Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 15:54 on 19-09-2009, Dan H
Perhaps I'm a cynic, but there's something that rings false about the five year old fanfic thing. It just doesn't feel like the way a real five year old would talk. Like the note about them going into the "big movie room" which "ebi calls a the-ay-tahr". Kids learn the proper names for things from the people around them, if somebody you trust calls it a "theaytahr" then that's what you'll assume it's called.

I'm not saying it's definitely a fake, but I would be largely unsurprised to find out that it was.
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at 00:10 on 19-09-2009, Viorica
Ladies and gentlemen, the youngest fanfic writer ever.
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at 22:44 on 18-09-2009, Rude Cyrus
I found the rachni queen to be pretty damn sexy. *bow-chika-wow-wow*

Um, anyway, I read both of those Mass Effect articles, and I'm reminded of why I refuse to debate the ethical or artistic aspects of a video game -- inevitably, the discussion devolves into a virtual shouting match of "You're wrong!" and "No, YOU'RE wrong, you homophobe/misogynist/feminazi/bigot!" All I care about is whether or not the damn thing entertained me. If there was some misogynistic or bigoted detail in the game, I'll take that into consideration. Was I disappointed in the lack of females for the alien races? Yes, and I hope it gets addressed in the sequel. Did it ruin my enjoyment of the game? No. It's great that there are individuals willing to debate the finer points of gaming, but sometimes it's taken way too far.
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at 21:21 on 18-09-2009, Dan H
First, am I the only person to understand the original author to be saying: “the decision to have an ugly arachnoid queen whose only purpose is to have lots of children as the only non-sexy female alien in a game with six all-male races is patriarchal,” not “having a character who is an arachnoid queen whose only purpose is to have lots of children is patriarchal in itself”? Was that really less clear than I thought?


I think it's a bit of both actually, part of the problem is that "patriarchy" isn't the vast slavering demon which anti-feminists pretend that feminists are talking about. It's just kinda the way the world works. The actual line in the original is just a pre-emptive rebuttal to anybody who might suggest that the Rachni brood queen (who, let us not forget, chooses to speak through a hot Asari chick) constitutes a "strong female character" who isn't an over-sexualised fantasy figure aimed at straight men.
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at 20:48 on 18-09-2009, Rami
the fact that the people who ran it thought that a quiz of that sort was a good way to test how well students had been taught. That, to me, betrays a rather terrifying attitude to the business of education.
In that case I strongly suggest, for your sanity's sake, that you never read the details of the No Child Left Behind policy that's run US public education for the last few years.
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at 20:44 on 18-09-2009, Dan H
If they're not being taught effectively all these things (which while not desperately important are frequently repeated) then how effectively are they being taught all the things which are more important but less often repeated?


Maybe it's my hatred of rote learning, but it strikes me that there's two options here:

1) The Oklahoma schoolkids didn't know the answers to these questions because Oklahoma schools have stopped drilling these facts into kids' heads, in favour of actually teaching them stuff. This would be a good thing.

2) The Oklahoma schoolkids didn't know the answers to these questions because although they *had* been drilled into their heads repeatedly, they hadn't remembered them. This would strike me as strong evidence that drilling factiods into students' heads isn't a good way to teach them stuff.

To put it another way, what I found depressing about the study was the fact that the people who ran it thought that a quiz of that sort was a good way to test how well students had been taught. That, to me, betrays a rather terrifying attitude to the business of education.
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at 19:58 on 18-09-2009, Rami
fundamental to understanding how the American government works
Not sure I said that -- and in fact I think you can have a fair idea of how lots of the government (and quite likely the parts that are relevant to you, e.g. your Congressperson's policies) works without even knowing the legislature is bicameral. But they are fundamental to how they're taught, which I think is the greater issue here. If they're not being taught effectively all these things (which while not desperately important are frequently repeated) then how effectively are they being taught all the things which are more important but less often repeated?
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at 19:47 on 18-09-2009, Rude Cyrus
It distresses me because a lot of those questions are, like Rami said, fundamental to understanding how the American government works.
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at 19:07 on 18-09-2009, Rami
But I still don't know if I'd say that made them markers of intelligence.
Oh, absolutely -- I don't think they are at all. I think what they do show, though, is either that none of the students could be bothered with the test (not inconceivable) or that the Oklahoma school system is quite significantly suboptimal.
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at 18:34 on 18-09-2009, Arthur B
I think the most important point about the test was that it was a voluntary test administered (probably with anonymity for the students) by an outside organisation.

The first question any student, anywhere, asks when they are given a test like this is "Is this going to have an effect on my grade?" The answer in this case is almost certainly "no", and on hearing that most students will simply cease to give a fuck. They will probably not read the questions properly. If it is multiple choice they may just tick boxes at random, hand in their paper, and go to lunch early. If it involves written answers they will be tempted to just write down hilarious bullshit. Maybe a few swots will try to do well on the test, but even the swottiest kids in the class won't put in the same sort of effort they would in a test that actually has some tangible consequences for them.

I am willing to bet that if you took the same students and plonked them in a formal citizenship class, the results of which had an impact on their grade point average, all of a sudden their test results would improve markedly.
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at 18:16 on 18-09-2009, Sister Magpie
I'd had those facts fired in my direction dozens and dozens of times by the time I was fourteen.

But I still don't know if I'd say that made them markers of intelligence. There are facts I've probably heard plenty of times that I still wouldn't be able to answer on a test just because it never seemed such an important thing to remember because it didn't come up in anything I'd need day to day.

When it comes to the founding of the US yes, I probably know plenty of facts. I know Washington was the first president probably due to stories about him becoming such rather than memorizing the numbers of the presidents. But sometimes even with things like that you might not be able to spit out the fact when it's asked that way but you actually do know the answer if you thought about it or had it asked of you a different way. Sometimes you'll get something wrong and when you realize how it's wrong you feel silly because of course you knew that.
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at 17:14 on 18-09-2009, Rami
All this crap with multiple choice questions is a load of meaningless hogwash.
The impression I got from the news report was that it wasn't a multiple choice test -- they'd just aggregated the common answers as if there had been multiple choices.

I didn't know the answer to many of the questions either to be honest, and I'm generally accounted not entirely stupid.
...but you weren't educated in the US, or in that system. Believe me, those questions are pretty fundamental to the way USians are taught about their country. My schooling was heavily US-influenced, and even though the effect was diluted due to not actually being in the US or surrounded by USians, I'd had those facts fired in my direction dozens and dozens of times by the time I was fourteen.

Dan makes some very good points, but I think you need to remember that the UK doesn't have the same obsession with its founding as the US (possibly because it has more than two or three other historical events of national import for kids to study in school), and so it's not a fair comparison at all.
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at 16:29 on 18-09-2009, Wardog
All this crap with multiple choice questions is a load of meaningless hogwash.

I didn't know the answer to many of the questions either to be honest, and I'm generally accounted not entirely stupid.
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at 15:30 on 18-09-2009, Robinson L
It scores bonus points for being one of the few places I've seen that uses the prissy "sex/gender" distinction properly (the Asari don't have a sex, but they *clearly* have a gender).
True she gets the linguistics right, but she fails to correct another mistake of the designers: if the Asari reproduce through mating then clearly they do have a sex—just the one in fact, which I'm struggling to recall the technical term for. “Hermaphrodite” is close.

So really, they do have a sex and a gender.

While we're on the subject, somebody else has posted an ... intriguing response to the original article. The discussion it's provoked is certainly ... lively.

As to the arguments, many of the commenters (including the author of the original article, and someone who made an excellent point about the original articles' concreteness as opposed to the critics' broader philosophical take) spoke to most of my issues, so I'll just go over a few things which really nag me.

First, am I the only person to understand the original author to be saying: “the decision to have an ugly arachnoid queen whose only purpose is to have lots of children as the only non-sexy female alien in a game with six all-male races is patriarchal,” not “having a character who is an arachnoid queen whose only purpose is to have lots of children is patriarchal in itself”? Was that really less clear than I thought?

Second, it seems the second article could be retitled “Do game designers have an ethical obligation to exercise good ethics when it comes to depicting gender roles in their games?” I can understand disagreeing about what constitutes an ethically responsible depiction of gender roles (or abortion, or militarism, etc.), but arguing that people have no responsibility to exercise good ethics in creating their art (more on that last word in a minute)?

I do not think developers need to apologize for creating fictional representations of common gender roles simply because some people believe these roles to be derisive
No replace “common gender roles” with “common African American stereotypes” and see what you get. (In fact, this article reads sort of like a rebuttal to—shameless plug!—</a href="http://www.ferretbrain.com/articles/article-456">my essay on “Race in Popular Culture”.)

Also, both sides of the ensuing argument seem to take it for granted that Video Games Are Also Art. I suppose all of these arguments are valid under my definition of “art”. But I wonder if, by by Dan's standards, any of the arguments from "artistic choice" have any substance to them.

Mm, excellent points, Dan, especially #4. This, in fact, has always struck me as one of the great downfalls of the US education system: an overemphasis on important but not all-important facts.

It's also one of the factors James Loewen points to as contributing to the general malaise of US students toward the subject of history in Lies My Teacher Told Me.
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at 10:48 on 18-09-2009, Dan H
I don't think it's as depressing as it seems, for several reasons:

1) "High school students" could mean anything from a thirteen year old to an eighteen year old. Hell, it includes kids with learning disabilities if they're in a conventional school. We have no indication of who these students were, how the test was administered, or the way the results were collated.

2) The questions are all arbitrary, factual-level questions, often requiring specific knowledge of technical language which doesn't actually reflect on the student's understanding of the subject. Being able to identify that "the head of the executive branch" is the same thing as "the president" doesn't actually display any understanding of how the branches of government work.

3) The sheer number of "don't know" answers to any given question strongly suggests that most students simply didn't give a crap about this test. If you give a student a "don't know" option, they'll take it, it doesn't actually mean that they don't know, it means that they can't be bothered to answer the question. This isn't a damning indictment of the educational system, it's just human nature.

4) Perhaps this is just my cultural perspective but the whole notion that people have to know arbitrary facts about their government seems a peculiarly American one. I don't know how many MPs are in the House of Commons, I certainly don't know how many Lords are in the House of Lords. I'm damned certain that if you asked 1000 British school kids to identify the "First Minister of the Treasury" none of them could tell you that it was another name for the Prime Minister. They certainly couldn't tell you who the first British Prime Minister was - or even the first King of England.

5) If you actually look at the detailed breakdown of the answers, you'll find that the most common wrong answers are simply common misconceptions or other simple errors. For the question "which ocean is on the east coast of the united states" 61% gave the correct answer, and the most common incorrect answer (Pacific - 11%) was almost certainly a result of getting East and West mixed up, which is a failure of spatial awareness, not of intelligence. Similarly while only 10% of students stated (correctly) that there are nine justices on the Supreme Court, 45% gave an answer that was between 8 and 10.

Ultimately the study does not show that - as one news site histrionically claimed - that "75% of Oklahoma High school students cannot name the first President of the United States". It shows that when 1000 Oklahoma high school students were asked to name the first president of the United States 10% didn't answer (answered "don't know"), 10% weren't paying attention (answered the questions "who is the president" or "who was the last president") 21% thought it was a trick question (answered "John Adams" or "Thomas Jefferson" - the kind of answer you'd pick if you considered Washington but thought it was too obvious), 17% answered more or less at random (Roosevelt, Nixon, Kennedy), 18% went with the most common misconception (Lincoln) and 23% gave the right answer.

Anybody who has ever said "left" when they meant "right" or walked into a room then forgotten why they were there should realise how easy it is to give the wrong answer to a simple question, particularly when that question is arbitrary and facts-based.

If you want to find out how much Oklahoma high school students know about their country, get 1000 students and ask them to write you essays about the history of the presidency and the branches of government. All this crap with multiple choice questions is a load of meaningless hogwash.
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at 01:00 on 18-09-2009, Rude Cyrus permalink
at 22:44 on 17-09-2009, Rude Cyrus
On a completely different note, I've been reading Shamus Young's analysis of The Path, and I've been wondering how people come to the interpretations that they do -- for example, one of the girls' stories is apparently a metaphor for masturbating in the bathtub. Now, I'm not saying he's wrong or that he's a creepy pervert, but I'm not sure as to how one can connect the dots in such a way.
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at 11:23 on 17-09-2009, Dan H
Behind the curve as ever, just looking at the gender-in-mass-effect article now.

It scores bonus points for being one of the few places I've seen that uses the prissy "sex/gender" distinction properly (the Asari don't have a sex, but they *clearly* have a gender).
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at 04:08 on 17-09-2009, Rami
On a more hopeful note, there's a chance recycling technology is getting good enough to help ameliorate (if not fix) Western society's dependence on fossil fuels...
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at 01:20 on 17-09-2009, Rude Cyrus
I'm very worried about the upcoming ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission from the Supreme Court. A bit of background: in 2008, Citizens United, a conservative non-profit corporation led by David Bossie (a scumbag of the highest degree)made Hillary: The Movie, which was basically a 90-minute smear-fest designed to derail Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The FEC deemed that the film violated federal laws that banned corporate and union contributions to poltical campaigns -- no attack ads, no financial donations, nothing. While unions and corporations can contribute through PACs, they're still limited in what actions the PAC can take and how much money they can donate (usually $5,000 per candidate per election, or $15,000 per political party per year). A District Court ruled against Citizens United, but the group was dissatisfied and took its case to the Supreme Court, which, oddly, seemed eager to hear the case.

From what I've been reading, Citizens United is trying to get the court to overturn all congressional authority when it comes to campaign finance, which means that corporations can give unlimted amounts of money to the candidates they support, draw up attack ads, and on and on -- in other words, corporate influence on politics would be MASSIVE, even more so than it is now. And judging by the Supreme Court's conservative, pro-corporate slant, it looks like that's exactly what's going to happen.

Of course, you'd never hear about this in the American media, considered all of the major networks are owned by corporations.
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at 00:51 on 17-09-2009, Arthur B
I do wonder why the BBC don't let you pay a monthly fee to get international access to the iPlayer. But then, why come up with clever ways to make money when you can just shake down every household in the UK on a yearly basis for the licence fee?
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at 00:40 on 17-09-2009, Rami
Great. You get Last Chance to See, and I get CGI turtles falling over unconvincingly because of the, er, 'speed' of Comcast's broadband offering. I wish iPlayer were international -- I'd be happy to pay the TV licensing fee...
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at 00:34 on 17-09-2009, Sonia Mitchell
I think the most worrying thing about that version of Wuthering Heights is that it's published by Harper Collins Children's Books.

Though I did enjoy ITV's adaption the other week. Burn Gorman made an unexpectedly good Hindley.
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at 00:28 on 17-09-2009, Sonia Mitchell
Has anyone been watching Last Chance to See? They're revisiting the Douglas Adams/Mark Carwardine trip on its twentieth anniversary (with Stephen Fry in Adams's shoes), and so far it's been very good. On Sunday they're airing the Madagascar episode which I have very high hopes for.
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