Friday, July 31, 2015

Muslim "inventions"

Islam has certainly got a rather bad rep due to how many of its adherents have been behaving during the past few decades (both in western countries and within their own countries.) Because criticizing Islam and the culture surrounding and emanating from it has somehow become a taboo, a lot of copious whitewashing has been performed, both by some Muslims themselves, and also "progressive" non-Muslims, to try to raise the profile and status of Islam as a good thing. This takes many forms.

One of these is what pretty much amounts to historical revisionism with respect to the contribution of Islam to modern science and technology. Perhaps the most extreme example of this are the claims of Muslim "inventions" that had, allegedly, profound implications in modern science.

Arabic people of the first millenium did indeed make some significant contributions to science, especially in the fields of mathematics and astronomy.

(What essentially happened was that Greece and north-east Africa were previously the centers of academic knowledge and research, but due to historical events, mainly the raise of the church of Rome, they were pretty much eradicated, and the research moved to the Middle-East regions, were Arabic people were free to continue the mathematical and astronomical research. Of course what Muslims and their defenders will not tell you is that a few hundreds of years later some Muslim imams declared mathematics and astronomy to be satanic, and effectively banned them. But that's besides the point here.)

However, this historical revisionism goes much farther than that. It actually claims that Muslims invented many things that are common today. For instance the organization named 1001 inventions has a large list of "inventions" made by Muslims that "shaped the world".

But let's examine, for example, their top 10 "outstanding Muslim inventions":

1) Surgery. Some Arabic people may have made developments in surgery, but claiming that they invented surgery is just a complete distortion. Surgery cannot be said to have been "invented" by anybody (that we know of.) It has a really, really long history, dating at least as far back 9000 years ago. Definitely as far back as ancient Egypt in 2600 BC. Claiming that Muslims invented surgery is just bollocks. (They might have contributed to it, but that's a rather different proposition.)

2) Coffee. Sure, why not. (Whether you consider it "outstanding" is a question of opinion, but whatever.)

3) Flying machine. The idea is much older than Islam, going at least as far back as 400 BC in Greece. The alleged invention by Abbas Ibn Firnas was a glider (which, reportedly, didn't even work all that well) rather than a powered flying machine. It might have contributed somewhat to the idea of flying machines, but it's quite a stretch to claim that it was invented. (If we go by independent "inventions", there are probably myriads of people who "invented" the flying machine independently of each other.)

4) University. Higher learning institutions that eventually became known as "universities" trace back to ancient Greece and Rome. Putting a cutoff point at a certain particular higher learning institution, and declaring that particular one as the "invention", is artificial and deceptive. (A case could be made for the first actual universities being created by the early-medieval Catholic church. Even then, it's still a somewhat artificial cutoff point.)

5) Algebra. Sure, Arabic scientists contributed to mathematics, including algebra, but they did not invent it. Algebra can be traced all the way back to ancient Babylonians. The solving of algebraic equations goes as back as Diophantus in the 3rd century AD in Greece (which is where the term "Diophantine equation" comes from.)

6) Optics. The history of optics can be traced to ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians. The earliest known lenses date from as early as 700 BC. Hardly an "invention" by Muslims.

7) Music. *sigh* I won't even bother.

8) Toothbrush. Oral hygiene using tools can be traced as far back as 3500 BC. The first recorded "modern" form of a toothbrush can be traced to China, during the Tang Dynasty (619-907 AD).

9) The crank. Are they even being serious at this point? Cranks have existed for almost as long as humans have developed tools. Findings of actual cranks go as back as the 5th century BC. They were a rather common tool in the Roman Empire.

10) Hospitals. Really? Hospitals? They trace to ancient Egypt and Greece. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD saw the construction of hospitals in every cathedral. Just to cite a few examples.

It's one thing to claim contribution. A completely different thing is to claim invention. That's just outright historical revisionism.

Even this contribution happened often regardless of Islam, rather than because of it (and this can be historically verified, as in many cases Islam was actually hostile to many forms of science practiced by Arabic people, sometimes even going as far as banning and persecution.)

In any case, the purpose of all this is to try to raise the profile of modern Islam in the eyes of western countries. "Hey, we invented all this; give us more respect." Even if the claims were absolutely true, that has no bearing on how much we should accept intolerant, oppressive and detrimental behavior from Islamic culture. What your extremely distant religious ancestors might have done has no bearing on my acceptance of your attitudes, beliefs and behavior.

If I said "hey, my distant ancestors, twenty times removed, made this, this and this invention; thus you must respect me personally", would you consider that a valid argument? Of course not. What some people did hundreds of years ago has zero significance on how you should judge me as a person, or my culture, opinions and behavior.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Corruption in videogame journalism

Videogame journalism has a great responsibility because they are essentially guiding their readership on which videogames are worth purchasing and which are not. This is real money we are talking about; money that a good majority of their readership doesn't have excessive amounts of. Videogames are not exactly cheap, and many people are using the little they have on them.

It is the responsibility of videogame journalists to convey to the reader as neutrally as possible the quality and details of a videogame, to help them make their purchase decisions. Artificially praising a game that does not deserve such praise, in order to entice people to buy the game, is ethically wrong. Doing so for personal gain from the game's developers or publisher is absolutely horrendous (and should be illegal, if it's not already.)

But that's exactly what has been happening for quite some time. Most of it is done under the wraps, making it even more condemnable and unjustifiable.

Several high profile journalists and reviewers who have more moral integrity and oppose this practice in principle, have come out to criticize it. There are several ways in which publishers (and sometimes even developers) may, essentially, bribe journalists to give positive reviews.

Some publishers may sponsor a videogame journal (which, especially if not publicly divulged, is at the very least bordering crossing the line.) Others invite reviewers and journalists to experience and play early versions of their games, and there is much subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) bribery going on here (such as travel expenses and stays at high-quality hotels paid by the publisher, and outright giving gifts to the journalists.)

Sometimes this can become really egregious. Sometimes publishers will outright "blackmail" videogame journals with their early access policies. In other words, they will give early access to their game only to those journalists who have given positive reviews of their games in the past, and will stop sending them to those who have given negative reviews. (Naturally an early access review copy will be accompanied with a strict contract forbidding the journalist from distributing the game further.) There have been actually cases, where journalists have had to sign contracts to make a positive review in exchange for an early access copy of the game, and the contract has a strong non-disclosure agreement clause (iow. the journalist is bound by the contract to not speak about the contract to anyone.)

Sometimes this kind of bribery can be more egregiously public. For example the Games Media Awards is a yearly ceremony where journalists are given awards. The awards are (or at least were for a long time) voted for by PR companies, and sponsored by publishers, not by eg. gamers or even the journalists themselves. (There may be some "gamer awards" and such, but those form only a few of the awards.) In 2012 it became really egregious when the publishers enticed the journalists participating in the ceremony into promoting certain videogames, with material goods being involved for those who did (including up to a PS3 console being given as a gift.)

There are many other examples of this I'm not going into (such as the so-called "Doritogate", also from 2012). My point is, videogame journalism has been rampant with extremely dubious practices, with game publishers, PR companies and sometimes even developers enticing journalists to give positive reviews and recommendations, using bribery and sometimes what effectively amounts to extortion.

To be fair, many such journals have upgraded their policy statements to rectify this, to change it to a more open policy where things like sponsorships and other forms of interaction between the journal and game publishers are more openly divulged. More and more videogame journals have been doing this.

It is probably no coincidence that this change has been happening relatively shortly after the gamergate movement started.

Gamergate is a consumer revolt against corruption in videogame journalism. Of course the movement has been heavily denigrated and defamed both by journalists and feminists, who have (quite successfully) painted it as nothing more than an aggressive sexist movement against women in the videogame industry. No doubt the corrupt journalists, those who unashamedly take bribes from publishers in secret, have welcomed this defamation of the gamergate movement, and added to it. They will, of course, just attribute the claims of corruption to "nothing but a conspiracy theory".

The Wikipedia article on gamergate is quite a disgrace in this regard. Its core problem is that Wikipedia's policy is to build articles based on sources, and those sources are the videogame journals and the journalists, because those are all the "official" publications. In other words, Wikipedia is effectively asking the journalists themselves whether there is any truth to the corruption allegations... Yes, because the most trustworthy source of information is the accused.

However, that's not all. Not only is Wikipedia relying almost solely on the word of the very people that are being accused of corruption, the article has clearly been written in a highly biased manner by feminists, or feminist-minded people, with an ideological agenda to discredit the movement. The article spends absolutely disproportionate amounts of space to go on and on and on about the "harassment" and "threats" and "sexism" that some individual people have experienced. Even the few mentions of the actual points of the movement are quickly dismissed and "debunked" with copious amounts of weasel word salad (gotten primarily from, you guessed it, the journalists who are being accused of corruption.) This is "poisoning the well" 101. There isn't even a shred of neutrality in the article.

Regardless of the extremely successful defamation campaign against the gamergate movement, some good has nevertheless arisen from it, such as those updated policy statements. (Whether they will have an actual effect is another thing to be seen, but at least in principle it's a good thing.)

Lazy and deceptive DLC

There are, roughly speaking, three types of DLC available for video games.

Firstly, the right kind of DLC. In other words, DLC that expands the original game with new, additional playable content, such as additional levels, for example in the form of a continuation or side story to the main story. Optimally, the original game is a full story all in itself (and can, thus, be fully enjoyed on its own, without any DLC), and the DLC just adds additional extra gameplay to it.

The Talos Principle is a perfect example of this. The main game is a complete full game. Later a DLC became available with a smaller side story containing its own additional puzzles. Bioshock Infinite is another example.

Secondly, there's lazy DLC. Basically all paid cosmetic DLC is this. Also all paid DLC that only adds minimal and mostly inconsequential elements to the main game (rather than entirely new content that's independent of it), such as eg. new weapons. There's usually no reason to pay money for any of this. You aren't getting anything of substance.

Then there's deceptive DLC. There are several forms of this.

One of them is when the main game isn't actually complete, and instead you have to buy the rest of it as "DLC". (This can, in the most egregious cases, get so bad that the whole game is actually in the game disc, or in the game data that you downloaded from Steam or other such online service. You just have to "unlock" those extra parts by paying even more money.)

Note that this is different from a game that's "episodic". Episodic games are ok as long as either
  1. the total price of all the episodes is that of one single game, or
  2. each episode is actually a "full game" on its own right, in terms of content and length (thus justifying a full price for each "episode". This actually makes it more a game series than a single "episodic" game.)
The deceptive form, however, deliberately sells you a limited version of the game at full (or nearly full) price, and then asks you for even more money to unlock the sealed-off parts (that are essential to get a full game.)

Games where you unlock more playable characters (eg. in a fighting game) fall somewhere between those two types of "DLC". They are unlockable (meaning that they already are in the game data from day one), but they are not essential to play the whole game through. Thus they are somewhat in between the lazy and the greedy cash-grabbing variety.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why has "nationalism" become a dirty word?

Just think about the word "nationalism". I bet that you immediately thought of things like neonazis, racism, the holocaust... But why? Why has that word become such a dirty one?

As the saying goes (and perhaps most popularized by a famous speech by Abraham Lincoln), a house divided against itself cannot stand.

What does this mean? A society has the best chances of becoming prosperous and successful when all of its members work together, when they all cooperate, when there's a sense of camaraderie among them.

Consider the post-World-War-2 Finland for instance. This was a country in economic ruin. Because of the war there was famine and an economic crisis. There was, however, a strong sense of national identity among Finns, a culture of cooperation, of working together for a brighter future. In about 20 or 30 years Finland rose from absolute economic ruin to be one of the wealthiest welfare states in the entire world. A decade or two more, and it became one of the biggest technological countries in the world.

This happened, at its core, because of Finnish culture. As said, a culture of camaraderie and cooperation. A culture of strong national identity, with little to no infighting. (Of course that's not to say there was no political or economic infighting at all; that's something that will always exist no matter which country and which era we are talking about. However, there was relatively little of it, and it had little to no consequence overall.)

In other words, a culture of strong nationalism. In the good sense.

It was a time where one could be proud of being a Finn. Not proud in the sense of feeling superior to others, but proud in that we were a nation that could work together and cooperate in order to better the lives of everybody, to become prosperous, to become one of the wealthiest welfare states in the world. Proud of the fact that we, as a culture, were peaceful and cooperative, and who work hard to prosper.

Finnish culture was also always notable for its hospitality. This aspect, of course, is not exclusive to this particular culture, but is very common in most cultures. The point is, however, that a strong sense of national pride does not somehow automatically make people xenophobic, discriminatory or cynic towards other people.

Nationalism, when done in the right way for the right reasons, is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it's a strong enabler of prosperity and progress. Of course a strong sense of nationalism can be abused for the wrong goals, but that doesn't mean that all instances of strong nationalism are like that. Nationalism does not by necessity lead to totalitarianism.

Modern multiculturalism abhors a strong national identity, and it's a big reason why it's detrimental.

That's not to say that multiculturalism cannot work. It can. However, it needs the proper setting to work. For example the United States is an example of this, with immigrants moving into the country from all around the world, and the country becoming one of the richest and most prosperous in the world. (Granted, these immigrants basically eradicated the already-existing native population, literally stealing their land and property, which is something worthy of big shame, but that's not really the point of this.) The reason why multiculturalism worked in the United States (and also in Canada) is that nothing was given to the immigrants for free, and instead they all had to work hard to succeed. There was no nanny-state pampering them, idolizing them and giving them riches for absolutely no merit. No, they had to work really, really hard to merely survive, not to talk about prosperity. This created a nation where everybody had to cooperate, work hard, and become prosperous.

Not so with modern European multiculturalism. Immigrants are not required to work hard, they are not required to adopt the hosting culture (but in many cases are outright encouraged not to), and everything is given them for free, without them having to do anything to earn it.

Sure, some immigrants will work hard regardless of this, even though they wouldn't have to. Big kudos to them. However, such an easy pampering nanny-state-like life also attracts the other kind of immigrant. Those who will not integrate, will not cooperate, and will abuse the system for their own benefit as much as they can.

And thus we get non-cooperation, clashing of completely different cultures, infighting, political and racial tension. In other words, a house divided against itself.

"Nationalism" has become a dirty word, and is almost synonymous with "totalitarianism", "nazism" and "racism", even though it does not mean that, nor does it have to mean that. We have forgotten the good things that a strong national identity has brought us, through hard work and cooperation. We are destroying ourselves from within. We are dividing our house, and it's going to crumble.

That saddens me. It really does.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

The funny thing about statistics is that you can manipulate raw data to support whatever result you want. Simply use mental gymnastics and excuses to be more selective and inflate results.

Take this study, for example, which has been much touted in the media. The study tries to prove that sexism is rampant in online gaming. (Yes, my use of "tries to prove", rather than "concluded" is not an accident. It's quite clear that the authors had a clear goal in mind when they made the experiment.)

The experiment was to play online Halo 3 matches with three players: A neutral "control" player that does not send any voice messages, a "male" player and a "female" player, and see how many sexist comments they receive.

Of course the amount of sexist comments was extremely low. That won't do. So how can they manipulate the data to inflate that percentage?

Well, firstly, and like all good science, let's remove the control from all consideration. Of course. That's a big bunch of data that would lower the percentage removed. Who needs controls anyway? That's just some fancy sciency stuff; what do they know?

Even after this, only about 1% of the players made any kind of sexist comment. (163 8-player games, meaning 7 other players besides the test player, which means about 1141 test subjects in total. 11 of them made any kind of sexist comment. That's a bit less than 1%.)

1% is still way too low. How to inflate this further? Well, let's just consider comments made by the players on the same team as the test player, and ignore the opposing players. And while we are at it, let's just remove the "male" test player from consideration as well. This way we can make the 11 sexist comment form a 13% of all comments.

Then let's conclude that, as the study says, "sexism is rampant in online environments."

From 11 sexist comments out of over a thousand players (and that was with the control samples removed from consideration.)

Yeah, because 11 is such a statistically significant amount.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Video games with too much text and cutscenes

It's possibly because of some recent games I have played, such as Cho Dengeki Stryker and very especially the absolute nightmare that was Final Fantasy X (read that latter blog post if you haven't already, for my rant in excruciating detail why it's one of the worst games I have ever played in my life), but I have somehow lately grown to hate video games with too many cutscenes and, especially, too much text dialogue.

For instance, I'm currently playing a DS game named Inazuma Eleven 2: Firestorm. I had played the first game of the series, and I found it interesting. It has a rather novel idea. It's essentially a more or less traditional JRPG, except that battles are in the form of football matches (rather than your traditional JRPG battles). When said like that it might sound a bit crazy, or that it wouldn't work, but it actually does quite well.

The game is quite ok, except for one thing. You guessed it: Too many cutscenes, and way too much text in those cutscene dialogues. (The game, being a DS game, has minimal voice acting, the vast majority of dialogue being pure text.) I wouldn't even mind the amount of cutscenes if it weren't for the sheer amount of useless filler dialogue text that they have. (I could, of course, just skip all the text quickly and without reading, but then I would be missing one of the most important parts of a JRPG: The story.)

This isn't at all unique to this game in particular. There are plenty of such games, not only JRPG's but also basically all other genres where there is a story, and characters with dialogue. There are good such games, and games with way too much dialogue padding. You know, the kind of dialogue where something could be expressed in just five back-and-forth sentences between the characters, but instead the dialogue just drags on and on with useless filler and padding that adds absolutely nothing to the story and relays no information, and what could have been completely perfectly expressed in five sentences is instead done in ten or fifteen, or even more. And most often than not, this additional padding is not in any way useful from a story-telling or character building perspective. It just feels useless and annoying filler that drags conversations for way too long.

Another example that I'm playing currently is The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. While I'm admittedly just in the beginning parts of the game, it has already suffered from this symptom plentifully. Probably 50% of all the dialogue could be completely cut from it without any loss whatsoever (not in terms of information nor in terms of story or characterization.) It might get better later on, but at least at the beginning all the signs are there. (In fact, I am currently stuck in the game, unable to advance, because I don't know what exactly I should do. That's because I got so annoyed by the endless amounts of text that I didn't even read all of it. Now I have no idea what is it that I'm supposed to do, because I missed something, and I'm stuck in a room that I can't leave before I do that thing. I'll probably have to go through all the NPC dialogue again to find out. *sigh*)

It seems to me that many game developers, especially when making a game where dialogue is in text only (rather than voice-acted), often tend to go wild with such dialogue. They will write tons and tons of useless back-and-forth conversation that only drags the cutscene and adds nothing to it. It seems that they lack the ability to condense the dialogue to its optimal minimum, and instead use lots of padding for no real purpose or reason. I don't need to hear the two-word responses of five side characters (as is often the case eg. in the Inazuma Eleven 2 game I mentioned above) when the response of only one character (at most two) would be more than enough, and especially when those responses do not add anything to the story or even the conversation itself. It's also useless (only annoying) to have the conversation essentially just repeat the same thing three times, when once would suffice.

Voice-acted games seem to suffer less from this phenomenon, for obvious reasons. Every additional minute of voice acting costs money and, most importantly, when you can actually hear the conversation, extra unneeded padding becomes a lot more obvious and sticks out like a sore thumb; it just reeks of bad writing. You can't get away with as much conversation filler and padding in voice-acted dialogue than in text-only. Of course that doesn't stop some games from falling into this, even if they are fully voice-acted. Especially the ones with way too many and way too long cutscenes.

One of the major reasons why an overabundance of obnoxious cutscenes is so annoying is that they interrupt the gameplay. The more they interrupt it, the more annoying they can be.

And the thing is, cutscenes that block the gameplay are not even necessary. There are plenty of games that have strong stories and quite some cutscenes, but never interrupt the gameplay. Essentially, the player never loses control while the "cutscenes" are playing. (The Half-Life 2 series would be a perfect example. Also the Portal series is a good example of a game that conveys a strong and interesting story without having to resort to an overabundance of blocking cutscenes.)

Monday, July 27, 2015

What does it take to make gay rights activists oppress gays?

Imagine an ultra-liberal leftist gay rights activist group that has existed since the 1950's. This is a group that has been fighting for gay rights for over 60 years. What would it take to make such a group to not only oppose a gay parade, but in fact call for it to be legally banned? A normal gay parade that does nothing more than all the gay parades that have existed for decades. What could possibly be higher in the "pecking order" of social justice, so much higher that even a long-time leftist gay rights group is calling for the criminalization of a gay parade? What could possibly make these activists go against their own principles, and overturn everything that they have fought for?

Islam. That's what.

Islam is, it seems, the highest tier of the "social justice ladder", so to speak. It doesn't matter how intolerant its adherents may be, they will always be above all other minority groups, and all those other groups, no matter how oppressed, must always submit to their whims. It's the only group that makes even extremist hard-core ultra-liberal leftist feminist gay-rights-activists go against everything that they believe in and fight for, turning against their own "protectorate", against the very people they have been furiously defending for so long.

Of course this is happening in Sweden (where else.)

Organizing a gay parade through a muslim-majority area is "racism", according to them. (I can't even begin to comprehend where exactly does race come into play here. Even if the parade is a form of protest against prejudice and oppression in Islam, what exactly does this have to do with race?)

These liberals are the same kind of people who are constantly talking about "victim-blaming", yet quite hypocritically (although not surprisingly) they engage in really obnoxious victim-blaming themselves. You see, whenever there's a gay parade through an area with a significant muslim population, there will be violence (thrown rocks, etc.) These leftists will always blame the victim, never the muslims themselves.

On a more fundamental level, the proposed solution to this violence is not to do something about the perpetrators. It's like the perpetrators of the violence are not at fault. It's the fault of the people who participate in the parade (who are doing nothing more than walking through an area.)

Muslims are, possibly, the only group who enjoy this privileged status. They can be as oppressive, prejudiced and violent as they want, without any kind of repercussions. Not only that, it will be the victims of the violence who will be blamed, not the muslims who committed the violence. They will also never be the target of leftist social campaigns against discrimination and oppression.

Because, you see, saying that muslims are violent and oppressive is "racism" or something. Thus you can't say it. They are protected by the impenetrable wall of anti-racism, and are above and beyond all reproach, no matter what they do, even if they attack and kill people who are just walking through a certain area. Thus you get even hard-core gay-rights-activists overturning their most fundamental principles and calling for the criminalization of gay parades.

I don't think any other religion, or any other group for that matter, has this privileged status. They are at the very top of the "social justice pecking order".

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Strange notion of the significance of women in medieval war

There's a small subsection of modern feminism that has got into their heads an extremely strange and outright incomprehensible idea. They are pushing for the notion that women had a much larger role in medieval warfare than they really had. I can't really understand what the idea or goal is here.

They will resort to the same tactics as conspiracy theorists do. In other words, they will (most usually) take medieval paintings and other art, isolate them from their context, and cherry pick them in order to support their narrative. This narrative being that women had a large role in medieval war (during the entirety of the Middle Ages), there were significant amounts of female warriors, etc.

They will take, for example, a medieval drawing depicting a woman fighting with a sword, or a drawing of an entire army of women, and will present this as "evidence" that women soldiers and warriors were prevalent.

If you ask an actual historian, however, you often get the actual context of those pictures, because they know better who made them and what they are actually depicting. Often these pictures are actually depicting ancient mythology, but since the artists in the Middle Ages customarily drew people of ancient myths in armor and clothing contemporary to the Middle Ages (often because they had no idea how they should draw them otherwise, or simply because it was the artistic custom of the time) it may look to the layperson that they are depicting contemporary events. Sometimes the picture is actually a satire or an insult, depicting the enemy soldiers as women. Sometimes the pictures are actually humorous and are not, in fact, depicting an actual war (they are often essentially a joke or a parody, which context you have to know to "get" it, as with most jokes.)

There are many other examples that they love to use, and which they are taking out of context and giving a completely different meaning than they really have. And like all good conspiracy theorists, they ignore the word of actual experts

The point is, however, that I don't have the faintest idea why they are doing this. Mind you, these exact same feminists (indeed, the exact same individuals who make these arguments) also argue that "patriarchy" was rampant during the Middle Ages, which is why women were so oppressed and limited... (And I don't mean that they might have said one thing two years ago and another today. I'm talking about making both arguments in the same video, for instance.) It's like they are arguing for two completely contradictory things.

The "patriarchy" thing is obviously understandable (from a feminist point of view.) The other thing, however... I'm drawing a blank here. I have no idea why they are doing that, or what their point is. I have never seen or heard an explanation of what their point is.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why "social justice" is a bad thing

What is "social justice"? To understand this, let's first ponder what justice, or more precisely, what the ideals of "justice" (in the legal sense) are in our modern society. There is one symbol that has been used for a long time to symbolize justice: Lady Justice:

This is an image with a large amount of symbolism to it: A blindfolded woman holding a sword in one hand, and scales in the other (representing truth and lie.)

Lady Justice being blindfolded has great significance. Many people might not understand (or they may even misunderstand) what "justice is blind" means. However, it means that justice is (and should be) applied equally to everybody without looking at who those people are. In other words, rich or poor, famous or unknown, male or female, white, black or any other ethnicity, it doesn't matter: The law is equal for everybody, and is applied equally. You don't get a lighter sentence because you are, for example, rich; you don't get a harsher sentence because you are poor. And so on.

In other words, the blindfold symbolizes that it's the actions that are punished, and only the evidence related to those actions, that affect the sentence. We consider the "scales" and apply justice (the "sword") based on it. We do not look at the person, we look at his or her actions.

"Social justice", however, wants to remove the blindfold. Social justice wants, for example, for people to be treated differently before the law depending on their gender, or race. For example, it considers it more condemnable for a white person to commit an act of aggression (verbal or physical) towards a black person, than the other way around. It considers it more condemnable for a man to commit an act of aggression towards a woman, than the other way around.

This is actualized in concepts like "you can't be sexist towards a man", which is a very common sentiment among modern feminists (and appears, literally, for example in many University gender studies textbooks.) Likewise "a white person can't be the victim of racism.".

No, I'm not making that up. This is from an actual humanities textbook:

"Social justice" wants to remove the blindfold. It wants for the justice system to treat people differently depending on their gender, race, or other such characteristics.

This is why social justice is incompatible with the core principles of our modern judiciary system, and basic human rights.

Feminism has gone too far

I once watched a video of a talk by a public YouTube persona on a conference, where he talked about feminism (defending feminism, that is. The audience was basically completely pro-feminism.) He mocked critics of feminism in several ways, and one thing he said was "they say that feminism has gone too far", with a dismissive tone of voice. The audience laughed. How ridiculous! What a stupid thing to say!

He is by far not the only feminist that ridicules the claim.

But feminism has succeeded in turning some of our fundamental ideas of basic human rights upside down.

For example, there was this case (which I commented on an earlier blog post) about the man who had passed out in a party, a woman committed oral sex on him while he was unconscious and without consent (in other words, pretty much raping him by definition), and later accused him of rape. The man was expelled and investigated. Why? He "had sex" with a woman and didn't explicitly ask her for consent, therefore he committed rape. While being unconscious during the whole process, and the woman doing everything out of her free will. Yes, it did happen.

But it's not only these "affirmative consent laws" where feminists have gone too far.

How about some feminists taking a man to court because he disagreed with them on Twitter?

Did the man harass them, send them threats, dox them, or something like that? Nope. It was, in fact, a case where it was these feminists who had doxed some other person (who had made a video game the feminists considered offensive), and this guy telling them on Twitter that it's wrong to do that. There were no insults, no threats, no harassment... yet these feminists still actually sued the man for "harassment".

And if you think that feminists harassing their critics is extremely rare, then watch this video.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Which martial arts variety is the "best"?

There are thousands and thousands of different martial arts varieties in the world. However, I could roughly categorize them into four categories, based on quality and effectiveness:
  1. "Pretend" martial arts, that exist mostly for show, but which are pretty much ineffective in practical situations.
  2. "Sport" martial arts, which are often "simplified" versions of past martial arts, distilled as a sport (rather than an actual self-defense mechanism in practical situations).
  3. "Practical" martial arts, which do not exist for sport (and often even abhor participation in competitive events), but which nevertheless are too "traditional" and too rule-bound to be all that effective.
  4. "Dirty fighting". I'm not using this as a derogatory term, but as a term to mean "doesn't obey any rules".
I'm not going to name any concrete examples (even though I could), because that's only going to piss off some readers who practice those particular branches of martial arts.

The first kind can immediately be discarded. There exist different grades of it, the worst ones being outright in the realm of fraud. The less obnoxious ones may be taught genuinely, but are still completely ineffective for self-defense often even against inexperienced assailants. The most skillful variants are very beautiful to watch, but they are pretty much just choreographed gymnastics and little else. They are still pretty much useless in real situations, unless you get very lucky.

The second kind exist (and are often outright "marketed" as) just for sport. It's a form of exercise, and there may be competitions, which are run under very strict rules and limitations. They might work in some cases in real self-defense situations, but usually only against unaware inexperienced assailants. Even then, perhaps not.

The third kind can be more effective and brutal (which is why they often abhor competitions). They may often work very effectively against unaware assailants, when performed by an experienced practitioner. However, even this kind may be too stuck on those certain "practical situations" that you may encounter in real life (such as someone grabbing your wrist, or trying to punch you in the face), and too little (if at all) on opponents using the final category, ie. "dirty" fighting, which is the next category:

"Dirty fighters" are experienced "street fighters" that don't care about rules. They just use the most effective way of beating you up, which is often grappling and floor wrestling. This is the essence of so-called "mixed martial arts", or MMA, and it's brutally effective, and it (pardon the pun) mops the floor with all of the above pretty much every time. You may have decades of experience in punching, kicking, getting out of grabs, and getting your opponent to the floor when both are standing, but when a "dirty fighter" grapples you to the ground and starts punching your face, that's usually not something you have much experience about, in any of those above variants. And they are very effective at that; if you are a practitioner of one of those "practical" martial arts you might think you can avoid it, but believe me, you won't. Those fancier variants don't do much of efficient floor wrestling (if they do, well... then they are pretty much MMA.) Perhaps the only way to avoid it is if you can run faster than the assailant, and you can escape (something that, in fact, and in fairness, some of those other martial arts schools teach as the most effective and most important tactic.)

There are countless videos out there where a martial arts master of some sort has agreed (for some reason, perhaps pride) to fight an experienced MMA fighter, and the master is inevitably beaten. All those fancy techniques just don't work against a hardened and experienced floor-wrestler. The MMA techniques may not look nice and fancy, but they are brutally effective.

This was made quite clear in the first UFC tournament ever organized. Back then, when the whole idea was new, people didn't know what to expect, so many people from varied martial arts genres participated. The floor-wrestlers dominated the tournament, and were absolutely brutal. The other competitors simply had no chance. (It was made even more brutal by the fact that back then there were significantly less strict rules than today. For example today it's forbidden to hit an opponent on the back of their head; back then almost everything was permissible.)

That being said, there's one thing I really dislike about MMA as a sport (rather than a self-defense skill.) I repeat: The sport of MMA fighting.

In the vast majority of fighting sports there's one extremely important core rule, one of the core tenets of sportsmanship: Never hit a fallen opponent. In fact, in most of those sports doing so is considered utterly unsportsmanlike and despicable, and often carries heavy penalties, including disqualification. Hitting a fallen opponent is considered cowardly and opportunistic.

Yet this is permissible and expected in MMA. Your opponent falls, you immediately start hitting them as fast as you can. I don't like it. It just feels so cowardly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Portal headcanon

(Not something that grinds my gears. Just some fan hypothesizing.)

At the beginning of Portal 2, the computer voice first tells the player that "you have been in suspension for fifty days" (with the "fifty" being said with a completely different, automatic-sounding voice). Then later it says "you have been in suspension for nine... nine... nine... nine... nine..." etc.

Every single fan theory I have seen always speculates how long the time has been between the two events. They speculate that it has been 9999999 days, or hours, or whatever.

That makes absolutely no sense. It's quite clear that a) an algorithm is (in-universe) used to pronounce the number, and b) said algorithm was malfunctioning because of the state of decay of the facility, trying to pronounce some number starting with 9, but ending up in an endless loop with that first digit, like a broken record.

Otherwise it wouldn't make any sense why it first says properly "fifty" (rather than "five zero") but then "nine, nine, nine...". If it had been trying to say a large number, it would have said eg. "nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand..." etc. (It also wouldn't make any sense for it to use days in the first announcement, and then eg. hours.) It's rather obvious that it simply got in a loop when trying to say the first digit of the actual number. Said number could just as well have been, for example, 900 days, or 9000 days. Further evidence is that the loop slows down by the end, ie. the computer was getting more and more corrupted by the second.

(Yes, I know that some background development material mentions tens of thousands of years, but as long as it doesn't appear in the game proper, I don't consider it canon. It's quite clear that the voice recording was intended to sound like a broken record, rather than just pronouncing a large number full of nines.)

It wouldn't make any kind of sense for the time to have been tens of thousands of years. No technology lasts for that long, and no living being, no matter how much "in suspension" they might be. And the bed, bedsheets and furniture would have turned to dust by that time. (And the potatoes of the "bring your daughter to work" day wouldn't be there after tens of thousands of years.)

The facility was overgrown with vegetation. The facility had to be so deteriorated that it was crumbling and allowed vegetation to invade it. I don't think a few years would be enough for that, which is why 900 days (about 2.4 years) might be too little. My personal choice of the actual time passed is 9000 days (plus whatever the rest of the number is, which we don't hear). That's about 25 years. That ought to be enough for the condition we see the facility in. (Although, admittedly, the potatoes contradict even this. But perhaps we can safely ignore the potatoes. Or perhaps they were preserved by irradiation or something.)

On a completely different tangent, I have a radical hypothesis: The universe we see in the Portal games is not actually the same universe as we see in the Half-Life games. They are completely separate universes.

There is a Black Mesa in the Portal universe, but it's a different one from what we see in the Half-Life games. Also there is an Aperture Science in the Half-Life universe, but it's not the same as the one we see in the Portal games.

Why do I think this? Well, consider that in Portal 2 it's established that both Aperture and Black Mesa competed over a governmental contract, and the government chose Black Mesa.

However, that makes no sense if this were a single universe. Aperture had working energy-efficient light-weight portable and weaponizable teleporting technology, and had had it for decades. Black Mesa, on the other hand, was barely at the beginnings of experimenting with teleportation technology, using hangar-sized machines which were highly experimental, and could barely form a teleport to some other universe, and which was so experimental and unreliable that it effectively caused the end of the world when it went out of control. And this was when the events of Half-Life happened (which is quite strongly implied to have happened well after this government contract was made, which means that Black Mesa's technology was even more primitive at that time, while Aperture already had had working teleportation technology for years, even decades.)

It would make more sense that the Black Mesa of the Portal universe (ie. the Black Mesa we have never seen) was even more advanced than Aperture Science was, which is why the government chose the former. Conversely in the Half-Life universe Aperture was less advanced than Black Mesa (and significantly less advanced than the Aperture we see in the Portal games.)

Note that the Perpetual Testing Initiative establishes that there are multiple parallel universes, many of them with their own versions of Aperture Science and even Cave Johnson (who in some of those universes even had a different assistant, a guy named Greg.) The Half-Life series is depicting the Black Mesa of one of those parallel universes.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Valve's aversion of third parts

Have you ever noticed this pattern about Valve's games?
  • Team Fortress, and Team Fortress 2.
  • Dota, and Dota 2
  • Left 4 Dead, and Left 4 Dead 2.
  • Portal, and Portal 2.
  • Half-Life, and Half-Life 2.
And when they wanted to make a continuation to that last one, did they go with 3? Of course not. They made Half-Life 2: Episode 1, and Half-Life 2: Episode 2.

If they ever make a continuation to the series, I bet it will be named Half-Life 2: Episode 2: Part 2. And it will run on Source Engine 2, of course.

Why grocery stores do not donate food

If you go, for example in the United States, to any grocery store and ask them why they don't donate their excess food to charity, that they are otherwise just throwing away, 99.9% of them will tell the same reason: They can't because of the fear of lawsuits. They fear that if somebody gets food poisoning, they will be sued.

However, the thing is, the so-called Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996 was created precisely for this purpose, ie. to protect benefactors from liability in these cases, and to promote the donation of excess food. And, in fact, there has not been a single case of a lawsuit in the United States because of this reason, ever. Not a single one.

Yet the myth persists, and is probably not going to die ever. And millions of tons of food are thrown away every year while at the same time millions of people starve.

And the United States is not the only country doing this.

Humans are idiots.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Sexism" in fiction

The current feminist narrative is that the media, especially video games, is rife with sexism against women. And many people believe it without question. But let's think about it for a bit.

Consider all of the movies, TV series, books and video games you have ever read, seen or played, where violence is depicted, and consider these aspects:
  • How many of the victims of the violence have been female, and how many of them have been male?
  • In the cases where the genders of the victim and the perpetrator are not the same, in how many cases has it been a man who is the perpetrator and a woman who has been the victim?
  • When the perpetrator has been a man and the victim has been a woman, in how many cases has the story depicted the violence as something justified or positive? In how many cases has it been depicted as the perpetrator being a monster of a person, a disgusting criminal, or otherwise a completely despicable person?
  • When the perpetrator has been a woman and the victim a man, in how many cases has it been depicted as a justified or positive act? In how many cases has it been depicted as the perpetrator being a vile, despicable person?
There are, of course, examples of all possible combinations in existence. However, I think you'd agree that on average the vast majority of works of fiction depict violence against men as much more prevalent, and often more acceptable, than violence against women. You'd also agree that when it's a man committing an act of aggression towards a woman, it's almost universally depicted as a despicable, horrible thing, while in the other direction is more often than not depicted as something justified, positive, or both. It's hard to find any work of fiction where a man being violent to a woman is depicted as justified or positive (with the exception, perhaps, of for example a male law enforcement officer apprehending a woman who is, for instance, a serial or spree killer who is extremely violent. Even this is quite rare.)

The same is true for video games: I think you'd agree that at least 99% of enemies that you can kill are always male. Very, very rarely you get to kill female characters. Even in the few games where you can, their gender tends to be basically indistinguishable from men in terms of game mechanics (in other words, the game has simply been programmed so that you can kill anybody, completely regardless of gender; the game makes no distinction.) You'd be hard pressed to find a video game where you kill more female enemies than male ones.

If there is any "sexism" in fiction, it's in the other direction: Males are predominantly the victims of violence, and violence against women is almost universally depicted as despicable, while violence against men is not, especially if the perpetrator is a woman (in which case it's almost always depicted as justified or a positive thing.)

However, I wouldn't call that sexism. It simply reflects the real world. In real life we, as a society, also consider violence against women more despicable and condemnable than violence against men. Moreover, we tend to almost universally dismiss a woman being violent against a man as having any kind of importance. ("He probably deserved it" is a thought that's universally held by most people in such a situation. That thought is extremely, extremely sexist, but it's natural.)

So where does this notion come from, that fiction, especially video games, is sexist against women? My hypothesis is that it's precisely because we as a society consider violence against women more despicable, and thus we tend to pay more attention to it, which inflates our notion of its prevalence. I wrote about this in more detail in a previous blog post.

Why is the press so unanimously left-leaning?

Freedom of the press is one of the most important core principles of a free modern society. It's sacrosanct. Censorship of the press is, in fact, one of the key features of totalitarianism. That's why censorship of the press is abhorrent.

The press has always been the voice of freedom. The press has never shied away from scrutinizing, investigating, uncovering, exposing and even sensationalizing events, but for fame and profit (and, to be fair, sometimes even for a good cause, and because of journalistic principles.) If people want to hear it, they will write about it. If it sells, they will write about it. Nothing is too holy, too taboo. People have the right to know, and the press is one of the major forces exposing the things that are wrong in society. The press has also always been a major force in sensationalizing, exaggerating and even distorting things just for publicity and profit; this of course isn't always a good thing, but it shows that the press never shies away from anything that will sell.

Except that, somehow, it does.

Censorship of the press is abhorrent and a sign of totalitarianism. Yet, somehow, the press at large censors itself. This baffles my mind to no end.

For example here in Finland every single major (and by far the vast majority of minor) newspapers and magazines are heavily left-leaning. You won't find a right-leaning newspaper anywhere. Not a single one. Every single one of them follows the exact same strict left-wing political agenda. Every single one. It's almost like they have all agreed on following the exact same political principles. This even though there is demand for more neutral and even right-wing press.

It's not a question of whether it's right or wrong. It's a question that it baffles my mind how the press, which should be both completely free to do whatever they want and does not shy away from publishing what the public wants to see, can be so tightly and unanimously one-sided.

This goes beyond just bias. They will self-censor. They will not publish certain stories, or those stories will be heavily biased. They will leave out details if those details would go against their left-wing agenda. They will exaggerate and present in a negative light anything that goes against that agenda. In many cases they will even go against well-established journalistic ethics to do so (by eg. blatantly fabricating stories, or distorting and lying about them.)

That in itself is not the surprising part. That would be quite normal if some papers did that, while others were more neutral, and others had the opposite narrative.

But no. Every single one of them does that. Even the most neutral newspapers are left-leaning, and will occasionally print biased one-sided stories. Not a single one of them will present the opposite narrative.

And to my knowledge, Finland is not the only country where this is happening. This is really prevalent all over Europe. (The Swedish media is even more egregiously one-sided and far-left than Finnish media is, with not even a single counter-example. But the same is true for many other European countries.)

I can't understand how this is possible. Where are those journalists who dare to be different, who dare to go against the norm, who dare to be sensationalistic in the other direction? Where are those journalists who criticize the rest of the press for being so politically unilateral, for self-censorship, for distorting and fabricating stories? Why aren't there any newspapers or other forms of media that would expose them, or even present the right-wing side of things? Where are they? Why do they not exist? How is this possible?

(I'm not saying that individual such journalists don't exist. It just seems that no newspaper is like that, and thus you never get to see what those few individual contrarians have to say.)

I know it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it certainly feels like the entirety of the press has agreed to follow one single political agenda, and somehow succeeded in stifling or scaring away dissenters. I don't know how exactly they have succeeded in that (or whether it's just something that has, somehow, naturally formed without explicit intent.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Why checking sources is so important

All kinds of articles (be they journalistic or semi-academic) make all kinds of claims which may be skewed or highly dubious, especially when these claims are related to statistics (eg. about crime rates of certain types, opinion polls, etc.) Such an article can attain the appearance of credibility by citing exact sources for these claims. The more independent sources the article cites, the more credible it appears to be.

However, this may be deceptive. It's easy to cite sources, but people seldom go through the arduous task of actually checking those sources. And checking them does not involve simply checking that each of those sources actually exists and makes the claim. You have to check how that particular source got that information, and if it's itself also citing another source, and so on. You have to actually check the entire chain of sources this way to find the origin of the claim.

Because, you see, spurious and incorrect claims can gain a lot of false credibility this way. First there is one single publication that makes such a claim. Then three other publications cite it. Then other publications start citing those three, and so on and so forth. Suddenly we have myriads of articles citing myriads of other articles for that particular claim, which gives the false impression that the claim has actually been independently verified by different authors... when in fact there is only one single source for all of them. That's why you have to always follow the chain of citations to its original source.

When you do this, you sometimes find out that something that's widely accepted has never actually been independently verified and tested, but instead all of the citations ultimately refer to one single source. This is extremely unreliable. It's also highly misleading. You may have an article with two dozen citations, giving a false impression of credibility, when in fact there is only one single source for all of them.

This is especially deceptive when it's done (deliberately or inadvertently) to promote a political or ideological agenda or idea.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Workers' rights in the United States

The United States is rather infamous for the lack of workers' rights. There are many states (perhaps most famously Texas) where an employer can fire any employee at any moment for any reason without any kind of notice, and there's absolutely nothing the employee can do about it (with, perhaps, the exception that if the firing was done eg. because of racist discrimination, but even then, how do you prove it?)

One could make the argument "well, it's the employer's property and there is no moral code that would dictate that the employer must keep people employed; forcing people against their will to employ other people is totalitarianism."

The problem is, the total freedom of being able to fire whoever you want for whatever reason you want without any repercussions can be, and is, heavily abused in amazingly egregious ways. This allows employers to basically extort and discriminate against their employees.

For example, a boss could tell his employees "vote for this presidential candidate, or you'll get fired." (Yes, actual case. I didn't make that one up.)

Or how about firing employees if they become members of a trade union? (Also actual cases.)

Or something that's really, really common: "Make these 20 additional hours this week for absolutely free, or you'll get fired."

And that is one of the great injustices in the United States. It's really, really common for big corporations to basically extort free labor from their employees with the threat of layoffs. And we are not talking just about an hour or two of additional work per week. We are talking about really egregious amounts, like 20 or even 30 additional hours per week in some cases. That's in addition to the standard 40-hour week, mind you. These employees often get no additional pay or other benefits from these extra hours.

This is very common in most industries, but it's especially egregious in the software development industry. There are many quite known and egregious corporations, such as Electronic Arts, who are infamous for doing this exact thing: They will extort their game developers for 20 and even 30 extra work hours per week with absolutely no compensation or benefits. What's worse, when the project is finished, they will often fire them anyway. (Yes, there are documented cases of both.) EA is quite infamous for this, and is generally called one of the most evil companies in existence, but they are not the only one.

Who is fighting for the rights of these workers? Especially in the gaming industry, with all this fake whiny "controversies" being so popular right now, who is paying attention to the actual injustices in the industry? Who is fighting for the rights of these developers? Why isn't awareness raised about this issue?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Should university fraternities be banned?

Many people speak against the whole concept of university fraternities (which exist mainly in American universities, and to a lesser extent in some other countries). Even in the best cases they see fraternities as relics of the distant past, societies that do not fit in the modern cultural zeitgeist, societies that are elitist, secretive and exclusive, and in many cases chauvinistic and even sexist. Many of these fraternities engage (according to these critics) in many detrimental practices such as over-the-top drinking parties, detrimental pranks and other activities, hazing and humiliation of member candidates, and so on and so forth. (Feminists, of course, also accuse fraternities as being nothing more than rape clubs, but taking into account the credibility of the average university feminist, we can safely ignore that part. I'm not saying it has never, ever, ever happened in the history of humanity; I'm just highly dubious of it being even a microscopic fraction of what these feminists claim.)

Many of these critics advocate for the abolition of all these fraternities altogether. They have no place in our modern society, they engage in all kinds of insensitive and politically incorrect activities, they are elitist and exclusionary, and they regularly engage in objectionable practices like candidate hazing and humiliation. They are also often accused of sexist attitudes and behavior.

I don't agree with that (ie. the sentiment that fraternities should be banned.)

Firstly, and foremost, we live and should live in a free society. If some people want to create a private club, it should be their prerogative. No, scratch that. It must be their prerogative. As long as they aren't doing anything outright illegal, they should have the fundamental basic right to do so. If that offends your sensibilities, then too bad for you. You have, of course, the right to criticism and to speak your mind, but you don't have the right to stop people from exercising their basic freedoms. You can disagree with them all you like, but that's it. You don't get to censor people. You don't get to force people to live the way you want. You are not the arbiter of how other people have to behave. (And again, we are talking here about activities that are not illegal.)

That reason alone should be sufficient, and I could just end this post here, because no other reasons are needed, really. However, here are a couple more:

Secondly, nobody forces anybody to try to join those fraternities. It's a personal choice. Those people who want to join the fraternity are fully aware of what it entails. They are fully free to not go through that, if they don't want to. While humiliation and hazing involved in the admission rituals can be morally and ethically questionable, the candidates have made their own conscious choice to go through them. Nobody forced them into it, and they can stop at any moment they want. You don't have the right to go to these candidates and tell them to stop, because they are doing it voluntarily and with full consent, and they can stop it whenever they want. They are adults and responsible for their own actions. They do not need a nanny state dictating them what they should or shouldn't do. If you don't like it, then too bad for you.

Can belonging to a prestigious fraternity give its members a sense of elitistic superiority, of belonging to an elite group that only very few other people can join? Sure. But so what? Let them. Why does that bother you? I will never get tired of repeating this: If you don't like it, then too bad for you. Mind your own business. You are not the arbiter of how other people should feel.

Thirdly, many fraternities have a very long history and culture behind them. You might not like that particular culture, but it is valuable on its own right. Destroying that culture is a loss. Much of that culture is actually interesting and historically and culturally valuable. (No, fraternities are not only about drinking parties and candidate hazing. There's a lot more going on.) Destruction of culture you don't like is abhorrent; it's no different from eg. Muslims destroying historically valuable Buddhist art just because they assign some meaning to it that they don't like. By destroying fraternities, you are destroying a lot of valuable culture alongside the parts that you don't like.

(And no, I'm not a member of any fraternity. However, I'm a human being who values our western ideals of freedom.)

Friday, July 10, 2015

The division of "house labor"

There has been in recent years a stronger and stronger push for the notion that "house labor" should be more evenly divided between the man and the woman. It's a very common notion that the woman of the house on average does a lot more chores than the man, and this is unfair. (This has gone so far in our society, that there has even been a proposal at the highest levels of the United Nations to do something about this.)

There is one fact, however, that everybody is blatantly ignoring here: On average, men do less house chores than women regardless of their family situation. This is because on average men feel less a need to do chores in the house than women do.

In other words (and this is the part that's blatantly ignored), a man living alone will, on average, do significantly less house chores than a woman living alone.

This may be a product of our evolutionary past, but that doesn't really matter. Regardless of the physiological/psychological reason, it's ultimately a matter of personal choice: On average women choose to do more chores than men do, regardless of their current relationship (ie. regardless of whether they live alone, with a partner, or even a full family.)

What this "equalizing" of house chores would thus mean is that men would be forced to do more chores than they would normally do, simply because the woman wants them to. It's the woman who wants those extra chores to be done, not the man. This societal push would thus have the man be, effectively, forced to do it, even if it's something that's not crucial, and at the whims of the woman.

In other words, the woman decides which house chores need to be done, and the man is forced to do half of them (because, as said, on average women want to do more house chores than men). The man has no say in this.

How is this fair and balanced? Why do the choices of one partner have more weight than the other? Why should one partner force the other to do chores that he wouldn't do anyway (even if he lived alone)? (And I'm talking about relatively unimportant chores. I'm not talking eg. about parenting. That's a rather different issue.)

I have a fairer suggestion: How about respecting each person's personal choices? If a woman wants to do a house chore, it's her choice. Nobody forces her to do it. She can do it if she wants, or she can leave it be. Her choice. The same goes for the man.

(In reality, if this kind of "equal house chores" system would be enforced, then it would actually mean that men would end up doing more than women. That's because there are many things that most women just won't do, and nobody in our society will be forcing them to. Things like repairing the car or using power tools to renovate the house. Sure, some women will do those too, but very few. In the real world, on average, men would be expected to do half of the "house chores" and in addition do those technical things as well.)

The false notion of women being more often the victims of crimes

There's an extremely pervasive notion in our culture that women are much more prone to be the victims of violent crime (especially by strangers) than men. You know, the notion that women have to constantly fear for their safety when walking alone on the street, especially at night, while men have no such reason to fear. A notion promoted by feminists. Such feminists just love to spout how this is a "male privilege" (ie. that men do not have to fear walking alone at night, while women have to constantly fear.)

Yet, when you look at the actual statistics, they depict a rather different picture. For example, a report by the U.S. Department of Justice named "Violent Victimization Committed by Strangers, 1993-2010" tells a rather opposite story. For instance, this graph in the report is quite telling:

It depicts the rate of violent crimes per 1000 persons age 12 or older, by sex of the victim. There are two quite striking features to the graph:
  1. Violent crime has decreased quite significantly in the United States since 1993.
  2. Men have always been much more likely to be victims of violent crime by strangers than women.
Statistics tell us that men are, and have always been, more likely to be victims of violent crimes by strangers, yet our society still has the strong perception of the reverse being true (a notion that feminists just love to abuse.)

This got me thinking: Why does this notion exist? Why do we think that the opposite of what's actually happening is true? While feminists promote the notion, and might have aggravated it somewhat, I don't think it exists because of them.

I have a hypothesis: It's because as a society we consider crimes against women more serious than against men. As a society we find it more horrible when women are the victims of violence than when men are. Because we more or less subconsciously consider it more horrible, we also pay more attention to it, which gives violence against women more prominence, which in turn gives us the false notion that violence against women is also more prevalent.

(Ultimately this difference in attitude, the fact that we react more strongly to women being the victims of violence than men, may stem from our evolutionary past, where we "learned" as a species to be more protective of women than men.)

In other words, as a society we are more protective of women than men, and consider violence against women more horrible than violence against men. Which is something that goes completely against the feminist narrative, which claims the opposite.

Feminists will happily ignore these statistics, and the reasons why we have these false notions, and the fact that as a society we tend to be more protective of women than men. They ignore it because they have an ideological and political agenda. They can't accept it because it goes against their beloved feminist narrative.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Microsoft's professionalism

This isn't something that grinds my gears. Actually the exact opposite. This a praise for Microsoft (at least in this particular situation.) While this happened years ago, I just wanted to write about it nevertheless.

Some years ago my Xbox Live account was hacked (I have no idea how). I didn't have many Microsoft Points there (something like less than 5€ worth), but obviously that's something that had to be fixed immediately.

So I called the Microsoft/Xbox support number here in Finland. I was quite pleasantly surprised. The helpdesk person on the other end was extremely professional and experienced. She did not ask a single unneeded or stupid question, but instead went straight to the point and asked only the most relevant questions. She understood perfectly everything I said right away, and knew exactly what should be done, and what to ask, and gave clear instructions without even a hint of being patronizing or anything like that. The call was just a couple of minutes long, as the matter was made clear that quickly and easily.

My account and my points were restored in a couple of days. (They never told me how the account was hacked, but I suppose they don't even want to divulge such information.)

Say what you want about Microsoft, at least in some cases they can be really competent. (Perhaps in this case they weren't so competent in the sense that my account was possible to be hacked in the first place, but the way that the situation was handled was extremely expertly and professionally done. And heck, accounts getting hacked happens to most companies. It's probably a learning experience for most of them. You probably can't be too harsh to one company in particular for it.)

Monday, July 6, 2015

What is wrong with Square Enix and the Final Fantasy series?

The Final Fantasy series used to be the ubiquitous quintessential highest-quality JRPG game series in the 80's and the 90's (alongside the Dragon Warrior series by Enix.) But at some point Square Enix just lost the ball completely.

Thus we get a Final Fantasy game that goes contrary to almost everything that makes JRPGs so enjoyable: Mind-numbingly linear and short levels that are completely contrary to the idea of a (J)RPG and are even more linear than most FPS game levels, no overworld, no free exploration, abstract scenery that's only loosely tied to the story, an overabundance of cutscenes, irrelevant and inconsequential NPC's, no freely-explorable towns, and the removal of almost every archetypal JRPG element.

I'm, of course, talking about Final Fantasy X.

What? You thought I was talking about Final Fantasy XIII? Well, that one was like that too, but it seems that Square Enix started this trend much earlier than that. Everything that FF13 did wrong, FFX did it first. And I mean everything.

I have by now played all games in the series from the first one to the 9th, and then all three FF13 games (although the third one only partially). I had never played FF10. Recently I noticed that Final Fantasy X/X-2 Remaster was being sold at the PSN store, so I thought that great, I get to play one of the games (well, two in fact) in the series that I have never had the opportunity to play before! What a wonderful opportunity.

When I started playing the game, it was highly linear; however that's to be expected. Most games, even wide-open sandbox ones, tend to be very linear at the very beginning (because they are introducing both the story and the game mechanics), but become more open soon after. That's completely normal.

However, when hour after hour had passed it became clearer and clearer that it wasn't actually going to change. It became clear that the entire game would be like that. (Granted, I have still not played the game through when I'm writing this, but by this point it's quite clear that it isn't going to suddenly change to the same mechanics as previous games in the series.)

It felt like FF13 all over again. All the levels are astonishingly and mind-numbingly short and linear. There is no overworld, there is no exploration, all NPC's are boring and inconsequential. And what's absolutely the worst, there's a staggering amount of cutscenes.

If you haven't actually played the game, you wouldn't believe how many cutscenes there are. You know the semi-humorous criticism of current video games that they are essentially just cutscenes which are occasionally interrupted by brief sections of linear gameplay? That criticism is somewhat an exaggeration. Except in the case of FF10. In this case it's literally true. You can't walk for a minute without yet another (often long) cutscene kicking in. It's just amazing. And amazingly boring.

Mind. Numbingly. Boring.

And no, the problem is not that the game is very story-heavy. Very story-heavy games can be really well done, compelling, and interesting to play. (The game Life is Strange is a perfect example of a story-heavy game done right. FF10 is an example of the exact opposite.) The astonishing amount of cutscenes in FF10 doesn't make the game good, it only makes it annoying.

I must confess that I slightly cheated in the second paragraph of this post when I said that the scenery is abstract and detached from the story. To be fair, that's not completely true. It is somewhat abstract, but not nearly as much as in FF13. That's one point in favor of FF10. Another is that the story is much easier to understand and follow than in FF13.

But those are about the only things that are better in FF10 compared to FF13.

I'm a bit torn about it, but I am actually tempted to classify FF10 as worse than FF13, as surprising as that is to me. I wouldn't have expected that in a million years.

This is in big contrast with Final Fantasy IX, which was published just a year earlier than FF10. FF9 was a fully-fledged "traditional" JRPG (of the 3D variety). This clearly shows that Square still knew how to make a good Final Fantasy game. For some reason, however, they went in a completely different direction with FF10. (I originally thought that the first game where they took this direction was FF13, but it seems that I was very wrong. It was FF10.)

What really amazes me is that the game got generally extremely positive review, both in Japan and in the west. 91.84% in GameRankings, 92 out of 100 in Metacritic. Famitsu gave it a 39 out of 40 (ie. almost perfect score), Eurogamer gave it 9 out of 10, Game Informer a 9.75 out of 10... and so on.
Were all these people high? Did they play a different game than me? Perhaps the only rational score I can find is from the Edge magazine, a mere 6 out of 10. (I'd personally score it even lower, but I suppose I could agree with that, at least compared to all those other scores.) Said magazine described the game as "tedious and uninnovative", something I fully agree with (to put it mildly), and the dialogue as "nauseating" (yeah, it's not exactly Shakespeare.)

Granted, I have still not finished the game. I will try to give it a chance still, but I'm not very hopeful. (If the game suddenly turns to a completely different genre that's actually enjoyable, I would be very, very surprised.)

And I spent 50€ on this crap. I could have bought three games of significantly higher quality and enjoyability with that money. But no.

What happened to you, Square Enix? Why did I trust you? Why are you making crap? It seems that your last actually good Final Fantasy game was the 9th. After that it seems that everything is just horrible. (Ok, I haven't played FF12, but having seen both 10 and 13, I don't think I will ever make the same mistake again.)

In my books neither FF10 nor FF13 are actually Final Fantasy games. They are games of some other, completely different and unrelated game series. And quite bad games at that. FF13 was at least somewhat bearable, but not very good. FF10 is just exceedingly annoying.

Edit: I just finished the game. That's to say, I stopped playing it. I didn't  actually get to the end. Close, but not to the very end.

By the final parts of the game there's a really, really long multi-staged boss fight that takes something like an hour to play through (at least for the first time), and with no savepoints in between. Needless to say, I died. And when you die in a FF game, it's just game over. You are returned to the title screen, and you simply have to load your latest save. While that was frustrating, I didn't actually end the game there. I wanted to give it one last try, and level up before trying that battle again. Thus I went to a bonus dungeon (that was not accessible when passing through that area for the first time). There was a quite long section of the dungeon with no savepoints, and there's a stupid gimmick enemy there that easily one-hit-kills your entire party if you don't do the right thing. If you are unlucky, you can't even escape. Something like a half hour of gameplay, and about 5 levels for each party member, completely to waste. I decided to stop playing this f***ing game. It's boring and frustrating to no end.

There had been, in fact, quite many points during the game that I was really, really close to just stop playing it. The game is extremely long, tedious and boring. It consists of astonishingly linear and short levels (much more linear than your most run-of-the-mill lowest-common-denominator braindead first-person shooter) and endless amounts of cutscenes. Those. F***ing. Cutscenes. They drive me crazy. There are literally more cutscenes in this game than actual gameplay. Often you can't walk for five seconds without yet another cutscene kicking in. Cutscene after cutscene after cutscene. I often had the urge to scream in frustration when yet another cutscene started after a mere few seconds of gameplay after the the previous cutscene. This entire game is literally nothing more than one big cutscene that's occasionally interrupted by short linear segments of gameplay and battles.

And the thing is, those cutscenes are boring. FF10 is not exactly a literary masterpiece. Granted, it's clearer and easier to follow than the obscure and confusing story of FF13, but it's still boring, uninspired, tedious and even childish. By the middle of the game, the only reason I kept playing was because the battle system and the level-up system were somewhat interesting.

This is without any doubt the worst Final Fantasy game I have ever played. FF13 was bad, but at least it was barely interesting enough that I could finish it. FF10 is worse than that. I could have never even imagined that would be possible, but it is.

I have still to try FF X-2. I'm not expecting it to be any better. I will probably try the beginning at some point, but if it's just like FF X, I'll probably just save myself the suffering and end it short. That's a completely wasted 50€ there.

This isn't a Final Fantasy game at all in my books. (And neither is FF13, for that matter.) This is some strange experiment by Square, and it failed miserably. I have no idea what kind of game FF12 is because I have never played it, but if FF10 and FF13 are any indication, I'm guessing it's probably equally bad. (FF11 is an MMORPG, which I have zero interest in.) Which means that Final Fantasy IX was the last Final Fantasy game that Square made. They stopped making FF games after that, and just slapped the brand name to completely unrelated sub-par games after that, for shame. (While I'm cautiously optimistic about FF15, I'm not expecting it to be any better. Square has lost the ball, and it seems that they will never make an actual Final Fantasy game anymore.)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

"All unsaved progress will be lost"

This is a very minor issue, but...

Automatic checkpoints (and sometimes even auto-saving) as opposed to manual saving have become more and more prevalent in video games. Oftentimes the fact that the game is saving at a checkpoint is made quite prominent visually, while other times it's not.

One extremely common feature of these games is that when you try to quit the game, it will give the warning "all unsaved progress will be lost", or some variant of that.

This warning always sounds much more ominous and important than it really is, especially if has been like 5 seconds since the last checkpoint. The thing is, in many such games the game doesn't actually make it clear at all what exactly will be lost by quitting now. It always gives the ominous and somewhat scary warning, but doesn't indicate in any way how much will be lost if I quit now. This is especially egregious with those games that don't make it very clear when they last saved. (There are, in fact, some such games. They aren't very common, but they exist. You have basically no idea where you will be spawned the next time you start the game.)

I think this is lazy programming. They could relatively easily make the game a bit smarter than that, and give the warning only if significant unsaved progress has been made. (This could be as simple as the player having moved more than a certain distance from the last checkpoint, or a certain number of seconds having passed since. A slightly more elaborate scheme would look if the player has done anything of any significance since the last checkpoint, like killed some enemies, acquired something, or reached a previously-unvisited part of the level.) If the last checkpoint was 5 seconds ago, giving the warning is just useless, needlessly ominous, and lazy.

There are, of course, a few exceptions to this. Bloodborne is a peculiar example that comes to mind. It doesn't have manual saving (per se) and instead auto-saves at regular basis. Also, rather interestingly, when you quit the game (from its system menu) it doesn't give any such warning, and instead auto-saves before quitting. The next time you start the game you'll start right where you left of.

Curiously, this is also a kind of peculiar semi-example of the trope played straight: If you just close the game from the PS4 system menu or by shutting down the console, without first quitting the game from within it, the next time the game is started, it will actually give you a message that the game was closed without quitting, and thus some progress might have been lost. This is the only game I know of that does this. (It's also slightly peculiar given the kind of game it is. Being a "spiritual successor" to the Dark Souls games, it's extremely hard and there's almost no hand-holding; basically you have to learn everything the hard way. But I'm not complaining; that message is a quite clever way of dealing with this auto-saving scheme. It tells you that you should always first quit the game properly without ending it.)

Another example I'm aware of is Alien: Isolation. If you quit the game very soon after having saved at a save station, the game will not give you a warning. Only if some time has passed, will it do so.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The two sides of "human rights"

Consider this sentiment: Basic human rights are not up to vote.

This is a very easy sentiment to agree with. After all, we shouldn't be, for example, exterminating all black people or all jews even if the majority of the population votes for it. That would be a horrendous crime against humanity.

That's completely true, indeed. However, there's another side to that coin. Namely: How do we determine what are "basic human rights", and what are those "rights" that are up to vote? When you think about it, the question becomes a lot more complicated, doesn't it?

Moreover, how do we stop this sentiment from being abused for a political or ideological agenda?

If you have a political or ideological agenda, and you are politically powerful enough (eg. "you" form the majority of the government and/or the press), what stops you from declaring a particular idea a "basic human right" and thus above criticism, public opinion, and vote (ie. majority citizen decision)?

What's there to stop those in power from declaring, let's say, the "right to not to get offended" a "basic human right", and therefore all legislation that criminalizes "offensive" speech to be beyond criticism and public vote? Or gun ownership. Or unrestricted immigration. Or criticism of religion and other world views. Or any of the myriads of other things (regardless of your political leanings.)

My point is not the support or disapproval of any of those (or any other) examples. My point is that the sentiment of "basic human rights are not up to vote" is so easy to abuse to stifle people's free speech and their democratic ability to affect legislation that concerns them, or to simply express their opinion on things. It's essentially a way to implement "soft totalitarianism" while still keeping up the pretense of a constitutional "free" democratic society.

And also, I don't mean that we should get rid of that sentiment either. That's not at all what I'm saying. I'm just saying that it's a much, much more complicated question than it might seem at first.

A constitutional free democratic society is a precious thing to have, and something that is lost too easily. We should be very careful with it and not simply take it for granted.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Moral dilemma: Genetics and insurance

Consider this question: Is it morally right if insurance companies took a person genes into account when determining that person's insurance fees? (For example, a genetic propensity for certain diseases would be grounds for higher insurance payments.)

When this question came up, my first instinct was: Of course it's immoral!

But then I started thinking more about it. Why exactly is it immoral? To understand why this question is relevant, consider the following:

Insurance is an optional service provided by some private corporations. (Insurance provided by a government using taxpayer money is a different issue, and depends a lot on the country. Some countries do not provide such a thing, and even in most countries where the government does, it does so only for an extremely narrow set of things.) This is, essentially, a service that wouldn't have to exist. It's a service provided optionally for those who want to use it.

Insurance companies always take a risk when the provide insurance. There is the real possibility that they will end up losing money, if they have to pay more than what they receive. They have to balance carefully the cost of insurance fees. If the fees are too high, less people would take the insurance. If the fees are too low, the company will end up losing money.

Obviously insurance companies want to draw in as many customers as possible. It's a money-making business after all (a business that, optimally, is also beneficial for the customers, as a safety net for unforeseen circumstances.) One way to draw more customers in is to lower the fees for low-risk customers. After all, if everybody had to pay the same as the highest-risk customers, this would drive many potential customers away, to other insurance companies (or to not take insurance at all.)

Is it wrong for an insurance company to charge more money from a high-risk customer than a low-risk one? Your mileage may vary, and there are probably as many opinions as there are people. However, in general I would guess that most people don't find it an enormous moral problem.

So we get back to the original question: Given that insurance companies already charge more or less depending on the risk factors of the customer, and this is somewhat ok, why would taking the customer's genes into account be any more wrong?

In particular: Why do introducing genetics into this mix give a much stronger instinctive feeling of uneasiness than anything else? We do not cringe if an insurance company charges more for elderly people (who are more likely to get sick), but we immediately cringe if a company would charge someone more based on their genes. Why? What's the crucial difference? Why do genetics make us instinctively uncomfortable? What is it with genetics in particular that causes this?

I think any argument one could present against using genetics to determine insurance fees can be used against all other determining factors as well. But this would end up with all insurance fees being the same. While this may sound to many as the ideal situation, would it really? If you have insurance, you would probably start paying more than you currently do. Would you be happy with that? And that only because the idea of using genetics to determine this makes you feel uncomfortable? Would you be ready to pay extra money to avoid that feeling?

It's not an easy question.

Moral dilemma: Should first-time offenders get lighter sentences?

One relatively common principle in most modern justice systems (and oftentimes not even so modern, since the principle has probably been around for quite some time) is that for many/most crimes first-time offenders get a lighter sentence than repeat offenders.

The idea behind this is, essentially, to give people a second chance, to learn their lesson and to become better. People are young and inexperienced, they act foolishly and without thinking, they act impulsively, they don't fully realize the consequences of their actions, they may be a bit arrogant and full of themselves and do things that they shouldn't really be doing. Getting caught and going through that legal process, essentially and hopefully, "scares them straight".

Being caught and tried for a crime, with all the police investigation, lawyers and all that stuff, and especially the prospect of being possibly found guilty and fined or even put into jail, can be really stressing for someone who has never had to deal with that kind of situation. This process can indeed be a huge wake-up call. "Hey, you, stop acting foolishly. You are not the king of the world; your actions have real consequences, you can't do whatever you please. You have to be more mindful and more careful with your actions, or you'll be seriously screwed. Your life could be ruined."

Many, if not most, first-time offenders do indeed learn their lesson. The whole process is indeed so scary and effective that they are "scared straight". Most of these people do become model citizens and never repeat their crimes.

Quite many people, however, disagree with the notion of giving lighter sentences to first-time offenders. "F**k them, they shouldn't have done it. They were perfectly aware of it before doing it." This sentiment is especially aggravated by the few cases that always happen when some criminal does not learn their lesson and immediately go and do it again. It can be really aggravated if the crime is something like rape. Thus they think that all rapists, and all other like criminals, should be given full sentences from the get-go. No leniency.

I have to strongly disagree with that sentiment. Do we really have to punish the majority for the crimes of the minority? Is it really fair for all those people who simply acted foolishly and without thinking, and who would truly learn their lesson from a lighter sentence and become model citizens, if they were instead punished with the longest possible sentences because of those few people who do not learn the lesson?

We should strive to be a civilized, humane society. Rehabilitation is more important than punishment. We should not punish harshly those who would fully rehabilitate from a light sentence just because a few bad apples don't. We should be more empathetic and less cynical. Sure it sucks when one of the bad apples repeats a serious crime, but the solution to that problem is not to punish everybody "just in case".

(And if you are thinking that I'm writing this because I have perpetrated some crime or gone through that process, that's not the case. I have never done anything nor gone through that, thankfully. However, I do sympathize with people who do. I can feel empathy, as a fellow human being. Personally if I were to act so foolishly and be investigated, I would certainly be scared shitless.)