The Justification for the Explanatory Pause

Code Switch is one of those podcasts that I make a point to listen to even when the titles make me cringe. This is one of those episodes that I cringed through while at the same time having some relevant old white guy points I really felt were worth addressing.


The podcast hosts bring on Hari Kondabolu (whose podcast Politically Re-Active isn't one I listen to) to talk about why he takes a break in the middle of a subject riff in order to explain the subject matter being discussed.

He refers to it as Hold Up, Wait a Minute which is amusing, the right move for a podcast that is humorous in nature. However the title of this podcast Explanatory Comma had me yelling explanatory pause at my headphones by the end of the episode.

In my opinion, the breaking point for when/when not to explain things is entirely subjective. If the audience member knows about the thing, they will think you are talking down to them. If the audience member doesn't know, then they will be lost if you don't explain it. I knew who Tupac was, so was not lost during the previous episode of Code Switch that dealt with him but didn't explain who he was.

On the other hand Hari Kondabolu says Tribe Called Quest and stands on his outrage at having to explain that this was another music reference. I know it is a music reference now, because I went out and looked it up and realized that my ignorance on the subject is a product of not having any interest in Rap, Hip Hop, or any other form of music that wasn't Rock or Classical or the Country music my mother made me listen to as a child.

All of us are products of our experiences. If our experiences don't include your experiences, then any attempt to connect will be fruitless unless a common ground of conversation can be established. So you have to take time to explain to the audience so that you can bring them along with you if you want them to go where you are going by the end of your narrative. If you don't do that, they get bored, stop reading/listening/watching and your attempt to communicate fails.

When you can't see your audience, the curse of the A/V field, you have to attempt to gauge what your audience will understand without your providing an explanation. Which is largely what this entire episode of Code Switch is about.

But I didn't start writing this entry to talk about why explanatory pauses are necessary.

What I wanted to address was making sure that you don't take time to explain things that really shouldn't have to be explained. All of us have our own lives, our own heuristics, our own foibles and our own prejudices. Most of us are smart enough not to air our dirty laundry or (as Hari Kondabolu quite pointedly says) force our white supremacy onto the rest of society.

There are exceptions, the entirety of the FOX news team springs immediately to mind, but generally we keep our thoughts to ourselves because, hey, everybody is busy and why burden a total stranger with the bullshit in your life? Right?

On the other end of the spectrum we have something like the TED talk below;



Now, I've made a few attempts to line out what I think on the subject in the talk. Tiptoeing through Gender IssuesPartnership by Any Other NameHomophobia In Denial. Before you come to any snap judgements about what I'm about to say, I'd suggest that you take an explanatory pause and go look at what I've said before, so that what I'm about to say doesn't strike you as callous or unfeeling.

When I look at that couple I do not see the complex characters they want us all to accept them as. What I see is a perfectly average couple who clearly love each other. If I'm passing them on the street, serving them food, or any of the dozens of jobs of the people they will encounter every day, none of those people will have the time or the desire to understand and accept these two as what they see themselves as. There comes a point where you have to rely on your gender presentation (clothing, hair style, scents, makeup, whatever) to communicate all the myriad things you think are important as a first impression. You cannot go back and make a second first impression, and an angry explanation about why your presentation should have been understood will be accepted just as well as the FOX news junkie who goes around insisting that Santa is white.

This TED talk is an example of the dreaded internet oversharing. The needy posts on various social platforms that start with "Let's see who reads this" or "if you really are my friend". The entire TED talk is an explanatory pause; and frankly, I've contested a few of the belabored points in the talk.  Contested them because, in the end, no one really should care that much about you unless they are having sex with you. You aren't having sex with the entire internet and if you are you probably need therapy of a different kind.

A Queer Version of Love and Marriage goes over the line from explanatory pause into the realm of browbeating. If you are in an educational setting like a podcast or a TED talk, then you are going to get things explained to you that you probably already know. That is what the 30 second jump button is for (if your podcast app doesn't have that, go get this one) if you don't have the patience to hear something explained for the 97th time, skip ahead 30 seconds. But if you are getting a gallon of milk at three in the morning, don't expect the cashier to know your preferred gender pronoun. Just pay the person behind the counter and say "thank you" and walk out. He's got mopping to get back to and he really doesn't care about your frustrations.

When I'm listening to a podcast about Code Switching I expect to have musical references, as well as many other references, explained to me. That is why it is called Code Switch. Because we are trying to Switch the Code; Race and Identity Remixed. Understand the other side. Broaden our understanding of the human animal. Can't do that if we don't understand the references. Hope I'm being crystal clear here.



I edited the first sentence in the second to last paragraph to be more clear as to where the line between explaining and over-explaining is, or where it is for me. Your Mileage May Vary, as the saying goes. Damned indefinite pronouns, the bugaboo of all attempts at clear writing.

Earlier on I changed the last paragraph to link the FAQ for Code Switch so that anyone who disagrees with what is being said can just go to the FAQ and educate themselves.

The most amusing thing about writing this piece, about my initial response to pushback against White Supremacy being attached to everything white people do, to the explanatory pause being denigrated as a distraction from the actual storytelling, is that the overwhelming number of negative attacks have come from White Knights who feel obliged to jump in and defend minorities from aggression. As if Old White Guy points are always going to be aggressive. Or White Supremacist. As if minorities aren't capable of defending themselves in a battle of words and ideas.

May I always resist the urge to come to the defense of someone whom I consider to be my equal and does not appear to be losing a battle of words. All Social Justice Warriors should be compelled to adhere to that oath.

If Gene Demby (whose sole response was two characters "NO") feels that the explanatory pause is an interruption to his storytelling, I would suggest that he might want to take some time to talk to Jad Abumrad of Radiolab fame and get a feel for how he explains while not appearing to explain. Because explanation is a necessary part of the equation if you want to broaden your reach. Widen the appeal. Another suggestion from a humble listener.



I'm still listening to Code Switch several months later. Currently I'm looking forward to the last installment of the look back at the influence of President Obama. I have an opinion piece on that subject which I title Obama Best President Since Eisenhower. No, I am not subtle. Not in the least.

The last episode put a bug in my ear about the miscommunication of what Code Switch means to black people and why it might mean something different to white folks. I talk in code to old white people; old being my age and older (yes, there are older white people than I am) I will occasionally put on a filter for children that aren't mine as well. I have found that being dead honest with the children of strangers can be more troublesome than being dead honest with old white folks.

However Code Switching takes on a whole new meaning when you take things like this into account,
The Green Book, or to give it its full title, “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” was first published in 1936. It was a revolutionary publication which listed restaurants, bars and service stations which would serve African-Americans.
Traveling during the Jim Crow era was difficult for African Americans. In the South, “black code” laws targeted them for loitering. In many towns, black travelers risked death if they stayed past sundown.
Travelers came up with their own ways to avoid violence and humiliation. One was called ‘The Green Book’ created by Harlem postal worker Victor Hugo Green. It was an invaluable tool to help black people plan a safe route across the country.
Alvin Hall’s BBC program ‘The Green Book’ documents this little-known aspect of racial segregation.
When you might be lynched or shot for simply driving into the wrong town, knowing what the code is takes on a whole new meaning. I know this. I knew this. But knowing isn't being. While I know that I don't speak freely (to not speak in code) around parents, children, people who aren't into SF or video games or recreational drug use (legal. All my drugs are legal now. Have been for at least 25 years. I have the prescriptions to prove it) the downsides of slipping out of code for people like me are radically less life-ending than for people who face the possibility of death at the hands of people who hate them just for existing. Which is why a Code Switch takes on much more weight for minorities than for people like me.

My apologies for approaching the subject with less gravity than it probably deserved. I still see the refusal to explain as a missed opportunity to connect; but truthfully there is little use in telling me about one more artist whose rap I probably won't be interested in either. The explanation for how I lost my music (and with it the appreciation for pretty much all music) is a story I haven't tried to write down yet.

Another time, perhaps. 

War on Christmas - Shit's Getting Weird Edition - Black Santa

This was a thing again this year. Which is even weirder than it was way back in 2013 when Jon Stewart riffed on the subject.




I really do miss this guy.

Santa Claus, the Spirit of Giving, 2016

"There is a Santa Claus but it's an idea, it's not a person. Santa Claus is doing good things for people, just because; and so long as you keep doing that throughout the rest of your life, there will always be a Santa Clause"
- Rebecca Watson relating her father's words in SGU#74

Santa with Soul
I find that atheists and skeptics generally step on the sense of wonder in their haste to squash pseudo-science, religiosity, false-piety and fear-mongering.  I understand their goals and for the most part agree with their principles if not their ham-handed practices.

One of the subjects that gets trodden most savagely in the dust of shattered illusions is the story of Santa Claus.  I've lost count of the number of people (Penn Jillette in particular) who have specifically targeted Santa Claus in their personal lives, trumpeting raising children without fostering a belief in imaginary beings. I couldn't disagree more.

I celebrate the secularized solstice holiday referred to in the US as Christmas, which involves a jolly fat guy who delivers presents dressed in a red suit. We spend the holiday with family and friends, giving gifts and trying to brighten the dull central Texas winter days. I also spend time reflecting on what the passing of this year means to me, and preparing to celebrate the New Year.

The Wife and I discussed whether or not to share the myth of Santa Claus with our children before they were born. I was all for bursting that bubble; better yet, just not even going there. My memories of Santa Claus are anything but pleasant.

My mother and father did Christmas to the hilt. Large tree, Santa decorations, pictures with Santa, the works. Once, when we were staying at our grandfather's house in Sacramento, my sister and I heard a noise in the living room. We nearly made it to the door before our fear of being discovered, and not getting any presents, sent us scurrying back under our covers where we finally fell back to sleep. When we awoke the next morning, there were snow footprints on the fireplace hearth. That was the best year. The next to worst was the year when we were particularly nasty to mom and dad, and got switches (sticks to get spankings with, for the uninitiated) in our stockings instead of candy.

Why is that the next to worst? Because the worst year was when we found out that there was no Santa, and suddenly the magic was gone from the holiday. Santa never came to our house again. Not too long after that, there was divorce and hardship of an all too real nature as the family was torn apart, and there was no more talk of silly little things like Santa Claus. So you can imagine the mindset that I carried with me to the discussion.

For her part, The Wife never experienced an end to the myth. Even after she knew there was no physical person named Santa Claus that visited her house on Christmas eve, the presents from Santa still showed up. The stockings still were filled, even for mom and dad. It wasn't until I met and married her that there was any magic during the holidays for me, and then only because of her.

She presented an argument that I couldn't defeat. That there was something good in nurturing a sense of wonder in the children. That perhaps Santa isn't a person, but is instead the charitable spirit that lives inside all of us. That the giving (and receiving) doesn't have to end at all.

So, I tell my children that Santa comes to our house, and there is no lie involved in that statement. Santa Claus is the Spirit of Giving, the anonymous benefactor who gives out of the kindness of their heart and doesn't seek to be recognized for charity. He leaves presents that are from no one, and fills stockings for the people sleeping under our roof, no matter the age. His is a kindly old soul that doesn't get recognized enough these days.

The Daughter figured out that spirit meant just that, a feeling that comes from within, a few years ago. I know that she has figured it out, because gifts appear under the tree, or in the stockings, that The Wife and I have never seen before. Santa Claus lives on in my house.

(courtesy Berkeley Breathed)
You can point to the Wiki entry on Santa Claus and tell me how he's actually St. Nicholas, how his gifts were given personally. That he was a real person and he is really, very dead now. Or you can say that he's the mythological figure, Father Christmas, and that as a mythological figure he never existed at all. It's all fine by me, I love a good story. The Red Ranger came calling is an excellent story about Santa Claus, and it's just about as true as any of the rest of them.

You just go right on believing whatever suits you. I know Santa will visit this house on Christmas Eve, no matter what anybody else believes.

It is a game, the same game it has always been. A game shared by adults and children down through the years whether they knew it or not.  It can be a fun game or a hurtful one, but it is a game; as an inveterate gamer myself, it's one I've come to enjoy now that I understand it.  It can be a valuable teaching tool when used correctly, and a crushing burden when used incorrectly. So play it wisely, always with the knowledge that a game should be fun. If it isn't fun and you have a choice, why play?

(compiled from two previous posts. 2006 & 2012)

The Reason for the Season, 2016

The solstice approaches.

I know this because my self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder is kicking in. I want to stay in bed all day. I can't be bothered to go out to do routine shopping.

Well, the latter isn't just the SAD.  No, that comes from my cumulative experience with this time of year, which is why a self-diagnosis for SAD may just be my hypochondria (also self-diagnosed. Well, self-diagnosed if the wife calling you a hypochondriac for 30 years constitutes self-diagnosis) kicking in, reinforcing my disgust with the crass commercialism which denotes this slowly expanding season.

There was a time in my youth when we waited until after Thanksgiving to start hyping all things Christmas. I remember going out in the yard after Thanksgiving to admire the life-size nativity scene that my grandfather always put up (complete with genuine hay bales borrowed from farming relatives) in the front yard across the street from the Methodist church in Leoti where he sang in the choir regularly. Setting up the tree and decorating it was generally a part of the Thanksgiving celebration.

These days if you are into labor-saving you put up "Halloween lights" which can be color-changed to "Christmas lights" or just put up the Christmas decorations early. In this household you will find Christmas decorations that stay up all year, the ultimate in labor-saving.

Holiday shopping madness hits just about the time that November rolls around; consequently I refuse to go out amidst the press of people who are willing to knife total strangers in order to get the last dublafluwhitchy that is the thing to have this year. I won't go shopping between Thanksgiving and New Years unless I run completely out of an essential food item (eggs, oatmeal, tea) and even then I won't go gladly. I won't go gladly because I hate Christmas music and it is played non-stop in most retail businesses between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Basically I turn into the Grinch promptly following Halloween, and stay that way until Christmas Eve, when I put on my best face in order to not spoil the holiday for the family. Christmas and the solstice holiday it supplanted are celebrated when they are because of the effect that shortened days have on the human psyche; and it would be pointless to attend a celebration as the Grinch when it is thrown specifically to drive the Grinch away.

But the real reason I know the solstice is approaching is that even in my current boycott of the news cycle the War on Christmas, the incessant whining of the christian majority of the US that they are in fact an oppressed minority, has made its way into my information stream despite my best efforts.

The Winter solstice is a pagan holiday. This year it will occur on December 21st for the Northern hemisphere of planet Earth. The pagan holiday (which went by several names) spanned across the current date of Christmas, traditionally for about two weeks, until a few days after the current New Year's day.
Retconning Christmas: David Kyle Johnson on the Real Reason for the Season
This task that I set myself periodically, this attempt to push back against the wilful ignorance of the average American, this attempt to enlighten the masses as to the true breadth and depth of the history that is expressed in the secular holiday we call Christmas seems hopeless. Even the simple idea that facts when presented without bias can change minds seems hopeless in light of current psychological studies into things like Motivated Numeracy or the Dunning-Kruger Effect especially when polls conducted by the Pew Research Center show,
...that most Americans believe that the biblical Christmas story reflects historical events that actually occurred. About three-quarters of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. And eight-in-ten U.S. adults believe the newborn baby Jesus was laid in a manger.
In total, 65% of U.S. adults believe that all of these aspects of the Christmas story – the virgin birth, the journey of the magi, the angel’s announcement to the shepherds and the manger story – reflect events that actually happened. Among U.S. Christians, fully eight-in-ten (81%) believe in all four elements of the Christmas story. Even among people who are not affiliated with any religion, 21% believe all these events took place, and 37% believe at least one (but not all) of them occurred.
But still I soldier on, year after year, attempting to point out the silliness that surrounds us.

The word christmas is a bastardization of Christ's Mass, which is specifically a Catholic celebration. The Catholics, being the earliest example of admen on the planet, realized that they could more easily sell their religion if they simply adopted the holidays in the areas that they wished to convert. When they moved into Northern Europe, they took on the holiday known as Yule and incorporated it into their religion as the day of Christ's birth (even though it's considered most likely that the date would have been in spring) and it is even more likely that the celebrations of Saturnalia spread around the Roman Empire, influencing the the celebrations held informally long after Rome had ceased to be a power in the region. Whereby Roman celebrations influenced Yule which in turn influenced celebrations in the later christian eras.

Christ's Mass (Mass being what a protestant refers to as a 'sermon') was thereby invented, placing a holiday that directly coincided with celebrations already being held on the shortest day of the year, accurate calculations of which could be made (and were and still are essential for agriculture) with the crude technologies of the time.

What I'm getting at is this; if you are calling the solstice holiday Christmas and you aren't a Catholic, then you are referring to the secularized solstice holiday officially celebrated in the US, which doesn't observe holidays for any recognized religion including christianity. There is no need to further secularize your solstice celebration by calling it a Holiday.

This sort of silliness knows no bounds. The Son attended a charter school that was hosted at a Catholic Church for a few years while he was in grade school and they used the phrase Holiday Party to describe their Christmas Party. If there is one group that should be using the word Christmas it's the Catholics.  They certainly didn't hesitate to tell him all about god in that school, which was the main reason his attendance there was brief. I can't imagine why they wouldn't just say Christmas.

Christmas being Yule modernized isn't nearly the earth shattering revelation that FOX and their devotees might think.  A good number of the names for things that we use daily, even the names of the days themselves, are derived from Germanic/Northern European traditions, whose gods were not the gods the Romans worshipped (Remember to think of Odin on Wednesday next time it rolls around) nor the later god of the christians that Rome would officially adopt. Our traditions in the US are a literal smorgasbord of celebrations cobbled together from every major culture on the face of the planet.

If you hear me wish you a Merry Christmas, it is because May your feast of the Winter Solstice be Enjoyable is too cumbersome to say repeatedly. It certainly isn't because I revere Jesus, or self-identify as a christian.
"Jesus is the reason for the season!"
Axis tilt (22.5 degrees) is the reason for the season. Lack of sunlight causing depression is the reason for the celebration. Christmas has as much to do with Odin as it does with Jesus, and has even more in common with Coca-Cola ads from the early 20th century than it does with any god; Coca-Cola having created the figure of Santa Claus that most of us recognize today.


(courtesy the Coca-Cola Company)

Jesus was not a capitalist. Jesus does not want you to buy gifts to give away on the winter solstice; not only because he wasn't born then, but because you should give gifts every day of your life. If you really want to know WWJD? Then I'll tell you, that is what Jesus would do as well as washing the feet of the poor and feeding hosts with loaves and fishes. Give gifts every day to the people around you who need them. Be thankful you have them near you every day that you can, because those days are finite like the number of days remaining in our lives.

If you remain unfazed by these facts; if you are still determined to insist that Christmas is a christian holiday, I'll go a few steps further to illustrate my point. The Puritans that the average US citizen credits as founding the American colonies specifically targeted Christmas as being a pagan influence introduced by the Catholic church. They exorcised it's celebration from their religious practices, even punishing celebrants caught loafing during the early years of the colony.

The US is not a christian nation. The authors of the Constitution had little evident love of religion. Having just escaped religious persecution in Britain and the rest of Europe, and being besieged by the mandatory religious practices written into several state charters, they consciously kept all mention of religion out of the document aside from the proscription against religious tests. If you go beyond their ranks you are faced with the fact that there were French colonies as well as Spanish colonies, and if you want a contrast with the straight-laced Puritans it's hard to find one more glaring than the types of celebrations held in New Orleans down through the years.

The United States exists as a celebration of reason not religion. Reason is the basis for Humanism and the Enlightenment, this country's real foundations.

I apologize for ruining Christmas for you, I'm sorry.

The world isn't as simple as any of us want it to be, wish it would be. It won't change just because you or I think it should; and like those toys you bought for the children, it won't go back in the !@#$%^&*! box so you can return it. Next time buy the pre-assembled one that has all the pieces in the right place. The child will be happy for the gift anyway, they probably won't notice the missing parts, and the world will continue to spin on its (tilted) axis whether we will it or not.

Just relax, sit back, and have some more eggnog (or whatever your beverage of choice is) it's just a few more weeks and then we'll have a whole new year of problems to deal with. Now isn't that a refreshing outlook?

...Oh, and Merry Christmas!

(abridged and enhanced from this post)

When Government is the Answer

Please direct your attention to the image at right, one of those ever present internet memes that purport to offer valuable insight to the problems we face in modern day society. The problem is, they aren't. The aren't memes for one, and they aren't usually clever insights for another.

Let me explain this image for the layman, for those not studied in the subjects of design or engineering.

What you are looking at is direct evidence of subsidence or compaction. The drain so ridiculously placed at the high point in the road in the image was actually installed at the lowest place in the road when the road was constructed. However, typical construction methods would have it installed at the top of a concrete shaft which is anchored further down on a concrete reinforced tunnel, the effect of which is that the drain opening will resist settling or compaction; settling or compaction which soils around the drain opening are vulnerable to. Consequently the road around the drain opening slowly becomes lower than the drain opening itself, making it appear that the installers simply didn't understand where the water would go.

The solution to this problem is to understand the physical forces at play here, to make sure that the people who build roads and drainage systems understand how to avoid failings like this by instruction and certification and to make sure actual installations don't fail in this fashion through inspection or hold the creators responsible through litigation.

It is also a good idea to have systems in place to make sure that all these things occur at the time and place they are needed, rather than decades later when the random passersby happens to snap a picture that they think proves some bigger point about systems and efficiency.

In other words, the solution is effective government. Effective government, which is only an oxymoron in the US and other areas dumb enough to adopt our systems as theirs. 

Those Halcyon Days of the Rolodex

Jim Wright over at Stonekettle Station on Facebook is a frequent read of mine. I have moved his notifications to view first in the Facebook interface. Why? Because he makes me laugh, and I need a good laugh these days. Today was no exception,
Once upon a time an address book was a simple list of names and phone numbers that you scribbled onto little squares of cardboard and put in a little indexed box and kept by the phone -- which was a big black plastic box with a dial and a handset, attached to the wall via wires, and heavy enough to bludgeon somebody to death with.
Back then, how many people did you really need to call? A few dozen maybe. Relatives. Friends. Anybody else was listed in the phone book.
My mom still has such a box full of cards next to her phone in the dining room. I knock it over nearly every time I'm there. Damned cards, why do you still have this mess? I ask as I'm picking them up off the floor. Why?
See, with the invention of computers, an address book became something you laboriously copied from those little cardboard rectangles into electronic storage. In fact some of the earliest programs for home computers (remember when we called them "home" computers?) were address books and contact lists. Periodically something would happen, a crash, an upgrade, something, and you'd have to retype the whole damned list into a different machine. So you hung onto that little box of cardboard rectangles, the ultimate backup.
This was my first smartphone, which was available long before Saint Jobs invented them. It had a music player before there was a iPod, too. I graduated from it to the Treo on the left, also available before the iPhone. Cheaper, too.

I haven't used a Rolodex (the little squares of paper) ever in my life. Other people kept Rolodexes which I transferred once to my daily planner (5 ring. Transplantable address pages) and once more to my Handspring Razor. Every transfer after that has been electronic. To quote Egon "print is dead".

I have not ever attempted to recreate my list of contacts because (and this is important) I never wrote anything down that I didn't have to and I never kept things I wrote out of embarrassment at my poor handwriting (more on that here) consequently my address book exists in a few digital places and pretty much no where else and the sad part is I can't think of anyone's number aside from The Wife, the city emergency number and information number.

Or maybe it isn't sad. There are a whole host of things that people remember for no good reason other than their lives require them to remember them. The Wife is my link to sanity and the rest of the world, so her number I really do need to know. Everyone else is findable through lookup or the eight or so social platforms that I would utilize if I wanted to talk to someone. I would use them because who calls anybody anymore? I don't even talk to people I pay bills to unless I absolutely have to. The phone is as dead as print is, for all intents and purposes.

However, I may have run across the problem Jim is talking about. Android creates a phone-only contact that is your contact information, and it will delete your contact of the same name from the gmail interface. It will do this pretty consistently no matter how many times you create that card. I know this because I used to beam my contact information to others with Palm devices, which meant I had to keep a digital card of my information to beam. If there had been more Palm users this may have been more useful back then, but it is the reason I still have a card of my information today. Or had until Android removed it from my contacts list when I moved to Android and identified the phone user as the same name on the card. Android is probably trying to be helpful and is only helping discover more colorful cursing in the process.

(blog entry back dated to correspond to the time the photo was taken and posted on Facebook)