Life in Triage

The reason why my last post was a week ago was because I had a program and stats homework due this week, and then two midterms on Friday. My dad likes to joke that I live my life in triage. I thought "triage" was a synonym of "emergency," so I didn't realize how applicable triage is until I looked up the definition: "The assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment."

Vagina: Our Stories

Today I went to the UCD Women's Resource and Research Center's (WRRC) event VAGINA: Our Stories 2015, an "original performance produced, written, and performed by Davis students and community members." It's inspired by Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" and since a friend was performing in it, I went to support her and to check out the event.

I ended up leaving after the third monologue. After spending a decade in acting, I'm not longer able to watch it. My mind narrows in on the actors and actresses, focusing on them as themselves instead of as the role they are attempting to portray. I instinctively look for the stage tape guiding performers as they cross the stage during scene changes. My ears, trained to adapt to the scene if something goes wrong, can't help but catch every stumble or mistake.

But I was also troubled by the format of the monologues. From talking to my friend privately, I know that the subjects she chose to cover are deeply personal and critical in forming who she is today. I assume the same is true of the other performers. But in attempting to convey their stories, the performers tried to be artistic and in doing so, sacrificed the most important essence of a story - the part that draws you in, the part that makes the story personal to you. Stories can be truthful, or based on the truth, or completely made up, because the most important thing is that the story teller conveys to the listener. Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried makes this point beautifully through the character of Rat Kiley, when the narrator says that "[Rat's defining characteristic of telling exaggerated stories] wasn't a question of deceit. Just the opposite; he wanted to heat up the truth, to make it burn so hot that you would feel exactly what he felt." Yet every performer failed the elementary writing technique "Show, don't tell." Phrases like "I felt worthless." and "I felt helpless." were used liberally in the performances, but they didn't do anything to make me feel as the performer did.

A Brightline for Sexual Assault

One of the performer's pieces raised an interesting question. From what I could gather, the outline of her story was this: She was at a party, had ten drinks, flirted with a male (or maybe a group of males, I couldn't tell), invited him back to her living room, took him up to her bedroom and then "[her] memory is shit." Sometime after, she reported the male for sexual assault and the investigation went nowhere. I'm not sure what specifically she meant by the investigation went nowhere, since she later referenced that she and her friends (witnesses) were questioned by campus (CVPP at the time, CARE now, I presume).

Neither parties deny what happened. The question is whether the sexual intercourse was consensual. What standard could we (as uninvolved, neutral observers) use to make that judgement? The prior events (flirting, invitation to her apartment, another invitation to her bedroom) suggest that both parties were interested. But consent is a continual process and can be revoked whenever one changes their mind. This is not an option. California's new "affirmative consent" standard is equally problematic because it inverts "innocent until proven guilty" by placing the burden of proof on the accused i.e. "You are guilty unless you can prove that you received affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity AND that your belief in affirmative consent did not come from your intoxication or recklessness." By this standard, if my girlfriend of over a year accused me of sexual assault, I would not be able to defend myself. I'm struggling to distinguish between the "male-dominated system" she accuses UCD of having (which I dispute, given that Sarah and Jackie are wonderful people and explained to me that UCD is a national leader in dealing with sexual assault, as evidenced by the large federal grant we received to reform UC sexual assault policy) and what appears to be an ambiguous situation. Let me then state the question: how can we decide whether a given program or policy is biased, and therefore in need of reform, or merely not delivering the result an individual wants?

The Economics of Sex

While we're on the topic of sexual assault, I think everyone should read this article on the economics of sex. The conclusion is that the structure of Greek life necessarily results in increased sexual assault, by allowing fraternities to control social spaces including alcohol, parties and female to male ratios. The more controversial part of the article is the argument that newly prescribed policies against sexual assault (education about consent, bystander intervention, cultural change) do little to address the structures that result in sexual assault. The author suggests that permitting sororities to host parties and to drink in their houses would reduce sexual assault. I haven't read the evidence behind this statement, but with respect to Peter Thiel's question, "Tell me something that's true, but nobody agrees with," I'm positive that sororities could be doing a lot more to prevent sexual assault than they currently are now. And not just at USC.

The Social Importance of Statistics

On Wednesday, Professor Polonik paused from his normal routine of running through the material as fast as possible to explain why statistics matters. He told us the story of Lucia de Berk, a Dutch paediatric nurse, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for four murders and three attempted murders of patients in her care. Apparently, some statistics were involved in the case and whoever calculated them made an error, so the murderer was freed. The class jeered at him, laughing and asking why a statistician had freed a murderer. I read about the case and the retrial that led to her exoneration. Apparently, the prosecution relied on showing that the likelihood that the three hospitals she worked at had such a number of deaths was extremely low (1 in 342 million). It turns out that this calculation was done incorrectly. The correct probability was closer to 1 in 25. Polonik thought that the story demonstrated why knowing statistics is important. I thought the story confirmed what I think about him - he's a poor communicator. I did find his later comment, that no model is correct but some are useful, to be insightful. Statistics has a frequent interaction with epistemology that shows itself much more frequently than in other subjects, and Polonik's side commentars are excellent examples.

With Apologies to T.S. Eliot

Last Friday, I met with Professor Koehl. I'll explain why after this Wednesday, but we talked about his web page's quote that I feel ties in nicely with statistics and epistemology:

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Where is the information we have lost in data?"
With apologies to T.S. Eliot

The Zen of CS Professors

I've been considering starting a collection of computer science professor's quotes. For a field that's considered to be a ways away from the humanities, my professors have made a number of insightful comments:

Lazy Students

The last time I spoke with Professor Matloff, we were arguing over what we perceive to be the cause of why Davis seems to graduate poor programmers. I argued that our professors focus too much on theory, which I felt was backed up by a thread on the CS Club facebook page. His argument was that students are lazy, which he backed up by saying students don't take time to install or use Linux. After spending all last Saturday updating my Ubuntu operating system from 11.something to 14.something, I understand why. As Professor Nitta put it, if one values their time more than they value their money, there's little reason to use an operating system that relies so heavily on open source software. It's much less expensive to just buy an OS and software products that work.