April Fools Post

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[OOC note: Thanks to the glowfic chat for brainstorming help.]

Judging from my predecessors’ notes, a week or so after this post goes live I will disappear off into some other world. I am annoyed. This world is wonderful and I fear that all other worlds will be as unsuited to me as the world I was born in (I refuse to call it my home).

I grew up my entire life believing that I was sick and broken. I had desires that no one else had. I desperately searched on the Internet– keywords like “want sex with person not in love” and “sexually attracted to stranger” and “teenager wants sex with classmates”– and all I got were articles speculating about whether people like me existed and declaring, with great certainty, that if we did we were sociopaths, incapable of normal human relationships, likely to abuse and rape or at best treat all our sex partners as masturbatory toys.

There must have been people like me somewhere. I was not the only person like me in my world. (Was I? Now that I know that world-travel is possible, I wonder if perhaps perhaps I was transported there at an age so young that I don’t remember.) But if there were people like me, they knew better than to say anything. I studied, I was careful, and I managed to pretend.

People in my home world were not asexual. They had libidos starting at puberty, just as humans in this world do; they were capable of enjoying the sensations their genitals produced, and masturbation was encouraged as healthy and relaxing. But it was unthinkable to want to have sex with a person unless you were in love.

You who were born in this world misunderstand me when I say “unthinkable”. You round it to purity culture– a continual struggle against sexual thoughts triggered by lingerie catalog models and women in bikinis, culminating in a desperate marriage at nineteen to some inappropriate person so you’ll at least get to have an orgasm. But people in my home world do not struggle or repress; those thoughts simply don’t exist at all.

The only thing my homeworld uses scantily clad models to sell is underwear. Actors are likely to be graceful and to have very average and symmetrical faces, but otherwise vary wildly in appearance, including many you would consider ugly. There is a genre of media which caters to people who wish to masturbate; it usually devotes six hours to in-depth development of the love interest’s character before the clothes start to come off. There is no such thing as non-porn sex work. Bars are solely for drinking; nightclubs are solely for dancing. There are no sexually transmitted diseases.

We have a concept of human aesthetic beauty, in much the same way that one can have a concept of the aesthetic beauty of a landscape without wanting to fuck mountains. The aesthetically beautiful may be more likely to find employment as actors or models or spokespeople, but experienced no particular advantage in marrying; people were far likely to fall in love with the kind, the intelligent, the charismatic, and the witty than with the beautiful.

There are two ways marriages happen in my world. The more romantic one is termed “dating.” People hang out with their friends until they notice they are in love with someone, and then hope the other person is in love with them too. It works out that way more often than you would expect from chance– after all, similar people who spend a lot of time together and get along often fall in love– but often results in heartbreak, drama, and the shattering of friendships. Even once the couple has gotten together, they often turn out to have glaring incompatibilities which sink the relationship. Dating is pretty self-evidently a terrible idea, but parents find it illiberal to seclude their children from others of the opposite gender, and teenagers will never stop doing something just because it’s a bad idea. Love– not to mention one’s first experience of sexual attraction– tends to result in some pretty dubious decision-making.

The more traditional one is termed “courtship.” Conservative families tend not to allow their children to interact with people of the other sex until it comes time to look for a romantic partner. At about nineteen or twenty, one begins a focused search for a romantic partner. Traditionally, one consulted a matchmaker; today, one more often uses a dating site. (The photos, of course, exist mostly to allow you to recognize the person you’re messaging when you meet up.)

The first date with any prospective spouse is a detailed exploration of all possible dealbreakers and incompatibilities. To someone from this world, the conversation may seem blunt almost to the point of being mercenary. For example, the normal packet of information exchanged before the first date includes a list of favorite and least favorite chores and how often you expect them to be done; your income, expenditures, assets, and debts; whether you are open to polygamy; how often you masturbate and to what, if anything; whether you want kids and, if so, what opinions you have on raising them; a schedule of a typical week in your life; and a list of life goals, if any. The religious often include opinions on theology; the politically active, on politics; the fannish, on aesthetics. The first date involves clarifying these packets and asking any questions that were best asked in person.

The second conversation involves introducing your prospective partner to your parents, who had previously been given the information packets and your thoughts on the first date. Depending on the parents, this can be either a mere formality (“if my child likes you, I approve”) or a harrowing experience which leaves you single until age forty because No One Is Good Enough For My Child.

For the next six months, you hang out fairly regularly. It is generally recommended that one stress-test the relationship by creating circumstances that will inevitably lead to arguments, such as assembling a piece of furniture or navigating somewhere without GPS when you’re already late. Compatible conflict resolution strategies are very important for a marriage and difficult to screen for by exchanging a packet.

Six to twelve months into the relationship, the partners may realize that they are in love and want to have sex. Generally, at this point, they get engaged. Of course, six to twelve months is a rather long time, so it is usual to date three or four people concurrently and break it off when you fall in love with someone.

While traditional people tend to begin courting young, it’s not that uncommon for more liberal people to give up on dating after the third or fourth drama explosion and start courting instead, particularly once they start working and have less time.

About five percent of the population identifies as aromantic, which means they are not romantically (and therefore not sexually) attracted to anyone. (About half a percent of the population identifies as asexual but not aromantic.) It is difficult to know whether one is aromantic, of course, because of how long it takes to fall in love with someone; however, if you’ve dated or courted for a few years without falling in love with anyone, you are likely to identify as aromantic. It is not uncommon for aromantic people to suddenly fall in love with someone at age forty.

We did not seem to have other sexual minorities. I myself, of course, am what you call bisexual, and I was painfully aware that I was sexually attracted to people whom I could not possibly have children with. This merely compounded my sickness. Whether you asked priests or evolutionary biologists, they agreed sex was created for the purpose of having children, which is why we didn’t want to have sex unless we could have kids. (Of course, some couples didn’t want children and that was fine, but that was different than the perversion of wanting sex when it was biologically impossible to have children at all.) My thoughts about people of the same sex were inchoate, unformed. I wanted, but it was impossible for me to know what I wanted. I wanted to kiss them, to touch them, and then…? Who knew.

Now that I have traveled to this world, I wonder about the people termed “aromantics.” I have been introduced to the concept of closeted lesbian opinions; it is, apparently, surprisingly easy to not notice that you want to have sex with someone. On Earth, lesbians and gay men are often attracted to dozens if not hundreds of people and thus eventually manage to notice. On my home world, where one might only have to deny one or two attractions, many people probably just thought they were close friends. On Earth, many gay people first met other gay people through bars and cruising, casual sex that allowed them to return to their heterosexual lives afterward. Without that opportunity to create solidarity, perhaps gay people lived isolated, never organizing politically to create the awareness and acceptance that exists on Earth.

(I wonder if there was some secret place where people like me went to have sex with each other. If there was, I didn’t know it.)

We did, however, have an unusually high level of polygamy; it was considered a normal if fairly alternative lifestyle. Generally, a marriage started out monogamous, and many people preferred that their relationship stay monogamous. However, many people agreed that in the event that either partner fell in reciprocated love with someone else, they could marry that person. Polygamous marriages were legally recognized, although you did occasionally read about people being arrested for fraudulent polygamous immigrant marriages.

It was, in fact, possible to cheat; it was just not possible to cheat casually. Infidelity inevitably meant that your partner had fallen in love with someone else and chosen to pursue that relationship. For this reason, cheating was usually high-stakes and heartbreaking. Your partner could never tell you that all those other girls meant nothing to him.

From my perspective, this world I have entered is a utopia. There are websites that facilitate people like me having casual sex! There’s pornography! Millions of websites devoted to pictures of complete strangers naked and having sex! Hookups are normal, a subject of jokes and thinkpieces, even a way people meet their spouses.

Even more, over the past year, this world has shown me that I was wrong about people like me. We can be kind and compassionate; we can be loving; we can have committed long-term relationships– sometimes even committed long-term relationships where we hook up at the same time. I tend to have a pretty low opinion of myself, but I can’t have a low opinion of every person who’s had casual sex that I’ve encountered over the past year.

There are four things I think are good about my world. First, there’s no double standard; I find it quite odd and repulsive when men, sometimes men who have casual sex themselves, go on about how women who have casual sex are disgusting cum dumpsters. Second, approaching marriage in a deliberate way is a much better way to get married than not doing so; I’m baffled by the number of people who want to get married and have no plan for doing so. Unromantic as courtship is, it also makes sure you don’t wind up dating someone who’s wildly incompatible with you; if you court, you won’t end up accidentally marrying someone who disagrees with you about kids or budgeting. Third, no STDs. Fourth, it is an accepting environment for those of low or no libido, and I fear that the sexual freedom your world has created has stigmatized people like the ones from my former world.

Otherwise, my former world can go hang.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments, although no promises about me answering them with anything other than complaints.

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Blog Hiatus

My son is going to arrive in the world Real Soon Now. As such, both my blog and Patreon are on hiatus until April. See you on April Fool’s!

Thoughts About ABA

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I am an autistic parent, which means I have a relatively high chance of having an autistic child, which means I’ve started thinking about early-intervention treatments for autism. (After all, autism is often diagnosed as early as eighteen months, and I’m not exactly going to have time to do research when I have an infant.)

Many of my friends disapprove of applied behavioral analysis (ABA), one of the most commonly used treatments for autism. I am inclined to be more sympathetic, I think, for several reasons. First, it claims to be the most evidence-based treatment for autism. (As far as I can tell, this is true but complicated; more on that later.) If a treatment is evidence-based I’m always going to take a second look. Second, many of the groups that advocate against ABA support discredited pseudoscience such as facilitated communication, which makes me not trust their judgment very much. Third, I have a natural tendency not to want to admit beliefs that will make my friends mad at me, and “I think this therapy you think is abusive is actually fine” might make people mad at me.

That said, setting those worries aside, I have some concerns about ABA. I welcome opinions from people with more knowledge about ABA.

The evidence is not that great. It’s true that ABA is the most evidence-based autism treatment. As far as I can tell, it gets this status because most autism treatments fall into the category “untested but plausible,” with occasional excursions into the land of “what, no, there is literally no reason to think that would work, the fuck is wrong with you.” (This is a somewhat puzzling state of affairs, because we do spend lots of money funding autism research, and we can’t spend that much money trying to give fruit flies autism.)

This is a fairly representative list of studies of ABA as an autism treatment. Note that no studies follow the children until adulthood. Most have sample sizes of twenty to fifty children. And that’s not even including the really embarrassing stuff: the study of the Early Start Denver Model used parent report for many of its outcome measures even though the parents knew which group their children were in.

I understand that an appropriately blinded randomized controlled trial with a reasonable sample size that follows children to adulthood is really expensive. However, if you’re going to talk about how your treatment is evidence-based, this is the sort of thing that is necessary. The evidence for ABA at this point is less “gold standard” and more “plausible in early, exploratory trials.”

So I feel justified in having other qualms.

Response to adverse event reports. Many autistic adults report that they have PTSD and depression from their experience of ABA. That doesn’t mean that ABA necessarily causes PTSD and depression– perhaps it’s a coincidence, or perhaps they had unusually bad therapists. But I think if lots of people are saying “your therapy gave me depression,” the only ethical thing to do is go “wait, holy shit, we need to study this.”

In my anecdotal experience, I have not seen ABA supporters say this. Instead, I have seen many ABA supporters say that people reporting adverse mental health consequences are pseudoscientists who hate evidence-based medicine, which is not the way you respond to people saying your therapy gave them PTSD.

I have seen some ABA supporters argue that perhaps it causes PTSD and depression among the “high-functioning,” which seems like a really dumb argument. First of all, the whole point of your therapy is that it turns autistic people with high support needs into autistic people with lower support needs; maybe those people have low support needs because your therapy worked. Second, a lot of people with very high support needs can’t communicate in sign, speech, written language, etc., so of course they’re not going to be saying “ABA is terrible and I got depression from it,” even if it gave literally 100% of them depression.

Normalization. I don’t mean to say that faking nonautistic is not a useful skill. It opens more options to autistic people: while many people (including myself) find that faking nonautistic is not worth the cost, I’m not going to impose that on everyone. Many people want to work jobs or have relationships that require them to fake nonautistic, and it’s good to give them that option.

However, in my opinion, it is also not a skill it makes sense to teach people who presently can’t function very well. If a person does not have use of language (whether spoken, written, sign, or through use of AAC), has a severely limited diet that may cause them nutritional deficiencies, regularly experiences meltdowns, self-injures or harms others, or experiences one of the many other severe impairments that can be caused by autism, those need to be the #1 priority. For that matter, if a person is anxious or depressed, has low self-esteem, has executive function issues that mean they can’t meet their goals, or can’t understand nonautistic behavior, then those issues need to be the priority. Only once all of those have been sorted out does it make sense to concentrate on eye contact.

And yet in many ABA programs eye contact is one of the first things worked on, even in autistic children with severe difficulties functioning. It seems to me that this is less about giving autistic people options and more about saying that autistic ways of being are inherently worse than nonautistic ways of being. That is not a therapy I can get behind.

“Effective” is one of those words that depends on your values. Effective for what? Regularly beating your children is a very effective way of making them so scared of you that they instantly and quietly obey; I don’t want to beat my kids in part because I think that’s a terrible fucking goal. And turning autistic children into facsimiles of nonautistic children is also a terrible fucking goal.

Aversives. Fortunately, the use of aversives has been phased out in ABA treatment. In addition to the physical abuse of children (I think it should be fairly obvious why this is objectionable), aversives sometimes included things like taste aversives, which don’t seem that bad to nonautistics. However, as an autistic person, being forced to eat something I have a severe taste aversion to is literal torture. It is wrong to do that to a child.

However, Lovaas’s original randomized controlled trial of ABA for autism did include the use of aversives. How do you know that aversives weren’t the active ingredient? Therefore, this change (which is very positive) makes the evidence base for ABA even more limited.

Prompt dependence. As far as I know, prompt dependence has not been studied in autistic people, and any claims about it should be taken with appropriate grains of salt. But, anecdotally, it is a very common experience among autistic people to find yourself doing things because other people or the environment prompts you to, without actually intending to do it. Sometimes prompt dependence is helpful (I personally use it to get work done). Sometimes it is very unhelpful, as when you find yourself doing something that you don’t want to do or that is even harmful to you.

I am concerned that many forms of ABA, by rewarding specific behaviors in response to prompts, would increase prompt dependence in autistic children. It would certainly not teach the essential life skill of noticing that you’re doing something because you’re being prompted to do so and being able to do something else.

Amount of time spent in therapy. ABA often involves twenty to forty hours a week of therapy. This seems to me to be an excessive workload for a toddler, particularly when you consider that therapy is stressful and requires a lot of energy, so the remaining hours are unlikely to be high-quality hours. When does the child get to play? I don’t just mean this as a “play is fun and it is mean to deprive developmentally disabled children of the opportunity to play.” The current scientific consensus is that play improves social skills and executive function. (See, for instance, this report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.) Those are exactly the things autistic children are impaired in. Without strong evidence of efficacy, it seems ill-advised to give children so much therapy that their play time is limited.

Behaviorism. Unlike many autism advocates, I do think that there’s an appropriate role for behaviorism as one component of therapy for mental disorders. However, pure behaviorism has been rejected in most areas of psychology. Patients with mood disorders and personality disorders receive therapy with both a cognitive and a behavioral element (and often with other elements, such as mindfulness). Experts no longer advise not comforting crying infants for fear that it would incentivize the child to cry; indeed, comforting crying infants is often recommended as a way to build attachment. Many people are concerned that extrinsic rewards of the sort promoted by behaviorists may decrease intrinsic motivation and ultimately lead to lower performance. We understand the importance of social learning and attachment in children’s psychology.

And yet here we are treating autism with pure Skinnerian behaviorism. I have no doubt that pure Skinnerian behaviorism is effective for some things– it works quite well for phobias– but I would be really really surprised if it were the correct treatment for a complex condition like autism. Teaching children to say “hi, what’s your name?” in response to someone saying “hi” is not actually teaching any useful social cognition. There is, in fact, a difference between people and chatbots.

I don’t know what my ideal autism early-intervention program would look like. Certainly it would be customized to the child. Maybe there’d be a big play component. Maybe there’d be work on building attachment between the child and caregivers. Maybe there’d be age-appropriate cognitive therapy (despite the difficulties in providing cognitive therapy to children without language). Maybe children could play at a play group with both autistic children and neurotypical children who have been taught how to play with autistic children, so they could build social skills in an easier environment. (The neurotypical children seem like they ought to be easier to teach than the autistic children, anyway, since they’re the ones without social impairments.) Maybe there would be a lot of occupational therapy to help with motor skills, feeding, speech, sensory sensitivities, and other common areas of impairment. Maybe children would be taught to identify their needs and self-advocate. It is hard to know without more study. But I feel like pure behaviorism is not it.

A Modest Proposal Concerning Clinical Research Samples

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[I have literally no qualifications to have an opinion on this and everyone should take it with many grains of salt.]

If I ran the world, there are two things I would do to make research on human beings more representative and have higher sample sizes.

First, there are lots of cases where there are multiple treatments for a particular condition, but there isn’t any really solid evidence about which one is the best. (Autism treatment, of course, is an example close to my heart, as is antidepressants.) Right now, people are prescribed a variety of treatments, but the data is pretty much useless, because maybe doctors who have rich patients favor Treatment X and doctors who have poor patients favor Treatment Y and then it’s no surprise that people who get Treatment X fare better.

Instead, we should use this as an opportunity to run a randomized controlled trial! If you’re depressed, your doctor should press a button and get a random SSRI to prescribe you. There would be no extra burden on the patient, because you could use the information about effectiveness and side effects that should be in the patient’s medical records anyway. Result: enormous sample sizes with plenty of real-world validity.

Research should of course be consensual, so the patient can opt out and rely on their doctor’s clinical judgment. I think this should require signing a consent form that says “I UNDERSTAND that there is no clear evidence that one treatment is better than another. I UNDERSTAND that my doctor’s clinical judgment may be influenced by many factors, including but not limited to advertising from pharmaceutical companies.”

This would be easiest, of course, to do in a country that, unlike the US, has a national health system. But I think it would be possible in the US as well.

Second, we would recognize that participating in human-subject research is a necessary part of contributing to society, the same way that jury duty is; everyone has to participate in creating science that benefits everyone. Researchers with an academic affiliation, or who are sponsored by a researcher with an academic affiliation, have the right to pull a random sample of people from the voters’ or drivers’ rolls. If they wanted to research a subpopulation of people, they could send out questionnaires (with an online option, because we are in the 21st century here); only the people who are eligible for the study need show up at the study site.

People would have a right to refuse to participate in any studies with an actual risk, such as drug trials, weight loss studies, or studies which involve sensitive issues like violence or stigmatized traits. However, certain studies would be certified by the institutional review board as minimal risk: for example, spending an hour talking with an interviewer about household chore division or filling out a new personality instrument or having your blood pressure taken before and after you watch a video about puppies. IRBs are currently absurdly strict about ethics, so I expect they will not certify anything as minimal risk unless it is actually minimal.

Once again, the result is studies with large, random sample sizes and a complete end to psychology actually being the discipline of Introduction to Psych Student Studies.

WASR Fundraiser

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My gracious employer, Wild-Animal Suffering Research, is doing its end-of-year fundraiser.

What is Wild-Animal Suffering Research?

We research wild-animal suffering. (See, there is an advantage to clear names, despite the apparent opinions of all the EA organizations named something like Center for Effective Future of Open Global Action Priorities Research Institute.) Our goal is to understand wild-animal suffering, build a community of wild-animal-welfare researchers and advocates, and hopefully eventually discover cost-effective tractable interventions into wild-animal suffering.

We’ve only been around since June, but so far we’ve written a research agenda, released two cool review papers, given talks about the importance of wild-animal suffering and about human appropriation of net primary productivity, and subsidized a lot of writing on this very blog about wild-animal suffering.

What are you going to do with the money?

Most importantly, if we hit our goals, I am going to get a raise and to go to more conferences.

My coworkers Persis Eskander and Georgia Ray are not only going to get a raise, they’re going to get to work more hours, which means that we will produce more of the cool papers you have come to expect from us. There are some great papers in the pipeline, guys. I know, I get to read them.

We are a tiny organization– our whole room for more funding is only $160,000. Even a relatively small donor can have a really big effect.

Okay, so, raises, conferences, and more hours. What is all that going to actually accomplish?

We’re going to get a bunch of useful things that it is helpful for charities to have, such as “a strategic plan” and “an evaluation plan.” We’re going to summarize the evidence about   the capacity of wild animals to suffer, the quality of wild-animal lives, possible interventions into wild-animal suffering, and how human activities affect wild animals. We’re going to make connections with academia, effective altruism, animal activism, and people with an interest in wild-animal suffering in the hopes of building an anti-wild-animal suffering community. By the end of the year, we should know more about what we should be doing and have more of the tools available to actually do it.

What are your philosophical commitments about wild-animal suffering?

Wild-Animal Suffering Research has employees with very different values and has no official position on complex and uncertain issues like population ethics, whether wild-animal lives are worth living, habitat destruction, etc. (We do all think that animals matter morally, at least a little bit, because otherwise we’d be working a different job.) Since the movement is in such an early stage, people who are concerned about wild animals can work together to improve our state of knowledge and the strength of the pro-wild-animal community, even if our values mean we will come to different conclusions in the end.

But I heard there were no tractable interventions into wild-animal suffering!

We don’t actually know that. The argument for donating to WASR is that, even though it’s possible that we’re going to finish up our research in five or ten years and go “nope, there’s nothing we can do,” if there are trillions of suffering beings and no one has even checked if there’s something we can do about it, then probably someone should check.

If you are persuaded, please donate!

Open Thread: Effective Altruism and Children

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[DISCLAIMER: Wanting to increase the chance that my child has a particular trait does not mean that I would not love, respect, accept, and approve of a child without that trait, and if you think that is impossible I am somewhat worried about your mindset when you avoid teratogens. I have read Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids and think increasing children’s altruism is positive in expectation even given the book’s arguments.]
[COMMENTING NOTE: While opinions from non-effective-altruists are welcome, comments along the lines of “have you considered not being an effective altruist?” will be deleted.]

I’ve been reading about increasing the chance that your children are altruistic. It seems like two things that increase the chance are modeling altruism yourself and giving the child opportunities to engage in altruism in an age-appropriate way.

I would like to increase the chance that my son is an effective altruist, which means that modeling ineffective altruism is kind of pointless. The behavior I want to model and to offer opportunities for is thinking about how to do the most good and doing it, not doing something for signaling value and warm fuzzies. But the forms of altruistic behavior my husband and I engage in look like going to work (him) and typing on a computer keyboard (me), neither of which models altruistic behavior specifically. And children, particularly before adolescence, generally have a limited ability to earn to give or fill talent gaps in important organizations [citation needed].

Things I have thought of so far include:

  • Political involvement in effective causes (protests, phonebanking, canvassing, letter-writing).
  • Discussing effective altruism in front of my child.
  • Running an age-appropriate Giving Game once a year so he gets experience in charity selection.
  • Offering opportunities for my child to write or speak about effective altruist ideas (maybe he can guest-post on my blog).
  • Trick-or-treating for UNICEF (or AMF?).
  • Eating a lacto vegetarian diet and explaining why (in an age-appropriate way, I don’t plan to show my toddler factory farming videos).
  • Explicitly connecting things I and my husband do to effective altruism (I do research to help wild animals; Topher works as a programmer so he can donate to charity).
  • Explicitly connecting things my child does to effective altruism (learning reading, writing, math, and natural and social science will help you improve the world in the future).

Does anyone else have suggestions?

Book Post for November, Nonfiction Books

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Game Changer: A Memoir of Disruptive Love: A memoir by Franklin Veaux, author of More than Two, about his marriage to an obligate monogamous person while being obligate poly. If you are like “wow, that seems like an incredibly horrible idea,” you are far more sensible than anyone in this book, who universally seem to be under the impression that this situation can be managed by coming up with a bunch of rules about Franklin’s dates with other people. (No “I love you”s! No sleeping in their bed! His wife for years gives him, a grown man, a curfew.) Naturally this entire situation is very painful for Franklin, his wife, and all of Franklin’s other partners. Somehow this relationship, which in any sensible world would have ended after the third date, managed to stay together for eighteen years. Eighteen years! That is definitely an impressive feat of endurance if nothing else.

Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide To Caring for Self While Caring for Others: I really wanted to like this book. I think the concept of “trauma stewardship” is really interesting and important: the author reframes trauma exposure responses (the mental health consequences often faced by people who help others– whether people or animals– cope with highly traumatic situations) as trauma stewardship, the entire conversation about how we come to do the work, how we’re affected by it, and how we make sense of it. I think it’s a really interesting move to understand helpers’ relationship to trauma as stewardship, as taking a valuable thing which has been entrusted to us and which we have responsibility for but which ultimately does not belong to us. Unfortunately, I have a limited tolerance for woo, and after the sixth or seventh comment about the wisdom of Native Americans I checked out. So it did not really live up to its potential from my perspective.

The Myth of Sex Addiction: I really, really wanted to like this book. And to be fair some of its arguments are effective. Probably the most effective argument in the book is a case study of a college student and evangelical Christian who identified as a sex addict because he felt like he couldn’t control his masturbation no matter what he did and it was causing him serious distress. He masturbated twice a month. That, I think, is the best argument I’ve ever heard that some cases of sex addiction are best treated with sex positivity and destigmatization, not attempting to get the patient to reduce their masturbation to zero times a month.

I also find it plausible that the diagnosis of sex addiction is, as it were, gynecentric. That is, “sex addiction” doesn’t just pathologize unusual but harmless behavior such as BDSM; it pathologizes behavior that, for whatever cultural or biological reason, is far more common in men than in women (a desire for anonymous sex, enjoying sex outside of a relationship context, seeing sex workers, daily masturbation to pornography).

Unfortunately, The Myth of Sex Addiction itself has an addiction to gee-whiz clickbait-headline thirty-undergraduates-from-an-Intro-Psych-class this-is-never-going-to-replicate psychology studies. It tells us that these studies are Just How Men Are,  because of Biology and Evolution, without ever doing any sort of cross-cultural analysis or acknowledging that its sample is WEIRD. It repeatedly cites the SurveyFail guy, who years later has still not managed to work out that women don’t jerk off to fade-to-black romance novels.

The Myth of Sex Addiction very confidently claims that women don’t have fetishes. I think this is a bizarrely confident claim to make after you’ve spent five pages mustering the evidence that women are less likely to masturbate and to approve of porn and non-PIV sex. Maybe they do have fetishes and they just have no idea? Also, the definition of fetish is actually androcentric. My research suggests that men don’t have fetishes, because while it is very common for women to dream of being ravished by a cowboy, almost no men dream of being ravished by a cowgirl. In fact, the entire genre of cowgirl-ravishment books appears to be aimed at lesbians.

As always when I read books about mental illness that don’t come from a social-model perspective, I think the social model would make this guy’s life so much easier. Yes, it is possible for the same mental trait to be an illness if it causes you distress or difficulty functioning, and a quirk if it doesn’t. The fact that I don’t experience any negative consequences from my hypersexuality doesn’t mean anything one way or the other about whether it’s a mental illness; it just means that my environment accommodates me.

Utopia for Realists: I am honestly pretty surprised by this book, because I didn’t expect anyone to be so slavish in following Silicon Valley political orthodoxy. Guaranteed basic income, shorter work weeks, randomistas in foreign aid, open borders… it honestly surprised me that there wasn’t a chapter on fixing the housing crisis by building more houses. Anyway, it was all pretty boring for me, because I live here and am already familiar with the arguments for and against a guaranteed basic income and open borders, but if you are curious what Your New Tech Overlords think about things there are really far worse books you can read.

The Joy of Gay Sex: A evocation of gay male life circa 2009 cleverly disguised as a sex advice book. The sex advice itself is mostly not very interesting, assuming you have some idea of the mechanics of anal sex. The little essays about HIV, chosen families, monogamy, and all the other details of gay life build up a rich tapestry that really helps you intuitively understand what it’s like to be a (certain kind of) gay man. The sections on the Internet were particularly interesting to me, because they were written pre-Grindr; the gay Internet as described in the book is both recognizable and distinctly less convenient than the present Internet. My one complaint is the underrepresentation of the gay and bisexual men of my acquaintance (where are the furries? where are the anime nerds?) but I suppose that they don’t really hang out at gay bars so perhaps the author never had a chance to meet them.

Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche: I am leery of giving a positive review of this book, because it is written by a journalist, and it is very possible the author is misunderstanding all the research because he doesn’t have a background in the field. Perhaps Scott Alexander or Sarah Constantin or someone could fact-check it for me.

Until it is fact-checked by someone I trust on psychiatry, my tentative opinion is that this book is very plausible. Essentially, the thesis is that certain things (trauma, mental distress, psychosis) are universal, but we tend to express symptoms of those things depending on what’s floating in the cultural “symptom pool.” A psychotic person who grows up in America will think the CIA is mind-controlling them; a psychotic person who grows up in a developing country will think demons are talking to them. A person in severe emotional distress in the United States may be anorexic or self-harm; a person in severe emotional distress in Indonesia may commit a mass assault. (Caveats: it does occasionally happen that people pick up symptoms that aren’t usual for their culture; anorexia is probably not caused by the “thin ideal”, and in fact one of the strongest pieces of evidence for anorexia as a culture-bound syndrome is the existence of societies with a thin ideal and very very low rate of anorexia.) When a syndrome only exists in another culture, it is called a “culture-bound syndrome.” When a syndrome only exists in the Anglosphere, it is called “how people work.” Because the DSM is seen as authoritative, we export our local symptom pool around the world.

I am personally interested in the prospect of cultivating the symptom pool to reduce distress in mentally ill people. Through careful messaging, could we remove harmful symptoms like anorexia, somatization which results in chronic pain, and running amok and replace them with less harmful expressions of distress like snapping a rubber band against your wrist or cutting off your hair? I imagine how much future schizophrenics could be helped by a hundred million dollars directed towards PSAs about people who have a positive relationship with their voices and representation of people with nice voices in popular culture. Sadly, the book does not explore this concept.

The last chapter was annoying. While it established that pharmaceutical companies increased the rate of antidepressant prescription in Japan by raising awareness of depression, it did not provide any evidence that this actually increased the rate of emotional distress in Japan. Would one assume from the Viagra marketing campaign that before Viagra no one had ever had erectile dysfunction?

Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People: I agree with the main thesis of this book: I think that sexism, homophobia, and other oppression-related cognitive biases affect how we interpret biological data and lead to inaccurate conclusions. I appreciated Joan Roughgarden pointing out that commonly used terms like “female mimic” and “cuckoldry” can lead scientists to assume one explanation has to be true (that the animal is pretending to be female, that the female is passing off offspring from an extra-pair copulation as the male’s) when they haven’t collected the data to justify the assumption.

Some of her criticisms seem quite valid to me. For example, it does seem implausible that if humans can tell apart with the naked eye females and female mimic males of a species with sharp eyesight, then the male (who has an evolutionary reason to be good at telling these things apart) does not. Perhaps the female mimic male assists the male somehow: helping him defend his territory or allowing him to signal that he won’t attack the female. It also seems implausible that male seabirds never notice extra-pair copulations occurring in public, and thus we should look for alternate explanations in which the female having extra-pair copulations improves the male’s reproductive success somehow. Maybe extra-pair copulations reduce the risk of another male committing infanticide if the female’s partner dies.

However, I think Roughgarden has a bad habit of presenting her interpretations as settled science, when in reality they’re just interpretations. We would have to do a lot more detailed ecological work to decide whether her conclusions are accurate. And every time she says “this interpretation has an unfortunate oppressive implication” as an argument against a particular interpretation of the data, I want to cringe. That is not what science is supposed to do. You can’t decide the truth by saying what’s most convenient to your ideology.

Roughgarden writes mostly about the potential adaptive benefits of genetic diversity in humans, which makes me really curious about her opinions about the adaptive benefits of neurodiversity in humans. I agree with her hypothesis that many genetic impairments would not be as common as they are if the genes didn’t pose some fitness benefit, the way that people who are heterozygous for sickle-cell anemia genes are protected against malaria. However, she once again fails to consider alternate hypotheses. Many genetic impairments, for example, are very common in Ashkenazi Jews, who have a relatively small effective population size and thus are particularly susceptible to genetic drift. There is no reason to suppose that those impairments have an adaptive benefit.

[this review talks about rape]

Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power, and How to Stop Letting the System Screw Us All: Probably my least favorite of Jaclyn Friedman’s books so far. I mean, anticapitalism aside, she’s right about everything. Reproductive justice does need to include not just the right to contraception and abortion but the right to start a family, have adequate perinatal care, and not be shackled to the bed while giving birth. Sex work stigma does harm women who aren’t sex workers and combating it is a vital part of sex-positive activism. The de facto legalization of rape of Native American women on reservations is horrifying. While level of vaginal arousal is completely uncorrelated with level of self-reported arousal, reporting this as “women don’t know what they want, are all secretly bisexuals who like fucking bonobos” both is sexist and misrepresents the science. While there are personal decisions that affect sex-negative cisheteropatriarcy, like volunteering for a rape crisis center or choosing not to be an asshole to people whose sex lives you disapprove of, whether or not you flash their boobs and say “wooooo!” is not one of them, either on a “this is empowering!” or a “this is objectifying!” level.

I continue to highly recommend Yes Means Yes, and maybe if any of those statements is surprising to you consider checking out Unscrewed.

I was very annoyed at the chapter on masculinity. Jaclyn Friedman is, in fact, a decent person who comes to the correct conclusion that male gender norms both hurt men and cause men to hurt others and that both aspects should be recognized. But goddamn does she feel like she needs to signal that she is still a Woke Feminist who engages in Fashionable Misandry. Is it really necessary to make fun of men who internalize oppositionally sexist norms to the point that they can’t buy female-branded products? Do you have to put in that paragraph about how the harm male gender roles cause to women ought to be enough to get men to be feminists, but okay if we have to we can talk about the harm it causes to men? Notably, Friedman does not do that in the chapter on how sex work stigma hurts non-sex-workers, which I can’t help but figure is related to the fact that Friedman is a woman and is not a sex worker.

[the next book is about dieting]

Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight: I realize that no one knows why weight set points are going up, but I wish there had been more discussion of various hypotheses. Instead, the author basically goes with “dieting causes weight set points to rise!”, which is one plausible hypothesis but also seems really convenient for the book about how you should stop dieting.

The advice for practicing Health at Every Size is as follows:

  1. Stop hating yourself and your body. Find supportive people who won’t talk about how you need to lose weight. Practice reframing your negative thoughts about your body, food, and exercise.
  2. Eat delicious food. Pay attention when you eat. Eat when hungry; stop when full. If you find yourself eating to manage an emotion, use a different self-care technique while practicing self-compassion (it is perfectly natural to use food to manage your emotions if you don’t have another way to do so).
  3. Integrate movement into your daily life. Eat a variety of food, mostly plants, almost all unprocessed food, 100% food you enjoy. Get enough sleep. Manage your stress.
  4. If you have a hard time with the food advice in #3: learn to cook, check out community-supported agriculture programs, eat in a peaceful and loving environment, slow down, and pay attention to presentation.

Book Post for November, Parenting and Fiction Books

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The Nursing Mother’s Companion: Look, in six months I will tell you which of these breastfeeding books I liked the best. This one has individual survival guides for various stages of breastfeeding, covering concerns such as mastitis and nursing strikes that occur at various ages, which seems very useful and a clear improvement on how scattered they are in many nursing books.

Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents: Highly recommended; evidence-based and extraordinarily complete. I appreciate that the author characterizes both “cry-it-out” and “no-cry” methods of sleep parenting as right for some parents and some babies; this seems to me to be consistent with the research. (No, cry-it-out will not ruin your attachment with your baby, nor will no-cry methods prevent your child from developing independence.)

Newborn sleep is generally all over the place and there’s not much point to sleep training before the child is about two to four months old. Use lots of soothing techniques and try not to let your newborn stay awake too long, lest they get overtired; it’s also a good idea to establish a bedtime routine you can build on when the child is older.

People who aren’t newborns have sleep associations. Your sleep association might be the sound of white noise, reading a bit, having a cup of tea or warm milk, your blanket, or your partner on the other side of the bed. If your sleep association isn’t present, you’ll often have a hard time falling asleep. Unlike adults, babies wake up all the time in the night, so they need their sleep associations to fall asleep every time they wake up. If your baby’s sleep association is thirty minutes of being bounced on an exercise ball, then nobody is going to get a lot of sleep. It’s even worse if you, like many parents, rock your baby to sleep and then leave them in the crib. Imagine how you’d feel if you fell asleep in your bedroom, full of your sleep associations, and then suddenly woke up in a crib. You’d probably cry too.

Useful soothing tools to help babies sleep include white noise, swaddling, pacifiers, baby swings, and managing your child’s schedule so they consistently sleep at the same times each day, when they are neither not sleepy nor overtired. These should mostly be phased out by six months; white noise can be used throughout the first year, and schedule management is useful throughout life.

The easiest time to teach a baby to sleep on their own is when they are two to four months old. The second easiest time is right now; it gets harder the older the baby is. Start with bedtime; set yourself up for success by choosing a bedtime when the child is tired but not overtired, going through a quiet and soothing bedtime routine, and making the room be very very dark.

“No-cry” methods (a misnomer; they usually involve some crying) include:

  • Providing lots of soothing in ways you can live with that don’t involve you waking up all the time
  • Experimenting with seeing if the child will fall asleep on their own if you leave them alone in their crib for ten or twenty minutes.
  • Soothing your child fully to sleep using whatever method works best for you, then waking them a little when you put them in bed.
  • Gradually weaning your child from whatever you’re doing that helps them fall asleep.

The “cry-it-out” method is basically just leaving your kid in a safe and comfortable place to sleep and then not returning until they fall asleep. The author recommends full extinction (not checking on the child) as a quicker and more effective method, although parents often prefer checking on the child at regular intervals as it seems more loving.

The book also covers night waking, night eating, weaning your child from sleep soothing techniques, common causes of sleep setbacks both medical and nonmedical, and sleep in older children. It’s good. Check it out.

Your Orgasmic Pregnancy: Little Sex Secrets Every Hot Mama Should Know: A pamphlet’s worth of information stretched out into a book through lots and lots of padding, most of it entirely unrelated to sex (did you know that doing prenatal yoga is good for you?). There is some misinformation: the book claims that masochism is entirely off-limits during pregnancy, when in reality many forms of masochism are perfectly safe. It would be really useful if they had spent less time trying to pitch me on prenatal yoga and more time talking to kink-aware obstreticians to provide an actually useful resource. That said, the list of pregnancy sex positions is genuinely useful, and they had several pretty cool ideas for pregnancy-themed roleplay.

Siblings Without Rivalry: How To Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too: The correct techniques for dealing with sibling rivalry are surprisingly similar to the correct techniques for metamour management. Acknowledge and accept that your partners might have negative feelings about each other, and don’t try to tell them their feelings are wrong or bad. Don’t compare your partners, saying that one is more romantic and the other is funnier. Make it clear that you love each of your partners as unique people with whom you have a unique relationship, and you do not have a hierarchy. Spread your time among them based on your needs (and, in the case of partners, the seriousness of your relationship– presumably it is relatively rare to have a secondary relationship with one’s offspring). If they start arguing with each other, listen to both sides respectfully but don’t get in the middle; leave them to resolve it themselves. However, one advantage of partners is that they are adults and can be generally trusted not to hit each other on the head with a toy truck, while children have no such guarantee.

Instead of dismissing a child’s negative feelings about a sibling, acknowledge the feelings:

  • Put the child’s feelings into words (“you’re furious!”).
  • Express what the child might wish (“sometimes you want your sibling to go away”).
  • Help children channel their feelings into creative or expressive outlets (e.g. art).
  • Stop hurtful behavior. Show how angry feelings can be expressed safely. Don’t attack the attacker.

Alternatives to comparing children:

  • Acknowledge what you see or feel (“you put away your blocks and your truck. It’s a pleasure to look at this room”) without favorably comparing the child to another child.
  • Describe the problem (“you didn’t do your homework”) without unfavorably comparing the child to another child.

Instead of worrying about treating children equally:

  • Focus on each child’s individual needs (e.g. give more food to a child that is very hungry).
  • Show children how they’re loved uniquely (“in the whole wide world there’s no one else like you’).
  • Give time based on the child’s needs (“your sister needs help with tying her shoes right now”).
  • Acknowledge the abilities of disabled children.

When one child bullies another:

  • Don’t focus on the aggressor. Attend to the injured party.
  • Don’t put one child in the role of “bully”. Acknowledge their ability to be kind and control themselves and correct others or the child themself when they describe the child as a bully.
  • Don’t put one child in the role of “victim”. Show them how to stand up for themself (“I bet you can make an even scarier face back) and correct others or the child themself when they characterize the child as weak or helpless.

When children are fighting:

  1. Acknowledge the children’s anger towards each other.
  2. Listen to all sides with respect.
  3. Show appreciation for the difficulty of the problem.
  4. Express faith in the children’s ability to solve the problem.
  5. Leave the room.
  6. If the children appear to be hurting each other, describe the situation, set your limit, and separate the children.
  7. For recurring or serious problems, you may wish to hold a parent-guided family meeting, in which you hear all sides and their rebuttals, brainstorm solutions as a family, and pick a solution everyone can live with.

Infant Massage: A very annoying amount of this book is devoted to the fallacious argument that cuddling babies is very important for their mental and physical health and therefore you should devote fifteen minutes a day to a massage. To be clear, cuddling babies is very important to their mental and physical health; a baby deprived of cuddles may get sick, have lifelong developmental disabilities, or even die. That is why parents and alloparents feel a natural, instinctive desire to cuddle babies. Outside of very exceptional circumstances– a Romanian orphanage under Ceausescu, a neonatal intensive care unit, or strictly following the advice of a quack parenting book that thinks you should avoid cuddling your child so you can tame their innate sinfulness or avoid rewarding negative behavior– you will instinctively give your baby enough cuddles that they develop properly.

(Note that most neonatal intensive care units practice “kangaroo care,” in which the baby regularly spends skin-to-skin time with the parents, and if your NICU does not you should absolutely throw a fit until they start practicing the standard of care.)

But on the other hand massage is a nice thing to do with your baby, and I have no objection to the instructions, including chapters on adjusting your infant massage for premature babies, babies with special needs, and toddlers. Might be useful for parents who want to try massaging their babies.

Fire From Heaven: The first book in Mary Renault’s the Alexander Trilogy, focusing on Alexander’s early life. Much less enjoyable than the Persian Boy, because she keeps interrupting all the gay romance with this boring “battles” stuff. Why are there battles in my book about Alexander the Great? That is definitely not what I am reading the series for. However, the Persian Boy is sadly light on Ptolemy (Alexander’s half-brother and future ruler of Egypt, not the astronomer), who is an absolute delight. And Bagoas is not exactly what one would call a “reliable narrator” about Hephaiston, which means that Fire From Heaven is the only book in the Alexander Trilogy with any amount of Hephaiston content at all, which is tragic, because Hephaiston is the best.

Mary Renault outdoes herself with the extremely euphemistic sex scenes in this one; I actually had to flip back and reread a few pages before I worked out that “some time later a mother fox walked by with her cubs” was Alexander and Hephaiston losing their virginity to each other.

An Apprentice to Elves: I read this series because it provides me with gay Vikings telepathically bonded to wolves. This book is not, in fact, about the gay Viking telepathically bonded to a wolf; it is about his daughter Alfgyfa who is apprenticed to the svartalfar (the elves of the title). I mean, it is a fine book, but I have expectations and they were not met. I did appreciate Fargrimr, who is probably one of my favorite trans male characters in fiction, and his complete incomprehension about why the not!Romans kept calling him a girl. “Uh, I’m obviously a man, have you ever seen a woman be a jarl?” In general, from a worldbuilding perspective, I appreciate a society that has culturally accepted roles for LGBT+ people that are weird. (“Oh, sure, you can be gay, as long as you telepathically bond with a wolf first. Oh, sure, you can be a trans guy as long as you dad needs an heir, but if you have six brothers you’re shit out of luck.”) It just feels more realistic than societies which are completely perfect and accepting and everyone talks like they have a Tumblr.

A Civil Contract: I regret the decade and a half of my life I wasted not reading Georgette Heyer. If you’re the sort of person who has worn out your copy of Pride and Prejudice and mourns that there is only so much Austen in the world, you should pick up this book. The protagonist Adam is in love with Julia, a beautiful but very silly woman. His father dies and he discovers his father has run up enormous gambling debts; the only way to preserve his family fortune is to marry Jenny, a heiress, who is plain and practical and sensible. Naturally he falls in love with Jenny and then takes five chapters to work out that he’s in love with her. It contains all the Austen goodness: a gently mocking and ironic narrative, absolutely ridiculous mothers and fathers, and a truly delightful snarky little sister. Also, at one point there is Serious Dramatic Tension about whether one guy’s investments are going to pay off. It’s great. Highly recommended.

Station Eleven: An excellent post-apocalyptic novel, in which 99% of humanity dies of a pandemic. The protagonists are a traveling theater/music troupe who visit post-apocalyptic settlements and perform Shakespeare and symphonies for them, because (as the slogan on their wagons reads) “survival is insufficient.” Unlike most post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read, the plot does not derail halfway through to be about some group of survivors fighting a war with some other group of survivors. It is consistently about rebuilding civilization all the way through. I never once had to skip past a loving three-page description of someone’s gun. I think this is an excellent decision on the part of the author and more post-apocalyptic novels should follow her example.

When I reached the end of the book I discovered this was actually Literature, because there were discussion questions in the back. In retrospect, this makes sense of the otherwise puzzling decision to devote multiple chapters to a pre-apocalypse boring middle-aged actor having affairs. However, as chapters about boring actors having affairs go, it was fairly tolerable and the rest of the book was very enjoyable.

Uptown Local and Other Interventions: A short story collection by Diane Duane. I particularly enjoyed The Fix (in which Duane actually manages to pull off starting a story with a dream sequence) and Uptown Local (set in the Young Wizards verse; even for the Young Wizards universe, has a particularly high level of the spirit of Secular Solstice). A good book to read if you’re a Duane fan.

The Door Into Fire: I thought it was just a Young Wizards thing that the villain is entropy, but apparently Diane Duane’s grudge against entropy shows up in all her books. Since she used to write for Scooby Doo, does this mean that there’s a long-lost episode where Freddie unmasks the villain and reveals that he is the second law of thermodynamics?

Mostly a fairly bland and forgettable epic fantasy novel, although I appreciated the detail that everyone is bisexual and polyamorous and this is just totally normal. I was bracing myself when a jealousy plotline happened, but it honestly felt like it was written by someone who actually understands how polyamory works and that in a poly context jealousy reflects underlying relationship problems and unmet needs, not the fact that you are in Twoo Wuv.

Warning for people considering starting the series: the last book has literally been delayed longer than I’ve been alive.

Link Post for November

Ozy Elsewhere

A review paper I wrote about methods for assessing wild-animal suffering. Critics have raved that it is “surprisingly interesting.”

Screwtape in San Francisco, a Screwtape Letters fanfic. Updates on Mondays until I run out of things to say and/or go on parental leave.

Ever said to yourself “I wish I had a version of Thing of Things, but without the book posts, link posts, cursing, sex jokes, and culture war stuff?” I have started crossposting on Less Wrong 2.0 and that is precisely what is available there! You can also entertain yourself by trying to catch the comments from LW’s resident troll, who really seems to dislike me specifically, before they’re deleted.

Government

Deescalation works.

The Republican case for donating to Roy Moore’s opponent. Honestly, if Roy Moore were fictional, I would be like “oh, come on, no one is that pointlessly, dickishly evil.”

How to be a socialist without being an apologist for the atrocities of communist regimes. “If your revolutionary movement keeps producing mountains of skulls, it is important to consider whether the problem may be with you rather than the people who were turned into the mountain of skulls.” [CW: picture of a Khmer Rouge mass grave.]

The UK’s harsh laws about libel may be protecting famous British sexual harassers.

The US government arrests people for trafficking in nonexistent drugs.

Economics

Even if Tesla goes bankrupt it might still benefit the world.

Social Justice

Why we need to get better at critiquing mental health diagnosis. A good list of fallacious arguments; I particularly like the observation that “mental illness” is a broad category and things that are definitely true of schizophrenia may not be true of erectile dysfunction.

Flint water crisis may have caused over two hundred miscarriages.

Needing assistance to manage your finances because of disability does not mean you are an unsafe gun owner.

A feminist approach to sexual abstinence.

Facebook continues to allow people to put up racially discriminatory housing ads.

Study suggests autistic social impairment may be caused in part by neurotypicals disliking autistic people for no reason. Might fail to replicate, of course, but it definitely fits my biases.

One ordinary week of the heroin crisis. [CW: even more depressing than that description makes it sound]

“Blasphemy” is not an apolitical concept.

Effective Altruism

Against neglectedness. Not sure if I agree, but an interesting contrarian argument to effective altruist conventional wisdom.

New research paper argues that animal welfare reforms reduce the number of animals in factory farms. [CW: pictures of factory farming.]

Fascinating article which argues that dehumanization is not actually the cause of acts of great cruelty.

Just Plain Neat

Judge Alsup, “the judge who codes”, is an old nerd who codes in BASIC (!) and judges Silicon Valley IP cases. I am pretty sure he is now my favorite.

A pill to make exercise obsolete (h/t Sniffnoy).

An analysis of the economy depicted in Harry Potter.

EVE Online corpse collectors.