Curse you, Denisovans!

This is a tooth.

Well, technically, I suppose, it’s a drawing of a tooth. (ce n’est pas une dent.) Still, it gets across the idea. A tooth has a particular shape vaguely like this, and, as all fools know, a tooth (at least the ones in the back) has two roots.

So gather ’round, it’s time for a story.

Let’s set the Wayback machine to, like, 1999 or so. I had a root canal done on one of these. A root canal is a rather unpleasant procedure in which a hole is drilled in the top, the nerve inside and down the roots is reamed out and then filled in with…well, I don’t know what it’s filled in with. Concrete, maybe. Something. And then a crown is stuck on the top.

Anyway, I had this done, and for years afterward every visit to a dentist was kind of a variation on the same theme:

Dentist: *takes X-rays.*

Dentist: *looks at the X-rays*

Dentist: “Ah, I see a root canal. Wait, hang on, there’s a weird shadow. It looks kinda like…hmm, not an abcess, it’s just…what is that?”

Dentist: *hammers on my tooth with a little metal thing*

Dentist: *Touches my tooth with an ice cube*

Dentist: “Does that hurt?”

Me: “Nope!”

Dentist: *shrugs* “Huh, weird. Whatever.”

That’s our backstory. Our tale takes place yesterday, when I’m in an office working on having a crown (a different crown) replaced because it’s failed. Cue the normal X-rays, “hmm that’s strange,” only this time, something changes.

This time, I have a dentist whose mind is fueled by the desire to Know. A dentist not content to shrug and say “weird, whatever.” A dentist illuminated by the blazing light of curiosity that dragged our ancestors from the trees and sent them across the savannah to invent tools like spears and slings and particle accelerators, all because “¯\_(ツ)_/¯” isn’t a good enough answer. He’s like, weird, something strange here, let’s look further.

Now, molars have two roots. Everyone knows this. One tooth, two roots.

Except that he does a bunch of X-rays from different angles and guess what? Fuck me dead, that tooth I got the root canal on, it has three roots.

Three. Roots.

And the dentist who did the root canal, he missed that.

It happens, apparently. It happens more in some genetic groups than others, and it might be related, as it turns out, to interbreeding with Denisovans somewhere in our ancient Homo sapiens lineage.

Representative illustration

Loooong story short, over the past twenty-something years, that unfilled third root has been quietly accumulating cruft like old FORTRAN code, and now they need to fix it.

But apparently they don’t want to remove the crown—not sure why, but for whatever reason they have to leave the crown on, which is made of metal by the way, drill through it, and re-do the root canal.

Anyway, my dentist was all “This is way above my pay grade, you’re gonna need a specialist for this. Oh, if they can’t drill straight through the crown, the other option is to go at it from underneath, which means they drill a hole through your jaw into the bottom of the tooth, fix the root, then put a bone graft in the hole.” Which, I mean, I’m no medical professional, but that sounds straight out of a Stephen King novel. “The Toothening,” something.

So that’s a thing.

Some Thoughts on Ethics in Computer Science

As I type this, Elon Musk says the release of true full self-driving cars is perhaps months away. Leaving aside his…notable overoptimism, this would arguably be among the crowning achievement of computer science so far.

Yes, even more than going to the moon. Going to the moon required remarkably little in the way of computer science—orbital mechanics are complicated, sure, but not that complicated, and there are few unexpected pedestrians twixt hither and yon.

We are moving into a world utterly dominated by computers. And yet…there’s far too little attention, I think, paid to the ethical implications of that.

Probably the biggest ethical issue I see in computer science right now concerns training sets for machine learning.

I don’t mean machine learning like self-driving cars, though that’s a monstrous problem of its own—the thing about ML systems is they’re basically black boxes that most definitively do NOT see the world the way we do, so they can become confused by adversarial inputs, like this strange sticker that makes a Tesla see a stop sign as a Speed Limit 45 sign:

Insert picture description

And of course ownership of these enormous ML systems opens whole cans, plural, of worms just by itself. If you use terabytes of public domain data to train a proprietary ML system, what responsibility do you have to make it available to the people who produced your training data, and what liability do you have when your system goes wrong?

And of course deepfake software can produce photos and video of you in a place you’ve never been hanging out with people you don’t know saying things you’ve never said, and make it all totally believable. Look for that to cause trouble soon.

But those are just fringe problems, minor ethical quibbles compared to the elephant in the room: bias in data sets.

Legal societies are putting more and more reliance on ML systems. Police use machine learning for facial recognition (and now, gait recognition, recognizing people by the way they walk instead of their facial features—yes that’s a thing).

Militaries use facial recognition in weapons platforms. Right now they don’t rely in it, but use it as an adjunct to more traditional intelligence, but the day is coming when foreign military targets will be designated entirely by things like facial recognition systems.

Problem is, those ML systems tend to be racist AF.

I’m not kidding.

ML systems rely on training with positively gargantuan training data sets. You train a machine to recognize faces by feeding it millions—or, if you can, tens or hundreds of millions—of pictures of people’s faces.

The researchers who define and build these systems tend to turn to the Internet for their training data, trolling Internet social media sites with bot software that hoovers up all the photos it can find for training data.

https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/internet/facial-recognition-s-dirty-little-secret-millions-online-photos-scraped-n981921

Let’s ignore for a moment the copyright implications. Let’s ignore the ethical issues of treating people’s property as fodder for surveillance systems. Let’s just quietly ignore all those ethical problems so we can talk about racism.

People who post lost of photos on the Internet that get scooped up to train ML systems aren’t an even demographic slice of humanity. They tend to have more money than average, be Western Europeans or North Americans, and tend to be white.

That means ML systems to do things like facial recognition are trained on data sets that are overwhelmingly…white faces.

And that means these systems—even commercial systems now deployed and used by police—suck at identifying black or Asian faces.

Like sometimes really suck.

Insert picture description

Like, as of 2018, commercial facial recognition systems had a recognition failure rate on white male faces of 0.2%, and a failure rate on black female faces of more than 22%.

If that isn’t ringing alarm bells in your head, you’re not fully comprehending the magnitude of the problem.

Here’s a rather frightening quote:

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that Amazon’s Rekognition software wrongly identified 28 members of Congress as people who had previously been arrested. It disproportionately misidentified African-Americans and Latinos.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jul/29/what-is-facial-recognition-and-how-sinister-is-it

We train AI and ML systems with data from the real world…and we get deeply racist, profoundly flawed AI and ML systems as a result.

Then we use these AI and ML systems to identify people for arrest or to send autonomous suicide drones.

Insert picture description

https://reason.com/2021/06/01/autonomous-slaughterbot-drones-reportedly-attack-libyans-using-facial-recognition-tech/

Any machine learning system is only as good as the training data it’s developed with. And when that training data is a snapshot of the Internet, well…

This blog post was adapted from an answer I wrote on Quora. Want more like this? Follow me on Quora!

Repugnant “Pro-Life” Views on Contraception

I first posted this on Quora in 2017, when we lived in a very different world. Now that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has explicitly said that Griswold v Connecticut should be overturned on the same grounds the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, and Mississippi governor Tate Reeves (R) has said he won’t rule out a state ban on contraception, and Trump-backed candidates in Michigan and Ohio have called for a Federal law banning contraception, I thought this deserved a repost.

I keep hearing the argument that Griswold is safe because the overwhelming majority of people in the US still think contraception should be legal. Well, that was also true of abortion before Ronald Reagan. People forget how a few decades of persistent, well-funded managing can shift the Overton window.

So let’s take a look at the “pro-life” groups in the United States and see what they say about contraception, shall we?

The largest pro-life group in the US is the Roman Catholic Church, which has no fewer than seven sub-groups within its overall organization dedicated to opposing abortion. The Catholic Church opposes all forms of contraception except the rhythm method across the board.

The second-largest group is National Right to Life. It takes no formal stand on contraception, a policy which it reiterates many times. However, it has consistently lobbied against bills in Congress that make access to contraception easier, as well as against bills that would provide education about contraception both domestically and abroad.

The American Life League opposes contraception. They repeat the false claim many times on their Web site that birth control pills work by inducing abortion. They also claim that other forms of contraception increase abortion, showing statistics that abortion and contraception use in the US increased at about the same time (which is like saying ice cream causes sunburns; prior to Roe v Wade, most places in the US also outlawed contraception). They seek to overturn Roe v Wade and also ban contraception.

The Susan B. Anthony List opposes contraception across the board. The group’s president says, “the bottom line is that to lose the connection between sex and having children leads to problems.”

Americans United for Life, the oldest pro-life organization in the US, opposes all forms of hormonal birth control and IUDs, repeating the false claim that they work by inducing abortion. They oppose measures to teach about contraception, domestically or internationally. They support laws forbidding a company from firing a pharmacist who refuses to sell contraception. They do not have a stated policy on condoms, but they endorse only abstinence-based sex ed and oppose teaching about condoms.

Live Action opposes contraception. They claim that hormonal birth control induces abortion. They also claim that condoms do not work, that statistics showing 97% efficiency of condoms are lies promoted by Planned Parenthood and the “abortion industry,” and that making condoms readily available increases teen pregnancy.

The Family Research Council opposes hormonal contraception and IUDs. They do not have a formal position on condoms, but their Web site does say “we do question the wisdom of making it available over the counter to young girls.” They support a system where hormonal contraception and IUDs are banned, and condoms and diaphragms are available only by prescription.

Focus on the Family opposes hormonal birth control, IUDs, and contraceptive implants. They are neutral on condoms and diaphragms within marriage but oppose making them available to unmarried people. They oppose sex outside marriage across the board.

The American Family Association opposes hormonal birth control and IUDs. They do not formally oppose condoms, but they do oppose advertising condoms, making condoms available for free, and any sex education that mentions condoms.

American Right to Life opposes all contraception. They use scare tactics claiming that hormonal birth control causes cancer and strokes. They support legislation banning hormonal birth control and restricting access to condoms and other barrier forms of contraception.

Campaign for Life in America has no stated policy on contraception.

The Center for Bioethical Reform, the anti-abortion group most famous for showing grisly pictures of dismembered fetuses at protests in front of clinics, opposes contraception. The group’s leader, Mark Harrington, compares condoms to “drugs, gangs, rapes, assaults, and murder” as proof that America is abandoning its moral heritage as a “Christian nation.” He says legal decisions overturning bans on contraception were done by “terrorists in black robes” with a “warped view” of the Constitution.

The Human Life Foundation opposes all forms of contraception except the rhythm method.

Operation Rescue opposes all forms of birth control and states that the only legitimate purpose of sex is procreation.

Choose Life opposes hormonal contraception, IUDs, and contraceptive implants. It endorses the rhythm method, condoms, diaphragms, and sterilization. It supports teaching of barrier methods of contraception.

Coalition for Life opposes contraception across the board. It claims that hormonal birth control and IUDs cause abortion. It states on its Web site that only the rhythm method for birth control should be used, and its Web site urges its members to “help end the ravages of contraception.” It supports legislation to ban all contraceptive methods.

The Right to Life Federation opposes all contraception. Its position is that “abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and contraception are intimately connected” and that a person opposed to any one of those things must be morally compelled to oppose them all. It claims that use of contraception is statistically correlated with abortion, and supports an across-the-board legal ban on both abortion and contraception.

If you support any anti-contraception group financially, even if you do not oppose contraception yourself, this is the message you are funding.

Make no mistake: Griswold is next.

Anyone in DC fancy a meetup?

Eunice and I will be in Washington, DC on Wednesday, July 27, and we’re flying back out again Wednesday, August 3. If you’re in the DC area and want to meet up, we’d love to get together! Saturday, July 30th is the most likely date, but we’re flexible.

We’re staying fairly close to the Capitol, so we’re open to suggestions about where and when in that area. (Sadly, the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum is closed until the end of the year, which suuuuuucks. It’s part of the reason we chose DC.)

But if you’d like to meet up, drop a comment! (We’re both vaxxed and boosted.)

Preorders for The Hallowed Covenant!

Preorders for The Hallowed Covenant, my new post-scarcity science fiction erotic novel with Eunice Hung, just went up today! And man, I am really, really excited about this book.

This is probably my favorite book I’ve ever coauthored. We take a deep dive into what it’s like to live in the City, along the way touching on themes like:

• How do you have a system of justice in a post-scarcity society with no police or codified laws?

• What are the AIs the people in this society worship as gods? What are they like?

• What do transgression and atonement look like when there’s no such thing as law?

And of course there’s lots of sex, much of it involving kinks so exotic they don’t even have names.

The novel follows seven friends as they wrestle with changes in their lives, set against the backdrop of the Festival of the Lady (the AI god of art and creativity)—think Burning Man in a society with a tech level that makes Star Trek look late Bronze Age, but more hedonistic.

The first two novels in the Passionate Pantheon universe have done so well people started asking us for audiobook versions, and guess what? We delivered! The Hallowed Covenant has an audiobook, narrated by the amazing (and incredibly sexy) Francesca Peregrine.

Thanks to a special arrangement with the Nobilis Erotica podcast, you can listen to the first two chapters here!

I am just incredibly, incredibly proud of this book. Like, I am absolutely giddy that it’s almost out. If you like science fiction and you like sex, I suspect you’ll probably like it too.

Check it out here! If you back the crowdfunding, you can score a copy before pub date for less than you’ll find it anywhere else. (And stay tuned for new perks coming soon!)

Virtue Signaling Left and Right

(Note: This blog post started as an answer I wrote on Quora.)

As I’ve grown more experienced and looked out over the world, I’ve noticed that self-identified liberals and self-identified conservatives love to attack each other for “virtue signaling,” even though it’s far from unique to one side of the political spectrum. They often end up talking past each other, though, because they do it in different ways, against different targets.

One key difference between the left and the right is often the way they feel about hierarchy. Political conservatives tend (with some exceptions, of course) to lean toward vertical hierarchies; political liberals, toward flat egalitarian social structures.

This isn’t just an American thing. Peer-reviewed, published studies have observed this difference across different societies. [1] [2] [3] There appears to be a structural, neurological basis for this division.[4] [5]

So how does this play out in virtue signaling?

The simple answer is: While both liberals and conservatives frequently virtue-signal by denouncing external threats or perceived threats—members of the out-group—liberals are far more likely to turn on their own, virtue-signaling by attacking members of the in-group seen as violating the norms and standards of the in-group.

That might seem contradictory at first. If conservatives value hierarchy, and with it conformity, doesn’t that mean conservatives would be likely to turn on people perceived to be insufficiently adhering to the group’s thinking?

And the answer is no.

When you are part of a hierarchy and have strongly hierarchical views, it seems like a natural consequence of that hierarchical thinking is a set of double standards for those at the bottom of the hierarchy vs those at the top. This is how conservatives can claim to support “family values” while worshipping—sometimes literally—a twice-divorced serial adulterer who’s had five children from three different women.

Adherence to the hierarchy itself is what’s important. The people at the top aren’t subject to the rules.

Liberals don’t accept this. Liberals are biased toward egalitarianism; the same rules apply to everybody.

On the one hand, that makes liberals far less likely to overlook transgressions on the part of those at the top. Al Franken was urged to resign when a photo showing him pretending to grope a woman (without touching her) started circulating; on the other side, Matt Gaetz is the subject of a criminal investigation for statutory rape, pandering of a minor, sex trafficking of minors, and obstruction of justice—an investigation that has already resulted in the criminal conviction of a co-conspirator—and conservatives are like “eh, whatever.”

This difference in reaction comes directly from differences in attitude toward hierarchy and egalitarianism.

What this means is that liberals and conservatives both virtue signal, and in many of the same ways, but when they, for example, crank up the Twitter rage machine, conservatives are more likely to target members of out-groups, whereas liberals are much more likely than conservatives to eat their own.

Which is not to say that conservatives never target their own or liberals never target the out-group, of course. One of the biggest modern examples in American history of cancel culture was the conservative rage at the Dixie Chicks, which resulted in employees of radio stations that played their music being stalked and receiving death threats, and venues that hosted Dixie Chicks concerts getting bomb threats.

But the Dixie Chicks committed a crime against hierarchy; they questioned George W. Bush’s rationale for war in Iraq.

This is a big part of the disconnect between liberals and conservatives about cancel culture and free speech. Conservatives will cry about “Liberal cancel culture! Liberals don’t care about free speech!” But when liberals are like “wait, isn’t that what you did with the Dixie Chicks?” conservatives will say “no,” leaving liberals thinking “what a lying pack of hypocrites.” But from the conservative perspective, they aren’t lying and aren’t hypocrites. The Dixie Chicks were attacked for undermining the hierarchy, not for speech. The fact that speech was the tool they used to undermine the hierarchy is an irrelevant detail.

Liberals, on the other hand, turn their virtue-signaling on their own, often for “offenses” that seem inexplicably petty and stupid to conservatives.

This happens to an extraordinary degree in small liberal subcommunities—often, the smaller the subcommunity, the more vicious the virtue-signalling and infighting. I’m reminded of the Henry Kissenger quote, “The reason that university politics is so vicious is because stakes are so small.”

A real-life example:

Some years ago, a woman complained on Tumblr that she didn’t like polyamorous people because polyamorous people would talk about being “poly” on Tumblr posts, and it made it harder for her to search Tumblr with “poly” to find Polynesian Tumblr users.

Now, this was one person on one social media platform, not Polynesian people in general.

But the polyamory scene, or parts of it, started to turn—sometimes with incredible viciousness—on polyamorous people who used the word “poly,” demanding that they use “polya” or “polyam” instead.

To polyamorous people, those who use the term “poly” committed a crime against the marginalized.

This, too, is a big part of the disconnect between liberals and conservatives about cancel culture and free speech. Liberals will cry about “Conservative cancel culture! Conservatives don’t care about free speech!” But when conservatives are like “wait, isn’t that what you do when you police language around minority groups?” liberals will say “no,” leaving conservatives thinking “what a lying pack of hypocrites.” But from the liberal perspective, they aren’t lying and aren’t hypocrites. The people using the word “poly” were attacked for undermining a historically disenfranchised group, not for speech. The fact that speech was the tool they used to undermine this group is an irrelevant detail.

This kind of policing of the “insufficiently woke” is far more common in liberal than conservative scenes, and it turns easily into virtue signaling when people uninvolved with the original whatever-it-was start to pile on because piling on is an easy, no-cost way to be seen on the side of the righteous. (There’s another pile-on starting up these days about people who use “consensual non-monogamy” vs “ethical non-monogamy” to describe polyamory; the idea is that consent isn’t necessarily ethical, so the people who use “consensual non-monogamy” clearly don’t really care about ethics.)

The pile-on is kind of the definer of virtue signaling. Once it becomes socially acceptable within a certain group to attack a certain person or subset of people, those without any dog in the fight will pile on merely for the admiration of their peers.

Well, also to congratulate themselves for being moralistic too, I suppose, but I gotta say, when you express your virtues only when it’s safe and easy to do so, costs you nothing, and there’s no risk…are they really virtues?

Left and right virtue signaling is generally quite similar:

  • It involves attacks on perceived threats to the orthodoxy. In conservative circles, the orthodoxy is likely to be the current hierarchy, or dominant religious or social tradition. In liberal circles, the orthodoxy is likely to focus on perceptions of egalitarianism and power imbalances: men always have more power than women (hence “believe all women”), and so forth.
  • It is an easy tool of bullies to use to exert authority and control. Bullies skilled in whipping up outrage can direct that outrage against targets of their choosing by manipulating the values of their social group.
  • It is safe, risk-free, and no-cost for those who jump in. Hopping on a bandwagen is pretty much the safest thing you can possibly do; in fact, the person who stands up against bandwagoning is the one who risks more. (Ask anyone who refused to name “Communists” during the McCarthy witch hunts!) The real determinator of your virtue is not what you do when proclaiming your virtue costs you nothing, but what you do when holding to your ideals costs you something.

Where they differ is in the common targets, and of course in the rhetoric used to justify the virtue signaling.

Footnotes

[1] Conservative and liberal, hierarchical and egalitarian: Social-political uses of the concept of “home” in Greco-Roman antiquity and early Christianity

[2] Liberal and Conservative Representations of the Good Society: A (Social) Structural Topic Modeling Approach

[3] Political identity, preference, and persuasion

[4] A Neurology of the Conservative-Liberal Dimension of Political Ideology

[5] Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults

Hacking as a tool of social disapproval

“The street finds its own uses for things.” —William Gibson, Burning Chrome

Last year, my wife, my co-author, and I launched a new podcast, The Skeptical Pervert. We talk about sex…and more specifically, we talk about sex through a lens of empiricism and rationality.

The Skeptical Pervert’s website runs WordPress. Now, I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to web security, and I know WordPress tends to be a rather appetizing target for miscreants, so I run hardened WordPress installs, with security plugins, firewalls that are trained on common WordPress attack vectors, and other mitigations I don’t talk about openly.

I run quite a few WordPress installs. My blogs on franklinveaux.com and morethantwo.com run WordPress. So does the Passionate Pantheon blog, where Eunice and I discuss the philosophy of sex in a far-future, post-scarcity society. In addition, I host WordPress blogs for friends, and no, I won’t tell you who they are, for reasons that will soon become clear.

I automatically log hack attacks, including failed login attempts, known WordPress exploits, and malicious scans. I run software that emails me daily and weekly statistics on attacks against all the WordPress sites I own or host. I also subscribe to WordPress-specific infosec mailing lists, so I am aware of the general threat background.

Because WordPress is such a common target—it’s the Microsoft Windows of the self-hosted blog world, with everything that implies—any WordPress site will get a certain low level of constant probes and hack attempts. It’s just part of the background noise of the Internet. (If you run WordPress and you’re not religiously on top of security updates, by the way, you’ve already been pwn3d. I can pretty much guarantee it.)

The fact that I host WordPress sites not connected with me to the outside world gives me a good general baseline reading of this background noise, that I can use to compare to hack attacks against sites that are publicly connected with me.

And the results…well.

In all the years I’ve been on the Web—and I started running my own Web sites in the mid-1990s—I have never seen anything even remotely close to the constant, nonstop barrage of attacks against the Skeptical Pervert site. Joreth and Eunice are probably quite sick of my frequent updates: “Well, the firewall shows over a thousand brute-force hack attempts against the Skeptical Pervert site so far today and it isn’t even noon yet” (seriously, that’s a thing that happened recently).

Here’s a graph showing what I mean. This graph covers one week, from June 13, 2022 to June 20, 2022. The “baseline” in the graph is an average of several WordPress sites I host that aren’t in any way connected to me in the eyes of the Internet at large—I don’t run them, I don’t put content on them, my name isn’t on them, I merely host them.

Note that the attacks don’t scale with traffic; the More Than Two blog has the most traffic, followed by franklinveaux.com, then the Passionate Pantheon blog, then the Skeptical Pervert.

So what to make of this?

Part of it is likely the long-running social media campaign my ex has been running. Attacks on franklinveaux.com and morethantwo.com increased in the wake of her social media posts.

But that doesn’t explain what’s happening with the Skeptical Pervert, which has turned out to be targeted to an extraordinary degree.

Now, I don’t know who’s attacking the site, or why, so this is speculation. It’s hard to escape the idea, though, that when a site and podcast explicitly about sex, co-hosted by two women of color, talking about non-traditional sexual relationships is targeted, at least part of the answer might simply be the same old, same old tired sex-negative misogyny and racism we see…well, everywhere, pretty much. The fact that my ex doesn’t like me (and will say or do anything to get other people not to like me) doesn’t explain what’s happening here.

It’s easy to blame conservative traditionalists, but Eunice reminded me there’s another factor at work as well. The Skeptical Pervert approaches sexuality from a rational, evidence-based, skeptical lens. In the United States, there’s a stubborn streak of misogyny amongst the dudebros of the skeptics community. A podcast with two women that looks at sex from a highly female-focused, feminist point of view taking on the mantle of skepticism? It’s possible there are dudebros who will perceive that as an encroachment into their space.

In short, I don’t think this is about me. I think this is about women talking openly about real-world non-traditional sex, and getting the same pushback that women always get when they dare to do that.

If the podcast were just me, or me with obviously male co-hosts, I don’t think the level of Web attacks would be anywhere near the same.

The street finds its own uses for things. In the hands of people threatened by or frightened of non-traditional voices, the Internet has become a safe, anonymous tool of harassment.

New projects in the pipe!

This has been an incredibly productive year. Well, years, actually. The last three years have been the most creative, most productive time in my life. And I’m pleased to share some of that creativity with you!

First up, a new novel, The Hallowed Covenant! This is the third book I’ve co-authored with the marvelous Eunice Hung. It’s also the third book in the Passionate Pantheon series of far-future, post-scarcity science fiction theocratic pornography.

Yes, we invented a genre.

Anyway, I’m incredibly proud of this novel. We explore (I think) some really interesting ideas about autonomy, responsibility, atonement, and forgiveness, amidst all the really hot super-kinky sex.

This is also the first Passionate Pantheon novel that will have an audiobook version, narrated by the amazing Francesca Peregrine. She had some lovely things to say:


The book publishes this October. Preorders are up on Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but watch this space! You’ll be able to get a copy before pub date at a special price (and an early peek at the audiobook and the fourth novel in the series, Unyielding Devotion) if you back our crowdfunding next month!

I’ve also just launched a new website for makers who like sex: Tentacle Love. This is a DIY site full of tutorials and tips for making your own silicone sex toys, and includes downloadable 3D printable molds for you to cast sex toys yourself.

(And yes, you can also get a Team Tentacle T-shirt if you like.)

I’ve been making silicone sex toys for a while, so from time to time I also plan to put one-offs on the site for sale. These aren’t your typical sex toys, oh no—my tastes being what they are, I’ve made everything from kazoo ball gags (yes, seriously) to double-sided tentacle gags to…well, stranger things.

Looking for Help

For those of you who don’t know, my former partner and co-author Eve Rickert has engaged in a years-long, public, and very noisy campaign against me.

That campaign coincides with a long-simmering legal dispute about ownership of the company we co-founded, Thorntree Press, and the book we co-authored, More Than Two. A lot of people know about the public part of the dispute, but not a lot f folks know about the legal part. My ex is attempting to claim the trademark on “More Than Two,” a phrase and website I owned for many years before we ever met; forced me out of the company we started together; and has tried to get me to give up ownership of our joint copyrights.

The legal dispute is now heading to court. In the interests of complete transparency, I’ve put up a timeline of the legal dispute you can see here.

Back when all this got started, after I left Eve, a client of hers named Louisa Leontiades went back through nearly twenty years of LiveJournal history contacting female-identified people who had interacted with me, looking for people willing to say negative things about me. Here are a couple of examples of messages she sent, redacted to conceal the people she sent them to:

Example Facebook message

Example email

She claimed to be a “journalist,” though she failed to disclose her financial arrangements with my ex, which is a serious and significant breach of journalistic ethics.

I heard from a lot of people asking me “Who is this Louisa person who just contacted me?” And now I need your help.

If you received a message from Louisa Leontiades about me, regardless of whether you responded to her or not, my attorney would like very much to speak with you.

This doesn’t mean you have to testify in court or anything like that, and it doesn’t mean your name will be revealed to my ex or to Louisa. He would like to speak with people who were contacted by Louisa (or by anyone else claiming to be a “journalist”) asking about me.

If you were contacted this way, please email me at franklin (at) franklinveaux (dot) com and I’ll forward you contact information for my attorney.

Thank you so very much.

The Fine Art of Flinging Poo

The contradictions and inconsistencies are a feature, not a bug

Image by Colin Lloyd

I’m writing over on Medium now, and I’ve just put up a piece you can read (free) there. Here’s the teaser:

I’ve been thinking about the Capitol riots lately. I don’t mean “how could this happen?” (anyone who’s read even a little bit of history already knows the answer) or “what role did the former President play? (that answer is self-evident, and getting more so every day).

No, that’s tedious, dreary, and altogether too predictable. What I’ve been thinking about is the fascinating narratives that have sprung up around the failed coup, how contradictory they are, and how those contradictions don’t seem to matter.

I’ve come to an unexpected conclusion: The fact that the narratives are inherently self-contradictory is part of what makes them compelling. The mutual impossibilities in the narrative threads are precisely why they work.

Okay, so hear me out.

In the aftermath of the January coup attempt, a bunch of different, competing stories started to coalesce on the political right about what happened. There were no riots; the Capitol attackers were just tourists. It wasn’t insurrection; it was completely peaceful. The attack wasn’t peaceful, but it also wasn’t Trump supporters, it was Antifa. Or no, not Antifa; it was an FBI false-flag operation. But the rioters were martyrs. If Trump is re-elected, he will give them all pardons.

Clearly these can’t all be true. The attack was orchestrated by peaceful tourists who were really FBI Antifa in disguise, yet they’re all martyrs who deserve pardons? Nobody can believe all of this.

And that’s exactly the point.

I’ve started calling this strange, scattershot approach to propaganda the “MSTF technique:” Make Something That Fits.

Propaganda 101

When I was growing up, my mother always used to say, “information by itself almost never changes attitudes.”

Check out the rest here!