Do you look like a crook?

I learned two awful things from this article on pseudo-scientific physiognomy: 1) Cesare Lombroso’s head is preserved in a jar in a museum in Italy, and 2) people are even now trying to identify criminals from photos. Not from their records, oh no, but from the implied fact that they look like criminals.

Lombroso, you may recall, had this terrible idea that you could identify bad people by their looks, by their facial features, bumps on their head, etc. These were familiar notions held by Nazis, who actually published school books to instruct kids on how to recognize Jews (it is often hard to recognize the Jew as a swindler and criminal […] How to tell a Jew: the Jewish nose is bent. It looks like the number six…), and Lombroso’s ideas fed directly into the eugenics movement. People who don’t look exactly like us must be lesser, don’t you know.

Modern neo-Nazis are saying the same things now, like that wretched MRA/MGTOW/PUA/Whatever at Chateau Heartiste:

You CAN judge a book by its cover: ugly people are more crime-prone.

Shitlibs have a look. Shitlords have a look. And you can predict with better than 50/50 chance which 2016 presidential candidate a person supports based on nothing more than their photograph.

Thanks, Cesare, for your contributions to bigotry. It seems kind of appropriate that in death, your head was chopped off and dropped in a bucket of formaldehyde. It’s unseemly, I suppose, but I do hope other body parts suffered similar indignities.

I also learned, unsurprisingly, that some people are trying to make physiognomy seem more scientific by making computers do it. As the article explains it length, but I’ll simply summarize in brief: if you train a neural network to find patterns, it will find them whether they’re actually there or not. As we know from those surreal images produced by Deep Dream, if all a piece of software knows how to do is highlight dogs and eyeballs in an image, it will find dogs and eyeballs everywhere.

You will rightly point out that the real test is if they spot the signal they’re searching for in some images, but not all, and if the software guesses correctly. Apparently, this software was trained on a small number of images, and they aren’t making the data available, so it’s hard to guess exactly what features they’re cueing on; the article speculates that it may be as trivial as whether the innocent faces were smiling and the criminal faces were scowling.

So another thing I learned is that if the Nazis take over and start scanning all our faces for criminal tendencies, you’d better smile like a giddy idiot all the time.

[Read more…]

He was “the good one”?

Guess who is a predatory slumlord, who owns huge numbers of lower middle class properties, fails to maintain them, and who hounds the residents with persistent lawyers, demanding often invented fees and penalties that the people cannot pay? It’s that quiet young man who has been given an exalted position in our government.

Very few of the complex residents I met, even ones who had been pursued at length in court by JK2 Westminster, had any idea that their rent and late fees were going to the family company of the president’s son-in-law. “That Jared Kushner?” Danny Jackson, a plumber in his 15th year living at Harbor Point Estates, exclaimed. “Oh, my God. And I thought he was the good one.”

Read the whole thing. The whole family is a skeevy assortment of nasty ratfuckers and villains, poisoning everything they touch.

The Antennae of Morris

Imagine that you are going to come visit me in Morris, Minnesota — you’re welcome, anytime, since it’s not as if we’re overwhelmed with visitors. You’ll probably come from our major metropolitan center to the east, Minneapolis/St Paul. Get on I-94, heading west; follow the signs to Fargo.

As long as we’re imagining, imagine it’s mid-winter and late at night. That’s the best time to drive the lonely roads. You usually don’t have to worry about the condition of the highways, because it’s Minnesota, and if it’s been snowing there will have been teams of plows out, quickly clearing them.

You leave the big city, and you’ll pass through the smaller, but still substantial, city of St Cloud about an hour later. Prepare yourself, everything from there on out is progressively more rural and thinly populated.

Don’t drive all the way to Fargo, although it would be easy to do. Get off the freeway at Sauk Centre, birthplace of Sinclair Lewis (and they won’t let you forget it). Sauk Centre has a population of about 4500 people, and it’s mostly downhill from here. You’re going to get on a little two lane country road, Highway 28, and keep heading west through Glenwood (pop. 2500), Starbuck (pop. 1300), and Cyrus (pop. less than 300). It’ll take you about an hour to get from Sauk Centre to Morris, and you’ll need to take your time, because Highway 28 is a notorious speed trap all along its length.

I recommend the night journey in winter because while there isn’t much engaging scenery, as you travel farther and farther from the population centers, it gets darker and darker. Our winter skies tend to be crisp and clear, and you’ll get spectacular views of the stars, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see the northern lights off to your right. You’re in no hurry — we’ll be home to let you in however late it is when you arrive — so feel free to pull over, turn off your headlights, and let your eyes get adjusted to the dark. It’ll be beautiful.

Unless it’s gray and snowing. Sorry. That happens fairly often.

Keep going, keep going.

After passing through Cyrus, which you’ll only notice because the speed limit abruptly drops to 30 miles per hour (and trust me, you’d better obey it), you’ll hurtle on through the darkness. The first portent that Morris is ahead will be three slowly pulsing red lights in the sky. They were my first sight of the town when I came here, 17 years ago. They are the aircraft warning lights atop the radio antenna masts around the edge of town. They’re particularly noticeable as you drive through the flat and empty cornfields because they hover above the horizon and are so clearly human artifacts, but there isn’t the usual clutter of a cityscape to distract your attention from them.

They fascinate me.

Two hundred years ago, there were very few Europeans here — an occasional French explorer — but many scattered communities of the Lakota, their populations depleted by waves of diseases. They, like virtually every human population around the world at that time and earlier, had networks of communication with other communities. Like every population up to that time, though, communication required that someone get up and get on a horse or boat or on their own two legs and travel elsewhere. The transmitters and receivers and medium of signaling were the people themselves. A village would have a trading post or post office or the equivalent as locus of interactions between communities.

About one hundred and fifty years ago, that began to change with the invention of railroads and telegraphy. At that point we added rails and wires connecting communities for much more rapid signaling, and the new features added to our towns were the telegraph office, the railroad depot, and the water tower. Every thriving town would have a water tower and supplies to feed the locomotives, and would be linked to other town with a parade of telegraph poles.

This was the start of a revolution. Now towns were linked by cables and rails, and that was only the start; look up, and everywhere you go there is a webwork of wires above you, carrying power and information. There is also an invisible network of cables and pipes and fiber optic lines beneath your feet. We’re part of a grid of connections, the middle part of a sandwich of layers and layers of connectivity that bridges the continent, with steel giants marching across the landscape carrying high tension lines. These humming wires are the ley lines of reality.

But it was only the start. A bit over a century ago, there was another change: it was the age of Marconi and Tesla, spark-gap transmitters and coherers. They scarcely knew what they were doing, at first, building larger and larger devices with greater and greater voltages, generating great powerful thunderbolts that would arc across circuits and produce immense electromagnetic waves that would ripple long distances. They were crude radio transmitters, no finesse at all, that relied on brute force to produce strong enough signals that could be detected without wires. So Marconi built forests of antennae in Poldhu, Cornwall and Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia to sense the sparks produced in each and bridge the ocean with information.

The transmitters have gotten more precise and the receivers more sensitive, and now we swim in an ocean of patterned electromagnetic waves. We routinely carry radio transmitters in our pockets — absent the whip-crack snap of spark-gap transmitters or the lightning nimbus of Tesla coils — and we receive a constant flow of signals with far more elegance than the slow dots and dashes of Morse code. There’s an antenna in your pocket, there’s an antenna in your computer, there are antennae in your entertainment gadgets, and there are antennae all over your town. They are a new feature of humanity, these metal latticeworks scraping the sky for information everywhere you go. Even in my tiny town in the rural midwest, on the edge of nowhere, in ‘flyover country’, everywhere you look there are cables and antennae tying us to the larger world.

I’ve been looking.

This long prelude is an attempt to justify trying something different. You see, I’ve been distracted lately — for the past couple of years, in the face of aging, I’ve been cultivating an exercise habit. I walk 5-10 kilometers a day. Three times a week I go to a local gym and work out…and I get there by walking. I walk to the grocery store. I walk to the coffee shop. I walk to the movie theater. It’s all part of a necessary maintenance program for my unfortunately senescing body.

Unfortunately, it’s incredibly boring.

As it turns out, it’s difficult to read or write or scan the internet while walking or lifting weights — who knew? I’ve tried listening to podcasts, and still do, now and then, but I still have to stifle my urges to write responses, because I can’t. I hate this whole routine of having to invest time in maintaining the meat of myself when I’d rather be sinking it into the playground of the mind, but then, I have to remind myself I need to do this so my brain can keep playing longer.

So there I am, making the meat machine plod through town, my brain trying to idle and get it over with, and it can’t.

I look around. I scan the ground, I look at the rooftops, I notice odd stuff. I’m a scout droid patrolling an alien planet. I try to figure out what’s going on around me, but I’m hampered by the fact that I don’t have access to information, or rather I’m wasting time perambulating rather than tapping on a keyboard, so instead I…


This is a terrible confession. Instead, I make stuff up. I tell myself stories, in my head, about the imaginary purposes of the things I don’t immediately understand. They’re all lies. I think I’ve reinvented religion and fiction. So while disconnected from the internet and my books, I make up conspiracy theories, alien invasion stories, weird fantasies of malignant forces dwelling in town, awful dreams of where all this will end (it tells you something about me that I tend not to invent happy stories). I glom onto some odd feature of the environment and invent a purpose for it. It’s disgraceful. This is what happens when your brain is deprived of input, the gears get stripped and it starts spinning off in strange directions.

Lately, the features of the environment that have most snagged my imagination are the antennae. They’re everywhere! Have you noticed? Radio masts, cell phone towers, little whip antennas erupting out of the flank of a 19th century building, dish antennae locked into satellites, metal spikes on rooftops, we’re surrounded by these things that are either gleaning information out of the æther or beaming it to mysterious destinations. I know they’re mostly innocuous and utilitarian, but bored brains imbue the unknown with deep omens and surprising significance.

Shamelessly, I’ve been telling myself stories about them as I amble about. These are pure fiction, lies, which I’ve never indulged in before. But I’m thinking, as long as I’m making stuff up, I might try writing some of it down. And then posting it here.

So I may sporadically dump some of these lies here. Not often, I assure you, and they’ll be clearly labeled as entirely fictitious, but you know, when you spend so much time with these stories, and you’re used to just writing, it’s got to be let out. Every once in a while, then, I might post a story about the Antennae of Morris. You can just skip them. Treat them as the mad ventings of a trapped brain trying to get release, you know, as I do most of the fiction I read.

Forgive me.

We can’t handle the truth, I guess

Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans made a powerful speech on the removal of Confederate monuments from the city — read the whole thing. What was most notable about it is how strongly he exposes the lie behind the defense of these statues honoring traitors as a part of Southern history. Yeah, the Civil War was real history, but the stories of a genteel Antebellum South and noble Southern aristocrats fighting for their liberty was all propaganda, a lie promoted by regressive monied interests that attempted to romanticize slavery with a set of myths. Tear down the lies, expose the truth.

The historic record is clear, the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal – through monuments and through other means – to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city. Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy. He said in his now famous ‘corner-stone speech’ that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

America is well practiced at lying about our history. The Pilgrims were virtuous people looking for religious freedom, rather than admitting that they were puritanical religious bigots who wanted to impose their freakish religious beliefs without question. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution are stuffed full of high-minded language about freedom, but also were awash in hypocrisy, since they avoided the fact that our economy was built on the forced enslavement of black people. The US Cavalry was heroic in fighting off savages and advancing the cause of civilization, when they were actually murdering people of a culture that was reeling from the onslaught of European diseases, and sequestering the survivors in barren reservations to live for generations in poverty. The Civil War was about States’ Rights…yeah, fuck it, that’s all bullshit.

Good nations and good people are not built on a history of lies. It’s about time we started waking up. I’m just afraid our media will not be helping, but will instead be constructing new myths. Witness the newspaper of record, the NY Times, busily papering over the first decade of the 21st century.

Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama flexed their executive muscles. Mr. Bush enhanced the president’s control over national security after the Sept. 11 attacks by opening Guantánamo, trying terrorism suspects before military tribunals, and authorizing warrantless wiretapping. Mr. Obama took unilateral aggressive actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reform immigration.

They left the office stronger than when they arrived. Although their policies were controversial, both presidents were given deference because they made their judgments conscientiously and led the government professionally.

Hey, look, Bush and Obama were just the same: let’s sweep the fact that Bush started an unjustified war that drained the treasury and killed hundreds of thousands of people under the rug, and compare lawlessness and the erosion of privacy to efforts to protect the environment from out-of-control capitalism and to opening the doors to refugees…some of them from the regions Bush devastated. But they’re just the same, don’t you know.

And look at that: Bush must be gratified that now, suddenly, “history” of the sort peddled by propaganda organs, is deciding that he was “conscientious” and “professional”. Dear god. Maybe New Orleans needs to replace a statue of Robert E. Lee with one of George W. Bush, so that some later generation can recover their sanity and tear it down.

The culture we have is the culture they enforce

Richard Collins III was murdered in cold blood in public by Sean Urbanski. That’s heinous enough, and Urbanski deserves to be locked up for the rest of his life for his vicious crime. The other factor though is that Collins is black; Urbanski is white. Urbanski was a member of a facebook group with like-minded assholes.

Look closely at that. It’s so representative of the current state of the internet.

First, this was permitted by Facebook. If you show a photo of a breast-feeding mother or any flash of nudity, Facebook will barrel in with righteous indignation and ban your offensive ass, but promote Nazi ideology and brag about killing mud people, and you’re fine, until you actually get out and murder someone. Then your group gets taken down, but not because they’re endorsing racism and criminality…but because it’s suddenly become bad PR for Facebook. Fuck you, Facebook.

Secondly, notice their facade — it’s the same one every troll who has sent me a threatening email has used, the same one used to excuse harassing women. Controversial humor. Memes. It’s funny, dude. Lighten up!

Only it’s not funny. It’s people wallowing in hate and justifying it as a joke — they know that it’s evil shit, they know that they are merrily endorsing it, and they also know that healthy, civilized people find it vile and repugnant, so they try to cover that turd with a a candy coating and call it “humor”. Fuck you too, people who indulge in sickness and racism as a “joke”.

We know that our social media outlets, places like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Google, are fully capable of policing content, because they already do — it’s just that they choose to silence people who make tech culture uncomfortable, rather than people who violate basic human decency, because, apparently, they’re run by horrible people who don’t care about human decency.

Just a suggestion, but one place Facebook could start is by taking the 1155 scumbags who joined “Alt-Reich: Nation” and kicking them out. Clean up your act. Get rid of the toxic people.

There’s also a personal element to this story. It’s easy for me to empathize with the family of Richard Collins.

The Anti-Gwyneth

Gwyneth Paltrow is feeling a slight irritation despite being cosseted away in her airy palace of privilege and pretense, raking in money for peddling quackery. She’s challenging critics to “bring their A-game”; her work is such lazy crap that I doubt that is necessary, but I’m also confident she’ll continue to skate along, skimming cash from her fellow rich white women until, of course, the Revolution.

Anyway, she has also pissed off Jen Gunter. Goopy Gwyneth is in trouble, although she doesn’t know it yet. Eventually, if you continue to blithely babble anti-scientific nonsense like this:

More and more scientists will start exposing you.

Gwyneth doesn’t need to worry, though. Like Chopra or Dr Oz or the Health Ranger, she’ll continue to get rich in a material sense, because there is no shortage of rubes out there with more money than sense. She’s just going to lose dignity and self-respect, ironically, those spiritual things she claims to value so much.

The Nebulas have been announced, and I haven’t read a single one

I am a terrible person, but in my defense, this has been a rough and stressful academic year, and I haven’t been keeping up. That’ll change this summer, though, so give me a chance. I’m putting all of these on my Amazon wishlist.

  • Best Novel: All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders. I’ve heard many raves about this one.

  • Best Novella: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. Just bought it. Figured this ought to be high on my list, since McGuire will be at Convergence in July, and there’s a tiny chance I might have to stammer out a few words in a conversation with her. Also, I’ve read most everything she’s written, so why stop now?

  • Best Novelette: The Long Fall Up, by William Ledbetter. Who? I don’t know this person at all, so I guess I get to discover a new author. And hey, that issue of F&SF is free on Kindle Unlimited!

  • Best Short Story: “Seasons of Glass and Iron” in , The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, by Amal El-Mohtar. Oh, I did meet her, very briefly, at NerdCon. She was nice, and her stories are lovely. I’ll have to read this one, too.

  • The Bradbury award went to Arrival. I’ve seen that!

  • The Norton Award for Young Adult fiction went toArabella of Mars by David Levine, another one I don’t know…but YA stuff is remarkably fresh and good and often more challenging than the “adult” stuff. What’s categorized as adult is too often the conventional crap with military hardware and sexy times and surprisingly frequent violence.

So that’s my next week of light reading sorted.

One question: why novel, novella, and novelette? Isn’t it rather arbitrary to set up categories defined by the length of the work? We don’t have categories for Best Picture Over 3 Hours Long vs. Best Picture Less Than 2 Hours Long, or Best Actor Over or Under 6 Feet Tall. Is this a vestige of a genre that was accustomed to its authors getting paid by word count?

The most punchable face in America

Richard Spencer gets interviewed.

I personally have no desire to punch anyone, but when this guy smirks and sniggers I have nothing but sympathy for those in his presence who just feel a need to reach out and smack him one. Charles Barkley and Gerald Griggs are to be commended for their restraint.

I searched YouTube for a clip of this interview, which was a scarring experience. First one I stumbled across was by someone calling himself “Atheism-Is-Unstoppable”, which meant, as you might guess that the video was a horror show, with “A-I-U” covering it over with his idiot commentary consisting mostly of asserting that America is a white nation. I finally found this short clip which doesn’t include any commentary by the uploader.

You definitely do not want to read any of the comments, unless you’re looking for confirmation that YouTube has been overrun with racist assholes.

So…when creationists sneak bad papers into legit journals, does evolution collapse?

A few days ago, a paper was pointed out to me as a particularly horrible example of bad social science: it was titled “The conceptual penis as a social construct”. I glanced at. It was a murky mess and so bad that I couldn’t even get past the first paragraph, so I abandoned it as simply too much effort to criticize. As it turns out, it was a hoax: the authors were trying to pull a Sokal and expose “‘academic’ fields corrupted by postmodernism”.

We intended to test the hypothesis that flattery of the academic Left’s moral architecture in general, and of the moral orthodoxy in gender studies in particular, is the overwhelming determiner of publication in an academic journal in the field. That is, we sought to demonstrate that a desire for a certain moral view of the world to be validated could overcome the critical assessment required for legitimate scholarship. Particularly, we suspected that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil.

The lead author is Peter Boghossian, whose own biases are rather obvious in that passage, and I think he overplayed his hand. He actually completely failed to demonstrate what he set out to do.

He sent the crap paper to NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies, a journal with an impact factor of 0, and it was rejected. So, wait, the fake paper was punted? How does that demonstrate that “gender studies is crippled academically”?

NORMA nicely sent them off to resubmit to an even more poorly ranked journal, Cogent Social Sciences, which is so new it doesn’t even have an impact factor, and which is also a pay-to-publish journal. Boghossian then coughed up $625 to convince them to publish it.

At this point the hoax has become completely meaningless. There are bad, predatory journals out there that will take anything a hack scribbles up and publish it for a profit. This is not news. It is also not unique to gender studies or sociology. I’ve pointed out these bad papers more than a few times in journals in science fields.

So when I point out that Erik Andrulis published, in complete seriousness, a paper titled Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life that attempts to explain chemistry, development, and evolution as functions of spiral gyres, does that discredit those fields? When David Abel of the Department of ProtoBioCybernetics and ProtoBioSemiotics publishes a paper on the origin of life that is packed full of buzzwords and pseudoscience, does that mean that Nick Lane and Bill Martin are full of crap, too? Because the Journal of Cosmology exists, astronomy is fake science? John Bohannon created an automatic molecular biology paper generator that churned out garbage papers. They were accepted by 157 science journals. I guess we can scratch the entire field of molecular biology.

As I wrote about that last example:

I agree that there is a serious problem in science publishing. But the problem isn’t open-access: it’s an overproliferation of science journals, a too-frequent lack of rigor in review, and a science community that generates least-publishable-units by the machine-like application of routine protocols in boring experiments.

The lesson to be learned here is that Boghossian executed a poorly performed experiment that didn’t succeed in what he engineered it to do, and which was embarrassingly derivative, and then analyzed the results poorly. At least it cost the hack $625 to attempt some click-bait sensationalism.

There’s more. See Kris Wager, and Ketan Joshi lists lots of examples of hoaxes in science disciplines that didn’t indict entire broad fields of research.