They don’t even see a problem

Our vice president obliviously tweeted this out of his tweeter yesterday.

I truly wonder what he was thinking. Did he take a look at this photo and actually think “this is a proud moment for our administration, show it off to the world”? Did he notice, does he even care how this looks?

That’s not America in that room, but they’re deciding the fate of health care for all Americans.

Worst hike ever

I’ve hiked hazardous routes along the Washington coast — it’s a beautiful place with these gorgeous crescent beaches separated by spectacular rocky headlands — and before you set out you have to heed all the warnings. If you get caught on those headlands when the tide comes in, you may have to choose between going straight up a jagged, overhanging cliff or swimming out to sea in a swirl of complex currents. There are also bears.

I don’t think I’d want to hike the Broomway in England, though.

broomway

For one, at low tide, it’s a long gray mudflat. It’s not exactly scenic.

For another, the destination of your walk is a place called “Foulness Island”. This is not a name that would have been chosen by any tourism board. Saying you live on Foulness Island conjures up images of surly, decrepit villains hiding out in hovels and scheming bitterly to murder visitors and steal their shoes to enable escape. It sounds like a place infested with ticks and anthrax.

It’s worse. It’s deadly.

Depending on the time of year, you have a window of three to four hours to explore the Broomway before the tide returns. Unlike other tidal flats where the water gently rises, the speed of the incoming tide is described as faster than a person can run. Even worse, the rising waters interact with outflow from the nearby Crouch and Roach rivers to create deadly hidden whirlpools.

Nearly every site I’ve visited warns that no matter how good a swimmer you are, if you’re caught on the Broomway when the tide comes in, you’re likely to perish.

Still interested in taking a jaunt down the Broomway? You’ll first need permission from Britain’s Ministry of Defence. The military took over much of Foulness Island in the early 20th century for artillery exercises and still controls access. Adding to the path’s notoriety are large signs near the entrance warning “Do not approach or touch any object or debris as it may explode and kill you.”

In case you’re wondering, it’s the first week after Spring break, and I was already fantasizing about exotic island getaways, and this was one of the places that turned up in my google search. I think I need to come up with better search terms. Or erase my contaminating search history somehow.

That’s half the story

Jim Sterling has an excellent essay on the recent exposure of certain youtubers for their ugly remarks, which has led to quite a bit of furor as they gasp in shock that anyone would call them out on this, let alone cause them a loss of income, while a muddling mob roars in support or protest. He makes the very good point that if you’re making tens of thousands, or even millions of dollars, playing games on the internet, then you must be the focus of a lot of attention, and you should be aware that people will notice you and sometimes criticize you. I can assure you that being public and opinionated does not mean you get parades of flowers and that everyone loves you.

He points out that the naiveté of these youtubers is silly, and also that trying to defend them by arguing that it’s simply because people have different views does not work — it forgets that communication is a two-way street, and if Famous Rich Youtuber gets to say offensive things as their right, then their audience also gets to express their criticisms.

“Sometimes people are gonna say things you don’t like,” explained Boogie in his video. “People are gonna have ideas and opinions that you don’t enjoy.”

This is true and it works both ways. One opinion and idea that several big YouTubers don’t enjoy right now is that YouTubers are relevant enough to make headlines and become international controversies. One opinion and idea that several big YouTubers don’t enjoy right now is that, no, you can’t share your racist beliefs and expect nobody to argue back.

The Internet has warped the idea of “free speech” to mean “speech without consequence” and that’s simply not what it is.

But one thing Sterling does not get into, at least in this essay, is that these aren’t just “words”, they’re ideas, and ideas have meanings and most importantly, can be wrong. It would be lovely to pretend that they’re just lexical strings, and Person A has emitted a string that provokes a different string from Person B, but both A and B are actively translating those strings into meaning, and may also translate them further into actions. We too often excuse those meanings by saying “it’s just their opinion,” but sometimes those opinions can be looked up in the truth table of reality, and that function returns a value of FALSE (Or NaN, or ERROR, or SYSTEM FAILURE, or CODE RED: MISSILES HAVE BEEN LAUNCHED.)

One response is to wag our fingers and announce that they’ve lost our eyeballs and our revenue — a purely personal and singular punishment by neglect. But sometimes that isn’t enough. When someone declares that they think all gingers ought to be lined up and shot, yes, you should turn away and shun them. But what if they have a mob of thousands at their back who all agree about the ginger exterminations? You’ve left the group, but there are still all the others who are working together and coordinating and praising the initial head eliminationist. You aren’t going to slow them down a bit.

Here’s another problem: sometimes, maybe, in addition to being wrong and stupid on some things, the person is brilliant on others. We don’t have a way to chop up the mosaic of attributes of a person and dispose of the nasty bits and keep the good parts. Now what?

For example, I think Dave Chappelle is an amazing comedian — talented and revolutionary. I have loved the guy’s routines in the past, and you can see that he’s intelligent and insightful.

He’s also…problematic, a word that is also problematically over-used. Here’s a story of Chapelle in a comedy club that praises his skills but also highlights his difficulties.

But the truth is that Chappelle’s set was riddled with transphobia, homophobia, and a bit about the Ray Rice incident that changed the energy in the room in a tangible way. He talked about seeing a drunk “transvestite” at a party, mocked her, and complained about having his pronouns corrected when he referred to her as “he”. He maintained that he should be able to use whatever pronouns he wanted. He called her a man in a dress. This bit was not really a joke, just a strange, awkward story, but people laughed. It was pure, absolute, unabashed transphobia, and it broke my fucking heart.

He then started talking about “the gays”, essentially saying that he doesn’t understand why they need a whole parade because everybody has freaky sex. He compared his foot fetish and the negative reactions and judgment he’s gotten from people for it to being gay. Don’t get me wrong – the personal stuff about his foot fucking was VERY funny. But comparing his sexual proclivities to the experience of gay people was also, ultimately, problematic and misguided. I was sitting there in the front row, laughing at his jokes but simultaneously confused and upset by where some of them were coming from, and why he felt the need to talk about being mugged by a man who he “knew” was gay from the way he walked. It was the most conflicted I’ve ever felt about comedy.

That was written in 2014.

Now he has a new comedy special on Netflix, and I have been strongly tempted to watch it — it’ll probably make me laugh throughout — but I’ve also heard that it is problematic in exactly the same way as that comedy set from 2½ years ago. There will be hilarious bits, and there will be parts that are just plain wrong and that hurt people. People are murdered for being gay or transgender, and since Chapelle is neither, he comes across as trivializing the pain of others. It kinda rips the humor out of the routine.

So I’m doing the minimal response. I’m choosing not to watch it. The ratings for his show will decline by a few thousandths of a percent.

But I also wonder if there isn’t something more that should be done. If Chappelle had been strongly chastised in 2014, maybe his 2017 special would be better. Maybe we’re doing harm to Chappelle by not loudly correcting him when he is so terribly wrong.

Because let’s make no bones about it, Chappelle is just as wrong and damaging about gay and transgender people as those youtubers are wrong and damaging about race. It’s also more than just insensitivity — these are views that do real harm to human beings.

Beware the sex police

A group of people is sinking a bunch of money and time into this bus tour.

sexbus

An orange bus rolled onto the streets of Manhattan Wednesday to make its first stop on an East Coast tour, during which a load of activist passengers will evangelize that transgender people don’t exist and citizens must rise up to complain about their growing acceptance.

Another version was even worse.

bluesexbus

For a change, I’m not going to say a word about their superficial perception of biology. Instead, I want to ask…

WHY?

I don’t understand at all why putting all people into two, and only two, categories is so important. I’ve met many people in my life, and the least interesting way to categorize them is by sex — I’m not ace, but still, I have no plans or interest in having sex with any of them, so no, I don’t care what chromosomes they have (and the funny thing is, most of these people have no idea what their chromosome complement is, anyway), I don’t care what kind of genitals they have (and honestly, most of us don’t see the genitals of 99.9% of the people we interact with), and I definitely don’t want to know what kind of gametes they produce.

The organizers of this bus tour aren’t at all helpful. There seems to be a vague dislike of any kind of diversity in sexual behavior, but they don’t articulate why.

On Wednesday, they parked outside the United Nations headquarters, where ambassadors are considering a sex education resolution that a spokesperson for the bus argued promotes an ideology that gender is fluid.

We are trying to strike back against that, said Joseph Grabowski, a spokesperson for the National Organization for Marriage, one of the three conservative groups behind the project. They hope parading the bus through major cities will unleash a silent majority that they believe is frustrated by shifting norms about gender and families.

OK, but why are they unhappy and frustrated by someone with a different sexuality than they have? Why do they need to “strike back”? I mean, I might personally think that brussels sprouts are icky, but if you like ’em, go ahead. I’m not going to lease a big bus and put a giant decal on it that says “I HATE BRUSSELS SPROUTS” and drive around the country, trying to spark a mass uprising.

I know that gender identity is a far bigger concern than a food preference, which means that I’m even less likely to try to force my perspective on someone else. These guys apparently realize that it’s a major issue in someone’s life, too, yet that motivates them to try to spread misery even more.

One of the purposes of the bus tour is to have people speak up if they feel uncomfortable and let the business owner know, Grabowski said. This can’t be considered transphobic or bigoted.

Joe. Really. Feeling free to express bigotry doesn’t change the fact that it’s still bigotry. You are definitely transphobic. Why? Can you please try to examine your feelings and explain why you’re bothered by other people’s perception of themselves?

They are a small segment of the population, with a disorder, that has quite a big megaphone for the demographic it represents, he said. This is not about live-and-let-live, he added, saying transgender people pose an threat to norms of sex and procreation. This is about what is best for the common welfare of society.

It’s not a disorder, and even if it were classified that way, it wouldn’t change the fact that you are talking about people. I could argue that being so obsessed with other people’s sexuality that you sink a significant sum of money into a bus, and then drive around in what is essentially a giant orange megaphone, is also a disorder — it’s certainly damaging your life.

I’m also troubled by This is not about live-and-let-live. Do you think transgender people should not be allowed to live?

Saying that they are a threat to norms of sex and procreation is actually a little bit revealing. Do you feel threatened if your preferred sexuality is not regarded as normal? Does it bother you when you think other people might disapprove of your preferences? Is it very important to you that other members of society do not try to police your sexuality? I can sympathize with that, and even agree that other people do not get to monitor my sexual behavior and pressure me in any way to control what I do in private with another consenting adult.

Now if only Joe could empathize enough to realize that transgender people have exactly the same views.

When a deplorable wanker imagines himself as a supervillain…

I’ve always thought I was incredibly lucky to have such incredibly stupid enemies, but John @Scalzi has topped me. Scalzi has just come out with a new book, The Collapsing Empire. The guy who thinks he is Scalzi’s nemesis, Vox Day, has a small publishing house, and so he rushed into print a book, The Corroding Empire, to compete. Wait, you say, they just have similar titles, that’s not enough evidence to be plagiarism or an attempt to siphon off Scalzi’s sales, could it?

But then you see the covers.

empirebooks

Pathetically obvious, don’t you think?

Even more obvious, Vox Day openly announced his intentions.

When Beale announced pre-orders for The Corroding Empire, he made his mission very clear: He wanted his publishing house to do better than Tor Books and thought outperforming Scalzi with a near-identical book cover would twist the knife, adding What would be more amusing than for The Corroding Empire to outsell and outrank The Collapsing Empire? Then again, Beale’s never shied away from promoting himself or his publishing house through controversial means, including getting his followers to nominate himself and several Castalia House books for Hugo Awards during the Rabid Puppies heyday.

Beale has since announced a reprint that shortens the title to Corrosion, and changes the author’s name to Harry Seldon, parodying a character from Foundation. Some of his followers have also responded by giving Scalzi’s book negative reviews on Amazon.

That’s just sad and pitiful and weak. He’s basically admitted a desire to cling to Scalzi’s coat-tails.

I have heard these words too many times before #marginsci

Here we go again. The Science March is facing conflicts for familiar reasons: reasons that I’ve heard applied against science communication (“shut up, Myers, my way is the only way to explain science”) and against a better atheism (“shut up, Myers, atheism only means there is no god and including values is mission creep”). I always seem to end up on the side that is repeatedly told to shut up.

There are two paragraphs, one after the other, that very nicely encompass the problem with the march in just a few key words. Here’s the side that resents the inclusion of diversity as one of the goals:

At the heart of the disagreements are conflicting philosophies over the march’s purpose. In one corner are those who assert that the event should solely promote science itself: funding, evidence-based policies, and international partnerships.

Notice the word I emphasized. This is what’s familiar. There’s always a side that wants to limit what’s allowed and control what topics are appropriate, usually because they’re uncomfortable with new ideas and new approaches. This is the regressive side.

Now look at the characterization of the other side:

In another are those who argue that the march should also bring attention to broader challenges scientists face, including issues of racial diversity in science, women’s equality, and immigration policy.

Again, I emphasized an important word. This group agrees that “funding, evidence-based policies, and international partnerships” are appropriate and should be included, but also considers other topics are essential. They are happy to do the heavy lifting of representing their interests, and are not demanding that everyone explicitly follow their lead. One side is dictating what others are allowed to stand up for; the other side wants to stand up for their place in science, and are being told, in essence, to shut up.

Regressive authoritarians ruin everything.

I can sympathize with this comment from Stephani Page (who is now on the steering committee for the march).

“I wasn’t about to join something just to be a face or a Band-Aid,” Page said. She joined the committee in large part because she wanted to change the culture of science — “I was not going to carry the banner of an institution [of science] that continues to treat me as if I don’t belong there.”

Exactly. She is not telling others what should be excluded from the march, she is making an effort to include what is important to her. I agree. That’s a point of view that must be represented, and it does not detract from the message that we need more funding and more evidence-based decision-making, it strengthens it, because it brings the breadth of the culture of science forward, and increases the reach of science by representing more Americans.

Why would anyone oppose that?

For the answer to that question, let’s turn to that bastion of regressive orthodoxy, Reddit. They’re a reliable source, right? Especially when they’re condemning Social Justice Warriors.

In early February, an unofficial poll posted by one Reddit user in the site’s March on Science forum found that a majority of respondents said they wouldn’t participate in the march if organizers emphasized social justice issues. Several threads on the march’s Reddit community explicitly criticize the march for what they call “scope creep.”

Yes. We should trust the opinion of the users of a site where the most popular subreddit right now is r/theDonald. Has anyone polled Breitbart or /pol/ on this issue?

As for “scope creep”, I’ve always wondered who gets to define the scope. It always seems to be some loud, prominent, hostile jerk who demands that people don’t bring up subjects they don’t like. Speaking of which…

Others in the scientific community have expressed concerns about the march’s message becoming watered down. When, for instance, the diversity page was briefly removed from the march’s website in January, prominent Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker tweeted that he was “glad to see that the March for Science Web site has removed the distractions.” Pinker had previously described the march as “anti-science” for its left-wing political tone.

And yet no one ever tells Steven Pinker to shut the fuck up, even as he arrogantly decides what is a distraction and what is not.

Here’s the bottom line: some people feel that they get to silence others in the name of keeping the “mission” pure and undiluted by subjects they don’t like. Typically, these are people who are already privileged and benefit from the status quo, and are trying to exclude people to whom these subjects are vital to their involvement in science. We have people who are arguing that diversity and inclusiveness are “distractions”, and they get far too much respect and attention. They get to claim that justice and equality and diversity are “anti-science”, and damn few people point out that that is a repulsive attitude.

No one has tried to kick Pinker out of any march — he’s free to join in with a great big sign that says nothing but “$” if he’d like. But who is giving him, and the mob of alt-righties on Reddit, the right to insist that a woman or a black man or a transgender person who wants to promote their contributions to science is diluting his sign, and must stay out of his parade?

And if they’re made uncomfortable by diversity or new perspectives, they’ve lost sight of the science. Science always pushes cultural boundaries with new ideas. If you don’t have the courage to face this novel idea that non-white, non-male people have a stake in science, then you don’t have the courage to challenge the public with ideas like climate change, or evolution, or vaccination, or any of the thousand other difficult concepts science has the duty to bring to the table.