A place for new ideas to settle.

22 July 2015

Wednesday Links -- 22 July 2015

Here's some of the stuff I've read about this week that's worth a comment or two.

h/t Slate Star Codex: There's an international codebook for medical conditions, presumably to help with diagnosis (and billing). There's a big enough need for precision that you get such codes as W22.02 (Walked into a lamppost) and V91.07 (Burn due to water-skis on fire). Humorous, and food for thoughts on the inherent problems of putting human experience into rigid categories.

h/t Asher, who was kind enough to link to my Smugquake post in his own post about that New Yorker earthquake clickbait. Asher's post has the added benefit of cartoon illustrations, so go read that!

I really like the mini-documentaries put out by Retro|Report. They did a good one on vaccination a while back, but this one on the Waco massacre really highlights how they can show both sides of an event without succumbing to the wiles of the Magical Balance Fairy. Plus, they draw the clear path from Waco to the militia movements of the 1990s and the Patriot movements of the 2010s, including the cowboy cosplayers at the Bundy Ranch.

The Atlantic on hackathons, specifically StartupBus, specifically the StartupBus through Appalachia, which sounds like the most terrifying variant of what we on Tuggyloop Radio described as "the world's douchiest road trip" back in March of 2014. You got scooped, Atlantic! Scooped I say!

Scott Adams on the "judgy bubble":
I might be one of the least-judgmental people on Earth. That’s because I see humanity as a bunch of moist robots bumping around according to the laws of physics. My worldview doesn’t include free will as anything but a necessary illusion to keep people sane. I never believe people “choose” to be evil or socially unacceptable.

I say this sort of thing often, and that means people quickly identify me as someone who can hear their deepest secrets without judging. And so I do.
Adams is one of a few online writers (notably: middle-aged, white, male, tech-focused or tech-adjacent) who write in a very particular voice. Namely, I get a sense that they see themselves as hyper-competent, virile manly men, and everyone else is either a follower or an obstacle. So you get rather bizarre postings like Adams "people tell me their deepest secrets all the time, because I see humanity as just a bunch of moist robots" and, similarly, Eric S. Raymond's occasional reminders to his readership about how many women throw themselves at him (which of course he manages chivalrously because he is a married man, but of course his wife is okay with it). I'm not entirely sure what the point of this posturing is, but I do think it's a pattern.

h/t Milo, a very interesting post from Aceso Under Glass called "Status Through Disbelief":
You can believe people are wrong, you don’t have to accept all ideas as equally valid.  But what I would suggest, and what I’m attempting to do myself, is to make the amount of energy you put into your disbelief proportional to the harm the idea causes, not its wrongness.  To have wrong ideas drop out of sight, resurfacing only if they cause problems or turn out to be a winning lottery ticket.   I think that on net this leads to a better world, and in the meantime I’m calmer and less annoyed.
The Startup That Wants To End Social Anxiety: On the one hand, it's great that some people want to use Web 2.0 technology for good... but on the other hand, can we really trust startup culture to deliver on this one?

He who tweets with marketers should take care, lest he become a marketer. And if you tweet too long into the Abyss, the Abyss tweets back at you. Somewhat related: As this is anonymously related to the author I don't really give it much likelihood of being true, but hilarious if so—and honestly, I would totally do this if someone was foolish enough to let me design news graphics. I Hid Illuminati Symbols In Broadcast News Graphics Because I Was Bored

I enjoy some academic schadenfreude: A professor at University of Maryland subjected his students to the Prisoner's Dilemma for extra credit. And I laugh.

Doron Zeilberger is a mathematician with lots of opinions. This one is particularly provocative: Guess What? Programming is Even More Fun Than Proving, and, More Importantly It Gives As Much, If Not More, Insight and Understanding

The members of Something Awful know that gibbering insanity is a part of any healthy breakfast: has anyone noticed strange things happening since cheerios + ancient grains was released?

The r/BadHistory subreddit is like MST3K for history nerds. Here's a particularly high-effort post refuting Civil War apologia, which may or may not be currently relevant oh wait it's totally relevant

My 5th grade Language Arts teacher kickstarted my journey into fantasy fiction by suggesting The Sword of Shannara for a book report project—the author, Terry Brooks, is a Pacific Northwest native. Now MTV is making a series out of the (better) second book in the original trilogy, and it looks kind of awesome. New Zealand location (but check out the Planet-of-the-Apes-style toppled Space Needle!) and shockingly good CGI for television, at least in the trailer. I'm actually kind of looking forward to the pilot. "High fantasy set in our own post-apocalyptic future" is a pretty great pitch, right?

Theme music for the week:

h/t Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs for spotlighting Drew Ofthe Drew, a Berklee grad with some very interesting musical predilections. He does dubstep remixes and also has a full band for crazier fusion of jazz/pop/electronic stuff, which I totally dig. Here's one song, and another song.

14 July 2015


The New Yorker piece on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, provocatively titled "The Earthquake That Will Devastate Seattle," sent tremors through the Internet recently. (Oh yes, I will make all the quake puns I want, thank you very much.)

It also happens to be a pile of hot street trash doing irresponsible things with some actual facts, but this is the New Yorker and they spell cooperation as "coöperation" so they're obviously untrustworthy.

Who does the New Yorker talk to?
  • Chris Goldfinger, a paleoseismologist at OSU
  • Kenneth Murphy, director of FEMA for the Oregon-Washington-Idaho-Alaska region
  • Jay Wilson, chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission
  • Ian Madin, director of Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries 
  • Kevin Cupples, city planner for Seaside, OR 
  • Doug Dougherty, superintendent of schools for Seaside
That's six sources, two of whom are people whose freaking jobs involve planning for the absolute worst, one government guy, and two from an Oregon town of fewer than seven thousand which, to be fair, is totally done for in a oceanic quake situation. That leaves one scientist. Given that the Pacific Northwest is like Disneyland for geologists of all stripes, just one scientist interview is rather shameful. Maybe other seismologists weren't as willing to sign on to such East Coast hyperbole. But we can't be sure, because, you know, they weren't interviewed.

Also, side note: Can we take some dark amusement in the fact that the title is called "The Earthquake That Will Devastate Seattle" and the main disaster-porn concerns the Emerald (and earthquake-vulnerable) City, yet pretty much all of the actual reporting was done in Oregon? Maybe the New Yorker thought that people would too easily confused Portland, OR with Portland, ME? (Side side note, great job using a silent letter in the postal code, guys! Jeez.)

Maybe some actual quotes will be illustrative (emphasis mine):
When the Cascadia earthquake begins, there will be, instead, a cacophony of barking dogs and a long, suspended, what-was-that moment before the surface waves arrive. Surface waves are slower, lower-frequency waves that move the ground both up and down and side to side: the shaking, starting in earnest.

Soon after that shaking begins, the electrical grid will fail, likely everywhere west of the Cascades and possibly well beyond. If it happens at night, the ensuing catastrophe will unfold in darkness. In theory, those who are at home when it hits should be safest; it is easy and relatively inexpensive to seismically safeguard a private dwelling. But, lulled into nonchalance by their seemingly benign environment, most people in the Pacific Northwest have not done so. That nonchalance will shatter instantly. So will everything made of glass.
Lots of "will," not much in the way of evidence. Some lip service is paid, after the narrative, of course, to FEMA, whose simulations apparently formed the foundation for this story. Nothing about error bars, of course; there's just some weirdness about statistics here:
It is possible to quibble with that number. Recurrence intervals are averages, and averages are tricky: ten is the average of nine and eleven, but also of eighteen and two. It is not possible, however, to dispute the scale of the problem.
I'm pretty sure seismological predictions are calibrated a bit better than that; instead of stupid kindergarten facts, I would have been interested to know some sources of uncertainty, for example. That's Goldfinger's area of research, he could have laid out some of the best evidence.

Moreover, the piece doesn't clarify any of the parameters of the FEMA simulation. As the New Yorker may or may not be aware, living back in the geologically-stable civilized world, the Earth is three-dimensional, so quakes happen at various depths and locations. There would be a big difference if a large quake happened in the northern or southern half of the CSZ, for example. As this FAQ from UC Santa Barbara explains:
Q: How does the depth of the earthquake effect the amount of damage?
A: The depth of the earthquake has a very strong effect on the amount of damage. The 1994 M6.7 Northridge earthquake started at a depth of about 18 km (12 miles) and ruptured up to a depth of 5 km (3 miles). It caused damaged estimated to be between $20 billion and $40 billion and killed about 60 people. In contrast, the 2001 M6.8 Nisqually earthquake near Seattle occurred at a depth of 51 km (33 miles). No one was killed and damage was on the order of a few $million. A large part of this difference was the greater depth of the 2001 earthquake.
Hey! I experienced the Nisqually quake! That'd make for a great real-world case study in the New Yorker piece...


...where is it...?
The Pacific Northwest sits squarely within the Ring of Fire. Off its coast, an oceanic plate is slipping beneath a continental one. Inland, the Cascade volcanoes mark the line where, far below, the Juan de Fuca plate is heating up and melting everything above it. In other words, the Cascadia subduction zone has, as Goldfinger put it, “all the right anatomical parts.” Yet not once in recorded history has it caused a major earthquake—or, for that matter, any quake to speak of. By contrast, other subduction zones produce major earthquakes occasionally and minor ones all the time: magnitude 5.0, magnitude 4.0, magnitude why are the neighbors moving their sofa at midnight.
What...? So Nisqually wasn't from the Juan de Fuca plate or the CSZ...?
 The Puget Sound area, where this earthquake occurred, is prone to deep earthquakes due to the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate's subduction under the North American Plate at 3.5 to 4.5 cm. a year[3] as part of the Cascadia subduction zone, which causes stress in the former as it sinks into the mantle. As an intraslab earthquake, it was produced by a change in volume as rock changed from one form to another. Similar significant earthquakes occurred in the same general region on April 29, 1965 (magnitude 6.5, depth 63 km (39 mi)), and April 13, 1949 (magnitude 7.1, depth 53 km (33 mi)).
Sigh. Needless to say, the Pacific Northwest experiences earthquakes at a good range of magnitudes with pretty decent frequency (especially during Seahawks home games). The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network even has a page for displaying recent earthquakes—Eugene, OR had a magnitude 4.2 quake on the Fourth of July!

It seems dishonest of the New Yorker to ignore these events. Maybe it was pedantry to leave out everything that didn't come from the actual faultline (i.e., everything that isn't the hasn't-happened-yet Very Big One), but that doesn't excuse spinning the whole story as "The Pacific Northwest hasn't had a quake in so long, they've forgotten what seismic events are," or more specifically:
You can spend a lifetime in many parts of the Northwest—several, in fact, if you had them to spend—and not feel so much as a quiver.
It's worth going on about the piss-poor disaster management plans in the region, which are maybe even more problematic since the Nisqually quake should have been a wake-up call, but come on. We do have little quakes! Quite a lot!

There's one other problem with this section, too: "Not once in recorded history has [the Juan de Fuca] plate caused a major earthquake," it says. But whose recorded history, because analysis of Japanese records was a crucial piece to figuring out how frequent major quakes are supposed to be in the first place! The piece even says so!
[T]he Japanese have kept track of [tsunamis] since at least 599 A.D. In that fourteen-hundred-year history, one incident has long stood out for its strangeness. On the eighth day of the twelfth month of the twelfth year of the Genroku era, a six-hundred-mile-long wave struck the coast, levelling homes, breaching a castle moat, and causing an accident at sea. The Japanese understood that tsunamis were the result of earthquakes, yet no one felt the ground shake before the Genroku event. The wave had no discernible origin.
Make a pedantic defense if you will, but this is recorded history of a seismological event, since (again, as it says right freakin' there) the Japanese knew that earthquakes cause tsunamis. On the other side of the Pacific we have a ghost forest, soil and rock, the oral history of Native peoples to round out the story of the mega-quake that, for lack of a better word, fucked up the Pacific coast in 1700 CE.

And now we come to the other bit of smugness about this whole thing: Native accounts. The Stranger, Seattle's local alternative press thingy, has a follow-up piece called "The Story of Cascadia's "Really Big One" Has a Lot to Do with Colonial Hubris," in which the author upbraids white people for not taking Native oral history seriously:
As Schulz explains, the "discovery" of the CSZ's violent underpinnings just a few decades ago wasn't really a new discovery at all. Local tribes had been passing down accounts of earthquakes and tsunamis that rocked Cascadia for centuries. In that way, Schulz's story also shines a harsh spotlight on a major scientific blindspot: the aspect of the discipline that's consistently valued one type of knowledge (colonial) over another (indigenous). [...] Her story also goes to show that cultural ignorance, too, will have made Cascadia all the more vulnerable when the Really Big One hits.
I can't help but sense a flirtation with Noble Savage mythicism here: are Native Americans preternaturally gifted with superior risk-assessment reasoning? Or powers of prediction? The New Yorker adds this interesting note:
It does not speak well of European-Americans that such stories counted as evidence for a proposition only after that proposition had been proved.
Europeans and their colonial descendants have enough problems with their own stories-as-sufficient-evidence epistemology: big examples include UFO contact stories and, well, Christianity. Moreover, modern geological science is young (only slightly older than the theory of evolution), and the theory of plate tectonics is even younger (only really solidified in the 1960s). Though racism was almost certainly a factor in discounting tribal narratives, the stories alone constitute weak evidence at best.

The Stranger quotes one such account, as published in an article for the American Indian Cultural and Research Journal (emphasis the Stranger's):
An elder of the Cowichan people of the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, for example, told ethnographer Charles Hill-Tout that "in the days before the white man there was a great earthquake. It began about the middle of one night... threw down... houses and brought great masses of rock down from the mountains. One village was completely buried beneath a landslide."
Or this Hoh account, from that same journal article (titled "Finding Fault" because of course), which interpreted the event as a battle between Thunderbird and Whale:
My father . . . also told me that following the killing of this destroyer . . . there was a great storm and hail and flashes of lightning in the darkened, blackened sky and a great and crashing “thunder-noise” everywhere. He further stated that there was also a shaking, jumping up and trembling of the earth beneath, and a rolling up of the great  waters.
Compare to, say, 1 Samuel 14, specifically verse 15:
And there was trembling in the host, in the field, and among all the people: the garrison, and the spoilers, they also trembled, and the earth quaked: so it was a very great trembling.
Or, Acts 16 specifically verse 26:
And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.
What makes any one of these accounts more weighty than others? Is it somehow shameful that "giant battling animal-spirits" or "a nighttime of prayer to God" don't actually do much explanatory work? Methodological naturalism isn't just a Western Enlightenment construct.

Comparison to UFO contactee reports may seem more flippant, but consider: Lots of people believe that an alien spaceship crash-landed in Roswell, NM in 1947, and that similar stories of unidentified craft or even abduction into such craft demonstrate that the United States is a hotbed of extraterrestrial activity. Without other sources of evidence (in particular, the kind of extraordinary evidence that would point unambiguously to "aliens" as the best explanation) they're nothing but stories.

Scientific investigation into Native accounts faces a different problem. It's not usually the case, as far as I know, that Native people claim that earthquakes are exclusively caused by Thunderbird and Whale and not by plate tectonics. But even in the best-case scenario of inter-cultural sensitivity, there are a lot of tribes, and a lot of stories in each tribe. Conducting geological surveys to corroborate all those stories is, well, expensive. So to a large extent we're looking at the general problem of basic science funding in America, and not necessarily "colonial hubris."

The portrayal of complacent scientists shocked by sudden events is somewhat amusing, too:
Although the CSZ had been identified soon after the rise of plate tectonic theory, most geologists imagined that it slipped slowly, evenly, and imperceptibly—essentially, they imagined that Cascadia was relatively safe. Then, in the 1980s, a series of events took place that challenged these basic assumptions.
If geological events are common, then it's not so unlikely that events will overtake theory, especially given that any theory that might actually predict such events (e.g., plate tectonics) is so young (e.g., only since the 60s or so).
Thus [in the verification of the 1700 Cascadia earthquake], interdisciplinary inquiry resuscitated, and ultimately vindicated, indigenous and local forms of knowledge while science, which in its literalism had hitherto been deficient in its ability to grasp the metaphorical meanings of Whale and Thunderbird, began to “catch up” with indigenous environmental knowledge.
I'm sure science, "in its literalism," can be forgiven for not realizing that Whale and Thunderbird were actually the Juan de Fuca and North American plates, respectively.

Look, one can talk about indigenous "forms of knowing" all day, but some forms correspond better to reality (and are therefore better knowledge) than others. In particular, the earthquake accounts say "there was a big, devastating earthquake here X generations ago" which is then corroborated by "literalist" scientific data: tree rings, seafloor deposits, and so on. Native stories do have a big role to play in public policy conversations! Human-impact stories are far more powerful than scientific models, as the New Yorker piece itself demonstrates, and so we should value the stories of people whose ancestors were here during those old disasters.

And indigenous people should be compensated for their knowledge, their cultural traditions leveraged for scientific data. The Stranger piece highlights a few really cool partnerships; I feel like this post should end on just that sort of high note:
New indigenous-scientific collaborations are taking root, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest. Just look at the US Geological Survey's seven-year partnership with the Salish Canoe Journey, in which tribal canoes traveling hundreds of miles are able to take snapshots of ocean health every 10 seconds with attached water quality monitors. In 2008, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community won funding from the US Department of Health and Human Services to launch a two-year study of climate impacts on tribal resources. A year later, the journal Ecology and Society even cited a timeless, living document from the Heiltsuk First Nation in its study of grizzly bear migration throughout British Columbia.
 Yay cooperation! That oceanic study in particular sounds particularly inspired.
And just this past spring, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians bought the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center and opened the "first tribal-owned cancer care center in Indian Country and the United States," offering treatment to all.
 Yay medicine...!
Treatments will be offered on an outpatient basis only and will combine traditional chemotherapy and other, alternative therapies.

“We have a strong ancestral bond with nature and creation,” Sterud stated in a news release announcing the center.

“We believe that natural healing through traditional roots, berries, herbs and traditional healing can blend with modern oncology practices. We are building upon traditional oncology — chemotherapy, radiation and other pharmaceutical treatments — with whole person integrative medicine, such as naturopathy, Native American treatments, acupuncture and Chinese medicine,” he said.

I'm afraid there's not yet a happy ending where public interaction with science is concerned.

08 July 2015

Wednesday Links -- 8 July 2015

Here's some of the stuff I've read about this week that's worth a comment or two.

I don't have any particularly positive feelings towards Mark Zuckerberg, but I will support him wholeheartedly in this: Mark Zuckerberg Wants You To Read Iain M. Banks' Player Of Games

The Netherlands is often portrayed as the ne plus ultra of decadent European lefty-liberalism, but that's often because Americans don't actually pay attention to Europe. For example, how lefty-liberal is complete social segregation based on political ideology? And yes, while liberals and conservatives in America like to talk up how divided we are as a political society, it's not like it's so baked in we have a word for it.

David Brin writes an open letter to Paul Krugman, who is set to debate economic theory and policy at this year's FreedomFest. Gotta love Brin's dogged determination to cut the conservative umbilical cord that's been pumping bullshit into libertarianism since the 1950s, but that's going to be a very tough sell. The American right-wing knows how easy it is to bilk libertarian-minded people for campaign cash.

From the department of Finally Something the Police Are Doing Right: The Washington Post reports on Seattle's ongoing reform of street policing. Whaddya know, treating people like human beings can actually lead to more positive outcomes: "Police booked participants in jail 1.4 fewer times a year, resulting in 39 fewer days in jail annually per person. And they were 87 percent less likely to go to prison." Note, however, the original WaPo headline in the URL: "Why Seattle's Cops Are Embracing the Philosophy of Hug a Thug." Sigh.

Gizmodo collects user submitted tales of startup woe. While I enjoy a good lurid account as much as anyone, I can't help but wonder if there are similar stories from, say, the 1890s. Apparently there were similar levels of insanity in 1980s finance (cf. The Wolf of Wall Street), or 1960s advertising (Mad Men), and even 1920s nouveau riche idleness (The Great Gatsby) but why not go further back? How did the mad entrepreneurs of yesteryear manifest their bullshit, and how did our perception change?

Ursula K. Le Guin, author of tremendous science fiction and fantasy stories, rails against Amazon's business model for books. Can't say I disagree, even though it feels strange to me since I never ever look at the best-seller lists and mostly buy based on outside recommendations. (Also: lots of math textbooks.) But just because I'm not in the main stream of the BS Machine doesn't mean the effects won't eventually bleed through.

Theme music(s) for the week:

Serendipitously got introduced to Christopher Owens and Girls last week, and I was much impressed. I'm not sure what about them makes me think of Steven Wilson (i.e., Porcupine Tree) and not one of the more mainstream (and, to my ear, uninteresting) indie artists/bands, but there ya go. Maybe they're just that good?

Meanwhile, Dead Sara is coming to Seattle in a week and I am so freaking excited.

Sexual assault in narrative fiction: themes really do matter, you guys

Can't remember how I came across this post—We Are Not Things: Mad Max versus Game of Thrones—but I think it's worth talking about at some length, if not a full post length.
Two portrayals of a world where women hold dubious power and are seen as “things.”
One of these is roundly criticized for it.
One of them is roundly celebrated for it.
Game of Thrones catches hell for its portrayal of women and this subject.
Mad Max is wreathed in a garland of bike chains and hubcabs for it.
What, then, is the difference?
Here we go. I'll just come out and say that I think the article misunderstands how the themes of Mad Max and Game of Thrones are different: Max Max is about liberation, while Game of Thrones is about the nature and abuse of power.

The article focuses on frequency and point-of-view as two points of contrast between MM and GoT. I'm not sure of the author believes that sexual assault should never be depicted, or if depicted, only once?
Frequency is an issue, for one: in GoT, we see rape and sexual assault again and again. In four seasons, we have three (ugh this sounds horrible to even put it this way) “major” rape events used as plot devices and character motivational tools (and that sounds even more horrible and icky). In Mad Max, we never actually see it at all. In Got, it happens often enough that you begin to wonder if there is a well-worn, oft-punctured notecard for the GoT storyboard that has written upon it: I DUNNO, PROBABLY RAPE?
But these differences make sense if both shows adhere to their themes: if Mad Max is about liberation, we don't really need to see the tyranny or oppression outright, it's enough to see the effects it has on the characters. (Recall how well Fury Road conveys this among multiple characters with minimal dialogue!) If Game of Thrones is about the nature and abuse of power, we do need to see abuse as commonplace, and not some freak occurrence. There's more than one way to achieve this, of course, and GoT hasn't always picked the optimal method, but 100% subtlety is probably not optimal either. Notably, the Song of Ice and Fire book series has a lot more sexual assault, both explicit and referenced, but the victims are largely non-POV characters and even nameless characters. In some ways this would have been even worse for the show, to bring on extras just so they could be violated.
Which also suggests that another issue is point-of-view. Where do you put the camera? Where do you place the narrative? Fury Road begins well after any actual assaults have occurred (with the exception of the “cutting out a baby” thing, which is more a byproduct of sexual assault rather than an explicit sexual assault). And none of it is on-screen. The story happens after. In Game of Thrones, the rapes are — man, this will never not sound gross — “ongoing.” It’s an ever-unfolding rape carnival, a parade of sexual assaults.
Again, it's unclear whether there's any possible way to depict a sexual assault that isn't problematic, "gross," carnivalesque, etc.
Of course, they don’t hate women. That’s absurd and we can’t really assume to be true — both Mad Max and GoT posit a world that hates women, though, so again, what’s the difference? GoT gives us the pain and suffering of women as part of a larger pattern meant to motivate characters. In some cases, male characters — in the assault on Sansa Stark, I have been repeatedly told that it “explains” what Theon Greyjoy does. I have no idea what that is, but I can guess that it’s something against Ramsay Bolton, and there I’d like to suggest that Theon (the subject of the earlier “dick removal scenario”) probably needs no more motivation to do ill against the Boltons given the aforementioned fact of his man-wang being turned into dick salad. Nor does Sansa require “motivation” to hate the family who literally murdered members of her family. We don’t actually need more, there. We do not require further “character motivation,” and if rape is the only way you can motivate your characters, you may want to go back to Writer’s School because I think you skipped a few crucial 101 classes.
So first of all, whoever told the author that Ramsay's rape of Sansa "explains" Theon's behavior is an idiot. Any problems with that scene have to come from somewhere further back in the storyline, since given the character motivations of Sansa and Ramsay, any other scene would be highly implausible. Amanda Marcotte (surprisingly!) wrote a good analysis of this particular thing: "Sansa Stark's rape was, like Ned's execution and the Red Wedding, not treated lightly, but presented as an act of war against the Stark family. Yes, it was horrible. It was meant to be."
[W]hat does assault do for the character’s power and choice in the story? Placing the events off-screen and before the film begins, Fury Road buries it well enough to explain why the characters are doing what they’re doing. The arc of those characters — the women — in Mad Max is one of going from zero to one. From a loss of power to a gain of power. The story is about the reclamation of agency — it’s them saying with great and violent effort: we are not things.
True: Mad Max is relentless with the theme of liberation. It's a fundamentally heroic and optimistic story. But you cannot view Game of Thrones through that same lens. Note also the emphasis on "placing the [sexual assaults] off-screen and before the film begins," as well as the phrase "buries it"... again, is it just not okay to ever see a sexual assault?
But in Game of Thrones, the opposite occurs. We witness powerful women undercut by assault. It removes their agency. (That is, quite explicitly, what sexual assault does.) They are robbed of power to motivate them, to make men feel bad, to make the audience feel sympathetic. But they go from one to zero. They go from something to nothing — from agent and actor upon the plot to victim of the plot.
Again: nature and abuse of power. Questions of agency are central to every character's arc. With the Stark men it's explicitly stated, in words about honor and duty (and the deadly consequences of following these notions in a society bereft of them). You have Tommen being puppeteered by Cersei and Margaery, Stannis becoming a true monster, Brienne struggling with the burden of her promises to Catelyn and Renly, Arya caught between her desire for vengeance and the dictates of the Many-Faced God, and so on. If anything, the real strangeness is that none of the male characters have been raped—it's not like male-on-male sex isn't done in Westeros, and it's not like there aren't some truly despicable male characters who would use rape as a weapon against other men as well as women.
Listen –
This isn’t about being shocked.
This isn’t about being offended.
It’s about something larger and lazier and altogether nastier.
It’s really about rape culture. About how this seeps in like a septic infection. About how it’s illustrated and handled with little aplomb, how it’s a default, how it forms an overall pattern.
If you're going to explore the nature and abuse of power in a medieval-esque world, even a fantastical one with magic and dragons, it'd be weird if it didn't have a culture of rape. And the various societies in Game of Thrones do have cultures of rape: Rape is used as a weapon (Ramsay raping Sansa, as Amanda Marcotte noted, is as a declaration of war), rapists are only punished insofar as they are sullying another man's property, and rape is commonplace.

Now, that's not really what the author meant. They meant rape culture as they see it in our society.
The problem isn’t in individual instances, you see? It’s in the pattern. It’s in how this keeps showing up again and again, a lazy crutch, a manipulative button the writers mash with greasy mitts, a cheap trick to rob agency and push plot. Meanwhile, you have actual rape victims in the audience who are like, “Hey, thanks for turning my trauma into cheap-ass plot fodder.”
I wonder if anyone wrote a similar article about Breaking Bad from the perspective of a recovering addict. But in terms of the literary analysis, I wonder if I'm alone in finding the "It's not about individual instances, it's about the pattern" attitude akin to a playground mentality—those kids over there were playing soccer too rough and students got hurt, so nobody is allowed to play soccer any more. Despite the author's insistence that "We must be allowed to talk about bad things," it really seems as though certain ways of talking about bad things are just beyond the pale.

I can't help but read the contrast between Mad Max and Game of Thrones as rather, well, privileged. In our society we get to see sexual assault as a freakish, unnatural trauma to be overcome. People can confidently say that Mad Max is better for its lack of explicit depiction, it's focus on survivors persevering and fighting their way towards liberation. But (go on and check off this particular bingo square) what about the situation in parts of Africa? Or central Asia? In a place where roving warbands use rape as a weapon of oppression and terror, I doubt that keeping such atrocities "buried" or "off-screen" would do anyone justice.

And of course, people in those societies probably don't get to watch and enjoy (or hate) Mad Max and Game of Thrones.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a necessary and brilliant bit of revolutionary optimism hidden inside a post-apocalyptic shell. It says, allegorically, This is what winning looks like. On the other hand, Game of Thrones is at its best when the audience can see exactly what societal flaws (or worse, what deliberate institutions) allow such-and-such monstrous villain to violate, terrorize, or oppress their victims. It says, This is how things go wrong, especially a romanticization of feudal hierarchy. That's worse than no guarantee of safety and order; it's a license for bad men (and, at times, women) to destroy the lives of decent people on a whim.

I believe both are necessary stories to tell. We just need to keep in mind what kind of stories they are (liberation? nature and abuse of power?) while we listen.