Monday, September 29, 2014

My people

I have been reading lately about the problems with organized atheism.  It is certainly true that atheists have their heroes and villains, paragons of virtue and scumbags.  PZ Myers talks about his disappointment in learning just how many of the organized atheists in the world are sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted (because evolution, don'cha know) and is very sad about how the potential for a truly enlightened movement has been lost.  John Scalzi chimed in to talk about how this is inevitable because the atheist movement, like all other movements, is composed of a bunch of people and lots of people are assholes.

Scalzi is right in that there are awful people in every large group and especially in a group that has no entrance requirements, roster, or official organization there is no way whatsoever to keep them out.  I found it funny though that Scalzi talked about his group of friends and how good they are as if somehow his circle is clean of jerks and everyone is wonderful.  Hint:  It isn't and they aren't.  I am sure he likes his friends but I guarantee you that they act like assholes sometimes but they do so in ways he doesn't find too bothersome and he ignores that because they are friends.  I am not calling Scalzi out as unique here - he is just the example of how pretty much all of us act.  We pretend like there are assholes everywhere, but not *our* friends, right?

Some of my friends are assholes.  Hell, some of them are proud to be assholes, no denial necessary.  The key is that they are my kind of assholes, since a certain amount of orneryness, refusal to get in line, and desire to muck up the calm, orderly world that others try to create is very appealing to me.  By a lot of measures I myself am an asshole for the same reasons I outline above; I have a certain belligerence and desire for confrontation that many people dislike.

I think that eliminating religion from the world by conversation rather than by force is a good goal.  Unachievable, certainly, but the less our civilization is in the grip of religion the better off we will be.  That doesn't mean that atheists are all good and it certainly doesn't mean that forwarding that agenda will solve all of the other problems we face.  It just means that there are benefits to be had in doing that.  As I have said before though, the trick is to continue to push for change without letting ourselves fall into the trap of assuming that those that want the same things we do must be good people.  The halo effect is a powerful and dangerous cognitive bias.

The conclusion that some people seem to be coming to is that they want to identify as something other than atheist.  They seek to believe in no god but they do not want to be associated with atheists since there are so many deeply flawed atheists.  Sorry to disappoint but no matter what group you are associated with there are going to be jerks.  Accepting that groups are heterogeneous and not judging all of their members by your association with their organizing principle is the key.  Running away from an accurate descriptor of your beliefs will not solve anything as any group you end up in will also have assholes in it.  Speaking out against those who share your beliefs but whom hold other beliefs you do not condone is the way forward.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Shame and fear

It has been a bit embarrassing these past few years to be a resident of Toronto.  The antics of our mayor have caused the world to laugh at us and yet nothing Rob Ford did caused me as much distress as what I saw today of the Conservatives that control Canada.  Thing is, Ford is a buffoon and has limited control.  He also was in a place such that the rest of the government could sideline him and move on with business.

The Conservatives have gone beyond shame though and right into terror.  A real part of the democratic process is respect for the process and they have made it clear that they have no interest in responding to real, immediate, important questions about Canada's involvement in Iraq.  Question Period in Parliament is designed to allow the people to get answers from the government about their policies.  Recently the Conservatives demonstrated complete and total disregard for this process, ignoring questions about Iraq in favour of rants about Israel.  It is completely reasonable for the government to debate policy surrounding Israel but when the opposition can't even get the government to talk about the same *country* that a question was about we have a serious problem.

The followup was no better.  The Conservatives apparently see nothing amiss with simply refusing to tell people what is going on and what they intend to do.  They try to hide it with emotional speeches about barely related topics that energize their base but it is abundantly clear that they have the utmost contempt for the other parties, Canadians in general, and good governance.  Shouting about how someone associated with the NDP is critical of Israel has nothing whatever to do with simple questions about deployment schedules in Iraq, and the fact that the Conservatives don't even feel obliged to pretend to be accountable is a frightening thing.

When a government becomes so certain of its invulnerability, so dismissive of its constituents, so obviously narcissistic, it must be brought down, and quickly.  No matter who is in charge of a nation they must always feel like the people they serve deserve and demand respect.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Billion instances of "On Average"

There is a real need, when talking about the differences between men and women, to use the words 'on average' a lot.  In reading the book A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships this is abundantly clear as a huge proportion of the statements in the book are ludicrous as written but which make reasonable sense if you stick 'on average' somewhere in there.  The book goes on about how men like this, women like that, gay men like this, and BDSM enthusiasts like the other thing, and it requires the reader to accept that writing 'on average' a few thousand times wouldn't actually help the book communicate more clearly.  This means that you can't quote from the book easily without coming off as pretty damn sexist but it does reduce the length of the thing by a good 10% or so I would imagine.

This book has a great deal of interesting information surrounding what we know about how people look for sexual stimulation online.  There are plenty of fun and interesting things to learn - for example, it was obvious to me that porn is overwhelmingly paid for by men and erotic literature by women but I was surprised to know that the total amount of money spent on literature dwarfs that spent on porn.  I would have thought that the money would have been in fake boobs and terrible acting, not in bad boys who finally confess their eternal love for the delicate heroine.

The trouble with this book though is not the data but rather the conclusions.  Like far too many other books that focus on the 'yawning chasm' between men and women this book spends a great deal of time explaining statistical facts with evolutionary psychology.  There are plenty of things you can say about porn viewing habits but if you start a sentence with "Back on the savannah men and women behaved like this" you have veered very far from science into the realm of wild speculation.  It is useful to consider how monkeys, orangutans, and other primates structure their sexualities but A Billion Wicked Thoughts is too quick to jump from "X is true on the internet and monkey do Y so obviously people are Z!"

If you really don't know much about what is actually out there in terms of porn you can expect this book to educate and maybe titillate you but if you are looking for serious research into how people work you could find a better source.  The book is pretty well written for a mainstream audience that is up for entertainment and isn't too worried about the precision of the conclusions but there is just too much questionable reasoning for me to give it any better endorsement than that.  It has a lot of neat stuff and made me think about some things but I just can't take it seriously when it so constantly abuses the word Always and so seldom admits doubt.  The world of human sexual desire is far more complicated and far less understood than that.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Downton Abbey

I have been sick for three days now.  I am rapidly on the mend, though I definitely have a preferred schedule for improved health.  That is, I want to get healthy right around the time I finish up watching the last of the Downton Abbey episodes available on Netflix.  While I have been ill I haven't had much in the way of brain cycles to work with and so a TV show to binge on is exactly the ticket since I don't think I am much good for other things.  This show, by the way, is amazing.

In particular I can't recall seeing anything before that told so much story with so little telling.  They constantly cut out really important conversations and scenes that by all rights should have taken up five or ten minutes time and simply let the viewer imagine how things went instead.  They tie up loose ends and make sure everyone keeps on top of things by dropping in hints in later conversations but those hints usually take five seconds rather than minutes.  I am left amazed sometimes at how many conversations and events have been cut out of the show even though they were the focus of immense build up - and I don't mind it at all.  I can see how things would have played out in my head.  All I need is for the show to confirm the direction of events and the words just fill themselves in.  Not that this is all new and unique mind, but I have never seen it done so much and so well before.

While I pride myself on being hardheaded about most things I am a ridiculous sap when it comes to drama like this.  Tragic love stories with constant twists and heartwrenching moments around every corner get me all teary eyed and the pace with which Downton Abbey leaps from crisis to triumph has me all aflutter.  I know what they are doing and why and that doesn't stop it all from working.  I can see how they are trying to develop a sympathetic set of romantic partners, I can envision the process by which they torture and abuse the characters to keep things interesting, and I know how the story will play out well in advance.  And yet.... and yet, I still can't stop loving it and desperately wanting more.  No matter how much they abuse my emotions and string me out I just lap it up and come back for another helping.  Said like that it honestly sounds more like an abusive relationship than like a show I watch for entertainment.

It is a testament to the writers that I am so hung up on it even though so many of the protangonists are classist assholes whose main purpose in life seems to be to be upset that somebody is wearing the wrong jacket or that the dinner is five minutes late.  Even when people are trying to be noble and say things to make themselves look altruistic they so easily come off as jerks - it is hard to feel for someone who can't face the idea of not having a valet to undress and dress them before every meal.  At least the show is written for a modern audience and although they try to keep to early 1900s standards they do clearly try to put the people advocating for change and social justice in a positive light.  Clearly somebody knows that showing nobility trying to deal with a world (and a better world, at that) that is passing them by is a ticket to audiences where glorifying their excesses would not be.

Also they keep religion on the sidelines, which is probably a good idea if you want to get as good a review from me as I have given here.  :)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A concrete box

Laws that aim to protect people's sensibilities from events that have nothing to do with them make me insane.  Recently in Pennsylvania a young man was arrested for taking a picture of himself with a statue of Jesus such that it appeared as though Jesus was giving the man oral sex (the man was clothed in the picture, we should note).  Unsurprisingly the picture ended up distributed on Facebook and now the man in question is under lock and key and could potentially face two years in prison for 'desecration of a venerated object'.

I can't figure out what the hell the standard of proof would be for desecration.  The statue is undamaged.  Nobody even knew the act had taken place until the picture came to light.  How would you go about proving that desecration had or had not happened?  Ask random people who weren't there how they feel about the situation?  Attach an offended-o-meter to some folks and see if it pings when they see the photo?  Maybe we should ask Miss Manners to let us know what constitutes sufficient outrage to warrant spending a couple hundred thousand dollars to put a person in a concrete box for a few years.

Certainly the man in question was being a jackass.  Mind you he is being my kind of jackass but even if he was being the kind of jackass I hate I would still advocate for the law to remain completely uninvolved in this case.  These sorts of things are exactly where the marketplace of ideas can deal with any consequences quite handily.  If enough people think this jackassery warrants shunning or disapproval then the behaviour will be punished on its own.  Bringing in state agents with weapons to violently attack the jackass in question is lunacy.  The appropriate punishment in this case is that some people glare with disapproval, some give big high fives, and most people just don't care.

Here's hoping sense prevails and he doesn't go to jail for this nonsense.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The jobs they are a vanishing

CGP Grey is a Youtube creative type who puts out fantastic videos on all kinds of obscure and arcane topics.  He discusses things like the rules and structures of the Eurozone, the way Vatican City is officially organized, and the history of the border between the US and Canada.  Somehow he manages to make this sort of thing incredibly interesting despite the dry seeming titles.  Recently he did a piece on the ways in which robots, both physical and code based, will replace our jobs.  He correctly points out that many people through history have thought their work could not be replaced and that they have been consistently wrong.  His point is that we are headed for massive unemployment due to so many of our jobs being easily accomplished by robots, even jobs such as physician, lawyer, or computer programmer.

This is the first time I have watched one of CGP's videos and said "Nope, wrong, missed it entirely."  He tries to make his point by emphasizing how horses would have thought about innovation just before they were largely replaced by cars.  Would they have thought that no noisy, expensive, unreliable machine could do their work?  He points out that horses now have a much smaller population than they did one hundred years ago and that they no longer do much in the way of work.  My reply would be that yes there are fewer horses and they have drastically better lives, work very little, and live longer and healthier.  The vision that we will be shoved aside from the world of backbreaking labour to become decorative hedonists who just do things when efficiency isn't a big deal and who live long, easy lives isn't exactly terrifying.  Seriously, horses have it pretty damn good as a species these days!

So even if we are destined to stop doing trivial tasks by dint of being replaced by more efficient machines I don't think that is a problem.  The more stuff robots can do for us the more wealth we have available to spread around.  However, I am not yet willing to concede that a life of decadent unemployment is our future.  Horse trainers were skilled professionals who required much experience to be excellent at their work.  They were nearly wiped out as a career by technological advancement and yet we still have unemployment at 7%.  Typewriter repair was a real, common career which required training and understanding.  Still, unemployment at 7%.  In the past it wasn't just people who lifted rocks that were replaced by technological change - it was everybody, and we adapted and found new things to do.  Nickelback is still filling venues even though we all know a bot could write better music.  (I actually like Nickelback, but you aren't supposed to admit that.)

There is nothing new about skilled professions getting the axe and people finding new things to do for one another.  Maybe we will be overwhelmingly driven towards being sex workers, politicians, or priests as every other job is systematically destroyed by technology.  I doubt that very much given our historical record of always finding wild and interesting employment but even if it does go that way, so what?  I can't and won't be a priest but I can have sex and utter bland platitudes just fine if it comes down to it.  The world is going to be filled with robot baristas, robot surgeons, and robot drivers and although that world is going to be very different from today I think we should rationally expect a world of riches and wonders, not fear and deprivation.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A fear of dynasties

It turns out I will not have the opportunity to strategically vote against Rob Ford.  He has dropped out of the Toronto mayoral race citing health concerns.  However, that doesn't mean that his influence is gone, not at all, because his brother Doug Ford has stepped into the race in his stead and has instantly acquired second place in the polls.  I don't think Doug Ford has much of a chance of actually winning but just the fact that he is doing so well in a few days time is terrifying.

Dynasties are not good things.  People coming into a job who think they deserve it just for being born do not make good leaders.  Voting for people simply because they share blood ties with someone else you like is a surefire path to disastrous government.  In this case Doug at least shares his political views with Rob and is likely to be a similar sort of leader; that is, he will be an incompetent embarrassment to the city.  That said, the idea that Torontonians so rapidly leap to support a new candidate before that candidate tabled anything resembling a platform is frightening.  We aren't even pretending to care about what the politicians say and are just voting for our favourite family.

My feeling is that this is going to change the election shockingly little.  Almost all the people who were voting for Rob Ford are going to vote for his brother.  The left wingers are going to vote for Chow, and the centrists and the right wingers who can't handle the shenanigans of the Ford family will vote for Tory so Tory will win handily.  That isn't great but it isn't a catastrophe either.  What is a catastrophe is allowing people vote on who is going to run their governments.  If only every other system wasn't even worse.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hard decisions

Today had one of those complicated sets of decisions.  Elli is sick in the sort of way that really could be strep throat but really might just be a cold with a sore throat.  We have a camping trip with a bunch of other folks starting on Friday morning and that camping trip will include canoeing quite a distance into Algonquin Park over the course of four days.  So now we have to face the challenging beast of figuring out if Wendy goes on the trip with her friends and I stay home for the weekend with a sick small person or if we all go and just hope Elli doesn't fall to bits while we are a long way from home.

These sorts of decisions are always trouble for me.  If it is me being sick I can figure it out and just deal with it if I end up guessing wrong - I may fuss a little but it won't be a big deal.  When your child is the one whose health and capabilities you have to evaluate though everything becomes hard and messy.  If I take her and she spends the weekend miserable in the wilderness I will feel terribly guilty.  On the other hand if she and I end up sitting around the house all weekend and she ends up feeling fine I will be super grumpy to have missed out on the lakes and rocks and trees.

I just don't have the data I need.  I am normally really okay with making decisions where I don't know what to do but when the information is sitting right there inside the head of a person I desperately want to extract it.  Accepting that I don't know something is easy, accepting that I just can't quite get the information even though it is *right there*.... argh.  I just need to know how bad the pain is, how it is trending, and how hard it will be to push through it if it comes to that.  In theory the doctor will tell us what is going on prior to leaving but the treatment modality (do nothing, or antibiotics) really doesn't impact my decision much.

This is a thing that is really hard about parenting for me.  I can't treat Elli like an adult and get her to decide because she isn't equipped for that and if she guesses wrong I still have to pick up the pieces.  When dealing with adults I can make them aware of the situation and let them choose, knowing that it is their problem in the end if they screw it up.  That ability to distance myself from problems changes everything.  I very much look forward to the phase of her life where I can be less of a guardian and more of an advisor, when she will choose her own path and cope with her own failures.  Many parents say they have trouble letting go but I suspect I am someone who has trouble grabbing on in the first place.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hamster for mayor

Toronto's mayoral election is making me sad.  Despite Rob Ford's outrageous buffoonery, ridiculous platform, total failure in office, and constant scandals he is now polling second to John Tory.  The candidate I would really like to vote for, Olivia Chow, is now a smidge behind Ford and might well come out ahead of him but she is highly unlikely to beat Tory for the job.  In the previous election I voted for whoever seemed likely to beat Ford and that failed.  I can't quite decide what I should do this time around.

Ford is the worst.  He is an outrageous bigot and completely incompetent.  There is one advantage to him being in office though, and that is that city council is quite prepared to ignore him and get on with doing whatever it is they want to do.  Tory wouldn't be in that boat at all as he is quite capable of putting on a reasonable show as a leader and keeping things looking respectable.  If you go a little deeper though Tory supports things I really cannot condone such as teaching creationism (specifically Christian creationism, because that is the *real* creationism...) in schools as a real alternative to evolution.  He also has forwarded really terrible ideas about supporting religious schools with public money in the past.  So Tory definitely believes things I don't like at all but unlike Ford he has enough political sense to show up to Pride parades and not go off on anti immigrant rants and such.  He will keep on smiling and saying positive but meaningless pleasantries as politicians are known to do.

So while I think Rob Ford is a disaster I really don't want to vote strategically and have Tory in office.  While it would definitely get Toronto off the comedy show punchline circuit I don't know that Tory as mayor and actually having power is at all better than Ford as mayor and being completely sidelined.  I think in fact that a council that makes decisions collaboratively while the mayor just shakes hands, cuts ribbons, and waves is looking like the best option.  At the moment the only way to achieve that is to get Ford back into office and make sure he has some incredible scandals right away so everyone remembers just why he can't be allowed to do anything important.  Unfortunately if Ford gets in he might avoid public crack smoking for a bit and people would accidentally listen to him.

I suppose what I actually want out of the election is for a hamster to be mayor of Toronto.  It could be carted around to events and do photo ops and would have very little to say in terms of policy.  Everyone could ooh and aah at the cuteness of the little tiny mayor in its cage and although Toronto would be on centre stage of random comedy shows again at least everyone would know that the hamster doesn't harbour deep homophobia towards it constituents.  Though it likely is guilty of xenophobia we can just shrug that off and pretend that its thoughts towards us are as cute as its beady little eyes.

If I was able to write up a ranked ballot for our mayoral election, and hopefully I will next time around, here is what it would look like:

Olivia Chow
John Tory
Rob Ford

Humans suck.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Good advice with a side of hyperbole

I just finished The Ecology of Commerce.  It came highly recommended so I had high hopes and although it hit a lot of good notes it fell prey to many of the issues other environmentalist writings do.  While it got the issues right and even had a lot of really good solutions it fell into the trap of using excessive hyperbole and relied on the assumption that everything is going to hell.  The truth is that there are real problems but the mantra of 'everything is awful these days' just doesn't hold up to any kind of scrutiny at all.  Rose coloured glasses and all.

The best points of the book are when it proposes real ways for business models to prioritize environment quality.  Many environmentalists rely on demonizing free markets and advocate massive government regulation or combine environmental initiatives with utopian socialist visions.   Those might be fun to think about but they are useless from a realistic policy perspective.   Much to his credit Hawken realizes that free markets are a powerful tool and tuned correctly are needed to generate the best possible results.  He talks about governments reorienting tax structures to prevent companies from externalizing costs and making environmental degradation a real cost that every company must pay.  This would actually put the power of the free market to use in improving efficiency and reducing waste and that is something the free market is actually remarkably good at.

As an example, if TV manufacturers had to pay for the complete cost of disposing of all the parts of their products they would certainly come up with ways to make TV recyclable, or at least composed of parts that can be disposed of safely and easily.  This sort of innovation is exactly the kind of thing government bureaucracies are not very good at and private business does very well indeed - as long as the right incentives are in place.  The changes Hawken promotes aren't easy but they are definitely in the right place and he even puts out timelines for change that are challenging but totally possible and that kind of pragmatism is a breath of fresh air to anyone used to partisan environmental debates.

Unfortunately Hawken sometimes resorts to wild exaggerations to describe the problems with the world today.  Like many people he thinks things are terrible right now and he includes quotes that talk about how civilization is in danger (debatable), that regional wars are an increasing danger (false), that television culture is a problem (what?), and that the world around us is increasingly polluted. (Seriously false).  There is also the issue that he regularly talks as if things that are waste from 'natural' sources are all amazing and waste from human sources "have no value to other species".  There is nothing in particular separating natural and unnatural bits of the world, no magic line you can draw between those two things.  There is also a bit of snark towards Bjorn Lomborg's book The Skeptical Environmentalist despite the fact that I think the two authors have a lot more in common than either of them might think.  They are on opposite sides of the environmental debate though so animosity seems inevitable.

This is a really good book if you want to think about realistic ideas for how we can alter our economic model to improve the way business operates and get businesses to grant proper weighting to environmental issues.  Hawken gets a lot of  things right and although I don't think we will see his ideas implemented wholesale I think they are a very solid guide for what sorts of changes we should push for.  He advocates big change in ways that use markets rather than just slagging them and begging for revolution.  I approve of that position - position, realistic, incremental change is how things get done.

Image from:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Elli is back to school this week.  It isn't nearly as much of a shift for me as it is for lots of the stay at home parents I hang out with at the school since Elli was in camps for most of the summer.  School days and camp days aren't particularly different from one another.  On the other hand many of the parents I talk to had their children home for the entire summer and they are dealing with a massive and sudden change in their lives going from constant parenting to empty houses.

It makes me feel a bit inadequate at times.  Everybody else seems to find it easy and even enjoyable to take care of children all day whereas the idea of weeks of solo childcare fills me with dread.  More than that, some of them even talk about how they will be able to put in so much more time at their job now that they aren't taking care of kids full time.  I don't even manage a job when Elli is at school / camp, never mind trying it while taking care of her at home!

Realistically I know that when Wendy and I tried having both of us work with a kid around the place it was not happy or functional.  I know that although my life looks decadent and/or lazy by most people's standards it is definitely the right choice for us in terms of maximizing happiness.  Having that time available also lets me spend time on self improvement - because falling down the internet rabbit hole reading about feminism, social justice, and men's rights is making me a better person I guess?

It is tough to reconcile that contradiction between my immediate emotional response "Everyone is so much more productive than me, I must be doing it wrong." with the reasoned rationality of "We tried other things and this is the best thing for us."  Much as I want to be the person who can take deep joy in chasing around after a kid all day I just can't make my brain do that.  I have good reasons to think I will be a really good parent for Elli when she is a teenager (Thinker Myers-Briggs types tend to enjoy that phase.) but for now being a parent is just not a thing I can do extended periods of without going bonkers.

This just in:  You can't have it all.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Don't be nice

My seventh grade teacher Ms. Wynne taught me about the word nice.  She told me that it was a worthless word and that using it simply indicated that the writer or speaker had absolutely nothing to say.  As far as she was concerned the word nice should be excised from the English language as it no longer had any meaning.  I tend to agree in that I think nice is so vague as to be nearly useless as a descriptor.  Recently I have been thinking and reading a lot about the word nice as it pertains to Nice Guys.  (Nice Guys are straight dudes who are happy to listen to their straight female friends complain about how they can't meet a Nice Guy but who never actually end up dating said friends despite being Nice Guys.)

There are plenty of problems with the standard Nice Guy story like male entitlement, misogyny, etc. but I want to focus on the word nice itself and how it relates to people describing themselves and others.  Somehow people seem to have become desperately confused about what Nice means.  Sometimes it means "Lacking a particular negative trait" and sometimes "Nothing worth remarking on."  It never means "Super awesome sexy person."  When a guy describes himself as a Nice Guy what comes across is that he looked for actual complimentary things to say about himself and came up empty.  I can hardly imagine a greater condemnation of yourself than an outright admission that you have literally nothing to say about yourself.  If you describe yourself as a Nice Guy you are simply stating that you are in fact a Nothing Guy.  Is it really any surprise that other people aren't interested?

Really, what is required to be able to call yourself a Nice Guy anyway?  You haven't stabbed anybody this week?  There isn't an arrest warrant currently out on you?  You don't randomly punch clowns?  These things aren't much of a bar to clear and even then there are plenty of dudes who can't even make all of them who consider themselves Nice Guys.  Being in the top 95% of the population in terms of not being a violent criminal is hardly a compelling argument.

The same goes for straight women talking about how they want a Nice Guy to date.  They don't actually want this because Nothing Guys aren't appealing.  They might want a hot guy, a funny guy, a guy who loves wine tasting, or a guy who can recite Star Trek episodes but they sure as hell don't want a Nothing Guy.  If a woman says to her male friend that all the guys she dates are terrible and she wants a Nice Guy she is simply indicating that she wants someone who is appealing like the guys she dates but who lacks some deep flaw those other guys tend to have.  She is *not* saying that she will happily date anyone who is inoffensive.

If a dude has nothing more to recommend a relationship aside from being horny and a reputation for blandness then it should come as no surprise that he is lonely.  I still have sympathy for the pain of that loneliness (I have been there, I get it) but that sympathy does not imply that the world is being unfair and owes Nice Guys something more.  Being a Nice Guy isn't a badge of honour, it is an admission of being boring.  We all know that people choose friends, dates, and mates on the basis of physical attraction, intelligence, passion, humour, shared interests, and a host of other factors.  Being Nice does not feature prominently on that list - assholes still seem to have plenty of people happy to be around them as long as they are interesting.

I am imagining what would happen if women in these situations articulated their desires differently.  If all of those "My boyfriend is such a jerk, not like you, you are my best friend and always listen when this happens" conversations ended with "And I really want a guy who is a super dancer, owns a yacht, has six pack abs and brings me bacon in bed" rather than "And I really want a Nice Guy" then things might go better.  It wouldn't get those two friends into a relationship but it would at least make it clear to the Nice Guy why he really ought to go move on to somebody who actually wants him.  On the other hand making such statements is hard as it requires knowing what you want and puts you very much at risk of having your desires criticized.  It is hard to argue with wanting someone Nice but people will be happy to nitpick a desire for a fancy job.

On the other hand it would also be easier if Nice Guys would hit on women who actually want to date them of their own accord.  Stop with the whining, cease waiting around for someone who obviously doesn't want you, and get out there to find a relationship with somebody else.  If you truly can't think of anything else to say about yourself other than Nice then that itself is the problem.  Practice singing and playing guitar.  Develop an incredible passion for Greco-Roman wrestling.  Hit the gym and try to get those six pack abs.  Read a bunch of ancient French literature.  Just find something that will let you answer the question "So, what do you do?" with something exciting that gets you stoked.  Maybe the person in question isn't impressed by encyclopaedic knowledge of wildflowers in particular but being "That guy that knows a ton about plants" is infinitely better than "Nice Guy".  At least you won't be instantly forgotten!

Convincing people to stop using the word Nice when they mean Nothing wouldn't stop all the Nice Guys from being sad and lonely.  It also wouldn't prevent the associated bitterness towards women and confusion as to what could be done to actually fix the problem.  However, it certainly couldn't hurt and it seems like it might help.  The benchmark for being attractive to others isn't some nebulous lack of obvious offensiveness but rather being interesting and I think right now language is actually part of the problem.