Retrospective on Hobby Lobby

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2014, on the (then recent) Burwell v Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, which ruled that owners of for-profit corporations could withhold certain healthcare benefits (i.e. contraceptives) if their owners had religious objections.  I was reminded of this one because of Trump’s recent rule allowing federal contractors to discriminate based on religious views.  While only tangential to the present issue, I thought it was a good explanation of the rationale behind the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and how one might argue around religious exemptions.

As I may or may not have mentioned before, my boyfriend has a law degree.  So I get to hear a lot of lawyerly opinions on the recent Burwell vs Hobby Lobby decision, both from him and his friends.  And they seem to contrast with the opinions I get from atheist blogs, where there’s lots of panicking about the consequences, but very little explanation of the mechanical details of the decision.

The Hobby Lobby decision was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law from the 90s.  The RFRA says,

Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

Laws specifically targeted against religions are already unconstitutional, but the RFRA adds religious protection from neutral laws.  For example, if a company bans hats among employees, that is a neutral rule that disproportionately affects certain minority religions which mandate wearing hats.
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The physics of Dominion

For this month’s repost, I’m publishing up an article I wrote in explanation of a programming project in 2018.  In theory you could find it on Github, but to maintain a layer of pseudonymity I’m not linking it directly.  A few minor revisions have been made to adapt to the audience.

Introduction

The goal of this project is to create Markov Chain simulations showing that the card game Dominion contains phase transitions, much like the physical phase transition between liquid and solid.

Dominion is a popular card game created in 2008. In Dominion, each player has their own deck, and they add/remove cards from their deck over the course of the game. Each game has a unique set of cards available to be added to players’ decks, making the optimal strategy in each game different. However, there are two archetypical strategies, based on two fundamentally different decks. The “Big Money” deck makes the best of the 5 cards drawn each turn. The “Engine” deck includes cards that draw more cards, and tries to draw itself in its entirety each turn.

Because of my background in physics, I recognized that the line between “Big Money” and “Engine” strategies is a phase transition. More specifically, it’s a one-dimensional percolative transition. That explains why there is such a strong dichotomy between the two strategies over a wide range of conditions.

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On color theory

This is a repost of an article I published on Tumblr in 2017.  As many things I publish there, it was written somewhat extemporaneously, but it stood out as something I wanted to eventually import here.

There are really two color theories, the scientific theory of color perception, and the aesthetic theory of choosing color palettes.

The former is quite interesting, containing some surprising facts: yellow is the brightest color, many shades of green can’t be produced by modern displays, white is defined arbitrarily.

The latter is a hodgepodge of various historical ideas and a collection of overgeneralized advice. When I’ve read about aesthetic color theory online my impression is that much of it is either already taught to children or else it is not very good. Here is my attempt to identify some non-bullshit principles of color theory.

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The burden of proof and God

Because I recently discussed a blog post from March 2013, I was wondering what *I* was writing around the time.  So here’s a blog post from that period.  Please note that my opinions from six years ago do not necessarily reflect my current opinions.

One of the more tedious arguments concerning gods is the argument over who has the burden of proof.  Whereas many atheists argue that the theist must first make the argument for the existence of gods, their opponents argue that this is a cop out.  For example, on NY Times:

Contemporary atheists often assert that there is no need for them to provide arguments showing that religious claims are false. Rather, they say, the very lack of good arguments for religious claims provides a solid basis for rejecting them. The case against God is, as they frequently put it, the same as the case against Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. This is what we might call the “no-arguments” argument for atheism.

I take the side of atheists; I think theists have the burden of proof.  This is not about giving atheists an unfair advantage in the debate, nor is it about making a “no-arguments” argument.  In fact, I do not believe it is an advantage, fair or otherwise, at all.  It’s simply about who takes which role.

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Living gay (and ace)

This is a repost of an article I published in 2015 on The Asexual Agenda.  It was originally written for a blogging carnival on the theme of “living asexuality”, thus the title.

Recently, there was a very short documentary entitled “I’m Graysexual” (no longer available), featuring a man about my age, and using the same identity as I do: gay and greysexual.  He does nothing more than briefly explain his personal experience, which is somewhat different from my own, and as I said, it’s very short.

What was particularly significant to me was not what was said, but what was unsaid.  Specifically, the documentarian chose a stream of clips that imply close interaction with urban gay culture.  He walks around what appears to be West Hollywood (the gay neighborhood in Los Angeles).  He hangs out at gay nightclubs, watching go-go boys.  He looks quizzically at packaged dildos, racks of porn videos, Grindr.  This is all incredibly familiar to me.

I often feel like I’m the only ace who interacts with that kind of gay male culture.  This is not surprising: this is only one of many gay cultures, the ace community is dominated by women, and not all ace men are homoromantic, gay, or bi.  But even among those in the right demographics, I often hear that ace men simply aren’t willing to put up with it.

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Why video games are so flammable

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2013.  I was reminded of this post because I recently wrote about a queer theory paper about video game economics.  Wow, some of my references are quite dated!  And this predates gamergate!  Also, LOL at “I don’t intend to make a habit out of discussing economics”.

With Black Friday upon us, the flame wars over next-gen gaming consoles have really been heating up.  Which will win: the Wii U, XBox One, or PlayStation 4?  No one truly knows, but gamers everywhere agree that everyone else is wrong and should feel bad about being so stupid.

While I don’t intend to make a habit out of discussing economics, I do think that video game flame wars can be understood within economics.  The problem is twofold:

  1. There is limited space for video games and video game consoles, and everyone knows it.
  2. Video games are in a state of monopolistic competition.

Video game producers are most efficient when they make fewer, larger games, for many reasons.  Developing a game is a one-time cost, while actually manufacturing the game is cheap.  Selling more copies of a game is not a matter of paying for more manufacture, but paying for better advertisement and development so that more people want to play.1  Note that it’s much easier to advertise one big game than to advertise many little ones.  The main reason to have more smaller games is to better cater to different tastes (e.g. see the indie game industry).

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Beyond Character representation

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015, with a few edits for clarity. I chose this post because the paper I just discussed makes a mention of QGCon, and I was reminiscing about the event.

I’m lucky that the Queerness and Games Conference is right by where I live, and has many fascinating talks on the subjects of queer theory, games studies, and game design.

The QGCon logo

A major theme at the conference is the idea of going beyond mere character representation. That is, a queer game doesn’t just mean having a character who is queer, or giving the player the choice of who to romance. It could be about having queer themes, such as the theme of rebelling against the status quo.

Of course, me being me, I have a rather different style of thinking from most people at QGCon. At QGCon, no one ever voices disagreement, and everyone is happy and constructive. Who would ever want to discourage all these awesome but anxious creators by saying anything even mildly critical? But personally, I don’t feel like I have properly engaged in any subject until I have cast a critical eye upon it, and listed its disadvantages. So this is the critical discussion of non-character representation that I wish I heard.

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