control vs. help

I think I’m going to be talking about this distinction (between “control a problem/prevent a threat” and “help a person” as basic premises for healthcare/government aid programs/etc.) a lot more, because often there’s a thing that happens where

I’ll hear about some new policy or whatever and go “Ooh, that sounds like bad news,”

and it’s not that the specific practical things it proposes to do are totally bad, some of them may even be pretty beneficial,

but if the tone, the mindset, the overall goal is “prevent these bad dangerous people from causing trouble for good normal people,”

that obviously makes me suspicious even if the actual plan is basically good.

A thing that bugs me

in historical fiction, is when the characters have to address some issue that is controversial in their time, but which the author sees as having a clear right side and a wrong side. And the author decides that their main character just has to be On The Right Side Of History.

There are ways to have that and still write a solid story, but unfortunately what often happens is that putting the character on the Right Side comes at the expense of nuance and detail in both the character’s thought process and background, and in the setting’s worldbuilding and/or historical accuracy.

Basically there are two awkward things for authors in this situation:

— A historically accurate character might hold approximately the belief we want them to hold, but might describe it in a way that sounds outdated or disrespectful from our point of view.

— A character with a detailed personality and history could explain how they came to hold the “right” belief, in an emotionally plausible and/or historically accurate way, but then we’d have to think about the fact that they used to not believe it and that would be uncomfortable.

(And also, to even get to the point of considering these questions, the author has to themself have thought about the issue in more complicated terms than “x is wrong,” and they have to do the research to know what people were saying about the issue historically and how that differs from how people think about it now.)

These problems are almost worse when it comes to creating villain characters, but it’s late so I’m going to stop here.

Bare bones outline of a post

There’s this thing where symptoms (broadly defined) that aren’t a serious problem for the person who has them, become a serious problem because other people feel uncomfortable about them.

To the person who has them they’re a harmless nuisance thing, or they’re a problem but there’s a treatment/assistive thing/workaround that fixes the problem reasonably well.

But, in order to go around with this harmless nuisance thing occasionally happening, or to use your workaround assistive whatever, and just get on with your day– before you can do that, you have to get everyone who might see you doing the thing on the same page with you that it’s not a big issue.

Otherwise they might think something is seriously wrong and they need to help you, or they’ll question whether your workaround assistive thing is correct/allowed/necessary, or they’ll just feel really uncomfortable because you’re doing a Weird Thing, a Creepy Thing, a socially unacceptable thing.

People respond to those varied types of “this isn’t normal, something needs to be done” in a lot of different ways, some of them genuinely well-intentioned and even genuinely helpful. But I think the basic reaction behind a lot of those responses– even the helpful ones– is an uncanny valley type of discomfort. That’s the root of a lot of the trouble people have with being noticeably disabled in public. That’s the force we have to counteract to keep things that should be minor problems from becoming big stop-everything issues.


I always tell people that the area where I grew up wasn’t Really rural (and really, it wasn’t), but then I see things like what I saw earlier today, where people are like Did You Know? There are places in the United States that don’t have Critical Infrastructure like municipal water and sewer systems!

Yes, there are places like that in the United States, and I grew up in one of them, and it’s not a scary thing?

Because this is the United States, and “infrastructure” and “access to technology” encompass more than just stuff built by the government, people who live in places without municipal water systems have wells with electric pumps, and septic tanks, and companies with vacuum trucks that come empty the septic tanks, and companies that test their water for pollution, etc. etc. etc.

There are people in rural areas who can’t afford those things, but there are also people in urban areas who can’t afford to pay their water bills, or to pay a plumber when something goes wrong with their pipes, and to me that doesn’t seem so very different, but idk.

Autopilot again, a silly thing this time

Most of the time, when I see people talking about executive function problems in the form of autopilot/habit fail, it’s things like “I put sugar on my toast and butter in my tea instead of the other way around,” or “I started putting my shoes on to go out the door but I hadn’t put my pants on yet,” things like that.

My most common and most annoying autopilot fail is clicking the wrong button on the computer. Examples:

  • assuming whichever button is on the left is “agree” or “ok” when actually it’s “cancel”, I hate websites/programs that switch that around
  • intending to click on something in the toolbar of the browser (like “refresh” or “back”) and instead clicking something at the top of the web page
  • or vice versa
  • within one toolbar or menu, clicking whatever I click most often instead of what I needed to click
  • clicking on an icon that looks superficially similar to the one I intended to click on (tumblr versus twitter, anyone?)
  • clicking on the location where some thing usually is, but it’s not there (dear programs that re-order things based on what you’ve used most recently: stop)
  • using a keyboard shortcut that belongs to a different program
  • typing the correct password… for a different website

The worst is when I do something wrong and then have to wait an interminably long time for the wrong thing to start up or load before I can get to what I actually wanted to do.


It’s late and life stuff has happened so here’s a random idea that I vaguely intended to write about ages ago but didn’t. Can we all agree that there’s no such thing as an objective, comprehensive standard for ranking the quality of books? Like, there’s no such thing as an objectively good book.

There are a few things that are, arguably, universal standards, but what makes them universal is that they’re a really damn low bar. Like, consistent spelling and grammar. Beyond that, there’s a slightly larger group of things that most people would agree are probably important, but exactly how important any one of them is, is a matter of personal preference.

Like… I tend to enjoy characters with idiosyncratic ways of speaking. “Characters should have unique, memorable voices” is a good general principle, but the line between “unique and memorable” versus “weird and distracting” is entirely subjective. I know that lots of people think characters that I personally like are too distractingly weird, and I don’t think they’re incorrect on the one hand, or that my enjoyment of those characters is indulging a guilty pleasure with objectively bad writing, on the other hand. It’s just a different preference.