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Some episodes from my life )

So, yeah. I have plenty of evidence to persuade me that if there is a "BBC Standard" for non-verbal communication, it's not the version I speak, and I have a history of being misread (sometimes with very distressing results) by people who attempt to interpret those cues. The incident with the polygraph has confirmed my deep-seated suspicion of them; I don't deny that they measure SOMETHING, but interpreting that 'something' is a tricky business.

(I'm not maligning all psychologists, BTW - I have met some really lovely ones who were good at their job. What they have in common is that they pay attention to what people were actually saying with their words, and don't over-interpret non-verbal cues.)

So I get uncomfortable when I see 'profilers' on TV who are able to interpret people's motivation from tiny behavioural cues. I suspect that if I ever ran into one of these people, I'd be at risk of being misinterpreted by an 'expert' with enough clout to convince others of their interpretation.

And then, after reading Malcolm Gladwell's article on criminal profilers, I realise that it's not just me: these people are quacks, about as credible as palm-readers and water-dowsers.
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I chose to ignore the 'post this if you believe in gay rights, ignore it if you don't' meme because I'm not much on feel-good back-patting, even when it isn't accompanied by blackmail or trying to represent a whole cluster of issues as a single Boolean variable.

(Frankly, if you've been reading this journal for any length of time, you probably already have a fair idea where I stand on many of those issues. And if you don't, you're very welcome to ask, and I'll probably tell you. If you want to know what the people around you think on an issue like this and you're waiting for a meme to tell you, you're a loony.)

But [livejournal.com profile] silverblue has made some good comments on related issues, and I'm always up for blathering on about stuff ;-)

Orientation, choice, National Coming Out Day etc etc. )
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I have mixed feelings about Pharyngula. Lots of nifty science, but Myers' attitude towards religion irritates me more than a little. Sunday, he posted this:

I'm afraid the kooks and RaptureReady folks and Left Behind fans and Christian Reconstructionists and Dispensationalists and Bible Belt prudes are the face of American Christianity. Don't complain to me: it's the Christians who ought to be deeply, shamefully embarrassed about this…but as usual, I expect they'll find it easier to complain about those damned godless people who dare to hold up a mirror.

In comments below, he expanded on that:

As I said, I know all Christians aren't like that...but it is simply the case that your religion has acquired a serious PR problem. And I am going to be mean and tell you that the moderate, sensible, rational Christians who have let this go on should bear a good part of the blame.

And then today, referring to the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent support of evolution, he said:

On the one hand, it's good to have a religious authority figure coming down on the side of sense. I applaud the sentiment of his statements, and hope they have some positive influence. On the other hand, I don't give a flying firkin what the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks, and would question his authority to even make such a pronouncement.

This is exactly what I was talking about a few weeks back. If you don't want people to bring religion into the public discourse on creationism/sexual freedom/whatever, don't complain about the religious moderates just because they're not bringing religion into it. You can argue that religion should keep out of these debates, you can argue that moderates ought to leap into these debates to answer their extremist coreligionists, but arguing both at once is kinda inconsistent.
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Triggered by several posts in the last month or so. One of them started off like this:

The Christians are going to show up at the [Florida] state Capitol in a few days to show support for the "definition of marriage bill", or whatever ya want to call it.

I suggested to the poster that 'some Christians' might be a more appropriate phrasing, since there are plenty who don't support such bills, and it's irritating for those folk to be continually lumped in with the godbotherers. AFAICT, she had no objections to that, but another poster responded:

It is not the fault of more liberal non-Christians that Christians these days are associated in the public mind with right-wing causes. The right wingers are taking away the name. If liberal Christians want it back, it is up to them to take it--not because *I* have a prejudice. I do not, but it wouldn't matter if I did, if I was the only one. It is up to them because it is their name, and no-one else can do it for them. It is up to them because if they *do* care about equality and choice--not just personally, but as a supporting pillar or their religious beliefs--those rights are in danger...

I DO wish there were groups of Christians, people who spoke the language of their faith and community, who could articulate a vision that makes that faith consistent with a more open and just society, and get that message out. I realize that there are people out there trying. I wish that they too would hire PR firms and get on television... I wonder if any tolerant Christians will be [at the Capitol Steps], representing?

Why I disagree with this. )
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(X-posted to [livejournal.com profile] sceptics)

This is one of those urban myths that just WILL NOT DIE. Every couple of years somebody claims that old windows are thicker at the bottom because glass is a slow-flowing liquid, somebody demolishes it, and a couple of years later it rears its head again. But it's an interesting subject none the less, because the reasons *why* it's so hard to dispel touch on several different aspects of science.

I was originally going to call this 'Glass Is Not A Liquid', but that was a little harder to defend; over very large timescales the distinction between liquid and solid becomes less clear, as discussed below. But I'm happy to assert that for practical purposes, glass is as 'solid' as many other things we have no hesitation in calling solid.

States of matter, viscosity, amorphous solids, confirmation bias, and creep. )

More on HPV

Nov. 5th, 2005 09:30 am
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...and if I didn't manage to get you angry about the fanatics who think the HPV vaccination is a bad idea, maybe this will.

At times it goes a bit over the top - I don't think we have to put women on quite that much of a pedestal in order to see why protecting them from HPV is important - but I suspect a lot of that is the poster's anger speaking. Some things deserve anger.

If you believe premarital sex is always a bad idea, I'm not going to think less of you for holding that belief. You can live by it, you can attempt to persuade your children of it, and while they remain children you can even use some degree of parental coercion to prevent them from having it.

But the idea of deliberately endangering a child in the hope that it'll deter them from having sex (fat chance!) is nothing more than a genteel, First-World version of the African custom of 'circumcising' one's daughters with bits of broken glass. But at least in Africa, the perpetrators have to witness the blood and pain first-hand.
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[livejournal.com profile] silmaril asked a while back, and recent news reminded me of it, so: the Vaccination Rant. (Edit: Now with more LJ-cutting for your Friends page.)

There are two main angles to the vaccination/anti-vaccination debate: the scientific ("do the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks?" - i.e. "should we get vaccinated?") and the civil-liberties ("given what we know about the science, should we compel others to be vaccinated?") (There's also a third angle, but I'll leave that till the end.)

I'm not in favour of making all vaccinations compulsory, but I believe there is a very strong argument for some vaccinations to be every bit as compulsory as, say, paying your taxes. When I talk about the "anti-vaccination movement" here, I'm not talking about every instance where people have opposed a specific vaccine; I'm talking about people who are categorically opposed to mandatory vaccination in all cases.

Part 1: the scientific angle )

Part 2: the ethical angle

But let's leave the science for a moment, and move onto ethics. We know vaccines have risks and benefits, and we know the ratio of these varies from one individual to another. Could compulsory vaccine be justifiable?

I went a-browsing through anti-vaccination sites and picked out several pertinent quotes, fairly typical of anti-vaccination material:

Spot the common mistake. )

Worked example: the Green Snuffles. )
Although RL epidemiology is more complicated than that simple model, the same principle holds. The argument "it's my kid, so it's my choice" is dishonest, and looking solely at the the benefits to your kid (supposing that there *are* benefits) is selfishness. It's not just freeloading, enjoying the benefit of other kids' vaccinations without offering the same benefit to others; you're actually increasing the risk to the same kids whose vaccinations are protecting *your* child.

Every parent wants their child to be happy and healthy, but that doesn't give them the right to achieve that at another kid's expense. Would you teach your kid to steal other kids' lunch money?


Speaking of vaccinations, there are two new vaccines coming out for the Human Papilloma Virus. So far, it's looking pretty good: near-100% effectiveness against two major strains of a virus that infects half of all sexually-active women in the USA and appears to be behind 100% of cervical cancer cases - one of the major causes of death in women, particularly young women.

You'd think people would welcome this. )
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Have been reading Fielding's Tom Jones while travelling, and although it took some getting into I'm quite enjoying it now. In particular, I very much appreciate Fielding's attitude to virtue and vice in his characters, as set out at the beginning of Book 10:

In the next place, we must admonish thee, my worthy friend, (for, perhaps, thy heart may be better than thy head) not to condemn a character as a bad one, because it is not perfectly a good one. If thou dost delight in these models of perfection, there are books enow written to gratify thy taste; but as we have not, in the course of our conversation, ever happened to meet with any such person, we have not chosen to introduce any such here. To say the truth, I a little question whether mere man ever arrived at this consummate degree of excellence, as well as whether there hath ever existed a monster bad enough to verify that

- nulla virtute redemptum
A vitiis -*

in Juvenal; nor do I, indeed, conceive the good purposes served by inserting characters of such angelic perfection, or such diabolical depravity, in any work of invention: since from contemplating either, the mind of man is more likely to be overwhelmed with sorrow and shame, than to draw any good uses from such patterns; for in the former instance he may be both concerned and ashamed to see a pattern of excellence, in his nature, which he may reasonably despair of ever arriving at; and in contemplating the latter, he may be no less affected with those uneasy sensations, at seeing the nature, of which he is a partaker, degraded into so odious and detestable a creature.

In fact, if there be enough of goodness in a character to engage the admiration and affection of a well-disposed mind, though there should appear some of those little blemishes,
quas humana parum cavit natura, they will raise our compassion rather than our abhorrence. Indeed, nothing can be of more moral use than the imperfections which are seen in examples of this kind; since such form a kind of surprize, more apt to affect and dwell upon our minds, than the faults of very vicious and wicked persons. The foibles and vices of men in whom there is great mixture of good, become more glaring objects, from the virtues which contrast them, and shew their deformity; and when we find such vices attended with their evil consequence to our favourite characters, we are not only taught to shun them for our own sake, but to hate them for the mischiefs they have already brought on those we love.

*"Whose vices are not allayed with a single virtue"

(Unfortunately, Fielding doesn't always follow his own advice, which makes three of his characters somewhat duller than they could be, but there are plenty of others where he gets it right.)
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When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home,
Let him combat for that of his neighbours;
Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome,
And get knocked on the head for his labours.

To do good to Mankind is the chivalrous plan,
And is always as nobly requited;
Then battle for Freedom wherever you can,
And, if not shot or hanged, you’ll get knighted.

- Lord Byron, 'Impromptu'

I've been posting a lot of angry & negative things here lately. It's hard *not* to get worked up about the mess the world is in, and one of the ways I deal with that is venting about it on LJ. But most of the stuff that gets me grumpy is happening to other people; when it comes to my own life, I have little enough to complain about, and that's worth remembering.

Things to be happy about. )
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I've mentioned some of this stuff before, but now seems like as good a time as any to repeat myself. Before I do, I'll just pimp Shortie's Katrina resource site, which may be useful to those looking for information or ways to help.

Back in 1994, when I was 19, I went a-travelling on my own for the first time. I had a month to visit the USA - I hadn't been there since my family took me at age 8 or so - and aside from meeting a few online friends I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. The friendly guy at STA Travel told me "You have to see New Orleans". I was curious, I didn't know all that much about it other than that people kept mentioning it, so I let him book me in for three nights at the St. Charles Guest House, in the Garden District and close to the streetcar.

Visits #1, 2, and 3. )


Aug. 22nd, 2005 03:49 pm
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Browsing an article on John Wyndham:

Wyndham's work owes much to H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), but its conservative arguments reflected the political change in the United Kingdom - The Web [sic - correct title is just 'Web'] appeared in the same year, when Margaret Thatcher was appointed prime minister.

One *teensy* problem with that theory - Web was published posthumously. Wyndham died in 1969, during the not-particularly-Thatcherite Labour government of Harold Wilson. This would be less silly if the article didn't give the correct date for Wyndham's death in the very next paragraph, and at the beginning of the article. Over-interpretation of books always annoyed me, so I get cheap laughs when it falls apart.

Read more... )
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Provoked (and I mean that in the nicest way) by a post from [livejournal.com profile] laochbrann:

What are the rules that govern behaviour selection in a potentially violent confrontation?
- For any given behaviour in such a confrontation, what are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and risks associated with that behaviour?
- How can a game be designed that encourages players to select effective behaviours in potentially violent situations?

(FWIW, I have seen a Flash game that touches on this, but it's pretty limited.)

One of the catches in using game theory to evaluate/suggest behaviour is that the context of the game is crucial to answering this sort of question. If you treat a given scenario as an isolated problem, you can end up with a very different answer from the one you get if you view it as one in a long sequence of interactions.

Read more... )

I guess the short answer to those questions is "it's very difficult" ;-)
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And in the latest instalment of LJ Drama Theatre... Fake tales of animal abuse. )
It was an interesting and perfectly valid experiment, it was simply carried out in a way that neglected to take into account certain easy-to-forget, though very important, things... It seems to me that if something like this would destroy a friendship, you probably weren't very good friends in the first place.

And I say, bugger the notion of 'unconditional friendship'. Trust is one of the most precious things that I can give somebody. When I give it, I accept that people are fallible, and that trust may be broken by carelessness, or misunderstanding, or anger, or failure of will. Those things are difficult and slow to forgive, I won't pretend otherwise, but with time and goodwill they can be forgiven.

But if they don't even understand the importance of that gift, and treat it as a lightweight thing to be bartered or spent for some purpose, that sort of thing doesn't fall under "everybody makes mistakes". If you can forget that trust matters, we're too far apart to share anything I'm willing to call 'friendship'.

(Admittedly, my reactions to this are somewhat coloured by my own memories of the Great Sarah Fiasco of 1997, but I think I'd feel much the same way even without that little ray of sunshine in my past.)
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My turn came up to speak at Wafflers on Friday.

Wafflers. )

Friday's topic was "What news from the Rialto?" and I had six weeks' notice to prepare a speech, which of course means that I did most of the preparation on Friday afternoon. I knew immediately how I was going to tie in that line - I spent five years of my life with the SCA, much of it on rec.org.sca, which is nicknamed the 'Rialto', and I knew what I was going to use for material, but it took a long time to figure out what I was actually going to do with it; the tone kept turning out far too negative, which wasn't something I wanted to do and wouldn't have been much fun for the audience either. Who wants to hear me bitch about SCA politics?

Around 6 pm I had a couple of printouts of source material, and I'd worked out the structure. Rey and [livejournal.com profile] da_norvegicus went out to get dinner and a DVD for him, and I tried to rehearse it.

I really must learn not to do that. Rehearsal simply doesn't work for me. I get nervous, I stammer, I stall. I forget what comes next and have to check my notes, then I have no idea how to link what I just said to what comes next. I stand there for thirty seconds without anything to say thinking "oh god imagine if I did this in front of PEOPLE!" and I come away from it more rattled than when I began.

When we got to Wafflers, I reminded myself of what does work for me: not worrying about it. Had dinner, chatted with friends, left my notes in my pocket and paid them no mind. One brief look-through in the break, and then I paid attention to the two speakers who were on before me. Got up, gave my talk, and it went beautifully. It flowed from one thing to another, I kept the tone upbeat, spoke confidently, and got a very positive reaction. I had my notes in hand, but I only needed them once, and that was for a foreign name; looking through them afterwards, I'd remembered everything I meant to say. All in all, one of my better efforts, which surprised me very much.

I think there are two things to be gained from rehearsal: knowledge and confidence. But neither of those really work for me. I prefer to base a talk on things I already know, rather than looking them up for the talk, and the best way for me to learn a structure seems to be through the process of planning it. (The productive thing about notes for me is not reading them, but writing them.) As for confidence, rehearsing only seems to destroy that in me; the only thing I've found that really works is to take my ability to do it on faith. Once I know the material and how it hangs together, I can make the rest up as I go, and this works far better than trying to write a mental script for myself and then regurgitate it.
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Sect expels 1000 boys so men get more wives.

Washington: Up to 1000 teenage boys have been separated from their parents and thrown out of their communities by a polygamous sect to make more young women available for older men, Utah state officials allege.

Many of the so-called "Lost Boys", some as young as 13, were dumped on the side of the road in Arizona and Utah by leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and told they will never see their families again or go to heaven.

The 10,000-strong sect, which broke away from the Mormon church in 1890 when the mainstream faith disavowed polygamy, believes a man must marry at least three women to go to heaven. The sect appeared to be in turmoil on Monday after its assets were frozen and a warrant was issued in Arizona for the arrest of its authoritarian leader, Warren Jeffs, for arranging a wedding between an under-age girl and a 28-year-old man who was already married...

Unfortunately, 28-year-olds marrying under-age girls is only the start in societies like this where polygyny is mandatory and polyandry is forbidden. For a stable society based on male bigamy, the female life expectancy on first marriage needs to be double the male's... which means, if total life expectancy is around 75 years, your typical first marriage will look something like a 15-year-old woman marrying a 45-year-old man. (Where men are expected to have *more* than two wives, as in this case, the numbers are even worse.)

Of course, it's unlikely to reach that point; a society where men have to wait until 45 before marriage has other reasons to be very unstable, and will probably collapse before reaching that point, as seems to have happened here.
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Business as usual for Iraq. )
If I was running the PRC, and I was determined to invade Taiwan, I'd be waiting for the USA to finally decide to withdraw from Iraq. I'd launch my attack either shortly after the decision had been publicly announced (when the USA's political will for another war would be at its weakest), or in the middle of the pullout (when resources are tied up with the withdrawal and soldiers are psychologically ready to go home, but not enough has yet been freed up to help in Taiwan).

I'd aim for a fast invasion without much artillery or bombing beforehand. This would mean losing a lot of PRC soldiers, but it would reduce the media impact, which would in turn reduce the USA's desire to fight, and conscription + China = no problem replacing them. A bit of "I'm sorry, this line's really noisy" to stall protests while the invasion is completed, and by the time the USA realises what's happened, they're looking at attempting to re-invade an island (with no cooperative neighbours from whom a ground assault might be launched) not far off the coast of a nuclear-armed superpower, while still smarting from Iraq. At which point, they might just subside into tut-tutting and maybe a few sanctions and disapproving looks.

(I'm no military strategist, so I'd be much obliged if somebody could tell me why China wouldn't want to do things this way.)

In lighter news, a very accurate summary of Ep III. And you wouldn't *believe* how expressive Dog-Or can be when Rey gets home in the morning and he decides it's Time For A Walk. Cavorting around the door, making a hopeful singing noise, and looking up with Big Puppy Eyes...
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Why hasn't anybody made this one into a musical already?

SCENE: An overcrowded apartment of the future.

Sol sits in a chair, tired and old, as Detective Thorn looks on. Sol begins to sing, quietly and sadly:]

SOL: "Young folk now, they don't remember
And me, I'm in my life's December
But now and then, I sit and mutter -"

He leaps from his chair, and in an instant sheds forty years.

SOL: "Eggs they had, and reeeal butter!"

Sol breaks into a jaunty little uptempto tapdance around the apartment. Thorn tries to keep up.

SOL: "Why, you could buy meat anywhere!
There weren't folk sleeping on the stairs!
We had fresh lettuce in the stores!"
THORN: "I know, Sol, you told me before!"
SOL: "There was a world here once, you punk!"
THORN [cynical]: "Where folk were good - "
SOL [cuts him off]: "No, people stunk!
But don't you see, we had real FOOD,
And that did wonders for our mood!"

Would write more, but am tired and sleepy. Other potential numbers include:

- Touching duet between Gilbert and Simonson. Title: "Unreliable (That's What You Are)".
- Something about strawberries. What the hell rhymes with 'strawberries', anyway?
- Something fast and panicky: "You've gotta tell them!"
- Another touching ballad between Thorn and Shirl. Maybe rhyme 'furniture' with 'learn it - you're' or some such?
- The rousing full-cast finale. "I've learned one thing... from all I've seen/To love my fellow man... and he's - in - Soy - Lent - GREEEEEEEN!"


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