Critical theory in a nutshell

(Politics)

2013-05-27 13:37
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I once encountered someone who asserted that all men, without exceptions, were rapists. Not as hyperbole, but as a flatly literal claim. And when I pointed out that this was pretty sexist, she explained that, according to “critical theory”, there was no such thing as sexism against men, because men are a privileged group.

I have run into this a few more times, and it appears that there’s a wonderful little game going here. You take a term — say, sexism. You assert that some of the things it refers to are more important than others, and then redefine the term to refer to only those cases, then assert that since the others don’t match this definition, they’re not sexism at all. And then do those things, gleefully, while asserting that this is in no way bad or harmful, because you have a definition saying it’s not sexism.

I’d like to propose that we extend this to environmentalism. As you are likely aware, pollution is a significant problem. But wait! The vast majority of this ecological harm is done by large industrial operations, which are run by corporations, so I’m going to propose a new definition: “Pollution” shall be understood to be “the introduction of harmful chemicals and materials into the environment by corporations.”

The rationale, see, is that now if we want to talk about social policies to reduce the harm done to the environment by corporations, we don’t have to use qualified terms, we can just talk about “reducing pollution”. See how useful that is? How vital it is to effective discourse?

So, what are the implications? Say I hate people who go fishing, and I want them to die. I can go dump mercury in the local fishing pond. This isn’t pollution, because I’m not a corporation. Therefore there’s nothing wrong with it, and it is not harmful to the environment, because we already know that stuff which harms the environment would be called pollution. Since we’ve improved “pollution” not to refer to things individual people do, this can’t be pollution, therefore it can’t be stuff which harms the environment.

Same deal. (Distressingly, I posted this example once, and got a helpful note from someone who insisted that any thought whatsoever about non-corporate activities was useless for environmentalism. This is why we can’t have nice things, people.)

Peter Seebach

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New personal best: 13 years.

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2013-05-26 13:01
Comment

So, you know that thing where people say they’ll get back to you, but they don’t? I had one of those pending from a programming conversation. I finally went back and tracked it down and sent a followup message. It’s been 13 years.

Luckily, I still don’t understand the clever algorithm the guy was showing me, so it’s still topical.

Peter Seebach

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On being made out of meat.

(Personal)

2013-05-14 16:55
Comment [4]

We are, by and large, made out of meat.

This has implications. For instance, we get sick. We die. Sometimes, we get something of a vote in the matter; we can, for instance, respond to getting sick in ways that make us less likely to die.

Angelina Jolie (an actress) is also human, and is also made out of meat. Edit: I thought she had cancer, but no, just an 87% chance of getting it due to genetics. She decided to go for the treatment most likely to result in living for a while, which is a double mastectomy. Thing is, she’s an actress. And because she’s an actress, her breasts are not really hers to dispose of if she’d rather live than have them. No, they belong to the millions of random strangers who are expressing horror and outrage that she would rather live than give them new masturbation material with lots of cleavage in it.

Y’all, this is sorta fucked up. Pretty sure that the married woman with the kid does not actually need to get your permission before she decides between your future fantasy life and how much time she’s likely to get with the husband and kid. Just… no. Seriously, this is not okay.

I’d try to draft some kind of “how to talk to your idiotic coworkers and friends about this” thing, with a list of talking points, except that fundamentally it’s so crazy I can’t even comprehend how someone could get to a position where they need this explained.

Peter Seebach

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Dear Ms. Scott: I believe you misunderstand the term "heart-breaking".

(Personal, Politics)

2013-05-13 13:31
Comment

Peggy Scott’s heart breaks for the state of Minnesota.

Thing is. Okay, yeah, maybe this is a divisive issue. But the fact is, the people pushing for gender-neutral marriage laws are not the ones who started that; it was the people at the ironically-named “Minnesotans for Marriage” and their political allies who started a major push to try to raise awareness of how horrible gay people are and how damaging it would be to our society to treat them like consenting adults, or admit that they exist in front of our children.

And that was what was divisive. All that hostile rhetoric? Divisive. A state in which whether or not you are legally kin to the person you’ve been with for twenty years and raised kids with depends on what’s in your pants? That’s divisive. Fixing it? People will complain, but then they’ll discover, as David Frum did, that actually the fears about gay marriage are baseless, and life will go on. And we will be less divided.

No, Ms. Scott, this isn’t heart-breaking. This is repairing a thing which has been heart-breaking all along, only it’s only been heart-breaking to people who aren’t like you enough for you to care about them or their lives.

You want heart-breaking? This is what heart-breaking news about marriage equality looks like. We’re moving away from that. If it breaks your heart to imagine that we would move away from these sad things and replace them with happy things, well. That’s more about you than it is about the rest of this.

I do note that we’re still seeing a lot of rhetoric about “Biblical” notions of marriage. When I hear these coming from someone who considers it valid for a man to kill a 14-year-old girl’s entire family, then take her to be his wife whether she wants to or not (but she has to be allowed to mourn them for a while, and cannot thereafter be sold into slavery), I disagree with them. When I hear them from someone who doesn’t consider that valid, I consider them offensive and frankly blasphemous. It is not your place to impose American ideals of the 1950s on the Bible.

Peter Seebach

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The mirror test and cats

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2013-05-03 11:52
Comment [4]

One of the standard tests for self-awareness is “the mirror test” — put dye on a creature in a place it can’t see but could see in a mirror, give it a mirror, see whether it investigates the dyed spot. Cats, in general, fail this.

But I’ve found a test they pass using a mirror. Well, that one cat passes.

My cat is consistently surprised if touched from behind. Touch the back of her head, and at the very least she twitches her ears.

Do it while she’s facing a mirror, and she is completely unconcerned.

I hypothesize that she can tell that the thing in the mirror is me-holding-her, and that this means that she knows I am about to touch her, thus, isn’t surprised. Further science is called for. I require a large number of cats, some mirrors, and an NSF grant.

Peter Seebach

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The bat: Nature's temporary pet!

(Personal)

2013-05-02 16:49
Comment

Now available for limited time trials: The bat, nature’s temporary pet!

Your new bat will provide minutes to hours of enjoyment before leaving you. It’s the pet you don’t have to take care of^SM^.

Your bat has many amazing talents and abilities.

  • Can fly frantically in circles for hours!
  • Can acrobatically dodge mid-air obstacles you can’t even see!
  • May not be able to dodge walls.
  • Don’t worry about your bat being stingy with infectious diseases; if it has rabies, it brought enough for everyone!
  • Your bat will be fanatically loyal, and will definitely not fly out through any open doorways or windows during its time with you.
  • Not even if you are waving a broom at it or something.
  • Your bat may make noises! If you’re over 20, you’ll never know either way, though.

Goodbye, Mister Squeaky! We hope you remember us fondly now that you are back in the great outdoors.

Peter Seebach

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Living in Minnesota

(Personal)

2013-05-02 01:01
Comment

So, last week, we had a brief bout of freezing weather and snow, with rumors that temperatures would rise. And they did, fast enough that about a day after the snow, I installed a window air conditioner in my bedroom, since I have trouble sleeping when it’s warm. And then we had three consecutive days where it was warm enough that I ran the air conditioner so I could sleep.

And it’s a good thing I installed it then, because it would have been a real pain to try to install it today, what with the six inches or so of snow we just got.

Peter Seebach

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Defining "proceeds": Harder than it looks

(GeekStuff, Personal)

2013-04-30 15:19
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So, there were bombs in Boston recently. You may have heard. And there are people in Boston, and a lot of them feel that this is sort of a thing which affects them. It may in fact affect them significantly. And if they run, say, a company, one of the obvious things to do would be to collect some money and donate it to a charity.

One such company is Turbine. They make MMOs, most notably Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online. I play DDO. It’s a fun game. And they’re doing some stuff pertaining to the bombings, like donating to the One Fund.

But there’s an issue. See, Turbine’s primary way of selling things isn’t dollars. It’s “Turbine Points”, or TP. You can buy TP for dollars; the conversion rate depends on how many dollars you spend. Sometimes there are sales where the conversion rate is different. Sometimes there’s deals where, say, buying a particular thing entitles you to buy TP at a particularly good rate. If you maintain a “VIP subscription” to one of their games, you get additional points over time. And, perhaps most interestingly, you can generate the points simply by playing the game. As your hero makes a reputation in the world, you are occasionally given small additional pools of points. (I’m told that people have worked out a way in which you could unlock all of the “premium” content by playing the content you get access to for free.)

So, they are selling in-game “ribbons”, at a price of 100TP. There’s a coupon to get them free if you want, but if you don’t use the coupon, you spend 100TP.

Now, obviously, the intent is that the proceeds would go to the charity, right? Only. We don’t know how to define “the proceeds”. If I spend 100TP on a ribbon, how much is that in dollars? I have no idea. I don’t think the question is well-defined. And I suspect the charity would not be particularly happy with a donation of “100 Turbine Points”, because they’re not a very negotiable currency.

Consider the simple case: I go to their store, I spend $20, I get 1,550 points. I buy 15 ribbons. I’ve clearly spent most of $20 on ribbons, right? Okay, now say instead I spend $200, and get 23,000 points. I buy 15 ribbons. 1500/23,000ths of my $200 comes out to about $13.04. Have I spent $13 on ribbons? Probably.

Now, what if six months ago I spent $50 on points, so I had 5,000. Since then I’ve picked up 3,000 points that were given as bonuses from my $10/month subscription, and I bought a $10 expansion pack code that included 500 points, and I’ve been adventuring a lot and my characters have earned me 750 points, and I’ve spent 6,000 points on stuff in their store. So that’s 3,250 points left. And I spend 1500 of them on ribbons.

How much was that in dollars? I have no idea.

One simple approach: We sum all the expenditures, and assume that’s the cost of the points. So that’s $120 of spending, for 9,250 points. Only the subscription and the expansion pack thing both contained things other than points. And I don’t know what those things are worth. And it gets more complicated.

Let’s look at an easier case. I spend $200 on points, getting 23,000. I then spend 22,000 points on various in-game shinies. I have 1,000 points left, which cost me roughly $8.69. Now I spend another $50, and get 5,000 points. I now have 6,000 points left. I have spent $250 on points, getting 28,000 points — 112 points to a dollar. But the points I have right now are 6,000 points which cost $58.69 — only 102 points to a dollar.

Which is to say: There is no way to make a sensible decision as to what the “proceeds” of such a sale are. No definition is unambiguously correct.

Turbine’s solution is to admit this, and say that they are making a donation out of their own funds, and they are not trying to exactly tie the amount of that donation to the sales of ribbons. And a lot of customers are mad at them for this, because they want to know where their money is going. And I don’t entirely blame them for wanting to know, but… It’s not possible. So I’m gonna go with “I think these people care more about this issue than they do about trying to cheat their customers.” And probably buy some ribbons.

Peter Seebach

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Sympathy for the devil

(Politics, Religion)

2013-04-21 03:04
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A poster on tumblr recently expressed some unpopular views; to wit, the hope that Dzokhar Tsarnaev would escape and never be captured or killed. Lots of people have expressed the hope that he’d be captured alive, and some have hoped that he might one day be rehabilitated. Not so many have thought to show off their empathy by hoping a killer escapes to kill again.

There’s a lot to be said for trying to care about people whom everyone else does not care about. It is, in principle, a good idea. It can be the thing that provides a path to redemption in an otherwise horrible situation. However, that doesn’t mean that everything that looks like this is actually a good or healthy thing.

Occasionally, I see Christians who are starting to think a little more thoroughly about their beliefs come to wonder what the right response to the Devil is. One answer, which I personally quite like, is “to love him, and pray for his redemption.” After all, we were asked to love our enemies. Not just the easy ones. Not just the weak ones that aren’t a threat. And from that, you can get to a stage of thinking that it might be quite reasonable to love, and hope for the redemption of, just about anyone.

In Diane Duane’s “young wizards” books (So You Want To Be A Wizard and its sequels), the canonical greeting given to the Lone Power is “Greetings and defiance, fairest and fallen.” The key point I wish to call your attention to: “and defiance”. To love an evil person is not to love their evil, or to make excuses for it, or to paper over it. You have to accept and acknowledge the evil, and to react to it in the best way you can — with unceasing opposition.

The problem with the poster on tumblr isn’t the notion of wanting to empathize with and care about a very troubled young man. It’s that, finding the man unlovable, she’s decided to ignore him and instead make up a fictitious man who is lovable, but not actually evil. She’s making excuses for his choices, and denying the reality. This does no one any good. There is no redemptive power in finding out that people have invented someone very different from you because they wanted to love something, and you were beyond their ability.

It is a good and noble thing to try to love people who are hard to love. Not everyone can do it. Virtually no one can do it all the time. And the thing is, if you can’t do it… Don’t fake it. Don’t pretend to love someone, while actually loving an imaginary thing you constructed because the real person was too horrible. Recognize what you see, see it truly, and go from there. You may find that some people are beyond your ability to love. That happens. It’s okay; not everyone has to be a saint today. Keep being honest, keep plugging away, and you might get there. Give up on the honesty, and you won’t even be making progress anymore.

Peter Seebach

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Making OS X a little smarter: Conditional network configuration

(GeekStuff)

2013-04-16 15:40
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So, I have ethernet, but I don’t always use it. If I’m not plugged in, I want my laptop to use the wireless. If I am, I want it to not use the wireless.

Some guy solved this.

His solution is pretty clever, but I’d point out a couple of quibbles: First, I’d probably use LaunchDaemons, not LaunchAgents, for this so it’d be up before I logged in. I would NOT use /System/Library either way; this is a local change and belongs in /Library. Also, I put the script in /usr/local/bin.

The gimmick is that the system can run a script any time the configuration changes, and the script can then, say, evaluate the current state of the wifi and ethernet connections, and select accordingly. This means that simply plugging or unplugging the Ethernet cable causes a toggle, which gets the result I want.

Peter Seebach

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