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Dictionary + algorithm + PoD t-shirt printer + meme = rape t-shirts on Amazon (peteashton.com)
149 points by blaze33 1696 days ago | hide | past | web | 149 comments | favorite


When Solid Gold Bomb withdrew the 'rape' garment it also posted a statement on its website which said: "We have been informed of the fact that we were selling an offensive T-shirt primarily in the UK.

"This has been immediately deleted as it was and had been automatically generated using a scripted computer process running against 100s of thousands of dictionary words."

Not on sale: computer generated t shirt advocating rape.

Still on sale: human authored book advocating throwing rocks at boys. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boys-Stupid-Throw-Rocks-Them/dp/0761... human authored 2013 calendar, boys are stupid: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boys-Are-Stupid-2013-Calendar/dp/184...

Also on sale: bunny suicides: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bunny-Suicides-Grid-Calendar-teNeues...

And Nuns having fun: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nuns-Having-Calendar-2013-Wall/dp/07...

>Not on sale: computer generated t shirt advocating rape.

Assuming this is a computer generated t-shirt as you and OP suggest, how can anyone be certain that the shirt refers to rape as in forced intercourse?

More often than not when I hear someone use the word rape, they are not talking about forced intercourse. Rather they are using the word rape as a synonym for "debellatio", having nothing to do with a sex.


1. I just took my final exam and I raped it.

2. Did you see the superbowl? SF was getting raped until the second half, then they made it a good game.

If the rape t-shirt was not made by a human, but an algorithm, can anyone say for certain that the algorithm intended to mean rape as in forced intercourse or rape as in debellatio or any other definition whether it comes from urbandictionary or Websters?

The usage you cite here is indeed common, and the fact that it is common is a terrible thing. I'm not going to repeat a dozen other posts in this thread, but this usage does a great deal to normalize rape in our culture: it makes actual rape seem a routine part of life. Regardless of the intent of the speaker, this usage encourages actual rapists to believe that their peers don't see rape as a big deal, which in turn makes them more likely to rape. (I'm not an expert on this stuff so I don't have a whole list of links at hand to back up these statements, but pretty much every actual expert that I've seen writing about this topic seems to agree. I've given a couple of links for formal support in earlier posts here.)

>The usage you cite here is indeed common, and the fact that it is common is a terrible thing.

+1 because I agree, and I know you disagreed with me on another comment, but I want to make clear I personally do not use this word in this context.

> Regardless of the intent of the speaker, this usage encourages actual rapists to believe that their peers don't see rape as a big deal, which in turn makes them more likely to rape. (I'm not an expert on this stuff so I don't have a whole list of links at hand to back up these statements, but pretty much every actual expert that I've seen writing about this topic seems to agree. I've given a couple of links for formal support in earlier posts here.)

I will obviously defer to the experts; however, to be honest it is hard to apply that logic to a real life example I have been known to use:

Did you see the superbowl? SF was getting KILLED until the second half, then they made it a good game.

I have used kill and killed in the sports context, so according to the experts logic my usage of kill/killed does a great to normalize killing in our culture, and it makes actual killing seem a routine part of life. I find it harder to believe that by using kill/killed in this context I may have encouraged my peers to not see killing as a big deal, which in turn makes them more likely to kill.

"I want to make clear I personally do not use this word in this context."

Oh, good! :)

As for your later point, again, I'm not an expert on this either, but I'd guess that context is essential for these things. I've lived my entire life in communities where lethal force was essentially never used, and just from the fact that you participate in this forum I think it's pretty likely that the same is true for you. In that context, I don't think there's an existing cultural norm that killing is routine for your comment to reinforce.

However, I might guess that the same would not have been true in Northern Ireland at many points in the past century, or in some American inner city neighborhoods today (or in a foxhole in the Vietnam war, for that matter). In those contexts, I would worry a lot more that language like what you describe would indeed reinforce the broad existing societal expectation of violence, and that it would contribute a little bit toward encouraging those around you to devalue human life. In fact, my impression is that it's only been quite recently in the history of civilization that significant fractions of humanity have been lucky enough to grow up without such norms; heck, dueling was still an accepted (or even expected) way of settling grudges in the early days of US independence (e.g. Burr and Hamilton). It's entirely possible that the usage you describe is a linguistic holdover from that earlier era.

Women, meanwhile, have been stuck living out their lives in rape-Belfast more or less forever. It's only very recently that that's started to change, anywhere.

a) Does it matter what the "intent" was, if the result is very offensive and advocates rape? Edit: Intent matters, but knowing the computer meant something else doesn't change the meaning of this item for a lot of people.

b) Your examples are offensive, and I don't appreciate people who carelessly use the word "rape" like that. You might think it's OK in some twisted way, but it's probably worse than calling random things "gay" even though they have nothing to do with homosexuality.

>You might think it's OK in some twisted way, but it's probably worse than calling random things "gay" even though they have nothing to do with homosexuality.

I never said it was OK - I simply asked how does anyone know which definition an algorithm selected and does it matter? I thought you gave an insightful answer noting intent matters, but in this case you feel it does not because either use is offensive.

I did give the examples of how I have heard rape used in non-sexual contexts, and I am sorry if you were offended - but more importantly it is you who personally gets offensive by saying I am OK with that usage in some "twisted way". Did I ever say I was OK with it? No. In fact I go out of my way to explain that is how I have heard it used, but that is not enough you go on to say my being OK with using the word rape in a non-sexual context (which I don't) is worse than some form of homophobia where one calls things "gay".

Please do not make up behvior I do NOT engage in and then compare it to other forms of behavior I do not engage in.

Finally, you may have unknowingly brought up real insight to who you are, because even if I or others were to call something "gay" who is not to say it is being done using the traditional definition of gay meaning "happy or joyous"? Are you offended the same way when people use "gay" to describe something as "happy or joyous" having nothing to do with homosexuality, the same way you get offended when others use "rape" in a non-sexual context?

It's hard for me to read your original post in a way that does not imply, "This would not be as troubling if the word 'rape' was not intended to refer to forced intercourse." That may not be equivalent to saying, "This usage is OK", but its certainly suggests that you'd see less reason for concern if a (supposedly) non-sexual definition were intended. If that wasn't your intent, I think your original post was rather unclear.

As for your final paragraph here, I'm pretty sure that you know perfectly well what the previous poster meant. Nobody actually confuses my grandmother happily exclaiming, "Oh, the decorations in this room are so gay!" (true story) with a seventh grader dismissively saying, "Social studies is so gay!" Discussions like this one proceed far more smoothly when everyone avoids deliberately misconstruing each other's words.

> Nobody actually confuses my grandmother happily exclaiming, "Oh, the decorations in this room are so gay!" (true story)

Notice how you had to qualify your hypothetical statement with "grandmother", re-read your own statement without your qualifier: "the decorations in this room are so gay!"? Still think "nobody" would confuse that?

Honestly, if you change your qualifier it only becomes more confusing what that statement means or which definition is intended:

1. What about your hypothetical seventh grader what would it mean if the seventh grader said, "the decorations in this room are so gay!"? Does it automatically become offensive unlike your grandmother saying it? What if the seventh grader was LGBT?

2. Finally, please tell me what an algorithm means when it automates the same statement, "the decorations in this room are so gay!"? Is the algorithm your grandmother or the seventh-grader?

The key words are 'happily' and 'dismissively'. If an algorithm is saying something then check its tone. If it's using text to make a statement have it add some smilies. Smiles are great for non-native speakers.

Rape does not have a non-sexual context.

I suspect that the English "rape" has its roots in the Latin "rapio", which is very much not about sexual conduct--though the meaning clearly could be mutated over time (as it seems to have been) to mean forced intercourse.


EDIT: For a further stack trace, consider "enrapture", derived from "rapture", itself derived from the future form of "rapio": http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/rapture .

And people say that a classical education and liberal arts is useless. :)

"The rape of the Sabine women", to give an example.


Hah! I actually majored in Latin in college -- and it was certainly disturbing to learn the etymology of the word 'rape'.

Except for when it's a plant (canola, a.k.a. Rape/Rape-seed).

I get your point, though, but it was clearly generated by a computer, as are all the other shirts in that companies "KEEP CALM AND ______ ON" line. Most of them don't make any sense whatsoever.

The computer doesn't "mean" any particular use of the word, because it's a computer, and couldn't tell the contextual difference between "rape" and "yell" or "run".

The fault here is a poorly (or not at all) checked pool of words, and no human interaction between "generate slogan" and "submit to Amazon"


The dictionary gives 3 examples of rape in a non-sexual context. Again, know that I am not saying the t-shirt was not offensive or in bad taste generally, I certainly would never buy it or wear it if given to me (no one I know would give it to me).

At the same time, in a hypothetical where an automated Google car hit someone, would it make sense to yell and the Google car and say watch where you are going? See in this exagerated example, it becomes clear I am soliciting insight to human interaction to an automated system that did not have intent.

The Fantasticks ran off-broadway for over 40 years with a song about rape (using the definition that means "abduction, kidnapping"): http://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/fantasticksthe/itdependson...

I saw the show in 2001 and still remember how hard it was to not cringe at that word even though the context was clearly different and the show was comedy.

I am not saying that a shirt advocating more kidnapping would be appropriate, but thought you might appreciate the alternate use of the word from a historical perspective.

I'm not sure intent even does matter, when we're talking about something a computer wrote.

If either of those phrases was printed on a t-shirt, it would be just as offensive. Your examples still propagate rape culture by trivializing victims of rape.

I would suggest most people would disagree with your primary definition which seems to have been taken from Urban Dictionary; your argument is rather specious.

I did not say it was my primary definition, I simply said when I hear the word spoken (I did not say when I use it), more often than not, it is being in a non-sexual context. My primary definition would be that of any other human, but that is the point the shirt was not created by a human it could have picked the word based on another definition, such as Urban Dictionary like you mention.

>your argument is rather specious.

What arguement? I asked a question in context of the algoritm picking the word/phrase. For those offended, would it matter the intent/definition of the word? I did not make an arguement on behalf of any position.

As far as Urban dictionary, I do not think you are likely to find the word "deballatio" in the urban dictionary. My examples aside (which again are real life examples how I have heard it used, not how I have used it), I defined rape in a non-sexual context as a "deballtio", which admittedly is not a real definition and some could argue "debellatio" is as offensive if not more so than rape.

You seriously quoted a word three times, spelling it differently each time?

+1 I commented from my blackberry (fat fingers). Guess I got lucky and landed it the 3rd time: "debellatio".

You're living in a dream world! Rape means forced intercourse. Nobody says "sf was getting raped until the second half" - nobody except a complete moron with the sensitivity of a very insensitive thing. Among my friends, someone saying those example sentences would make the others there cringe and feel embarrassed by the person talking like that.

I find it embarrassing when someone uses argument from intimidation multiple times in such a small amount of text.

This post will examine the use of a term 'raped' to mean 'suffer significant setbacks in a sports game' on Twitter, specifically regarding the Superbowl. It will make no moral judgement for or against the use of the term.

https://twitter.com/panther_mike/status/298244459370528770 "SF must have requested the lights to be off while they are getting raped. #SuperBowl"

https://twitter.com/SprtsHumor/status/298249906550886400 "Niners were shy about getting butt raped with the lights on."

https://twitter.com/harkamalsingh/statuses/29824323011230106... "OMFG! 49ers getting butt raped! #superbowl"

https://twitter.com/albert2036/status/293092361087639553 "@GeneBean29 nope ravens are gunna get raped....they should've lost the last game it was all luck. :P"

https://twitter.com/FMirmontes/status/298232317242130432 "Dang #49ers getting raped hella hard haha funny ass #SuperBowl game"

https://twitter.com/paraffinn/status/298251727478603776 "49ers getting raped #superbowl"

https://twitter.com/kkaykkay/status/298244379393548288 "@BankyW u watching this too...hahaha...49ers are getting raped...somebody help!!!"

I could look for some more, and easily find them, but you get the picture.

Conclusion: The term 'raped' is widely used to mean 'suffer significant setbacks or defeat in a sports match'. I will hereby question who is living in a fantasy world where "nobody says" these things. I will ALSO note the irony of calling all these people out for being insensitive while using the term "retarded", which may be offensive to people whose mental development is actually in fact delayed, or those who would identify themselves as differently-mentally-able.

I will make suggestions: Limit yourself in the future to calling the comments using a "rape" metaphor for sports crude and offensive, and leave it at that. Avoid undue disparagement of people who disagree with your values - you can leave it at disparaging their values. Avoid attempts to use peer pressure to assert cultural norms, it doesn't work outside your cultural peer group, you may be in the minority, and isn't really a compelling argument anyway. Kthx.

(replying to my own post because post depth limit reached)

etfb: Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm not a cultural relativist and believe people who use the term are in fact crude and insensitive. All my observations suggestions still stand, though. These people are not retarded and many may in fact be highly intelligent. (And it's not nice to call people retarded anyway.) They may or many not outnumber you, but are a significant cultural force one way or another, so the peer pressure argument is ineffective. And describing the matter as "nobody uses this metaphor" with exceptions is a poor way to describe the matter at best.

"My back is killing me!"

"If Jeff keeps making that annoying noise I'm gonna kill him."

"Traffic was absolute murder today..."

"Being stuck in a stuffy office on a day like this is torture."

Are these example's of insensitive trivialization of murder and torture?

Only if you're completely incapable (or unwilling) of making the distinction between words and their intended meaning.

If hearing someone saying "murder", "kill", "torture" or "rape" in a non-serious context can make you take those ACTS less seriously then you're a a worryingly gullible/amoral person, then the problem lies with you, not with people who don't happen to have a joyless, unerringly literal approach to language that they use to make themselves self-appointed sensitivity police (i.e enjoy that practise humans enjoy so much that is telling other people they're doing stuff wrong).

Of course, you'd never take murder or rape less seriously just because it was used non-seriously as word; only stupid people would do that. It's only those other people who would be influenced so easily by language, and its for them language has to be regulated.

"Wait, someone is using the word rape in relation to the result of a trivial sports result? That must mean raping people isn't a serious issue! Thank god society has given me permission to violate other people through non-literal use of language!"

This is the same kind of nonsense that makes people say videogames with fantasy violence in them are bad because they desensitize people to violence. Sorry, us intelligent, compassionate people are actually capable of distinguishing between fantasy, hyperbole, metaphor, and real life immoral acts.

Even young children are capable of making this distinction when they play soldiers or whatever and pretend to kill each other and die. If you're abilities in sensitivity are being surpassed by children, you may want to redress your values instead of focussing on what you see as faults in others.

Meh. No. People who use the word that way are wrong, stupid and nasty. Cultural relativism doesn't get a look in.

I award your argument zero points.

Use of sexual words, "raped", "fucked","buggered" in a non sexual context is incredibly common.

The usage refers to direct sexual context, even when directed towards traditionally unsexual behaviors.

Ask Bobby Knight how well that line of reasoning works in the real world.

The difference is Bobby Knight is a human, what I am getting at is people are offended by an algorithm that has no intent, and for all anyone knows could have picked the word based on another definition that others are over looking.

I just asked the question (I was not advocating or taking a position)and it is clear from the responses most people want to be the first to cast a stone at the algorithm, irrespective of the intent or definition used, that is fine, I am not here to judge.

You know, reading more of the comments here and on the blog, I think Pete Ashton may be right in calling out technological illiteracy. Some people seem to be unable to make a distinction between something said with no ill intent by a human and something said with no ill intent by an algorithm.

It really seems to me that this is the result of a failure to properly internalize the full implications of what algorithms are capable of, how they work... really just what they are.

You may as well be offended by what a toddler says. It is very very easy for a toddler or an algorithm to say something that could, in other contexts, be offensive. In the correct context however, primarily the realization that there is no intent present, you would have to not understand what a toddler is to be offended by what a toddler says.

That's disingenuous. The algorithm selects words, not meanings.

Those items you highlighted could be taken as tongue-in-cheek humor. Shirts with slogans like "Keep Calm and Rape Her" or "Keep Calm and Hit Her" are vague, and this lack of content makes it harder to find deeper meaning other than the face value.

Casual sexism is not a joke.

Saying something dumb that defies social norms but 'some people actually think that way'...

Sounds like a joke to me. In bad taste, sure, but that doesn't category-shift it.

Or another way of saying it: unacceptable jokes are still in fact jokes

The irony here, is that the outrage over these generated t-shirts is increasing their visibility and promoting something that no one had ever heard of or cared about before.

The sadness here is that disparaging boys is much more acceptable, and people immediately assume that these shirts are referring to raping women, completely overlooking the fact that men can be victims of rape as well.

Nobody overlooks that men can be victims, and it's every bit as tragic when they are as when women are. But it would take willful blindness to suggest that rape is not overwhelmingly often a thing that men do to women. That reality shapes women's daily lives enormously more than the reality of male victims of rape shapes men's. (When was the last time you saw someone explicitly offering men advice on how to avoid getting raped?)

But it would take willful blindness to suggest that rape is not overwhelmingly often a thing that men do to women.

Actually there is an open question whether the USA currently experiences more rapes man-on-man inside of prison or rapes man-on-woman outside of prison. One place to start looking into this topic is http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/feb/....

However given the choice, there is no question that men who are inclined to rape overwhelmingly would prefer to rape women. And outside of a prison setting, women are overwhelmingly the targets.

(All of this is not counting child sexual abuse, which is its own chamber of horrors.)

The articles I've seen also indicate men are raped more in the US due to prison based rapes. You're going to find that few people care about the man-on-man rape inside prisons. It's an extraordinarily vile double standard.

I agree that the silent acceptance (and normalization) of prison rape is horrific. There is no excuse for it (except "out of sight, out of mind", which of course is no excuse at all).

But, as I keep saying here, the biggest impact of rape in our society is not its effect on the victims, terrible as those effects are. The much broader impact is the culture of fear and blame that women (and largely only women) have to live with every day of their lives. Our society demands that women follow strict (and often contradictory) guidelines for avoiding rape, and then we vocally make excuses for their rapists whenever someone assaults a woman and she didn't follow every single one of them to the letter. (For example, either "Why did you make him angry by rudely brushing off his advances?" or "Why did you lead him on by responding politely to his advances?", depending on the circumstances.)

Prison rape is terrible and must be stopped, but the one and only thing that prevents it from being as harmful overall is that its effects don't really bleed over to warp society as a whole. The results of men raping women affect essentially all women, essentially all the time.

Do people often vocally make excuses for rapists? Not something I can say I have ever heard, at least in western culture.

You must have overlooked my examples. It is routine, after a man rapes a woman, for people to ask things like "What was she wearing?" or "Why was she at that party?" or to say things like "Well, after all, she has a reputation for being 'loose'" or "Goes to show that a young woman shouldn't be out so late alone." (The example questions in my previous comment are also very common, and illustrate the "can't win" situation that women wind up in.)

It may not be immediately obvious that those questions boil down to "making excuses for rapists", but if you sit and think about it for five minutes it's a hard conclusion to avoid. The focus routinely shifts away from "that man did something awful" and toward "that woman made some mistakes".

There's a big difference between giving safety advice and excusing rape.

The same could be applied in other situations, for example if I go out alone late at night in the wrong part of town whilst displaying my expensive consumer gadgets , leave my house unlocked and go out or leave my server connected to the internet with a blank root password people might rightly ask "why the hell did you do that?". This doesn't in any way condone the actions of a mugger/burgler/hacker etc but sadly one must acknowledge that there are bad elements in society and recommend appropriate mitigation.

So yes, a woman who put her in a situation where she was likely to be raped did make some mistakes, but that doesn't excuse somebody who takes advantage of that.

I don't see how that is controversial.

> The same could be applied in other situations, for example if I go out alone late at night in the wrong part of town whilst displaying my expensive consumer gadgets

This is a great example. I went to a university inside of a major city and at several points during freshmen orientation we were told to be careful about what sort of electronics we display while outside, particularly at night. "Don't wear your expensive headphones while walking around the city, consider buying a case that covers your phone, travel in groups when possible." ..that sort of thing.

I don't think anyone has ever claimed that they were making excuses for muggers.

It's really not a great example, though there are obviously similarities. Rather than repeating myself at length, I'll just suggest that you read my response to the parent post.

This stuff is complicated, and I know that it took me an awfully long time to begin figuring it out (or to even accept that there was something I needed to figure out). I used to say things that sounded a lot like your comment here.

I don't anymore. Give it some time, and some thought.

Do you agree that, to the extent to which the safety advice given to women mirrors the safety advice given to starry-eyed freshmen about muggers and thieves, such safety advice does not represent a manifestation of rape culture?

I don't think victim blaming is an imagined phenomenon, but I do think that the extent to which it permeates it's society is often exaggerated, to the extent that people who give reasonable safety advice can occasionally be vilified as contributing to it.

I more or less agree with what you've said, though it still makes me uncomfortable that it only applies to women. Some level of advice on ways to reduce risk is clearly necessary.

But, as I've said elsewhere, it is my strong impression that the advice given to women regarding rape does not merely mirror other safety advice. There are many places where those starry-eyed freshmen would be forgiven for letting down their guard against muggers (inside their own dorm, for instance), but women are allowed no such safe spaces. The freshmen are given just a few rules to remember ("Don't flaunt your expensive headphones south of 61st St."), but women are given endless lists. The freshmen hear their advice when they show up at college, but women get rape prevention tips drilled into them from childhood so they completely internalize it. And by and large, the advice those freshmen get is simple enough that it doesn't contain any Catch-22's like my earlier example: a woman can be blamed for angering the man who raped her by being rude OR for leading him on if she's polite, so some people will fault her either way.

Yes, this always looks like just "giving safety advice", and yes, similar advice does get offered after other crimes. The difference in the case of rape is the extraordinary range and intrusiveness of such "advice" that all women (and only women) are expected to follow every day to avoid being faulted for negligence if they wind up being a victim. As illustrated by the contradictory example questions in my earlier comment, it's quite common for people to find a way to portray a rape victim as negligent no matter what choices she made.

I completely understand if you're not on board with this perspective right away; it took me a long time, too. But honestly: keep your eyes open from here on out when you read media reports of rape and you will see how universal this "fault the victim" attitude is. Watch for it for a while, and then really do sit down and think hard about it for those five uninterrupted minutes.

Here's an example for starters: media coverage of an 11-year-old girl forcibly gang raped by 18 grown men. You'd like to think they wouldn't have bothered reporting on how she dressed, wouldn't you? http://www.salon.com/2011/03/09/new_york_times_blames_11_yea...

I would agree that it is unfortunate the lengths that women may have to go to in order to minimise their risk, however I don't think that ignoring these factors does anybody any good. Ideally nobody should have to take any measures to prevent anything bad from happening, but that's not how the world is.

I am in the UK , so perhaps culture is somewhat different here but I would expect that if a woman reported a sexual assault to basically anybody either a vigilante mob or police investigation would be mustered in short order rather than the incident trivialised or the victim blamed.

In fact there have been cases of premature "justice" taken against individuals before all of the facts are in. And it's not completely unknown for threat of fake rape accusations to be used as a method of blackmail. In other words branding somebody as a rapist is a sure fire way to fuck their life up, quite different from "everyone blames the victim".

Even though it is not pleasant reading I don't think it hurts to report on all of the facts in such cases if doing so might help others to avoid these situations. For example if I had a daughter I know I would want to give frank and strongly worded advice if I thought it might make her even a little bit safer, but if something were to happen I would certainly not blame her.

"I would expect that if a woman reported a sexual assault to basically anybody either a vigilante mob or police investigation would be mustered in short order rather than the incident trivialised or the victim blamed."

Unfortunately, this is not typically what happens. Remember, we're not usually talking about some guy leaping out of a dark alley and grabbing a stranger walking by. Most rapists know their victims and interact with them socially in the lead-up to the assault. Many deliberately arrange circumstances designed to create doubt about what happened and whether it was consensual.

I hate to link to a scumbag, but there was a reddit post several months ago by a serial rapist describing his methods that illustrates this quite clearly: http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/x6yef/reddits_had... It is absolutely chilling reading, but horribly informative (as are his replies to questions later on). I'm as skeptical of anonymous comments as the next guy, but in the aftermath I saw a number of people saying, "Don't give him the attention he wants: you can see exactly the same methods and mentality in formal studies of convicted rapists instead." (Sadly, I never saw links to those studies, so I'm still linking to the scumbag.) It's clear that this isn't the sort of thing that inspires vigilante mobs, but my understanding is that it's by far the most common scenario.

Meanwhile, you need to be really cautious about bringing up the "false rape accusation" objection. Yes, they happen, and it's awful when they do. But every statistic I've ever seen indicates that the number of false accusations is miniscule compared with even the number of reported rapes, let along the number that don't get reported at all (perhaps because the only evidence was "he said/she said" that would get brushed off as potentially a false accusation). Treating actual rapes and false accusations as some sort of evenly balanced poles deserving equal consideration is not justified by the statistics.

"There's a big difference between giving safety advice and excusing rape."

There is zero difference in that you're stating that the woman had something direct to do with enabling her rape.

I'm not going to dive into the rape statistic minefield, but the last time I did, the assumptions where that a more on-male rape numbers were in the dark because of still prevalent gender stereotypes (as in: Men don't get raped and they should be able to defend themselves).

Again, it's honestly not about the statistics. Perception is, in this case, the major issue. Women are constantly pushed to change their behavior because of the danger that they might be raped, and practically every time a woman's rape is reported people ask "What was she wearing? Why was she out alone? Had she been drinking? Did she smile at him first?"

Men do not face that pressure. And yes, I'm sure that there's a corresponding judgmental tone in questions like "Weren't you man enough to fight him off?", but everyone understands that a man can be beaten in a fight. It's an entirely different atmosphere.

The problem is that questions like "Weren't you man enough to fight him off?" don't get asked, the threat of those questions prevent men from telling anyone.

And of course it's bullshit (the rest as well, but that one is just especially idiotic) to ask "What was she wearing?" (in general). But that's something that people are actively trying to better. Not for men.

You are continuing to ignore my central point. Men in our society are not indoctrinated in a culture of fear about rape the way women are. People do not routinely lecture men on things they should do to avoid getting raped. Most men walking by themselves at night do not worry about rape as one of the principal dangers to be wary of. Completely ignoring any question of how frequently rape happens to men, the mere existence of rape does not have anywhere near the impact on men's lives as it does on women's.

It is plausible to me that there is also a culture of shame affecting men who have been raped, along the lines that you have described. But if so, it is very silent compared to the rape culture surrounding women, and thus has far less impact on men who are not themselves victimized. It is no doubt no less awful for men who are the victims of rape, and I agree that any such culture must, must, must be fixed.

But at the same time, I can't blame the activists out there for targeting their primary effort at the side of the problem that has the broadest effect and the widest societal impact. And also, I optimistically believe that if we eventually do manage to fix the culture of shame and blame attached to rape that affects women, a lot of that progress will automatically carry over to the case of men who are raped, too. Feminism has never been just about making things better for women! That's just where the first big steps are naturally found.

> and people immediately assume that these shirts are referring to raping women

It seems the only people making that assumption are you and the grandparent.

Anyone who is informed is making that assumption, hopefully that now includes you.


People worldwide are using hashtag #NotBuyingIt to call-out sexism in the media.

Let the media know: sexism won’t sell. Use #NotBuyingIt on Twitter to challenge the misrepresentation of women and girls.

Did you read those recent tweets? None of them mention gender.

You're looking for a bias that just isn't there. Our society most definitely has a problem with rape and sexual assault— specifically towards women— but I don't see any Twitter users making the assumption that "t-shirt advocating rape" == "t-shirt advocating rape against women" There are men who are victims of sexual assault and rape, and you do them a disservice by ignoring them to push your own agenda.

Did you read my comment?

Several of them include the #NotBuyingIt hashtag, a hashtag specifically related to sexism against women.

I really hesitated to respond to you again, at this point it seems you are doing nothing more than post hoc rationalization of your original inaccurate assertion.

You're right. Several of the tweets included that tag. However, it doesn't seem to me that those tweets were from people who were thinking these shirts are targeting women. If you take a look at the hashtag on Twitter[0], many of them have nothing to do with boycotting an item. Is it safe to assume a person would see that hashtag and use it thinking it isn't specific to sexism? I think so.

I should also clarify that I am in no way arguing that rape is equally a male and female problem. Women deal with rape culture much more than men. My argument is that I don't believe these twitter users were upset because it was targeting women. I think they were upset because rape is a terrible thing to happen to anyone.

[0]: https://twitter.com/search/realtime?q=%23NotBuyingIt

/r/mensrights can be found over on Reddit. This is still Hacker News as far as I remember.

What's the problem with the nuns having fun one?

I think you're asking the wrong question.

I think it's socially pathological to appeal to Amazon (the tweets shown) to remove something offensive or distateful. Demanding intervention by random intermediaries simply sets the precedent that Amazon's role is to censor, which everyone hates the rest of the year. I think it's more responsible and effective to financially boycott something like this, assuming of course that you don't find this ironic, if dark (the original "keep calm and carry on" could be seen as promoting sheepish obedience, which I personally find genuinely offensive rather than merely distasteful...).

> I think it's more responsible and effective to financially boycott something like this

How do I boycott a tiny company I've never heard of and whose products I would never buy?

You keep not buying their products.

And people tell me I've never done anything to improve the world.

I think it can still be appropriate to criticize the original source (even publicly), without appealing to the intermediary. ("Amazon is allowing sellers to sell t-shirts promoting rape!"... Rather, Amazon is simply allowing sellers to sell. The products are either legal or illegal. If they are legal, Amazon would be discriminating by not allowing the seller to sell their goods...)

> How do I boycott a tiny company I've never heard of and whose products I would never buy?

This is one reason companies are supposed to go public: you could just short their stock, and ask everyone else to do the same.

Wha.. ? (2)

People may use two things to demonstrate that they disagree with this: exit and voice^. Why just one is responsible and the other is "socially pathological" (?!?!) I can't even imagine how, in this particular case, boycott(exit) would be more effective than voice!

^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exit,_Voice,_and_Loyalty

The entire reaction to all of this does illustrate why Apple does stuff like filter out "barely legal teens" from their services. They'd much rather deal with the tiny minority of people who are upset by that than they would an explosion of self-righteous outrage all over Twitter and Facebook.

People can complain to whoever they want. If you don't like Amazon censoring based on complaints, go ahead and do one of your silent financial boycotts. Let us know how effective it is.


Sorry, if Amazon does disgusting shit like sell this (and it is disgusting shit, no matter how it was created) Amazon deserves to be scolded for it. Nothing to do with censorship.

Boycotts are ineffective and most certainly wouldn’t work here. What’s wrong with making clear that something someone does is disgusting and they should stop it? That’s quite simple.

Amazon is a retail interface for the original seller. If we pull Amazon's levers, causing them to filter (as opposed to directing criticism at the origin), Amazon, a vast-reaching intermediary, becomes an explicit and expected tool for anyone who has the influence (social, monetary, etc) to manipulate it, and it can quickly become the norm in the same way that ISPs are quick to become copyright/content police in the absence of effective safe-harbor rights. In not liking something, it's OK to be loud about it, but Amazon is the wrong target IMHO, and by directly targeting/shaming Amazon, the long-term result is, in addition to the immediate effect of cutting off the originator, a warping of accountability in ways that seem to me to increase the probability of censorship (and anti-competition, etc).

For example, a likely next step for Amazon would be to implement pre-screening, by a human, of all products before listing.

Net neutrality, and good government, and fair markets, all depend on the most direct forms of accountability available, IMHO. Again, I can certainly understand how the shirt could be offensive.

> Sorry, if Amazon does disgusting shit like sell this (and it is disgusting shit, no matter how it was created) Amazon deserves to be scolded for it. Nothing to do with censorship.

There is a Mark Twain book with the word ni-ger printed in it. You better do something about it quick. It's offensive.

You don't understand how this all works, apparently.

Amazon is, for all intents and purposes, a machine. It takes inputs, does algorithmic work, and produces output (a marketplace).

Some of the inputs, such as this case, are other machines.

Yes, next you'll argue that I'm wrong and that Amazon is run by people. Sure. Most of their workforce is in the warehouses, and that's gradually being reduced by machine labor. There's a small percent of people that do programming, make broad business decisions, and collect profits. The human attention pool for policing every input and output of the machine is cosmologically small.

What's their other major businesses? EC2, S3, etc.

Someone sets of an EC2 micro instance VPN for tor to use Silk Road or illegal porn. Amazon is at fault?

Suppose I publish a book wih a hypothesis that the Nazi killing of 6 million Jews helped the gene pool of Europe and resulted in over 60 years of peace. Does Amazon get to remove that because its illegal in Germany but legal in the US?

Just because something is offensive to you, it's not to others. I actually found some irony in the rape tshirt. I might wear it once as a gag to a party with close friends that get the joke, but that would be it. Others would wear it as a "fuck the world" statement. Others actually like rape fantasies.

Summary: Amazon is a colossal machine. It is unfair and impractical to censor the machine marketplace. Keep your opinions to yourself, because what you find offensive is funny to others.

If Adobe does disgusting shit like making tools that let people make this? What about if MasterCard does disgusting shit like process payments for this? If UPS does disgusting shit like ship this? If Exxon does disgusting shit like sell UPS the fuel to ship this?

Your argument has everything to do with censorship. You're saying it was Amazon's responsibility to prevent people from using the services it provides for "disgusting" purposes. Amazon providing the e-commerce API was no different in the mind of any person or organization from Adobe selling the t-shirt seller Photoshop, MasterCard handling the payment, UPS shipping the product, Exxon selling the the fuel, etc.

Except it has everything to do with censorship. Amazon cannot hand check every item that is put up for sale, it is infeasible and a waste of time.

But if Amazon were to respond to customer concerns by censoring offensive content, that makes much more sense.

People are offended because an Amazon user is selling "rape t-shirt" on Amazon's website. People are so offended they will boycott Amazon?

Would it be hypocritical for the offended to not also boycott: Twitter because they permit their users to Tweet rape jokes (I have seen them); YouTube because their users can upload videos that recorded people telling rape jokes; for a long period of time Facebook allowed "pro-rape" pages; and finally do not forget to boycott Google because they have indexed every rape joke on the web, they even indexed the "rape t-shirt" permitting such things to be searched in an instant, plus Google makes money when you search for rape jokes.

It's convenient outrage.

Or call it bumper sticker outrage. It's shallow because it demonstrates the absolute bare minimum of response and investigation.

And yes it's hypocritical.

People know that Twitter is full of idiots and that Google is automated, but people (apparently) still expect marketplaces to be curated. I think a more accurate comparison would be: It would be hypocritical for them to boycott Apple's App Store if they would sell an app with that name. (And I think they would)

I could not EDIT the comment.

>Retraction: and finally do not forget to boycott Google because they have indexed every rape joke on the web, they even indexed the "rape t-shirt" permitting such things to be searched in an instant, plus Google makes money when you search for rape jokes.

Google does NOT include sponsored results for "rape jokes".

Google includes sponsored results for "rape t-shirts".

*Some of the Google sponsored results may be as offensive if not more than the t-shit in the OP.

The difference, of course, is that Amazon takes a cut when any of these "Keep calm and rape her" t-shirts gets sold. Twitter doesn't.

How does Twitter make money? Ads and "sponsored" tweets; therefore, it is entirely concivable if someone is reading tweets that include rape jokes Twitter is profiting because ads or sponsored Tweets appear on the same page. This would be similar to Google search, YouTube and Facebook - I am not making the arguement, but I could see people take the position the ad companies are even more culpable than Amazon because they are using advertiser dollars to include ads with content about rape - how happy would you be as an advertiser to place ads for keywords like "jokes" or "comedy" and come to find out you website/product ads appear next to searches for "rape jokes"?

I don't know what twitter's business model is anymore, but I assure they have a way to connect "people tweeting stuff and reading tweets" with "profit".

T shirts like this aren't new, neither are rape jokes. Stand up comedians like Jimmy Carr are known for making jokes of this type quite frequently.

The joke isn't to "promote rape", the joke is the absurdity of putting a statement like that in a context where it doesn't really fit. In this case the "keep calm" meme.

I don't understand a lot of the oversensitivity in the Western-culture. It's as if the whole thing is a large field of booby-traps. If you make a joke about rape, it does not mean you're promoting rape. It just means you're raising a sensitive subject. Sensitive subjects are not allowed in open-minded societies? Even as jokes? Contrast with the uproar that Islamists have against pictures they feel offensive about their religion.

Aside from just being pathetic, or having weak egos in constant defense mode, or loving to play the victim, people think that having a "strong" opinion on something makes them special in some way... So they act out... Trying to show the world just how special they are.

So a joke is offensive, big deal... Be offended, it's your right. Just stop whining about it.

"Whining about it" is also their right, as is your right to imagine that convoluted set of explanations for their actions.

I love this mentality of "I have every right to say something offensive, but shut up if you call me out on it!" It makes it easy to identify the immature ones in these discussions.

To be fair, they also have the right to tell you to shut up about telling them to shut up. How about we all agree be angry at eachother and call it a day. Or we could continue flipping the fuck out and impotently messaging eachother over the internet. I'm up for either.

The reasoning is that it's misogynistic because it normalizes rape. Of course, men are effected too.

See: Prison rape jokes.

The prison rape jokes are especially noteworthy, as many people now seem to assume that getting raped as an inmate is indeed normal.

As far as I'm aware prison rape is actually pretty rare outside of a handful of mainly US institutions.

Yes it is mainly in the US, but I think calling it "pretty rare" isn't helpful.

For 2008, for example, the government had previously tallied 935 confirmed instances of sexual abuse. After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.


Interestingly (in the UK) sometimes minors are actually glad to get sent to youth offenders institutes because they can get away from the sexual abuse that they had on the outside.

According to a recent article from Germany[1] (excuse my crude translation):

> There is a 7% probability of being raped within one month of entering youth jail

And to spice it up with sexism, the state's minister of justice explained:

> Well, a jail is not a girls' guesthouse.

[1] http://www.tagesspiegel.de/weltspiegel/mobbing-vergewaltigun...

With that logic, shouldn't we be frowning at violent video games as well? Normalizes murder as well?

This isn't about "oversensitivity", it's about normalizing rape. There is evidence that actual rapists very often believe that most men either commit rape or want to commit rape: that they aren't all that different than the other guys they know (except that they had the guts to actually do it and/or that they got caught).

In other words, yeah, 95% of guys who hear you joking about rape know that you're obviously just joking. But it turns out that there's one guy who doesn't: he thinks you and the guys who laugh are giving him a quiet nod of support. And you don't know which one he is.

> There is evidence that actual rapists very often believe that most men either commit rape or want to commit rape: that they aren't all that different than the other guys they know (except that they had the guts to actually do it and/or that they got caught).

Most clinically-depressed people think everyone will feel just as negatively in response to anything they say/do as they themselves do. They are incorrect about this. The world is not this way; their perception is distorted.

For that matter, most zoophiles think everyone has secret thoughts about how sexy animals are; same for pedophiles with children. They are, obviously, incorrect about this. The world is not this way; their perceptions are distorted.

Mental illness can warp your view of the world, and of what is "predictable behavior" in other people. What evidence is there that rapists are rationally observing a rape-normalizing society and concluding that rape is okay, vs. that rapists are observing any society through a distorted lens and concluding that that society is okay with rape?

Which is to say, more practically: what evidence is there that, in a perfectly "cleaned up" society where nobody ever makes a rape joke, there would be any less rape, or a single less rapist who thought society approved of rape?

If people already are one way [e.g. "making rape jokes"], you should find a factual, consequentialist reason that making them some other way ["not making rape jokes"] would improve society, before going through all the effort to convince everyone to change their collective minds. Without the ends, why the means?

Your point is well taken: we can't just assume this stuff, and it really does have to be measured. And I'm not remotely an expert on this stuff, so I can't provide thorough evidence for this. However, I've heard plenty of people who have studied this stuff much more than I have present this connection as being pretty well established by direct evidence, and given that the theory is generally plausible I've seen no reason to think they're lying.

That being said, here's a link: http://psp.sagepub.com/content/32/3/286.abstract At least from the abstract, it sounds like it's addressing exactly the question you've asked (and that previous studies have found related results). (I took that link from a recent blog post by Jim Hines, which includes quite a few others worth reading, too: http://www.jimchines.com/2013/03/preventing-rape/ .)

I don't know if this is specifically a western thing. It's just different cultures are offended by different things.

For example, in thailand everyone holds the king in very high esteem. So if you were to be in thailand and make a joke about the king, even if it was extremely lighthearted and not very derogatory a thai person would likely take this as a much greater personal insult than something like a rape joke.

Because the jokes and the people who tell them are generally insensitive. So you're raising a sensitive topic in an insensitive way.

Look, you aren't right to excuse this shirt as legitimate humor any more than other folks are right to think that it was deliberately evil: it's an algorithm. Algorithms don't get to claim they're trying to provide some sort of social commentary by way of their offensive output.

The main lesson I see here is that the people behind this shirt company set themselves up to sell a horrifically inappropriate item. They weren't being deliberately awful (as far as we know), but they were painfully thoughtless about where their algorithms would eventually take them. And doing harm unintentionally still counts as doing harm.

I don't see a cut-off point between legitimate and illegitimate humour, anything that amuses some people must be legitimate humour in some way.

You could certainly see a lot of humour as potentially offensive to some people, or in some cases slanderous (which I think is worse than merely being offensive). You could also think that somebody who chooses to wear a shirt like this might be advertising themselves as bit of a dick.

Inappropriate is also a sticky concept, it might be an inappropriate item for a kindergarten teacher to wear to work but it might not be so inappropriate to wear around adults who would understand it as humour.

I like the author's conclusion. It brings to mind Clarke's Third Law. Applied to independent individuals, though, there is a somewhat disturbing conclusion: if you allow technology to progress without correspondingly advancing your own knowledge, you will increasingly find yourself living in a magical realm.

This is already true for most people in the modern world.

Really, this guys conclusion is that the problem here is people who don't understand automation on the customer side, not (if he's even correct about the system) people creating automated systems without thinking about possible failures in the system? Yea, they're all holding it wrong, its their fault for not being technically literate enough.

That's not how I read it. I see him saying they should have checked their verb list (thought about possible failures, as you said.) He also says that if people are more aware of the algorithmic nature of these things that they are less likely to get offended.

Quite honestly, I think he's right. If people were informed about amazon not being the ones who are selling the t-shirts and the algorithmic nature of the t-shirt generation then people would probably react completely different to encountering that t-shirt.

> If people were informed about amazon not being the ones who are selling the t-shirts and the algorithmic nature of the t-shirt generation

Umm... Only on Hacker News does that count as a normal business model that one could possibly expect :)

I don't think that sort of business model would be so alien to the general internet using public. As an example, Urban Dictionary's business model is very similar (They offer to sell you presently non-existent products covered in messages that were not subjected to any form of editorial review.)

No, the content is the same disgusting shit. Algorithms are not some sort of magic excuse that frees you from responsibility.

Ok, so there was no bad intent. That’s alright. But the bottom line still is that Amazon is selling disgusting crap and nothing can change that. People criticizing that led to the removal of said disgusting crap. This played out quite nicely, actually.

If you attach a markov chain bot to a bunch of IRC channels, and a few days later it starts spewing racial slurs, would you be offended and accuse the author of wrongdoing?

That's not a silly hypothetical, it happens all the time. Even cleverbot is racist as hell.

Of course I'd be offended. Racist slurs cause actual harm (by supporting a longstanding environment of racist thought and action, and by causing distress in those who are targeted). To paraphrase a blog post I've recently read, impact is what defines harm, not intent. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-harvey/its-not-about-...)

If you write a bot and let it participate on IRC, you are ultimately responsible for what it does there. If there's a bug that makes it spew random ASCII text twenty times per second that clogs the channel and makes it unusable, that's your fault. If it spews racist hatred and makes minorities unwilling to participate (or makes bigots feel emboldened and at home), that's your fault too.

When your nanobots go haywire and start converting the entire planet into grey goo, I will blame you. (For all the good it'll do me.)

If I am made aware of what my IRC bot is doing, and refuse to sanitize its corpus, then it would be reasonable to call me a jackass. I see no such refusal in this instance.

Otherwise though? It would be plainly irrational to become angry at me for writing a bot that, during the course of it's remixing, reveals or highlights racism on IRC.

To put a finer point on it, if I make a twitter bot that immediately echos anything you tweet it, and one day someone says something offensive to it, am I to blame? Of course not, that is absurd. A markov chain bot is different in no way relevant to this discussion.

I would be offended and tell that author to make it stop. That seems like an entirely reasonable reaction to me.

Telling the author to make it stop is reasonable. Being offended by it is just plain absurd.

Why, exactly? It’s very possible and also reasonable to be offended even though no one is really to blame.

Well, it depends on what people are offended about.

If they're offended that a shirt exists somewhere, anywhere, saying to rape someone then sure, there's probably no difference here.

If they're offended that some asshole went out of their way to make a shirt talking about raping people then it's a bit different. There never was anyone who went out of their way to make a shirt. This is the near-equivalent of running "rm -rf * /" to remove only sub-directories and accidentally inserting the extra space.

So should they have checked their verb list better, or thought more about the possibility of what their algorithm would generate? Absolutely! But their sin was not nearly as bad as actually thinking that such a shirt would be acceptable to make.

Your reaction to an algorithmically created t-shirt seems a little excessive. And yes, intent means everything in this case.

Intent isn't fucking magic. It's not an excuse.

Intent is very, very relevant. Intent is the difference between manslaughter and murder.

For me personally, intent is the difference between forgiveness and not. I find people that refuse to acknowledge intent to be rude and selfish.

Yes, it makes a difference, but intent cannot heal the basic violation.

I have a problem with people who act like a lack of intent makes offense unreasonable. That’s just insane to me.

> Yes, it makes a difference, but intent cannot heal the basic violation.

Only if the basic violation was physical (my example of manslaughter, for instance). Absolutely it can for emotional issues (where intent is really the only thing that matters). In fact, if someone takes something in a way that it wasn't intended, gets offended, and then stays offended after you explain that real non-offensive intent, then they are just holding onto something that doesn't exist (and never existed!). The entire reason for the offense in the first place has been annulled, yet they are hanging onto the anger/resentment because... Well I have no idea—this concept has never made sense to me at all. That is the selfishness I speak of.

It's just insane to me, too. But I understand all too well that certain people are wired to think that way. In fact, I believe this particular incompatibility was one of the fundamental reasons my marriage failed. Luckily, that life lesson has taught me to avoid those kinds of people in my personal life—I find them very difficult to deal with in the long run.

Reminds me of this story: "Programmer creates 800,000 books algorithmically and starts selling them on Amazon"


The key takeaway for me is that when marketing products to non programmers, you can still create a very believable personal touch with emails and all correspondence. Using first names, sending emails at non scheduled times, and even potentially adding "Sent From my iPhone" at the bottom can turn marketing emails into unbelievable personal notes to the eyes of a "typical user".

Fascinating to see Automated Design (optimization software applied to product development) in the wild. Some of the more interesting applications deal with situations where the definition of 'optimal' is based on a changing data set, like trending topics on Twitter.

Obviously, this went horribly wrong in this case, which brings us to the lesson:

Optimization technology can generate lots of designs that score well against some set of metrics. You still need someone with decent 'taste' to select which solutions you'll put into production. It doesn't matter if you're optimizing stock trading strategies, jet engines, or t-shirts.

Creating a decent UI for selecting good designs from a giant batch of autogenerated designs is a hard and interesting problem, and almost always needs to be custom built for the domain. Picking the best jet engine needs a totally different UI than picking the best stock trading strategy.

Keep calm and don't buy their merchandise if you're offended. Telling the world about this company and trying to crucify them for it is the wrong way of going after them. The shit storm that followed the 2 minutes the shirt was for sale is probably the best publicity the company could have ever asked for.

I for one am glad amazon is not in the business of censoring what's for sale or not. Their company provides an online market place to sell goods, period. Blaming amazon for something that 1) offended you and 2) was a mistake is incredibly short sighted.

Ever make a mistake in your life? They did, it happened, they apologized.

More to the point, algorithms aren't buying these shirts.. what kind of sick fuck is?

Read the article. You are making an incorrect assumption that anybody has purchased these shirts, or that they even exist.

Cool, thanks.. faith in humanity restored.

I am in the bad habit of reading HN on my old phone (CM7). The comments load much quicker than the articles, and sometimes they lead me astray.

I understand. I am guilty of only reading the comments when I feel an article is meant to address a single very interesting question, and then fails to go anywhere near it in the first two paragraphs.

The idea of an algorithm actually automatically generating and submitting shirt designs to Amazon is pretty much ridiculous. Yes, you could do it. But would you really? Who would actually invest that much engineering time into saving yourself the few minutes it would take to cobble that stuff together by hand? The author links to the company's catalog on Amazon and if you scroll through it, there is a lot of variety there - they aren't all just shirts created by a single algorithm playing mad libs.

I'm sure lots of automated scripts are involved in a product going up onto Amazon, but to suggest that no humans were ever involved in the creation of those shirts is probably nonsense, unless you have evidence to show that it actually is the case. The most obvious explanation is that a human made them, and it's not particularly difficult to believe that someone out there would make that shirt design. I've met people like that.

The article says there are 500,000 items by that seller on Amazon. If you guess there may be 10 different variants of each search, that's 50,000 unique shirts. The engineering cost is probably pretty low compared to the fact they can stumble upon tons of valuable little niches this way.

The most obvious conclusion is that a human made 500,000 shirt designs?

Probably not a single human, you can go on crowd sourcing websites and probably find people who will pump out t shirt designs for a $1 a pop.

So do you think these people will make $500,000 from their T-shirts to cover their costs?! I don't understand why it's so surprising that somebody might automate this. You know we have thse things called "computers" today... right? :)

It's an obvious thing to do. Amazon already sell print-on-demand ebooks, allowing vendors to spam the products list with a torrent of shit at minimal cost so they can find out which bits stick. This is exactly the same principle.

(See also, in case you're reading this later and there are a lot of comments: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5310567)

You can probably to a single $1 design and create a number of products from it , as they seem to have. So I imagine the part that is auto generated is colouring etc rather than the design itself.

The "Keep calm and…" is not exactly something someone needs to design: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On

Somehow I don't think spending $500000 on these t-shirt designs would be a good idea (compared to generating them with an algorithm).

well, i did the same for just a website. http://colorlessgreen.net/ (twitter - https://twitter.com/ColorlessG ).

my verb list doesn't contain rape https://github.com/andrewcooke/pn-art-adj-adj-n-v-adv/blob/m... . i'm not sure why - i did check by eye, but i don't remember having to exclude it. however i did filter so similarly-spelt words are rejected. so perhaps it was similar to some other verb.

maybe i should make t-shirts.

anyway, this is just to say that you've also, now, met someone who makes random sentences with computers. we do exist.

however i did filter so similarly-spelt words are rejected. so perhaps it was similar to some other verb.

"Keep calm and ripen?"

"Keep calm and rap"?

Nothing wrong with rapping.

How much engineering time do you imagine was involved in this?

You can generate the sentences with something like this:


$sentence = "Keep Calm And Carry On";

$replacements = array('Carry' => 'Other', 'Dictionary', 'Words', 'On' => 'A Lot', 'Off', 'Them', 'Us');

echo strtr($sentence, $replacements);


Once you've done that, simply use a Macro to add it to Amazon.

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