Abstinence-Only Education Criticism | Part 2

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Due to recent events, here is a part 2 to my earlier post on abstinence “treatment”. Slightly more personal this time.

Eating Disorders

Reddit just banned /r/ProED and /r/ProEDmemes. I’m not sure what to say, other than that it sucks.

I’ve never had an eating disorder. I’ve flirted with it and my eating has never been healthy, but it has never interfered with my day-to-day functioning.

I liked ProEDmemes. Many posts were relatable, and the community has helped me through some dark spots. The people were lovely and caring, it was a place to relate and to vent. It wasn’t a place where eating disorders were encouraged, but one where eating disorders were accepted and everyone could work it out on their own pace, sharing and receiving help along the way.

Reddit is really convenient. You can easily participate in many different communities at once, so any single community can survive even when little fresh content gets posted. But for vulnerable communities, it doesn’t work so well.

I miss the old internet.

Veg*n dishes versus constrained optimization

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Mathematical optimization is concerned with  problems of the form \text{maximize~} f(x) \text{~ for ~} x \in X for some set X \subset Y and function f : Y \to \mathbb{R}. In this post, we’ll think of Y as the set of possible restaurant dishes, X\subset Y as the set of dishes satisfying certain constraints like being digestible, non-poisonous and not containing human flesh. The function f to optimize is some combination of price, healthyness and taste.

A first observation is that for any X' \subset X the maximum of f(x) over X' is no bigger than the maximum over X, for if x \in X' attains the maximum of f(x) over X', then also x \in X, so the maximum of f over X is at least f(x). In normal words, if you restrict your diet, you can miss out on good dishes, but never gain access to better dishes than on an unrestricted diet.

From this, we could deduce that you should never pick a vegan dish in a restaurant because the non-vegan dishes were made with fewer restrictions and hence can only be better than the vegan dish. Same for choosing recipes to cook yourself. Before I was vegan, this was my conscious reason for always choosing dishes with meat.

But is the deduction true? I don’t think so. Because, unbeknownst to many, the meat dishes are actually constrained to contain meat. I don’t know why, but my two prime suspects are Goodhart’s law impacting the reasoning above, or meat-eaters being scared of vegetables.

As it turns out, making a good vegetarian meal takes non-zero skill, contrary to making a good meal with meat. In my experience, this causes chefs to put actual thought into their vegetarian dishes, causing these to actually be tastier than most dishes with meat. So the argument from mathematical optimization actually gives the wrong answer here!

Abstinence-only education criticism as general template

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TW: self-harm, suicide, substance abuse

Context: In conservative regions in the US, there is a thing called abstinence-only sex education. People believe that you can tell teenagers “Don’t have sex before marriage” and that that will protect them from STI’s and unwanted pregnancy. Leftist people point to research that shows this is ineffective, and it is much better to tell kids how to have sex safely. I have not looked at the research so I will not link it.

If you squint, you can see how abstinence-only education is used for other things as well. It makes me wonder whether the same criticism would transfer.

Self-harm

One area to which it might transfer is self-harm. Everybody says you should not self-harm. In many psychiatric hospitals, you may temporarily lose privileges (being allowed to watch tv or to go outside) if the staff thinks you have self-harmed while there.

If you search online for “self-harm tips”, the first result is a wordy self-righteous “Don’t do that“. I used to find this really really frustrating. Same goes for online self-harm communities: they mostly forbid giving instructions and such.  Positively helpful stuff gets silenced, like when Reddit banned /r/selfharmpics. Ironically, that sub used to help me get my thoughts away from harming myself by living it vicariously through others.

Here is a link to some good self-harm tips and advice. Though I can think of a dozen other pieces of information that could help a lot of people. Examples include:

  • Hiding scars: What parts of the body scar the least? What body parts are least visible in common positions?
  • Preventing scarring: How much do anti-scarring creams really help? Do cuts with sharp or dull blades make for less visible scars?
  • Safely climbing the hedonic treadmill: a list of body parts sorted by sensitivity to pain would help people to safely get more painful wounds without cutting deeper.
  • What is a good place to cut when you are just starting out?

Some of these things you can maybe find online if you know the academic jargon, but that won’t help most self-harming persons.

Suicide

I have no idea if the abstinence-only criticism would meaningfully transfer to suicide. But at least this area does have educational resources provided by helpful individuals, like http://lostallhope.com/. I never found this website before I started researching for this post, but it might not have had much PageRank credit back when I was looking for these things. [Also santioned-suicide.com]

Drugs

This is an obvious case where the abstinence-only education criticism directly transfers. Some substances are way worse for your health than others, so it would be good if people knew which those are, even if one would also recommend to not do them at all.

My high school actually did this. They were pretty backwards in many respects, but here, they were on point. We got a guest lesson by a cool lady who had tried all kinds of drugs. She told us about various kinds of drugs and what they do, and we got to ask all kinds of questions. I mostly remember her warning that heroin is super addictive, like, a single use and you’re addicted. That was a great lesson, and exactly the sort of thing I want to see on more issues.

Asymmetry of passion

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Some time ago I first read the phrase “asymmetry of passion” in an article (in Wired via Kottke) about so-called “keyword voids” in internet search engines. The article starts by discussing the internet search results for “vitamin K shots”, a routine injection that newborns get.

This is a routine practice—ask your pediatrician, your obstetrician, or the CDC. “Babies are born with very low stores of vitamin K, and without the Vitamin K shot … they do not have enough Vitamin K in their blood to form a clot,” the CDC says on its website.

But new parents who turn to search engines to understand the practice will find an aberrant—and dangerous—strain of thinking. Google “vitamin K shot” and the first result advises “Skip that Newborn Vitamin K Shot.” It isn’t until below the fold—the fourth result—that the CDC website appears.

This is blamed on an asymmetry of passion; anti-vaxxers put much more effort into writing blogs stating that the shots are unnecessary or even dangerous than government organizations like the CDC do to refute their claims. Hence the search results get populated with all-natural anti-science lies. (I just tried the search and my results page only has a single anti-vax result. The Wired article caused a number of scientifically literate websites write about the vitamin K shots.)

Asymmetries of passion happen more often. [A couple of situations where I think something like that is happening include blockchain, political videos on Youtube, and conspiracy theories.

Archiving the Trans Girl Diaries

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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.

Links #1: Modern computers are complicated

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David Chisnall: C is not a low-level language

A modern Intel processor has up to 180 instructions in flight at a time (in stark contrast to a sequential C abstract machine, which expects each operation to complete before the next one begins). A typical heuristic for C code is that there is a branch, on average, every seven instructions. If you wish to keep such a pipeline full from a single thread, then you must guess the targets of the next 25 branches. This, again, adds complexity; it also means that an incorrect guess results in work being done and then discarded, which is not ideal for power consumption. This discarded work has visible side effects, which the Spectre and Meltdown attacks could exploit.

Matt Klein: Meltdown and Spectre, explained

Each cache miss adds a substantial amount of delay time to program execution. In order to mitigate this, processors are capable of executing ahead and out of order while waiting for memory loads. This is known as speculative execution. The following code snippet demonstrates this.

if (x < array1_size) {
  y = array2[array1[x] * 256];
}

In the previous snippet, imagine that array1_size is not available in cache, but the address of array1 is. The CPU might guess (speculate) that x is less than array1_size and go ahead and perform the calculations inside the if statement. Once array1_size is read from memory, the CPU can determine if it guessed correctly. If it did, it can continue having saved a bunch of time. If it didn’t, it can throw away the speculative calculations and start over. This is no worse than if it had waited in the first place.