Links for September 2022

Pig music

What is this cartoon? Tens of thousands of people on twitter looked, and for a long time, no one could identify it. But eventually they managed to track it down — it’s a still from a 1991 TV movie about how “’soulmates’ from another planet” teach Earth people that confidence can help to save Christmas. Sometimes it takes a million eyes to solve a mystery, but on the internet, we HAVE a million eyes.

Middle schoolers in Rhode Island come together on Discord to document how their teacher treated female classmates. Now the Discord archive is in the hands of the US attorney’s Office, the state Department of Children, Youth, and Families, the state Department of Education.

Normally in English you can turn a verb into a noun by adding “-er” to the end (travel -> traveler, rule -> ruler, etc.). You can also make compound nouns by giving the verb an object and putting the verb second (fight fire -> firefighter). But there are also a couple dozen “exocentric verb-noun compound agent nouns”, where the noun starts with the verb and ends with the object. Almost all these nouns are vaguely unsavory (like pickpocket, cutthroat, and sellsword), almost all of them were coined in the same 150-year period, and we don’t really know where they came from.

Aella releases the results of a new study where she “asked trans people how much their preference for various sexual things changed after hormone replacement therapy”. She describes her sample size as “real low”, but 300 is much higher than most psychology studies (which famously often have a mere 20 people per condition). Some criticism from Liminal Warmth on twitter here — Lim says “I don’t think much at all can be drawn in terms of generalizable or solid conclusions from this data set” and points out that there are alternative explanations for Aella’s findings. This is true, but we think it’s the wrong way to look at things. There are always alternative explanations, and the value of a study usually depends on how many explanations it rules out, how much it narrows things down, not how many alternatives are left. Someone might predict, for example, that taking estrogen would make a person much less interested in most sexual preferences, but Aella’s results provide pretty strong evidence against that story. There are limitations to the dataset but there was basically nothing before and now there’s something, so kudos to her. This is what research looks like, and we’re excited to see what Aella does next.

Minimum Viable Airships

One of the earliest pieces to argue against the use of tobacco is the treatise A Counterblaste to Tobacco, written by King James VI of Scotland / I of England. James blames Native Americans for this public-health scourge, but you have to admit that he writes with some style — he calls smoking “a custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse.” 

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