The event starts at 6, but we will be there from 4:30 until closing, because we have to be ready at the sign in (where people pick up their table cards), and then to the end collecting donations. This is the big event for the scholarship program. It includes dinner, so I'll be fed. (grin)
Yesterday I found out I do not have to show up for jury duty. I received an automated phone call stating my jury duty was considered completed. YAY! Whatever trial they had left must have been plea bargained.
Boxing was hard. My God, I was beat afterwards. But I am really starting to see a change in my body. Veins are showing in my arms, and I'm losing weight. Cool.
Pat and I watched the Lightning vs. Sabres game last night. It was a very tight game, but the Lightning won in an overtime shoot-out. I was very glad.
- Toronto Life includes photos of some of the most notable locations in the new Toronto-filmed TV series, The Umbrella Academy.
- This report revealing the scale of fare evasion and losses due to Metrolinx malfunction on the TTC, in the area of $C 64 million, is unsurprising. Global News reports.
- Sean Marshall reports on the new Canongate Trial in Scarborough, erected to help allow for safe pedestrian access to a street where a child was recently killed in a collision.
- Urban Toronto looks at the state of the renovation of the Park Hyatt at Bloor and Avenue Road.
- CBC reports that Bruce McArthur was linked, in 2013, to three of the men he was convicted six years later of murdering.
- Bianca Wylie at Spacing considers the lessons Toronto should take from the unfolding Sidewalk Labs drama in the Port Lands.
- This Metro Morning interview with Dan Doctoroff on the Sidewalk Labs' plan for the Port Lands is revealing.
- Bad Astronomer Phil Plait looks at the newly-named Neptune moon of Hippocamp, and how it came about as product of a massive collision with the larger moon of Proteus.
- Centauri Dreams also reports on the discovery of the Neptune moon of Hippocamp.
- Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber notes how the attempt to revoke the citizenship of Shamima Begum sets a terribly dangerous precedent for the United Kingdom.
- D-Brief notes new evidence suggesting the role of the Deccan Traps volcanic eruptions in triggering the Cretaceous extinction event, alongside the Chixculub asteroid impact.
- Far Outliers notes the problems of Lawrence of Arabia with Indian soldiers and with Turks.
- L.M. Sacasas at The Frailest Thing takes issue with the state of philosophical contemplation about technology, at least in part a structural consequence of society.
- Hornet Stories shares this feature examining the future of gay porn, in an environment where amateur porn undermines the existing studios.
- JSTOR Daily considers the spotty history of casting African-American dancers in ballet.
- Language Hat suggests that the Académie française will soon accept for French feminized nouns of nouns links to professionals ("écrivaine" for a female writer, for instance).
- The LRB Blog considers the implications of the stripping of citizenship from Shamima Begum. Who is next? How badly is citizenship weakened in the United Kingdom?
- Marginal Revolution notes the upset of Haiti over its banning by Expedia.
- The NYR Daily notes the tension in Turkey between the country's liberal laws on divorce and marriage and rising Islamization.
- Starts With A Bang's Ethan Siegel looks at the moment, in the history of the universe, when dark energy became the dominant factors in the universe's evolution.
- Towleroad remembers Roy Cohn, the lawyer who was the collaborator of Trump up to the moment of Cohn's death from AIDS.
- Understanding Society's Daniel Little takes a look at Marx's theories of how governments worked.
- Window on Eurasia looks at the existential pressures facing many minority languages in Russia.
A characteristic arc of the #MeToo-era story is that it begins in innocence, travels through serial abuses of power, and finally (and most importantly) ends. My relationship with the abuser is over. I left him. I left that professional situation. I realized I was being abused. I went to therapy. It’s over. It’s done. I never saw him again. These are stories of survival, escape, resolution, and catharsis.
Life rarely works so neatly, however. The cultural predominance of such narratives can be attributed to a willingness of people to speak only once they are safely finished with a professional or personal relationship. We lack ways to unravel the intricate complicities negotiated when experiencing or witnessing ongoing abusive behavior in the family, in the workplace, among our social networks.
A friend of mine sent me this long and thoughtful article, on allegations I had not seen regarding Paul Manafort pressuring his wife to participate in dubiously consensual semi-private cuck scenes with multiple black men hired to participate. (The allegations are from the hack of their daughter Andrea's texts, deriving mostly but not entirely from conversations with her sister.)
Even if US Politics isn't your current thing, though, I think the piece is interesting as a broader discussion of the way that media handles (and has in the past handled) sexual assault allegations, coercion allegations, and allegations of sexual misconduct--and it does grapple with how to handle things like this allegation, which happened a) without the participation or endorsement of the victim, b) comes along with very racially charged asides that inform the accused's political behavior, c) would have cost the victim much to bring up, including loss of face and possibly loss of livelihood, and d) has been almost startlingly untouched for months despite the scandalous nature of it. What's the media's role and responsibility when things like this come up?
As a total aside, I am also fascinated by the convention of rendering texts rather like lines of poetry, both in the blockquoted presentation of larger conversations and quotations of a few texts at a time.
So far we've been reading stuff, and this week we stared co-writing, or at least outlining what we want to write. So far it's going well. Inbetween trying to figure out what we are writing, we sent of an application to co to a conference, without having anything to present, which is usually a prerequisite for getting funds, arguing it was important as a part of our pedagogical training. And we got a positive answer within 30 hours - so Manchester here we come! So today's writing session was quite a lot about finding and booking a hotel and looking for ways to get to Manchester. And where to drink beer, and other important things.
Next week we have one writing session, and I need to read some stuff before that. And I also need to edit and resubmit an abstract for a conference in Copenhagen in May.
But first - weekend (and grading)!
Your relationships change
It’s hard to be a good employee when you need extended time off. It’s hard to be a good friend when you cancel plans last minute. It’s hard to be a good partner or parent when you barely have the energy to get out of bed. No matter how much you try to explain, people expect you to get better already — and when you don’t, they resent you, consciously or not. Some relationships end entirely, casualties of an unfair and misunderstood illness, while others get stronger as you find your true support system.
But most of all, your relationship with yourself changes. You grieve a version of yourself that doesn’t exist anymore, and a future version that looks different than you’d planned.
You might have to give up career goals, hobbies and family plans, learning a “new normal” in their place. “In trauma therapy we call this ‘integration,’ the task of integrating a new reality into one’s life and worldview,” Mr. Lundquist said. “This emotional work can look a lot like grief therapy for a passing loved one.” Try to be patient as you get to know the new version of yourself.
“Having a chronic illness is a series of continuous ups and downs where some things that work for a while won’t and so on,” said Alicia Aiello, president of Girls With Guts, an organization that empowers women with IBD and ostomies. “Be open to this change.”
- Tessa Miller
ETA This too:
Writing about chronic illness is impossible. How do you explain the inner workings of a broken body that society expects (demands) to heal? How do you illustrate pain so extreme it makes you leave your body and crawl on the ceiling — the secret pain that healthy people don’t know exists? How do you resolve your two selves — the one that passes for “normal” and the one that survives, hidden at home and in hospitals? How much of the second self do you reveal to family, friends, strangers? How do you share the loneliness? How do you say that the “get well” cards are nice and all but you’re never going to get better? How does anyone talk about the sacred things that are so deeply part of us?
....A lot of days, I feel “normal.” A lot of days I don’t. But I’m here. I’m here. I’m here.
- Tessa Miller
Topic of the week
Places you've enjoyed going (near where you live, longer travel, everything in between.)
What I've been up to
I am running around getting ready for a quick and weirdly timed work trip (flying very early Saturday morning, getting back very late Monday night, the actual work stuff is Saturday evening through noonish Monday).
So I'm posting this and then going to the laundromat, as one does.
( Reminders and tips for making this post flow better )
( House rules )
"[The US conservative movement] is made up of anecdotal arguments, so of course they’re going to make a big deal out of Smollett. Most right wing policies cannot be justified using empirical evidence. Thus, they justify their policies based on anecdotes. The evidence is clear that human activity is warming the planet, so they cite cold spells as evidence to the contrary. There is no evidence that we have a border crisis (illegal crossings are down, undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, etc.), so they use the Angel Moms as a way to drive their preferred policies. There is no evidence that guns make you safer (quite the opposite), so they hype the anecdotal stories where a gun owner prevented a crime. There is no evidence that voter fraud is a big issue, so they hype any anecdote they can find to justify disenfranchising thousands of voters. So naturally, in a society where there is all manner of statistical evidence to show that there are pervasive racial biases throughout (starting with policing), they’ll latch onto this one story to say “see, complaints of racism are made up!”
Title: Jeremy Clarkson Test Rides the BGD 2000
Fandom: Top Gear/The Grand Tour
Characters/Pairings: Jeremy Clarkson, a bloody great dragon
Content Notes: media: random lump of card I found lying about, Yard-o-led Viceroy Victorian fountain pen, Diamine saddle brown ink, Caran D'ache water brush, water.
( image under cut )
If I had the artistic talent I might have gone with magister's suggestion of Saruman patiently trying to explain to a DWP employee that his universal credit has been cocked up, and that his address is no longer Isengard...
[gazing dramatically into distance]
Sooome... WHERE.... oooover the rainbow!
My, oh my.
There's a cake that I heard of
Once that I'd like to buy.
Some... ONE... spelled out the colors!
Chris is "blue."
Why... did... the wreck-er-a-tor
Pipe the instructions, too?
Someday I'll get into my car
And drive until the wrecks are far behind me!
Where "banquet"'s spelled right in the shops
And no one tries to sell cake flops
That's where yooouuu'll FIIINNND me!
Some... WHERE... ooover the rainbow
They... don't... write out instructions
Those are the cakes I'll buy.
If happy customers can buy
Cakes with a "rainbow"
why ooohh whyyyy
Thanks to Tristan S., Vern M., Tim L., Debi G., Sarah B., David H., Brenda T., Karen B., Stephanie D., and Sahara H. for really bringing the house down.
And from my other blog, Epbot:
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February 22nd, 2019: Thanks to everyone who came out in Chicago last night! I had a great time, you were an AMAZING CROWD, and I really hope we can do it again soon. <3
Since so much of learning to read and write Chinese characters depends upon mindless repetition, writing them countless times, some bright people in the age of AI have finally seized upon a way to escape from the drudgery: training a robot to write the characters endlessly for them.
Teen bought device online and was caught out by her mother when she completed her Lunar New Year assignments in record time
Media report alerts a wider audience to the robots, which can copy text and mimic your handwriting
Phoebe Zhang, SCMP (2/19/19)
Needless to say, the news of such machines has galvanized the emotions of hundreds of millions of Chinese who have suffered or are suffering from such rote copying:
The topic on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, had been read over 13 million times by Tuesday, with more than 3,000 posts.
Most of the commenters sympathized with the girl who used such a robot to complete her demanding assignments on time, not with the mother who smashed it to bits when she discovered it in her daughter's room.
Some argued that the girl should no longer be made to copy texts at her age, while one called for education reform allowing teachers to set challenging and creative homework rather than boring the pupils and adding to their burdens.
Another asked: “Sometimes educators need to reflect on this issue, why is it we still need to do a task that can be completed by a robot?”
Even before the invention of such sophisticated electromechanical devices, desperate, clever individuals had created crude contraptions with three or four pens tied together that multiplied the writing capacity of an individual severalfold. Indeed, when I visited Monticello about ten years ago, among the many amazing belongings of Thomas Jefferson was a copying machine that enabled him to make perfect duplicates of whatever he was writing. I stared at it for quite a while, trying to figure out how the original pen and the copying pen were linked.
Jefferson's copying machine was called a "polygraph". It was designed by Isaac Hawkins (1772-1855) and made by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) in 1806 in Philadelphia. Employing the principles of the draftsman's pantograph, Jefferson's polygraph was used by the president from that year until his death. He called it "the finest invention of the present age". Jefferson actually had several polygraphs which he kept in the different places he lived. In addition to the one at Monticello, another one of them survives at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. (Source)
Returning to the current story of the writing robots in China (it turns out that there are a number of companies that produce them), it also made the NYT:
"Chinese Girl Finds a Way Out of Tedious Homework: Make a Robot Do It ", by Daniel Victor and Tiffany May (2/21/19)
As noted above, most of the online commenters sided with the girl:
“Give her a break. How meaningful is copying anyway?” one commenter asked.
“The difference between humans and other animals is that they know how to make and use tools,” another reasoned. “This young lady already knows how to do this.”
Proficiently reading and writing in Chinese requires knowing thousands of characters. Copying them repeatedly is often seen as a necessary step in learning how to write them. In addition to being tested on individual characters, they may also be asked to transcribe a literary text from memory — an assignment usually dreaded by students.
Like Bart in the opening sequence of “The Simpsons,” students can also be punished by being made to write out texts repeatedly; unlike Bart, they are often ordered to copy whole textbook chapters, not just single sentences. Chinese curriculums in both the sciences and humanities prize rote memorization.
But there's a deeper, more existential question than whether the girl was clever or not, and whether she was right or wrong to avail herself of modern technology to avoid inane toil, namely, what does this predicament say about the nature of the Chinese writing system and the efforts of people in the 21st century who have access to computers and various types of digital technology to continue to master it the way writing has been mastered in China for more than two thousand years? Is it not akin to demanding that Chinese students go back to a time before even slide rules were invented to do their math?
The writing is on the wall: technology is spelling (!) the death knell for writing the characters by hand. The shape of the future is already evident in Singapore, where the educational authorities permit (nay, encourage) students to use computers and other digital technology to write the characters for them. And I don't think it's a coincidence that tiny Singapore consistently produces a disproportionate amount of the most outstanding (in terms of knowledgeability and creativity) students in the Sinosphere.
"Writing characters and writing letters " (11/7/18)
"Copying characters " (2/11/13)
"The wrong way to write Chinese characters " (11/28/18)
"Writing Chinese characters as a form of punishment " (11/1/15)
"Firestorm over Chinese characters " (5/23/16)
"Writing Sinitic languages with phonetic scripts " (5/20/16)
"Learning to read and write Chinese " (7/11/6)
"The future of Chinese language learning is now " (4/5/14)
"Sinophone and Sinosphere " (11/8/12)
The Writing on the Wall: How Asian Orthography Curbs Creativity (2003), by William C. Hannas
[Thanks to Alex Wang and Anne Henochowicz]
We visited my mom and her husband in Florida! It was a bit warmer than usual, mid-80s; their pool was about 70F, so the kids and Chad had a blast and I watched from the side, as usual. We took an airboat tour of the Everglades and saw little dolphins super-close; found shark teeth and shells and dogs on the beach; and generally had a nice unstressful vacation. (The air travel was not the greatest, but we didn't have to stay overnight in an airport hotel like we did coming back from our New Year's trip, so hey.)
A couple links:
jhameia said that this Atlantic article on college-admissions "rigging" angst was "an amazing, compassionate, and productive response to white people anxieties about missing out on what they think they're entitled to," and I agree.
At Hyperallergic, The Clandestine Cultural Knowledge of Ancient Graffiti.
Because G+ is shutting down, my community there is testing other social media platforms, and we've moved on to federated/distributed ones. I have a Hubzilla account on an experimental fannish instance, and also a Mastodon account that I haven't started using yet but will soon, probably. If you've got a compatible account, feel free to add me/let me know!
(I really like the idea of Hubzilla and I want someone to make a turnkey install so that I can host my own, a la WordPress, which seems vastly unlikely at the moment, alas.)
Really interesting article by and interview with Paul M. Nakasone (Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, Director of the National Security Agency, and Chief of the Central Security Service) in the current issue of Joint Forces Quarterly. He talks about the evolving role of US CyberCommand, and it's new posture of "persistent engagement" using a "cyber-presistant force":
From the article:
We must "defend forward" in cyberspace, as we do in the physical domains. Our naval forces do not defend by staying in port, and our airpower does not remain at airfields. They patrol the seas and skies to ensure they are positioned to defend our country before our borders are crossed. The same logic applies in cyberspace. Persistent engagement of our adversaries in cyberspace cannot be successful if our actions are limited to DOD networks. To defend critical military and national interests, our forces must operate against our enemies on their virtual territory as well. Shifting from a response outlook to a persistence force that defends forward moves our cyber capabilities out of their virtual garrisons, adopting a posture that matches the cyberspace operational environment.
From the interview:
As we think about cyberspace, we should agree on a few foundational concepts. First, our nation is in constant contact with its adversaries; we're not waiting for adversaries to come to us. Our adversaries understand this, and they are always working to improve that contact. Second, our security is challenged in cyberspace. We have to actively defend; we have to conduct reconnaissance; we have to understand where our adversary is and his capabilities; and we have to understand their intent. Third, superiority in cyberspace is temporary; we may achieve it for a period of time, but it's ephemeral. That's why we must operate continuously to seize and maintain the initiative in the face of persistent threats. Why do the threats persist in cyberspace? They persist because the barriers to entry are low and the capabilities are rapidly available and can be easily repurposed. Fourth, in this domain, the advantage favors those who have initiative. If we want to have an advantage in cyberspace, we have to actively work to either improve our defenses, create new accesses, or upgrade our capabilities. This is a domain that requires constant action because we're going to get reactions from our adversary.
Persistent engagement is the concept that states we are in constant contact with our adversaries in cyberspace, and success is determined by how we enable and act. In persistent engagement, we enable other interagency partners. Whether it's the FBI or DHS, we enable them with information or intelligence to share with elements of the CIKR [critical infrastructure and key resources] or with select private-sector companies. The recent midterm elections is an example of how we enabled our partners. As part of the Russia Small Group, USCYBERCOM and the National Security Agency [NSA] enabled the FBI and DHS to prevent interference and influence operations aimed at our political processes. Enabling our partners is two-thirds of persistent engagement. The other third rests with our ability to act -- that is, how we act against our adversaries in cyberspace. Acting includes defending forward. How do we warn, how do we influence our adversaries, how do we position ourselves in case we have to achieve outcomes in the future? Acting is the concept of operating outside our borders, being outside our networks, to ensure that we understand what our adversaries are doing. If we find ourselves defending inside our own networks, we have lost the initiative and the advantage.
The concept of persistent engagement has to be teamed with "persistent presence" and "persistent innovation." Persistent presence is what the Intelligence Community is able to provide us to better understand and track our adversaries in cyberspace. The other piece is persistent innovation. In the last couple of years, we have learned that capabilities rapidly change; accesses are tenuous; and tools, techniques, and tradecraft must evolve to keep pace with our adversaries. We rely on operational structures that are enabled with the rapid development of capabilities. Let me offer an example regarding the need for rapid change in technologies. Compare the air and cyberspace domains. Weapons like JDAMs [Joint Direct Attack Munitions] are an important armament for air operations. How long are those JDAMs good for? Perhaps 5, 10, or 15 years, some-times longer given the adversary. When we buy a capability or tool for cyberspace...we rarely get a prolonged use we can measure in years. Our capabilities rarely last 6 months, let alone 6 years. This is a big difference in two important domains of future conflict. Thus, we will need formations that have ready access to developers.
Solely from a military perspective, these are obviously the right things to be doing. From a societal perspective -- from the perspective a potential arms race -- I'm much less sure. I'm also worried about the singular focus on nation-state actors in an environment where capabilities diffuse so quickly. But CyberCommand's job is not cybersecurity and resilience.
The whole thing is worth reading, regardless of whether you agree or disagree.
You follow a lot of dogs.
It leavens the stress of politics twitter if every third tweet is a doggy tweet.
You could make a doggy list, then when it gets really stressful you could look at a feed that's entirely dogs?
Me, sotto voce:
Why the hell didn't I think of that?
Anyway, as a result of that conversation I hereby present:
Jennie's list of wholesome doggy twitter accounts.
It is quite sighthound-heavy right now because that's kind of my jam, but do feel free to suggest additions to it :)
I. I Come To Praise Caesar, Not To Bury Him
Several years ago, an SSC reader made an r/slatestarcodex subreddit for discussion of blog posts here and related topics. As per the usual process, the topics that generated the strongest emotions – Trump, gender, race, the communist menace, the fascist menace, etc – started taking over. The moderators (and I had been added as an honorary mod at the time) decreed that all discussion of these topics should be corralled into one thread so that nobody had to read them unless they really wanted to. This achieved its desired goal: most of the subreddit went back to being about cognitive science and medicine and other less-polarizing stuff.
Unexpectedly, the restriction to one thread kick-started the culture war discussions rather than toning them down. The thread started getting thousands of comments per week, some from people who had never even heard of this blog and had just wandered in from elsewhere on Reddit. It became its own community, with different norms and different members from the rest of the board.
I expected this to go badly. It kind of did; no politics discussion area ever goes really well. There were some of the usual flame wars, point-scoring, and fanatics. I will be honest and admit I rarely read the thread myself.
But in between all of that, there was some really impressive analysis, some good discussion, and even a few changed minds. Some testimonials from participants:
For all its awfulness there really is something special about the CW thread. There are conversations that have happened there that cannot be replicated elsewhere. Someone mentioned its accidental brilliance and I think that’s right—it catches a wonderful conversational quality I’ve never seen on the Internet, and I’ve been on the Internet since the 90s – werttrew
I feel that, while practically ever criticism of the CW thread I have ever read is true, it is still the best and most civil culture war-related forum for conversation I have seen. And I find the best-of roundup an absolute must-read every week – yrrosimyarin
The Culture War Roundup threads were blessedly neutral ground for people to test their premises and moral intuitions against a gauntlet of (sometimes-forced!) kindness and charity. There was no guarantee that your opinion would carry the day, but if you put in the effort, you could be assured a fair reading and cracking debate. Very little was solved, but I’m not sure that was really the point. The CWRs were a place to broaden your understanding of a given topic by an iterative process of “Yes, but…” and for a place that boasted more than 15,000 participants, shockingly little drama ensued. That was the /r/slatestarcodex CWRs at their best, and that’s the way we hope they will be remembered by the majority of people who participated in them. – rwkasten
We really need to turn these QCs into a book or wiki or library of some kind. So much good thought, observation, introspection, etc. exists in just this one thread alone–to say nothing of the other QC posts in past CW threads. It would be nice to have a separate place, organized by subject matter, to just read these insightful posts – TheEgosLastStand
I think the CW thread is obviously a huge lump of positive utility for a large number of people, because otherwise they wouldn’t spend so much time on it. I’ve learned a lot in the thread, both about the ideas and beliefs of my outgroups, and by better honing my own beliefs and ideas in a high-pressure selective environment. I’ve shared out the results of what I’ve learned to all of my ingroup across Facebook and Twitter and in person, and I honestly think it’s helped foster better and more sophisticated thought about the culture war in a clique of several dozen SJ-aligned young people in the OC area, just from my tangential involvement as a vector – darwin2500
On one hand, as other commenters in this thread have said, I recognize it does have a lot of full-time opinionated idiots squabbling, and is inarguably filled with irrationality, bad takes, contrarianism, and Boo Outgroup posturing. I agree with many of [the criticisms] of overtly racist and stupid posts in there. Yet it also has a special, weird, fascinating quality which has led to some very insightful discussions which I have not encountered anywhere else on the Internet (and I have used the Internet 8+ hours a day almost my whole life). – c_o_r_b_a
There is no place on the internet that can have discussions about culture war topics with even an approximation of the quality of this place. Shutting this thread down [would] not mean moving the discussion elsewhere, for a lot of people it means removing the ability to discuss these things entirely – Zornau
I feel that the CW thread, for all its flaws, occupies a certain niche that can’t easily be replicated elsewhere. I also feel that its flaws need to compared not to a Platonic ideal but to typical online political discourse, which often ends up as pure echo chambers or flame wars. – honeypuppy
It’s one of the only political forums I can read online without reaching for the nearest sharp stick to poke my eyes out. It has a sort of free-flowing conversational feel that’s really appealing. There are some thoughtful people and discussions there that I hope can continue and be preserved. – TracingWoodgrains
Thanks to a great founding population, some very hard-working moderators, and a unique rule-set that emphasized trying to understand and convince rather than yell and shame, the Culture War thread became something special. People from all sorts of political positions, from the most boring centrists to the craziest extremists, had some weirdly good discussions and came up with some really deep insights into what the heck is going on in some of society’s most explosive controversies. For three years, if you wanted to read about the socialist case for vs. against open borders, the weird politics of Washington state carbon taxes, the medieval Rule of St. Benedict compared and contrasted with modern codes of conduct, the growing world of evangelical Christian feminism, Banfield’s neoconservative perspective on class, Baudrillard’s Marxist perspective on consumerism, or just how #MeToo has led to sex parties with consent enforcers dressed as unicorns, the r/SSC culture war thread was the place to be. I also benefitted from its weekly roundup of interesting social science studies and arch-moderator baj2235’s semi-regular Quality Contributions Catch-Up Thread.
The Culture War Thread aimed to be a place where people with all sorts of different views could come together to talk to and learn from one another. I think this mostly succeeded. On the last SSC survey, I asked who participated in the thread, and used that to get a pretty good idea of its userbase. Here are some statistics:
Superficially, this is remarkably well-balanced. 51% of Culture War Thread participants identified as left-of-center on the survey, compared to 49% of people who identified as right-of-center.
There was less parity in party identification, with a bit under two Democrats to every Republican. But this, too, reflects the national picture. The latest Gallup poll found that 34% of Americans identified as Democrat, compared to only 25% Republican. Since presidential elections are usually very close, it looks like left-of-center people are more willing to openly identify with the Democratic Party than right-of-center people are with the Republicans; the CW demographics show a similar picture.
Looked at in more detail, this correspondence with the general population is not quite as perfect as it seems:
The pie chart on the left shows people broken down by a finer-grained measure of political affiliation. We see very few people identified as straight-out conservatives. Right-of-center people were more likely to be either libertarians or neoreactionaries (a technocratic, anti-democracy movement that the survey instructed people to endorse if they wanted to be more like “for example Singapore: prosperity, technology, and stability more important than democratic process”). Although straight-out “liberal” had a better showing than “conservative”, the ranks of the Left still ended up divided among left-libertarians and social democrats (which the survey instructed people to endorse if they wanted to be more like “for example Scandinavian countries: heavily-regulated market economy, cradle-to-grave social safety net, socially permissive multiculturalism”). Overall, the CW thread is a little more to the fringes on the both sides, especially the parts of the fringes popular among its young, mostly nonreligious, kind of libertarian, mostly technophile demographic.
It also doesn’t like Trump. Although he has a 40% approval rating among the general population, only about 14% of CWers were even somewhat favorable toward him. RCP suggests that anti-Trumpers outnumber pro-Trumpers in the general population by 1.4x; among CW thread participants, that number increases to almost 5x! This fits the story above where most right-of-center participants are libertarians or skeptical of democracy/populism as opposed to standard conservatives. Still, I occasionally saw Trump supporters giving their pitch in the Culture War thread, or being willing to answer questions about why they thought what they did.
During the last few years of Culture War thread, a consensus grew up that it was heavily right-wing. This isn’t what these data show, and on the few times I looked at it myself, it wasn’t what I saw either. After being challenged to back this up, I analyzed ten randomly chosen comments on the thread; four seemed neutral, three left/liberal, and three conservative. When someone else objected that it was a more specific “blatant” anti-transgender bias, I counted up all the mentions of transgender on three weeks worth of Culture War threads: of five references, two were celebrating how exciting/historic a transgender person recently winning an election was, a third was neutrally referring to the election, a fourth was a trans person talking about their experiences, and a fifth was someone else neutrally mentioning that they were transgender. This sort of thing happened enough times that I stopped being interested in arguing the point.
I acknowledge many people’s lived experience that the thread felt right-wing; my working theory is that most of the people I talk to about this kind of thing are Bay Area liberals for whom the thread was their first/only exposure to a space with any substantial right-wing presence at all, which must have made it feel scarily conservative. This may also be a question of who sorted by top, who sorted by new, and who sorted by controversial. In any case, you can just read the last few threads and form your own opinion.
Whatever its biases and whatever its flaws, the Culture War thread was a place where very strange people from all parts of the political spectrum were able to engage with each other, treat each other respectfully, and sometimes even change their minds about some things. I am less interested in re-opening the debate about exactly which side of the spectrum the average person was on compared to celebrating the rarity of having a place where people of very different views came together to speak at all.
II. We Need To Have A National Conversation About Why We Can No Longer Have A National Conversation
This post is called “RIP Culture War Thread”, so you may have already guessed things went south. What happened? The short version is: a bunch of people harassed and threatened me for my role in hosting it, I had a nervous breakdown, and I asked the moderators to get rid of it.
I’ll get to the long version eventually, but first I want to stress that this isn’t just my story. It’s the story of everyone who’s tried to host a space for political discussion on the Internet. Take the New York Times, in particular their article Why No Comments? It’s A Matter Of Resources. Translated from corporate-speak, it basically says that unmoderated comment sections had too many “trolls”, so they decided to switch to moderated comment sections only, but they don’t have enough resources to moderate any controversial articles, so commenting on controversial articles is banned.
And it’s not just the New York Times. In the past five years, CNN, NPR, The Atlantic, Vice, Bloomberg, Motherboard, and almost every other major news source has closed their comments – usually accompanied by weird corporate-speak about how “because we really value conversations, we are closing our comment section forever effective immediately”. People have written articles like The Comments Apocalypse, A Brief History Of The End Of The Comments, and Is The Era Of Reader Comments On News Websites Fading? This raises a lot of questions.
Like: I was able to find half a dozen great people to do a great job moderating the Culture War Thread 100% for free without even trying. How come some of the richest and most important news sources in the world can’t find or afford a moderator?
Or: can’t they just hide the comments behind a content warning saying “These comments are unmoderated, read at your own risk, click to expand”?
This confused me until I had my own experience with the Culture War thread.
The fact is, it’s very easy to moderate comment sections. It’s very easy to remove spam, bots, racial slurs, low-effort trolls, and abuse. I do it single-handedly on this blog’s 2000+ weekly comments. r/slatestarcodex’s volunteer team of six moderators did it every day on the CW Thread, and you can scroll through week after week of multiple-thousand-post culture war thread and see how thorough a job they did.
But once you remove all those things, you’re left with people honestly and civilly arguing for their opinions. And that’s the scariest thing of all.
Some people think society should tolerate pedophilia, are obsessed with this, and can rattle off a laundry list of studies that they say justify their opinion. Some people think police officers are enforcers of oppression and this makes them valid targets for violence. Some people think immigrants are destroying the cultural cohesion necessary for a free and prosperous country. Some people think transwomen are a tool of the patriarchy trying to appropriate female spaces. Some people think Charles Murray and The Bell Curve were right about everything. Some people think Islam represents an existential threat to the West. Some people think women are biologically less likely to be good at or interested in technology. Some people think men are biologically more violent and dangerous to children. Some people just really worry a lot about the Freemasons.
Each of these views has adherents who are, no offense, smarter than you are. Each of these views has, at times, won over entire cultures so completely that disagreeing with them then was as unthinkable as agreeing with them is today. I disagree with most of them but don’t want to be too harsh on any of them. Reasoning correctly about these things is excruciatingly hard, trusting consensus opinion would have led you horrifyingly wrong throughout most of the past, and other options, if they exist, are obscure and full of pitfalls. I tend to go with philosophers from Voltaire to Mill to Popper who say the only solution is to let everybody have their say and then try to figure it out in the marketplace of ideas.
But none of those luminaries had to deal with online comment sections.
The thing about an online comment section is that the guy who really likes pedophilia is going to start posting on every thread about sexual minorities “I’m glad those sexual minorities have their rights! Now it’s time to start arguing for pedophile rights!” followed by a ten thousand word manifesto. This person won’t use any racial slurs, won’t be a bot, and can probably reach the same standards of politeness and reasonable-soundingness as anyone else. Any fair moderation policy won’t provide the moderator with any excuse to delete him. But it will be very embarrassing for to New York Times to have anybody who visits their website see pro-pedophilia manifestos a bunch of the time.
“So they should deal with it! That’s the bargain they made when deciding to host the national conversation!”
No, you don’t understand. It’s not just the predictable and natural reputational consequences of having some embarrassing material in a branded space. It’s enemy action.
Every Twitter influencer who wants to profit off of outrage culture is going to be posting 24-7 about how the New York Times endorses pedophilia. Breitbart or some other group that doesn’t like the Times for some reason will publish article after article on New York Times‘ secret pro-pedophile agenda. Allowing any aspect of your brand to come anywhere near something unpopular and taboo is like a giant Christmas present for people who hate you, people who hate everybody and will take whatever targets of opportunity present themselves, and a thousand self-appointed moral crusaders and protectors of the public virtue. It doesn’t matter if taboo material makes up 1% of your comment section; it will inevitably make up 100% of what people hear about your comment section and then of what people think is in your comment section. Finally, it will make up 100% of what people associate with you and your brand. The Chinese Robber Fallacy is a harsh master; all you need is a tiny number of cringeworthy comments, and your political enemies, power-hungry opportunists, and 4channers just in it for the lulz can convince everyone that your entire brand is about being pro-pedophile, catering to the pedophilia demographic, and providing a platform for pedophile supporters. And if you ban the pedophiles, they’ll do the same thing for the next-most-offensive opinion in your comments, and then the next-most-offensive, until you’ve censored everything except “Our benevolent leadership really is doing a great job today, aren’t they?” and the comment section becomes a mockery of its original goal.
So let me tell you about my experience hosting the Culture War thread.
(“hosting” isn’t entirely accurate. The Culture War thread was hosted on the r/slatestarcodex subreddit, which I did not create and do not own. I am an honorary moderator of that subreddit, but aside from the very occasional quick action against spam nobody else caught, I do not actively play a part in its moderation. Still, people correctly determined that I was probably the weakest link, and chose me as the target.)
People settled on a narrative. The Culture War thread was made up entirely of homophobic transphobic alt-right neo-Nazis. I freely admit there were people who were against homosexuality in the thread (according to my survey, 13%), people who opposed using trans people’s preferred pronouns (according to my survey, 9%), people who identified as alt-right (7%), and a single person who identified as a neo-Nazi (who as far as I know never posted about it). Less outrageous ideas were proportionally more popular: people who were mostly feminists but thought there were differences between male and female brains, people who supported the fight against racial discrimination but thought could be genetic differences between races. All these people definitely existed, some of them in droves. All of them had the right to speak; sometimes I sympathized with some of their points. If this had been the complaint, I would have admitted to it right away. If the New York Times can’t avoid attracting these people to its comment section, no way r/ssc is going to manage it.
But instead it was always that the the thread was “dominated by” or “only had” or “was an echo chamber for” homophobic transphobic alt-right neo-Nazis, which always grew into the claim that the subreddit was dominated by homophobic etc neo-Nazis, which always grew into the claim that the SSC community was dominated by homophobic etc neo-Nazis, which always grew into the claim that I personally was a homophobic etc neo-Nazi of them all. I am a pro-gay Jew who has dated trans people and votes pretty much straight Democrat. I lost distant family in the Holocaust. You can imagine how much fun this was for me.
People would message me on Twitter to shame me for my Nazism. People who linked my blog on social media would get replies from people “educating” them that they were supporting Nazism, or asking them to justify why they thought it was appropriate to share Nazi sites. I wrote a silly blog post about mathematics and corn-eating. It reached the front page of a math subreddit and got a lot of upvotes. Somebody found it, asked if people knew that the blog post about corn was from a pro-alt-right neo-Nazi site that tolerated racists and sexists. There was a big argument in the comments about whether it should ever be acceptable to link to or read my website. Any further conversation about math and corn was abandoned. This kept happening, to the point where I wouldn’t even read Reddit discussions of my work anymore.
Some people started an article about me on a left-wing wiki that listed the most offensive things I have ever said, and the most offensive things that have ever been said by anyone on the SSC subreddit and CW thread over its three years of activity, all presented in the most damning context possible; it started steadily rising in the Google search results for my name. A subreddit devoted to insulting and mocking me personally and Culture War thread participants in general got started; it now has over 2,000 readers. People started threatening to use my bad reputation to discredit the communities I was in and the causes I cared about most.
Some people found my real name and started posting it on Twitter. Some people made entire accounts devoted to doxxing me in Twitter discussions whenever an opportunity came up. A few people just messaged me letting me know they knew my real name and reminding me that they could do this if they wanted to.
Some people started messaging my real-life friends, telling them to stop being friends with me because I supported racists and sexists and Nazis. Somebody posted a monetary reward for information that could be used to discredit me.
One person called the clinic where I worked, pretended to be a patient, and tried to get me fired.
(not all of this was because of the Culture War thread. Some of this was because of my own bad opinions and my own bad judgment. But the Culture War thread kept coming up. As I became more careful in my own writings, the Culture War thread loomed larger and larger in the threats and complaints. And when the Culture War thread got closed down, the subreddit about insulting me had a “declaring victory” post, which I interpret as confirmation that this was one of the main things going on.)
I don’t want to claim martyrdom. None of these things actually hurt me in real life. My blog continues to be popular, my friends stuck by me, and my clinic didn’t let me go. I am not going to be able to set up a classy new FiredForTruth.com website like James Damore did. What actually happened was much more prosaic: I had a nervous breakdown.
It wasn’t even that bad a nervous breakdown. I was able to keep working through it. I just sort of broke off all human contact for a couple of weeks and stayed in my room freaking out instead. This is similar enough to my usual behavior that nobody noticed, which suited me fine. And I learned a lot (for example, did you know that sceletium has a combination of SSRI-like compounds and PDE2 inhibitors that make it really good at treating nervous breakdowns? True!). And it wasn’t like the attacks were objectively intolerable or that everybody would have had a nervous breakdown in my shoes: I’m a naturally obsessive person, I take criticism especially badly, and I had some other things going on too.
Around the same time, friends of mine who were smarter and more careful than I was started suggesting that it would be better for me, and for them as people who had to deal with the social consequences of being my friend, if I were to shut down the thread. And at the same time, I got some more reasons to think that this blog could contribute to really important things – AI, effective charity, meta-science – in ways that would be harder to do from the center of a harassment campaign.
So around October, I talked to some subreddit mods and asked them what they thought about spinning off the Culture Wars thread to its own forum, one not affiliated with the Slate Star Codex brand or the r/slatestarcodex subreddit. The first few I approached were positive; some had similar experiences to mine; one admitted that even though he personally was not involved with the CW thread and only dealt with other parts of the subreddit, he taught at a college and felt like his job would not be safe so long as the subreddit and CW thread were affiliated. Apparently the problem was bigger than just me, and other people had been dealing with it in silence.
Other moderators, the ones most closely associated with the CW thread itself, were strongly opposed. They emphasized some of the same things I emphasized above: that the thread was a really unique place for great conversation about all sorts of important topics, that the majority of commenters and posts were totally inoffensive, and that one shouldn’t give in to terrorists. I respect all these points, but I respected them less from the middle of a nervous breakdown, and eventually the vote among the top nine mods and other stakeholders was 5-4 in favor of getting rid of it. It took three months to iron out all the details, but a few weeks ago everyone finally figured things out and the CW thread closed forever.
At this point this stops being my story. A group of pro-CW-thread mods led by ZorbaTHut, cjet79, and baj2235 set up r/TheMotte, a new subreddit for continuing the Culture War Thread tradition. After a week, the top post already has 4,243 comments, so it looks like the move went pretty well. Despite fears – which I partly shared – that the transition would not be good for the Thread, early signs suggest it has survived intact. I’m hopeful this can be a win-win situation, freeing me from a pretty serious burden while the Thread itself expands and flourishes under the leadership of a more anonymous group of people.
III. The Thread Is Dead, Long Live The Thread
I debated for a long time whether or not to write this post. The arguments against are obvious: never let the trolls know they’re getting to you. Once they know they’re getting to you, that you’re susceptible to pressure, obviously they redouble their efforts. I stuck to this for a long time. I’m still sort of sticking to it, in that I’m avoiding specifics and super avoiding links (which I realize has made my story harder to prove true, sorry). I’ll try to resume the policy fully after this, but I thought one post on the subject was worth the extra misery for a few reasons.
First, a lot of people were (rightfully! understandably!) very angry about the loss of the Culture War thread from r/ssc, and told the moderators that, as the kids say these days, “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation”. I promised to do this, so now I am.
Second, I wanted there to be at least one of these “here’s why we’re removing your ability to comment” articles that was honest, not made of corporate-speak, and less patronizing than “we’re removing the comment section because we value your speech so much and want to promote great conversations”. Hopefully this will be the skeleton key that helps you understand what all those other articles would have said if they weren’t run through fifty layers of PR teams. I would like to give people another perspective on events like Tumblr banning female-presenting nipples or Patreon dropping right-wing YouTubers or Twitter constantly introducing new algorithms that misfire and ban random groups of people. These companies aren’t inherently censorious. They’re just afraid. Everyone is afraid.
Third, I would like to offer one final, admittedly from-a-position-of-weakness, f**k you at everyone who contributed to this. I think you’re bad people, and you make me really sad. Not in a joking performative Internet sadness way. In an actual, I-think-you-made-my-life-and-the-world-
Fourth, I want anybody else trying to host “the national conversation” to have a clear idea of the risks. If you plan to be anything less than maximally censorious, consider keeping your identity anonymous, and think about potential weak links in your chain (ie hosts, advertisers, payment processors, etc). I’m not saying you necessarily need to go full darknet arms merchant. Just keep in mind that lots of people will try to stop you, and they’ve had a really high success rate so far.
Fifth, if someone speaks up against the increasing climate of fear and harassment or the decline of free speech, they get hit with an omnidirectional salvo of “You continue to speak just fine, and people are listening to you, so obviously the climate of fear can’t be too bad, people can’t be harassing you too much, and you’re probably just lying to get attention.” But if someone is too afraid to speak up, or nobody listens to them, then the issue never gets brought up, and mission accomplished for the people creating the climate of fear. The only way to escape the double-bind is for someone to speak up and admit “Hey, I personally am a giant coward who is silencing himself out of fear in this specific way right now, but only after this message”. This is not a particularly noble role, but it’s one I’m well-positioned to play here, and I think it’s worth the awkwardness to provide at least one example that doesn’t fit the double-bind pattern.
Sixth, I want to apologize to anybody who’s had to deal with me the past – oh, let’s say several years. One of the really bad parts of this debacle has been that it’s made me a much worse person. When I started writing this blog, I think I was a pretty nice person who was willing to listen to and try to hammer out my differences with anyone. As a result of some of what I’ve described, I think I’ve become afraid, bitter, paranoid, and quick to assume that anyone who disagrees with me (along a dimension that too closely resembles some of the really bad people I’ve had to deal with) is a bad actor who needs to be discredited and destroyed. I don’t know how to fix this. I can only apologize for it, admit you’re not imagining it, and ask people to do as I say (especially as I said a few years ago when I was a better person) and not as I do. I do think this is a great learning experience in terms of psychology and will write a post on it eventually; I just wish I didn’t have to learn it from the inside.
Seventh, I want to reassure people who would otherwise treat this story as an unmitigated disaster that there are some bright spots, like that I didn’t suffer any objective damage despite a lot of people trying really hard, and that the Culture War thread lives on bigger and brighter than ever before
Eighth, as a final middle-finger at the people who killed the Culture War thread, I’d like to advertise r/TheMotte, its new home, in the hopes that this whole debacle Streisand-Effects it to the stratosphere.
I want to stress that I will continue to leave the SSC comment section open as long as is compatible with the political climate and my own health; I ask tolerance if there are otherwise-unfair actions I have to take to make this possible. I also want to stress that I’m not going to stop writing about controversial topics completely – but I do want to have some control over when and where I have to deal with this, and want the privilege of being hung for my own opinions rather than for those of other people I am tangentially associated with.
Please do not send me expressions of sympathy or try to cast me as a martyr; the first make me feel worse for reasons that are hard to explain; the second wouldn’t really fit the facts and isn’t the look I want to present. Thanks to everyone who helped make the CW thread and this blog what it was/is, and good luck to Zorba and the rest of the Motte moderation team.
This article proposes "Minimalism is the aesthetic language of gentrification." I like the overall points the article is making—that clutter has character, and that minimalism everywhere would be dull, and that there's an increasing trend toward minimalism and sameness, which isn't good.
But, at the risk of revealing that I have the soul of a gentrifier, I have such different reactions to some of the rooms and buildings that the article is calling out as examples of deadly minimalism. Take this before-and-after photo of an Oakland Victorian, originally from a tweet by SF Gate, which likes the new version better. Robinson likes the old version better. I agree that the old version has more personality, and I'm sad that they tore it down. The new version, though, doesn't look like a corpse to me, but like a canvas ready to be personalized.
Robinson contrasts some "boring-ass" windows on the side of a gray building with the inside of the Nasir-ol-molk ("Pink") Mosque. Leaving aside that these are hardly similar things, I don't think the gray windows are boring-ass. They come in several different shapes and are positioned in different configurations, and some of them have green frames. Compared to what's on the outside of most skyscrapers it's quite varied. I would love to spend hours looking at the mosque and its windows, but I wouldn't want to live there. I would get overwhelmed.
Then we are presented with four bathrooms. (Three of the images are links.) The author complains that one of them is all white and there's no door on the walk-in shower. I agree that the shower would be better with a door. He likes the other three bathrooms better because they have flowers and clawfoot tubs and "Who doesn't like flowers?" I see them like this: 1 accessible bathroom, which has a wall that could be painted if you felt like it. 3 bathrooms with clawfoot tubs where, the minute I tried to get out of the tub on the slippery floor, I would break my neck.
I have no idea who wrote this or what their criteria were. reedsy seems to be involved in helping authors hook up with editors and designers and might eventually head toward being a publishing house. But Nisi Shawl says it's a good list, writing "the list starts out fairly male and white and then there comes a flowering of color and gender diversity." It contains some interesting bits of trivia.( Read more... )
It's challenge time!
Comment with Just One Thing you've accomplished in the last 24 hours or so. It doesn't have to be a hard thing, or even a thing that you think is particularly awesome. Just a thing that you did.
Feel free to share more than one thing if you're feeling particularly accomplished!
Extra credit: find someone in the comments and give them props for what they achieved!
Nothing is too big, too small, too strange or too cryptic. And in case you'd rather do this in private, anonymous comments are screened. I will only unscreen if you ask me to.
It can be a new achievement or adventure, or just that you climbed and had fun; it can be that your favourite climbing wall is expanding or that you bought new rock shoes or that you found a cool ice-climbing vid on YouTube. No glee is too small -- or too big. Members are encouraged to cheer each other on and share the squee.
N.B. Please feel free to post your glee on any day of the week; the Friday glee is just to get the ball rolling.
To enhance this week's glee: Danny Parker's Trench Warfare net party.
If you have not yet seen the show, I highly recommend not spoiling yourself. It's not just that there's twists, it's that the entire show is a process of discovery.
AND OMG THAT EXPLAINS LIKE SOME THINGS AND OF COURSE AND OH GOD AND YES PLEASE I WILL DO ANYTHING HAS THIS EVER HAPPENED BEFORE??????
...seriously, this wasn't like--a mass hallucination, right? This happened for realsies in canon and not like...happened?
Yeah, I had a hamburger, bad coffee, and no bottle opener which is super inconvenient and I don't even care because YES.
I caught a cold or something last weekend. My work week has consisted of working and sleeping. I either take a couple of naps each day or go to sleep several hours earlier than usual then sleep like a log until the alarm goes of. Several co-workers have also either taken a few sick days or worked from home to keep from bringing their germs into the office. Fun.
Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: a disturbing story the crosses categories, the top five (IMHO) stories of the week, five stories about deplorable people, and five videos (plus a notable obituary and the one thing I've written).
Some stories sum up so much of what is going on:
ADL Report: Right-Wingers Committed Every 2018 Extremist Murder In US.
Stories of the Week:
Is the Insect Apocalypse Really Upon Us? -- Claims that insects will disappear within a century are absurd, but the reality isn’t reassuring either.
Brain-Eating Zombie Deer Disease Will Likely Spread To Humans.
Feminism 101: What is Emotional Labor?
Mother Upset After Son Kicked Out of Class Over Pledge.
500 people attend drag queen story hour at California library, wildly outnumber protesters.
Awful, Deplorable People:
Portland cop under fire for texts with right-wing leader and Oregon official: texts show police-extremist collusion. This is crazy, the cop in question allowed the neo-nazis to put their own snipers atop a building, he frequently refers to armed members of the neo-Nazi group as fellow cops (they weren't), took the neo-Nazi's advice about when to go after the counter-protesters... If you ever doubted the truth of the old saying, "Cops and Klan, Hand-in-hand" reading the series of articles the Oregonian has put out about this will change your mind.
Trump Never Directed Disaster Officials To Cut Off Aid To California Wildfire Victims. If ever a headline needed a "yet" given that he's said several times that he did...
Chris Hasson, U.S. Coast Guard officer arrested on gun charges, had hit list of prominent Democrats, feds say .
Roger Stone Sics His Winger Brigade On Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
Four Sentences: What the Legal System Has Said about the Suspect Loyalty of Trump's Aides.
Peter Tork, beloved and offbeat member of the Monkees, dies at 77.
The Monkees’ Peter Tork Has Died.
Things I wrote:
One guy cried wolf—it doesn’t mean that wolves don’t exist.
Rocketman (2019) - Official Trailer - Paramount Pictures:
(If embedding doesn't work, click here.)
Kelly Clarkson Belts Cover of Lady Gaga’s ‘Shallow’ :
(If embedding doesn't work, click here.)
The Sound of Silence - Pentatonix:
(If embedding doesn't work, click here.)
Robyn - Send To Robin Immediately:
(If embedding doesn't work, click here.)
Pinky And The Brain Theme - Postmodern Jukebox (ft. Emily Goglia, Rob Paulsen, Maurice LaMarche) - you won't recognize the faces of the bartenders, but their voices may be familiar:
(If embedding doesn't work, click here.)
There are some very responsible and mature 16 year olds out there. But even for those kids, their brains are still growing. There is a huge difference between 16 and 18, on average. Even most 18 year olds aren't really very good at long-term decision-making on complex issues. They can do it, but less consistently than those same kids will be able to do even a few years later. Sixteen? Eep.
Anons, you can email me via this account (me @dreamwidth) if you have a pseudonymous or burner email account, if you want a more-or-less anonymous way to send me comments.
Sorry about this.
Part 1: Blockchain
Blockchain is the technology behind Bitcoin and other cybercurrencies. That's about all anyone outside the software industry knows about it; that and the fact that lots of people are claiming that it's going to transform everything. (The financial industry, the Web, manufacturing supply chains, identity, the music industry, ... the list goes on.) If you happen to be in the software industry and have a moderately good idea of what blockchain is, how it works, and what it can and can't do, you may want to skip to Part 2.
Still with me? Here's the fifty-cent summary of blockchain. Blockchain is a distributed, immutable ledger. Buzzword is a buzzword buzzword buzzword? Blockchain is a chain of blocks? That's closer.
The purpose of a blockchain is to keep track of financial transactions (that's the "ledger" part) and other data by making them public (that's half of the "distributed" part), keeping them in blocks of data (that's the "block" part) that can't be changed (that's the "immutable" part, and it's a really good property for a ledger to have), are linked together by hashes (that's the "chain" part, and we'll get to what hashes are in a moment), with the integrity of that chain guaranteed by a large group of people (that's the other half of the "distributed" part) called "miners" (WTF?).
Let's start in the middle: how can we link blocks of data together so that they can't be changed? Let's start by making it so that any change to a block, or to the order of those blocks, can be detected. Then, the fact that everything is public makes the data impossible to change without that change being glaringly obvious. We do that with hashes.
A hash function is something that takes a large block of data and turns it into a very long sequence of bits (which we will sometimes refer to as a "number", because any whole number can be represented by a sequence of binary digits, and sometimes as a "hash", because the data has been chopped up and mashed together like the corned beef hash you had for breakfast). A good hash function has two important properties:
- It's irreversible. Starting with a hash, it is effectively impossible to construct a block of data that will produce that hash. (It is significantly easier to construct two blocks with the same hash, which is why the security-conscious world moves to larger hashes from time to time.)
- It's unpredictable. If two blocks of data differ anywhere, even by a single bit, their hashes will be completely different.
Those two together mean that if two blocks have the same hash, they contain the same data. If somebody sends you a block and a hash, you can compare the hash of the block and if it matches, you can be certain that the block hasn't been damaged or tampered with before it got to you. And if they also cryptographically sign that hash, you can be certain that they used the key that created that signature.
Now let's guarantee the integrity of the sequence of blocks by chaining them together. Every block in the chain contains the hash of the previous block. If block B follows block A in the chain, B's hash depends in part on the hash of block A. If a villain tries to insert a forged transaction into block A, its hash won't match the one in block B.
Now we get to the part that makes blockchain interesting: getting
everyone to agree on which transactions go into the next block. This is
done by publishing transactions where all of the miners can see
them. The miners then get to work with
shovels and pickaxes
, validating the transaction, putting it into
a block, and then running a contest to see which of them gets to add their
block to the chain and collect the associated reward. Winning the contest
requires doing a lot of computation. It's been estimated that
miners' computers collectively consume roughly the same amount of
electricity as Ireland.
There's more to it, but that's blockchain in a nutshell. I am not going to say anything about what blockchain might be good for besides keeping track of virtual money -- that's a whole other rabbit hole that I'll save for another time. For now, the important thing is that blockchain is a system for keeping track of financial transactions by using a chain of blocks connected by hashes.
The need for miners to do work is what makes the virtual money they're mining valuable, and makes it possible for everyone to agree on who owns how much of it without anyone having to trust anyone else. It's all that work that makes it possible to detect cheating. It also makes it expensive and slow. The Ethereum blockchain can handle about ten transactions per second. Visa handles about 10,000.
The other blockchain
Meanwhile, in another part of cyberspace, software developers are using
another system based on hash chains to keep track of their software -- a
distributed version control system called
git. It's almost
completely different, except for the way it uses hashes. How different?
Well, for starters it's both free and fast, and you can use it at home.
And it has nothing to do with money -- it's a version control system.
If you've been with me for a while, you've probably figured out that I'm extremely fond of git. This post is not an introduction to git for non-programmers -- I'm working on that. However, if you managed to get this far it does contain enough information to stand on its own,
Git doesn't use transactions and blocks; instead it uses "objects", but just like blocks each object is identified by its hash. Instead of keeping track of virtual money, it keeps track of files and their histories. And just as blockchain keeps a complete history of everyone's coins, git records the complete history of everyone's data.
Git uses several types of object, but the most fundamental one is called a "blob", and consists of a file, its size, and the word "blob". For example, here's how git idenifies one of my Songs for Saturday posts:
git hash-object 2019/01/05--s4s-welcome-to-acousticville.html 957259dd1e41936104f72f9a8c451df50b045c57
Everything you do with git starts with the
gitcommand. In this case we're using
git hash-objectand giving it the pathname of the file we want to hash. Hardly anyone needs to use the
hash-objectsubcommand; it's used mainly for testing and the occasional demonstration.
Git handles a directory (you may know directories as "folders" if you aren't a programmer) by combining the names, metadata, and hashes of all of its contents into a type of object called a "tree", and taking the hash of the whole thing.
Here, by the way, is another place where git really differs from blockchain. In a blockchain, all the effort of mining goes into making sure that every block points to its one guaranteed-unique correct predecessor. In other words, the blocks form a chain. Files and directories form a tree, with the ordinary files as the leaves, and directories as branches. The directory at the top is called the root. Top? Top. For some reason software trees grow from the root down. After a while you get used to it.
Actually, that's not quite accurate, because git stores each object in exactly one place, and it's perfectly possible for the same file to be in two different directories. This can be very useful -- if you make a hundred copies of a file, git only has to store one of them. It's also inaccurate because trees, called Merkle Trees are used inside of blocks in a blockchain. But I digress.
Technically the hash links in both blockchains and git form a directed acyclic graph -- that means that the links all point in one direction, and there aren't any loops. In order to make a loop you'd have to predict the hash of some later block, and you just can't do that. I have another post about why this is a good thing.
And that brings us to the things that make git, git: commits. ("Commit" is used in the same sense, more or less, as it is in the phrase "commit something to memory", or "commit to a plan of action". It has very little to do with crime. Hashes are even more unique than fingerprints, and we all know what criminals think about fingerprints. In cryptography, the hash of a key is called its fingerprint.)
Anyway, when you're done making changes in a project, you type the command
... and git will make a new commit object which contains, among other things, the time and date, your name and email address, maybe your cryptographic signature, a brief description of what you did (git puts you into your favorite text editor so you can enter this if you didn't put it on the command line), the hash of the current root, and the hash of the previous commit. Just like a blockchain.
Unlike earlier version control systems, git never has to compare files; all it has to do is compare their hashes. This is fast -- git's hashes are only 20 bytes long, no matter how big the files are or how many are in a directory tree. And if the hashes of two trees are the same, git doesn't have to look at any of the blobs in those trees to know that they are all the same.
@ Blockchain 101 — only if you ‘know nothing’! – Hacker Noon @ When do you need blockchain? Decision models. – Sebastien Meunier @ Git - Git Objects @ git ready » how git stores your data @ Git/Internal structure - Wikibooks, open books for an open world @ Why Singly-Linked Lists Win* | Stephen Savitzky