Feb 212018
 

“Utopia, LOL?”, written by Jaime Wahls, is a finalist for this year’s Nebula!! The first piece of explicit RatFic (I believe) to be up for a major award! While there are other things put up that we all point to as great Rationalist Fiction, I don’t think those authors were aware of/writing as RatFic (esp since many of them pre-date the genre). This is pretty freakin’ huge, guys. :)

Feb 182018
 

My first reaction to Black Panther below, so spoiler alert.
.
.
.
Erik Killmonger was *absolutely* the hero of that movie. He rose from nothing, infiltrated Galt’s Gulch, defeated them at their own game by simply *being better* than them, and did it all in order to raise 2 billion people out of subjugation and bring them justice. And in the end, even though he is slain by the uppermost pinnacle of the 1%, he *still* managed to bring his home country out of isolationism and engaging with the rest of the world in what will be the greatest boon for (the rest of) humanity since antibiotics were discovered.

And he was just so fucking awesome. I love characters that run on rage. Jesus. I really REALLY wish we got to see a lot more of him in the movie.

Feb 122018
 

In appreciation of all the joy that porn stars bring into our lives, and in recognition of the fact that they get shit on by society a lot and they shouldn’t, Today, the day before Mardi Gras, I am saying thanks to all porn workers. And in celebration, I’ll be taking the unorthodox step of paying for some porn! I hope y’all will join me, and continue to do so annually on the day before Mardi Gras. :)

Jan 292018
 

Religion is evil. Yes, there are many good things provided by religious institutions (community, social trust, support for the local poor, shock cushions, counselling) which are valuable, and which partially offset religion’s evils. But the foundation of all religion is vile, and we would be far better off if we were to remove the good things these institutions provide from the root of religion, so we can offer them without that moral millstone around our necks.

So when someone asks me to respect something because it’s from a person’s or group’s religion, they’re already starting off on the worst possible footing.

And when Kids On The Internet proclaim something as their Spirit Animal, they are rescuing one of the good things from the slathering maws of religion. They now have a quick term that intuitively encapsulates “The thing I adore, an aspect of the person I wish to be – that which represents a part of my soul if it was refined to its highest level and I was the best, purest person I could be.” This is a good thing.

Likewise, anyone who gets a quest from their Spirit Animal should be honored and overjoyed for such a thing. I get the feeling that the above meme was supposed to be some sort of threat? But someone truly dedicated to an aspect of themselves would embrace such a thing. A chance to stand against adversity, to test your values, to be judged and prove yourself worthy. This is what character is made of. I would be honored (if perhaps terrified) to receive a quest from Face.

Jan 232018
 

In the wake of my disgust with the reporting on last week’s Trump scandal, I’ve been thinking there should be a Porn Star Appreciation day. It’s a physically demanding job, very few people are cut out for it psychologically, and they get shit on by society non-stop. The ratio of derision for the profession to the amount of joy they bring into people’s lives is likely one of the most skewed in existence (currently). It’d be nice to say thanks now and then.

And one could even go further, and engage a few Units of Caring on the issue. Upon the excellent suggestion of a friend, I propose that on Porn Star Appreciation Day, everyone do the unorthodox thing and actually pay for some porn. Few things say “I appreciate you” like helping someone’s career.

As for a particular day – unless there’s better suggestions, how about the day before Fat Tuesday? It’s thematically appropriate and thus easy to remember. And it’s not as kitschy as something like the June 9th, or the 69th day of the year.

Jan 052018
 

I’m switching all my texting and messaging to it as much as possible, and this is my urging that you do too. First and foremost, due to security, of course, but…

The user interface is slick and beautiful and just sooooo responsive.

There’s a destop app that integrates seemlessly and stays synced to your phone(s) and other computers, so you can type on a keyboard when near one, instead of tapping on a screen! Yet is still fully mobile when you aren’t near a legit computer.

My biggest fear was that setup would be a pain, with all sorts of tech knowledge needed, and passwords, and private keys, etc. No. Nothing like that. Just install the app and you’re good to go. It syncs your contact list from your phone and auto-fills it with anyone else who has Signal.

And, of course, the security. Fully encrypted end-to-end, so no one else can read your messages. Not the NSA, not Facebook, not Google, not the phone company, or any service provider. Your conversations actually remain your own.
And it’s free!

Very importantly, this is good to use AT ALL TIMES. If people only use Signal for illicit talk, that means it’s obvious that anyone using Signal is doing something shady. Once you use it for everything, all the time, out of a matter of principle because it ain’t nobody else’s business what the hell you’re saying to your mom or your bae or your boss, there is a normalization of using encryption all the time. Which is as it should be.

I know this sounds like an ad or some shit, but I’m just really excited and happy about this. 4 out of 5, would encrypt again!
https://signal.org/

Jan 012018
 

My Favorite Medieval Film Is A Knight’s Tale

“this film challenges the ideas of a medieval past as being so very different from the present. Spectators singing a rock and roll song by Queen at a medieval joust certainly raise the eyebrow of many, but the song certainly strikes a more familiar chord with a modern audience than the strumming of a lute. Does the modern song convey the enthusiasm and pageantry of such events to a modern audience more successfully than an authentic tune would have done?

… In other words, there is a truth of historical reality, and then there is a truth of historical relationship — a difference between knowing the actual physical feel of the past and the relative emotional feel of it.

…Because we don’t live in the fourteenth century, we don’t have the same context for a historically accurate jousting as a person would have had back then. A tournament back in the day was like the Super Bowl, but a wholly accurate representation of the event would not give us that same sense. Rather than pulling us into the moment, the full truth would push us out of it: rather than fostering the connection between the present and the past, it would have emphasized the separation. So Helgeland split the difference: he included tons of historical accuracies with non-historical familiarities.”

 

History is Written by the Losers
“Herodotus is one of two men who can claim to have invented history. Sima Qian is the other.

This is a rare feat. It was accomplished in exactly two places. Herodotus did it in Greece; Sima Qian did it in China. Of the other great civilizations—the Mesoamericans, the Egyptians, Summerians, and their descendants, the Andean kingdoms, the early rulers of the Eurasian steppe, the great empires that sprouted up along the Indus and Ganges rivers, along with their cultural satellites across South and Southeast Asia—history is nowhere to be found. I remember my shock when I discovered our knowledge of ancient India relies more on ancient Greek historians than ancient Indian historians. Traditional Indic civilization simply did not have any. In ancient India, playwrights, poets, lyricists, grammarians, philosophers, story-tellers, mathematicians, military strategists, religious authorities, and religious upstarts all put pen to palm frond, leaving a treasury of Sanskrit literature for the future. This literature is sophisticated. It is meaningful. Even in translation, much of it is beautiful. But search as you may, nowhere in this vast treasury will you ever find a work of history. That a great thinker could profitably spend his time sorting through evidence, trying to tie together cause and effect, distinguishing truth from legend, then present what is found in a written historical narrative—it is an idea that seems to have never occurred to anyone on the entire subcontinent. Only in Greece and in China did this notion catch hold. The work of every historian who ever lived finds its genesis in one of these two places—and with one of these two people.”

As to the thesis – “Those who rule do not have the time to write about it. … When high position is stolen from you, and access to the heights of wealth and power denied, there is little one can do about it—except write. History is thus rarely a “weapon of the weak.” The judgments of the historian do not serve the margins. They do not even serve the masses. They are a weapon in the hand of defeated elites, the voices of men and women who could be in power, but are not.”

 

The Tragedy of Jon Stewart

In short, nightly comedy news fell into the same trap as the 24-hour news channels. To keep their audience night after night they have to manufacture outrage.

I’ve been saying for a while that Cultural Segregation is bad, and I’ve lost some friends over it. I’m glad to see the view is finally starting to reassert itself in the wider culture. (well ok, the wider culture of my bubble, I realize there’s plenty of sane places that never went through this phase)
This is a link to an open Facebook post that went semi-viral. It starts with “As an Indian woman, I really appreciate Indian fashion being normalized in this way. Why should our clothes be relegated to Indian-only spaces? Why are only Western clothes allowed to be worn by mainstream society? This kind of generally well-meaning social segregation has the overall effect of holding White Western culture as a neutral norm all other cultures can and should draw from, while simultaneously telling us our cultures must be kept to ourselves.”

 

Iraq declares final victory over Islamic State. That was kinda anti-climactic for what was supposed to be the reestablishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth. “The only territory it still “controls” are a few scattered villages in Syria in the middle of nowhere.”

 

The host of this show set up a Trolley Problem. Subjects were convinced they were part of a focus group about commuter rail. They’re placed in a switching station, that mointors tracks remotely via CCTV, while waiting for the focus group to begin. A kindly old conductor shows them the ropes, and even has them switch a train coming down the tracks from one track to the other just for fun. Then he’s called away.

While he’s gone, convincing video footage is played of a 5-and-1 constructions workers stationing themselves on the two tracks. And then footage is played of an oncoming train that will hit the group of 5. The subject must choose to throw the switch or not, they don’t have a lot of time, maybe a minute?

Test was run 7 times. How many people do you predict flipped the switch to save net-4 lives IRL?

 

An interesting rescue of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” that shows how not knowing about the cultural context of something is a pretty big deal.

“Given a cursory glance and applying today’s worldview to the song, yes, you’re right, it absolutely *sounds* like a rape anthem.

BUT! Let’s look closer!

So it’s not actually a song about rape – in fact it’s a song about a woman finding a way to exercise sexual agency in a patriarchal society designed to stop her from doing so. ”

Most interesting comment was the observation that the line “At least I’m gonna say that I tried” is basically saying “It’ll be easier for both of us if people just think you raped me” which… fuck. The past was a horrifying place. :(

 

God I hate the FDA. Feds Prepare For A New War On Kratom, An Herbal Drug Many Swear By.

 

Another open Facebook post, this one on Jeremy Bentham.

“I’d like to talk a little bit about moral philosopher Jeremy Bentham, and why he has a weird level of celebrity status among people who think like I do.

…There is a sense in which Jeremy Bentham literally invented a lot of the concepts we take for granted as the founder of utilitarianism and a prolific Enlightenment thinker, but there is another sense in which, almost as a side-effect, he came to a variety of conclusions about the social order which wouldn’t gain widespread traction until decades or even centuries after his death.

…Jeremy Bentham, at a time when the morality of chattel-slavery was still a hotly-debated topic, was saying that It’s Okay to Be Gay and we shouldn’t slut-shame.

…Here is a radical proposition: Jeremy Bentham wasn’t just ahead of his time — he was ahead of *our* time.

…maybe you can’t have the visionary foresight without the eccentricity. Even among progressive people, who pay a lot of lip-service to celebrating diversity, there is a surprising amount of hostility to weird nerds re-deriving the social order from first principles. When we’re judging people for doing this, maybe we should remember Jeremy Bentham.”

 

How Evangelion Altered Anime Eternally.

OK, I knew it was one of the best pieces of art ever, I didn’t realize how much it altered a genre!

Navy apologizes after aircrew members draw a penis in the sky. Well color me impressed! It must take a ton of skill to be able to draw something like that with jet that’ll be recognizable from the ground! Good ol’ Kit Cloudkicker strikes again.

 

Russia organized 2 sides of a Texas protest and encouraged ‘both sides to battle in the streets’. “Russian actors organized both anti-Islam and pro-Islam protests in the same location at the same time on May 21, 2016, using separate Facebook pages operated from a so-called troll farm in St. Petersburg, the Senate Intelligence Committee disclosed on Wednesday.”

 

Pretty. This is the rare kind of poetry that I get.

“but now they tweet from Syria, and when our beautiful missiles crashed into their airbase Jared Kushner was listening to Hamilton

do you think bin Laden ever picked up the controller? maybe he did. maybe he slid into the skin of an American Marine and blew holes in his own country. high score. high score.”

 

What New Atheism Says “I’m not surprised when the New Atheists are characterized in ways which attempt to erase what they are saying or just get them to shut up. They’re forcing a conversation that most on the left really don’t want to have.”

 

People freaking out about Amazon Key are showing their “Living In A Neighborhood Where You Can Leave Packages Unattended Outside Your Door For Hours” privilege.

 

The Grand Unified Keanu Theory. O_O

 

Photographer Spends Eternity Waiting For Museum Visitors To Match Artworks And The Result Is Worth The Wait

 

Hah, Wired has an article about the Paperclipper game.

“Gaming, Lantz had realized, embodies the orthogonality thesis. When you enter a gameworld, you are a superintelligence aimed at a goal that is, by definition, kind of prosaic.

“When you play a game—really any game, but especially a game that is addictive and that you find yourself pulled into—it really does give you direct, first-hand experience of what it means to be fully compelled by an arbitrary goal,” Lantz says. Games don’t have a why, really. Why do you catch the ball? Why do want to surround the king, or box in your opponent’s counters? What’s so great about Candyland that you have to get there first? Nothing. It’s just the rules.”

Now whenever someone asks why an intelligent agent would turn the universe into paperclips, point them at this game. Then come back the next day, look them dead in the eyes, and ask them “Why. Did. You?”

 

So good! Now I want every visual story to do this. How David Fincher Hijacks Your Eyes

In Favor of Futurism Being About the Future “We are going to fight our hardest to end poverty, disease, death, and suffering, and we’re going to do it in spite of petty Boston Review articles telling us we should stop doing it so we can focus on hating each other for stupid reasons.”

 

Nov 212017
 

double edit! Should be fixed now, and looks like the problem was with a plug-in, so back to my home theme.

edit: nevermind, still broken I guess. /sigh. Getting tech support.

My old website theme has broken, which is sad, I kinda liked it. But for the past few days no one could click on anything, including old posts, previous pages, or leaving comments. So I’ve moved to good ol’ WordPress 2012 default, things should be working again.

Also, I’ve started a new job, and a lot of mental energy is going into learning the ropes, so posting will be sporadic for a while. I do have a new post up from a few hours ago though, please see below.

Nov 082017
 

In a new book, Eliezer discusses civilizational inadequacy. In one section, he first explains that hundreds of babies die every year because a formula used to feed premature children with certain birth defects is made from soybean oil rather than fish oil. Swapping one for the other would prevent all these deaths, and many other cases of brain damage in babies who don’t die. It’s known by enough people that this should be fixable, and has been known for years, and yet nothing is changed and hundreds of babies die every year. He then goes on to postulate why we, as a society, can’t be assed to save these lives.

>Suppose you want to sell a used car, and I’m looking for a car to buy. From my perspective, I have to worry that your car might be a “lemon”—that it has a serious mechanical problem that doesn’t appear every time you start the car, and is difficult or impossible to fix. Now, you know that your car isn’t a lemon. But if I ask you, “Hey, is this car a lemon?” and you answer “No,” I can’t trust your answer, because you’re incentivized to answer “No” either way. Hearing you say “No” isn’t much Bayesian evidence. Asymmetric information conditions can persist even in cases where, like an honest seller meeting an honest buyer, both parties have strong incentives for accurate information to be conveyed.

>A further problem is that if the fair value of a non-lemon car is $10,000, and the possibility that your car is a lemon causes me to only be willing to pay you $8,000, you might refuse to sell your car. So the honest sellers with reliable cars start to leave the market, which further shifts upward the probability that any given car for sale is a lemon, which makes me less willing to pay for a used car, which incentivizes more honest sellers to leave the market, and so on.

>In our world, there are a lot of people screaming, “Pay attention to this thing I’m indignant about over here!” In fact, there are enough people screaming that there’s an inexploitable market in indignation. The dead-babies problem can’t compete in that market; there’s no free energy left for it to eat, and it doesn’t have an optimal indignation profile. There’s no single individual villain. The business about competing omega-3 and omega-6 metabolic pathways is something that only a fraction of people would understand on a visceral level; and even if those people posted it to their Facebook walls, most of their readers wouldn’t understand and repost, so the dead-babies problem has relatively little virality. Being indignant about this particular thing doesn’t signal your moral superiority to anyone else in particular, so it’s not viscerally enjoyable to engage in the indignation. As for adding a further scream, “But wait, this matter really is important!”, that’s the part subject to the lemons problem. Even people who honestly know about a fixable case of dead babies can’t emit a trustworthy request for attention.

There a LOT more to Eliezer’s book, this is just one excerpt, but boy does this fill me with guilt. Because this section, in essence, can be reduced to “The Culture War Kills Babies.” Not in the mamby-pamby way that university students scream “You are killing me!” but in actual, literal corpses that one can count. Due to all the social outrage we pour into things like cultural appropriation and “cis is the new straight,” there is no room left for drawing attention to actual outrageous things, like babies dying by the hundreds unnecessarily.

I do talk about cultural issues a fair bit. I may be contributing to the killing of babies, and I don’t want to do that. I think it may be possible to talk about cultural issues in a way that doesn’t engage the outrage drive, and I will strive to do that. I think Scott Alexander does it very well, and often Eliezer as well. From now on, any time I want to really get incensed about something, I will first ask myself if it’s as big a deal as hundreds of dead babies. I’m sure it sometimes is. Much of our future hangs on how we deal with (for example) intellectual property and privacy rights. But man, that pile of babies is really appalling.

Maybe the worst part is that anytime someone throws a fit over people kneeling or choosing an unorthodox hairstyle I’m going to think “Man, you are killing babies right now, but I can’t say anything about that because it wouldn’t only make things even worse incredibly quickly.”

Well OK, not the worst, by a long shot. But it’ll be there. /sigh

Nov 012017
 

Thank god that the internet exists, allowing the best and most coherent views on a matter to rise to the top. Siderea post on New Atheism is perfect.

“I’m not surprised when the New Atheists are characterized in ways which attempt to erase what they are saying or just get them to shut up. They’re forcing a conversation that most on the left really don’t want to have.”

 

Unrelated – we should legit refer to the shows as “Star Trek: Orville” and “The Discovery” in the interest of greater accuracy. The Discovery is insultingly bad writing, forehead-smashingly-stupid science (yes, far moreso than normal Trek), and so visually ugly that it’s sandpaper for the eyes. ORV, on the other hand, is everything Trek was at its peak, with extra silliness thrown in. And yeah, a lame post-divorce thing you gotta overlook, but every Trek had something you had to bear through. It’s the true successor of the Trek line, I am seriously surprised by how good it is.