Pokémon GO types rant

I want to start by saying that I do enjoy the game overall. The data usage is basically negligible as long as you get game updates through wifi. It helps motivate me to do some of the exercising and exploring I ought to be doing anyway, and honestly enjoy doing anyway once I actually start moving instead of making excuses. There's just something about seeing these creatures from my childhood coming to life... more or less, anyway. And it's free to play!

That said, it definitely has its problems. There's no interaction between players except indirectly through king-of-the-hill-style fighting over gym locations. Status ailments don't exist. Monster spawns are often poorly distributed outside of urban areas. Eevees show up constantly instead of being rare enough that you can only get a single one in many of the games. A number of special monsters remain completely unavailable so far (though maybe that's better than if everyone were overusing them). The app chews through battery charge like no one's business. The interface's responsiveness always seems to stutter at the worst possible times. I've recently been having an annoying problem where all the nearby monsters sometimes vanish for a few seconds before coming back, sometimes several times in a row. Stability remains an issue months after the initial release, especially in the busier areas that would otherwise be the best places to play. The positioning sometimes gets so flaky that it thinks I'm driving too fast even when I'm on foot, or not moving at all. And let's not forget the cheaters.

None of those are my main gripe, though.

Pokémon makes extensive use of a fairly complicated elemental rock-paper-scissors system. Picking the right matchup gives a substantial advantage, while picking the wrong one does the opposite. This, along with the 150+ monsters and the gotta catch'em all slogan, is what the game has always been known for, and it makes up the heart of the battle system. Even the anime references this constantly, though Ash's Pikachu in particular sometimes defies it when the plot says so.

To explain the mechanics in a little more detail, let's pretend for simplicity's sake that all the monsters have the same stats and that all attacks have the same power, so that if both monsters have neutral matchups against each other, they both inflict 100 damage per attack. Striking a weakness doubles that, so if one does that while the other doesn't, that's a 200/100 ratio. Resistances halve damage, so if the attacker with an advantage also has a resistance to the other one's attacks, that's 200/50, for a net 4x difference in damage output. There's also a mechanic called the same-type attack bonus (STAB) that adds an extra 50% damage when the user's type matches the attack's type, so that would be a 150/100 ratio if one has it and the other doesn't in an otherwise-neutral matchup, or 300/50 (6x difference!) when the one with STAB also has an offensive and defensive advantage. Even when the opponent gets STAB too, that's still 300/75, for a 4x difference.

Just to pile it on, monsters can have two types, combining the strengths and weaknesses of each type. Now, if one type resists what the other type is weak against, those cancel out and it takes the same damage as in a neutral matchup, and if both types resist the same thing, the monster only takes a quarter of the usual damage. But if both types have the same weakness, that means quadruple damage. A Tangela (Grass type, resistant to Ground) using Grass moves against a Rhyhorn (Rock/Ground, both types weak against Grass) that for some reason insists on using Ground moves, with our all-base-damage-is-100 assumption, is looking at a 600/75 advantage (since they both get STAB). That's 8 times the damage of the opponent. That should mean an easy win, even if the Tangela is significantly weaker than the Rhyhorn.

From this, I think it's safe to make these statements about the game mechanics:
  • Type matchup is easily the single most important aspect of combat, overpowering even fairly sizable differences in stats.
  • STAB is nice, but if you have to pick one or the other, choosing attacks that strike the opponent's weaknesses matters significantly more. Therefore, you generally want a monster to have a variety of move types, even if they don't all match its type.

But that's in the core games. Pokémon GO works very differently, and not just because the battles are real-time instead of turn-based.

The battle system in Pokémon GO substantially dumbs down the type system. A weakness means only 25% extra damage (instead of 100%), while a resistance gives only 20% reduction (instead of 50%). That's better than nothing, of course, but the effects are small enough that it's not too hard to make up for a disadvantage with better stats. The ideal matchup for single-type monsters without STAB goes from 200/50 to 125/80, or a 1.56x net damage advantage instead of the 4x in the core games. STAB counts for a 25% bonus, so it's also nerfed, but not by nearly as much. STAB on one side gives a 125/100 ratio in an otherwise neutral matchup, or 156/80 when combined with weakness and resistance, still only a 1.95x damage advantage instead of the 6x we're used to. Even hitting dual-type monsters where it hurts isn't especially impressive. The same Tangela and Rhyhorn example as above ends up with a 195/100 ratio—no better than an optimal matchup against a single-type monster, thanks to the Rhyhorn's STAB effectively canceling out its disadvantage of a doubled weakness.

So, in Pokémon GO:
  • Raw stats can easily overpower type disadvantages. Type can give you a slight edge, but it just isn't that much of a big deal.
  • STAB helps just as much as striking a single weakness does. More, actually, since it applies no matter what you're facing. Therefore, moves that don't match a monster's type are more or less useless, and more often than not you want both moves to have the same type.

That turns the whole concept upside down. The core idea of effective Pokémon battling is supposed to be building up a varied team and shuffling them around to suit what you're facing. But in Pokémon GO? Just get a few good attackers, and a few blobs of health for holding gyms, and you can almost ignore the type system entirely. Any monster that doesn't make it into the higher stat tiers barely matters at all. The underemphasis on the type system even makes some entire types effectively obsolete, since monsters of other types with worse matchups can make up for it and then some with raw stats. Take the Grass type, for instance. It should be the best choice against both Water and Ground, thanks to having both offensive and defensive advantages against both, but in practice, a good Electric monster does better against Water, and a good Water type does better against Ground, despite lacking appropriate resistance, since even the strongest Grass types just don't have as much in the way of raw stats as fairly common higher-end Electric and Water monsters. They can't balance things out by inflicting any of the status ailments they often could in the core games, either, since Pokémon GO doesn't implement those at all.

On the one hand, I kind of understand dumbing down types a bit, since the game gives you less control over your monsters' moves and less flexibility to pick what they do in combat. It's not very informative when it comes to helping you figure out which types work best, either. On the other hand, though, I can't help but think they took it too far. Maybe something more like +50% / -33%, leaving STAB at +25% where it is, might work as a decent compromise, and make my poor Venusaurs, Victreebels, Vileplumes (and one Bellossom) feel useful again.

But that's not even the part that bothers me the most.

In the core series, some defender types are flat-out immune to certain attack types. In Gen 1 alone, Normal and Fighting moves pass right through Ghost monsters, Ghost attacks can't touch Normal types either, Ground attacks can't reach Flying monsters, and Electric attacks won't conduct through Ground types. Later generations add to that a Steel type that's impervious to Poison attacks, a Dark type that blocks out Psychic moves, and a Fairy type that... scares off Dragon moves, I guess? Pokémon GO takes those deliberate and meaningful aspects of the type matchup system, shrugs indifferently, and treats them all like simple resistances. Not that the balance was ever perfect, but that's easily enough to throw it off completely, especially since monsters with immunities often have lower overall stats to even things out a bit. Dugtrio, for example, is honestly kind of pathetic for an evolved form, but between ignoring Electric attacks and inflicting triple damage thanks to weakness and STAB, it can still wreck a Pikachu's day. With a heavily nerfed damage bonus and no immunity, though, the only thing it's good for in Pokémon GO is filling in a space in the Pokedex. Similarly, all those underpowered Murkrow I keep struggling to catch exist almost entirely to give Psychic types a hard time, but they're virtually useless in Pokémon GO except to build up your catch count for Dark.

Let's use an Espeon (Psychic) vs. Umbreon (Dark) battle as a specific example. In the core series, the Espeon's best moves won't work thanks to the Umbreon's immunity, so it had better hope it at least has a non-Psychic attack to work with. The Umbreon, on the other hand, will have no trouble beating up on the Espeon's weakness to Dark attacks. The best case for the Espeon, then, is 100% damage (unless it's lucky enough to have Dazzling Gleam from a TM, and even then, that's still only 200% since it's not getting STAB), against the Umbreon's 300%. Realistically, the Umbreon will win that fight without even trying.

In Pokémon GO, though, that's not how things work. Espeon can only get Psychic moves, while Umbreon can only get Dark moves, so weakness, resistance-that-should-be-immunity, and STAB all automatically come into play. But since Pokémon GO eviscerated the relevance of types, the Umbreon can only inflict 156% damage to the Espeon's full 100%. The Umbreon still has the upper hand, yes, but it's not such a sure thing, and nowhere near the curbstomp it was meant to be.

It gets worse, though. Since Pokémon can have two types, some will have one type with an immunity and one without it. Immune is immune, though, whether the other type has resistance, weakness, or neither. At least, that's how it goes when the game respects immunities. But Pokémon GO doesn't. So when an immunity and a weakness collide, they just cancel out. Let me repeat that. A monster that is supposed to take no damage whatsoever from an attack will take just as much damage as a monster that has no resistance whatsoever to it. I can't make any excuses for that. It's just bad.

This wasn't as obvious before the Gen 2 rollout. With just Gen 1 monsters, the only attack type affected this way was Ground, and the only defenders affected were Zubat and Golbat (Poison/Flying), Moltres (Fire/Flying), Zapdos (Electric/Flying), and Charizard (Fire/Flying). The bats are too weak to realistically bother with anyway, and the legendary birds aren't available even now, so unless you're a big fan of Charizard, you probably never even noticed.

But Gen 2 more than doubles the list. Crobat (another Poison/Flying), Skarmory (Steel/Flying), and Ho-Oh (another Fire/Flying unobtainable legendary) all have the same weak/immune combination against Ground attacks. Girafirag, one of the oddball creatures that doesn't evolve, is Normal/Psychic, leaving it with the same problem against Ghost attacks, even though the immunity is the entire point of pairing Normal with Psychic (its only other effect is canceling out the usual Psychic resistance to Fighting). Gligar has an improbable Ground/Flying type combination, which ought to leave it immune to both Ground and Electric, but instead it takes full damage from Electric moves and only gets a small reduction against Ground.

And then we have Wooper and Quagsire, an family sporting a Water/Ground type combination. They look obviously watery, so I kind of get the impression they're meant to bait you into trying to electrocute them, only to find your moves have no effect while their Ground attacks wreck your poor monster. If nothing else, it at least should make no sense to use anything but Grass attacks against them thanks to that juicy 4x weakness. But not in Pokémon GO! Electric won't work quite as well as Grass, sure, but it gets the job done just fine. It shouldn't.

That's a problem. Again, given the differences in gameplay from the core games, I can understand not wanting to negate damage entirely. But immunity can't be treated as no better than resistance, and it can't be allowed to disappear just because the monster's second type has a weakness that ought to be ignored in this situation.

Maybe the gym overhaul that's reportedly in the works will change things.

(cross-posted to http://kwhazit.ucoz.net/blog)


Confusion, Embarrassment, Humiliation, and Loss of Decency

Let's do semi-local semi-current events.

The Boyertown Area School District, located maybe an hour away from where I live, is being sued over transgender rights, but not by or on behalf of a transgender person, as has happened in numerous places where such rights have been denied. No, in this case, the suit is attempting to squash such rights, as a boy known only as "Joel Doe" claims to have felt "confusion, embarrassment, humiliation, and loss of dignity" at what he calls "sexual harassment" and an "invasion of privacy" after allegedly seeing a transgender boy—whom we'll refer to as "T" for convenience since neither an actual name nor an alias have been reported—in the locker room "wearing nothing but shorts and a bra".

So, in short, it sounds an awful lot like Joel was watching other people changing, saw something he wasn't expecting to, and had a freakout over it. I'd say I don't mean to trivialize it, but I don't think I can honestly make that claim. It's sounding pretty trivial from here. On the other hand, I've also seen the suggestion that he doesn't actually care all that much, and his parents just pressured him into this, but since I have no way of knowing either way, I'll make no further mention of that and just comment on the facts of the case as they have been reported.

Let's start with those words and phrases I quoted from the claim. Confusion? Fair enough. Bras don't often turn up in boys' locker rooms, so that's an understandable reaction to seeing one. Confusion, though, is hardly unusual or remarkable, nor is it harmful in itself. Embarrassment? I'd be embarrassed, too, if I caught myself overreacting like that, but somehow I doubt that's at all what he meant. As for humiliation and loss of dignity... how? And due to what, exactly? There haven't been any allegations that T, or anyone else for that matter, was picking on Joel, or making a scene, or watching him change, or even aware of him. Where, then, could any humiliation and loss of dignity come from, if not Joel himself? And as for sexual harassment and invasion of privacy, well, if anything, Joel was the one who sexually harassed and invaded the privacy of T, and quite possibly other students as well, since, by his own admission, he couldn't keep his eyes to himself.

Joel also claims that he's too distressed by the thought that he might encounter someone of the opposite sex to use the school bathrooms regularly. In a way, that's a clever addition. Along with emotional distress, the risk of medical problems from avoiding bathrooms all day is an argument transgender advocates have successfully used in the past. Turnabout's fair play, some would say. But if turnabout's fair play, then maybe it would be fair to tell Joel he should just go see a psychologist about his issues and not expect anyone else to humor him, as those who would call transgenderism a mental illness often say about trans people. Regardless, it doesn't take much thought to realize that it's actually quite disingenuous for someone in his situation to try to co-opt this argument. Joel does not look or, as far as we know, feel out of place when he uses the facilities that correspond to his designated biological sex, nor does he put himself in any particular danger by doing so. Joel has never been barred from using the facilities that are intended for people who socially live out the same gender that he does. Joel has not been treated like a girl or told that he belongs in a room full of girls despite his presumable certainty that he is not a girl. Joel has not been singled out by any rules, policies, or practices. Yet what he is attempting to do, just because the presence of a single person upsets him, would force other people to face all of those things.

Meanwhile, few of the other students seem to have had even vaguely similar reactions. However, three others, who also choose to go by aliases, have since joined themselves to the existing lawsuit. "Mary Smith" was purportedly distressed when she "saw a male student washing [his] hands in the sink", though she doesn't offer any explanation as to why she assumed the student was male, much less how something so innocuous could disturb her so deeply. Like Joel, "Jack Jones" claims he "saw a member of the opposite sex in the locker room with him", but like Mary, fails to make even Joel's token effort to explain why he believed that's what he saw. The way the account of this event reads, with "classmates gesturing and looking at something behind him", makes it sound just as likely that someone was just clowning around and the whole incident had nothing to do with this issue. And "Macy Roe" simply brings up the same vague dread of encountering someone of the opposite sex that all the others profess, without so much as going to the trouble of claiming any incident at all that might conceivably have triggered such a response. This all strikes me as a strange obsession with what other people might have out of sight and out of relevance in their pants, to the point of disregarding anything actually observable, such as appearance, behavior, or anything else that might have any practical significance. And have they all forgotten how little unlocked doors actually do to stop people from entering rooms? Any girl could walk into any boys' facility at any time, and vice versa. Again, I'd say I don't mean to trivialize all this, but I don't think I can honestly make that claim.

Joel also claims that he was not taken seriously and was denied any reasonable accommodations when he approached the school administration about ensuring his privacy. Unsurprisingly, the school district disputes his account of the meeting. In other circumstances, this could turn into a matter of his word against theirs, except that in this case, Joel has left us solid reasons to question his credibility. For one thing, both the school district and Aidan DeStefano (a transgender boy currently attending the school who has, with the ACLU, filed a motion to intervene, and refreshingly isn't going by an alias) insist that the locker rooms have both lockable toilet stalls and curtained changing cubicles that anyone can use for additional privacy. Now, I haven't been to look, of course, but that seems like it would be easy enough to verify, so while I wouldn't argue against additional measures to give more privacy options for everyone, I can't imagine that they're simply making up what certainly sound like privacy accommodations and seem reasonable enough—certainly more reasonable than anything I ever encountered back in high school, when the closest we got to privacy when changing involved avoiding the busier areas of the locker room, wearing longer shirts for a little extra coverage, being quick about it, and hoping no one was watching. Furthermore, even the officially filed complaint admits that Joel was told he could change in the nurse's office, though it tries to portray that as just another indignity. Maybe any accommodation short of kicking T out of the room counts as "unreasonable" to Joel, but if he was willing to misreport something so basic and so easily disproven, that makes it that much more difficult to believe any of the claims he's made about the meeting. Unsurprisingly, this hasn't stopped numerous outraged trans-hostile retellings, or even reports that in theory ought to be more neutral, from taking him at his word.

Speaking of claims that have been made, the school district also reports that T has stated, and faculty has confirmed, that he habitually wears his gym clothes under his normal school clothes, and simply removes the school clothes for gym, without taking anything else off. That would mean he never wears anything less than a full set of gym clothes in the locker room. Yet Joel claims to have seen a student "wearing nothing but shorts and a bra". There are only three ways to make sense of this:
  1. Perhaps, on some occasion, T didn't do as described, and Joel happened to spot this specific student during the brief time of partial undress during this rare occurrence. Keep in mind that the locker room contains, according to the school district, "upwards of 60 students" and "upwards of four supervising adults" during gym periods, and presumably has rows of lockers that would block any one person's view of more than a fraction of those. In addition to that, Joel ought to be minding his own business regardless, especially if he's as concerned with privacy as he says he is. That seems like a lot of unlikely events that would all have to line up, not to mention that I'd be consistent about that sort of thing if I were in T's shoes. Even so, it's still a possibility.
  2. Joel never saw a student wearing a bra in the locker room, is misrepresenting his reasons for believing that there was a transgender student there, and made up the story of his immediate reaction, presumably in an effort to win sympathy for his position. In short, it's possible that Joel isn't being any more honest about this than he was about the school administration not offering any accommodations. I'm not trying to make an accusation, exactly, but when one explanation calls for multiple assumptions that involve unlikely coincidences, while another takes only a single assumption that fits well with known facts, guess which one is more likely to be correct.
  3. Joel did see a student in shorts and a bra, but this student wasn't T at all. Someone else, presumably not even transgender, was wearing a bra or similar garment, maybe for medical reasons, maybe on a dare, maybe in an attempt to get a reaction out of someone like Joel, maybe for the thrill of it, maybe just because. I have to say this possibility intrigues me the most, partly because it would mean Joel was reacting to something that doesn't actually have anything to do with any transgender students, and partly because I would so totally do that if I were a boy in his gym class—though, admittedly, I wouldn't have had the daring when I was actually in high school, and hadn't even heard of transgender as a concept at the time anyway. Which is regrettable for a number of reasons, but I digress. Regardless, if I could be one of those students, though with the knowledge and experience I have now, I'd try my best to get every last non-Joel boy in the class to wear a sports bra, just to underscore how silly it is to me that anyone would jump from seeing a bra to feeling oppressed and filing a lawsuit. It turns out that karyotype can't stop a person from putting on a piece of clothing.

Meanwhile, the possibility of any of the other dozens of students in the room eyeing Joel simply doesn't concern him, somehow. It would be easy enough to infer that, but I don't even need to—the official complaint states it outright: "Joel Doe, Mary Smith, Jack Jones, and Macy Roe do not object to students of the same sex using private facilities with them, and welcomes them no matter how they self-identify their gender, and they have no expectation of privacy from such students" (emphasis added). Based on that, the school could throw T and Aidan in with the girls, and even if they spent the whole time gawking, none of the plaintiffs would care. And if some genetic male—cis boy, trans girl, nonbinary, gay, straight, bi, ace, or whatever—were staring at Joel the whole time he was changing, or if dozens of them crowded around to watch, that would be no cause for complaint either. They could even film the whole thing if they wanted to, and their superficial anatomical similarity to Joel would make that perfectly acceptable to him. That is what "no expectation of privacy" means, isn't it? Yet the plaintiffs do have a problem with people simply going about their business and using the facilities appropriately without paying undue attention to anyone or causing any trouble, solely because of certain biological differences that they're never going to have cause to observe or otherwise interact with in any way. Call me crazy, but if you're genuinely interested in protecting your, or anyone else's, personal privacy, not only does this not make sense, it's completely backwards.

It's also curious that the district administration reportedly hadn't heard anything about any supposed problems until the lawsuit. If this were really about people just wanting to preserve their privacy, you'd think someone would have at least tried complaining to the administration or school board before resorting to legal action, even if they expected it to fall on deaf ears.

Also, regarding the suggestion that Joel use the nurse's office... One of the more common refrains I've seen in comments supporting Joel—the ones that aren't just personal attacks against T in particular and transgender people in general, anyway—asks, with evident indignity, why he should have to be the one to go elsewhere. Well, isn't he the one demanding more privacy? It only makes sense that if you're the one who feels as though you need more privacy, then you're the one who should be offered the option to go someplace where you can have it. Which is all that this is: an option that he has been offered. Despite how the reactions are often worded, no one on staff has demanded, or even so much as requested, that he go anywhere. If he's being treated any differently from any of the other students, it's only because he specifically asked to be. Though, to take a less gracious tack, if you're the only one causing a disturbance, which also seems to be the case here, you shouldn't be surprised if someone does ask you to leave. By all accounts, including Joel's, T has raised no fuss and done nothing improper, unless you regard simply being in the same room at all as improper. The school district evidently doesn't. Neither does a mounting volume of case law. Neither, it would seem, do all but a small handful of the other students. And I honestly can't understand why Joel does.

Maybe Joel and the others honestly feel like they're the victims here, never mind that it makes no sense to me to think so. But let's be clear about something. If looking at someone who's minding their own business makes you feel uncomfortable, the problem is yours.

The Boyertown Area school district has made both the legal complaints they have received and their own responses available at: https://www.boyertownasd.org/domain/1395


Wrestling with Restrooms

It's been over a week since the Supreme Court declined to take the Gavin Grimm case, which involves a transgender boy fighting to be allowed to resume using the boys' restrooms at his high school in Virginia. Though disappointing to those who had hoped to see the question of transgender bathroom rights settled, the result should come as no surprise considering how the lower court ruled. Rather than directly address the question of whether the school district's newly-enacted prohibition violates the non-discrimination rules of Title IX, or the principle of equal protection under the law in general, the lower court's ruling was basically a cop-out, amounting to, "the DoJ and DoE say it violates Title IX, and we can't prove they're wrong, so we'll defer to their judgment." However, the DoJ and DoE under the new administration have since backed down from that position, so the original ruling doesn't hold up, and the Supreme Court basically sent it back for a do-over. Neither court, it would seem, wants to address the issue directly as long as they can come up with any justification for avoiding it.

In other news, Mack Beggs, a transgender boy in a Texas school, is facing complaints (to put it mildly) after winning a state wresting tournament, in which he competed against girls rather than boys due to league rules. While I haven't been able to find anything regarding restroom usage in this case, I'm curious as to whether it has come up. I'd think any kid who's too much of a boy for wrestling girls to make sense also ought to be boy enough to use the same toilets as the other boys. That aside, the complaints are misdirected. "I'm not wrestling on a girl's team to wrestle girls," Beggs said, "I'm doing it because I'm not allowed to wrestle boys." Critics like to call that "cheating", due in part to testosterone supplements that have been limited to a bare minimum, even though it's league rules that force the situation. There's something disingenuous about criticizing someone for taking the only option permitted. It's not as though the wrestler in question wants to compete as a girl. "Change the laws and then watch me wrestle boys", Beggs insists. And why not?

I've seen the argument that Title IX rules only apply to discrimination based on biological sex, not gender identity. However, for all practical purposes (other than procreation, which shouldn't matter unless a school is running some kind of skeevy breeding program, and certain medical needs, which aren't the school's concern and won't be quite the same as either typical boys or typical girls anyway), Gavin Grimm and Mack Beggs are boys. They look like boys, they act like boys, they dress like boys, they socialize like boys, and they regard themselves as boys. The only difference is their anatomy. Doesn't that make treating them differently from all the other boys discrimination based on biological sex, which by the arguments of the detractors themselves, violates Title IX? In these situations, at least, there's no way to decouple gender-identity discrimination from biological-sex discrimination. They're functionally the same thing.

On a bit of a side note, the write-up of the Grimm case in the local paper, sourced from the Associated Press, refers repeatedly to whether students may use the bathrooms of "their chosen gender". That seems a strange and misleading way to put it. Perhaps there are exceptions, but I've never known anyone, cis or trans, who chose their gender. Sure, there are unsettled questions about how much any of nature and nurture and genetics and hormones in the womb and formative experiences affect gender identity (or for that matter, sexual preference and any of various other related concepts), but "choice" suggests a decision that is conscious and deliberate and, more problematically, readily changeable. That just isn't so for most people. We can choose how we express our gender, or what words we use to describe it, or how open we are about it with other people, or, yes, which bathrooms we decide to use, but gender itself? We don't choose that any more than we choose our height, or whether or not we're lactose intolerant, or how well we can tolerate spicy foods, or how scared we are of heights, or what hair color we find most attractive, or whether we enjoy reading more than watching television. It just is.

"All I want to do is be a normal child and use the restroom in peace, and I have had no problems from students to do that—only from adults," Grimm told the school board before they voted to enact the new policy. That seems to be the usual pattern. The students who are supposedly at the center of the issue, and who supposedly need to be protected from something or other, never seem to care half as much as the impassioned yet ill-informed adults who get to decide how to run things. Grimm had been using the boys' bathrooms for nearly two months without incident before indignant parents stepped in to push for, and eventually get, the rule change. Beggs, if given the option, would be wrestling boys, but the rules committee made wrestling girls his only choice other than quitting wrestling altogether. Beggs even reports later talking to the girls who forfeited in the regionals and being told that they had been pressured into doing so by their parents despite actually wanting to compete. In another instance, at a high school in Florence, Colorado, a transgender girl had been attending without issue until the Pacific Justice Institute decided to launch a smear campaign that drew enough in the way of national attention and death threats to drive her onto suicide watch. It happens again and again. Trouble doesn't arise until someone goes looking for trouble. It's not the transgender kids causing the problems, or even, in most cases, their cisgender classmates, or teachers, or administrators. It's "concerns", most often from people who are at most tangentially involved, blowing up into moral panics and unfounded accusations and slanderous attacks. And so we get stuck with unnecessary, shortsighted, one-size-fits-all, black-and-white rules that end up doing more harm than the good they were ostensibly supposed to—and that's before factoring in that it's questionable whether they do any actual good at all.


Setting this thing up...

Due to certain concerns regarding the home country of the current host of my main site (at http://kwhazit.ucoz.net) and how certain policies of said country (aside from being objectionable on principle) may relate adversely to some of my posts, I've decided to start mirroring the existing posts here. Additionally, any posts moving forward that don't strictly relate to the primary content of the main site will only appear here, where free speech is still valued.

And, hey, no obnoxious ads, either!

Speaking of which, if anyone knows of another free, or inexpensive, webhost that allows you to provide your own existing HTML files instead of forcing you to go through a design interface, I'm open to suggestions. I do miss FortuneCity's free hosting. For all its faults and lack of support, they at least had FTP and made sure the ads behaved themselves.

And it turns out I can backdate the posts, so everything is even properly dated and in chronological order!


Goats and Doors (originally posted on uCoz)

Today's issue of Parade has a 30th anniversary Marilyn vos Savant article that among other things revisits the Monty Hall problem (also known as two goats, three doors) that caused an alarming amount of controversy, including furor from a lot of from people who really ought to have known better. "Of the letters from the general public, 92% are against my answer, and and of the letters from universities, 65% are against my answer", she wrote in a follow-up, and many of these letters were condescending if not outright rude and insulting. (link)

For anyone unfamiliar with it, here's the basic premise of the problem:

You're on a game show where you are presented with three closed doors. One, chosen at random, has a car behind it, while the other two have goats. You pick a door, trying to find the car. After you have picked, the host opens one door, always selecting one of the two that you did not choose, and always selecting one that has a goat behind it (since the host knows where the car is). You then are given the option of changing your selection from your original one to the other remaining unopened door. What do the odds say you should do?

It should be obvious enough that your initial chance of picking the correct door is 1/3, since there are three doors, each equally likely to hide the car, and you can only pick one. Let's label the doors A, B, and C, with A arbitrarily being the door that you picked. This leaves these three, equally likely, cases:

  • A) You picked door A, the door that has the car.
  • B) You picked door B, one of the two doors with a goat.
  • C) You picked door C, the other one of the doors with a goat.

At this point, the host opens a door, revealing a goat. Opening the door didn't change anything. The goats and car didn't move around. So now there are only two doors left, one with the car and one with a goat. Either door could be correct, so it doesn't really matter whether you switch or not, right? There's a huge problem with that assumption, though.

There are still three cases.

  • A) Your initial guess is still right. The host can open either of B or C; it doesn't really matter. If you switch, you lose.
  • B) Your initial guess is still wrong. The host must open door C, so switching gives you door B and the win.
  • C) Your initial guess is still wrong. The host must open door B, so switching gives you door C and the win.

It's easy to assume that, with two doors to pick from, you have a 50-50 chance either way. And that would be true, if you picked a door only after the host opened one. But you didn't! That's the trick. Your initial selection has a 1 in three 3 chance of being correct, period. Nothing the host does after you pick can alter that. The host knows something you don't, though, namely where the car is. The host never opens the door you picked, so not opening that door tells you nothing about what might be behind it. However, opening a door does affect the odds for the remaining unopened door, since the host never opens the door with the car. In two out of three cases, the unpicked closed door remains closed precisely because it hides the car.

The confusion comes from incorrectly conflating cases B and C by thinking of the situation as "the car is either behind the door I picked or behind the other unopened door". The thing is, there's only one way it can be behind the door you picked, but two different ways it can be behind the other door. It doesn't matter that you can express it as "either one or the other"; the probabilities simply aren't equal.


Bathroom Hypotheticals (originally posted on uCoz)

I don't generally like to comment on politics, but this is more a social issue than a political one, so I consider it fair game. Anyone who's only here for the translations might still want to skip this one, though.

"I don't have anything against the transgenders, it's about the perverts and predators who could abuse this," or so I often hear. If that's true, it seems odd that all these proposed "bathroom bills" go by biological sex or birth certificates or male and female deoxyribonucleic acid, and don't so much as bring up predatory behavior. Similarly, the policies many of these people are objecting to apply specifically to transgender people and not to anyone else, much less to people trying to commit crimes. But all right, let's look at a few hypothetical scenarios that focus on the perverts and the predators. As of this writing, North Carolina specifically bans people from using public facilities that do not correspond to the sex listed on a their birth certificates, while Target stores have a policy expressly allowing people to use facilities that match their gender identity, so I'll be using the North Carolina capitol building and a Target store as the settings for these scenarios.
  • Scenario 1: A predatory cisgender heterosexual man puts on a dress and walks into a women's restroom in a Target store pretending to be a transgender woman.
  • Scenario 2: A predatory cisgender heterosexual man puts on a dress and walks into a women's restroom in the North Carolina capitol pretending to be a cisgender woman.
There's no evidence that either of these specific scenarios have happened. Several incidents similar to scenario 2 have occurred in places other than the North Carolina capitol, but even these are quite rare, with fewer than a dozen verifiable cases in the entire US in the past decade and a half. And for the sake of fairness and completeness, I also ought to mention the two verifiable cases similar to scenario 1.

One occurred in a homeless shelter for women in Toronto, which, involving both extended occupancy and presumably someone in charge of admittance who in hindsight perhaps should have been more careful, is a very different environment from a restroom or even a locker room. The perpetrator attacked several people before being caught, and has been sentenced to an indefinite jail term that could mean life in prison.

A more recent case in an Idaho Falls, Idaho Target, in which someone took pictures of a woman in an adjacent changing room, also fails to show what detractors want it to. While the perpetrator does apparently identify as transgender, and reports are mixed as to whether this particular Target has gender-segregated changing rooms or the pool of unisex rooms that is nearly universal for Target stores, neither of those have more than marginal relevance to the case. It's essentially impossible to take pictures like that without being caught, and sure enough, the perpetrator was caught and arrested, and has confessed, and will be prosecuted, and it made no difference whether they were transgender or not. Isn't that what's supposed to happen? No one got away with anything, there's no evidence that Target's policy did anything to make anything easier, and existing law applied regardless of who violated it or where.

I find it rather telling that, despite there being people actively hunting for anything damning, these are the only factual cases anyone has been able to find anywhere in decades of trans-friendly anything that involves anyone claiming to be transgender to access anything for any illicit purposes. And if the second case involved the typical unisex changing area, being trans or not had nothing to do with access, so it doesn't even meet those broad criteria!

Regardless, what meaningful difference is there between the two scenarios above? If someone really wants in that bathroom, does either case really pose any more of an obstacle than the other does? Don't forget, too, that there are cisgender women who are tall or muscular or hairy, or have low voices or short hairstyles or masculine builds, or prefer to dress in a more masculine style. Is it fair to give them extra grief because of a might-happen? While there's nothing wrong with watching your back and staying alert for suspicious behavior from anyone, it never has been and never will be as simple as "let's harass everyone who doesn't seem normal enough!"

Speaking of which, what if...
  • Scenario 3: A cisgender heterosexual man doesn't put on a dress and walks into a women's restroom in the North Carolina capitol pretending to be a transgender man.
Again, there's no credible evidence that this or anything like it has happened so far. However, North Carolina's law requires transgender men to use female facilities unless they've managed to get their birth certificates changed. Here, therefore, we have here a way for someone to abuse trans-exclusive policy that's even more simple and straightforward than the hypothetical way to abuse trans-inclusive policy. If the perverts and predators can abuse the rules either way, how does it make any sense to claim the rules are about the perverts and predators? North Carolina's law, as I see it, actually makes it easier for them than Target's policy, since it involves a Must rather than a May, and because it gives predators trying to abuse it less reason to even attempt to blend in.

Trying to fight sexual assault by banning trans people from bathrooms in the hopes of keeping predators out makes as little sense as trying to fight obesity by banning bagels from bathrooms in the hopes of keeping donuts out, and for much the same reasons. Bagels aren't donuts, and obesity has very little to do with either of them being in bathrooms in the first place.

And what about an equally plausible and even more basic scenario?
  • Scenario 4: A predatory cisgender heterosexual man simply opens the door and walks into a women's restroom, not bothering with any subterfuge.
After all, what's stopping him? Whether he's in the North Carolina capitol, a Target store, or somewhere else entirely, nothing much. There have been a handful of documented cases demonstrating this, including one in the news not too long ago in which a man choked a girl in the bathroom of a Chicago deli. He never claimed to be transgender, pretended anything, or even made any attempt to blend in, just walked right in and waited for his victim. Even cases like this, however, are exceedingly rare. Bathrooms just aren't where people looking for victims typically go.

Regardless, laws and policies make no difference to those who choose to ignore them. A sign on a door, especially one that doesn't lock, is just a sign, not a magical warding talisman. Sometimes I wonder if the objection to trans-inclusive policies has more to do with an unwillingness to face this truth and its implications than with the policies themselves. The rhetoric about non-discrimination policies "opening the door for predators" just sounds silly when it ought to be self-evident that they're already fully capable of, quite literally, opening the door on their own.

Let's also look at several other relevant cases.
  • Scenario 5: A cisgender heterosexual man walks into a women's restroom, enters and locks a stall, pees in the toilet, then gets up, washes his hands, and leaves.
  • Scenario 6: A cisgender heterosexual woman walks into a men's restroom, enters and locks a stall, pees in the toilet, then gets up, washes her hands, and leaves.
  • Scenario 7: A cisgender heterosexual man who wants to feel powerful walks into a men's restroom, corners a boy, and molests him.
  • Scenario 8: A cisgender heterosexual woman who wants to feel powerful walks into a women's restroom, corners a girl, and molests her.
  • Scenario 9: A transgender person with a male birth certificate walks into a men's restroom (which is what North Carolina law dictates), and is cornered and molested.
I feel like these are getting closer to the heart of the issue, especially since all of them have happened and continue to happen. Scenarios 5 and 6 aren't particularly unusual and don't harm anyone in any way that I can imagine, yet North Carolina has gone out of its way to make these actions illegal. Scenarios 7 through 9 clearly harm people, yet North Carolina's law that's supposed to protect people from perverts and predators not only does nothing to address scenario 7 or 8, it if anything encourages scenario 9, putting people in more danger. Conversely, Target's policy has little if any bearing on scenarios 5 through 8, but does at least help do something to counteract scenario 9.

Meanwhile, North Carolina has missed out on a number of investments and jobs and events and more, specifically because of objections to their law. That harms the entire state, not just whoever this law supposedly or actually targets. Without even getting into the question of how anyone is meant to enforce it, that's a classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. And the governor who willingly signed the bill, apparently without a second thought, and continues to defend it, has the nerve to call the whole thing a conspiracy to hurt his re-election bid. And this sort of nonsense is a large part of why I try to avoid politics.

Some of the fears may well involve the perverts and the predators, but they simply aren't relevant to the question of who should be allowed to use which toilets.


Are people still insisting that passive voice is to be avoided? (originally posted on uCoz)

Part of the problem, if my school experience gives any indication, stems from confusion about what, exactly, passive voice is. Many of my teachers told us to avoid any form of the verb "be", and some even had us memorize a list of its various forms—I can still rattle off "am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been" without even thinking about it—as part of the effort to avoid it. At least one took it a step further and gave instructions to avoid words like "exist" and "become" as well! Even at best, though, looking for "be"s at most serves only as an aid to finding passive voice, not the definitive identification it was sometimes treated as. Not until taking college courses on the Japanese language (which has a verb ending specifically for passive form that gets regular use) did I correctly understand the concept of passive voice.

Aside from not properly explaining what passive voice is in the first place, I don't think any of my English teachers ever explained why we supposed to avoid it, beyond "because I said so", or, at best, some vague admonitions about it making your writing weaker. Overuse of anything can make writing feel repetitive and stale, certainly, but avoiding something entirely, and with no real explanation as to why? That sort of thing never sits well with me. If I'm expected to do, or not do, something, I at least want to understand why. Even when I don't necessarily agree with the reasons, it's helpful to know that there are reasons. And, as should go without saying at this point, I can't remember anyone ever mentioning any of the various reasons why you would want to use passive voice.

So, why don't we start with what is and is not passive voice? The verb "be" has three major uses in modern English (unless I'm overlooking one), and only one of them puts a phrase in passive voice.

As a primary verb to indicate state of being

This is probably the most common usage of "be". Let's start with some examples, emphasizing the (entire) verb in each case.
  • I am the writer of this blog entry.
  • The seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake.
  • People are often stubborn.
  • It was a dark and stormy night.
  • The chickens were restless.
  • This could be the discovery of the century!
  • While everyone else raced around, the meditating stranger was simply being.
  • It had been a strange series of events.

This form of "be" either acts as a synonym of "exist" or, more often, links a subject to a description or identification, similar to a verbal equal sign. You could make the case that this isn't exactly active voice, since nothing is actually doing anything, but it's not passive voice, since nothing is happening to anything, either.

Sometimes, there are effective ways to rephrase a sentence to avoid using a form of "be", and it couldn't hurt to take a look at sentences like these and see whether it makes sense to rewrite them. For example, "the grass in the meadow was green" could become "green grass grew in the meadow". When it works, this can help writing sound more vibrant. In many cases, though, it's more trouble than it's worth and just makes the result sound unnatural. Unless you want unnatural, that's not a good thing. Try to avoid overuse, yes, but realize that descriptive sentences with no actions have their place.

As an auxiliary verb to form progressive tense

  • I am writing this blog entry.
  • It is raining.
  • The peasants are rioting in the streets.
  • I was eating dinner when the phone call came.
  • They were calling her name.
  • You should be finishing your homework.
  • (If there's any natural way to use a "being [verb]ing" phrase that makes sense, I can't think of it.)
  • The government bureaucrats had not been doing anything useful for years.

Note that the verb in each of these cases indicates an action, and that the subject of the sentence is taking (or neglecting to take) that action. That's the very definition of active voice. You should only avoid sentences like these when the progressive tense itself does not correctly describe the action, never because of some phantom rule about avoiding "be". The only way a sentence with a verb in "-ing" form after a form of "be" can even possibly be passive is when the "-ing" verb is "being", and even then it's not a sure thing, as the example sentence in the first section above demonstrates.

As an auxiliary verb to form passive tense

  • I am dismayed by the confusion about the passive voice.
  • Seafood is commonly eaten in coastal regions.
  • All trains are delayed due to the snowstorm.
  • She was enthralled by the possibilities of the new invention.
  • The adventurers were defeated in combat.
  • Sleep can only be avoided for so long.
  • Some people are being fangoriously devoured by a gelatinous monster.
  • The new tech had been hired straight out of high school.

As above, the verb in each of these cases indicates an action, but unlike above, the subject of the sentence is not taking the action. Instead, it happens to the subject. If you see something that looks like "[verb]ed by", you're almost certainly looking at the passive tense, but note that "by" does not need to appear. When it does, however, you can rephrase a passive voice sentence "X was verbed by Y" as "Y verbed X"—but English teachers aside, you may not always want to do that.

Passive voice exists for a reason. Sometimes you don't know who performed the action, just who it affected. Sometimes you don't care who did it. Even when you do know and (at least to some extent) care, that information might be incidental to the thrust of the sentence. Passive voice works perfectly when you want to emphasize the consequences of an action, or to focus on its recipient rather than its performer. If you're telling a story about Arthur, then saying "Arthur was mugged" instead of "someone mugged Arthur" is not only perfectly fine but makes more sense. It's Arthur's story, not the mugger's.

Incidentally, you can make a passive verb without using any form of "be" at all, though it may not be considered proper English. If robbers "got chased off", for example, that's passive, since someone else chased them off, and it happened to them.

In a typically English tendency to make things more confusing, some words can be either the past participle of a verb or an adjective. This makes it difficult in some cases to tell whether a given sentence is using passive voice or whether the "be" acts as a connective and the following word acts as an adjective instead. For example, if the water "was frozen", "frozen" could be the past participle of "freeze", making this a passive verb, or it could be an adjective for something cold and solid, which would make this a descriptive sentence not in passive voice. Personally, I say leave the distinction to the linguists, and just use whatever works without worrying overly much about what it is grammatically.

And one more...

"Be" once had another usage, but this one has mostly died out in modern English. The appropriate form of "be" before the appropriate form of another verb indicated an action that occurred in the past and resulted in a state that continues to the present. Possibly the most familiar usage of this form comes in religious hymns. "Christ is born", "He is risen", and so on all indicate that something happened with a result that remains in effect. Similarly, someone who "is fled" has run away and not returned, more explicitly than someone who simply "has fled". Once again, this is not in any way passive voice.

To Summarize...

"Be" is not your enemy. It doesn't always mean passive voice, and even when it does, that isn't automatically a bad thing. Don't overuse either the passive or "be", but don't be afraid of them either. They have their uses, and understanding them will help, not hinder, your writing.