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Paul Wright's blog
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25th Aug 2020, 09:29 pm - Welcome to my blog
I'm Paul Wright, a software engineer based in Cambridge, England. You can now find my public blog on my own site: http://www.noctua.org.uk/blog/. I'll be crossposting from there to LJ but you'll only be able to comment on my site. See you over there.
24th Jan 2015, 07:58 pm - Je ne suis pas votre allié

A red flagThis post discusses victim blaming in the context of both murder and sexual assault.

Scott Alexander wrote, on dealing with social justice debates on the Internet:

H.L. Mencken writes “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.” Well, this is my temptation. It requires more willpower than anything else I do in my life – more willpower than it takes for me to get up in the morning and work a ten hour day – to resist the urge to just hoist the black flag and turn into a much less tolerant and compassionate version of Heartiste1.

Hoist the colours high

I felt this urge most strongly while reading the Metafilter thread about the attack on Charlie Hebdo (I’m pw201 on Mefi), where many commenters were engaging in what elsewhere might be called victim blaming or de-railing, and then flouncing when called out.

What passes for Leftism in America and in her cultural sphere of influence (i.e. the Guardian) seems to be the the establishment of a ordering of identity groups and the promotion of the interests of those groups lower down the order over those groups higher up. (The claims that there are multiple orthogonal pecking orders or that there’s no strict total ordering in people’s heads seem false: there are only two directions one can “punch”, and, whenever there’s a debate, it’s about who is really higher or lower).

It is one thing to bite the bullet, as I think Arthur Chu does, and admit that the accusations of victim blaming and the like are properly made only against his ideological enemies, without any attempt to pretend that victim blaming is universally bad. But to do this is to admit to special pleading, which most people don’t think is fair.

What I saw in the debate about the attacks and subsequent anger/flouncing was the painful dissonance that arises when Leftists-of-this-sort have to deal with members of a group whose interests they would naturally promote (identifying the murderers as Muslims and brown people) carrying out heinous crimes against people higher up the ordering (identifying the victims as white people or even as racists). Suddenly, those L-O-T-S who in other contexts would be assiduous in calling out any implication, however subtle, that “she was asking for it, dressed like that” or “maybe it was a bad idea to drink so much at the frat party”, are using those same tropes and hoping that a big disclaimer will do the trick.

I guess what’s happened is that the ordering was established as an instrument to promote the positive values of some sort of Leftism, but has now become almost an end in itself. My political leaning were formed growing up in the 1980s reading the Daily Mirror, but it’s fair to say I’m not an “ally” of L-O-T-S. Which isn’t to say I haven’t learned anything from reading Mefi, LJ and even Tumblr (the shocking prevalence of street harassment, to take one example).

Mais je ne suis pas votre ennemi

Scott Alexander’s urge doesn’t really make much sense rationally, though it’s psychologically understandable. If you have lefty views but think the special pleaders are bad, recall that their ideological rivals are worse, or at least, seeking worse outcomes. If you’re just posting and commenting on the Internet (as opposed, to say, voting), you don’t actually have to join up pick a team and buy their views as a package. If people you agree with about a lot of stuff argue with you about some other stuff, you don’t have to feel bad about that, because you’re not letting the team down: remember, you’re not on a team in the first place. People who are experts on social problems aren’t necessarily experts on how you personally should deal with them, as previously discussed. And thus I survive on Mefi, and places like it.

The Mefi thread went in quite a good direction in the end: there was a debate about cartoons and caricature, and some attempt to understand what the cartoons were about, and translated commentary from French people. It is long, but worth reading. I’ve been posting the good bits to the link blog, but allow me to recommend Lost in translation: Charlie Hebdo, free speech and the unilingual left in particular.

tl;dr;

Kitty Stryker said bad things and should feel bad, but that’s no reason to get into bed with Heartiste. He certainly won’t respect you in the morning.


  1. Heartiste is a well known pick up artist, men’s rights activist, and all-round bad egg. Ozy Frantz did a Anti-Heartiste FAQ which might save you some unpleasant research. 


Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
The case for mocking religion.
Hitchens! thou shouldst be living at this hour: France has need of thee.
(tags: cartoons christopher-hitchens satire religion islam terrorism murder)
22 Heartbreaking Cartoons From Artists Responding To The Charlie Hebdo Shooting – BuzzFeed News
“Cartoonists from all over the world mourn in the wake of a Paris shooting that killed as many as 12 people, many of whom are members of Charlie Hebdo.”
(tags: charliehebdo jesuischarlie cartoon murder terrorism)
Ex-Muslims Forum on Twitter: “an e-mail from an Exmuslim about #CharlieHebdo “I want to weep” – fear, sickness and horror http://t.co/EngpM6LbjQ”
The ex-Muslims Forum publish “an e-mail from an Exmuslim about #CharlieHebdo “I want to weep” – fear, sickness and horror”
(tags: ex-muslim charlie-hebdo terrorism murder islam)
The Blasphemy We Need – NYTimes.com
“Must all deliberate offense-giving, in any context, be celebrated, honored, praised? I think not. But in the presence of the gun — or, as in the darker chapters of my own faith’s history, the rack or the stake — both liberalism and liberty require that it be welcomed and defended.”
(tags: blasphemy charlie-hebdo islam speech freedom)
The Blame for the Charlie Hebdo Murders – The New Yorker
“Because the ideology is the product of a major world religion, a lot of painstaking pretzel logic goes into trying to explain what the violence does, or doesn’t, have to do with Islam. Some well-meaning people tiptoe around the Islamic connection, claiming that the carnage has nothing to do with faith, or that Islam is a religion of peace, or that, at most, the violence represents a “distortion” of a great religion. (After suicide bombings in Baghdad, I grew used to hearing Iraqis say, “No Muslim would do this.”) Others want to lay the blame entirely on the theological content of Islam, as if other religions are more inherently peaceful—a notion belied by history as well as scripture. A religion is not just a set of texts but the living beliefs and practices of its adherents.”
(tags: charliehebdo journalism terror religion politics islam)
How Muslim Scholars View Paris Attack (In-depth) – Special Coverage – Shari`ah – OnIslam.net
There isn’t a shortage of Muslims condemning the attack in Paris.
(tags: muslim islam terrorism paris charlie-hebdo)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
Imaginary Positions – Less Wrong
One I’d missed: Yudkowsky’s post on rounding to the “nearest cliche”.
(tags: cliche nearest eliezer-yudkowsky rationality)
The world is not falling apart: The trend lines reveal an increasingly peaceful period in history.
Steven Pinker argues we should look at trend lines rather than headlines.
(tags: statistics war politics violence world steven-pinker)
A Pasta Sea: Elijah and the Apologist of Baal
1 Kings 18 re-imagined as if Baal had a William Lane Craig on his side. Fun times. “A Pasta Sea” is a good name for an ex-Christian blog, too.
(tags: bible apologetics ahab baal elijah funny parody)
A&E in crisis: a special report – Telegraph
“As the NHS faces its worst winter in years, Robert Colvile provides an in-depth, first-hand account of the pressures facing the health service.” Interesting: combination of people unable to see a GP quickly enough and hospitals unable to turf old people to social care quickly enough. Targets sometimes provide perverse incentives.
(tags: nhs health healthcare medicine hospital)
Free exchange: Nice work if you can get out | The Economist
Why the rich now have less leisure than the poor. Via WMC on FB.
(tags: leisure work economist)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.

The Scotts Aaronsen and Alexander both worry that following feminist doctrine makes geeky guys miserable and too scared to even attempt to form a romantic relationship with a woman. Hugh Ristik looks at feminist guilt, along similar lines to Catholic guilt. Laurie Penny responds compassionately to Aaronsen.

I still think of myself as in the Scotts’ tribe because of my awkward formative years, which my brain tends to give undue weight when compared to pieces of evidence like “you haven’t been single for more than, say, 6 months since you were, say, 22″ (hint: learn to dance). So, I hope they won’t mind a little criticism.

Firstly, I wonder why arch-empiricists like the Scotts swallowed whole everything they were being told by the feminists. Why don’t the Scotts quickly work out that either they’re not being told what they think they’re being told (e.g. I bet if you asked the people conducting the harassment seminar, they wouldn’t have said Aaronsen was meant to take home the lesson that he did) or the people telling them this stuff are wrong about some things (e.g. if the people conducting the harassment seminar genuinely meant to say that men should never approach women under any circumstances just in case it’s harassment, they can safely be ignored without feeling bad about it)?

We get our beliefs wholesale

Possibly, if you’re starting from zero and desperately looking around for some rules on how to relate to women romantically, you might just latch on to the first subculture that claims to have expertise. It could have been much worse: Aaronsen could have run into the pick-up artists before the problematic patriarchal privilege posse, then he’d be going on about alphas and betas instead of privilege and de-railing, all the while wondering why having sex with people he despises for being stupid enough to fall for his con doesn’t seem to make him happy1. So, lucky escape there.

The Scotts might respond to me that I swallowed evangelical Christianity whole at the same age and that also messed up my relations with women a bit, so I’m in no position to criticise. That seems fair enough. What on Earth was I thinking? Both American Social Justice Internet Feminism (using my previous definition) and evangelicalism have the ability to form a rules-based system2. The temptation to swallow whole an ideology which has got some things right (especially things that everyone else seems to be ignoring) is common to all of us3, but geeks feel even more of a pull towards systems and clear “right answers” (previously, previouslier). Without wanting to say that evangelicalism and ASJIF aren’t problematically deontological, maybe some of the geeks’ troubles with them are down to these geeky tendencies.

Requirements analysis

Geeks: suppose you are writing (or, more often, updating) some software, as many of you do. The customer (or, more often, the person employed to prevent customers from seeing geeks that might alarm them) comes along and says “we want it to do X”. You’re like “but X will take ten years, will break Y, and the standard clearly says we must do Z not X”. But they’re like “No, X is super important and Customer won’t buy it unless it does X”. What’s the question you should ask now?

“What is the problem you are trying to solve?”

You should ask this because often in these situations you’re being given a solution to an underlying problem (the solution X) and you have to dig a bit to work out what the underlying problem is. The customer is an expert on the problem. You don’t get to say that their problem isn’t real (if you want to keep your job, anyway), but if they’re asking you to do something you’re going to have to live with for a while, you can and should look at that and see whether it makes sense in your context. This will usually involve talking to some people, tricky as that may be. Perhaps you can find a sympathetic geek on the customer’s side of the fence to thrash things out with. That usually works best.

Edit: in response to my question on Mefi (“why didn’t Aaronsen detect the bullshit?”), officer_fred reminds us that geeks take everything a bit seriously and have malfunctioning bullshit detectors.


  1. This assumes that the PUA stuff actually gets geeks laid, of course. 

  2. The fancy word for this when applied to morality is deontology. As previously mentioned, ASJIF is “deontology on steriods”

  3. See in group bias and conjunction bias


Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
Cause And Effect: The Revolutionary New Statistical Test That Can Tease Them Apart — The Physics arXiv Blog — Medium
Correlation is causation, sort of.
(tags: statistics causality arxiv noise mathematics)
Why IS liberal Protestantism dying, anyway?
Religions/denominations which are stricter in their requirements for adherents actually do better.
(tags: religion anthropology psychology)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
The button that isn’t | Restricted Data
There’s no actual big red button to launch all the missiles. Interesting article on nuclear command and control.
(tags: nuclear icbm button war missiles)
Secular Solstice: Doing good for goodness’ sake – The Washington Post
The WaPo reports on secular solstice celebration. Sounds cool.
(tags: atheism religion solstice)
“Yer a Developer, Harry” – Programming Is Magic
How being a programmer is a bit like being a wizard. Via andrewducker.
(tags: magic programming spells software wizards)
A Poor Imitation of Alan Turing by Christian Caryl | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books
The Imitation Game is pretty bad as history. Via HD on Facebook.
(tags: biography film review turing history war world-war-II)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
Ex-Communications – Recovering From Religion – You Are Not Alone
A new blog written by de-converts from various religions. Looks quite interesting so far.
(tags: ex-christian religion deconversion christianity)
Physics – Arrow of Time Emerges in a Gravitational System
“Standard approaches to the arrow of time typically require a rare statistical fluctuation, or, often, the smuggling in of assumptions about initial conditions. Their work offers evidence that ordinary gravitational dynamics may itself be enough to produce the simple “initial” point that can give time a direction.”
(tags: entropy time physics gravity)
Science AMA Series: We are a Group of Researchers Exploring Auditory Hallucinations – People Who Hear Voices. Ask us Anything! : science
Interesting comments on benign hallucinations.
(tags: hallucinations psychology reddit science)
cartesiandaemon – December Days: Dream Job
CartesianDaemon on what makes a good job. I think I agree with all of these. Where can I get one of those?
(tags: jobs dream employment software software-engineering)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.

Image by Graham Stratton
Alexei Sayle’s Marxist principles mean he doesn’t like Strictly Come Dancing, and by extension, all ballroom dancing.

Sayle doesn’t like SCD because it’s a dumbed-down popularity contest. This might be fair: the judges do have dancing knowledge, but the public get a say via a phone vote, and on the programme itself there’s lots of other bollocks which has little to do with art or skill, which is why I got bored with SCD.

Alas, Sayle seems to have falsely conflated the whole of ballroom dancing with SCD. tangokitty’s excellent comment at the Guardian points out that this neglects the large number of social dancers. One unfortunate effect of SCD is that it leaves people (including prospective and newbie ballroom dancers) with the impression that true ballroom dancing will culminate in fake tan and sequins.

Sayle likes the freedom of Northern Soul, which isn’t a partner dance, so is an odd choice for comparison with ballroom. There’s a limit to how much you can go crazy on the floor and also keep dancing with another person. (Neither was Nothern Soul “unselfconscious”, according to the Guardian’s expert commenters). Silly Sayle: improvisation and freedom is why lindyhop is better than ballroom, not why Northern Soul is. Naturally, you should also feel free to make up your own reason why ballroom is better than lindy.

Sayle goes on to say that ballroom tango is “robotic”. I say staccato, you say potato: Sayle’s free to prefer chocolate ice cream to strawberry, but it’s not clear what that has to do with our moral obligation to assist in Marxist class war. He adds that the music is terrible, but in fact, SCD’s music for tango (and paso doble) is often the wrong music for the dance, leading to horrors like this. Ballroom can in fact be sexy (previously), although Sayle’s assertion that a partner dance involving a man and a woman is always about sex is problematic and I’m tempted to set the Tumblr SJWs on him til he’s sorry.

tl;dr: Sayle’s at his best when talking about how crappy popular TV is, but knows bugger all about dance and/or is just trolling to drum up publicity for his new show.

Edit: Metafilter has some interesting discussion on the article.


Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
“The Culture represents the place we might hope to get to” | MetaFilter
Mefi’s discussion of the (previously linked) recently published interview with Iain M Banks (RIP). It’s good.
(tags: metafilter iain-m-banks culture sci-fi sf science-fiction discussion)
GCHQ’s ‘jihad on tech firms’ can only fail | Technology | The Guardian
Blaming Facebook for Lee Rigby’s murder will only lead to a breakdown in the relationship between the police and tech companies, says Ross Anderson.
(tags: gchq facebook terrorism security lee-rigby ross-anderson)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
Read The Leprechauns of Software Engineering | Leanpub
Looks interesting, a few sample chapters on the “10 x” programmer and waterfall.
(tags: management software waterfall ebook)
William Gibson: ‘We always think of ourselves as the cream of creation’ | Books | The Observer
Gibson has a new book out.
(tags: william-gibson sci-fi science-fiction books review)
The Last Chance Ragtime Band by Harry & Edna on the Wireless | Mixcloud
Last Chance Ragtime Band on the radio, talking about playing for dancers. I knew them before they were famous.
(tags: music ragtime dancing lindyhop new-orleans)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
Stewart Lee: The Imaginary Liberal Comedy Cabal will crush the Ukips into dust | Stage | The Guardian
There is now a cabal.
(tags: ukip stewart-lee comedy humour funny politics cabal)
The Sixth Stage of Grief Is Retro-computing
Emulation of old computers and grief over the death of a friend who used them. Via Mefi.
(tags: emulation technology grief nostalgia)
When Women Stopped Coding : Planet Money : NPR
I remember seeing a photo of an old-ish computer surrounded by its programming team in the computing museum at Bletchley Park. Most of the team were women. This blog/podcast looks at what happened in the USA.
(tags: women coding computers feminism sexism technology)
Loyalty and Layoffs | Heart, Mind and Code
The corporation is not your friend.
(tags: employment loyalty career redundancy layoffs)
Loyalty and Trust | Heart, Mind and Code
A more temperate follow up to the “don’t be loyal to the corporation” one, distinguishing loyalty, trust and vulnerability.
(tags: employment layoffs trust vulnerability work loyalty)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
I had a couple drinks and woke up with 1,000 nerds (This really touched me)
Nostalgia overload as a bloke sets up a Linux box and gives his friends (and then randoms from the Internet) accounts, like what we did with our college Internet connections in the mid 90s.Remember Pine?
(tags: unix tilde community history)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
A Parable On Obsolete Ideologies – Less Wrong
Yvain/Scott Alexander on why it might be a bad idea to continue to espouse a belief in God, the Devil and whatnot while having a sort of private understanding of what that means, even if that understanding is more palatable than the original theology.
(tags: psychology religion rationality hitler)
The Definitive History Of The West Wing
(tags: west-wing aaron-sorkin television politics)
The Fox Trot in the Jazz Age – YouTube
What they called Foxtrot in the 1920s was rather different to the modern ballroom version.
(tags: dancing foxtrot jazz)
Jazz Age Ballroom Dancing (“The Modern Dances”) | Mass Historia
A set of web pages on the Jazz Age ballroom dances.
(tags: 1930s 1920s dance jazz foxtrot ballroom)
Take The A Train
The AABA structure of “Take the A Train” illustrated in a neat little presentation which tracks the music.
(tags: jazz music)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
fabricate – The better build tool. Finds dependencies automatically for any language. – Google Project Hosting
Make replacement in Python which finds file dependencies by using strace to work out which files the compiler reads.
(tags: python tools build make programming)
Falsehoods programmers believe about build systems
Things to bear in mind before starting on your quest to replace Make, especially if you’re writing your own replacement.
(tags: make build programming tools)
Redo implementation in Python
djb’s “redo” make-replacement done in Python.
(tags: make coding development programming redo djb python)
tup | Home
Another make replacement. This one looks quite neat.
(tags: tools build development tup programming make)
This Is What It Will Be Like If Scotland Votes For Independence
Yes, it’s Buzzfeed, but it’s quite funny.
(tags: funny parody news scotland indepedence)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
Jazz Dance Film Fest 2014
Bunch of fun dancing films. I like the rubber ducky.
(tags: dancing lindy lindyhop balboa film jazz)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
Implementing non-recursive make
Recursive makes are considered harmful. Here’s a recipe for a non-recursive one where you can still put project files in subdirectories.
(tags: make programming nonrecursive makefiles build software)
Embedded in Academia : Proposal for a Friendly Dialect of C
John Regehr and friends note that C compilers aggressive optimising around use of constructs the spec says are “undefined” can lead to unexpected behaviour. They propose a friendly C dialect where compilers would produce unspecified values in response to use of these constructs, but would not feel free to make demons fly out of your nose.
(tags: C programming language software-engineering)
The Left must reject the relativism at the heart of the Rotherham scandal | Left Foot Forward
This, from Al Razi of Ex-Muslim Forum, seems a sensible response, although as the worlds only impartial observer, I’d say that both the class of the victims and the race of both victims and perpetrators contributed to the horrors being ignored for so long. The Guardian will only talk about the former and the Telegraph about the latter, I suspect.
(tags: rotherham abuse religion islam news multiculturalism)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.
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