On Dickwolves

Since I’ve commented a time or two (on Facebook, unfortunately, I’ve really got to start remembering that I have a blog more often…the posts are here and here) on my problems with Penny Arcade (primarily including, but not limited to, the “dickwolves” incident), it’s only fair to recognize that Mike has posted a clarification expanding on his comments at this year’s PAX.

Good things: This appears to me to be the most honest and (hopefully) heartfelt recognition of the damage the comic and the ensuing brouhaha caused. That strikes me as an encouraging step, and hopefully some sign that Mike is actually learning from all of this.

Not-so-good thing number 1: He still seems to be pinpointing removing the dickwolves shirt from the store as the action that “opened the wound back up.” This strikes me as problematic, because, as others have pointed out, removing the shirts was actually one of the few good decisions (possibly the only one) PA made during all of that. The wound was already open; removing the shirt was a band-aid. That’s why people have been so upset at his most recent comment.

Not-so-good thing number 2: Though he says he understands why the original comic upset people, and that he regrets the follow-up comic, that seems to be as far as he’ll go. Now, I’ll admit that I can (and do) see what PA was aiming for with the original comic (in his words, “point[ing] out the absurd morality of the average MMO where you are actually forced to help some people and ignore others in the same situation”).

However, the joke itself does not need to use rape as the setup for the punchline. The joke boils down to:

Prisoner: Take me with you!
Hero: I only need to rescue five. You’re number six. Get lost.
Prisoner: But horrible things happen to me here!
Hero: I said, you’re number six. Cope.

I’m relatively sure that the guys at PA could find all sorts of horrible things that would be horrid and funny that aren’t rape.

It seems to me that the best thing to do now (and what would have been the best thing back then) would be to come up with some alternate “horrible thing”, substitute the text, and re-upload the comic, with a statement along the lines of, “We have realized that we went too far with this joke, apologize for causing offense, and have adjusted it accordingly”. It certainly wouldn’t erase the original comic from existence (it’s been copied and referenced far too many times for that to happen), but it would at least recognize the problem and that people were hurt, it would go a long way to backing up their insistence that they’re just good guys (or at least guys who are trying to do good) with a twisted sense of humor, and it would allow the joke itself to remain part of the PA archives. (If they were to go this route, I would suggest removing their followup strip, however. I’m not sure that one can be salvaged.)

I’m still not going to start reading PA again (it was never one of my “must-reads” anyway), and as I’ve stated before, I’m not enough of a gamer to have much interest in going to PAX, so on that level, I suppose my opinions/advice don’t really mean all that much. However, I do hold out hope that Mike may actually be learning from all of this, and that things will improve in the future.

You’ve Got A Dirty Speech Synthesizer

An amusing little anecdote about Watson, the IBM supercomputer that was featured on Jeopardy, that might seem a little familiar to those of my friends who are parents:

Two years ago, Brown attempted to teach Watson the Urban Dictionary. The popular website contains definitions for terms ranging from Internet abbreviations like OMG, short for “Oh, my God,” to slang such as “hot mess.”

But Watson couldn’t distinguish between polite language and profanity — which the Urban Dictionary is full of. Watson picked up some bad habits from reading Wikipedia as well. In tests it even used the word “bullshit” in an answer to a researcher’s query.

Ultimately, Brown’s 35-person team developed a filter to keep Watson from swearing and scraped the Urban Dictionary from its memory.

Gee, seems like parenting would be a little easier (if less embarrassing–and, of course, amusing) if the solution was that easy for people!

(via Techdirt)

Unhappily Ever After

Seven short tales, all based off of Disney tales, but far darker than what you’re used to….

She was always kind, but she was no longer good.

Snow White didn’t remember how she ended up in the forest. She remembered her stepmother’s huntsman leading her into the forest to gather flowers, and setting the flowers aside so she could speak with a lost bird. The next thing she knew, she was wandering alone, feeling colder than she had ever felt before.

Pickpocket Magic

This profile of a professional pickpocket in the New Yorker is fascinating:

A few years ago, at a Las Vegas convention for magicians, Penn Jillette, of the act Penn and Teller, was introduced to a soft-spoken young man named Apollo Robbins, who has a reputation as a pickpocket of almost supernatural ability. Jillette, who ranks pickpockets, he says, “a few notches below hypnotists on the show-biz totem pole,” was holding court at a table of colleagues, and he asked Robbins for a demonstration, ready to be unimpressed. Robbins demurred, claiming that he felt uncomfortable working in front of other magicians. He pointed out that, since Jillette was wearing only shorts and a sports shirt, he wouldn’t have much to work with.

“Come on,” Jillette said. “Steal something from me.”

Again, Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered. Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment, he froze and looked up. His face was pale.

“Fuck. You,” he said, and slumped into a chair.

Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette’s pen.

There’s also a video clip of Apollo doing his thing. Amazing.

Hey Look… Squirrel!

From Yeah, Sure, We’re Underinvesting in Education, but Hey Look… Squirrel! | Slog:

Look… squirrel!

That’s pretty much the level of discourse we’ve been having over education funding in Washington state, the kind that’s designed to keep our eyes off the ball by assuming that voters have an attention span shorter than that of the average dog. Another $1.4 billion slashed from K-12 education, about $1,400 per student? Squirrel! 3,700 fewer teachers funded in WA’s public schools? Squirrel! A more than 50 percent reduction in higher education spending over the past two budgets? Squirrel!

New Research

Today, the Seattle PI’s Big Blog linked to an MSNBC story about how swearing can apparently help lessen how much pain is felt.

…the researchers had thought that swearing would make the cold water feel much colder, lowering the participants’ tolerance for pain and heightening their perception of it. “In fact, the opposite occurred — people withstood a moderately to strongly painful stimulus for significantly longer if they repeated a swear word rather than a nonswear word,” write the team….

What caught my eye was the opening paragraph of the MSNBC story’s description of this as “new research” — I was sure that I’d heard this before. A quick search of the website of the Neuroreport journal where the study was published quickly finds the study…and reveals that it was published in August 2009.

Admittedly, this is just a bit of a fluff piece on a slow news day. But really. Since when is research almost two years old “new”? It may well be the most current research on the subject, but new? That seems a bit of an overstatement.

Close the Washington Monument

Bruce Schneier nails this.

From Schneier on Security: Close the Washington Monument:

Securing the Washington Monument from terrorism has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult job. The concrete fence around the building protects it from attacking vehicles, but there’s no visually appealing way to house the airport-level security mechanisms the National Park Service has decided are a must for visitors. It is considering several options, but I think we should close the monument entirely. Let it stand, empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears.

An empty Washington Monument would serve as a constant reminder to those on Capitol Hill that they are afraid of the terrorists and what they could do. They’re afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism — or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity — they will be branded as “soft on terror.” And they’re afraid that Americans would vote them out of office if another attack occurred. Perhaps they’re right, but what has happened to leaders who aren’t afraid? What has happened to “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”?

An empty Washington Monument would symbolize our lawmakers’ inability to take that kind of stand — and their inability to truly lead.


Terrorism isn’t a crime against people or property. It’s a crime against our minds, using the death of innocents and destruction of property to make us fearful. Terrorists use the media to magnify their actions and further spread fear. And when we react out of fear, when we change our policy to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed — even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we’re indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail — even if their attacks succeed.

We can reopen the monument when every foiled or failed terrorist plot causes us to praise our security, instead of redoubling it. When the occasional terrorist attack succeeds, as it inevitably will, we accept it, as we accept the murder rate and automobile-related death rate; and redouble our efforts to remain a free and open society.

I’ve excerpted a fair chunk here (perhaps slightly more than is strictly appropriate), but there’s a good bit more at the source. You really should read the full thing.

The Proverbial Sausage Factory

This is a fascinating look at a trial from a juror’s perspective: hearing the evidence, trying to balance all the factors and evidence in coming to a decision, and watching the legal system at work. Perhaps of particular interest to me as a Law and Justice student, but the kind of thing that I think would be interesting no matter what.

From Tux Life: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt:

These are the facts we were given as a jury, facts upon which we were to decide if a boy was guilty of a crime that would put him in prison for 10 years. We were admonished to consider all of the facts but nothing outside of them. Don’t consider the sentence, or the age, or the race, or anything unrelated to what we heard while sitting in the juror box. Just focus on the facts that are presented. Yet, we were also told, time and again, that our Constitution is absolutely unwavering in its mission to protect the innocent, that no matter how clear-cut the evidence may seem, the burden of proof in criminal cases always, always, always falls on the prosecution. The boy sitting in that chair next to a pair of public defenders, possibly wearing borrowed clothes to look presentable in court, is innocent until he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.


All I could think as I walked to my car after being excused was this: from chaos comes order. This system that we look at and think that it’s in disrepair, that nobody can possibly fix it or in which you have “activist judges” on one side and uncaring, throw-the-book-at-them judges on the other side just isn’t a fair characterization. What you truly have is a proverbial sausage factory: it’s incredibly messy, nothing seems to make sense, nothing looks good or reasonable or even real, but at the end of the line there is something like justice. It doesn’t always look right. It doesn’t always feel right. It doesn’t even always taste right. But it’s at least palatable. And no matter how it is, it’s never for a lack of sincerely trying.

(via kottke)

Not Really a Surprise

Sad, but very true.

From elusis: (stix cartoon by eyeteeth of Small Pecul:

The thing is that nothing about this is new. Private citizens being arbitrarily singled out for intrusive searches and rough treatment by authority figures because of their appearance, their “attitude,” or just a momentary need for an endorphin rush by a small-minded bureaucrat? Welcome to the lives of people of color, the phenomenon of Driving While Black, the lives of women, of transpeople, of disabled people (oh hai, Canada!).

It is no accident that women have been complaining about being pulled out of line because of their big breasts, having their bodies commented on by TSA officials, and getting inappropriate touching when selected for pat-downs for nearly 10 years now, but just this week it went viral. It is no accident that CAIR identified Islamic head scarves (hijab) as an automatic trigger for extra screenings in January, but just this week it went viral. What was different?

Suddenly an able-bodied white man is the one who was complaining.

(via Bruce Schneier’s excellent roundup of recent TSA stories)