New York Times: A Time for Revisiting Real Fears. In which the writer visits a number of places in Ukraine, and reflects on a few artifacts from the nuclear past that never happened.

No one is building backyard fallout shelters or conducting Civil Defense drills as they did during the Cold War. More people seem worried about the next Fukushima than the very real possibility of a nuclear attack. In a talk last month, Gareth Evans, an Australian diplomat, politician and spokesman for disarmament, described this surreal disconnect: “That the world has managed to survive nearly 70 years without a nuclear holocaust — deliberately or accidentally initiated — is not a matter of the inherent stability of nuclear deterrence, or the wisdom of statesmen and the systems they oversee, but rather sheer, dumb luck.”

Getting to yes

One of the most provocative pieces of writing I have come across in the last few years is Twisty Faster’s zany consent scheme. This is the sort of post where you start out thinking, “What?! No.” and then end up realizing that no only does it make perfect sense but also that you should probably try working towards creating a world where it is the norm. Twisty’s argument, basically, is that the current framework around consent and sex is backwards — sex is consensual until someone says “no.” In her opening paragraph, she points out the problem with this:

Although this condition does not obtain with regard to any other crime you can think of, when it comes to rape, women are currently considered to exist in a state of perpetual “yes!”. This is because “yes!” is consistent with global accords governing fair use of women. Victims of robbery or attempted murder don’t have to prove that they said no to being robbed or murdered; the presumption is that not even women would consent to being killed. But because penetration by males is what women are for, if we are raped we have to prove not just that we didn’t say yes, which is impossible to prove, but that we specifically and emphatically said no, which is also impossible to prove.

Her “wacky” solution is to spin this around:

According to my scheme, women would abide in a persistent legal condition of not having given consent to sex. Conversely, men, who after all are constantly declaiming that their lack of impulse control is a product of evolution and there’s not a thing they can do about it, would abide in a persistent legal state of pre-rape. Women can still have all the hetero-sex they want; if they adjudge that their dude hasn’t raped them, all they have to do is not call the cops.

This is the point where you can usually hear all the men screaming about how unfair it is they might end up getting tagged as a rapist after the fact. To which my reply is, “Then maybe you shouldn’t engage in dodgy sex with women who might have some reason to feel they didn’t consent to it.” Hey now — it turns out the way to not be a rapist is to not rape women, and the way to ensure you never get accused of being a rapist is to never put yourself in the position of maybe kinda sorta possibly being one. The murk that exists out there on this point is not an unavoidable consequence of human interaction; it’s there because a certain kind of guy wants his actions to be obscured (or at least deniable). Twisty says that her scheme would force men to align their boinking habits appropriately, and I suspect she’s probably right.

The logic here is undeniable. After you think about this for a while, it actually becomes infuriating that the world doesn’t already work this way. So it was really exciting to see that California has enacted a law that does exactly this. “The new law seeks both to improve how universities handle rape and sexual assault accusations and to clarify the standards, requiring an “affirmative consent” and stating that consent can’t be given if someone is asleep or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. “Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent,” the law states, “nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.”” Well hey! How about that? OK, it applies to educational institutions in California, but it’s a start.

The usual suspects — and by that, I mean the brigades of men who need to comment on these kinds of stories — are making a huge fuss about how this is the death of romance and it’s deeply unsexy and it requires all kinds of notarized depositions about cons– you know what, shut up. Free advice: If you’re having sex with someone and there’s any inclination that the other person isn’t into it, STOP AND ASK QUESTIONS. That’s all there is to it. Be a person, have a soul, treat the other person as a person and not as a masturbatory aide, and you won’t be accused of being a rapist under these guidelines. It’s real simple.

This isn’t perfect. It applies only to California’s public universities, for one, and it relates to administrative proceedings, not criminal law. But what you’re seeing here is a wholesale change in rape culture — it’s the first step in recognizing that consent for sex, like consent for most things, is an affirmative process and acknowledges that the bodily autonomy for women is no longer negotiable (or subject to the whims of horny dudes). It’s a huge step in the right direction, and California should be applauded for it.

Shorting yourself

Richard Aboulafia:

Executives who think we live in a Soviet economy draw bad conclusions. “We can’t seem to get any more $22,000 a year pilots to meet our needs! Our competitors are paying $26,000 per year, and they’re winning. There’s a pilot shortage!” Or, even stranger, “People aren’t willing to get an engineering degree to start a career in aerospace with the constant risk of being fired. There is an engineer shortage!” Or strangest of all, “We were paying $5 per pound for Material X. We’re now paying $6. There’s a shortage of Material X!”

Most of these executives aren’t idiots. Sure, by whining about a “shortage,” they’re being incredibly passive about their business, but most are just looking for a handout. They’ve done the math, and even though more experienced pilots, engineers, and machinists are more capable, it’s more profitable to employ lower paid new starts. Yet working conditions and wages often aren’t good enough to get these. That’s where government comes in. Training subsidies are a popular way for state and local politicians to support industry. Even at the national level, President Obama has proposed a government/industry scheme to train 10,000 new US engineers each year. As a 51-year old mid-career market analyst, I’m deeply grateful that nobody is thinking of a government program to train hundreds of new market analysts every year.

Remember this the next time someone whines about how hard it is to find good help.

You know what to do with this

Version: GnuPG v2.0.21 (MingW32)


A very British apocalypse III

(Previously, previously)

BBC: “WWIII Queen’s speech” script revealed. It is exactly what you think it is:

Although it was only a simulation, the text of the Queen’s address – written as if broadcast at midday on Friday 4 March 1983 – seeks to prepare the country for the ordeal of World War III.

The script, which starts off by referring to the Queen’s traditional Christmas address, reads: “The horrors of war could not have seemed more remote as my family and I shared our Christmas joy with the growing family of the Commonwealth.

“Now, this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds.

Protect and survive.

Out of my head

During last week’s leader’s debate on the radio, John Cummin, the head of the BC Conservative Party, made a comment about the carbon tax being disproportionately burdensome on northerners and business. His argument, as best I could tell, was that the tax needed to be repealed because it was driving prices on goods in the north up, and making it expensive for businesses in the oil and gas sector to dig stuff out of the ground and make money. I say “as best I could tell,” because as you might have guessed, I was busy shouting at the radio while all this was going on. (I note that I am, in this respect, turning into my father — not my father when he was my age, mind you, but my father now. This is exactly as distressing as you think it is.)

Driving up the price of stuff is the whole point of the carbon tax. I know it wasn’t sold like that, and I know we all hate the idea of paying more in taxes, but this is the one good thing the BC Liberals have done for this province over the last three terms. The one bad spot is that they made it revenue neural, in theory returning all the money to taxpayers, so it doesn’t actually hurt anyone, which sort of defeats the purpose of having a carbon tax. It’s supposed to hurt! It’s supposed to get you to make different choices! And, as it turns out, there’s some evidence that it’s doing exactly that. One might also think that part of the reason we haven’t seen as dramatic a shift as expected is not because the tax doesn’t work, but because it’s currently too low — only the Green Party seems even remotely interested in taxing carbon at an appropriate rate. And they’re not going to form the government, so who cares what they think?

I understand the complaint that taxing carbon and building that cost into the price of goods in northern BC is annoying and probably unfair. But here’s the thing: living in northern BC is actually expensive on the basis of carbon emissions! It costs a lot, in dollars and time and CO2, to get stuff up there, and if we were going to design a province from the ground up on the basis of what made sense from an emissions control perspective, putting a bunch of people way up north is probably not a choice we’d make today. Incidentally, the carbon burden of northern Canada — the costs of shipping diesel fuel up north, the emissions from burning it — are a good argument to look at alternative sources of power and heat up north. Given the climate that leaves pretty much only one option, but good luck with that. If we’re going to get real about climate change people are going to have to get over their paranoia about nuclear power, and if you thought selling the carbon tax was a tough job… Maybe George Monbiot can help out.

Living up north carries costs. I get that for a lot of people it wasn’t an explicit choice — you were born there, your life is there, so you stay put — but it’s a choice nonetheless, and I’m all in favor of making the consequences of those choices as visible as possible, so people can make informed choices. It’s the same thing that happens when northern BC suddenly realizes it doesn’t really have a good strategy to deal with trauma, or any other kind of serious, acute medical problem. It’s not discriminatory, and it’s not by design, it’s just the way it works: providing that kind of service to that geographical area is incredibly difficult, and we as a province have judged it unfeasible. (From a clinical perspective even throwing money at this problem won’t help; it’s part of the reason why we don’t have an interventional cardiology program in Prince George — the numbers aren’t there to get the operators the volume they need to maintain competency, and that would also be true of any trauma program, which by its nature is interdisciplinary.)

It sounds like I’m kind of ragging on folks in northern BC (and northern Canada, more broadly). I’m not. I am, however, pointing out that our settlement patterns are sub-optimal from an environmental, financial, and health care provision standpoint, and I’m amazed that there are folks in this day and age who seem to feel as though this is somehow unfair.

Winning the Internet


It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that the monotreme is a leftover portfolio piece from when God was a freelancer and had no choice but to prioritize getting features out to the door over expendables like this makes any fucking sense whatsoever. I’m a staunch evolutionist but really, if you assume that the Intelligent Designer was accompanied by a Bonus-Driven Product Manager, a lot more of nature starts to make sense.


I am hoping that the events of the past week or so have finally demonstrated exactly how unhinged elements of the conservative universe are. And one would hope beyond hope that Rush Limbaugh will finally, finally, finally be banished from polite society (and, one might also hope, impolite society as well). I’m not holding my breath, though; we’ve been down this road before, and I wouldn’t bet that in a month we’re not going to be referring to this as a new normal. If nothing else, I hope this episode helps to reinforce what people like Melissa McEwan have been saying for a long, long time — there’s a war on, the war is on women, and the wrong side is winning.

This matters to everybody. It’s not just about women’s health care, though that matters a great deal. It is, fundamentally, about the notion that we have no obligation towards each other, and that anyone who feels differently is a leach, a parasite, a drag on society, who must be denigrated at all costs and cast out as the evil degenerate she is. That this two-minutes-hate currently involves women is doubly offensive, but it does illustrate exactly how much misogyny is really out there, and how the functional control of women, and in particular the control of women’s reproductive health, is the real driving factor. Make no mistake, this isn’t about public health or insurance coverage requirements or anything of the sort: this is about ensuring the continuing subjugation of women. Consider, for the moment, that since this controversy is really about private insurance plans covering contraception, not tax dollars — it takes a willful disregard of the blatantly obvious facts (like, who is paying for this — to say nothing of the fucking biology involved here) to turn this into a public policy issue, but even if it was the willingness of the American right to casually refer to women who take hormonal contraceptives as sluts and whores is shocking. Do you not know any women at all? is what goes through my head; I’m guessing they do, but they don’t care, because they have no souls.

Jon Steward is typically excellent on this one (Canadian link, more practically useful American link) and you should watch the segment appropriately entitled “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Gross.” The nail, as it were, that Stewart hit:

I’m just saying to the people who are upset about their hard-earned tax money going to things they don’t like: welcome to the fucking club. Everyone pays for shit they don’t want to all the time. You know what? Reimburse me for the Iraq war and the oil subsidies, and guess what, then diaphragms are on me. No — prophylactics are on the house. (You should rent Goodfellas, I think you’ll like that scene.)

It’s called society. These fuckers are trying to undo all of it. Don’t let them.

On the littler guys

You might have noticed recently there are a bunch of protests erupting all over the place. The arguments of the protestors are, to be sure, unfocused and confusing. I have some level of sympathy for these guys as a group, but that’s not really what I’ve been thinking about recently. Instead, I’ve been thinking about the people who are on the other side.

(Warning: Long, unfocused rant.)

Continue reading “On the littler guys”

Currently reading

Or, my tabdump for 18 September 2011, potentially of interest to some people I know read this blog: