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AI has fundamental limits. The first limit is that humans have to see value in the AI to design the AI to do a job. If there's no value to some human, they won't design and implement an AI.

Rule #1: The AI must promise enough value so that someone develops it.

Developing an AI isn't cheap. That sort of software takes time and expertise to set up, test, and iterate until the AI works as intended. This process isn't necessarily a straight line. When an AI is going into a new area, it requires development, which almost always requires working with unknowns.

One could design an AI washing machine, but as current washing machines work well enough, and the washing machine market is competitive enough, such innovation will likely result in little to no return. 

Rule #2: The AI must provide more value than it loses.

We could, for instance, create an AI that assembles Legos for children. For those who love Legos, this would would provide no value. However, I can see some entrepreneur using this to speed up assembly for his pre-assembled kit business. (It's a real thing.)

You can see from the example that one group would see value out of such an AI while a second group would lose value from an AI.

The same is true of cars. Some people would gain, such as those who want to own their own taxi, especially if they aren't otherwise independent. Taxi companies would gain value by cutting payroll. However, car enthusiast would lose value because they want the driving experience. People on a low income would lose value because the cars would cost more to purchase and more to maintain. 

Rule #3: Value must be verifiable

It's not enough to claim value, value must be demonstrable. A claim that an AI manages money better, predicts weather better, or find patterns better must be measurable or you don't know whether it actually does something better. Better may mean more accurate, or it may mean shifting through more data than a human can in only a fraction of the time. Better is a metric used by the customer.

Facebook has had AIs that failed to regulate news feeds. They failed this task because the AIs could analyze the new feeds, but they had no practical way of measuring the results. Especially where humans are concerned, analyzing what we want and giving more of that to us can be too accurate of a mirror on ourselves, or lead to provably false notions running amok. The problem here is measuring truth, which nobody has ever successfully accomplished.

Many AIs fail, not because the of the technology, but because the project doesn't have well defined goals. "Do it better" is not a well defined goal.

Rule #4: There must be no cheaper or more effective alternative

Just because an AI is possible doesn't mean that there isn't a cheaper or better alternative. Humans are clever beasts, and while moving the goalposts is bad in a logical debate, doing exactly that can be extremely lucrative if you're the one who moves the goalposts.

Galaxy Zoo was famous for having no budget, but when they asked people to help them identify galaxies, the public gave them so many hours worth of work that they accomplished their huge tasks in two weeks at a fraction of the computational power.
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I think that we are heading towards a self-driving car apocalypse.

Well, may not quite an apocalypse as a problem.

Once we get self-driving cars, the demand for them will spike upwards during rush hour, then dwindle downward at off-peak hours.

Where will we keep those massive car fleets parked when they aren't in use? Individuals will continue using their driveways, which means that the general number of cars on in service won't drop. That's great for the individual, but poses problems for the ever increasing number of cars on the road. Traffic will only increase. Presumably some hours will get so crowded as to become self-driving only times.

For rental services, where will they keep all their cars when they aren't busy? Because there will be such a spike during rush hour, they'll want to station their cars close to the action rather than remote lots. Will they rent driveways or parking garages? Will they build their own parking garages? Will they park on streets, taking up places that people want? (That's  most likely as it's the cheapest.) These self-driving cars can even move themselves every so often to escape parking issues, trading off spaces with each other, shutting humans out of parking.

Paying for street parking will mean new parking meter technology. Those cars will eventually need to pay electronically. 

What's obvious here is that the need for mass transit won't simply remain, it will grow.

Self-driving will get onto the mass-transit bandwagon. Cars will begin hauling multiple passengers on purpose, presumably giving you some sort of fare discount. Car pooling reinvented. Presumably AIs will begin making schedules, maximizing passenger movement between known destinations, in essence creating a second and competing system to the municipal bus system.

Then there's all the pulling over and stopping traffic that will happen, which is bound to get abusive or contentious, which means that laws will happen. When and where you can be picked up and dropped off will grown increasingly complex. 

I can see some places going the opposite way around. You'll go to Disney world, buy your tickets, and get picked up by Disney's own self-driving cars, never needing to park in the parking lot, getting dropped off in an efficient and pleasant way. This will help Disney smooth the masses coming into their parks, reduce their need for parking lots, and provide a better experience for their customers.

I can see malls taking this approach. "Make it an outing. We'll drive you here and you have fun." The economics for such places aren't as clear, though, and certainly all couldn't do this.

I can also see Disney using the self-driving car system to help casual moving around. Hop in and it takes you to the park that you want. This will still generate lines, so you'll pay more to move up quicker. The monorail won't go away because when it comes to moving lots of people economically, mass transit still rules.

In the end, while I think that self-driving cars will go great distances in changing how the world interacts with cars, they inherit all the problems and limitations of the automobile system. 
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Here's my short list of ways to improved your fantasy novel writing. These are exercises for developing particular skills, not for applying to novels.

1. NO FIGHT SCENES

I know that this is crazy for an action-adventure style genre, but learning to write this style of novel without a fight scene forces you to broaden the scope and vocabulary of the rest of your scenes. Writing with no fights scenes means that you must set up and resolve conflict in entirely different ways, meaning that you can set up conflicts between allies and friends that don't have to result in death and dismemberment. Then, when you do have fight scenes, you've set up multiple layers of conflict solvable multiple ways.

2. NO BACKSTORY

Writing a story where you provide the reader with no world info develops your skill at providing information in ways other than back story. It also demonstrates that exposition isn't really needed most of the time. You'd be surprised at how more vivid a scene can get when there's insufficient information. This exercise teaches you to think about the conflict and motivations here in this story, where it matters.

3. DON"T USE THE WORD MAGIC

Simply not using the word "magic" forces you to think about what magic is, how it looks, and how it interacts with your characters.

I admit that I used #3 in my own writing. I've now written twelve novels without using the word "magic" despite the rampant use of magic. The great thing about this technique is that the characters themselves get to be in doubt about the magic being used. Doubt equals tension, and tension drives a story.
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As a fun exercise, let's make a MLP and Talisman mashup.

Twilight - Always has at least one spell.

Rainbow Dash - Rolls two dice for movement, taking the better of the two.

Rarity - Any wearable object does not count against her object limit. Telekenesis, instead of moving, can bring any unclaimed wearable object to her space.

Fluttershy - Never attacked by animals. May charm animals so that they act as companions. May not move onto or through a square occupied by a dragon (except the dragon king). +3 strength when fighting dragons.

Applejack - May build a raft when in the woods or forest. Need not discard a raft. When eating apples, gains health rather than heals.

Pinkie Pie - May draw a card to replace the card that she's just drawn. No carry limit.

Substitute apples for cupcakes. Apples can heal anyone or can be used as payment.

Caste = Canterlot
Village = Ponyville
City = Manehatten
Tavern = Donut Joe's
Chapel = Library
Graveyard = ?
Everfree Forest = the Glade through the Warlock's Cave (Zecora's Hut)

Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are now missing, held by the Dragon King. Now it's up to the brave ponies of Equestria to quest until a rescue can be found.
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My wife has been asking herself some good questions about cultural appropriation and storytelling. She's quite the storyteller.

This brings up two questions for me:
  • Is storytelling cultural appropriation?
  • Can you culturally appropriate stories?
In my mind, which is the only one that counts here for this blog, storytelling is cultural dissemination by definition. The job of storytelling is to spread culture rather than take it. Storytellers usually introduce a story, tell a little about who created the story, give enough context to understand it, then they relate it. In other words, by attributing the story, they seek to give the original culture both context and power, seeking to have that story from another culture speak for itself.

Given that context, that a storyteller seeks to spread the story of another culture, they raise the voice of that culture. They give voice to the other culture beyond the normal reach of that culture. A storyteller breaks the narrative of the dominant culture by bringing in the story of the oppressed culture. Isn't that what you want?

How can a subjugated culture get its voice heard if it can't get its stories told?

Would it be better for someone of that culture to tell that story? Yes, that would be best. That would also be ideal, and we don't live in an ideal world. So what's more important, for a subjugated culture to tell all its own stories, or to have its stories spread so that more people know its stories?

But are all stories meant to be spread? Are some stories private? Are sacred stories not meant for others, but only for the originating culture?

I have no answers for that. 

So storytelling is a problem. It both disseminates the stories of a subjugated culture that they want spread, while also spreading stories that they would prefer not be spread. 

To my mind, a large chunk of cultural appropriation is, do you pose yourself as something that you cannot pose yourself? That which exists at a community level is permitted and recognized by the community. Only the community can permit those things, such as its religious and political leaders.

To make matters more complicated, other cultures have differing standards, which makes cultural appropriation rather relative. There can be no firm definition as there is no one culture.

In the end, I think that cultural appropriation poses an irresolvable problem. As a member of the dominant culture, I am damned to cultural appropriation because of my cultural membership. I cannot move lest I culturally appropriate, which is impossible, because humans cannot make themselves static, so I must culturally appropriate. 

I think that I'll add cultural appropriation to the list of death and taxes. It's unavoidable, but avoiding it is generally a smart idea.
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If I had to wear a sword for self defense, what would I wear?

I would wear a small sword. Most sidearms are never used, which is why in the 1700's swords got shorter and lighter, developing into the side sword. If I'm going to get stuck wearing a sword that's usually of no use, and otherwise gets in the way, I want the lightest possible annoyance possible, which is the side sword. In addition, the side sword is thrust only, which means that I can thwap people with the bunt blade somewhat safely, giving me a non-lethal recourse should I need to defend myself. The knuckle bow can even be used to punch should the need arise.

What I would prefer even more than a sword is nothing. In today's age, if I was to go about wearing a sword, it would garner attention from well meaning but ignorant people, which would lead to problems. Too many would want me to draw it, to spar, or to see it for themselves. They would play dangerously. This is the sort of thing that leads to accident. They might not be deadly accidents, but they wouldn't be welcome. Because I was wearing a sword, I would actually wind up less safe than carrying nothing at all.

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Why Didn't Frodo Ride the Eagles to Mordor?

The eagles would be tempted by the One Ring just like everyone else. And, as the Eagles are very powerful beings, they would be tempted far more powerfully than weak beings.

Eagle: What is it that you have there?

Frodo: Nothing.

Eagle: Show it to me.

Frodo: No, it's dangerous.

Eagle: So's flying to Mordor. I'm risking my life for this.

Frodo: I dare not risk it.

Eagle: Is it precious?

Frodo: No. It just needs to be destroyed.

[...]

The eagle flips over, dropping Frodo to his doom. Landing, the eagle picks through the corpse, finding the precious One Ring. "It's is mine. My precious. I found it. It's mine!"

Girl Cars

Jun. 26th, 2017 11:40 am
dmilewski: (Default)
Just for fun, I looked up "girl cars" on the internet, looking for those cars that MEN should not drive. What a hoot! I laughed my ass off. One site literally called them "gay cars." Surprisingly, my Hyundai Sonata did not land on that list. However, other cars that I lust after were on the list, including the Honda Civic, Mini-Cooper, and the VW Beetle. By far, most of the vehicles listed were family cars, because shit's gotta get hauled, and so do people. One site called all mini-vans girl cars. I almost fell off my seat laughing at that one. One may as well categorize the entire SUV market as gay.

Does that mean that women don't have specific car preferences? No. They do have their own preferences.

Does this mean that manufacturers are gender blind? Of course they aren't. They know what they're doing. There are general gender preferences. But in the end, a car is a car, and you buy what works for you.
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I just saw an article about the explosion of AI (artificial intelligence). Investors are sinking billions into the technology.

Where have I heard that before?

While I see profits in AI, I also see the usual technology trend of over-applying the technology to every problem. Right now, AI is whiz-bang and revolutionary because it's whiz-band and revolutionary. It cant go wrong. You money back if not completely satisfied. Throw money at this problem NOW.

I fully expect to see the usual crop of business grow with the anticipation of selling themselves, a few big successes, many good successes, and full on massacres of poorly thought out ideas. Like every technology, it will have its strong points and its inherent limitations.

The end utility of AI will depend on how much it gets out of the way, so that consumers don't notice it, or the rewards that it generates, so that professionals and experts can improve on their final products. That is, the AIs must either work cheaper than people, improve quality, or shorten development. Naturally, business will be most interested in replacing people, but the real benefit will be in improving quality and shortening development. AIs are capable of being hyper-vigilant, which humans are bad at. An AIs can micro-manage processes in a more timely manner than a human. 

Amazon bought Whole Foods over the weekend. Most folks assumed that they'd replace the cashiers, but I don't think that's the goal. Humans deal with humans better than any AI, so if you want a happy food customer, you need people who understand the consumer's environment to help make the consumer happy. Where AI comes in is in logistics, moving food in the most efficient way possible through warehouses. Amazon has an amazing technology in that area, a technology which should be an excellent match to Whole Foods dedication to fresh food. That's a great example of AI because Amazon understands what it wants.

If you don't know what you want, an AI won't work. The more often your goals change, the worse an AI works. When everything is a mess, and priorities are changing by the minute, AIs won't work well as they can't be retrained often enough or fast enough to keep up with changing demands. So an AI fighter jet might be undefeatable by a human pilot, but outside that mission, its flexibiliy diminishes rapidly. In contrast, a human can be retasked, which in many environment is a more valuable trait.
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Here's my division rankings for self-published writers.
 
Gross sales per year:



U - No sales over one year.
T - $10
S - $25
R - $50
Q - $100
P - $250
O - $500
N - $1,000



M - $2,500



L - $5,000




K - $10,000
J - $25,000
I - $50,000
H - $100,000
G - $250,000




F - $500,000













E - $1,000,000
D - $2,500,000
C - $5,000,000
B - $10,000,000
A - $25,000,000+ (James Patterson)

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What is your best defensive weapon?

I am assuming a low level of violence as found in American suburbia. In other situations, the thinking my differer, but the same principals will still hold.

Your best weapon is your brain. Thinking about where you are and what you are doing, your situation awareness, will provide you the biggest return. Minimizing or avoiding unnecessary danger is a tried and true tactic. While this cannot and does not work for every situation, it works better than any other solution because it's the most reliable solution and the one that provides you with the most predictable outcome.

Your second best defensive weapon is "no handgun." That sounds weird, but once you think about it, it makes sense. Most people don't carry guns most of the time. Why? Because the risk or burden that a handgun introduces is greater than the risks faced by the potential carrier. Guns aren't neutral objects. People react to them. They can make a situation worse just as easily as make a situation better. A weapon means that more people around you feel on guard and are more likely to interpret you as potentially hostile when there's no call for being armed. The presence of a gun increases the perceived risk to everyone who isn't the gun owner. This isn't new behavior. Even back in the middle ages, towns and cities required that men stow their weapons with their innkeeper while in town. Limiting carrying is a long used practice in keeping the peace.

Your third best defensive weapon is de-escalation. You've heard about that lately, I'm sure, as many police departments are using this technique. When the possibility of violence appears, you are usually better off defusing tensions and reducing the chance of violence with words. Keeping a situation from turning violent gets nobody thrown in jail, ruins no lives, leaves no widows or orphans, and generally makes life better for everyone. If the technique fails, you are usually no worse off than you were before.

Numbers are another good defensive weapon. Most people recognize this. You don't have to be tough as nails to appear too much to handle, you just have to be numerous enough that anyone threatening thinks twice before messing with you. In war torn areas, people hire guards to escort them about, but most of the work of the guards is just being their, making you more numerous, making any threat against you far more uncertain.

At the bottom of defenses is guns. They might seem like the top from gun ads and macho talkers, but guns add as much complication as they resolve. A gun seems like a safety net, and with a safety net, you tend to depend on it for saving you from your mistakes. That's the sort of thinking that gets you into trouble. A gun isn't a safety net, and it won't save you from your own trouble. A gun is an option of last resort, not first.

Consider for the moment a person who's bought a gun, practiced with it, and feels confident. When a situation arises where the gun would be useful, it's likely to come out, and once weapons come out, the predictability of a situation flies out the window. You don't want unpredictability. This is why I emphasized everything above as better options. If you only practice with a gun, then a gun becomes your only bad solution, even in situations where other solutions would work better. Instead, you should practice all of the above, so that you have a variety of skills can be best deployed to resolve a situation.

A second issue with a gun is assuming that you'll have the initiative, that you'll be in a situation where you have control. That's not a given. Bad guys may not be smart, but they're smart enough to know that they need control. They want to strike when you're not ready. No gun can defend you against that, but the defenses outline above give you a far better chance at avoiding them, talking them down. and knowing your priorities. 

A gun is only the best tool if you have no other tools.

Are there situations where this breaks down? Of course there is. In those cases, you'll know exactly why you need a gun, but hopefully you'll also know the limits of that gun. The gun isn't a forcefield or a suit of battle armor. Once people start shooting, the gun won't stop bullets. And once a gun gets fired, there will be legal headaches. 

You see these principals used in home defense. Most homes are defended with locking doors, barking dogs, alarm systems, and in some circumstances, retreat. In self-defense terms, each of these is a controlled response to a circumstance. Once a weapon comes out, a situation becomes far more unpredictable, and as most people aren't trained in the complexities of home defense, their better options is usually non-confrontational.
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What do I think are the most important weapons for survival? What would I prep?

1. Friends

Survival is a team sport. Although there have always been men who've survived on their own, most humans have lived in extended families, clans, tribes, and countries. Survival meant having enough territory to support your own particular band, and territory means everybody. There is no better weapon available than your neighbors. No only do they bring greater force, they bring greater knowledge. Nobody knows everything, so the bigger your practical knowledge and skill base, the better your chances of survival.

Even better, working to make a safer, more cooperative, more just, more fair nation, one where everyone gets a fair shake, is the surest way to create a more stable town, city, state, and country. Not having a total social collapse beats having a total social collapse. So if you fear for the state of the world, get involved in making the world better. 

Talking to friends is good, too. A CB radio will allow you to talk locally with ease. Make sure that you have everything in place so that you can coordinate better than the bad guys.

On the other hand, if you have resentful neighbors, they might stop defending you. They may even send trouble your way, if they don't target you themselves. Sure, you can defend your house, but they're the ones who get to roam free. And if you go hunting, they can safely harass you by scaring off game or attacking your home while you're not there. Even a token use of force will make you go on the defensive while they get the advantage of roaming free.

And groups makes friends with other groups. Your mutual trade networks mean mutual interest. Allying with others makes you stronger and less vulnerable to hostility. 

2. Skills

You don't learn skills overnight, and in a survival situation, you're going to need skills right now. If you think that you can pick up gardening in a week, you'd be wrong. Those skills of pre-industrial rural life take significant investments in time, equipment, and practice. They aren't macho or showy, but they work.

Think about old time farmers. How many of them were shown holding guns, and how many of them were shown holding tools? Guiding horses? Working? Those old pictures showed you the real tools of survival because those people valued those tools more than guns or weapons. (Yes, hunting counts a skill. I figure that you've got that one covered.)

And for those skills you don't have, your friends might have them, greatly expanding your skill base.

3. Knowledge

Not everyone gets to know everything. This is what a library of knowledge provides. You may think that you know everything, but you and I know, once you're into something, you hit new questions. In a world without the internet, there has to be a way to find answers. That's where books come in. The more useful your library, the more likely it is that you'll find the answer that you need. And if you have friends, you have access to their knowledge and their libraries. Friends are awesome.

4. Trade

Humans trade. That's what we do. That's what communities allow. Using your skills to create new items, ones that are worth trading for, creates a sustainable situation for yourself. While stockpiling some rare goods is wise, its wiser to produce new goods that others need.Trade gets you what you need, so being able to trade indefinitely can get you what you need indefinitely. While gold is theoretically useful, like a hundred dollar bill, getting change might prove problematic. In a survival situation, if nobody needs your gold, then nobody will take it. Gold is only useful once everyone's needs are met. This is why rural societies valued livestock so much, because not only did they produce food and materials, they were walking wealth.

5. Compromise

In a true survival situation, you won't get everything that you want. You will need to compromise. You may need to accept someone else as a local leader, a trade situation that is unfavorable, or even extortion. Keep your goals in mind rather than your ego. As a lone survivalist, you can do whatever you want, but if you have a family, you'll be making decisions for everyone, so your risk calculations will be different. What works in the movies isn't what works in real life. If you aren't willing to compromise, you'll soon find yourself without allies.

Learn to negotiate. Learn to negotiate anything. 

6. Weapons


Weapons come fare down the list because they aren't as important as they seem, but when they're important, they're terribly important.



Guns are useful tools. So are crossbows, bows, spears, slings, and big sticks. Although guns may seem like the best tools in a long term survival situation, they are rather limited in their flexibility and become increasingly irreplaceable. Thus, you need to understand your guns as tools, and decide which tools are the best for the job ahead of you. And often, guns won't be the best solution. You want to find sustainable solutions, ones that don't require the use of irreplaceable bullets, be it raising chickens, trapping squirrels, or herding sheep.

Guns should be used as tools of last resort.

Your best bet is a gun is one that fires the most common ammunition with the widest options, such as .308 or .30-.30. A gun that can be fired by anyone, includes women, will make itself welcome. Using a common caliber will also make trading with ammo far easier. Your guns should be the simplest, most rugged design possible, because gunsmiths and machining will be hard to come by. You should think about how fancy you want to get. A high end gun may seem like the best bet, but if you have a tempting gun, others may be tempted by it. Having a rifle that fits into the crowd might be more advantageous. On the other hand, an all weather gun that will work for years counts just as much. 

Having neighbors with guns is even better than the best gun. You might have an awesome weapon set, but you can easily be outfoxed by just a few people with mediocre weapons. Remember, survival is a team sport. The better your team, the better you odds of survival. A mediocre team with enough people will outperform you. 

With the collapse of civilization will come the disbursement of military weapons. Those who want to take over will grab those. You may have an awesome weapon set, but how good is your house against a mortar? An artillery gun? An APC? A tank? If there's no government left, you want you and your own friends to have the best toys, not them. And if the outsiders have the best toys, do you plan to fight until the end? Or will you compromise for the benefit of your loved ones? There's no easy answer here. The only thing guaranteed is that somebody will try to take over, and sooner or later, you'll be their next target. Odds are, the confrontation won't end with a firefight, it'll end with a negotiation.
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The idea of a woman as trophy continues to engage me, and I have a few thoughts.
 
What is a trophy? A trophy is an object commemorating a success or victory. In terms of a story, it’s the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, that little extra that adds to the euphoric feeling, an acknowledgement by others. Without the trophy, the victory would still be a victory.
 
What is a MacGuffin? A MacGuffin is a [Person/Place/Thing/Idea] that a story revolves around. Essentially, while a MacGuffin usually does nothing on its own, it’s the catalyst for everything that happens. Without a MacGuffin, the story makes no sense.
 
So when we look at a story where a woman appears to be a trophy, we need to ask, “Is she a trophy or a MacGuffin?” Where one is extra and extraneous, the other is the very gravitation center of a story.
 
When a man goes out, defeats the bad guy, and then the woman throws herself at the man, that woman is acting as a trophy. She’s the little extra acknowledging the victory. She is acting as a trophy. If you remove her from the story, the story still ends as expected.
 
When a woman is kidnapped and a man rescues her, the woman is acting as a MacGuffin. I you remove the woman from the story, the conflict in the story becomes meaningless. The woman here is acting as a MacGuffin, as the catalyst to a story.
 
The thing about a MacGuffin is that the MacGuffin doesn’t need to be a woman. The man could be rescuing his dog or his reputation. What matters is that the protagonist has something at stake, some unhappy result for failing. In contrast, a trophy woman needs to be a woman or a trophy. A trophy woman can’t be substituted with just anything, she can only be substituted with something that feels like a trophy. If a protagonist succeeds and gets a brick, that wouldn’t feel like a trophy, making the brick feel rather random in the story. On the other hand, you can make anything into a MacGuffin as long as you develop the context.
 
In the trope filled “man rescues woman” scenario, the woman is acting as a MacGuffin. She is acting as the catalyst to the story even when not present. Her affection, kisses, or love may act as a trophy at the end, but that doesn’t nullify her as a MacGuffin.
 
I think that there is a substantial difference between getting a woman and getting a woman’s affections. In almost all cases, getting a woman means getting her affections, not merely possessing her person. The villain possesses her person, that’s why he’s a villain. The whole point of a rescue is to remove a woman from a place where her affections are forced.
 
So, to reiterate, trophies are given for victories, even if they are affections, but MacGuffins are the gravitational center of stories. 
 
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I was thinking about the story of Perseus the other day, and what gobsmacked me about the story was the absolutely pointless rescue of Andromeda. What was behind that? What narrative purpose did it serve? The only answer that I could come up with was that a queen was a necessary component of ruling as a king. In that vein, I will posit the Greek Ruling Couple meta-narrative.

According to Greek myth, Zeus was the king of the gods, while Hera was the queen. You can't pick and choose, having one or the other. You must have both aspects, both male and female, the make a stable throne. Zeus and Hera, Cronus and Rhea, Uranus and Gaia, these each represented the paradigmatic couples. If we dig a little deeper, we notice that we know the names of both the king and queen in all the stories, which is odd because you normally don't expect to know all the queens, especially in the Trojan War, where the relationships between these couples are significant. 

The Greek Ruling Couple Meta-Narrative looks like this:
  • A kingdom requires both a king and a queen.
  • When a kingdom is missing either, it is incomplete and unstable.
  • Happiness ensues when the ruling couple is united again.
  • The ruling couple exists for life. Nothing short of death divides the divine couple.
  • They are the symbolic embodiment of Zeus and Hera on earth.
  • Each rules over their own gendered sphere.
  • When things go awry, the situation can't be resolved unless the couple is reunited or somebody dies.
We see this strongly with Odysseus. He spends his years traveling home, waylaid by multiple women, but these women aren't enough to make him happy. He will only be set right when he reunites with his wife. Meanwhile, Penelope is desperately fending off suitors, because she doesn't believe that her husband is dead, and if he's alive, the gods will surely frown on the new divine couple, wrecking havoc on the kingdom. The story ends when Odysseus and Penelope are reunited, the divine couple is formed again, and those who would blaspheme the divine couple murdered by the score.

With this understanding, the abduction of Helen becomes all the more terrifying. Helen leaves her role as divine queen, but that's something that she can't do. There's no way possible for Menelaus to ignore this slight, for while Helen is alive, he cannot remarry and form a new divine couple. His kingdom is literally doomed because it has lost its feminine elements. The loss of  Helen is not just a loss to ego, but a stab to the very heart of  of the Laconia. He has no choice but to respond, and his allies join in, because they too recognize the blasphemous act. The war cannot end until the divine couple is restored. (Of note, when one person finally won Helen's hand, all other suitors swore to act against any who would break up the marriage. They all understood the important of a divine couple.)

Compare this to Agamemnon, whose wife took a lover during the war, then murdered him on his return. This is not only shocking because a queen assaults a king, or a wife kills a husband, but because the action is a total abrogation of the divine roles of each ruler. 

This interpretation makes the story of Oedipus all the more shocking, as if all the relationships in Oedipus weren't shocking enough already. Oedipus makes an utter twisted horror of the divine couple.

During the Trojan war, Achilles falls for his slave girl, Chryseis. Even though they weren't married, you can see how a young man would project the divine couple idea onto a possible future bride. (She was from a good family and would have made an acceptable wife.) For Agamemnon to step in and attempt to take her away would not only have been a social affront, but perceived as religious affront by Achilles, one strong enough to demand an extreme response.

Resolving these issues takes either reconciliation or death. You can see how that sort of extreme solution would result in a series of happy endings or bloodbaths or both, which helps makes sense of the body count in Greek tragedies. 
dmilewski: (Default)
I'm a game. I've been gaming since 1984 with Wizardry! However, I don't refer to myself as a hardcore gamer because I started gaming before that term was invented. (Yeah, call me old.) Back in the 90's, I got tired of spending lots of games and computers, so I decided to always buy off the discount gaming rack and only buy cheap computers. I called this cheap core gaming.

Back then, with massive jumps in graphics every year, many people turned on older games as terrible. Games that had great street reputations when originally published had become pariahs for their bad graphics. Being cheap, I didn't care. If the game was good two years ago, it would still be good today. And I was right. I spent lots of time playing good games at a cheap price. I also spent lots of time buying terrible games at a cheap price, but I didn't feel horrible for it because I hadn't spent much anyway.

In general, I tended to spend a month playing any game unless I particularly liked it or it really lent itself to more playing. I usually spent 6 hours a day on any game, more on weekends. That's a whole lot of gameplay, which is why I tended to swap games frequently.

These days, I'm still on the cheapcore treadmill. I go through games slower as I have a child and more life activities keeping me distracted. My eyes also can't stay on the screen as ridiculously long as they used to. Because I don't keep up, the depth of games available to me grows, meaning that there are more good games out there than I can easily play through. This low price made even middling games like Mass Effect playable (if Bioware games can be called playable). No matter how disgusted I got with the game, I knew that I hadn't spent much, so all the tedious planet exploration, cut scenes, and character building imposition didn't hurt that much. I began with low expectations, which were easily met.

The advantage of cheapcore is that walking away from a game is possible. I'm not stuck striving to get the maximum amount of money out of my title, and I sure as hell don't feel tempted by most DLCs or other micro-transactions.

Some games are harder than other. Sometimes I'm up for the challenge, willing to work long hours because I'm enjoying the experience, but at other times I just don't give a fuck because the difficulty is perverse rather than entertaining. Honestly, I prefer a game with good flow over a game with extreme challenges. I especially like the combination of good flow with optional challenges. But I have to admit that I'm not a details dink, so challenges that require vast expertise of game mechanics get lost on me. I find what's effective enough and run with that. For example, while playing Fallout 4, I quickly realized that the modding system allowed me to make the equipment that I wanted, but once I had that equipment, modding just stopped being useful. I could have gotten more out of the system, but I didn't care enough to bother.

The real gem of cheapcore is that you have self-permission to ignore all hyperbole and fanboyism, both for and against any game. You feel unafraid to play bad games because there's not much on the line. You get surprised by good games. You play games that you ordinarily wouldn't play at all. In that way, I think that I'm harder core than any hardcore gamer, who only play AAA titles at full price, and only those games that they like. While they're stuck in their little hardcore world, I get to stroll about and meet the neighbors.
dmilewski: (Default)
I see a few tools used to show sexism in narrative. Used correctly, they can yield useful information, but used incorrectly, or maliciously, show sexism anywhere the user wants to put sexism.
 
The Bechdel test is sometimes used to show sexism, but it's there to show one particular form of sexism, that of assigning parts in motion pictures. The ultimate purpose of the test is to increase the frequency of women in film and provide more job opportunities. The basic assertion is that if women are 50% of the population, they should get 50% of the visual representation across the entire industry. It's not there to show that any one film is sexist, its there to show that Hollywood has a sexist bias in the way that roles are written and assigned.
 
Agency is also used to show sexism in stories. What sort of agency does a woman have? Used well, the question opens up interesting inquiries. Used poorly, it becomes a bludgeon, insensitive to the very goal that it was intends to support.
 
The primary problem with agency as a metric is that agency exists within the context of a story, while the analysis can happen outside the context. With a loss of context, the tool becomes unreliable.
 
The second and even greater issue is that lack of agency doesn't correlate with sexism. Agency is used as a tool in many stories, sliding about, to increase and decrease the emotions of the reader. In many action genres, agency boils down to heroes and villains, where even the heroes find their agency challenged. Without a firm idea of genre, without a firm counting of how many male characters vs. female characters lose agency, the question of agency is likely to mislead you.
 
Objectification can also mislead for the same reason. Out of context, objectification can be seen as separating out women, but in context, these characters may suffer the same fate that many other secondary and tertiary characters face.
 
The Smurfette principle fails when the user fails to account for the status and importance of a woman in a story. Only if a woman is a universal embodiment of generic femininity among an otherwise diverse male cast does the part rise to the status of Smurfette. Women that are distinct characters aren't Smurfettes, even if they are the only woman. One woman among men isn't necessarily sexist.
 
The biggest issue is that these tests exist to detect sexism against women. While a noble goal, the failure of these tools to detect other forms of sexism leaves any analysis weaker than it should be. It stands to reason that the more forms of sexism that you can show, the stronger your argument that sexism exists. In many films, the sexism against women is often the weakest and most difficult to show style of sexism, while the sexism by men against men is rampant and easily documented.
 
A focus only on women means that superficial changes can be applied to films that make the film seem less sexist, but really makes the situation worse. Such an approach has led to the rise of the "strong woman" in film, one who's functionally a bland and an otherwise forgettable character. Such a change is not a real improvement as strong woman are written to seem empowering but more importantly, they are written to avoid offense. In essence, one has changed one stock, interchangeable character for another. At least a stock, sexist woman gets to spout a different point of view containing a different ethic.
 
dmilewski: (Default)
We can use both Patriarchy and Matriarchy as meta-narrative. Don't get these meta-narratives confused with the same things in real life. Meta-narratives are rather idealized and tuned to work inside stories.
  • Patriarchy or Matriarchy (P/M) is the natural arrangement of power within the society because the idealized characteristics of P/M are naturally the best for managing society. Society works best when P/M is honored. 
  • The other choice is naturally the worst arrangement of society because its approach yields unstable results.
You can see how this meta-narrative hews close enough to sexism to get confused with sexism. They're so close that they're almost co-joined twins. But do note the differences. The P/M meta-narrative is about society as a whole, about which approach and values best leads to a stable and prosperous society for all.

Where sexism really comes in is that one gender and its characteristics is categorically better than the other regardless of individuality or context. Society is best run by women because they are not ruled by men's lust for battle. Men are best for ruling because they are not carried away by petty emotions. Each point of view is equally sexist. While it may be true that any group, in general, has a set of characteristics, its also true that any group contains all possibilities. In a group of women, some will lust for war, and in a group of men, some will seek out peace. Groups cannot be devolved into something homogeneous because that's a basic denial of humanity. Where you reduce someone to their gender, that's sexism.

Unfortunately, there's no innate characteristic that naturally makes any single person or group actually better at any ruling system. Variation means that some individuals and groups are better than others. About the only non-sexist, non-anything-ist that we can use as a meta-narrative is that a sufficient diversity of people who each bring their own competence is the best at solving any problem, especially if they can reach out and secure additional expertise when needed.

What's that called? I have no idea. I'll call it "diversitist."

Diversitist:
  • Rule best comes through a diversity of peoples, genders, experiences, and expertises.
  • Insufficient diversity creates problems.
  • Problems are solved by expanding diversity.
  • The skills and knowledge of each contributor matters more than their race, gender, or creed.
  • Nobody deserves a seat at the table for any attribute that they're born with or two.
  • Sitting at the table is earned, not given.
dmilewski: (Default)
Chivalry is often thought sexist, but once you look at its structure, it doesn't look sexist at all.

We know Chivalry from the middle ages, where knights rode off to rescue ladies, which is taken as sexist behavior. This behavior codified a set of behaviors, relationships, and obligations. There was a very formalized relationship between Lord and Vassal, but also a very distinct behavior set out for Knight and Lady. Because these days were literally dangerous, knights were assigned to ladies to act as their protectors, with their honor on the line for both how well they protected their lady and how well they honored her. 

Much of chivalry wasn't real, it was a meta-narrative that made stories possible, every bit as artificial as the sexism narrative. However, as a practical institution, women did need protection from non-hostile males who weren't their immediate family. 

We think of chivalry as sexist because so many medieval movies were made where the sexist meta-narrative substituted for the chivalric meta-narrative. Naturally, chivalry looks like sexism because the two copulated copiously.

Chivalry concerns itself with the following:
  • A knight owes obligation to his lord.
  • A lord provides for his knight.
  • A knight may be given an obligation to protect a lady.
  • A knight's reputation depends on his ability to protect a lady (a relative of his lord).
  • (Losing a lady is a career limiting move.)
  • A knight's life is subservient to his lady's life.
  • Knights don't boss the ladies around. They serve ladies, not the other way around.
  • Knights gives affection to his lady.
  • A lady gives affection to her knight.
  • A knight's actions are at the behest of his lady. (The Lady gets all the credit.)
  • A badly behaved knight, who violates chivalry, kidnaps women, making the world go wrong.
  • The world is set right when the knight defeats the bad knight, and thus fulfills his obligations.
Chivalry centers around obligations and the fulfillment of obligations. The reason that women are passive actors in these stories is because the primary conflict is between knights, between obligations and duties violated and obligations and duties fulfilled. That's why both the king and the lady are barely in the story. in a chivalry, happy endings are signaled when all relationships are restored to proper order and all duties are fulfilled.

Contrast this with sexism, which is concerned about where each gender is happiest and where each has a natural place. 

If you add a modern sensibility to chivalry, where the woman frees herself, that would indicate a failure on the knight's part. If the lady were to say, "I rescued myself," that would be the same as kicking the knight to the curb, who had just risked literal life and limb. His reputation would have been shattered. In the context of chivalry, such a modern twist would break the social contract, rendering the narrative unsatisfying. Fortunately, even in those old stories, ladies often found way to get information to their knights so that they could win. Those women weren't totally useless. This also showed that the audience that the woman did want to go home, and that she wasn't just a ball in a ballgame. 

* Disclaimer: I'm not an expert in chivalric narratives, so I might be full of shit. 
dmilewski: (Default)
We could define sexism as a meta-narrative. If it's there, it's sexism, but if it's not, it's not.

We could use an exclusive definition. A work isn't sexist if it include the following. If any of the items below aren't met, the work is sexist.
  • Women have their own agency.
  • Women have their own agendas.
  • Women are not dependent on men.
At first, that sounds good, but it turns sexism into a binary, which isn't useful. This definition binds more than it grants, especially as many stories have legitimate artistic reasons for choosing to curtail one or all of those criteria. In addition, this definition only identifies sexism against women, not against men or any other gender. The limited definition is applied regardless of the story's structure or applicablity to the criteria. Finally, the definition is so over-broad that it winds up encompassing everything regardless of any other merits, providing too many false positives, which makes tackling sexism an impossible task. 

For example, it's WWI and a group of English soldiers meet a French woman on the road with her children. They don't speak French and the woman is in shock, so they divert to escort the woman to a safer place, amusing the children along the way. By the definition above, this is a sexist narrative, yet objectively, the soldiers act with basic decency and humanity. 

I prefer a more limited definition of sexism, one that identifies sexism without pre-defining the narrative. 
  • Men and women have natural spheres.
  • Men and women are happiest in their appropriate natural spheres.
  • The world is restored to rights when each gender is in its natural sphere.
  • Each gender respects the sphere of the other.
  • Women and their interests are subservient to men.
  • Men and women don't have ambitions outside their gender perspective.
  • Acting outside your sphere causes conflict and social breakdown.
  • Men are humiliated when acting in a woman's role. (He moves down in respect.)
  • A woman is presumptuous when acting in a man's role. (She attempts to move up in respect beyond her gender.)
To me, this is a much more useful narrative to identify sexism. It works for any gender. I can open up a story and see that it's sexist for both men and women. Most importantly, it exists independent of structure and metrics. Simply because a story contains elements commonly associated with sexism doesn't make it sexist.

Sexism affects men because it reduces the stories that we get to hear. A princess is kidnapped and ... 1) Only the strong hero gets to save her. That's restrictive. In a non-sexist world, 1) her brother gets to rescue her, 2) her father gets to rescue her, 3) her mother gets to rescue her, 4) her sister gets to rescue her, 5) her daughter gets to rescue her, 6) her grandparent gets to rescue her, 7) her neighbors get to rescue her, 8) and so on, 9) and the somebody doesn't need to be a "her" at all.

Sexism means that only alpha-males get to have stories. Allowing other meta-narratives mean that other people get to act and have stories, people more like everyone else. We aren't restricted to just one kind of man, or woman, or anybody. Even simple variations put entirely new spins onto stories even though they have assumed sexist elements. This means that we can still have men saving women stories, which is important, as I believe that men genuinely want and need such stories where they express their emotions through their actions. (Men do that.) Men now get to save women, children, friends, parents, and colleagues. Men get more range of relationships out of rejecting sexism. We are no longer stuffed into a box where we only have worth if we have a woman.

When we return to the example of the soldiers, the story utterly fails to match any of my revised criteria. It's not a sexist story because the meta-narrative has nothing to do with enforcing gender roles. If anything, the soldiers act outside of gender roles by assuming the roles of caretakers and nurturers when the woman is no longer able to undertake her responsibilities. Nobody gets the woman in the end. In fact, the entire story feels a bit like a respite from war because the men get to leave the soldier narrative for a while, get to walk away from being alpha-males and killers, and act as nurturers. This is the kind of story that we really want.
dmilewski: (Default)
If you want a story to be sexist, then you want some or all of the elements below, culled from every sexist film that I could remember. The list might be long, but by no means is it exhaustive.

The important point to remember than sexism is a narrative. It's a story that we tell. It's a meta-story behind the story. Note that the individual does not get to choose what's right for them, what's right is decided by the narrative. There's only one possible answer. In this way, sexism binds both all genders.
  • The man is the natural leader because he's a man.
  • The woman achieves happiness when she accepts the man as her natural leader.
  • A man achieves happiness when he has a compliant woman.
  • A woman's traits that work for men are shown in a positive light.
  • A woman's traits that don't work for men are shown in a negative light.
  • Women in traditional roles are shown in a positive light.
  • Women outside of traditional roles are shown in a negative light.
  • Women who exist outside the sphere of men are shown as disruptors.
  • Men are shown dealing with the messy, dirty world.
  • Clean and orderly is associated with women.
  • Women create the refuge for the man. Home is that refuge.
  • A woman owes that refuge and solace to a man because he deserves it after dealing with the dirty world solely to spare the women and children.
  • A woman is naturally happier at home.
  • Men are naturally more responsible.
  • Men handle the finances.
  • Responsibility is a burden. Men should not place burdens onto women.
  • A woman's head isn't organized, so nothing else about her is. A man is needed for organization.
  • A woman's home is supremely organized, and so are the children. 
  • A woman, children, and home are all part of a man's gender performance to impress other men.
  • A woman who defies female gender performance undermines a man's social status.
  • A woman's logic is borderline nonsensical and usually the subject of comedy.
  • Men are happiest as men.
  • The world runs better because of men.
  • Richer and better educated and handsomer men are better men.
  • Poorer and less educated and uglier men are worse men.
  • Men are not just natural protectors, they are at their manliest when protecting women and children.
  • Women can hold back men, but they can't defeat men, even a lousy man, which is why they need men protecting them.
  • Bad men attack women and children. They deserved to get beaten for their behavior.
  • Men stand up for women because they genuinely care for and adore them.
  • Defense is a physical expression of love.
  • Defense is a physical expression of basic decency.
  • Bad men force women. Bad men force love.
  • Real men roll their eyes waiting for women, but they want a woman's voluntary love.
  • A real man respects a woman's world. To intrude upon women doing women things requires a "pardon me."
  • Proper men and women both respect the world of each other's gender.
  • A real man doing a bit of woman's work is always good for a laugh, but in no way diminishes his true manhood.
  • A man doing woman's work does a bad job of it. Men are naturally bad at that stuff.
  • A woman doing man's work does a bad job of it. Women are naturally bad that that stuff.
  • Working class women are lesser women, but they get to be competent in their arena. 
  • The whiter, the blonder, the richer, the better educated, the better the woman.
  • Non-white women are somehow competent and natural laborers. They aren't lesser for being laborers.
  • Country girls are wild things but naturally prettier.
  • Old women don't count as women, and so they are allowed to be competent and level headed.
  • Undesirable women don't need to follow the women rules.
  • Marriage is forever.
  • Harmless idiosyncrasies are lovable in women.
  • Women can be dismissed for being women.
  • Men can be dismissed for not being real men.
If you've seen enough media from the mid-20th century, you'll realize just how rampant the notions above are. Much of sexism isn't what happens in a story, it's what informs the story.

If you want to reduce or remove sexism, I suggest attacking the meta-story. Write a new meta-story. 
  • Humans are at their best when acting in service of the greater good.
  • Our genders provide different agendas to us. These conflicts between agendas are legitimate.
  • Relationships are best approaches as partnerships between equals.
  • Anybody can be quirky, ditsy, oddball, and lovable. 
  • Mutual respect is required for happiness.
  • People working towards goals is put into a positive light.
  • Basic human decency has nothing to do with race or class.
  • Everyone counts as human.
  • Good people respect.
  • Bad people trespass and disrespect when and where they can.
  • Everyone isn't an icon and this is OK.
  • Characters are limited and need cooperation.
Two hyper-competent people can be a bit much, so make sure that each has some competent area.

Note that men generally being stronger than women isn't sexist (necessarily). On the realism end of the spectrum, yes, men are stronger, taller, and heavier. On the fantastical end of the spectrum, don't get hung up on realism.
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