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Or, why I’ve learned, once again, not to bother trying to have an opinion on anything art-related. It’ll only make me feel bad.


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quarrel: Engraving of Thoth from the Luxor Temple. (thoth)

Here an issue that truthfully stymies me. Time and again I hear that video games don’t need to be made less violent because research has perpetually failed to find any causal link from game violence to real-life violence. But time and again I hear how games do need to be more inclusive and representationally respectful toward women and other minorities because they're reinforcing stereotypes and misogynistic behavior. I’m going to be frank here: to a non-expert-psychologist such as me, this looks like a double standard at first glance, and that in light of the former, it makes sense to investigate the latter rather than take it on faith. I don’t know where to do that, though. Every forum I can think of that hosts the appropriate expertise would kick me out for trolling or chide me for being too dense to see how the situations aren’t analogous.

And another. There is concern (justifiable, IMHO!) about the ever-increasing division between the products and marketing techniques that toy companies employ with girls versus those they reserve for boys, and the resulting messages it sends kids about what it is and isn’t appropriate for them to do with their lives. Of course girls are going to grow up thinking their sex makes them bad at math if boys get more Legos and Tinker Toys to practice building bridges and latticework.

Engineer Debbie Sterling got so fed up with this state of affairs that she designed a construction toy that would appeal to girls. In the behind-the-scenes video, she says this:

A lot of companies try to take their construction toys, then make them pink to appeal to girls. And while, yeah, it’s true, girls do like pink, I think there’s a lot more to us than that. So I’ve spent the last year researching this. How do you get girls to like a construction toy? It all kind of came down to one simple thing: boys like building, and girls like reading. So I came up with a really simple idea. What if I put those two things together? Spacial + verbal. Book series + building set.
And I thought, “Girls do like pink”? “Boys like building, and girls like reading”? This is the opposite of the talk I expected to hear! These statements are the very same alleged myths that we need non-boy-biased math-and-science-toys to correct, aren’t they? I’d like to ask Sterling or some equivalent expert whether she feels these different characteristics of girls and boys is more Nature or more Nurture. Is it that:
  • Girls are currently so biased by existing societal mores that it’s more effective to play to their existing notions rather than ply them with a toy they’ve already been conditioned to dislike?
  • There really are significant, unignorable psychological differences between the sexes?
  • Sterling did poor research?

I don’t know. I might never. I don’t foresee anyone in the know volunteering good-faith effort at answering my questions about this.

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This bit of trivia came up on Jeopardy: one early draft title of Catch-22 was Catch-11, but it was rejected for being too similar to Ocean’s Eleven, which had just been released one year earlier.

There is this thing called the “tone argument”, which is when you dismiss an argument (or simply don’t listen) because you don’t like how forceful or emotional the speaker is, irrespective of whether the point and/or reasoning is sound. It’s frequently employed in discussions of racial and sexual equality, where a person, frustrated by a lifetime of illegal discrimination and negative societal bias, fights hard for equality and is told that she would be more likely to convince people she’s right if she weren’t so insistent. There is this sad negative correlation where the more severe a social injustice is, the less likely its victims are to be viewed as capable of rational participation in addressing the issue. Catch-22.

Claims of belief-influencing bias are another example. “You are a member of a privileged class that suffers from, and perpetuates, a widespread notion that there is no privileged class.” Once again, it’s a Catch-22. You cannot respond to this claim without supporting it. If you believe it, you support it explicitly, and if you don’t believe it, you act the way it predicted and thus support it implicitly. Fortunately, this one’s easier to break out of: point out the logic-lock and start bringing evidence in. (If you can. You might be wrong, you know?) You could also point out the non-falsifiable nature of the claim and use that to invalidate it as an argument, but that goes over laypeople’s heads.

Here’s another one, kind of: “Members of Political Party A lie significantly more often than members of Political Party B.” If this is true, the press is caught in a Catch 22: truthfully report the full extent of the issue, and thus seem biased and lose credibility, or avoid (or just downplay) the matter and fail in their duty to inform the public.

If it’s true. Because that’s contested.

  • “Person A lies. Person B lies too. Ergo they’re both equally bad.” I hear this mostly from people who dislike politics.
  • “Person A lies more often than Person B…according only to people who double-check Person A’s statements with more scrutiny than they use on B.” This was — allegedly — the reasoning behind the Mitt Romney campaign pollster who said, “Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.” (I say “allegedly” because the one and only time I brought this up in a face-to-face discussion, I was berated for going by an interpretation of what the speaker meant rather than a direct reading of what he actually said. Alas, I did not have the exact quote with me to defend my heterodox stance. I’m also not sure it would have mattered.)
  • “Person A lies more often than Person B, but Person B lies more severely than Person A.” I’ll be honest: this approach makes a lot of sense to me. Consider if I accuse you of being a left-handed red-haired woman and you claim I’m ineligible to vote due to a felony conviction. I’ve lied up to three times, but you’ve still made the more serious faulty allegation. Granted, there’s still the matter of determining how serious any given lie is, but the issue of whether lies vary in severity is, I would hope, cut and dried.

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# Action Primary Result Secondary Results
1. I vote for Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney gets elected. I get called an idiot and a traitor.
2. I vote for Barack Obama. Mitt Romney gets elected. I get called an idiot and a traitor.
3. I sit on the couch eating Doritos. Mitt Romney gets elected. I get called an idiot and a traitor.

I need an Option 4. Failing that, I'm gonna need a lot of Doritos. The minimum jail time for treason is five years.

say what?

Apr. 12th, 2011 12:03 am
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Some weeks ago, I encountered one of the innumerable academic quizzes on the Internets. This particular one was a Philosophical Health Check. Most tests of this sort are meant to identify your political ideology. This one aims to point out mutual contradictions in your beliefs, such as believing Michelangelo to be a great artist but also feeling art is subjective. The test has thirty questions that break down into fifteen linked pairs, with each pair testing a core concept from different angles.

According to this test, I scored three contradictions, so of course I'm going to criticize the questions. I first want to clarify that I don't have a problem with the general idea behind the test. Quite the opposite. It somewhat justifies my personal reluctance to take an active role in politics, which I partially base on my belief that I simply don't understand complex ethical situations well enough to justify influencing how other people act in them. A person should get his own house in order before telling others how to live, and he'd certainly better be logical and consistent before he helps decide who stays free and who goes to jail.

One question concerned whether atheism is a faith or a rational belief. I didn't try very hard to answer this question since I have no idea what the tester meant by "atheism". I've seen too many arguments on that subject hinge on whether the arguers thought it meant "the belief there is no God" or "the absence of belief in God", and I can't find a consistent, authoritative answer myself.

Another pair that tripped me up was weather I think the government should protect citizens from unsafe drugs. Again, I don't care what the test says here since I gave a dummy answer. You had to answer either "Agree" or "Disagree", and I'm honestly not sure where I stand on this issue, so I answered randomly and moved on.

The last involved whether I think people should be rewarded purely on their merits or whether it's acceptable sometimes to give a person more than she deserves because she got less than she deserved at some previous event. I agreed to both, which is, of course, a contradiction. Okay. That one's fair. Mea culpa.

The site says "Each statement is carefully worded, so do pay attention to what each one actually says." Well, I did that.

I also paid attention to words, or so I thought, when I tweeted about something being a paradox. One of my followers replied that it wasn't a paradox because it wasn't a contradiction.

I paid attention to words, and tried to learn about them, when someone said that adding some kind of competency exam as a prerequisite to voting was fascist, and who implied that returning the voting age to 21 was also fascist. I was going to follow up by asking whether it was fascist to restrict voting in any way for any reason, or to oppose lowering the age further to 16, or to have made it 21 in the first place. I didn't get a chance because he ignored me. (Let's be fair, though. When a complete stranger sends you a private message asking about fascism, it doesn't matter how well it's written. You ignore it because the sender is a kook.)

"Farther" doesn't mean "further". "That" and "which" aren't interchangeable. "Spontaneously" doesn't mean "promptly". But that's the easy stuff. I don't know how to communicate with people to whom "immediately" also doesn't mean "promptly", or who cringe if you call a proud person arrogant or you speak of false pretenses or you mention raising children. I can't understand an economist who says "counterfeiting" but doesn't mean "printing fake money". Someone who requires I know the difference between a dictator and a despot before he'll entertain my questions should just pick the next guy with his hand up.

And I still don't know what fascism is.

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Paraphrased from the discussion here:

"Wow. It turns out government-mandated healthcare isn't so unconstitutional after all."

"How do you mean?"

"It's already been done. By some of the Founding Fathers, even. Back when the country was about twenty years old, the economy was taking a big hit. The U.S. relied heavily on international trade, but sailors were getting sick and injured in great numbers and couldn't afford treatment. So the federal government passed a law that required any U.S. ship arriving from a foreign port to pay 20¢ per sailor per month or face a $100 fine. That fee paid to build and run Marine Hospitals that treated sailors from those ships for free."

"You're kidding."


"Really? The Founding Fathers?"

"Some of them. John Adams was President and signed it, and Jefferson was also in favor. Both those guys had a pretty good idea what the Constitution intended and what it didn't."

"That's interesting! Still, that act isn't like Obama's health care plan at all."

"Oh. Really."

"Yeah. For one, Obamacare forces private citizens to pay into a service directly. The federal government can't do that. That older act charged companies, which is okay."

"That's only a technicality. The Disabled Seamen act expressly allowed and suggested that ship owners could cover the expense by taking the fee directly from their sailors' pay. It might follow the letter of your alleged the-government-can't-make-citizens-buy-things rule, but both acts violate the spirit and both have the same net result: private citizens pay the cost."

"Well, what about the fact that Obamacare hits everyone? There's no way out of the fine or forced purchase except having no income (or belonging to some minority ethnic groups). This Seamen Act applied to one specific job: international sailors. That's it. If they didn't like being forced to buy insurance, they could do something else."

"There are two problems with that. First, it's not reasonable to expect someone to leave behind a lifetime of experience and training and switch careers cold turkey. You're handwaving away the fact that these sailors actually had very little choice whether to pay, much like with Obamacare. Second, it can't be okay to charge one job but wrong to charge all of them. Think about it. If 'one' is okay but 'all' is wrong, you have to flip from 'okay' to 'wrong' somewhere along the way. Where is that? Is it between one job and two? Four and five? Ninety-seven and ninety-eight? Is it acceptable to force sailors and sous chefs to pay for health insurance but unconstitutional to force sailors and sous chefs and crossing guards? All possible answers are equally silly and unjustifiable. So either it's okay, period, or it's wrong, period. And the Founding Fathers did it, which rules out 'wrong'. Only 'okay' is left."

"But the Seamen Act fees went into a government-run program, not to private companies!"

"Absolutely correct. I have to give you that one. You're actually right. But how does this addresses the idea of whether it's okay for the federal government to force citizens to buy a service?
"You know, some of comments I see here are the result of people pretending to understand constitutional issues. While I may not be the biggest fan of our current SCOTUS, they are extremely bright people who are able to understand what was what. If arguments such as yours form the basis of a constitutional challenge, I fear you are not going to like the result.
"Here’s the good news – there are some very valid Constitutional challenges to be lodged against Obamacare- many of which have a very decent chance of succeeding, particularly with this court. The problem is you, with all due respect, are hitting none of them.
"If you took a few moments to read through these comments, you will find some where the commenter disagrees with my perspective on the law discussed in this piece and provide[s] compelling arguments to support their disagreement. Read some of them so you better understand the real issues."
[bold text not paraphrased -Q]

Things understandably get a bit testy after that. There are conflicting assertions about whether international sailors were Merchant Marines at the time, and thus military personnel rather than private citizens. There were jibes that people got their entire legal theory from Wikipedia. There were admonishments that people were not bothering to look up basic facts with five-minute Wikipedia or Google searches before attempting to contribute. There was an "all your counterpoints were addressed in the Federalist Papers two hundred twenty years ago"; that one was funny. After that it gets into various nitty-gritty squabbles over the stark differences in Jefferson's and Adams's philosophies and actions.


1. Bill says he's thirsty. Sara gives him a Coke. Bill says he doesn't like Coke. Sara takes her Coke back.

Q: What five classic errors did Sara commit?

That's pretty much how my brain felt when I came up from the original thread for air. I'm reluctant to dive back in.

Game designer Soren Johnson once tweeted, "I love history because it is like a fractal - whatever you want to know about, you can always zoom in for more detail." That's what I had here. The depth was endless. Endless and the nigh opposite of helpful. I suppose that sort of thing is appealing to people like Mr. Johnson and the Founding Fathers, who are magical aliens with giant, perfect space brains ["No we aren't." -J. Madison]. I suppose it's appealing to people with "powerful, flexible minds" (as someone I know put it), people who prefer a world where whether you're correct depends less on whether you're actually correct than it does on whether you can imagine yourself correct (and then convince people). Me? I prefer true things to be true and false things to be false. I don't understand how believing that, say, that chair over there really is red, or the Foo Act of 19XX really is or is not legal, logically forces me to believe free will does not exist. I detest the idea that I can pick any stance I want on any issue I want and be right if I connect the right dots. That's doublethink. That's Bizarro world. I don't want to live there.


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