Extremely late-breaking thoughts on the Lewinsky scandal.

  1. Committing sexual harassment, under its legal definition, should be an impeachable offense. Conduct that falls just short of the legal definition by not being “severe” or “pervasive” enough should often be an impeachable offense, especially if there’s a pattern of it.
  2. Having an exploitative-but-consensual relationship with someone should definitely not be an impeachable offense, and I do not believe it’s possible to argue otherwise while taking consent seriously and without infantilizing forty-four-year-old Monica Lewinsky, who has been telling us a consistent story for twenty years. Sexual harassment is by definition “unwanted,” so anyone who says this was “textbook sexual harassment” is using the wrong textbook.
  3. Creating the appearance or risk of sexual harassment, by having a relationship that’s unethical and makes it difficult (at the time) for outsiders to know whether consent is genuine, should probably not be an impeachable offense; however this is a closer call, and I don’t think it’s illiberal or infantilizing to argue otherwise.
  4. The actual crime Bill Clinton was impeached for, and that no one seems to be talking about currently, was lying under oath in a sexual harassment case. That case was initially dismissed because the judge felt Clinton’s alleged behavior was not severe enough to count as sexual harassment, a decision that looks dubious in retrospect (at very least, there should have been no summary judgement.) That decision was appealed and the case was later settled. In retrospect, I think lying under oath in a sexual harassment case should be an impeachable offense, given that the behavior he was lying about – a pattern of having affairs with subordinates – was clearly relevant to the case.
  5. I don’t think most people should beat themselves too much over not realizing this at the time, because the credible allegations of sexual harassment and assault were mixed in with a deluge of blatantly false accusations and conspiracy theories about other things; it simply wasn’t possible, back then, for the average person to pull up a bunch of documents about the accusations and realize they credibly pointed to a pattern of abuse. I feel differently about journalists who covered the case, activists who made public statements, or politicians who voted on impeachment; they had a greater responsibility to weigh all the available evidence.
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Against “The Toxoplasma of Rage.”

“The Toxoplasma of Rage” is regularly cited as one of Scott Alexander’s best essays, and I think it’s fundamentally mistaken, at least about the high-profile incidents it showcases.

He calls it “toxoplasma” because – like toxoplasmosis in rats and cats – there are supposedly two stages to how a story goes viral:

  1. Activists promote dubious stories because that demonstrates their zeal to their fellow activists.
  2. Counteractivists promote the same dubious story to demonstrate how dumb the original activists are.

 

I have a different theory: Continue reading

Tacos with ground pork, black beans, and acorn squash.

People who consider vegetarian or veganism for environmental or animal welfare reasons should also consider the venerable practice of stretching meat. For example, these tacos were filled with a mixture of ground pork, black beans, and textured vegetable protein (TVP). TVP is a soy product with a texture – but not flavor – very similar to that of ground meat, meaning that it substitutes well for ground meat in dishes that are heavily spiced, or that also contain some meat to provide flavor.

taco

Mass exposure to prison.

From comments at Thing of Things:

There has been some criticism recently of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  See, for example, Vox:

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/5/30/15591700/mass-incarceration-john-pfaff-locked-in

However, Brookings (and Ozy) points out that if you reframe the problem from “mass incarceration” to “mass exposure to prison”, the War on Drugs retakes primary importance:

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-memos/2015/11/25/drug-offenders-in-american-prisons-the-critical-distinction-between-stock-and-flow/

Addiction, time preference, and intrusive thoughts.

I’m having a hard time finding time to write new blog posts lately, so I’m going to start scavenging things I’ve written informally.

I was talking with someone the other day about whether it’s useful to model addiction as a rational behavior.  Now, I’m torn as to whether to even use the word “rational” in this way, because the word also has normal-English-language connotations beyond its narrow use by economists and philosophers.  So maybe the better way to ask the question – a way that makes it clear we’re using technical jargon – as “Can we model addiction through time preference?”
Continue reading

Some thoughts on the design of sandbox games.

I’ve been neglecting the blog while working on game development, and I’m not really okay with that.  So I’m posting on an other-than-usual topic, one that’s on my mind, rather than not post at all.

For the past two years, I’ve been working on-and-off on a game called Hecatomb.  It’s a different kind of “zombie survival” game, inspired by Dwarf Fortress.  You play a necromancer raising zombie servants and building a base in the wilderness.  It’s a “sandbox” game – like meaning there is no singular goal, other than surviving and doing cool things.

Right now my game works, but isn’t very fun because there simply isn’t that much stuff to do.  That, I think, is the secret to games that generate stories rather than having preset stories – they need to generate interest by having a wider-than-usual number of “subsystems” (loosely defined) that interact in potentially interesting ways.  Take, for example, Don’t Starve.  The way I’m thinking about it, these could all be considered subsystems: Continue reading