Wow, I was a lot more pedantic ten years ago

(Personal, Autism)

2012-08-27 22:10

I think one of the most useful things, for me, about knowing that I’m autistic is that it helps me give a slightly more useful evaluation to questions like “is this inaccuracy a serious lie or not”.

Browsing some of my old page stuff, I noticed a recurring tendency to be much more upset about people’s “dishonesty”. Now, to be fair, some of it certainly was dishonesty, but a lot of it was just the usual variety of shoddiness.

Peter Seebach




Well, at least Akin isn't gonna be lonely.


2012-08-27 20:17
Comment [1]

“Apparently, it’s not just Akin.“ (Or try this link if that one’s busted.)

Thing is, I can totally see the point he seems to have been trying to make, which is that he thinks people who didn’t plan to be pregnant might want to keep the baby. Except that the way he chose to make it seems to make it pretty clear that he doesn’t think that what they want should be relevant, either before or after conception. And the thing is… None of the pro-choice folks I’ve ever met have said a word against women who want to carry a pregnancy to term, if there is any real chance that they could do so. So it’s not as though the idea that someone might want to carry a pregnancy to term is shocking or unusual. But it’s also not a rebuttal to the observation that some people might not want to.

Ultimately, this just confirms: The vast majority of “pro-life” positions in the US aren’t about saving lives, they’re about punishing sluts. And since rape victims sort of upset that view of things, and the GOP is committed to a plank that absolutely and unconditionally opposes abortion, the only resolution is to view being raped as a kind of promiscuity.

This is not healthy. This is what happens when you reason from a required conclusion to the facts that would have supported it.

Peter Seebach

Comment [1]


Why I still think there's hope for humanity

(Personal, Religion)

2012-08-23 01:17
Comment [1]

On a forum I hang out on, someone mentioned that he was going to have to go to court and see the kid who had (inadvertantly) killed his wife. He was going there to plead for mercy. (Apparently, the kid looked down for a moment to set something down, looked up, saw a car, WHAM.) He chose to share with us the text of the speech he gave. Yeah, it’s full of typos. I put it to you that this is worth the time to read anyway.

Your Honer,
I wish the following victim impact statement be entered as an official statement from the xxxxx family, and taken into consideration as our wishes as you deliberate the fate and punishment of the defendant.

Justice is defined as “The quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness”.

In order to apply this principle one must first know the offended person, Maria .

Maria was my wife, lover, best friend, and the mother of our children. She was the balance in my life and she made me whole. We met 24 years ago while both serving in the Army, We fell madly in love and only after six months were married.
Maria was one of the few women in the Army to ever be awarded the rank of Corporal prior to receiving her Sergeant stripes. She served in Honduras during the Iran Contra scandal, and she saw battle in Desert storm. It is ironic that she survived mortar shells, and machine gun fire only to be killed by inattention.

She had just retired as a 100% disabled Veteran, like myself, and we were beginning planning our retirement: What amazing and wonderful things we would see and do together. Once the kids were grown, and we could begin new adventures and travels.

With all of this in mind, our family and I, first thought was to file civil suite. Not for the money, but that the defendant would have to think of what he did for the rest of his life. Even if it meant just 1 dollar removed from his check, the reminder would be there. And Maria’s pay, with a guaranteed check for the rest of her life, could be proven well into the millions in lost wages alone,Then, in the process, we learned the defendant, being on his father’s insurance, would not carry the burden as leans would be placed on his fathers wealth, property, and worth.

This end does not serve Justice. And we ended the pursuit of a civil case. As I mentioned before, money was not our motivation.

After countless sleepless nights, and nearly a year of deep thought on the mater, we came to the realization that the person offended was not us. Yes we lost our beloved Maria, but she was the victim in this case. We are merely the residual damage from the offense. With a new pair of eyes to asses the situation we began thinking in a whole new direction: What would Maria want.

Having been married to Maria for 24 years, I consider myself an expert on Maria’s mood’s, and reactions. I can surmise from my aforementioned knowledge, her first reaction would be anger. She would rant and pace for a few days, and as soon as the “storm” settled, she would begin to rationalize the situation. The situation being, an otherwise good, moral, innocent kid took his eyes off the road for 3 seconds, and in doing so made a horrible mistake which cost a life. Those are the hard cold facts.

The next part would be to determine what punishment would befit this mistake. To her. prison would be out of the question. This was a mistake, and although criminal in outcome, not criminal in intent. She would want community service related to the offense, such as going to schools and explaining to the children the outcome of his 3 seconds of inattention, complete with accident scene photo’s.
If there is justice to be served, than proactive justice is our wish and would have most certainly been her wish as well. Lastly we want the one thing we have wanted since the beginning of this horrible nightmare. We want an apology. That, in fact, is the only thing we have wanted from the beginning. We do not want a court ordered apology, but a sincere, heart felt apology. Sometime in the future, when he is ready, or able. Not today, not next week but far removed from the legal aspect of the ordeal.

Your Honor, we ask for mercy. As the last wish of our wife, mother, sister and friend we ask that you hold what we all know Maria would have wanted in the highest regard as you preside over what you decide to be just in this manner.
Thank you,

So what came of this? Well, the kid pled guilty, and then this statement was read to the court. That was the only thing the judge heard. He then issued judgement:

The judge made him promise to get his GED within 1 year, and sent him home.
Slight anger, perhaps
But all who knew Maria know she would have said “I’m so prrrrrroud of you.”
And we all know this is what SHE would have wanted.
NOTE: I know it is rife with errors, but I wrote it under slight duress, any way, I delivered the speech as it is written.

I really don’t think the typos and errors are all that big a deal, compared to the substance of the piece. After all the news stories I’ve read about how the family of the victim were trying to get “justice”, it’s a real change to see someone who gave a little more thought to what exactly “justice” is.

Peter Seebach


Comment [1]


Discrimination: A quick math puzzle


2012-08-22 00:29

Someone in a discussion recently conceded that people in meetings will often ignore a woman’s idea, but react positively to the same idea if a man offers it. This is moderately well studied. He then went on to point out that if this didn’t happen, things might not be better; after all, it wouldn’t be “twice as many people are talking and being listened to”, the meeting would still have the same amount of time and pick up the same number of ideas.

This is not correct. Normally, ideas are weighted by applicability, appeal, or otherwise in terms of how people feel about them. But if you start weighing something else instead, that falls by the wayside.

Here’s a way you can sort of explore this. Take a deck of cards, and deal them out face up, two at a time. From each pair, take the left card, and sum the totals of the cards (A=1, J=11, Q=12, K=13). Your sum is likely to be in the rough neighborhood of 182; the average card’s value is 7, and you have 26 of them.

Now, what if instead of taking the left card, you always took the higher card? I get an average of about 238-239.

And now for the illustration. Deal the cards two at a time. If one card is red and one is black, take the red card. Otherwise take the higher card. What do you end up with? I seem to see an average of around 211. You still get some benefit from being selective when you have a red-red or black-black comparison, but the rest of the time, you’re back in random-choice territory.

Now, some people might argue that that’s okay, because men are better than women and give better ideas. That’s a stupid thought, but the beauty of the test is: It doesn’t matter. Let’s say we cheat. Take out all the red 1, 2, and 3 cards, and all the black J, Q, and K cards. It should be pretty obvious that the average of all the red cards is higher, right?

Well. If you select randomly, you get a total around 139 (lower because there’s fewer cards). If you pick the higher card, you get 178. And if you prefer red, but pick the higher card in red-red or black-black pairs? 172.

What, you say? Selecting consistently from a set with higher averages still hurts you? Why, yes. Yes it does.

Discrimination hurts your chances, and the beauty is, it does so even if you are right about the respective merits of the two groups. It really is important to try to be fair.

Peter Seebach



Republican Senate nominee: Women don't get pregnant from "legitimate" rape


2012-08-19 15:18

“Todd Akin believes that women’s bodies have some kind of magical mechanism to prevent pregnancy in the case of a “legitimate” rape.”:

Seriously, guys?

I am pretty much writing off the modern Republican party. I can accept that there are crazy people all over, but this has gotten to be way too widespread; the density of misogyny and just plain crazy in the party is out of control.

It’s a combination of things. The absolute lack of awareness or acceptance of even basic science keeps ballooning; once you have a large portion of your party’s platform based on an absolute denial of the basis of pretty much all modern biology, you have established that science is not allowed to tell you what to think about how the world works.

So now we have the modern climate-change “skeptics”. They’re not skeptics. Twenty years ago, being unsure and wanting more data might be skepticism. Now, being “unsure” is dogmatism; it results from considerable effort going into disregarding the evidence, with basically the same exact structure as the anti-evolution stuff. And we have people who believe stuff like “women can’t get pregnant from being raped if they were really raped.”

And then we add in the misogyny and homophobia. Texas has a law mandating an invasive procedure before abortions. How invasive? Well, it involves someone sticking a large, hard, plastic thing into the vagina and prodding around with it for a while. Also the doctor is required by this law to describe at length how awesome your baby would be. So basically, if your kid has a birth defect that would be fatal, Texas law requires the doctor to rape you.

This… Has gone too far. If the Republican party considers this kind of stuff acceptable, then they are quite simply no longer sane. The pact with the “evangelicals” back in the 70s and 80s has gradually turned into a thing which is destroying them. At this point, having grown up with a sort of 20th century view of the ideals of the Republican party, I would say “has destroyed them”.

I am now in the market for a party which favors small government but does not hate gays, treat women as chattel, or insist that the problem with disabled people is that they are not trying hard enough.

EDIT: Akin now claims he “misspoke”, without actually retracting his remarks. Oddly, from a purely factual standpoint, his “apology” appears to be substantially less factual than the Onion’s coverage.

Peter Seebach



An open letter to some doctor somewhere.

(Personal, Autism)

2012-08-15 13:14

A friend of mine recently spoke to you about a possible diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders, and reports being dismissed on the grounds that without a cure, there’s no benefit to a diagnosis. This reflects a number of severe understandings of the nature of autism-spectrum disorders, the experiences that autistic people have, the kinds of treatments available, the role of medical care in a patient’s life, and more.

The concept of a “cure” is not entirely applicable; you can’t “cure” who you are. You can treat, or mitigate, ways in which who you are conflicts with the kinds of people the world is well-suited to containing, but you cannot change who you are; if you could, that would be “replacing you with someone else”, and most people do not wish to be replaced with someone else. There is no “cure” for autism spectrum disorders, but there are many treatments; treatments which help people function more effectively, and with lower stress. Furthermore, the mere fact of a diagnosis can be of immense value. As a strange person who was easily upset and didn’t know why, I had a stressful life. As a person somewhere on the autism spectrum, I have access to thousands and thousands of books and studies discussing common sources of stress in autistic people, and I can find things that are likely to be relevant to me and help me understand my problems. Meanwhile, having a label for the ways in which I am sometimes rude has made my friends much happier. It dispels the illusion that I don’t care about them, and reframes my “rude” behaviors as “unusually truthful”.

Furthermore, the essential character of autism spectrum disorders is an unusually large gap in competences between some areas and others; this tends to result in people overestimating, or underestimating, the competence of autistic people in particular fields. Most often, once they know someone is competent, they treat areas of relative incompetence as evidence of laziness or lack of effort, and become critical and insulting. After a few decades of being constantly told that you should try harder, and that if you were trying at all something would be easy, the information that actually it really is harder for you than people think it should be can be a great relief.

Finally, there is one other reason that autistic people may strongly prefer to have a properly-validated diagnosis: Because truth as an end in itself is important. This may sound strange, and I have given up on expecting people to understand it. If it doesn’t seem like it makes sense, well, it doesn’t have to make sense; it remains true that, to many autistic people, confidence that one has accurate information is of great emotional value.

Ultimately, I can’t imagine how it can be a good example of medical practice or methodology to dismiss a patient’s serious concerns so casually. I would not do something like that to someone who came to me reporting distress. And the thing is, I have basically no measurable capacity for empathy, I don’t really experience other people’s emotions, and I can’t reliably perceive distress in peoples’ faces or voices. What’s your excuse?

Peter Seebach




How to call someone out


2012-08-13 22:41

(Note: Currently still a draft, there may be edits later.)

People occasionally have discussions on the topic of “calling out”. This term originally referred to inviting people to a fight; it often seems to be used that way, even when the intent is nominally benign.

The idea is this: When people do inappropriate things, such as “using sexist language” or whatever, if they are “called out” on this, it will cause them to realize the error of their ways, and perhaps improve things. Here’s an article on how to deal with being called out.

However, a lot of people are… well, they surely mean well. But they don’t do a very good job. Some of the items in the “how to deal with” list point indirectly to these; for instance, “don’t tone police” points out that often people who are “called out” react by talking about how hostile or rude the call-out was, rather than focusing on the substance. And indeed, this does happen; it happens, in fact, even when most bystanders agree that the tone was entirely appropriate, or even fairly friendly.

That said, I think it’s important to give some thought to the matter. The most important thing is:

Start by forming a clear idea of what you intend to accomplish.

Who’s your audience? Are you intending to convince the person you’re calling out? Are you intending to convince onlookers? Are you trying to convince anyone at all, or do you have some other rhetorical purpose? If you can’t answer this question, perhaps now is not a good time to start talking — whatever your purpose is, if you don’t have it in mind, you are quite likely to end up undermining it. And that does no one any good.

Note that I am not picking any of the above as “the right answer”. There are times when each of them might be a good choice; it depends on who you’re dealing with, what your needs are, and more. Think! Especially if you’re in written media, you can afford a few minutes to go over this and try to decide what your goals are, and think about how to approach them.

Note also: Goals. Plural. You might have multiple goals, such as “preserve a valued friendship” and “put a stop to this racist garbage”. You may have a hard time balancing them, but if you pursue one at the expense of the other, you will likely regret it.

First, do no harm.

Unless, of course, you want to do harm. But you may not, and if you do indeed intend not to harm, this is a particularly rich minefield. It is really, really, easy for call-outs to result in hurting people. And some of the ways are obvious, and some maybe less obvious.

If you are dealing with someone you know, and you don’t want to harm them, the very first thing you should consider is whether the timing is right; there may be a better time. The time to explain that it is patriarchal and fundamentally sexist for wedding vows to contain the word “obey” is probably not during the wedding. If your friend is dealing with other personal problems (stressful relationship issues, homelessness, job loss, depression, or anything like that), you might want to just put the issue on hold for a while; you are almost certainly not going to help, and you may hurt a great deal. People with poor emotional reserves genuinely can’t take criticism well; if they could, they wouldn’t have poor emotional reserves.

Secondly, give thought to framing. The more you emphasize that the person is bad, or what they’re doing is bad, the more pain you’re causing, and the less likely it is to result in any kind of change of behavior or attitudes. Well, you might be able to scare someone away from a field of endeavor entirely; tumblr is richly populated by the spectral remains of blogs whose bloggers were just trying out writing for the first time and got called out.

Is there a relationship to preserve? Do you care?

There is a huge difference between tactics that are appropriate as part of a long-term and ongoing relationship, and things that are appropriate if you are never going to see someone again. If you do things that are more appropriate if you’re never going to see someone again, well. That is a common outcome.

A quick guide to persuasion

Let’s assume you’re trying to persuade; you want someone to believe that they (or someone else) are in some way Doin’ It Wrong. Here’s a little thought experiment:

  1. Marshal your arguments.
  2. Write them down.
  3. Now, take a step away from this issue, by thinking about something else.
  4. Specifically, try to come up with directions to your house.
  5. Now write those down.

If you’ve had much experience giving directions, the chances are that you found the second part of this hard; when you are trying to write directions, you usually start by asking where someone is coming from. Without that, you can’t describe a path from where they are to where you are.

Now look at your arguments, from the first part of the thought experiment. Did you, when writing them, start from where the person you want to persuade currently is? Do you even know where they currently are? Note that a broad caricature based on a particular thing they’ve said or done does not count.

In short: If you want to persuade people, the most important thing is to start by listening to them until you are sure that you could present their views well enough that they would agree that you have presented their views fairly, and are not misrepresenting them. (Note: If you haven’t done this a lot, you may want to wait until long after you are sure, because you will usually be wrong the first few times you think you understand a position you disagree with. It’s a very tricky skill to develop.)

Picking your tone.

The second issue is that, no matter how true it is that “tone policing” is a bad thing: If you want people to be persuaded, putting them on the defensive is pretty much the worst thing you can do. Focus on your goals. If you really do want to persuade someone, then it matters whether you succeed, right? And if it matters, then you should do it in a way that is likely to succeed, rather than a way which is likely to fail.

Framing criticism so it can be heard

But how to criticize someone without putting them on the defensive? Well, that can be pretty hard. One good starting point: Ask them questions, rather than telling them things. For instance, instead of “the stereotypes you used with the token gay character were trite and offensive,” try something like “so, came across to me as pretty flamey, was that some kind of act he was putting on or what?” The goal is to induce the person you’re talking about to think about what they were doing.

People often assert that intent doesn’t matter. This is not quite true. Intent may not matter to the listener; it often matters a great deal to the speaker. Letting someone talk about their intent, and accepting their intent, makes it a lot easier for them to then listen to comments about how something came across, and the implications of that. If you tell them their intent doesn’t matter, though, they’re starting off being told that they are not important to this; at that point, there’s not much there to engage them. Again: If your goal is to persuade, you have to get the person you want to persuade engaged, interested, and thinking about the issue. “Threatened” is not a kind of “engaged”.

Talk about related cases

One of the most effective techniques in bypassing mental defenses is not to hit them at all. If you talk to people about their problems, they are immediately placed on the defensive; the human brain does not like to feel bad, and will go to some lengths to avoid doing so. Sometimes, talking to people about someone else can allow them to examine and understand the problem as a thing that does not reflect badly on them, and then they can recognize similarities in their own experience.

If you can get someone talking to you about principles, you may then be able to mention one of their statements or writings as an example of something that “could come across as…”; this lets them talk about the problem as a flaw in the thing external to themselves. If they conclude that they must change to prevent such flaws from occurring, that’s not an attack on their self image, just a useful problem-solving step.

Talk and act as though you might be wrong.

There’s two reasons for this, as a matter of pragmatic persuasion. The first is that opening the issue to doubt makes it easier for the other party to listen to you and think about what you are saying. The second is that sometimes you will be wrong. Talking that way will help you keep this in mind, so if evidence comes out that you were mistaken about what someone said, or what something meant, you will be less emotionally resistant to accepting this and correcting yourself.

Pick your venue

Give thought to your choice of venue. Don’t just post everything publically without thinking about it. Think about the environment. For instance, on tumblr, any public callout is an invitation for other people to dogpile the recipient. The chances that this will advance any goal related to persuasion or understanding are basically nil. On the other hand, if character assassination is your goal, public callouts can be an amazing tool; they don’t even have to be remotely plausible or justifiable. Just don’t expect the recipient to ever talk to you again.

Private channels can be good. Face-to-face can be good or bad; good (at least for non-autistics) in that you can read tone a lot better, and some kinds of miscommunication are less likely. Bad in that there’s no time to stop and think about what you’re saying before jumping on an emotional response. And remember, if you are trying to persuade someone, it is their preference for channels that controls what will work well.

What to do if you’re brushed off.

No matter how hard you try to do everything right, sometimes you’re going to get brushed off. A few tips:

  • Don’t respond by escalating immediately. Give the issue some time to percolate. Think carefully about what you want to obtain, and whether it looks possible.
  • Don’t go around gossipping, that won’t help.
  • Give some extra thought to the possibility that you misunderstood something.
  • Consider your timing.
  • Consider whether you want to write someone off as Not Worth The Time. Sometimes this will be a pretty reasonable choice.
  • Move on. You can’t win ‘em all.

A few notes on selecting your goals.

In general, the intent of calling-out is to pursue some form of social justice; to protect people from oppression, for instance. And in all of this, there remains a danger, which is that if you focus too much on the means by which you hope to obtain that goal, you may lose sight of the goal entirely.

If you don’t care what the people you’re calling out think and feel, stop and ask why you’re bothering to call them out then. And think back to the roots of the issue. Oppression is what happens when people decide that some class of people aren’t quite people; that is to say, what they think and feel is less important than what other people think and feel. Once you embrace the notion that there are people who matter more than other people, you cannot ever overcome or defeat oppression; you might be able to change who’s on top, but you have embraced the essence of the oppressive structure, and no action taken within that frame of mind can ever escape that structure.

People often retort that there is no such thing as bigotry against privileged groups. This relies on redefinitions such that the relative state of groups is encoded in the words, so that certain kinds of wrong cannot be committed against certain people. But that, again, is the problem. Once you’ve got a list of people who don’t count, you have embraced the system, and are acting to strengthen it. Oppression works just fine when the oppressed group “fights back” in a way which affirms the notion that human dignity is a thing only some people ought to have.

In short: The purpose of justice is to make life better for people. Once you are willing to sacrifice people for “justice”, what you are talking about is no longer justice. Which means: Sometimes, the answer to “how to call someone out” is “don’t.” There are other ways to educate people. Some of them might even work.

Peter Seebach



Voter ID: How security theatre can win elections


2012-08-12 15:07
Comment [1]

As a number of people have observed, there is no obvious means by which taking nail clippers away from little old ladies prevents healthy young men from using weapons already secreted aboard an airplane to try to hijack it. Similarly, all the aggressive increases in ID checking seem irrelevant; none of the 9/11 hijackers were using assumed names. And yet, for the most part, people have put up with the TSA’s hijinks. Why?

The answer is best characterized by the classic syllogism:

  • Something must be done.
  • This is something.
  • We must do this.

When confronted with a problem, people are inclined to accept a proposal that purports to do something about it, whether or not the proposed response will actually solve the problem. However, there is more to it; not only is it unnecessary that the proposed action solve the problem, it is quite possible to use this to get people to accept a course of action which has entirely unrelated, or even contrary, effects.

The push for “Voter ID” laws is a brilliant example of this. Everyone agrees that vote fraud is bad; the question is, how shall we stop it? Enter “Voter ID” laws. The theory is that, by requiring people to show their ID, we will verify their eligibility to vote. This sounds, on the surface, plausible.

Since I’ve gotten in a few discussions of this over the last few months, I thought I’d gather together some points on the issue. I propose to demonstrate that “Voter ID” laws will not measurably reduce fraud, will disenfranchise many legitimate voters, and have been drafted primarily in terms of that effect.

Point 1: Voter ID laws can’t prevent the fraud which is actually occurring.

There is a fair amount of dispute about how much vote fraud is really happening. One source pushing for voter ID laws claims that over a thousand felons voted in the 2008 Minnesota senate race. On the other hand, the League of Women Voters report that only 14 people out of approximately 2,800,000 voters fraudulently cast ballots during the 2004 election in Minnesota. However, a closer look reveals the essential bait-and-switch tactic: Even if we grant that felons are voting, who shouldn’t have been, they are not voting by pretending to be someone else. An ID requirement would not prevent them from voting. In fact, the claim that over a thousand felons voted is itself false.

And that, really, is where the whole thing breaks down: None of the recorded fraud is of a kind where requiring ID would change the outcome of the fraud. A more detailed review of vote fraud does turn up examples of impersonation; roughly ten cases in the entire country in twelve years. So voter ID requirements wouldn’t change even one percent of the fraud cases identified. So why bother? What outcomes might it change?

Point 2: ID requirements will disenfranchise people selectively

Obviously, in principle, everyone can have ID with a correct address. However, some groups of people are much less likely to have such ID in practice. Poor people, for instance. Students.

Defenders of these laws argue that people could get IDs, but this is not quite on point. Even assuming everyone attempts to get a suitable ID, the barriers to success are much higher for some people to others. It’s hardly sane to dispute that, whatever your proposed task, it will typically be much harder for people who are very poor to accomplish it. People who have never been in these situations tend to underestimate the degree to which it can be exceptionally hard for people working menial jobs to accomplish bureaucratic tasks. There is no guarantee that an employer will grant someone time off to go get an ID. You could in theory mandate that by law, but laws giving poor people rights do not have much impact in practice; it turns out that if you’re poor enough to have to work a job where the boss won’t let you go to the DMV during business hours, you are probably not able to afford a lawyer. (And you probably don’t even know how to go about trying to find someone to take a case pro bono, for that matter.)

Students who live at a college campus frequently have ID that reflects their summer address, not bothering to update it during the school year — when voting happens.

In short, the real objection isn’t “it costs money”, it’s “there are many people who do not have the time or energy to spare to update their ID.” Something which only disenfranchises ten or twenty percent of a narrowly-targeted group is less destructive than something which disenfranchises all of them, but it’s still serving the same purpose. Overall, nationwide, about 11% of voters don’t have suitable and current ID.

No matter how elaborate the attempts to make ID reliably and cheaply available, the reality is that not everyone will successfully get ID; if this prevents them from voting, it has disefranchised them.

Point 3: That is, in fact, the goal.

There’s a fair amount of evidence that the selective disenfranchising of people who are likely to vote Democrat is not an accident, but is the underlying motivation of these laws. The most obvious source, of course, would be the former Republican party chair of Florida stating directly that this was the intent.

There’s no doubt that what the Republican led legislature in Florida and Governor Scott are trying to do is make sure the Republican party has an advantage in this upcoming election by reducing early voting and putting roadblocks up for potential voters, Latinos, African Americans to register and then to exercise their right to vote. There’s no doubt. I was in the room. It’s part of the strategy.
In three and a half years as Chairman in Florida, I never had one meeting where voter fraud was discussed as a real issue effecting elections. Never one time.

Admittedly, this from a man who is now disgraced and in a great deal of trouble — but that doesn’t create a particularly coherent motive for him to suddenly start lying about an unrelated topic.

Or consider Pennsylvania’s voter ID law. Of note is that the Republican House majority leader for Pennsylvania characterizes the law as “gonna allow Governer Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” How can they be so sure? It helps that they already have the statistics in place.. They already know that they have hundreds of thousands of voters who lack ID that would allow them to vote, and that the proportions are much higher in areas that have traditionally-Democratic demographics. During promotion of the proposed law, the Republicans claimed that fewer than 1% of voters lacked suitable ID; it’s actually around 9% in Pennsylvania.

And this is, after all, the point. The goal is to disenfranchise people.

When looking at the rhetoric on this topic, it’s important to note that there’s a lot of emphasis on the emotional importance of preventing fraud from “stealing” elections — and none at all on the importance of preventing selective disenfranchisement from “stealing” elections. There’s a lot of language about how the high costs of implementing these laws are the “price of a free democracy”, but there is no evidence at all that they will make elections any more representative of the intent of legitimately eligible voters, or that they are even intended to. They are aimed at people who are already a little bit marginalized, trying to marginalize them enough further to keep their votes from being cast or counted.

Peter Seebach

Comment [1]


A reminder: Overtime is nearly always stupid.

(GeekStuff, Personal)

2012-08-11 23:52
Comment [1]

In a discussion about a video game, and why the developers should have been working on code rather than taking a break to do some social/promotional stuff, someone wrote:

I’m a commissioning Engineer working for a large corporation that installs continuous processing equipment in customer factories. During commissioning we work 12hr shift rosters around the clock setting up process control and fixing bugs reported to us by operators.
When the jobs done to the customers satisfaction we then get shit faced.

This caused me to realize: It is still the case that there are people who have not followed the last hundred and some years of research in the field. Yes, over a hundred years; there’s a published paper from 1908 observing that a shorter working day can produce increased productivity. Not just increased productivity per hour, mind you. Increased overall productivity. As in, more things get done per worker per day.

This might seem surprising, but it shouldn’t. As Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow points out, the brain gets tired, and when it gets tired, it gets lazy. For a particularly terrifying example, consider the parole judges mentioned in the book; in general, about 35% of parole requests are granted. However, that number is nearly 65% at the start of a working period, and 0% at the end of a working period. Tired people fall back on the default; in that case, denying requests. Unless you think that the cases are scheduled such that nearly all of the people who ought to be granted parole happen to come early, the fact is that the system as set up is producing very inaccurate results in some significant way.

The IDGA has a very nice article on why crunch mode doesn’t work.

What it comes down to is: People who have been working overtime for an extended period perform as though legally drunk. They make a lot more mistakes. They don’t just make more mistakes during the extended hours, they make more mistakes during all the other hours, too. Lack of sleep, similarly, causes serious performance problems in any kind of work which requires functional thinking. Programming is one such kind of work.

Peter Seebach


Comment [1]


The Secret World: Way, way, better than some reviewers think

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2012-08-10 13:04

Inexplicably, TSW reviews sort of poorly. Wait, that’s not inexplicable; it’s totally explicable, it’s just sad. Many of them aren’t even reviews of the retail; they’re from mid-to-late beta. Others are just plain wrong on basic claims about mechanics. But mostly, I think, reviewers tried to play it as though it were a modern-setting WoW, and got disappointed when it wasn’t.

Overall, TSW is a pretty high-quality game. The devs have done a good job of making an interesting setting, developing a combat system which is at least moderately fun to play, and so on.

However, it does a few things which go against norms and expectations, and that means that people who are trying to play through quickly in order to write a review seem to sort of miss some of the points. For instance, one of the game’s big selling point is “investigation” missions — missions where the challenge is not defeating enemies in combat, but solving puzzles and following up on clues. The investigation missions are by design structured so that you may have to use sources outside the game — in some cases, a website maintained by funcom which provides relevant clues, in other cases maybe just Wikipedia or any reasonably complete art history. Yes, art history. And the Bible. And you might want to be able to decipher Morse code.

So when people complain that the puzzles are too hard and they can’t find solutions from the material in the game, that’s saying that Funcom delivered exactly what they offered — and that means it’s not a bug, it’s a design choice. Writers who think the puzzles are “too hard” or “unfair” are in many cases simply complaining that they never read the manual or tutorials.

Similarly, the game’s design offers a fairly unusual degree of flexibility in character design, and this permits poor choices. And there are missions which are designed explicitly so that you can’t complete them by brute force.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the developers have intentionally created a game where some character builds cannot complete some content; if you want to beat everything, you need to be willing to switch builds and approach things in different ways. And a lot of people, not expecting that, think this is a failure of the developers to properly evaluate content, rather than a choice to make some things hard.

This ties in to the general observation that you can play WoW in any MMO. In the case of many of the negative reviews of TSW, the problem is that the reviewer tried to play WoW in TSW, discovered that it didn’t work, and dismissed the game as a poorly-made WoW clone, when in fact it is neither.

Peter Seebach




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