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Let the Wild Rumpus Start!

As many of you who are friends with me on Facebook already know, it's become official. Lisa and I have set a wedding date of 3/14 2014. As much as we'd have liked the fuller representation of a Pi Day wedding date of 3/14/15, on the one hand, Lisa might still be in India doing her field research then and on the other, 2014 marks the 5-year anniversary of our first meeting (not sure that the conversation we started that day has actually stopped yet...)

Stuff on my mind recently

If I mention Tucson, Aurora, or Sandy Hook, everyone immediately (or relatively so) identifies them as the site of a violent shooting that rocked America. So why does nobody mention Milwaukee?

On the one hand, I applaud the fact that the recent spate of shootings has brought the issue of mental health into the spotlight. We NEED to discuss ways to improve the mental health system in America, destigmatize it for those who truly need its therapy, and perhaps find ways to further prevent patients classified as violent threats from obtaining weapons.

But Wade Michael Page, the Army vet who shot up the Gurudwara of Milwaukee, killing six Sikhs before police killed him in turn, isn't mentioned. The shooting itself has fallen so far out of national discussion, the most recent news story I found on it dates from August 17, a week after the shooting happened.

The FBI called the shooting an incident of domestic terrorism, which they notably didn't call Aurora's shooting, which stayed front and center for far longer. So why haven't ABC, CBS, or even Fox News with its eagerness to report on incidents of terrorism against America in other situations, done more with this story?

Why is nobody acknowledging that alongside mentally imbalanced people, there are just racist f*ckheads who simply want to shoot up the Evil Brown People? Are the Pages of America so rare an occurrence that we can ignore them?

It's good that we're discussing the woefully inadequate mental health system in America. But let's not kid ourselves that that's all that needs discussing.

More thoughts on privilege....

Okay, folks. Let’s sit down and have a chat about privilege. Yes, again. But before we can discuss privilege, we need to discuss jargon and language specificity. Why? Because the thing that’s driving me batty about people discussing “privilege” is the use of (what at least should be) a narrowly-defined tool as a general-purpose one. A pin-striping brush and a paint-roller may both apply paint to a surface, but they ain’t now, nor will they ever, be the same thing. Theres’s a few issues overlapping here, so I’ll try to address them in turn. First, the jargon, then the concept of “marked” vs “unmarked”, and probably a few others as we go.

So, jargon. We start in socio-cultural anthropology, where Peirce introduces the concepts of legisign, qualisign, and sensign. Legisign is essentially the class of all things Q – all left-handed people, or all 10-speed bicycles (do they even MAKE those anymore?), or accounting software documented in Esperanto. It’s the type of thing, or the class of thing, if you want to be closer to computer science’s jargon. The thing of it is, a legisign only exists in the abstract, never in reality. Just like Platonic ideals, or Aristotelian forms, you’ll never see a “left-handed ice-cream scoop” without some sort of qualifications. The Platonic ideal as embodied by its physical shadow. The Aristotelian force embodied in form. Why? because the thing in itself (if not necessarily Kant’s Ding-an-sich) is not a legisign, but the sinsign -- the physical embodiment of the legisign concept. From there, the qualisign is the set of distinguishing features of the sinsign that make this whatsits different from that whatsits. The scratch along one side. The way the one corner isn’t quite square. The squeak if you move too fast. This one reboots your system if you try to print. The things that qualify an object as different from the rest are its qualisign. See how easy that was to parse out? The thing to remember is that legisigns only exist in the abstract, as the composite, or perhaps the aggregate of the sinsigns and their qualisignifications. Still with me? Good.

So, privilege. Privilege exists, don’t get me wrong, but not in the way many people would claim. Privilege, in its simplest terms, is not seeing why saying or doing something could be taken as offensive or hurtful by someone in the audience. Perhaps a more aptly phrased definition would be saying privilege means not needing to think why others might be resentful/hurt/offended by what you say or do (since after all, there’s no way their lives could be so drastically different from yours, right?). Privilege can lead to not caring if what you say or do could be taken as offensive, but that’s secondary to this essay. After months of discussing this on and off with my fiancée, I’ve come to the conclusion that “privilege” is best understood as existing at the legisign level of class-interactions. Why? Because there’s simply too damn many overt and covert factors informing any single social interaction to accurately identify privilege consistently. Sure, you can identify the most egregious ones – the virulent misogyny of “Men’s Rights Activists”, the misandry of radical feminism (this too exists, perhaps without the social infrastructure of misogyny to reinforce its influence and effects, but the concept of a woman hating a man for being male, or categorically judging all men because they are male still does exist), the virulent racism of various ethnic supremacists, and so on, but if I, a white man, go down to the corner store and buy a newspaper from a black news vendor…is that demonstrating privilege? If I’m a black man refusing to sell liquor to a Native American…is that privilege? Perhaps, but who truly knows? Privilege can be perpetuated (or benefited from) through unintentional means, covert means, just as much as by intentionally privileged behavior -- perhaps even more so. But who among us can be completely aware of how our behavior is fitting into the greater patterns of similar actions and attitudes, to say that we are (or are not) being privileged?

Additionally, privilege is best ascribed to the class of person rather than the individual because everybody is bloody damn different. No two white men are interchangeable, any more than any two black men, or a hispanic woman and aleutian woman. We are each wrapped in our own social context. My context is likely to be more congruent with another white man’s, but that does not mean it will be, and certainly doesn’t mean that it is. When any two people interact, there are a whole host of powers that are being co-evaluated. Relative education levels. Skin colors. Ethnicities. Speech patterns. Appearances. Heights, hair colors, the list can be extended as far as you like. Out of this, one might see privilege in action, perhaps not. To say that one or the other MUST be experiencing privilege by virtue of belonging to one group or other is to say that all members of that group are interchangeable, individually meaningless tokens of the privileged group, and there’s been too much advancement in Anthropology, Sociology and Philosophy since Hegel first proposed the concept of class-level social analysis of history, or when Marx then applied it to his socio-economic reading of humanity. If you’re going to argue that each person’s individual experience is existentially significant to the discussion (a la Kierkegaard and Sartre) on the one side of the issue, and discount the other’s as being irrelevant in light of “the group”...it comes off as inconsistent at best, and could be interpreted as insulting or worse. Societies and cultures are NOT composed of perfectly spherical people on a completely frictionless plane, able to be selected at random without loss of generality.. These may work for introductory thought experiments, but once you begin to analyze the real world, the multivariate complications must be acknowledged.

Does this mean privilege doesn’t exist? Absolutely not. I am still more likely, as a white man, to have an easier time in life than a black man, or a white woman, or some other “marked” category. It simply means that I am not absolutely guaranteed an easier time of it, in all situations and under all conditions. The SF writer and long-time blogger John Scalzi recently wrote a well-reasoned blog essay on this very facet of privilege, likening being a Straight White Male (in Anglo-European society, at least) to playing the easiest difficulty setting on a video game. The full essay is well worth reading, and for those interested, SF writer Jim Hines has written a follow-up with supporting facts and figures spelling out the disparities between various demographic groups in America

Moving on, there is the issue of what happens when members of a privileged group act to either perpetuate their privilege, or react to perceived threats to their privilege (real or not). Yes, the result is properly termed a situationally appropriate “-ism”. But I am also becoming convinced that the definition cannot, should not, end there. There is a common definition of “-isms” in sociology of being prejudicial attitude combined with social power. This is a useful starting point for the discussion, but in some ways I think it falls short. It implies that “-isms” are significant only in terms of how far- (or deep-) reaching their effects are, rather than in the attitudes themselves. It allows the statements like “I’m a woman, I can’t be sexist,” or “I’m black, I can’t be racist” to be said truthfully. And while that definition would certainly grant truth to both statements, it is still equally true that both the woman and black person could still be prejudiced or bigoted. Furthermore, the attitude+power definition seems to demand a hierarchy of classes. Is it racism for the Chinese woman to call a Mexican man a ‘Spic’? Or the Costa Rican woman calling a Japanese man a ‘Jap’? When a Cherokee calls a Black a ‘N***’? Or are perhaps all of these not “-ist,” since none are said by an empowered white?

Further, the definition implies that the attitudes themselves are acceptable, it’s only when you have social power to implement them or propagate them that they become bad. Is that truly what we wish to condemn in “-ist” behavior? This model, much like the Armchair-Sociology 101 definition of privilege that so many people tend to refer to, are too simple to be worth much in the real world. They are very useful starting points to get people thinking about the systems and forces in play, but that’s ALL they’re good for, in the long run. People interact far more messily than these neat analogies and definitions assume. We are not living in a physics word problem; we aren’t all perfectly spherical people (able to be selected at random without loss of generality) living on a frictionless plane.

In parallel to the concept of privilege, is the issue of markedness. In anthropology, a behavior or social trait can be marked or not. If it’s unmarked, that means it’s the accepted norm. If it’s marked, that means it’s somehow differing from that. English is the unmarked language in America. Men wearing pants is unmarked in most of the world. Heterosexuality is the unmarked sexual behavior in much of the world. A southern/New Yorker/Bostonian/California valley accent is marked speech in America. Being left-handed is marked. Being transgendered is marked. And the list goes on. The reason I bring up markedness is that the unmarked norm is often treated as a valueless default to which the marked variants bring some unique difference. “White americans don’t have their own culture, but Spanish-Americans, Russian-Americans, Native Americans, etc do!” -- ask Sarah Hoyt about the subject and prepare for a few hours of ranting. And yet, while in many situations the unmarked case is treated as the valueless baseline, it is equally treated as the valued norm -- if a new sitcom has an all-white cast, we aren’t too surprised, but if it’s all-black (and on a non-niche-market network -- ABC not BET), we take notice and say “they’re going against the grain with this one!” we take note of how something is marked in order to differentiate it from the rest -- whether that differentiation will be for praise, criticism, or other is secondary.

And why does all this happen in the first place, and why do people often get very offended at the assertion that there is privilege, or that they are part of a privileged system? I suspect that the answer to that lies in a combination of Anglo-european history and even more basic human nature. As we strive in our inextinguishable curiosity to understand the universe around us, we incorporate that understanding into our cultural values through the stories we tell each other, and to challenge those stories, especially without a ready-to-go story on hand as replacement sparks a lot of resistance and resentment, even anger. It all starts with the story we’ve spent centuries, if not millennia, telling ourselves in some form or other, that our success or failure is entirely our own doing. Whether it was God’s favor upon our good works or a Darwinian success of the best/strongest/hardest-working, we’ve been investing in some form of individuated success or failure -- if you didn’t succeed, you obviously weren’t working hard enough, being devout enough, or something. Easy, simple. And it’s held up reasonably well to inspection all this time, it must be right, right? And we all want to take pride and be justified in our accomplishments, as a rule: I’ve accomplished this, I did it of my own sweat-equity, the triumph is mine and mine alone.

And into this deeply-set and well-ingrained idea comes the concept of privilege: it isn’t your victory, at least not fully. There were systemic factors that helped or hindered your success. It’s not just that you were the smartest, fastest, or most successful, it’s that you were also likely part of a group that set you ahead socially, or economically, or whatever combination of factors that facilitated your success. Oh yes, it’s possible to succeed without those benefits, with luck and skill and determination, but having those subtle built-in benefits certainly does help. This story we tell ourselves could still possibly be true, you know: we just have to remember that however much control we might have over our actions, we still have no control over how those actions will be received by those around us. We can’t control if someone will love what we’ve said, or hate it with a blinding passion.

But acknowledging that means we’re no longer able to tell ourselves the comfortable story of “it only matters what you do: if you set your mind to it, you can do anything!” Our victories are no longer ours alone, our failures no longer ours either. We can no longer simply praise the successful and condemn the failure, we must start taking additional factors into consideration, and that flys in direct contrast to another of the well-established stories we tell ourselves (or perhaps a corollary to what’s already been said): everything can be looked at analytically, rationally, dispassionately. We are a scientific-minded people these centuries, after all. Two people, given the same education, the same chance to apply for college, the same opportunities to apply for jobs, the same availability of loans and business funds should be able to replicate each other’s work, right? If one succeeds and the other fails, it stands to reason that the failure just didn’t work hard enough, didn’t apply himself, should have strived more.

So where does this end up? It ends with us hopefully taking better stock of what is happening behind the scenes of our lives. Perhaps acknowledging that not everyone has it as easy or hard as you do. Perhaps realizing that your success just might be due to more than just your own abilities. Perhaps thinking a bit now and then why other people might be bothered by blithe assumptions of how the world works, or how their life has gone. Maybe just moving forward with the understanding the the world isn’t as simple a machine as we like to tell ourselves it is.

Yeah, I'm still here, time to rant again

The other day, I read about a new LJ community specifically for abused women. In the group's formation blurb, they said "we're restricting this comm to women only, because abused women need a place to talk safe from men and their men-opinions."


So many things irk me about that.

Abuse victims ought and should have safe places to talk with other abuse victims -- collectively, or by gender (physical or socially identified), or by type of abuse...the subdivisions are quite numerous for how they might wish to group themselves.

Implicit within that statement is my endorsement of abused women having a safe space to talk with other abused women.


The description goes beyond carving out a women-only space for this support community. It's doing so by gratuitously antagonizing the men who would likely otherwise leave the community alone. I'm sure that there are some who'd say "b-b-but it's discriminatory to exclude ME from their community, how dare they associate without me!?" Those are the Harrison Bergeronians of the world. (For those of you who haven't read Vonnegut's short story, I highly recommend you do.) These people should certainly be excluded from such a group.

But this goes beyond it. It's implying that anything a man could say in a group for abused women is suspect and dangerous. It's implying that men are so inherently privileged (and yes, I've already ranted on that, no need to rerant it now) that even their inclusion would threaten the women members.

It's also being unnecessarily antagonistic to men. Antagonistic language can be useful. It is sometimes necessary to tell someone "no, shut up and listen to me tell my side/opinion/experience." All too often people get wrapped up in what they're saying that they forget to listen to anyone else. Telling them to stop, shut up and listen is necessary for meaningful dialog and discourse, and sometimes you need to use harsh or vulgar, or strong language to do it. But I don't see that being done in this case. All I see is the community founders and members saying "you're bad, you're evil, you need to shut up and stay the hell away from us." No invitation to discourse, no invitation to dialog, no invitation to explain why men would need to stay away. Had the group simply been formed as "a place for abused women to share their experiences with other abused women," I'd have probably never said a word about it. By including the "safe from men and their men-opinions," all they've done is irritate and antagonize me, for no gain of their own, unless irritating me and other men is their goal. How irritating the kyriarchs actually benefits the underclass I couldn't begin to say.

Another thing that's implicit in this community is the assertion that all the abuse these women have suffered is at the hands of men. I'm quite positive that the majority of abused women are in fact abused by men. But I am highly doubtful, nigh absolutely skeptical, that there isn't a subset of women abused by other women. By tokenizing men to the class of dangerous abusers that women must be kept safe from, there is an implicit assertion of women as the class of safe members.

Even beyond this, it's implying that anything a man might say is dangerous and suspect, while women are safe to say what they wish. Will every woman in the community want to support everyone else? I would hope so, but I'm sure there will be one or two who will twist and turn and manipulate the others, in a decidedly unsupportive way.
from a conversation earlier today:

(2:38:05 PM) monred1: Rotsa Ruck!
(2:38:37 PM) rsncrntz23: QQQQQQQQQQ
(2:39:10 PM) monred1: would XQ work more easily?
(2:39:43 PM) rsncrntz23: it probably would, if I stopped to think about it
(2:39:52 PM) rsncrntz23: but if I stop to think, there's the risk I won't start again
(2:40:01 PM) rsncrntz23: and I'm not ready for a life in politics
(2:40:13 PM) monred1: but at least you'll be thinking
(2:40:39 PM) monred1: http://chzmemebase.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/memes-if-pro-is-the-opposite-of-con.jpg
(2:41:39 PM) rsncrntz23: so your run-of-the-mill slut is just an amateurstitute?
(2:43:25 PM) monred1: and a slut to someone of undetermined gender is hirstute
(2:44:07 PM) rsncrntz23: and what do you suppose an outstitute does?
(2:44:17 PM) rsncrntz23: (since we already know about institutes)
(2:44:57 PM) monred1: outstitutes are environments of lower learning
(2:45:10 PM) monred1: mining, dirty jokes, stand-up comedy, etc
(2:45:24 PM) rsncrntz23: that explains so much
(2:46:23 PM) monred1: they generally have championship beer pong teams, or so I imagine
(2:46:58 PM) rsncrntz23: I'm sure.
Yet another reason I try to maintain friendship with one of my library school professors:

In response to my posting this news story about a book-burning in AZ, he responded with this sarcastic eloquence:

"What a selfish act. A book burning should bring the community together in spirit of xenophobia, intolerance and fanaticism, not wasted on the bitterness of one man's frustrated political aims."

Thoughts on the Fukushima Daiichi situation

(Note: this is taken from an FB post by Rick Boatright, one of the more science-oriented Barflies I know)

Remember that the Fukushima reactors took an earthquake shock with twice as much energy as their design provided for. Hold that idea in your mind while we work through the rest of this.

Then, the plant was swamped by a tsunami that took out the diesel generators, and contaminated the fuel supply for the diesels.

At the same time, the compressors and the electronic controls that are used to pneumatically open and close water valves inside the radioactive areas of the plant were taken out.

For about eight hours, the plant workers managed to keep the water running using battery power in at least SOME of the plants, but it has become clear that the sensors that measure things like water level and steam pressure inside various parts of the reactors were damaged. So, immediately, the team managing the reactors was handicapped because they didn't KNOW that they couldn't trust the data they were trying to run things by.

Sometime around the time that the batteries were dying, at least some replacement portable diesel generators were brought in. The frequently stated problem was "the plugs didn't fit." We can only speculate about what the real problem was, since in this sort of crisis someone could have ripped the plugs off and gotten electricity flowing. One of the things to think about tho is that it takes a LOT of electricity to manage a nuclear reactor. Among other things, imagine pumping water into a pressure cooker on your stove. You're pumping against the steam pressure, and the more water you push in, the more pressure you're fighting. It takes very powerful pumps. So, in order to allow more water in, they manually triggered a steam valve using an air line so that they could pump in more water. This happened over and over. in addition, because the core got SO HOT (because of the lack of water) the steam had reached a temperature where it split into Hydrogen and Oxygen. When that mixture came into the outer building around the containment, it triggered a BIG explosion of the H2 combing with the O and making water again. The buildings around the containments were blown to bits. Of course, that made working on the reactors that much harder, and sensor lines, control lines and water lines were damaged when the building blew up.

So far tho, it seemed that the situation was such that over the course of this week it would be brought under control. Pump more seawater into the cores, vent steam, pump more water, eventually things cool off.

This is where we were as of Monday night in the central US.

Then, something very odd happened. There was a hydrogen explosion in the building for reactor 4. That was odd because reactor four was SHUT DOWN. There wasn't any fuel in it. The thinking of everyone who thought at all about it was that reactor 4 was utterly safe. All the fuel had been removed. Why would we worry?

What happened? We have to guess. The guys inside the have been WAY to busy to talk to the media, and there's no remote sensing, and I suspect that no one really knows.

I'm going to try to separate my speculation from what we actually know.

We know that the spent fuel pool in the reactor 4 building had a LOT more fuel in it than normal. Reactor 4 had recently been de-fueled, and the rods in it are very hot, they just came out of the reactor.

Spent fuel pools lose water all on their own. The hot rods heat the water and it evaporates or, eventually boils off. Usually, that's not a big deal because the pools are filled to twelve to fifteen feet ABOVE the tops of the fuel rods. Boiling off twelve feet of water takes a LONG time.

But.... (speculation) it's certainly possible that some of the water spilled out in the earthquake. It's possible that during the earthquake the racks that hold the 14 foot long fuel rods cracked and shifted so that some rods came very close together, allowing the water between them to superheat and produce H2 and O2

However it happened, while everyone was paying attention to getting water into the 1,2, and3 reactors which had fuel in them, the spent-fuel pool at reactor 4 either boiled dry, or came close to boiling dry.

Now, this is a BIG pool. Several swimming pools. Filling it with a fire hose would be an hours long project even if it wasn't filled with nearly red-hot rods which flash the water to steam as soon as it hits them. You need big pipes, big powerful pumps and lots of electricity (which you don't have) and this is at the top of a building that has now been blown up, so you can't run new hoses and pipes up there.

Tepco is frantically running a power line into the plant from the nearest working electric supply, 50 miles away. They're patching and stitching existing hunks of line and new line and whatever, and hope to have electricity to the plant by tonight (wed the 16th us time) or some time tomorrow. If so, that will help a lot as they can use their big pumps, assuming those pumps are in working condition.

So, best-case worst-case.

Best case: Tepco gets an electric supply to the plant, there are enough working pumps to cool things, and they pump _a lot_ of seawater into reactors 1, 2, and 3 and into the cooling pools for those reactors and they pump a WHOLE LOT of seawater into the pool on top of reactor 4 and those rods get cooled off.

Then, over the course of the next couple of months things cool down, and a team can be assembled and the painful slow process of de-commisioning the reactors and getting all the fuel rods out and into safe storage can proceed. A decade or so from now you'll have a brownfield site where there used to be a nuclear power plant at a cost probably of close to a trillion dollars.

Worst case: for whatever reason, Tepco is unable to get enough water into the pool at reactor 4. Perhaps the pool is cracked. Perhaps the lines are broken. Whatever, but that pool goes dry and stays dry for a long time. What happens then? Somewhere between 2200 degrees and 3000 degrees the zirconium-tin alloys over the uranium oxide fuel pellets melt. This is "bad." somewhere under 3000 degrees the zirconium, while not exactly boiling, starts to evaporate at high speeds. Zirconium metal is VERY willing to combine with oxygen, so it burns, adding more heat to the situation.

Needless to say, a pool of liquid metal at over 2000 degrees sitting in a concrete box is not going to stay there forever. Concrete is held together with cement that solidifies as it combines with water. Cook it, the water comes out and the concrete falls apart. Now, you have a stream of liquid radioactive metals burning as it falls through the air. Another explosion happens this time, but this time it scatters the Uranium oxide fuel pellets around the countryside, releases large amounts of Cesium and Iodine into the air, and contaminates the coast of japan for a long long time. That's a chernobyl level event. Ooops.

But wait, there's more. Now, you have no way to keep a team pumping water into reactors 1, 2, and 3, and over the next few days/weeks They over heat, blow up and contaminate the world too. The only good difference is, there are no giant blocks of graphite to burn carrying the radiation even further.

That's the worst case. An above-chernobyl level incident that makes a huge piece of Japan's northern coast uninhabitable for a long time.

No one saw that coming, because no one thought there was any CHANCE that the reactor 4 pool could boil dry this fast. Something's odd with that. Perhaps the earthquake made a crack. Perhaps the Tepco folks put WAY too much fuel in the one cooling pond. We won't know for a long time. Eventually, someone will fall on their swords over this, but not tonight. Tonight, lets pray for the brave sons of Martha who are in that plant trying to save what they can.

why I love the Interesting Girl

from GChat earlier this afternoon:
"you know, if all other proof doesn't convince someone that Jews never ate Christian babies, the fact that there's no Rabbinic argumentation on issues like freshness, whether it counts as work, etc. should be enough to settle the matter."
(this has been shamelessly copied from eruvande's facebook page)

I have facebook friends with a variety of political leanings. Some are much more conservative than I think, whether socially or fiscally. Some are more liberal than I usually agree with. But, overall, I pretty much call myself a liberal.

However, whether Conservative or Liberal, both sides are part of a problem. The problem is political incivility. In any given week, my friends post links about how uncivil the side they disagree with is. The side-effect of this is that they sound like they're trying to say "The OTHER side is uncivil, WE'RE fine!"

No. No one is.

Both Liberals and Conservatives have attacked each other with pictures of Hitler, violent imagery and language, and treated their fellow humans like abject crap. There are no "buts". There is no "but MY side does it less." In short? There are no excuses.

Don't excuse the bad behavior or try to point it out on the "other side". Glass houses, people. Glass houses. By my understanding, the levels of political incivility and horrible attacks put everyone in a glass house.

Most of my friends are reasonably rational people. They disagree with people on the merit of the argument, rather than resorting to base insults. However, everyone has to acknowledge that, no matter what their pet political issue is, that there are people who agree with them who are downright insane. There are gun enthusiasts and gun nuts; feminists and the wildly anti-male; pro-lifers and people who murder doctors. Acknowledge them.

I'm not saying it is easy. It is hard to acknowledge that, in the support of your passion, there are people who take it too far and are willing to resort to extremes that scare the daylights out of you. Everone needs to worry less about how "crazy", "uncivil", "rude", and "extreme" the other side is and take a good, hard look at the people they supposedly agree with.

Go forth among your own and teach some civility, rather than crying about how uncivil your opponent is.

been a while since I've quoted Altaz...

Altaz: Indeed
I was reading comments on Watson, and saw "we could be close to achieving AI" multiple times. We already have achieved it, we're just dissatisfied with it. And we always will be, until we are overthrown and don't have a choice.

me: heh.

Altaz: But somewhere down the line, there'll be a point where we'll say "Wow, computers used to be so stupid, not like now."

There isn't a single event, just incremental improvements.

So the singularity isn't a specific point that could be identified; it's more like the line between art and obscenity.

You know what side you're on, but good luck defining the actual line.

Compare to Internet.

ARPANET is not like Compuserve-age Internet is not like now.

Fundamentally it's different, in terms of technology, usage, cultural impact, commercial impact, etc.

But I defy you to find the singularity.

Even the long September isn't it.

1994 Internet isn't like 2000 Internet.

By that argument we've already achieved singularity, AI, etc. in all technological achievements.

And don't get me started on protocol changes.

Hm, maybe one should attribute Internet singularity to Samuel Morse.

The first technology to send informationn from hea to thea without people going with it.

more thoughts on privilege

It all boils down to a simple fact and qualifier: Marx was right, but only from certain perspectives.

Lemme 'splain.

First of all, ignore everything Karl said about communism and socialism; those are his misguided interpolations of his analyses, which failed to account properly for human nature. Perhaps communism will work when it's finally implemented right, as the apologists insist -- that's not what I'm interested in today.

What's far more relevant is Marx's understanding of economics and how it informs socio-cultural structures and interaction. (In fact, boys and girls, Marx's Kapital is in many ways a much better book explaining capitalism than Smith's original Wealth of Nations eighty years prior.) We do live in a scarcity-driven world, with not enough resources available to satisfy everyone's wants or needs, meaning that some groups of people have greater access to these resources, and thus more societal power than the groups without. Seems simple enough, right? And building on this, the group in power will work to ensure its access to resources and power is maintained, minimizing or flat-out excluding access by the less-powerful. Again, straightforward.

There's nothing controversial in any of that. The issue is remembering the scale of his analysis and his academic origins. Marx was an intellectual disciple of Hegel's teachings in the generation prior, which summed historical and social progress in terms of a dialectic process, where the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, swayed back and forth like an invisible pendulum from a given thesis, to its opposing antithesis, until swinging momentarily through a synthesis of the two en route to a repetition of the whole cycle ad infinitum.

Hegel's theories reject the significance of the individual, all that matter are the trends of the greater groups. Much the same, Marx's writings apply quite clearly to the trends of entire social classes of people but start falling apart when one attempts to apply them to individuals or even individual transactions. (When a business owner buys a newspaper on the way to the office, is that an exploitation of the news vendor? Does every action of the business owner stem from a drive to marginalize the proletariat classes?) This rejection of individual significance was troubling enough to philosophers that Søren Kierkegaard and others developed the existential school of philosophy in response to Hegel (heh; thesis and antithesis in action, for those so inclined).

Why trudge through all this? Because of the nature of privilege. A group within society has more power/benefit/zig than other groups, who are marginalized and perhaps exploited. The under-privileged find it difficult to gain access to this power because of the machinations of the privileged class. Sounding familiar? Marx would have no difficulty understanding the concept of privilege (though he might not endorse it; he personally held that most sociological matters were epiphenomenal and thus irrelevant to his study. In true Barthes-esque "Death of the Author" fashion, this has not stopped literary theorists and social scientists from applying it themselves to their fields of study).

But once again, the issue of scale crops up. Privilege most certainly exists at the largest-scales of demography. Identifying privilege as one scales down towards the individuals? That becomes problematic. Once again, it's a rejection of the individual's own significance, rendering the person into a token of class privilege. More troubling, it also rejects the possibility for social empathy. Does privilege exist? most assuredly. Does it inform social interaction? Undoubtedly. Does that mean that everything everybody ever does stems from that privilege? Absolutely not. At best, it becomes one factor of many.

I should also point out that the ability to on the one hand say in Marxist-Hegelian cant "you are nothing but a token of your group", and on the other say in Kierkegaardian-Camusian doctrine "you are a unique product of your own experiences" requires mental gymnastics that Douglas Adams' electronic monks would admire.

In addition, as was pointed out in the comments to my last post musing on privilege, if we are going to say we live in a kyriarchy, what possible benefit is there to telling the kyriarchs that they aren't welcome into discussions of social protest? (The more I think about the situation, the more it reminds me of Nietzche's notions of differing morality between Über- and unter-menschen, but I've never fully read those through so I must leave it as an exercise to the better-informed reader).

As always, the floor is open to discussion

back to the bookshelves

I know, it's been ages since I've posted about my reading habits. Well, I have continued to read, lack of reviews notwithstanding. So, here goes, diving into stuff I've read in the past several months.

Guy Gavriel Kay writes some of the best YA-bordering-on-A fiction out there, and has been for quite some time. His books deal with real people struggling with real issues. He doesn't seek to sugarcoat or whitewash events or historical settings, leading to some rather gritty but rewarding reads. Tigana is one of those books that really sparks the reader's imagination and leaves you thinking about the story long after the book is read. Set in a fantastified renaissance Italy, Kay looks at just what it means to have a name, a culture, a heritage...and the costs of losing them (or more to the point, having them taken away). He also explores the way that plans that seemed so iron-clad and definite at one point in life have this way of slipping away and bending over the years, as life takes us into places we never dreamed we'd be in.

This wasn't my first time reading the book, nor will it be the last; it definitely retains a spot on my bookshelves for years to come.


"If we don't believe in freedom of expression for those we despise, we don't believe in it at all." -- Noam Chomsky


I've finally figured out why the concept of "privilege," at least as it's commonly applied, irks me so much.

Privilege is the notion that members of a given social group are exempt from some experiences by nature and thus ignorant of them. Case in point: straight Americans won't feel the prejudice and social isolation that gay Americans do. Being straight is "privileged" where gay is not. Being white in most parts of America is privileged, as is being male. I will be the first to acknowledge that as a straight white man, I've not, nor will I ever, know the difficulties of GLBT, Black or Latinos, or women. Yet I don't think that this categorically prevents me from ever saying something meaningful, relevant or insightful about those issues.

Privilege is often used to silence people in discourse: "What can you say? You're a white man, you've never known what it's like to be a woman/black/gay/whatever, so all you're allowed to say is 'I am irrelevant to this discussion,' and then fark off and die." Privilege also is used to mediate cultural issues: the priviliged group, being the default, is treated as valueless; only those different from the default can be acknowledged. Thus "Americans" have no culture of their own, but the Blacks, the Native tribes and nations, the GLBT, the Asians all do. Men have no unique value or issues, but women, GLBT, etc do. (Why do you suppose there's never a "white arts festival" or "men's literature studies" offered?)

If you're going to render my voice irrelevant to your issues by dint of my privilige, I should expect you do the same about mine. Obviously by your own arguments, a black man, a gay woman, a left-handed Aleutian will never know what it's like being a white man, so who are they to criticize? Use of privilige as a weapon silences discourse and foments social fragmentation. As a friend pointed out, not only does it work to gag unwanted speakers, it gags unwanted speech. If the only people allowed to speak are the ones "qualified" to do so, it's amazing how uniform the speech becomes. If you're going to call someone out, do it on grounds of ignorance or malice, not which social/demographic box the person falls into.


Appropriate in light of my last post, and for Banned Books Week:

"We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people." ~John F. Kennedy


I put on my robe and ranting hat

I found a questionable book. May I ban it?

How appropriate that this was posted in the middle of the American Library Association's Banned Books Week.

THIS is why the ALA's dedication to intellectual freedom is necessary. If you as a parent don't want your child to read a given book, it is your right (some might say responsibility) to make that choice for him or her. It is NOT, NOT your right to dictate the choices of reading material for any other child in a school or public library system. Nor is it the responsibility of the library staff to make those decisions on parents' behalf. You as a parent may take an unwanted book out of your child's hands. You may NOT take that book out of any other child's hands without that parent's consent.

Libraries are clearinghouses of information and reading material for the satisfaction of their patrons' needs. In order to satisfy those information and reading needs and desires, libraries offer a wide variety of books and other materials in their collections. Does that mean the library is forcing its patrons to read those things? Absolutely not. Library staff can offer advisory services, but it is not the responsibility of librarians or paraprofessional staff to decide what patrons can or cannot read. That is the patron's choice alone. Or as regulated by parent or guardian, if the given patron is underage. Librarians are not paid to patrol the aisles, making sure that people are selecting "age appropriate" materials, nor are they paid to determine what a patron can or cannot check out.

Librarians are not morality police, nor are they parents-by-proxy. If you want to enforce limits on what your child is exposed to, you're more than welcome to do so. But allow everyone else the freedom of enforcing whatever limits *THEY* choose for themselves or their children too.
So some extremist church in Florida wants to bracket itself with Phelps' crew of frothing fundamentalists in the Westboro Baptist Church and stage a public bonfire of Korans this Sept 11. Fine. Others have already pointed out this is the international diplomacy equivalent of shouting "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre (thanks to unixronin for the link), so I won't belabor that point.

The commanding general of American forces in Afghanistan has spoken out against the plan, warning of increased anti-American violence as a probable outcome, so I won't belabor that point, either.

I'll just leave a short quote, in its original language and its English translation, which sums up the whole situation. Written by the German poet Heinrich Heine in his 1821 play "Almansour," 118 years before the ascendance of Nazi reign in Germany, his words are now carved into the flagstones of Humboldt University's courtyard in central Berlin, where the book-burning bonfires once were lit:

Das war ein Vorspeil nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.
That was only a prelude; there where they burn books, in the end they burn men as well.
Odds are, if you're not a Music Person, you will only recognize the "Sabre Dance" by tune and maybe by title and be hard pressed to name either the composer or the larger work the dance comes from.

However, Aram Khatchaturian did write a lot more music than just the Gayaneh ballet that includes the Sabre Dance (which will come as a future Music Thing, rest assured). For example, this waltz from a suite of music called "Masquerade", here played Kharkiv Philharmonic at an Easter concert in the grand hall of the city's main train station:

your nifty photo of the day

via the ever-nifty Astronomy Photo of the Day:

but..."please sir, draw me a radio-telescope" just doesn't have the same feel to it...

adventures in tastiness

1 oz sundried tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup corn kernels (about 2 ears worth)
2 cups cooked rice
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

1) chop the sundried tomatoes, if not pre-sliced.
2) sautee garlic and onion till soft, about 2 minutes. Add broth and corn, simmer 2 minutes. Add rice and tomatoes and heat through, about 4 minutes. Stir in vinegar, add salt and pepper to taste. (optional: add basil/parsley/cilantro)
3) serve warm or room temp.

Bon appetit




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