Saturday, July 25, 2015

Help! (money) (updated )

[Added] Thank you.

Bad things have been averted.  Now if I can just managed to get a decent post up so this isn't the most recent thing.


A month and a half ago I made a purchase of $143.47 only to find out that the thing was on back order.  What I failed to notice at the time was that the company, rather nicely actually, didn't charge me then because, you know, they weren't giving me the thing yet.

Various stuff has happened since then and now that they do have the thing and have submitted the charge I don't have the money.

Right now the charge is in limbo in my Paypal account and if I can get the money in the account before it leaves limbo then nothing bad will happen.  If I can't then Paypal will (I think) notice that the money isn't the account and automatically try to wire transfer the money from my checking account at my bank.  That also doesn't have the money which means that I'll get hit with a fee.  At this stage I think the bank will, in an effort to be helpful, automatically try to transfer the money from my savings account which likewise doesn't have the money.  There might be another penalty for trying to remove money that I don't have at all from the bank, at this point the bank will have run out of options and thus Paypal will know it isn't getting paid by the bank which I think probably results in a couple more bad things, and if I'm lucky the bad ends there.*

But the bad is bad.

So, if you happen to have $148.22 (I think that's what one has to pay for it to be $143.47 after Paypal takes its cut) you don't need and you'd like to help me, please donate as soon as possible.


One of the most aggravating things about this is that the problem is a question of timing.  I'm getting ready to sell a bunch of stuff.  Part of the reason that I'm so low on money and even credit right now is doing the prep work that went into being ready and able to sell said stuff.

If it happened earlier I could have held off on the preparations and thus not be in this much trouble.  If it happened later then, hopefully, the selling stuff will have gone well and I'd have the money available.


* I honestly don't know what happens if the automatic back up method doesn't work.  I hope it doesn't go to some tertiary method because Paypal knows what my credit cards are and asking them for money I don't have on them could result in even more bad.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The modern meaning of “Politically Correct” may have best been described by professional asshole and moral black hole Lee Atwater

The term has been used in various ways over they decades, but the modern meaning is pretty well fixed.  You know what it means when someone says, "This isn't politically correct, but..."  You have that knowledge in a way beyond words, though.  It's visceral not verbal.  Can you say what it means?

Various people have tried.  Neil Gaiman called political correctness, "treating other people with respect," and certainly there's an element of that there.  When someone says, "This isn't politically correct," it generally does mean, "This doesn't treat other people with respect," but the thing is that what is politically correct doesn't necessarily treat other people with respect either.

Likewise, what is politically correct changes over time in ways that don't necessarily match the ways treating other people with respect change.

So what does it really mean?

Strangely, I think it was best summed up in a statement, which was made before the modern idea of political correctness solidified and never mentioned the idea of "politically correct", from Lee Atwater.

In an interview in 1981 someone asked about the way Reagan's policies of cutting aid gain him the support of formerly democratic racist voters of the '68 Wallace bloc.  You don't need to understand what any of the previous sentence means to understand the answer.

Do be aware, though, that the answer includes a racial slur repeated four times in rapid succession.
You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff.
The message didn't really change, if I'd gone on for a couple more sentences we'd see Atwater water things down with "subconsciously maybe" and so forth, but the core is right there, and it's basically a perfect show of what political correctness really is.

The message hasn't changed.  The words have.  Suddenly (well, gradually) the racial slur is something you don't say in polite company and it makes you look like an asshole.  So, what's an asshole to do?  Use different words to say the same thing.  (If you can.)

That's the core of it.

At some point in the progression of any group's rights it becomes uncouth to verbally treat them like shit in public.  At that point the politically correct thing is to not treat them like shit in public.

This is, in fact, a necessary component of treating other people with respect, but it is not sufficient.

The result is that people view political correctness in very different ways.

Some people don't want to be assholes.  As such, it doesn't even occur to them to want to say the 1954 thing.  Being politically correct isn't bothersome to them, it's not even a concern.  If they learn they've been doing something that isn't politically correct they'll stop doing it (or try, depending on how ingrained it is) because they don't want to be an asshole.  The fact that it's politically incorrect won't even play a role in them stopping.

Some people don't really mind being assholes, but they certainly don't want to be seen as being assholes.  To them, then, political correctness is a way to be the assholes they want to be, or appeal to assholes whose support they want, without saying, "I'm an asshole," directly.  For them, then, being politically correct is a tool to do something without overt, or at least without obvious, indicators that they're doing it.  In their view political correctness is sufficient.

And some people see the whole idea of not being an overt asshole as infringing on their right to say whatever the fuck they want.  It isn't, because you can still say politically incorrect things (again, modern parlance), but there is a structural disincentive.  They don't like the idea that they'll be branded as an asshole for refusing to hide the fact they're an asshole.

Political correctness is bad for them because once upon a time people had the privilege of spouting racial slurs (or whatever the assholicness in question is) without any push-back but now if they do that they're looked down on.

Others completely miss what the whole exercise is about and think that political correctness is a bunch of meaningless hoops to jump through.  For them it seems like the important thing is that they know what is and what is not politically correct, rather than that they actually consider the content of their words or actions.  As such saying, "I know this isn't politically correct, but..." is the same as tacking, "bless [possessive pronoun] heart," on to the end of a string of insults: it makes it all ok.*

There are various other views as well, but I'm running out of steam for this post so I'll wrap up.


Rule one is not enforced.  In many ways it can't be enforced.  There are too many ways to be an asshole and, moreover, making someone stop being an asshole requires changing their mind.  Rules can't really do that.  In other ways it shouldn't be enforced.  Who gets to decide what being an asshole means if we make it against the rules to be an asshole?

But prohibitions on certain behaviors can be enforced --some legally, others informally.

Political correctness is an informal enforcement of the idea that you shouldn't be an overt bigoted asshole against groups we as a culture find worthy.  It is, as a result, a very low bar to meet.  For political correctness to be against you you have to be behind the culture as a whole.  You've got to be trying to use the 1954 language in 1968 or, worse still, 1980 (the interview was in 1981, recall.)  By 2015 most people wouldn't even think to call the 1954 language "politically incorrect"; it's just wrong in the eyes (ears?) of the dominant culture.

The way political correctness is enforced isn't any goose stepping jackbooted PC police, it's instead by people hearing the politically incorrect thing and thinking, "What an asshole," about the person saying it.

That's political correctness.  Being an overt asshole toward a group that is no longer seen as an acceptable target is politically incorrect and the punishment for such overt assholistry is that the politically incorrect words or actions will be seen as assholic.

What is considered overt and who no longer constitutes an acceptable target changes over time.

And that, basically, is the whole thing.

Or, at least, that's my attempt to describe the modern meaning of political correctness.


* He's a lying, thieving, cheating, scum-sucking, dog-licking, spit-swimming, spider-eating, goat-hugging, dung-smearing, pig-kissing, frog-swallowing, mud-biting, cow-tipping, toilet-swabbing, cud-shoeing, window-washing, half-warped, apple-polishing, worm-witted, chicken-hearted, lamb-lusting, nefarious, untrustworthy, nasty person, bless his heart.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

But what about Ceres?

A lot of astronomy is built out of mistakes, misunderstandings, fuzzy reasoning, insults, pop culture, and so forth.  In other words: its pretty much like everyone else.

The big bang was neither a big nor a bang.  The name was a pejorative coined by someone who wanted to make the entire idea sound as absurd as possible.

Planets are wanderers.  Except... they're moving a hell or a lot less than the "fixed" stars since they remain in the same solar system as us while the fixed stars feel no such restraints.

Asteroid literally means "starlike" --or "starish" if you prefer-- but they're not remotely like stars.

The number of planets in the solar system was once in the 20s and climbing before we decided that the asteroids didn't really count.  Hence the title of this post.  Ceres was a planet, then it wasn't.  Now, at last, it is a (dwarf) planet again.  For some reason no one cares about her as much as Pluto.  (Because Pluto has a dog named after him?  Because Pluto is male?  Because people don't like harvest goddesses?  I don't know.)

Anyway, I try to avoid the news.  I try, but it seeks me out.  It crashes in on my self imposed bubble and threatens to send me spiraling back into depression and hopelessness in spite of my medication.  Except... sometimes the news is good.

Remember that probe we shot off toward Pluto?  It finally got there.  You probably already knew that, but I only just noticed.

When Pluto joined Ceres in the new category of dwarf planet, the best image we had of Pluto was a few pixels.  Almost everything was guesswork.  Now we know what it looks like.

As you might imagine, it's fucking awesome.

So say hello to the tenth planet (if you thought "9th" then shame on you; Ceres!) if you haven't already, and look at the pretty, pretty pictures.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The months of May, June, and July

Normally during my monthly post drawing attention to the donation button I also talk about the month because it's a monthly post and I like to have content other than, "Please give me money," even though the point of the posts is, in fact: "Please give me money."

I've been out of sorts and off schedule for a while now, and for the past three months (if we include this month) I haven't had the monthly reminders and thus have not talked about the months.


May was originally the 3rd month of a ten month year and had 31 days, when January and February were added it got kicked back to five but retained its 31 days.  That makes it a long month so the ides are on the 15th.  May was not changed in the Julian or Gregorian reforms to the calendar.

May is named after Maia which is kind of weird.  Maia is a Greek goddess.  It would be like if March had been named Aresy or something Ares-rooted instead of being named after Mars.

That said, Maia actually has a much richer tradition amoung the Romans and it is even possible that Roman Maia =/= Greek Maia.  Anyway, she was about growth.

On the other hand, it might have been named not after Maia but the maiores (elders, ancestors, forefathers) who the Romans venerated in their private religion and held up as exemplars in public life.


June was originally the fourth month of 30 days.  When January and February were added it became the sixth month and lost a day.  Thus reduced, it was a short month meaning the ides fall on the 13th.

In the Julian reform gave it the thirtieth day back.  So it has remained to this day.

The gods are in dispute over the origin of the name of this month.  Juno claims it as here own.  Youth (Juventas) claims it as hers and points out that when Junior for June is paired with Maiores for May the two form a nice thematic pair.  Meanwhile Concordia claims it comes from the word meaning "to join" (jungo, junctus) and is in honor of the joining of the Romans and Sabines.

If the Trojan War has taught humnaity nothing else, it should have taught us that one should not get involved in a dispute between three goddesses.


Originally the fifth month of the year, July began it's existence with the uninspiring name "Fifth" (Quintilis.)  It was thus the first of the number months that filled out the ten month year after the four named months.

It originally had 31 days and kept them throughout its history.  That makes it a long month meaning the ides are on the 15th.

While various reforms would leave the month untouched, the name was changed after the death of Julius Caesar.  It was changed to honor him, thus: July.


And those are the months we missed.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Money Begging Post

The fact that it has been three months since I last did a money begging post in spite of the fact that I'm supposed to have a monthly reminder that, "Hey, I have a donation button if you'd like to use it," should in no way be taken to mean that I don't need money.  Debts have been slowly accumulating, I probably need a new washing machine, my glasses are currently held together by a twisty tie and ought to be replaced but first I need to get my eyes checked because the prescription on these ones was out of date the last time I had my eyes checked (these are old glasses that I kept in case of emergency, said emergency turned out to be my most recently glasses going MIA presumed FDT*) I'd like to be able to attend the next semester at my slowly dying university but that's a nice solid 2 to 4 thousand dollars I don't have on top of all of the above ... and stuff.

So, you know, don't let the radio silence make you think that I won the lottery or something.  The money situation still sucks.

Tomorrow I think I'll try to do a post on the month histories I missed by not having regularly scheduled "Donation Reminder/How this month got to be this month" posts.


*Flushed Down Toilet

Friday, July 17, 2015

Gender Representation in Skylanders

Skylanders, for those who don't know, is a franchise that uses wireless technology to intigrate a toy line with video games.  Disney has copied the idea with Infinity and Nintendo has with Amiibo.  The short version is that you place a figurine on a sensor and you can play as that character in the game (also the character information is stored on the figurine so if you bring yours to play at someone else's house the character will still have the same attributes and equipment as when you leveled up and customized it on your system.)

There's a lot of discussion to be had about the implications of this in terms of business models, and I personally think that the Skylanders franchise has been on both sides of the line between being reasonable and being assholes in terms of how they've handled things there, but that's not what I want to talk about.

I like dragons.  This is probably not too surprising since I make no attempt to hide the fact that dragons and unicorns are at the top of the list of mythic things that I WANT TO BE FUCKING REAL, LIKE RIGHT NOW! (Also note that real unicorns have cloven hooves.  Horses with spear-horns coming out of their heads are cool, but they're not unicorns.)

Back on track, I like dragons so I wondered if it were possible to have an all dragon team in Skylanders.  Skylanders divides things into "elements" for the first three games there were eight (Magic, Air, Water, Life, Earth, Undead, Tech, and Fire in no particular order) the most recent game added two more (Light and Dark.)  Certain things are only accessible to certain elements and, while it became more complex as the series went on and tried to drive figure sales up, I was basically thinking one of each element.

And the answer was: Yes.  In the beginning there were four characters per element and one of each was a dragon.  The new elements only have one regular character each, both dragons.  Anyway, looking at the dragons led me to notice gender.

Before we get to what about dragons brought me to gender, we need to get this out of the way: the characters in Skylanders are all in the gender binary.  This, itself, is fucked up.  The cast includes plants (trees, zucchini so forth,) fungus (probably only mushrooms, though I haven't checked) inanimate materials of various sorts given form (magma, rock, so forth) robots that don't even resemble any biological species (gender binary or not), fictional species of all sorts, and so on.

There's no reason that all of these characters should be shoved into the categories of male and female.  They are, though, so that's what I'll be talking about.

So, where was I?  Dragons.

When I initially played Skylanders the elder weasel would often inquire why I played as a female character so much (generally I played with the munchkin weasel who asked no such questions) and the answer was that, at that time, they had only two dragons and both were female.  Or maybe it was three and all three were female.

Anecdotes like that are why random samples that are as large as possible are necessary.

Of the original eight dragons six were male and two were female.

This has expanded.  Now there are eighteen and six are female.  Thus the girl dragons went from being outnumbered 3 to 1 by the boys to being outnumbered 2 to 1 by them, but it's more complicated than that because there are subcatagories and it doesn't make sense to lump all of the dragons together so it's really more reasonable to say 14 of which 5 are female, which is slightly better than being outnumbered two  to one, but still crap.

To really get a picture of what's going on we need to look at more than just dragons and we need to start breaking things into categories.

I've already talked about the eight main elements, then there are the core skylanders (most dragons are included in this), giants (introduced in Skylanders:Giants), swap force (introduced in Skylanders: Swap Force), Trap Masters (introduced in Skylanders: Trap Team), and Minis (they've always been there but weren't full characters until Trap Team.)

So, first let's look at the core Skylanders:

Cobra Cadabra
Double Trouble
Dune Bug
Pop Fizz
Wrecking Ball
Déjà Vu
Star Strike
Fling Kong
Lightning Rod
Pop Thorn
Sonic Boom
Flip Wreck
Gill Grunt
Rip Tide
Slam Bam
Punk Shock
Bumble Blast
Food Fight
High Five
Stump Smash
Zoo Lou
Stealth Elf
Fist Bump
Prism Break
Rocky Roll
Slobber Tooth
Chop Chop
Fright Rider
Funny Bone
Ghost Roaster
Grim Creeper
Bat Spin
Roller Brawl
Drill Sergeant
Tread Head
Trigger Happy
Hot Dog
Trail Blazer

If that chart looks somewhat lopsided to you, I'm inclined to agree.  For some reason Undead seerms to be particularly kind to female characters, but they're still slightly out numbered.

It just so happens that the distribution of male and female characters would, in a non-sexist but still binary conforming world, be in the form of an important mathematical distribution (the binomial distribution) and so, since you need the internet to be reading this, the appropriate numbers are at your fingertips.  To save you a trip in google, I'll just list it for you here.

Expected number of groups
With X Female characters
if this is not sexist
Actual Number
X = Zero
X = One
X = Two
X = Three
X = Four
X = Five
X = Six
X = Seven
X = Eight
X = Nine

There can never actually be the "expected number" because the probabilities never actually hit a whole number, so there should always be a non-zero value in the "Difference" column.  The thing is, in the absence of bias the difference from expectation would be distributed randomly, instead (ignoring the extreme case of no female characters at all) the places where there are more examples than expected are exclusively where female characters are outnumbered two to one or more.

It actually took until the third game before there was at least one female character in each element.

The second game introduced giants.  There was only one giant per element so there's no point in breaking things down by element

Eye Brawl
Hot Head
Tree Rex

That's pretty well balanced, I think we can agree.

Sarcasm mode off it's kind of fucked up when your male characters outnumber your female ones seven to one.  Also, as a reminder of the fact that they didn't need to have the gender binary at all: One of them is a walking tree.

The third game introduced the Swap Force which had two members per element.  If one were going for realism two elements would have only female characters, two elements would have only male characters, and four would have one of each (or thereabouts) because that's what choosing randomly would yield.  If they were going for representation, they'd just have one male and one female in each element.

Here's how it actually worked out:

MagicHoot Loop
Trap Shadow

AirBoom Jet
Free Ranger

WaterFreeze Blade
Wash Buckler

LifeGrilla Drilla
Stink Bomb

EarthDoom Stone
Rubble Rouser

UndeadNight Shift
Rattle Shake

TechMagna Charge
Spy Rise

FireBlast Zone
Fire Kraken

I'm going to let you draw your own conclusions on that list.

Then came trap team which added trap masters.  The new elements (Light and Dark) have very small rosters, but manage an even split in said rosters (each element has a male and female character, between the elements they have two trap masters -one male one female- and two core skylanders -one male one female.)

As for the existing elements:



Snap Shot

LifeBushwackTuff Luck
EarthWallopHead Rush
UndeadKrypt King
Short Cut

TechJawbreakerGear Shift

It's ... um... better than they did with Swap Force.  There are female characters this time, after all.  They're outnumbered more than four to one, but at least they exist.

And having to say statements like that probably says all that needs to be said about the problem, but there's one more category.

As the name "mini" suggests, the minis are smaller versions of standard Skylanders.  The minis started out as "Sidekicks" though the term overstates their usefulness.  For three games all that a mini/sidekick could do was walk around next to a full fledged character and occasionally look at things.  They weren't characters you could play, they were more of an accessory you could put on.  Put on a hat, put on an entourage, that sort of thing.

Trap team changed that by making them playable characters in their own right and expanding their roster to two per element (but none for the new elements)

AirPet VacBreeze
WaterGill Runt

LifeBarkleyWhisper Elf

UndeadEye SmallHi-jinx
Trigger Snappy

FireSmall Fry

And now we come to the thing: Skylanders makes very sure never to assume that the player is male because it is not a boys' game.  It's just a game.  Girls very definitely like it too.  But girls who want to play as girls (and others who want to play as girls as well) have much more limited options.

Want a male trap master?  You can be anything (except for the new under populated element that is Dark) Want a female trap master?  Your options are Life, Earth, and Tech (and the new under populated element that is Dark.)

Want a female Swap Force member?  You're out of luck.  Want a female giant?  Hope you like magic (and katanas.)

Want to play as a female life character?  For three games you only had one option, though you could also have a mini version of her tag along.  Now the mini has been upgraded to full character and there's a trap master, so there are three options.  Want to play as a male life character?  You have 13 choices.  That's not even the most skewed element.

It definitely doesn't have to be this way, but it is.

And Skylanders is hardly alone in being like this.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Band names, movie names, noun adjuncts, and substantives.

It is possible that someone recognized:
If you look up at the movie and think this might be the computer animated story of a redheaded girl/woman with punk pigtails who participates in seedy robot fights...
As the beginning of the movie Big Hero 6.  I have sort of seen the movie now, but not with sound, and so do not feel qualified to talk about it.  Though it definitely wasn't about the redheaded girl/woman (it can be hard to tell with computer animation and a middling age) with punk pigtails who participates in seedy robot fights.  Pretty sure she never appears in another scene.

When the movie came out and I was hearing the name a lot I initially said, "I haven't seen one through five."  Only to find out that that wasn't what the "6" is all about.  There are six of them, you see.

This, in turn, confused me.  Then it should be "Six Big Heroes" and even if you switched the adjective to the predicate position and dropped the copula (which would be hideously bad grammar) it would be "Big Heroes, Six"

While I was talking about this (back then, not just now) Lonespark said that I was making an overly large deal about there not being a "The" at the front and it threw me for a loop.  I initially had no idea what she was talking about and, for reasons I don't remember now, was not able to get clarification because the phone call had to end.

What finally came to my rescue was "The Dave Clark Five".  It has the same form as, "The Big Hero Six," and is a perfectly acceptable thing to say.  So, what is it that makes "The Dave Clark Five" or "The Big Hero Six" perfectly acceptable while "Big Hero Six" throws up a red flag?

First off, the nouns have switched function.  They're adjuncts.  They're adjective-like but not adjectives.  The major difference is that adjuncts come after adjectives.  You can say "The New Dave Clark Five," but not, "The Dave Clark New Five," (the closest you can manage is "Dave Clark's New Five," but in that case "Dave Clark's" is acting as a determiner and thus displacing "The".)

Other than word order, Noun adjuncts function pretty much exactly like adjectives.  They can modify nouns (in "The college student" 'college' is a noun adjunct and functions just like the adjective in "The bright student,") and adjectives (in "the puke green car" 'puke' is a noun adjunct modifying 'green' like 'bright' modifies 'green' in "the bright green student",)

Since Dave Clark is relegated to adjunct we know it can't be the main noun of the noun phrase.  Now it's vaguely important that noun adjuncts don't take determiners.  "The college student" is "The student," first, and "college" as a description of what kind of student, never "Student" first and "The college" as what kind of student.  You can't use an adjunct to say "The student who goes to my college" because "My college student" will always mean "my student" not "My college".

Non-determiners are trickier.  Adjuncts can have adjectives (and even adjuncts of their own.)  Since adjuncts come after both adjectives that modify the noun they modify and ones that modify themselves, it can be unclear which type of adjective a word is.  Thus, "The Big Hero Six" could be "The Big Six" modified by "Hero" or "The Six" modified by "Big Hero." There is no way to tell.

I'm assuming, "Big Hero" is a unit since The Six actually come in various sizes.

But that's not important.  We've covered adjuncts, but that doesn't tell us why "The Big Hero Six" is standard grammar while, "Big Hero Six" is either non-standard or implies that there exist Big Heroes one through five.

Which brings us to another thing.  "Six" can be a noun, but when it is it refers exclusively to the number six.  Why was six afraid of seven?"  You don't need to modify it because there is only one six.

Usually, though, "six" is an adjective.  "The six stages of morality."  (Six modifies stages.)  "I have six apples."  (Six modifies apples.)

Just as a noun can be used like an adjective as an adjunct, though, an adjective can be used like a noun as a substantive.  My first inclination was to call this articular (an articular infinitive is a Greek verb that is made to act like a noun by sticking an article in front of it) but it works with more than just articles.  For example:
These six, my six, some six, whichever six, her six, et cetera
Instead what it needs is a determiner, which is a broader class.  But the thing is that it needs a determiner.

Old and new are adjectives that act as nouns in, "Out with the old, in with the new."  You can swap out the "the" for another determiner:
Out with these old, in with those new.
Out with an old, in with a new.
Out with your old, in with your new.
Out with some old, in with some new.
Out with no old, in with no new.
but what you can't do is drop the determiner entirely:
Out with old, in with new.
Without a determiner the adjective is just an adjective, not a substantive.  "The dispossessed" is a group that has been screwed over, "Dispossessed," is impossible to interpret without seeing the noun to which it is attached.

Thus "The five" of "The Dave Clark Five" functions as a noun but the word "six," in "Big Hero Six" does not.

All of that said, one could theorize that the name of the movie is perfectly accurate and does in fact refer to the sixth big hero.  Not the sixth "Big Hero" movie, but the sixth member of the squad.  Certainly one can divide the six members such that Big Heroes one through five are homogeneous and number six is different.

Anyway: grammar.


Well after finishing writing, it occurred to me that a really good example of a substantive in action is, "Make new friends, but keep the old."  "The old" stands for "old friends" or, one could argue, "the old ones," with "ones" standing in for "friends", but either way, even though structure makes it completely clear you're talking about friends, you still need a determiner on the adjective "old".

"Make new friends, but keep old," doesn't work.  It's not a proper sentence.  The first part has the form of half of a compound sentence, but the second part doesn't actually mean anything.