a soldier in the U.S. Civil War in the Union Army. He was in his late twenties when the war began. I don’t know when he immigrated to the United States, but I know that he was born in Cologne, which at the time of his birth was part of Prussia (now it’s part of Germany). A generation before him, Cologne had been part of France, and Harry’s mother had French ancestry. The oral history I heard is that he left Cologne/Prussia because he was opposed to the political direction that Prussia was going towards. He immigrated to the United States, which he perceived to be much more democratic. What I heard is that German immigrants were so devoted to the Union cause in the Civil War because, after having their political ambitions frustrated in Europe, they valued American democracy. And to them, plantation owners and the institution of slavery represented what they were trying to get away from in Europe. To hear the way it’s been described in my family, German-Americans were responsible for keeping many areas under Union control which otherwise would have become part of the Confederacy, heck, the Union might not have even won the Civil War without the German-Americans.

I’ve never exactly disbelieved this oral history, but…I’ve also questioned it. I could think of ways this could have been distorted through the generations. None of this was every covered in my American history classes in school. I remember learning a little bit about ‘the old immigration’ (i.e. Irish and German immigrants in the middle of the 19th century) but not how that related to the Civil War. I’ve occasionally encountered references to Irish-Americans in the New York Draft Riots (content warning: anti-black racial violence), but the only reference I can recall finding in print to German-Americans in the Civil War was a brief mention in a Civil War memoir.

That is, until now. Continue reading

Gloomy Sky Over San Francisco

The sky is totally dark and orange

Looking towards the Pacific Ocean…at around 11 AM.

On the morning of September 9, 2020, when I woke up, it was so dark that I thought my clock must be wrong. Did Daylight Savings end and I forgot about it? I wondered. But no. The sky really was that dark. Even as late as NOON, it was so dark that it was a major strain on my eyes to read without artificial light.

It did get brighter in the afternoon (I was able to do some reading without artificial light!) And today, September 10, when I’m writing this post, there is a lot more natural light, though still less than a normally-foggy day.

That’s a street light in the upper-right corner, NOT the sun. Yes, it was so dark that the street lights stayed on all day.

As many of you know, there are a lot of wildfires burning through the Pacific coastal region of North America right now. I’ve read in the news that much of the smoke which darkened the sky of San Francisco on September 9 came from the wildfires blazing through Oregon. (It also occurs to me that this post is going to be published on September 11, which is very infamously associated with lethal fire).

I was out walking from around 10 AM to noon on September 9, which is when I took all of the photos in this post. A lot of other people were snapping photos too.

Amazingly, even with all of this smoke in the air, and the layer of ash covering cars and other objects which were left outside all night, the air quality was ‘moderate’. According to the news, the smoke was really high in the air, whereas the air near the ground (which we breathe) is clean air from the ocean. But the air quality varies a lot in the city due to all of the microclimates. According to the map I checked, the closer to sea-level and the further west, the cleaner the air, the further above sea-level and the further east, the worse the air, with the east sides of the tops of hills having the worst air. Continue reading

Book Review: “The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water” by Zen Cho

After watching this review, I was just curious enough about “The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water” by Zen Cho that I decided to read it myself. So what did *I* think?

What Is This Novella About?

In Malaysia, there is a group of Tang (i.e. Chinese-Malaysian) ‘bandits’ running around, trying to survive as the authoritarian government oppresses Tang people. After they rescue a nun at a coffeeshop from sexual harassment, the nun insists on joining them as they travel to deliver their, um, “black market rice”.

Can you be more helpful in telling me what the Novella is about?

Okay. When I wrote this book review, I used Libbie Hawker’s formula for writing book blurbs (which I think is helpful for writing spoiler-free summaries in book reviews, not just selling books).

That formula (with answers for “The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water” is) :

Who is the main character? Tet Sang

What do they want? To stay alive and to stay with the group of bandits. Except, near the end (as in, within the last 10% of the novella) it turns out that Tet Sang wants something different that came out of the blue for me.

What or who stands in their way? The bandits are wanted men and the Protectorate’s people are hunting them.

What will they do, or what must they do, in order to get what they want? Safely deliver the goods and get paid.

What is at stake if they fail? They get captured or not paid enough money to survive as a group.

That does not sound like such a bad story.

It doesn’t, but I think Libbie Hawker’s formula tends to flatter stories (probably because it’s supposed to sell books). One of the problems is that it’s not actually that hard for the bandits to evade the Protectorate’s people. Even when their plan falls apart, somebody gives them good advice, and all they have to do to get the money they need and avoid capture is to follow the advice.

Is following the advice hard?

No, following the advice is totally doable. Continue reading

When the Giver Gains More, While the Recipient Loses by Accepting, Who Is the Altruistic One?

When, in the acting of giving, the giver gains, while the recipient loses, is the giver the altruistic one?

I recently read Alcestis by Euripides (and yes, this post will have some spoilers). The premise is that Admetus is fated to die in the near future, but due to help from the god Apollo, he can live a long life if a close family member dies his place. His father refuses to die so that he can live, his mother also refuses to die for him, Admetus doesn’t want his own young children to die in his place, so that leaves just one close family member: his wife, Alcestis. She loves him so much that she agrees to die instead of him.

In the play, everyone (except Admetus’ father) says that Alcestis is the most amazing woman ever and that Admetus was truly fortunate to have such an awesome wife, and that because she is willing to sacrifice her life for him, she will be famous forever. And it’s not just this play, it was general Greek opinion that this made Alcestis a great woman (check out this mention in Plato’s “Symposium”).

The Ancient Greeks had this idea that dying (relatively) young on the behalf of someone or something else, and thus attaining everlasting fame, was the best kind of life to have. Take the example of Achilles, who, when given a choice between having a long and boring life which would be forgotten, and a short life which would bring him fame and glory, he chose the latter. The leaders of Ancient Greece initiated a lot of wars, and in order to go to war, they needed to persuade young men to risk their lives. Generally, young men are reluctant to die, so to keep up all of this warfare, the leaders needed to pound the idea that on the behalf of one’s clan or (later) city-state in battle was much better than living to old age. A famous example of this is Pericles’ funeral oration speaking about soldiers who died in the early part of the Peloponnesian War.

Even though Alcestis was not a warrior who died in battle, it’s clear that the concept of martyrdom for fame and glory bleeds over to her.

But is dying for love and/or glory is so great, and his beloved wife is going to the underworld, then why would Admetus want to remain alive? That is the crux of the story. Continue reading

Why Qing Dynasty Clothing Isn’t the Best at Communicating the Idea of ‘Ancient China’

Xena: Warrior Princess is nominally set during the time of Hercules (i.e. before the 8th century B.C.), but in practice, the TV show is all over the place historically. Thus, when Xena travels to ‘Chin’ (i.e. China), um, they don’t wear clothes that people would have worn in 8th century B.C. China, or even 8th-century A.D. China. Since I’m commenting on the clothing and hair only and nothing else, I think it is sufficient to skim this clip rather than watch the whole thing.

For anyone who has the slightest clue about historical Chinese clothing, the clothing is glaringly anachronistic. More anachronistic than the European clothes that Xena: Warrior Princess characters wear? Perhaps not. But I think there are reasons that these particular anachronisms were chosen. Namely, it is bloody obvious that the characters are wearing clothing from the Qing dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 A.D. to 1912. When I first saw that Xena clip, I found it jarring that they were dressed in the style of the Qing dynasty.

To anyone who has watched a bunch of Chinese historical dramas, these costumes practically scream ‘Qing Dynasty!’

To see an example of a Chinese historical drama set during the Qing Dynasty which has an English character (wearing period-appropriate clothing), check out this video. (That Englishman also sometimes wears Chinese clothing.) That gives you a rough idea of what type of European clothing corresponds to the time of the Qing Dynasty.

The reason this is glaringly obvious to anyone who has paid even the least amount to historical Chinese clothing is that the Qing dynasty represented a major change in Chinese fashion. No matter how little the costume designer for a Chinese historical drama cares about historical accuracy, they will make sure that the costumes in a Qing dynasty drama will look approximately like the clothes people wore during the Qing dynasty, and that historical dramas set before the Qing dynasty will feature costumes that look really different in order to avoid confusing the audience. It’s the same reason that Hollywood costume designers wouldn’t have actors wearing togas in a drama set in 18th-century France, or petticoats + corset + panniers in a drama set in 1st century A.D. Rome, unless there was a good reason for a character to be wearing a toga in 18th-century France, or petticoats + corset + panniers in 1st century A.D. Rome. Continue reading