Saucers of Mud

November 4, 2015

A Comment about Germaine Greer and “Stupid Authoritarianism”

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 7:30 am

I was involved in an exchange with someone posting as “Brian” on Leslie Green’s blog. Background: Green enthusiastically endorsed Germaine Greer’s claim that transwomen are not “women.” Justin Weinberg linked to Green’s post to endorse the claim that “The number of critics of students who supposedly want to ‘no-platform’ speakers dwarfs the number of students who want to ‘no-platform‘ anyone.”

Several people (including me) were upset at Weinberg’s linking to Green’s post with apparent endorsement; I think the post obviously exprsses bigotry against trans people, but whatever the issue with that, it was clearly written from a position of ignorance; anyone who had looked into trans issues at all and cared about treating them with sensitivity wouldn’t use the word “transgendered.” (If you think this is mere nitpicking about words, think how seriously you would take a post on Jewish issues if the writer consistently referred to Jewish people as “Hebrews.”) Some people criticized Weinberg on Twitter. My involvement in this exchange came when Brian linked to this exchange, saying that this reaction exhibited “authoritarian stupidity.”

I commented that I didn’t see that:

What I see is one person asking Weinberg, “Do you endorse the whole post or just the paragraph?”, another saying “Your original post looked like it endorsed more than just that paragraph?”, and another person saying that your post contains a lot of offensive stuff. All of which is speech responding to speech. I can’t anything authoritarian about it, unless vigorous criticism is authoritarian.

I also think that the criticism, far from being stupid, is obviously correct, but that’s more of a judgment call.

To this Brian responded:

Matt W: your characterization of what took place is silly rationalization. Anyone interested can view the actual exchange here:

with a repetition of the link he had posted before.

I replied (as I recall) saying that, yes, anyone interested could view the exchange that he had already linked before, and that I was still waiting for an explanation of how my characterization was wrong. This comment has not yet been approved. I’m not complaining about that; people have busy lives and sometimes have no time to approve comments, and anyway Green is not obliged to give me a platform to criticize his allies! But I wanted to record the existence of this comment on my own platform, and also give Brian an opportunity to see it (should he visit my blog) and respond if he likes. In the meantime, anyone who is interested can indeed visit that exchange and judge whether my characterization was “silly rationalization,” or whether in fact what happened was merely vigorous criticism (and not that much of it!) rather than attempted authoritarianism.

…and I guess it should go without saying, but come on. Greer has a long record of saying awful things about trans women. Even if you agree with her theoretical point (which I don’t think you should), saying “Germaine Greer is right about trans-women” would be like saying “Donald Trump is right about immigrants” on the one occasion when Donald Trump says something about immigrants that is not necessarily false. I’m not the best-positioned person to jump into the issues surrounding Green’s post, but I think it is terribly misguided even at the theoretical level (he compares trans women to converted Jews in that their background is different from those of cis women/those born Jewish respectively–but converted Jews are still Jews, so the analogy fails utterly. And a cursory examination of the issues faced by trans women will show why it’s important for them to affirm that they’re women.) And, given how bad Green’s post was, it was unfortunate for Weinberg to link to it without clarifying that he didn’t endorse the stuff that comprised 90% of the post.

In the preceding paragraph I criticized people for things they said. If this be authoritarian stupidity, make the most of it.

(For another discussion, see magicalersatz at Feminist Philosophers.)

May 25, 2015

Why Crayon Physics Deluxe Needs To Tell You To Be Awesome, Or Why Losing Should Be Fun

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 10:04 pm

This is a spinoff of a comment on Emily Short’s post on conversation models, which got off-topic enough that I thought I should put it here. It’s something I’ve been thinking about some anyway.

Crayon Physics Deluxe is a game about invention, where you draw shapes on the screen and they come to life as objects with reasonable physics–a curve becomes a ramp, a block falls down, a hammer on a hinge swings. It’s full of emergent behavior, and every level surely has a solution that no one’s ever thought of before.

It also spends a lot of effort encouraging you to be awesome. There’s a splash screen at the beginning urging you to go for awesome solutions, and you can literally declare your own solutions to be awesome within the game–in fact, you can’t unlock the last levels without declaring a lot of solutions to be awesome.

Now who wouldn’t like to be awesome? Being awesome is awesome! So why does the game have to make us be awesome? Because the goal is always to get a ball to a star (or two), and that can be quite fiddly. After five or six times when the ball stops short because your ramp is just a little too bumpy, you begin to appreciate the plodding reliable solutions. I’d rather be sending rockets flying all over the place, crashing into things and setting off chain reactions, but too often that goes unrewarded. There’s a level with a rocket car–and the easiest solution to implement involves getting rid of it so it isn’t in your way! (There are other more elegant solutions that use the rocket car itself, but they take a lot of trial and error.)

The problem is that the awesome stuff is just a bit unpredictable–a scoop that just happens to golf the ball into the exact right spot, some ropes that slingshot the ball across the screen in a way I could never reproduce. But when it doesn’t come out right it’s unrewarding and often leaves the screen a total mess. What would make doing awesome stuff more fun would be for the near misses to lead to cool things even if they didn’t do exactly what you wanted. Drop the ball in a hole and another rocket shoots up and sends it somewhere; roll into a side path and find yourself somewhere where there’s something to do. Like that. And it may not be entirely compatible with a game where you’re always trying to get a ball to a star.

(This last bit was inspired by the discussion in Emily Short’s post about Framed, a game where you’re rearranging comic panels to change the narrative–but it’s always about helping someone sneak past the cops. BTW if you’re thinking “I wish there was something that vaguely resembled that but was a lot more interesting” check out the demo of Gorogoa.)

So the lesson is the Dwarf Fortress motto: Losing Is Fun. If you want to reward the player trying awesome but hard-to-predict stuff, you need to reward them for something even when they don’t quite succeed at doing what they want. Which means narrowly constrained goals aren’t the way to go. Maybe the goal could be something relatively easily obtained so the player can show off and experiment while they’re doing it, or maybe there isn’t a defined goal, or the player can pick new goals as things change. It’s my understanding that Minecraft does this–it gives you a goal of surviving the zombies but once you get the hang of it it’s simple enough that you can do whatever you want. Or have a mechanic that propels itself along and lets the player ornament it (or maybe derail it, if they want).

What we can’t do as game designers, if we want players to try cool unpredictable stuff, is punish them harshly when that doesn’t go just as they plan it. If doing something almost awesome means they have to start over, and doing something plodding means they make progress, plodding will win out every time.

November 13, 2014

An Important Fact

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 12:52 pm

While this blog is awake again, I should point out something important: you can sing the title of “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” to the tune of “Be Kind To Your Web-Footed Friends.”

The boy with the thorn in his side
All this time and they still don’t believe us
Behind all the hatred there lies
Just a murd’rous desire for love

(Yeah, the last part is weak, but this is also true of “Be Kind To Your Web-Footed Friends.”)

November 8, 2014

The Oversupply of Lawyers and the Oversupply of Philosophy PhDs

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 11:39 pm

Via Paul Campos* at Lawyers Guns & Money, an article by Jeffrey Toobin about inequality among law school graduates:

It’s clear that the nation needs fewer law schools, for many that remain are only offering their students false hopes of employment in exchange for big debt. These students are getting the legal-education equivalent of the subprime loans that helped sink the national economy. In this case, though, the risk to the broader public is small, while the indebted students may struggle with the burden for the rest of their lives. (The vast middle of the legal academy—at the big state schools, for instance—is doing only a little better than the schools at the bottom….)

The situation in law schools is apparently dire. Students at non-top schools take out massive loans to get degrees when, it turns out, there aren’t enough jobs for them. The law schools keep their doors open in part because they can keep raking in that tuition funded by federally-subsidized student loans. And, because there are so many new lawyers chasing so few jobs, many of them wind up with poor-paying jobs, part-time jobs, or no jobs.

That last sentence should sound familiar to anyone who’s been anywhere near the philosophy job market recently. Does anyone doubt that there aren’t enough philosophy faculty jobs for the number of new PhDs we produce? Has anyone done a philosophy job search without having to turn away a vast number of obviously bright and talented philosophers before the interview stage?

November 2, 2014

My Contribution

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 7:54 am





#ActuallyEthics #StopGamerGate2014

(If you don’t understand what this is about, count yourself lucky.)

October 10, 2013

Alice Munro Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 9:42 pm


Sometime I was thinking of rereading all her stories and blogging it (kind of like this James Tiptree, Jr. blog), but that’s on the shelf behind a lot of other projects.

Alice Munro has a Selected Stories anthology, to which I am morally opposed. You should read them all! Lowen Liu suggests five of her stories you should read. I disagree with her about “Dear Life”; you should save it for last, because it takes the themes of much of her work and lays out the facts behind them in a heartbreakingly straightforward way. I haven’t often been as poleaxed after putting down a book, if only because it was Alice Munro telling us that there wouldn’t be any more Alice Munro stories. But, without looking, here are my five:

“Friend of My Youth” (from the book of the same name). That theme: her mother. The story within a story, of two sisters the narrator’s mother had known long ago, would be enough from a lesser writer’s work. But Munro moves fluidly back and forth from this story to her relationship with her mother (and she’s said it’s her own), with one last transition that’s so quietly virtuosic that you’ll have read the story five times before you find the moment that Munro slips the knife in. After this story I thought that Munro might never be able to write with the same emotional impact again, because what more could she have to say? I was wrong.

“Carried Away” (from Open Secrets). Most of Munro’s stories move back and forth across time in a short span. “Carried Away” also moves back and forth across time in a longer span. Munro’s stories tend to be long but this is self-consciously epic, taking one character through her whole life in four episodes. At the end we feel lifted up and gently placed in another place, even as we’re not quite sure what just happened.
 (If you spend a lot of time rereading and dissecting Munro’s stories, and you should, you’ll realize that she often puts the climax in the next-to-last paragraph, before finishing you off with one last telling detail. “Carried Away” does this, and “Friend of My Youth” too, with very different emotional effects.)

“Fits” (from The Progress of Love). The first time I read this, I could hardly breathe. A murder mystery of sorts, with a building sense of dread, but the mystery is not who did it but why, and the dread isn’t in what happens to the innocent bystanders but in the things they won’t let themselves think about.

“Royal Beatings” (from The Beggar Maid/Who Do You Think You Are?). The second Munro story I read (after the short-short “Prue”), and the one that made me go out and get everything she’d written. Time opens up in all directions; we learn everything about Rose’s childhood through a few scenes told in no particular order (that is, a very particular order), intercut with a legend of the local town (as in “Friend of My Youth”), and the astonishing flash-forward ending ties it all up with a bitter commentary on the violence there is inside and outside the home. Question: In “Two Vancouvers dipped in snot?”, what’s “Vancouver” mean?

“Walker Brothers Cowboy” (from Dance of the Happy Shades). The first story of her first collection. The expanse of time is here as it is in so much of her later work, but rolled up, as a little girl travels with her father and brushes up against a past she doesn’t quite understand. Maybe the best place to start; linear but lovely.

And then you have to read the rest. Do it!

November 3, 2012

Not Really Misheard Lyrics

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 11:26 am

Boppin’ pottles in the eye, like a lizard

When we think we do it right from the gizzard

Eddie Izzard gonna slide, gonna be slick

Now I’m feeling all dry like I’m seasick

June 25, 2012

Greetings from the Plains

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 9:32 am

Yglesias, in a not unreasonable post about overspending in rural states, says “a number of the rural grants are going to low-unemployment plains states such as North Dakota (3 percent), Nebraska (3.9 percent), Vermont (5.6 percent), Oklahoma (4.8 percent), and New Hampshire (5 percent).” What does he think “Vermont” means?

June 19, 2012

A Song about Former Jacksonville Jaguars Placekicker Mike Hollis

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 7:33 pm

Mike Hollis lies over the ocean

Mike Hollis lies over the sea

Mike Hollis lies over the ocean

Oh bring back my colostomy

January 12, 2012

Benedict Cumberbatch Facts

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 7:32 pm

When Benedict Cumberbatch first started acting, he would frequently daydream and miss his entrances. The stage managers took to hissing, “Cue, Cumberbatch!”

Though he was born in Kensington, he has relatives who live near the famous botanic gardens, so that when people first meet him they often ask “Are you one of the Kew Cumberbatches?”

In school he took to teasing his friends that their births were so unexpected that they had been delivered while waiting for the taxi to take them to the hospital. Eventually one of his friends angrily retorted, “I wasn’t born in a queue, Cumberbatch!”

His wife, the former Nina Quincy, has angrily rejected the characterization of her as hapless and forlorn during the early days of her marriage. She says, “I wasn’t poor Nina Q. Cumberbatch!”

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