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Guest Post - Aziz Ansari (Weekend Longread)

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.27.18

Nick S. writes: The discussion around Aziz Ansari feels like an unfogged topic. I don't know that I have much to add, and I haven't read the original babe.net article, but it's been interesting to follow the commentary. Personally it feels a little weird to use the story as the basis for strong judgements about Ansari -- the situation feels like it deserves some protection of privacy. At the same time, the responses that I have found most compelling are ones that have emphasized the seriousness, rather than the ambiguousness of the story.

One of the more original responses that I've read is this article by somebody who is autistic and has no patience for the argument that it's tough to read somebody else's response in the moment which is one of the stronger arguments that I've seen for why the allegations, if true, should be considered sexual assault, and not just a bad date.

The other take, though, is one I've seen being made by non-shitty people (unlike the first) and is something along the lines of "any man who says he can't read obvious signals from someone's body language is a liar and probably a rapist."

...

Blind people, most obviously, can't see body language in the most literal way. But also, many (not all) autistic people, including myself, can't read body language, certainly not well enough to interpret it with any fluency in the moment.

. . .

But the crucial thing here is that ... being unable to read body language does not make one a rapist. Being a piece-of-shit rapist makes someone a rapist.

The "logic" of the first group implies that men think "I'm not sure from her body language whether this person wants to have sex with me or not. Oh well, better not check, I'd better just rape them," and that this is a completely reasonable thing to think. It is not.


Sony Bunch thinks that this is the sort of story which takes away from the clarity of the #MeToo moment.

The only issue with all this is that this story about Ansari is nothing like the ugly tales of sexual abuse that have wafted out of Hollywood over the past six months or so. Not really. From Harvey Weinstein's decades of sexual assaults and use of blacklists to Kevin Spacey's predatory behavior toward young men to Louis C.K.'s masturbating in front of people without asking, these were all stories that were both criminal in nature and involved an abuse of power over underlings. The #MeToo movement's story has been a relatively straightforward one that garners support from both sides of the aisle and all decent people, because it is a tale of how powerful people humiliate and subjugate those who want nothing more than a chance to chase their dreams.

But that just makes me think of the much quoted passage from Rebecca Traister

And yet the rage that many of us are feeling doesn't necessarily correspond with the severity of the trespass: Lots of us are on some level as incensed about the guy who looked down our shirt at a company retreat as we are about Weinstein, even if we can acknowledge that there's something nuts about that, a weird overreaction. Part of it is the decades we've spent being pressured to underreact, our objections to the small stuff (and also to the big stuff!) bantered away, ignored, or attributed to our own lily-livered inability to cut it in the real world. Resentments accrete, mature into rage.

And also John Scalzi's comment (predating the Ansari story)

[Hypothetical Dude] I'm worried that someone might call me out for having been a harassing piece of shit at some point in my past.

[Scalzi]Well, let me ask you: Were you, in the past, in fact, a harassing piece of shit?

[HD] Maybe?

[Scalzi]I'm gonna take that as a "yes."

[HD] I wish you wouldn't.

[Scalzi]Too late! And here's the thing: If in fact at some point in the past you were a harassing piece of shit to someone, probably to a woman but really, to anyone, then you deserve to be called out on your actions.

[HD]But I hardly even remember the incident!

[Scalzi]Ah, but the question is not whether you remember it, but if the person you harassed does. And you know what? When you're harassed, it kinda sticks in your brain. For example, did I ever tell you that some dude once pinched my ass when I was in the supermarket? When I was, like, 11?

And, finally, this depressing article uses the story as a jumping off point to talk about the differences in men's and women's experience of sex

The studies on this are few. A casual survey of forums where people discuss "bad sex" suggests that men tend to use the term to describe a passive partner or a boring experience. (Here's a very unscientific Twitter poll I did that found just that.) But when most women talk about "bad sex," they tend to mean coercion, or emotional discomfort or, even more commonly, physical pain. Debby Herbenick, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health, and one of the forces behind the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, confirmed this. "When it comes to 'good sex,'" she told me, "women often mean without pain, men often mean they had orgasms."

As for bad sex, University of Michigan Professor Sara McClelland, another one of the few scholars who has done rigorous work on this issue, discovered in the course of her research on how young men and women rate sexual satisfaction that "men and women imagined a very different low end of the sexual satisfaction scale."
While women imagined the low end to include the potential for extremely negative feelings and the potential for pain, men imagined the low end to represent the potential for less satisfying sexual outcomes, but they never imagined harmful or damaging outcomes for themselves. ["Intimate Justice: Sexual satisfaction in young adults"]

Heebie's take: I'd been planning on posting that The Week link as the longread, so Nick's post is perfectly timed.

An excerpt on women faking orgasms:

Faking an orgasm achieves all kinds of things: It can encourage the man to finish, which means the pain (if you're having it) can finally stop. It makes him feel good and spares his feelings. If being a good lover means making the other person feel good, then you've excelled on that front too. Total win.

Probably 15 years ago, on LoveLines, Adam Carolla said something roughly along the lines of this:

A fifteen year old boy trying to get his girlfriend to orgasm is like a raccoon trying to get a candy bar out of a vending machine. Just wildly pawing at the glass. Up to his elbow trying to get past the trap door. Checking around back to see if there's another way in.

To this day, I still think that's hilarious and insightful. Although I'm sorry about the lack of agency, Vending Machine.


 

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Tough But Fair

Posted by Ogged
on 01.27.18

This is a fun, well-executed list: who should have won best album over the past 38 years.


 

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B-Movie Antics

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.26.18

hey didja hear the one about Trump's new EPA pick, Cathy Stepp?

"I failed my first driving test," [Stepp's daughter] told Chicago Inc., repeating a story that she acknowledges she told the packed room of her mother's staff Jan. 11. "My mom said, 'You're not going to fail it again!' "
"She put on a disguise of a fake nose and sunglasses and went to the DMV and followed someone taking the driving portion of the test so that she could learn the route, and then we practiced it," Hannah continued. "I didn't fail the second time!"

This doesn't really mean much in terms of her ability to ruin the EPA, but it sure does point to her being a weirdo.


 

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Culture post: Drone names: intelligent artifice

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.26.18

LW writes: A few related thoughts, no overriding structure:

1) My main interest in thinking about interaction between AI and human culture (which Banks explores in a way that I like) is basically biological. Living things reproduce, and lots of them change over their lives; they also die. Artificial intelligences that are autonomous will need strategies for change, for reproduction, and for population control. In PG, there is a tangential mention of a drone that is born limited, but is allowed to improve (I think that it took on debt for the improvement procedure?). This prospect, that a limited AI could develop ambitions to significantly change itself, seems pretty interesting to me. Flere-Imsaho's life history is a particular example, some changes are possible for it, but not others. Why wouldn't every drone aim to become a mind? If there was any mention of AI death beyond unfortunate accident or disaster, I missed it (it's possible that it's mentioned but isn't a central point-- anyone?). That's a lapse-- if creation/birth and possibly metamorphosis exist, then senescence is necessary.

As others have mentioned, childrearing and whatever the equivalent for annealing artificial intelligences into their environment doesn't much appear. How much creation and what kind is a central question to address. In the books, the only mention of something like this is the kind of mysterious selection procedure for Special Circumstance compatible misfit but functional drones. Why not just grow as many of these as are useful? Raise them on a diet of Korean horror movies and Shostakovich or whatever.

2) I liked that even humble artificial intelligences took names, and I enjoy Banks' elaborate and slightly funny names a lot. The names are a small nod to bigger questions of artificial identity. How is an artificial intelligence constant over time? Flere-Imsaho again is an interesting example, particularly that it's willing to act unethically to further the ability to change. It clearly mentions that its identity is connected to its physical form, which makes sense to me and is I think perceptive of Banks to include. Similarly the damaged mind in CP, which if I remember right wound up taking a new name from the book's main character. Skaffen-Amtiskaw seems to also want to be someone different.

Unexplored is the idea that artificial identity could be both less stable and less discrete than natural identity. Sexually reproducing living things are pretty well-defined individuals. Take away sexual reproduction biologically and the distinction between a discrete individual and a colony often becomes a matter of degree. Symbiosis in biology is in fact extremely complex; symbiosis of living things that can choose how to alter themselves, boy there are some new prospects there. The variant in Excession (your 21st century human organization's email disputes are the future basically) is hilariously depicted with a couple of tangential suggestions of how very different things could get, here I'm thinking of the stubborn fundamentalist faction there.

3) I wanted to register what amounts to a kumbaya sentiment-- like Star Trek, I really like the depiction of a possible future that takes material plenty and a society respectful of individual freedoms as a baseline and explores it at length.

Heebie's take: "Take away sexual reproduction biologically and the distinction between a discrete individual and a colony often becomes a matter of degree." whoa!


 

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Science Fair

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.26.18

Heebieville hosted a regional science fair for the first time this year. (I don't know why we hadn't had one before.) Hawaii's class did a project as a group, which was chosen to advance to the regional level, which was held at the high school. It's kind of a cool project - the teacher assigned some kids to be deer and some kids to be resources, and then there's a round where they pair up (with some constraints). Any leftover deer die and become resources in the following round, and any resources that pair up with deer get reborn as new deer in the following round. So you get some nice modeling of the ebb and flow of deer populations. I'm not sure exactly how this qualifies as an experiment, but whatever.

Pokey also did a project, which did not even make it to the school fair, for basic failure reasons that he's blissfully unaware of, described here. (Clearly I have not yet migrated off LiveJournal.)

When I participated in the science fair, in middle school, the regional round was held at the local mall. That seemed like the most amazing fact possible: you got to spend a school day at the mall. Long live the `80s.


 

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Propaganda/Truth

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.25.18

Par for the course, but sometimes the course makes you unexpectedly furious. John Marshall:

I've been watching rightwing media since the late 80s. I've been doing it professionally for two decades. Very little surprises me. But last night on a tip I checked out a series of segments on Fox claiming new evidence of a anti-Trump "secret society" at the FBI plotting to overthrow the Trump administration.
Top billing on this went to Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson (R) who said this ...[Heebie: Video clip of Johnson saying the stuff above, that there's a secret society at the FBI, and they meet offsite and plot a coup.] This is simply crazy. This isn't some caller into CSPAN. This is a United States Senator.

I don't know what to do about Fox News and the destruction and epistemic collapse the right wing sows.

(And then part of me thinks: yes, there are probably people in the FBI meeting offsite to discuss this constitutional crisis that has begun. Maybe this just is how the revolution starts.)


 

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Guest Post - A better class of "Fuck You"

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.25.18

Nworb Werdna writes: It would take a cognitive archaeologist months* to reconstruct the movement of my train of thought from Michael Wolff to a small, doomed Royalist rebellion against Cromwell's Protectorate in 1655. But I ended up studying the speech from the scaffold at Exeter of one of the leaders beheaded there, Hugh Grove (the common people were hanged or transported). And I do wonder what happened to the tradition of last words because this is a really magnificent piece of passive aggression -- and even at this distance, I admire the courage and self-possession it must have taken to deliver, under the circumstances.

Good People I WAS never guilty of much rhethorick nor ever loved long speeches in my life therefore you cannot expect either of them at my death

All that I shall desire of you besides your hearty prayers for my soul is that you would bear me witness I dye a true son of the church of England as it was established by king Edward the VIth queen Elizabeth king James and king Charles of ever blessed memory and that I dye a loyal subjećt to king Charles the second my undoubted sovereign and a lover of the good old laws of the land the just priviledges of parliament the rights and liberties of the people for the reestablishing of all which I undertooke this design and for which I am now ready to lay down my life God forgive the judges and councill for perverting the law and God forgive the bloody minded jury and all those that procured them God forgive Crooke for denying and for swearing his articles so unworthily And God forgive mr Dove and the rest for swearing so and maliciously against me And God forgive all my enemies for I heartily forgive them Now God bless the king and all those that love him and turn the hearts of all them that hate him God bless you all and God be merciful unto you and to my soul Amen ​

So, when they come to take you down​, what's your last paragraph to be?

​*or microseconds for a Google trace, I suspect​

Heebie's take: It sort of depends what takes me down. There was a recent thing on FB where you type "Here lies [your name]. [Preferred Pronoun]" and then let autocomplete take it from there. Unfortunately, my real name stumps autocomplete out of completion, so I can't use that as a prompt for what befell me. ("Heebie" stumps it, too.)

Maybe something like: Heebie was right. Fuck you, clown.


 

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Guest Post - Lady Liberty, Ladeez

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.24.18

LW writes: In lighter News:

They also noted that the USPS kept printing the stamp and praising its design after the belated discovery it was based on a statue outside the New York New York Casino on the Las Vegas strip.

Heebie's take: the artist is seeking 10 million in copyright earnings.

Lawyers sought to describe their client's artwork as distinct from the real Lady Liberty.
"The re-imagined Lady Liberty standing on the Las Vegas strip is the artistic creation of one person: Robert S. Davidson," they said.
His statue is "a more delicate, modern, feminine and fresh-faced statue," they said.

She's a real peach! No sharp edges on that one.


 

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Guest Post - Rohingyas

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.23.18

Mossy Character writes: Rohingyas and the Unfinished Business of Partition:

in the 1920s and 1930s, the large size of the Bengali-speaking Muslim population [in Arakan/Rakhine] threatened the majority Buddhist Bamar population, leading to violent agitation.
[...]
By late 1944, the pro-Japanese [...] Aung San, the military leader of the Burma National Army and father of Aung San Suu Kyi, decided to switch loyalty to the British [...] The Kandy Conference established ethnically homogenous class battalions in Burma to keep peace in the military ranks but initiated no effort to develop a unified civilian government.
[...]
The borderlands -- Balochistan, Northwest Frontier Province, Kashmir, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Assam, Nagaland, Arakan, and elsewhere -- have kept bleeding since [1947].
[...]
Both India and Bangladesh need the cooperation of Myanmar to ensure that the Chakmas, Assamese, Mizos, and Nagas do not cause further destabilization within their own territories.
Elsewhere:
The Burma Citizenship Act of 1982 granted citizenship to individuals residing in Burma who could trace their family residency to prior to 1823, that is, the year of the first British military campaign on Myanmar and with it, a wave of immigration from India and China. [...] did not include Rohingya Muslims, rendering them stateless [...]

Heebie's take: This is one of those summaries (at the link) where every sentence is a stand-in for an entire book.


 

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Things About The World

Posted by Ogged
on 01.23.18

It's not quite as impressive as that pharaoh's kid being alive in that Ben Stiller movie, but John Tyler, our tenth president, has living grandkids.

On a different topic, I guess dolphins are pretty smart.


 

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Guest Post: The Culture: defending Utopia.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.22.18

Ajay writes: One of the problems that utopias tend to have is answering the question: if you're so peaceful and rich, how come someone nasty hasn't invaded and taken all your stuff by now? Previous authors addressed this by saying that their utopia was invisible, or on another planet, or defended by mystical force fields, or located a very long way away (like across an ocean or something), or had existed a long time ago. None of these excuses really work for the Culture; and in fact the first encounter we have with the Culture is of it defending itself against what would now be called a near-peer threat.

In "A Few Notes on the Culture", Iain Banks laid out some interesting ideas about spacefaring
cultures, and it's regrettable that the Culture novels themselves didn't unpack these in more detail. Most strikingly, he points out that if you have a civilisation that exists entirely on large mobile spacefaring structures - and these are presumably huge, miles long, with their own industrial capacity, just like Culture GSVs - then it will be pretty much impossible for a hostile imperial power to conquer them - they can always simply move out of the way. Meanwhile, the extent to which everyone on one of these habitats depends on everyone else for the very basics of life will be very apparent to everyone involved. You can't go Galt if you're a member of a spaceship crew. Therefore, spacefaring society will evolve to be socialist within and anarchist without.

That image of a collection of homeless spacefarers wandering from star to star sounds a little like a (slightly more peaceful) "Battlestar Galactica" - it certainly isn't much to do with the Culture as depicted, most of whose population lives on Orbitals, which have to be evacuated and destroyed in the face of an advancing invader. And a policy of perpetual retreat and refugeeship doesn't sound like a very satisfying society to write novels about, or a very spiritually satisfying society to live in; and I would also question Banks' perhaps too glib dismissal of the effectiveness of a policy of slaughter in suppressing dissent. Could the Culture truly have survived by doing nothing more than retreat, taking losses in every conflict where its habitats failed to escape? Or would it- would at least the bulk of its population - finally give in to despair and surrender? The latter seems a more likely way for humans to go. Nomad societies on Earth have, pretty much without exception, eventually been brought down - and space is not limitless or trackless in the Culture books, as is made clear in the very first pages of "Consider Phlebas", with the fugitive Mind completely failing to run or hide from the Idirans. I think it's safe to assume that an entire fugitive civilisation could not succeed where a single Mind failed.

But the general principle of a flexible defence that preserves people over territory seems to hold
through all three books; it's the winning strategy that Gurgeh eventually picks in his final game of
Azad; it's also the approach that Zakalwe takes in at least one of his campaigns. And it's worth noting that it is not in practice the most humane of strategies. It preserves the Culture's own strength, but at the cost of those still living in the territory it abandons. Banks, being a bit of an old leftie, may here be imagining a kind of Barbarossa In Space - the Idirans etc being lured deeper and deeper into partisan-riddled territory while the factories are pulled safely back behind the Urals. But that was never much fun for the partisans or their families; something that, unfortunately, we only really see offscreen (the casual orders for the bombing of cities on Sorpen after the Culture retreats from its unfortunate allies).

And though "Consider Phlebas" is the only book where we see the Culture from the point of view of its enemies, it's also the one where the Culture is (to modern eyes) most sympathetic. The Idirans are waging jihad because, like the Ottoman Empire, their religion says that an eternal war of conquest is a holy obligation. They want to beat the Culture; either to hit it hard enough that it recoils through unwillingness to take losses, and leaves Idir to continue its conquests without interference, or to actually destroy it and absorb its component parts. (The parallel to German war aims in the First World War is right there; so is the "risk fleet" philosophy of Admiral Tirpitz; so is the "they're too rich and soft to fight" fallacy. See? The "Deluge" reading group was totally worthwhile.) The Culture is fighting to protect itself and maybe even to survive.

But in "The Player of Games" there is no real threat to the Culture from the Empire of Azad; there's a remark that it's only luck (one too many ice ages) which has made the Empire so much the Culture's inferior, but the point is that it is inferior, and the Culture's interfering has no element of self defence. And the various wars in "Use of Weapons" involve societies which are even further behind the Culture than the Empire; still using tanks, cavalry, spearmen. The Culture is interfering for what it considers their own good. And the later books dig deeper into what this intervention means. It's offscreen in "Consider Phlebas"; in "The Player of Games" we see an intervention, but the curtain falls before we can see its effects for ourselves; we have glimpses of more interventions in "Use of Weapons".

It's not until "Look to Windward" and "Excession" that we really get a good look at the consequences of intervention, and the often dubious decision-making process behind it. Surface Detail" looks at an even more ambiguous intervention, "Matter" at what happens when other societies have their own ideas of how and where to intervene, often in uneasy rivalry with the Culture.

I suspect that this represents Iain Banks' own views evolving as he wrote, and I'd like to have seen him revisit the Idiran War and the arguments he made back then in the 1980s about the Culture's right to intervene and the virtues of the Contact section and its glamorous, shadowy Special Circumstances division; or about the non-interventionist Peace faction - "but we're the true Culture, we're how it was meant to be" - who are mentioned in "Consider Phlebas" and mildly ridiculed in "Excession".

I suspect that the tension was starting to build up between his love of the Culture as a benevolent utopia to its citizens, and his suspicion of the Culture as the interfering liberal superpower with a responsibility to protect - not concepts that Banks himself felt warmly about after 2003. I'd also like to have seen him address the Culture's dark side, the "hegemonising swarms" of machines that simply existed to turn matter into copies of themselves; he was, I think, lining these up as an increasingly prominent adversary in the last couple of books, and they were ready for centre stage in a real discussion of the Culture's policy of meddling.


 

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Nasser

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 01.21.18

This scope of this gymnastics scandal is really unreal and staggering.


 

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