So overall, though my life is far from perfect, I’m contented with it. And in a peculiar way, I’m grateful for the troubling emotions I experienced. The obstacles we face in life can provide powerful incentives for change.
—  Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

The recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-05) (or stimulus package) provides billions in new funding for programs that could potentially benefit NGVs. Of primary interest to NGVAmerica members are the following: 1) Department of Energy Pilot Program for alternative fuel, infrastructure and advanced technology vehicles - $300 million; 2) U.S. EPA Diesel Emission Reduction Program - $300 million; 3) Federal Transit Administration capital expenditures- $8.4 billion; 4) Department of Energy Block Grants for Energy Efficiency and Conservation - $3.2 billion; and 5)General Services Administration Federal Fleet acquisition of fuel efficient vehicles - $300 million.

Watch on

"There’s a mismatch between what business does and what science knows… 1) those 20th century rewards, those motivators we think are the natural part of business DO work but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances. 2) those if-then rewards often destroy creativity. 3) The secret to high performance isn’t reward and punishment, but that unseen intrinsic drive…"

Wonderful argument about why the 20th century management model that many businesses continue to rely on is outdated for 21st century American business.

Decent people, virtually by definition, do not seek to exercise political power over their fellows. The enigma is that so many citizens continue to admire and defer to the reptilian wretches who rule them. … People who lack pugnacity do not succeed as prize fighters; people who lack a talent for lying, stealing, and if need be, abetting homicide do not succeed in modern politics.
—  Robert Higgs, “Public Choice and Political Leadership,” // Independent Review, 1997

The Bechdel Test

Does a film contain

  • two named females
  • who talk to each other
  • about something other than a man?

This seemingly low bar for female inclusion fails for a surprisingly high fraction of media. Even some excellent films, like The Godfather, fail it.

(You could argue that female exclusion is a theme of The Godfather, but still wouldn’t it have been interesting to view some of the wives’ and daughters’ thoughts to each other about the boys’ mobster behaviour? This isn’t asking for the movie to be about women, just to feature their speech.)

The Bechdel test is interesting mathematically because it is a global non-local test. Not every movie needs to pass for “things to be good” but if too many movies fail then things are not good.

You could also view the Bechdel test as a vague or smudged boundary condition. Like in sensitivity analysis (in linear programming) where you nudge the boundary planes with a slack vector to see how the system responds. We could perturb the definition of the test, and as we change the criteria or interpretation more or fewer movies will pass. But the test makes its point whether we interpret it loosely or stringently, so we could consider it a suite of boundaries rather than a single, crisp boundary.

Pretend making a shape impossible is a crime. Which corner is guilty?

— isomorphismes (@isomorphisms)

July 22, 2013

Individual playwrights can write whatever they want. Blue Lagoon with two boys? Be my guest. An all-white cast in a story set in rural Sweden circa 1320? Makes sense. Nju Bao (in 炮打双灯) isolated without female counsel in a man’s world? Appropriate. But when the Bechdel test fails en masse something insidious is going on. Which focus group told film investors that audiences hate seeing women talk to each other? Who went through all the scripts and changed all the female names to male ones? I’m guessing no-one.

Sexism, racism, and so on are often discussed on a case-by-case basis. Was this or that action sexist|racist|etc on its own? But not every property can be observed at a zoomed-in level. Some properties are only visible at a systemic or macro level.

As a side note, the frequent failure of the Bechdel test also argues, via modus tollens, against a certain kind of “markets will fix things” logic. I would think that economic forces would incent film producers away from being so exclusionary. Aren’t Hollywood executives leaving massive amounts of money on the table by working so assiduously to make sure women are only faces, bodies, and tropes? But yet, count the number of movies that fail this basic inclusivity test. Even though movies are a $X billion industry (therefore locking in a few percent of audience is worth a lot in absolute terms and ∴ worth the time to look at), they still frequently exclude minority perspectives.

Here are some stories that fail the Bechdel test:

  • Bladerunner

  • Red Firecracker Green Firecracker (炮打双灯)
  • Amélie

  • The Graduate

  • King of California

  • The Last Emperor
  • The Godfather
  • The Quiet American [fails for women and for Vietnamese]
  • The Wrestler

  • Dr Strangelove

and here are some that pass the Bechdel test:

  • Star Wars: Clone Wars (both)

  • Firefly
  • Scream
  • Magnolia

  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Kill Bill


Improper incentives.

But don’t the police get in trouble for arresting people for no reason? The answer is “Not really.” Police like to arrest people and let the charges get thrown out in court because they don’t have any incentive not to do this. They rarely are reprimanded by their commanders for this behavior. If someone who was wrongfully arrested sues, as the 700 people arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge during a protest two weeks ago are joining a class-action suit to do, the money payed out in the settlement is taxpayer dollars. The officers will probably not be investigated for misuse of their authority and they will feel no harsh consequence. They believe wrongfully arresting people to be part of their job and that it helps to maintain “peace”.