Best Things of 2018

Not (best (things of 2018)) but ((best things) of 2018), because recommendations get more interesting if they are rate-limited and less interesting if a recency constraint is imposed.

Best interactive web essay

By internet creators Vi Hart and Nicky Case; Parable of the polygons. Cute little triangles and squares get segregated in ways none of them ever intended against their best wishes.

Best portrait article

Portraying one of the most important trans people of the past few years, Vice Broadly’s piece on Caitlyn Jenner was a nice read.

Best economist’s story

On why setting maximum prices is bad. They Clapped by Michael Munger. Very salient, go read it.

Best academic talk

I see a lot of talks from computer science researchers, and CS people are surprisingly good at giving captivating talks. But, quoting Virginia Woolf,

[..] one must read [any book] as if it were the last volume in a fairly long series, continuing all those other books that I have been glancing at. For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, or page 52 in Penguin’s Vintage Mini “Liberty”

And so a talk must be considered in its social context. Based on this principle, the clear winner for this category is this keynote speech by James Mickens of Harvard University at USENIX Security 2018: Why Do Keynote Speakers Keep Suggesting That Improving Security Is Possible? Mickens is a captivating orator, the talk is funny and informative and gives a critical view on an important issue of the present day.

Best internet rabbit-hole

An old one for nostalgia. How to spot photo manipulation. Body By Victoria. Do click the links to follow-up posts, and the rest of the website is worth checking out as well.

Best description of psychologists

This text fragment reflects every interaction I’ve had with psychologists anywhere, both my gatekeepers and psychologists I visited for other reasons.

My anorexic patients sometimes complain of being forced into this mold. They’ll try to go to therapy for their inability to eat a reasonable amount of food, and their therapist will want to spend the whole time talking about their body image issues. When they complain they don’t really have body image issues, they’ll get accused of repressing it. Eventually they’ll just say “Yeah, whatever, I secretly wanted to be a ballerina” in order to make the therapist shut up and get to the part where maybe treatment happens.

Scott Alexander, Del Giudice On The Self-Starvation Cycle

Best video essay

This is not really a contest, Contrapoints’ The Aesthetic is the most beautiful piece of film I’ve seen in years. It is an honest expression of feelings and internal dialogue and conflict that trans women experience. It touches on so many uncomfortable issues without having any single clear message. Contrapoints raises the video essay to form of art. There is so much going on so many levels and I can just keep on watching the thing over and over again. Highly recommended watching for both trans and cis people.

The creator got quite some social media backlash on the video. There is exactly one reaction that I felt was worth watching. Nobody Wins: ContraPoints, The Aesthetic, and Negative Representation by let’s talk about stuff.

Best book

My choice of best book for 2018 is Aphro-ism by Aph Ko and Syl Ko. It is a blog-turned-book, with a number of brilliant essays on, among others, veganism and social justice. I cannot overstate how much I like this book. I learned a lot from reading this book, and not just about the book’s subject matter.

The writings of the Ko sisters are very far from every thought I’ve ever had. This fact is reflected in how much I learned from the book, as well as in how difficult it was to understand it. I’ve re-listened this book 5 times by now. The first time, I understood literally nothing. Each time after that I understood a bit more, and I feel I understand most parts now. Not yet at the level of being to explain the ideas, but at the level of seeing good use value in them.

Book review: The Hunger Games

My favourite book I’ve ever read is by far The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I first read it as a kid back in 2009, but I still love it. The book reframes some big societal issues in a way that makes the reader take a good look at themselves from an outside view. The fact that the setting is fictional and the social commentary is left implicit makes it all the more disarming and convincing.

The book follows Katniss Everdeen, a teenage girl from Panem, a country consisting of 12 poor districts that are ruled by the rich Capitol. Katniss lives in the very poorest district 12, in which most people are employed to mine coal for the rest of Panem. The protagonist herself provides for her family by illegal poaching and selling the spoils on the black market.

The plot of the first book revolves around the eponymous Hunger Games, a yearly televised bloodsport involving one teenage boy and one teenage girl from every district, chosen by an ingenious classicist lottery. Katniss and OneDimensionalBoyCharacter1 (ODBC1) are participating in this year’s game.

Katniss and ODBC1 are taken to the Capitol to prepare for the game. The citizens of the Capitol are decadently rich. After finishing dinner they will vomit so that they can get another extravagantly delicious serving, all while they are aware that the people in the poorest districts are literally starving to death.

The Hunger Games themselves take up most of the book. Everyone faces physical hardship, kids get killed. Katniss is doing pretty good, killing a couple of kids herself. Eventually she and ODBC1 team up, and eventually they start acting romantically affectionate towards each other. ODBC1 is sincere, while Katniss is just acting to get the viewers to like her, playing up a “star-crossed lovers” angle that was set up earlier.

Katniss and ODBC1 end up as the last living players and decide to eat deadly poisonous berries together because they don’t want to kill the other to win. The game makers quickly stop the game because they fear that it would ruin the public perception of the Hunger Games as a fun and non-cruel game. Katniss and ODBC1 get to share the win and go home traumatized. The establishment is not pleased about their ploy though, and the visible opposition to the rule of the Capitol is the first spark towards a revolution later in the book series.

What always hit me about the story is how it portrays the Hunger Games as a popular event among the citizens of the Capitol, and how shamelessly the Capitol enriches itself over the backs of the districts. The book implicitly asks “What should a morally conscious Capitol citizen do if they disagreed with the state of the world?” The story is so far removed from the real world that it allows you to ponder this question without immediately grasping the similarity with the countless real-world analogues.

I’ve found the Capitol/district relation very insightful and it got me to critically consider the state of the world. I estimate a decent probability that this book counterfactually made me an EA.

Archiving the Trans Girl Diaries

Between standing on the shoulders of giants and picking through my own old files, I compiled the most complete archive of the Trans Girl Diaries gag comics so far. Check it out, this stuff is amazing.

Where do these things come from?

Turns out I used wget’s mirror function on the website once. The most bulletproof setting for this command is

wget -mkE http://example.com

This stuff is so great. It makes a copy of an entire website, including all pages, images, CSS and Javascript. Use it to grab a blog for reading on the plane, to make a static WordPress site if you are worried about security exploits but dislike updating, or to save your favourite webcomic for posterity.

Trigger warnings

Suicide, gender dysphoria, violence, external transphobia, internalized transphobia, Bailey-Blanchard-Lawrence two-type transwomen classification, transphobia, really intense descriptions of gender dysphoria, TERFism, sexism, homophobia, womyn-born-womyn-ism, Harry Benjamin syndrome and an altogether too realistic view of transgenderism.

If you like r/tgcj you’ll probably like the Trans Girl Diaries.

Review

I love this stuff. The comics meant a lot to me when I was younger. They are relatable and funny and give insight into all the disturbing thoughts that are part of the Trans Woman Experience. Whether you are trans or not, it is worth checking out.

Lauren Southern can actually do basic science

Youtube’s recommendations are a mystery. I was watching my favourite “SJW” Youtube channels, and I got a suggestion for a contentless video titled “Transgender Professor INSULTS Jordan Peterson, Gets OWNED With Ease.” Never one to ignore the other tribe, I did watch half the video before giving up.

But now, YouTube thinks I am a conservative. When I get recommendations now, I don’t beforehand know the socio-political stance of the vloggers anymore. I got suggested Lauren Southern’s video below.

This video is really good. So I liked and subscribed as she told me to. Today, I took a look at her other videos. A quick review of some videos whose title suggested entry-level content.

The first video I watched is a speech at California Polytechnic State University titled Return of the Traditional Woman. It contained a nugget of information as to why they call it “cultural Marxism.”

What does feminism have to do with Marxism and what does Marxism have to do with traditionalism? The answer to that is everything! Feminism has been Marxism since the very beginning. [..] They’re all based on commenting class struggle: they’re based on the narrative of the oppresor and the oppressed.

I would never have guessed this, so I did learn something. Later on, Lauren talks about how Marx and Engels were supportive of women’s rights and that that is bad. All her critical science reading skills went out of the window for this video. 2/5 stars, not worth watching

It is easy to forget that the other tribe has internally consistent thought as much as your tribe. Watching some of their better Youtubers always reminds me of that fact. Here is the nicest one out of my sample, excluding the one up top.

Review: The Incredibles 2

Like everything, reviewing movies is probably a skill that you can practice. So that is what I do.

I went to The Incredibles 2 at the cinema. I have waited 15 years for this movie, and it was totally worth it. 10/10 will watch again.

The plot is based around Elastigirl (Helen Parr) getting a new job as a hero, while Mr Incredible (Bob Parr) has to stay home with the kids. Elastigirl’s plot has action scenes and a plot twist that kid-me would have enjoyed a lot. But to me, the real meat was in Bob’s part of the movie. Bob is not very good with his kids, and he is jealous that his wife gets to be a hero again. While that sounds like the most cliché sexist plot possible,  Brad Bird manages to make it work and make it good and make it not be sexist. Bob is a caring father with his own feelings and vulnerabilities. He is realistically capable but lacks practice in caring for his own kids, though he steadily improves over the course of the movie.

Together with the previous movie, the Incredibles has had 3 villains: Syndrome, the Underminer and the Screenslaver. All three are tech geniuses, and none are considered to have superpowers by any of the characters. I am not yet sure what kind of social commentary this is supposed to be.