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25 May 09:42

John Nash has left the building

by vaughanbell


CC Licensed photo from Wikipedia. Click for source.So goodbye John Nash, brilliant mathematician and beautiful mind, who has sadly just passed away after being involved in a taxi crash with his wife.

Nash was famous for many things, but was probably most well-known for being the subject of the biopic A Beautiful Mind – an Oscar-winning production that sugar-coated the details although mainly stayed true to spirit of Nash’s remarkable story.

Outside of the mainstream media Nash is best known for his work on partial differential equations and game theory – and it is this latter development which has had the biggest impact on society.

Nash won the Nobel prize for developing the Nash equilibrium which is the point in an ongoing interaction (the ‘game’ in ‘game theory’) where everyone has nothing to gain by changing their current strategy.

In Adam Curtis’s documentary series The Trap, Curtis famously argues that Nash’s ideas on game theory were taken up by the radical Sixties psychiatrist R.D. Laing who modelled the family as a self-interested struggle in game theory terms.

It’s a neat idea – Laing’s conflict-ridden model of the family was driven by the paranoid ideas of a man who became psychotic – but there’s not much weight behind it.

Laing certainly did describe the family as conflict-ridden and used game theoretic ideas to describe these interactions, in his book Sanity, Madness and the Family, but Curtis seems to have been wrong about the influence of Nash.

Laing drew on Gregory Bateson’s idea of a ‘double bind’ where two conflicting forms of communicated demand are placed on a family member which, according to Bateson, could lead to psychosis as people are forced to come up with an ‘alternative reality’ that satisfies the incompatible requests.

We now know this is wrong but it was influential at the time and set the scene for wider investigations into family life and how it affects people with psychosis which proved genuinely useful.

But reading these theories, what is most surprising is how Nash’s work isn’t mentioned.

Bateson was in regular contact with game theory pioneers like Norbert Weiner and
John von Neumann who would have clearly known about Nash’s discoveries, but Nash is not referenced in either Bateson’s or R.D. Laing’s key works.

I find it unlikely that neither knew about John Nash, not least because he had published papers in very well known journals.

It is possible, however, that neither knew about Nash’s mental health, as Nash had begun to become unwell in 1959 and Sanity, Madness and the Family was published five years later, so perhaps the news about Nash’s psychosis had not filtered through.

But it is also possible that they were aware of what had happened to Nash, and opted to avoid his ideas precisely because he was thought to have become unwell.

Either way, it was a missed opportunity, because the idea of a Nash equilibrium makes perfect sense in terms of arriving at an unhelpful stalemate where no individual can seem to make a positive change – exactly what Laing was describing in families.

Fast forward 50 years, and Nash’s ideas finally have begun to have an impact on the science of psychopathology. After A Beautiful Mind was released, based on Sylvia Nasar’s earlier biography, studies emerged applying game theory and the Nash equilibrium to understanding the psychology and neuroscience of schizophrenia.

After revolutionising economics, social science and mathematics, Nash’s ideas are starting to have an influence on the science of psychosis. A form of intellectual closure, perhaps, that Nash appreciated more than most.

Link to excellent obituary in The New York Times.

01 Apr 15:00

In Celebration of Old-School LiveJournal

by Lindsey Gates-Markel

This essay is sponsored by Ioana, who is similarly affected by LiveJournal nostalgia.

Recently, while searching in the Narnian depths of my closet, I found my first-ever diary, a small, perfectly '80s plastic-back book with a busted lock. When I was nine or ten, I marred the cover with handwritten bon mots from Ferngully, such as “You are one bodacious babe” and “Awesome use of the language, dude.” Within the pink and teal pages of the diary, though, I’m seven years old, growing up on a rural farm in central Illinois. I write mostly about my plans for the evening or the next day, usually sleepovers with my friends or visits with family. My girlfriends and apparently I read each other's diaries during sleepovers; I mention several times that my best friend, Joni, is reading "not this journal, but the paperback one" as I write.

I made my first LiveJournal post at age sixteen, writing about my first break-up. I’d been online since middle school and had written about life there for years, coding websites in Notepad by cherry-picking the HTML from other sites I liked, just like many other girls I’d meet online in the next few years. We posted vague bios about ourselves. We changed our names. Our identities were fluid and often hidden, without the permanence of digital photos to anchor them. We wrote poetry. We claimed space on Tripod and Geocities, and and then, as girls bought their own domains and shared the paid space with their friends, we moved in with them, prefacing our subdomains with forward slashes. And when girls began to sign up on LiveJournal, we were able to talk to one another, finally in the same room.

I wrote in my LiveJournal while sitting cross-legged at my mom’s desk chair as the sun set over husked Illinois cornfields. On our first-ever computer, a Gateway 2000. Years later, I wrote while slouched on my dorm room floor or hiding my screen in a college computer lab. I wrote at night, after everyone I lived with had gone to bed. I listened to Tori Amos and Iron and Wine and Fiona Apple from CDs I fed to the computer tower and opened in WinAmp. I wrote about myself and my life, in the confessional, navel-gazey way that’s led to the 2015 connotation of the word. To LiveJournal: to write messily about your feelings.

Read more In Celebration of Old-School LiveJournal at The Toast.

05 May 14:00

Which Jane Austen Heroine Are You?

by Mallory Ortberg

Andrew this will look uninteresting to you but do read it. :)

Take this quiz and find out!

Read more Which Jane Austen Heroine Are You? at The Toast.

22 May 14:00

Code Words For “Gay” In Classic Films

by Mallory Ortberg

Previously: Code words for lesbianism in classic films.

If you hear any of the following words or phrases used to describe a male character in a movie made before 1970, odds are good that they’re trying to tell you about a homosexual, a real boarding-school afternooner, someone who eats his dinner in a restaurant, a fellow who walks down the shady side of the street.




Wears a hat of someone else's choosing

Read more Code Words For “Gay” In Classic Films at The Toast.

08 May 13:30

Animals That Make Me Feel OK About Only Getting My Mom A Card For Mother's Day

by Anna Fitzpatrick
by Anna Fitzpatrick


When I saw people on my Facebook feed were getting their moms really fancy gifts for Mother's Day, I started to feel bad, because all I got my mom was some dinky card. I must be the worst kid in the world. I mean, maybe not the worst kid, since an octopus's eggs are so high maintenance the mother will end up forgoing food while she takes care of them and will pretty much promptly die, but, you know.

She was pregnant with me for nine months, after all. That doesn't seem that long when you consider the frilled shark has a gestation period of three and a half years, but it's still pretty long.

I didn't even get her flowers! As soon as the queen bee becomes old, the worker bees immediately replace her, even though she is the mother of most of the bees in the hive.

She sacrificed so much for me. Orangutans are breastfed until they are four years old.

I put her through a lot growing up, always fighting with my brother and sister. Black eagles will starve out their siblings, but it was probably annoying how we could never decide what to watch on TV.

Yes, I suppose I could have made reservations for brunch. Hey, did you know that spiders of the stegodyphus lineatus species eat their mother?

Anna Fitzpatrick would like her mother to know that she loves her very much and is grateful for all the life she gave her and stuff.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

08 May 15:00

Quiz: Homeschool or Zumba?

by Eliana Osborn

I’ve got two kinds of zealots on my Facebook feed: homeschoolers and Zumba enthusiasts. Can you guess which topic the following comments are in reference to?

  1. "On fire!"
  2. “I love how each participant has her own style and flair.”
  3. “I am having the best time of my life right now.”
  4. Read more Quiz: Homeschool or Zumba? at The Toast.

23 May 12:49

Marriage O'Quality

by Mark Liberman

Tweeted by Graeme Orr:

Marriage O'Quality. Comhghairdeas Éire! #marriageeqaulity

— Graeme Orr (@Graeme_Orr) May 23, 2015

Clicking on "View Translation", Graeme was fascinated to learn that his combination of neologism and Gaelic is actually… Romanian!

12 May 17:00

Everything You Can Buy in a 1977 Archie Comic, in Order of Desirability

by Paula Duhatschek

These days you hear a lot about the decline of print culture, and I think we all know what’s at fault: not enough mail-order products being sold in contemporary magazines. As a favour to all current and future publishing houses, I have taken the liberty of listing and ranking everything for sale in a 1977 issue of Archie, so that we all may learn by example.

1. 100 Little Dolls for $2.00

“Little dolls” are definitely one of those things where you can either own 0 or you can own 100, and there is nothing and no one that exists in between. Frankly, I’ve already lived my life for too long in the first camp, and I think it’s time I explore the second.

The best part of this ad is how much stock the copywriter puts in the HARD SYNTHETIC RUBBER and HIGH-IMPACT SYNTHETIC PLASTIC that these dolls are made of. The worst part is probably how determinedly they assume that I’m buying these for a child somewhere. Can’t a girl buy 100 HARD SYNTHETIC RUBBER dolls for her personal use without being made to feel self-conscious?

“I can’t wait to see if these dolls are all you say they are.”

Neither can I, sirs. Neither can I.

Read more Everything You Can Buy in a 1977 Archie Comic, in Order of Desirability at The Toast.

12 May 17:45

Books That Literally All White Men Own: The Definitive List

by Nicole Cliffe

If you are a white man and you think you do not own one of these books, try looking under your bed, it's probably there.

1. Shogun, James Clavell

2. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

3. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

4. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

5. A collection of John Lennon's drawings.

6. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

7. The first two volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin

8. God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens

9. Catch-22, Joseph Heller

Read more Books That Literally All White Men Own: The Definitive List at The Toast.

13 May 17:00

My Favourite Deleted Comments From the White Dude Book List

by Nicole Cliffe

Background reading here. Also, go look at the comments on Facebook, they're even better, and we don't bother deleting them! I think the white dude reaction to very gentle teasing about books I openly admit to owning as well speaks for itself, so I will not bother to add to it. I will say that I had not really meant to make much of a point about anything, just goofin' on the books dudes tend to enjoy, but now I think I might have...accidentally made a point? A very threatening one, apparently!


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Read more My Favourite Deleted Comments From the White Dude Book List at The Toast.

13 May 18:05

From His Coy Mistress

by Mallory Ortberg

To his coy mistress.

Oh, well, good news, coyness and not sleeping
with you still aren't criminal acts,
last time I checked, my man. So
I'm not too worried about that. Feel
like I've tried to say this nicely,
but that never works, so let's try
something else: had I the world and time,
sitting by the river and listening to
you as you try to seduce me would not
be on the top of my list.

I've seen weeds sprawl across a garden
and shoot green fingers up the walls
I don't want an empire of grassy love
growing at me.
Your vegetable love would spoil.

Read more From His Coy Mistress at The Toast.

14 May 06:53

Presidential roleplayers

by Mark Liberman

Today's SMBC:

And the aftercomic:

14 May 15:00

Signs That Agatha Christie Is About To Murder You

by Beulah Maud Devaney

Beulah Maud Devaney's previous work for The Toast can be found here.

In your previous life you were a medical practitioner and accidentally killed a patient while drunk. Since then you have stopped drinking, changed your name to something with the same initials as your previous name, and moved within 5 miles of the original murder. You have also married the dead patient's spouse.

You have received a letter from a recent murder victim. You read half of it before stopping to inform your guests and entire staff about the letter. You then wandered off to read the rest in your study, next to your collection of antique blowpipes.

At dinner you decide to tell a lighthearted story about a gruesome murder. The murderer escaped but had an unusual physical defect by which you would be able to identify them anywhere. You refuse to disclose any more details but glance meaningfully around the table before heading up to bed.

You noticed something odd at dinner but can't work out what it was. You informed the table of this and then wandered off to the summer house for a nap.

Read more Signs That Agatha Christie Is About To Murder You at The Toast.

15 May 01:30


19 May 13:55

New reading list

by Mo
15 May 13:30

Characters In Literotica Stories Who Are Cumin

by Anna Fitzpatrick
16 May 13:21

A less hysterical reaction

by vaughanbell

CC Licensed photo by Flickr user Les Black. Click for source.There’s a fascinating article in The Guardian about one of the least understood aspects of human nature: experiences like blindness, paralysis and seizures that seem to mimic gross damage to the nervous system but aren’t explained by it. People can experience profound blindness, for example, but have no detectable damage to their visual system.

These difficulties have various names: conversion disorder, hysteria, dissociative disorder, medically unexplained symptoms, functional neurological symptoms, somatoform disorder, or are denoted by adding the word ‘functional’ or ‘psychogenic’ to the disability.

The original concept, usually falsely attributed to Freud but actually first suggested by French psychologist Pierre Janet, was that emotional disturbance was being expressed as a physical problem, potentially as a form of psychological defence mechanism.

This is the origin of one of the modern names – ‘conversion disorder’ – but it’s not clear that ’emotion being converted into a physical symptom’ is a good explanation. We do know, however, that these experiences are more likely in people with a history of trauma, stress or emotional difficulties.

Crucially, people affected by these conditions feel no voluntary control over their symptoms – they’re not faking – but if you understand the nervous system you can often see how the symptoms aren’t consistent with the disabilities they appear to mimic.

For example, in the article, the neurologist tests a patient’s blindness like so:

He took from his bag a small rotating drum painted in black and white stripes. He held it in front of Yvonne and spun it quickly. Her eyes flickered from side to side in response to it, involuntarily drawn to the spinning stripes.

If the patient was blind due to damage to the eye, retina or optic nerve, visual material wouldn’t cause an involuntary eye tracking response, because the visual information would never make it to the brain.

So strikingly, the visual information is clearly being perceived at one level but is not accessible to the conscious mind – and it is this dramatic dissociation between the conscious and unconscious which is at the core of the problem, and is so poorly understood.

Unfortunately, these problems have also been traditionally stigmatised within medicine with people affected by them sometimes treated as fakers or time-wasters.

Similarly, to patients, the problems often feel as if “something has gone wrong with their bodies” meaning it can be difficult to hear that the origin may be psychological – partly of course, due to the common misconception that ‘psychological’ means ‘under your control’.

So this is why The Guardian article is so interesting because it is a little discussed area that needs a wider understanding both clinically and scientifically.

It describes several people with exactly these difficulties and how they are experienced.

Apparently, it’s taken from a new book by the same neurologist which is entirely about ‘functional neurological symptoms’ which could be equally as interesting.

Link to ‘You think I’m mad?’ – the truth about psychosomatic illness.

16 May 09:07

The art of being unreasonable

by Amanda J Harrington

I feel like being totally unreasonable today. You know the sort of thing, when your nearest and dearest fix you with A Look and say, 'What on earth are you doing?' or 'Why aren't you doing anything?!'.

Being unreasonable often seems to involve verbs: you are either doing what you shouldn't or not doing anything at all. Somehow even inaction brings in the doing words, spelling it out where you are failing yourself, and everyone else.

No, sitting does not count as a doing word! (Well, actually it does, because sitting is doing something) and looking at the computer doesn't seem to count as being busy.

What counts is being out there, looking like you want to be out there and joining in some terrible team sport like conversation or social inclusion.

It's totally unreasonable to avoid these activities and not at all creative to find good ways to sneak out of them. It doesn't mean you are a clever person if you come up with a get-out clause and people don't admire you for your short-lived but eloquent speech given just before you leave.

In fact, the art of being unreasonable isn't admired very much at all, which is a disappointment because I'm so good at it.

Team games, talking, doing, being together, not pulling faces, making conversation, not giving expositions on the benefits of time travel to future generations and absolutely not sliding sci-fi into any political debate are the valued whotchamacallits.

So today I am being unreasonable. As much as possible, my doing words will be sidling, shifting, shuffling, edging, ducking, wriggling and disappearing. If I can also manage smiling as I vanish (like the Cheshire cat), then I'll slot that in for good measure.

You see how, even when being totally unreasonable, you can be a very busy person. Verbs, people, it's all in the verbs.

And if anyone tries to argue with you, then refer them to correct word usage and the fact that, two hundred years from now when we are all living in the future, none of this will matter except to them.


My books and writing blog, with free stuff.
Find me on Facebook.and Twitter!

19 May 18:00

We Have Got To Talk About How Messed Up Turtle Penises Are

by Mallory Ortberg

Look, we can't just...not talk about it. That's the coward's way out. If you hadn't seen a turtle's penis, which you might well not have, I bet you would think it was sort of average looking, and scalish, and nondescript. And, you know, God in heaven, I wish you'd be right. But you aren't. And you have to know this. And you have to see this, and we have to talk about it. Because I had to see it once, and I don't know how to go through this alone.

Read more We Have Got To Talk About How Messed Up Turtle Penises Are at The Toast.

20 May 17:00

How To Tell If You Are In A Famous Opera

by Nicole Soojung Callahan

Previously in this series.

You are a man who spends literally hours ranting about how the fairer sex cannot be trusted, yet you have never been faithful to anyone.

You are a woman and two possessive alpha males, both armed, are fighting over you. You're surprised when this ends badly. 

You employ a large retinue of servants far more worldly-wise than you whose only duties include dusting invisible furniture and giving you unsolicited romantic advice.

You find that you are never too busy to tell complete strangers about your all-consuming plans for revenge.

You discover that you have been flirting with your own brother and think, eh. I could do worse.

You join the priesthood to get over your ex, and end up having sex with her in a church.

Read more How To Tell If You Are In A Famous Opera at The Toast.

21 May 17:00

The Music Man

by Mallory Ortberg

HAROLD HILL: I will turn your sons into an orchestra
bring your children to me
you must learn to fear the green table

TOWNSFOLK: who are you

HAROLD HILL: I am the man of lies
now bring me a woman who has suffered
I wish for the face of a woman who has known pain

Read more The Music Man at The Toast.

21 May 18:00

Texts From Hieronymus Bosch

by Mallory Ortberg

i painted you something
you did?
oh good
I'm glad to hear that you have been keeping busy
do you want to see it
what's the painting of?
just a regular bird
oh okay
I'd like to see that


what do you think
pretty regular huh

Read more Texts From Hieronymus Bosch at The Toast.

21 May 21:44

‘Erotic liberty’ — Al Mohler’s new slur is really a sad confession

by Fred Clark

Al Mohler still hasn’t given up on his awkward crusade to turn “erotic liberty” into a hot new buzz-phrase. He seems certain this is clever — and wholly unaware that he sounds like poor Gretchen from Mean Girls trying too hard to make “fetch” happen.

AlMohlerApart from just sounding silly — I’ve noted earlier that “Erotic Liberty” sounds like a bootleg album from Prince or P-funk, or like a “new reality series from Cinemax exposing the sordid post-curfew nightlife of Jerry Falwell’s flagship fundamentalist university in Virginia” — it’s also a dehumanizing reductionist insult. It’s intended to be a dehumanizing, reductionist insult. Straight-married white Christians, Mohler is suggesting, are capable of love. But LBGT people, he is saying, are capable only of “erotic” lust.

The nastiness of this newfangled slur is transparent and deliberate. Al Mohler is pushing the phrase “erotic liberty” because he wants to be a jerk. And, well, that’s one aspect of this effort that’s actually working — it’s certainly succeeding in making Mohler more of a jerk. (See Brian Pellot’s Religion News Service piece “Al Mohler’s ‘erotic liberty’ is an offensive misnomer for LGBT rights” and my earlier post “Al Mohler’s ‘erotic liberty’ is a sinful, unbiblical, indecent, nasty lie“).

Inventing new dehumanizing slurs might help Mohler to rally his most-committed troops, but it’s not an effective approach to persuading any of his would-be followers who might not already be 100-percent devoted to Mohlerism. Yes, I’m sure that when they first heard him try out the phrase, Denny Burk and Owen Strachan said, “Awesome, boss! That’s great! Someday I hope I’m just like you!” But that’s what they say in response to everything Mohler says, and outside of his circle of obsequious henchmen, this “erotic liberty” business is a punchline and a horrifying embarrassment.

Perhaps the main reason the phrase is so ridiculous is Mohler’s inability to understand how it is heard and perceived by anyone who’s not desperately seeking tenure at Southern seminary or Boyce College. Mohler and his circle can only hear “erotic liberty” as an accusation, but the rest of the world hears it as an unconscious confession. The phrase, as Mohler is trying to use it, only makes sense if you accept Mohler’s premise — which is that “erotic” has, and can only have, negative connotations. For Mohler and his Mohlerettes, “erotic” means dirty. It means sex — and sex is a bad, naughty, nasty, filthy thing. (And not, like, the good kind of naughty, nasty or filthy.) For Mohler, in other words, “erotic” means “shameful.”

Thus the vast gulf between what Mohler intends his new slur to communicate and what the rest of us actually hear whenever he employs it. He denounces “erotic liberty” intending us to understand that LGBT people are subhuman beasts, slaves to their genitalia who are incapable of the emotional and spiritual depth we fully human persons possess.

But every time he says “erotic liberty” and tries yet again to make this buzz-phrase a thing, all the rest of us can hear him saying is this: “I, Richard Albert Mohler Jr., am deeply ashamed that I have a penis and that it sometimes gets hard.”

And, yes, that makes us laugh — and, yes, we’re laughing at him. But it’s a nervous laughter, tinged with sadness and pity for this miserable creature so horribly uncomfortable in his own skin — so horribly uncomfortable that he has skin. For Mohler, this apparently goes beyond the mortification of the flesh. He’s mortified by his flesh. His confession is unwitting and unaware, but it’s so vulnerable and nakedly genuine that we can’t help but feel that tinge of pity even despite his making that confession in the midst of his attempt to insult, demean and dehumanize others in order to deny them their civil rights and human dignity.

But there are other important reasons that “erotic liberty” will never work as the slogan Mohler thinks it can become. To consider those, we will have to do something Mohler himself is apparently incapable of doing — which is to set aside all thoughts of the shamefulness of Mohler’s penis in order to consider what this phrase, “erotic liberty,” could possibly mean legally.

What could it possibly mean to say that citizens’ “erotic liberty” is not their essential human right, but some kind of limited, contingent privilege to be monitored and regulated by the state? What would it mean to empower the state with the authority to carry out such monitoring and regulation? Could any state so empowered to govern the most intimate thoughts and consensual deeds of its subjects be limited or restrained in any other area? I don’t see how.

Mohler is determined to invent a false and weird conflict between “erotic liberty” and “religious liberty,” but the two things — as actual meaningful concepts rather than pliable slogans and epithets — are actually closely linked. Both belong to the category of things that must be regarded as intrinsic human rights because any state empowered to monitor or regulate them would be invited to become totalitarian.

So again, please, Al Mohler: Stop making the rest of us have to think about your penis. Stop trying to make “erotic liberty” your hot new slogan. You’re not doing what you think you’re doing. It’s not working.

22 May 14:00

Characters in Literotica Stories Who are Domes

by Anna Fitzpatrick
Now that's what I call a character arc!!!!!!
22 May 13:42

The Fractal Nature of the Gender Binary: Or Blue vs. Turquoise

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Flashback Friday.41EXTGX1VRL__AA400_

A reader named Judith B. wrote in confounded by the copy describing the watch pictured above. It began:

Don’t be fooled by the girly blue and white face on this multifunction Pro Spirit® digital sports watch. It’s more than a match for any tough guy’s watch…

“Girly blue and white?” she asked. “Huh?”

I think I’ve got an answer for you, Judith. And it has to do with fractals. Trees are good examples of fractals: branches can split into two branches, and each of those branches can split into two branches, etc.

2 (1)

The gender binary — that is, the rule that everything (oh animalsjobs, food, kleenex, housework, sound, games, deordorant, love and sex, candy, vitaminsetc) gets split into male and female — is fractal. That means that, for every male or female version of something (say sports versus dance), there is a further gendered split that can be made. If we take sports, we might divide it into the masculine football and the feminine swimming. If we take swimming, we could probably divide it down further. Take education (which is, arguably, feminized): we can split it into physical sciences (masculine) and social sciences (feminine). And we can split the physical sciences into biology (dominated these days by women) and physics (dominated by men). So the gender binary has a fractal character.

What does that mean for blue? Well, it means that, even though “blue” is socially constructed to be masculine, blue can be broken down into more and less masculine types of blue. Turquoise and light blue, for example, are often seen as more feminine that the primary color blue or royal/dark blue. The text, then, is referring to, literally, “girly blue.” Lots of ads aimed at women employ the feminine blues. These ads sent in by some of my former students are good examples:
Female Masculinity - Sports 5Gender - Balance 20Female Masculinity - Sports 6

Usually the use of a “girly blue” serves to balance masculinity and femininity.  It’s no accident that these ads are sports-related, or use copy such as “strong & beautiful” and “I totally have a soft side. You comfortable with that?”

So, that’s my explanation for “girly blue”: fractal gender binaries.

Originally posted in 2010.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at

10 May 10:48

Philip Zimbardo has a theory

by vaughanbell

“Boys risk becoming addicted to porn, video games and Ritalin” says psychologist Philip Zimbardo, which simply isn’t true, because some weekends I read.

Yes, Zimbardo has a theory which says that masculinity is being damaged by computer games, the internet, and pornography without an adequate plot line. A key solution: dancing. He’s done a cracking interview in The Guardian which I thoroughly recommend if you are still waiting for your Ritalin to kick in.

“Boys have never been self-reflective. Boys are focused on doing and acting, girls are more focused on being and feeling. The new video-game world encourages doing and acting and not really thinking. Video games are not so attractive to girls.”

Not really thinking? There’s a man who’s never played Bubble Bobble. And finally some sense in the video game debate. Hang up your coat Anita Sarkeesian.

And pornography? “The relative proportions are hard to come by. But for girls, it’s just boring. In general, sex has always been linked with romance for girls – much more than for boys. For boys it’s always been much more visual and physical…”

“With the old pornography there were typically stories. There was a movie, like Deep Throat, and in the course of some interesting theme people were having sex. Now it’s only about physical sexual contact.”

Oh my God! The washing machine has broken in the cheerleaders’ apartment. Now they’ll never get to the game. [Ding Dong] Wait, who could this be?

“It’s always been difficult for boys to talk to girls because you are never sure what they want or what their agenda is. And now without trying or practice it becomes more and more difficult. So it’s a reason to retreat into this virtual world.”

Phil, I know their agenda. They want quality plumbing without having to pay in cash.

“In online porn, the men are incredibly well-endowed – they are paid precisely because they have those attributes. In addition, some of the men take penile injections so they can perform for half an hour non-stop. When you’re a 10 or 15-year-old kid, you say to yourself, ‘I will never, ever look like that or perform like that’.”

I never thought that when I was 15. It’s been adult life that has made the 30 minute mark seem like an impossible dream.

Indeed, he argues that schools are increasingly ill-suited to boys’ needs – another reason for their retreat into cyberspace. In the US, he says, 90% of elementary school teachers are women, while in the UK one in five teachers is a man. “Female teachers can be wonderful but they model skills that girls are good at – fine motor tuning rather than big physical activity. They don’t like boys running around. And, with funding shortages, they’re eliminating gym classes so boys don’t have the time to do physical activity.” He cites schoolchildren being assigned to write diaries as a compositional task. “Boys don’t write diaries! The worst thing I can imagine giving a boy as a present is a diary.”

Fair point, just look at what happened to Adrian Mole.

What can be done to reconnect boys with the real world? Zimbardo has lots of suggestions: more male teachers, more incentives for men to establish boys’ and men’s groups so that the former can get the masculine mentoring they otherwise lack, welfare reform to encourage fathers to remain in the family loop, crowdsourcing initiatives to fund video games that are less violent and require more co-operation, parents to talk to their sons about sex and relationships so they don’t take porn to represent real life.

All genuinely helpful suggestions and then..

My favourite suggestion is that boys learn to dance. “It’s the easiest thing in the world,”

We’re British Phil. WE ARE BRITISH MALES. We look like two legged donkeys drunk on alcopops when we dance. And that’s *after* the dance lessons.

If you actually want to see someone take on Zimbardo’s claims with evidence, I could do no better than Andrew Przybylski from the The Oxford Internet Institute debating him on the BBC.

And amazingly, the full Guardian interview is full of even more clangers. Can’t wait for the book.

Link to Guardian interview with Philip Zimbardo.

09 May 18:25

Yes, You Do Mean Me

by feministaspie

People I know will talk at length about how ridiculous and over-sensitive and overly angry they think feminists are, or social justice activists more generally, and often expressly refer to specific views I share or groups I’m a part of, but, well, obviously we don’t mean you.” They don’t mean me because I’m not confrontational, I’m not argumentative, I stay quiet and let everything slide because direct confrontation is something I really struggle with. They don’t mean me, even though if I spoke my mind more often, they’d know they do mean me.

They don’t mean you, yet, they just want to check you’ll laugh along and keep the part of you they clearly do mean out of their sight.

They don’t mean you as a disabled person either. Certainly, when misogynist and/or ableist trolls came after the NUS Women’s Conference for using BSL applause to accommodate various disabilities“well, obviously none of them meant you” although, being autistic and hypersensitive to sound, I’m amongst the people who would benefit, and my friends often end up making very similar accommodations for me, albeit on a smaller scale. People, even those who campaign for social justice and claim to strive for intersectionality, make sweeping catch-all criticisms of people who don’t follow a healthy enough or ethical enough diet, who spend a lot of time online, who didn’t vote* or go to a protest or something else which involves being able to leave home and get to another place that may be inaccessible in any number of ways, and when someone points out the inherent ableism in that and how it affects them personally… “Well, obviously we don’t mean you.” Sometimes that’s also accompanied by a thorough assessment of whether the individual in question tried this, tried that, tried hard enough, or whether they actually really genuinely have a good enough excuse.

They don’t mean you, so long as your disability and your experience has their approval. They don’t mean you, but all these other disabled people need to just try harder, or also come forward as individuals and hope they’ll be believed. They don’t mean you, as long as you’re in a position to willingly disclose your disability in demand. They don’t mean youunless your invisible disability hasn’t been spotted or diagnosed yet, because everyone’s abled by default, right? They don’t mean you, they approve of your excuse so they don’t have a choice about it, it’s not your fault you’ll never be as good as your abled peers in their view.

Believe me, “well, obviously we don’t mean you doesn’t make a jot of difference to those of us who have to put up with this stuff from all angles, day in day out, always the afterthought they didn’t really mean. Unintentional harm does happen, and in a society where oppression and exclusion is so widespread it goes unnoticed, I’d go so far as to say it’s inevitable that we all cause unintentional harm at some point, but that doesn’t make it any less harmful. We need to learn from our mistakes, take care not to repeat them in future, and apologise where necessary; getting defensive and claiming we never meant you doesn’t solve anything.

Because when faced with the reality that their ideologies are hurting actual real people, they never mean you. They just mean everyone else like you, and they expect you to be okay with that.

*Just so we’re clear, I managed to arrange a postal vote on time, used it, and felt it was important for me to do so, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of blaming non-voters, even where it was by choice – it’s not something I want to get into here though, so I’d recommend reading Stavvers on the subject instead.

10 May 20:12


by Mark Liberman

Brian Hutchinson, "UBC student writes 52,438 word architecture dissertation with no punctuation — not everyone loved it", National Post 5/8/2015:

There was Patrick Stewart, PhD candidate, defending his final dissertation before a handful of hard-nosed examiners at the University of British Columbia late last month. The public was invited to watch; two dozen curious onlookers saw Stewart attempt to persuade five panelists that his 149-page thesis has merit, that it is neither outlandishly “deficient,” as some had insisted it was, nor an intellectual affront.

Unusual? It is definitely that. Stewart’s dissertation, titled Indigenous Architecture through Indigenous Knowledge, eschews almost all punctuation. There are no periods, no commas, no semi-colons in the 52,438-word piece. Stewart concedes the odd question mark, and resorts to common English spelling, but he ignores most other conventions, including the dreaded upper case. His paper has no standard paragraphs. Its formatting seems all over the map.

The National Post story suggests that the document is a translation from Nisga'a:

He wrote his first draft in the Nisga’a language. That failed to impress at least one senior UBC professor, a powerful figure who would eventually have to sign off on the work, or all would be lost. Stewart was called on the professor’s carpet and told his work was not acceptable. He was asked to translate “every word” of his dissertation into English. “So I did that,” he recalls. “There was still no guarantee it would be approved.”

It turned out well for him in the end:

Stewart’s writing style — the lack of punctuation, the gaps and spaces and poetic license — continued to grate certain professors. “I was asked to be a little more sympathetic to the readers,” he says. “Some couldn’t handle it.” To satisfy some of his critics, he began every thesis chapter with a short abstract, written in “standard academic English.” He refused to fiddle with the rest.

Stewart submitted his “long run-on sentence” dissertation in late February. His oral exam — his defence — came April 23rd. He was nervous. “There were five examiners present,” he recalls. “A bunch of people in the public seats. I had to justify my work. Was it intimidating? Oh, yes.”

Stewart spoke for 30 minutes. Then the examiners peppered him with questions. After two solid hours, someone finally called for a five-minute break. The questions resumed. Once that ordeal ended, Stewart and the audience were instructed to leave the room. The examiners had a private discussion. They voted whether to accept the controversial dissertation, or toss it out.

the phd candidate was called back inside the room     he was told the vote was unanimous     punctuation be damned     he had passed

The dissertation is here — "Indigenous Architecture through Indigenous Knowledge : Dim sagalts’apkw nisiṁ [Together we will build a village]" (warning: 7.9 MB .pdf). It tells a different story about the role of Nisga'a in the composition:

There will be challenges that most readers will face in reading this dissertation in terms of writing style, including format and punctuation, or lack thereof. The use of the Nisga’a language may also be a challenge for most readers. There is a Glossary of Nisga’a words provided on pages xxx to xxxiii and I will be laax’algax [translating] every Nisga’a word and phrase used in this dissertation, in the spirit of reciprocity, into English.

I will make a comment about my use of Nisga’a in this dissertation. Though I cannot be considered in any way fluent in Nisga’a, I attempted to use the language in order to acknowledge my heritage and, more importantly, to strengthen the use of Nisga’a in the academy. […] It was never my intention to write the dissertation in Nisga’a, though it may have been interesting to have done so […]

In my initial submission to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, I privileged the Nisga’a language as related above, agreed to provide an english translation for each nisga’a word and phrase. This manner of writing is not without precedent. Marker (2009) writes, “The Coast Salish stories of Xa:ls, the creator-transformer…” and not “The Coast Salish stories of the creator-transformer Xa:ls” […] 

In an attempt to be responsive to the request for consistency in the Preliminary page listings/headings, including the Table of Contents and the Appendices headings listings, I will follow the English [Nisga’a] format. In the main body of the dissertation however, I will use a Nisga’a [English translation] format.


I made concessions during the writing of this dissertation, recognizing the concessions the university is making and the risk the university is taking in supporting this dissertation. As you will have noticed, or if you have not, please note that the Title Page, Abstract and References are all written in standard or conventional academic English. In order to address those persons without the time to invest in reading this dissertation, I have decided to insert a Précis [summary] in standard or conventional academic English at the beginning of each adawaak [story / chapter] that will outline/summarize the main points contained in the adawaak [story / chapter]. This Preface also started out in standard and conventional academic English but it will soon begin to transform.

And it's not quite true that there's no punctuation. Here's his table of the symbols that "will be used as a way to connect and emphasize thoughts and words":

But spaces are the main form of punctuation, and this method works well enough:

11 May 14:00

The Forgotten Brontë Sister

by Mallory Ortberg

Sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë, pictured here with their lesser-known sibling, ENERGY-BEAM BRONTË.

Read more The Forgotten Brontë Sister at The Toast.

07 May 18:50

A brief and unlikely scenario

by vaughanbell

The Independent have been running a series called ‘If I were Prime Minister’ where they’ve asked a diverse range of people what they would do if they were PM. I written a brief piece for them where I talk about why we need to make hospital care for people with psychosis much less distressing.

It’s worth saying that I’d make a rubbish Prime Minister (“Exchange rate, yep, are there any snacks in here?”) but before I’d get the Queen to let me off the hook, I’d certainly make transition to psychiatric hospital care a much more positive experience,

Being treated in hospital under section is one of the most serious psychiatric interventions but you may be surprised to hear that it is one of the most poorly researched. We have so little evidence about what works and how to help people in a way that is safest for both their physical and their mental health. So if I were prime minister, I would ensure that the transition to inpatient care, for the most seriously unwell, was also a priority for research, funding and improvement.

It’s not fashionable to talk about gentleness in healthcare but it is exactly what is needed for people in crisis. Through neglect and under-funding, we have created a system that makes the time, consistency and environment needed for gentleness almost impossible to achieve – both for the staff who want to provide it and for the people who need it most. We are using our sanctuaries as warehouses and they need reclaiming.

Link to piece on crisis care in mental health.