They Finally Spoke: Scientific American breaks with tradition

Scientific American has existed for 175 years.  In all that time, the journal has strenuously avoided politics because science must be objective and impartial, not cater to partisan politics.

For the first time, SA has broken tradition and has chosen to endorse Joe Biden for president.  I read this as an admission by SA that objectivity and education is no longer possible on one side, and that scientists have to speak for the survival of the planet, not party politics.

The Guardian: Prestigious US science journal to back Biden in first endorsement in 175-year history

In a break with its 175-year tradition, the prestigious US magazine Scientific American has for the first time endorsed a candidate in a US presidential election – the Democratic party nominee, Joe Biden.

The magazine has taken the line because, it says, “Donald Trump has badly damaged the US and its people – because he rejects evidence and science.”

Excerpts from the Scientific American editors’ statement are below the fold, the link in the title.

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Make Believe: Cops co-opt and bootlickers lick

Defunding cops is a necessity, primarily in the US but also elsewhere, and the justification for it is obvious. So what are cops doing to justify the budgetary waste and make the public side with them?  They have started lying and fearmongering.  In response to the call to defund cops, I see a disturbing trend three fictions being told.

1) “They want to defund cops AND THE FIRE DEPARTMENT!”

Not one Black Lives Matter statement has advocated defunding fire departments. But cops (and some fire departments) are spreading this lie. Less money for cops would mean more for fire and ambulance services, more for social workers.

2) “If they defund cops, fire fighters will be at risk!”

Bootlickers within fire departments are spreading this lie. It’s probably union astroturfing, not a genuine thing. How often are fire fighters and their trucks targeted at the scene of a fire? Has that ever even happened?

I’ve searched and can’t find a single news item.  But finding willing liars is easy.

What ‘defund the police’ means for Firefighters

Asking, again, for people to consider how vital Firefighters and Medics are in the long run, and how much they do for the community.

Because if you consider defunding the police, it will mean defunding the fire department.

That goes so far beyond a non sequitur that there isn’t a term in Latin, English, German or any other language.  Considering how many cops have perpetrated violence against fire fighters doing their jobs, I can’t fathom a reason for fire fighters to support cops other than corrupt unions and systematic and systemic racism.  And considering how many racist fire fighters there are, that doesn’t surprise.

3) Cities are claiming that “fire and police budgets are linked”

Sacramento is threatening citizens with an all-or-nothing proposition: “if we defund cops, we’ll defund fire departments”. They are using fear to intimidate people into supporting cops.

Sacramento City Council rejects call to ‘defund’ public safety agencies

The Sacramento City Council appears to be moving forward with a plan to redirect money from the city budget toward a new “participatory budget” fund.

However, it appears unlikely the council will reduce its public safety budgets to support the new fund, despite recommendations from a citizen committee and requests by some activists. The city’s two largest public safety unions sent a letter to the council on Tuesday opposing reductions to their budgets.

The city’s Measure U Community Advisory Committee recommended the council remove $15 million from the city budget to put into a new fund to allow the public to decide how to spend it. The committee suggested the money come from the police and fire budgets, or from money set to fund capital improvement projects and pay down debt.

Seattle is trying to kill people in BLM protests. The city refuses to sent ambulances to the CHOP area “without police backup”. Why would they need “police backup” when it is the cops who are shooting people, when BLM protesters have not perpetrated any violence?

If police are defunded, Seattle firefighters could face a new reality

In the early hours of Saturday, June 20, volunteer medics called 911 to inform dispatchers of a shooting in the Black Lives Matter protest zone known as CHOP. “We need an ambulance. He needs to go to the hospital,” one caller can be heard telling a dispatcher a little before 2:30 a.m.

For the next 20 minutes, a series of callers implored 911 dispatchers to help transport the victim. “He’s bleeding out on the table,” one caller said. “We’ll be there as soon as we can,” the dispatcher responded.

But dispatchers also made clear fire officials would not venture into the CHOP without a police presence. Instead, volunteer medics would have to carry the patient a block away to meet the ambulance.

New Jersey’s chief bootlicker/toady in the fire department also pretends that cutting police budgets in favour of fire and ambulance services is a “threat to public safety”. This while many fire departments have budget shortfalls and need money diverted away from egregious police budgets.

Council Members Say ‘No’ to Effort to Defund Police

Jersey City Fire Department Chief Steven McGill also spoke, saying that cuts to public safety are unwise at any time, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is exactly the wrong time to defund public safety,” he said, praising Fulop’s efforts to build professional departments that have created a safer city.

Where Modern Gaming Began: Ultima IV turns 35

Richard Garriott (aka Lord British) created the Ultima game series beginning with Akalabeth and Ultimas I, II and III. But it was his next effort, “Ultima IV, Quest Of The Avatar”, that would change everything.  Released by Origin Systems on September 16, 1985, it was a groundbreaking game then and remains one of the most influential today.

Ultima I, II and III were among the first “open world” computer games, with entire planets to explore, along with towns and even flying in space. But prior to Ultima IV, games were primarily “hack and slash”: read the background story, buy equipment, kill monsters, level up, repeat until you fight the final battle. In the days of minimal computer resources (e.g. 48KB of RAM and running off floppy disks), these and others like Elite were the most expansive games on offer.

Then Ultima IV came along. It didn’t just break the mould, it smashed the entire potter’s wheel. This wasn’t a game of killing and looting, because there was no “big bad” to defeat. It was a moral tale and adventure, about the player fulfilling the “eight virtues”, learning and deciding right from wrong. It changed game narratives and forced companies to create much more immersive gaming experiences, design realistic worlds to explore, write dialogue, storylines, give NPCs with far more depth.

The New Yorker: The Computer Game That Led to Enlightenment

The healer, as well as the sorcerer and his legion of resurrected bones, were little more than four-color graphics, crudely animated against the simple playing screen of the computer game Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, which is turning thirty-five this year. Compared with contemporary games, this two-dimensional adventure is an anachronism. From an aesthetic point of view, there is little to recommend it, save for the invigorating nostalgia that it induces in those old enough to remember the original. Nevertheless, the journey to fulfill my character’s spiritual destiny was starting to feel a little personal. Over video chat, the game’s developer, Richard Garriott, explained that this feeling was exactly what he wanted players to experience. “You yourself are the character—it is not an alter ego,” Garriott said. “It is your moral compass guiding their actions.”

[. . .]

Garriott was an avid player of Dungeons & Dragons and a compulsive reader of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy; he wanted his next game to feel like a living world with its own mythos and history. [. . .] By the mid-eighties, the phenomenon known as the Satanic Panic was reaching its peak, with many conservative and religious leaders viewing role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons as corrupting influences, turning young people toward witchcraft and violence. The mother of one Ultima player was so horrified by the image of a demon on the cover art for Ultima III—which Garriott told me is based on the devil Chernabog from the Walt Disney film “Fantasia”—that she sent a letter to Garriott, who was twenty-two, calling him “the Satanic perverter of America’s youth.”

It was the fan mail that set Garriott on a path toward reimagining what a computer role-playing game (C.R.P.G.) could do. In these letters, people described how they played the first three Ultimas, which were open-world games that did not require a linear path to complete, giving players the freedom to steal from shops or kill townsfolk. The letter writers explained, according to Garriott, that “the easiest way to gain power was not to play as a good guy.” He was despondent. “I inadvertently made games that drove the players to act dishonorably, as this was the path of least resistance.” What if, he wondered, there were a game in which your moral choices had consequences? He wanted the next installment of Ultima to reward honor and courage, and to penalize players for casual depravity. Garriott’s family and colleagues warned him that players might feel as if they were being punished for having admitted to enjoying robbing and murdering, but Garriott ignored them. “This was the art I was compelled to make,” he said.

More below the fold….

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A Feedback Loop Feeds Back: “Predictive AI” is predictably bad

A Florida sheriff’s office is repeatedly harassing certain families within a county, abusing authority and writing up people for false charges, filing multiple nuisance charges like “disorderly conduct” repeatedly against the same people.  He claims his “predictive AI” says certain people have committed crimes, so he’s targeting them.  That’s bad enough, but his false arrests are fed into that AI and used as “data” or proving they’re committing more crimes.

That’s not “evidence”, that’s self-fulfilling prophecy.  It’s the ignorant assuming they have knowledge when they don’t even understand how it’s supposed to work.

Everyone who reads this story keeps saying “Minority Report”, but I hated that movie.  I prefer to quote Arthur Conan Doyle from “The Sign of Four”:

You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician.

Predictions and trends are only guides, not proof.  And no matter how good a model, or how much you know about human behaviour, you cannot convict people for things they haven’t done.  A serial criminal who commits the same crime a hundred times still can’t be assumed guilty until you prove they did it the 101st time.  It is possible for repeat offenders to stop.

Some of those harassed in Florida have no criminal history or arrest record before this.

A sheriff launched an algorithm to predict who might commit a crime. Dozens of people said they were harassed by deputies for no reason.

  • A Florida sheriff’s office deployed a futuristic algorithm that uses crime data to predict who is likely to commit another crime.

  • In a sweeping six-month investigation published this week, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the algorithm relied on questionable data and arbitrary decisions and led to the serial harassment of people without any evidence of specific crimes.

  • According to the report, former sheriff’s office employees said officers went to the homes of people singled out by the algorithm, charged them with zoning violations, and made arrests for any reason they could. Those charges were fed back into the algorithm.

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I can imagine a conversation with a journalist going something like this:

Reporter: “Why did you arrest them?”

Sheriff: “Our AI said to because they were arrested before.”

Reporter: “Why were they arrested previously?”

Sheriff: “Because our AI said they would commit crimes.”

Reporter: “But what crimes did they actually commit in the past?”

Sheriff: “That doesn’t matter, this is about prevention.”

Reporter: “So you’re arguing that you can arrest people because you’ve arrested them before?  That your unjustified arrests in the past are justification for repeatedly arresting them in the future?”

Sheriff: “Maybe I should feed your name into the database.”

I was expecting Marcus Ranum to post this story first.

Another Has Passed: Shere Hite, 1942-2020

Shere Hite (November 2, 1942 – September 9, 2020) was a naturalized German citizen (born in the US), a sex educator and feminist.  Her book The Hite Report (1976) was a groundbreaking effort, focusing and advocating women’s sexual pleasure for the benefit of women.  Playboy (one of Bill Cosby’s favourite hangouts) referred to her as “Shere Hate”.

From the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University:

Author, sex educator, and feminist, Shere Hite is known for her groundbreaking research on female sexuality. From 1972 to 1982, she directed the feminist sexuality project for the National Organization for Women, New York Chapter. In 1976, she published her influential study The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality, which was based on anonymous responses to questionnaires in which women detailed their sexual experiences. She later published additional studies based on responses to questionnaires, including The Hite Report on Male Sexuality (1981), The Hite Report on the Family: Growing Up under Patriarchy (1994), and The Hite Report on Women Loving Women (2007), among others. Hite lectured internationally, became a regular columnist for several newspapers, and in the late 1990s, founded the Hite Research Foundation to increase the visibility and potential of women around the world.

I usually link to obituraries in the media, but all those I’ve seen about Hite are quoting known TERF trash Julie Bindel.

 

The One That Matters: Commemorating September 11th

One of the worst terrorist and political attacks in modern history occurred on September 11th, 1973.  The CIA overthrew Salvador Allende’s popular and democratically elected government in a country with a long history of democracy, replacing it with fascist and mass murderer Augusto Pinochet.

Democracy Now: Sept. 11, 1973: A CIA-backed Military Coup Overthrows Salvador Allende, the Democratically Elected President of Chile

September 11, 2003

We turn now to another September 11: September 11, 1973.

30 years ago today, the democratically elected President of Chile Salvador Allende was overthrown and died in a bloody CIA backed military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.

Pinochet oversaw the killing of at least 3,000 Chileans during a brutal 17-year military reign, which lasted until 1990.

The coup was backed by then-President Nixon and Secretary of State National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger. Salvador Allende was honored yesterday in a ceremony at the palace were he died 30 years ago.

In 1998, Pinochet was arrested in London on torture and genocide charges on a warrant issued by a Spanish judge. British authorities later released Pinochet after doctors ruled him physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.

ITV: The other September 11th: Families looking for answers 45 years after Chile coup

More below the fold.

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The Golden Hoard: A distraction-slash-feel good story

During the year I’ve been tracking which countries are doing better, worse, or are in complete crisis with COVID-19.  Most of those doing the best have been island nations, which makes sense since air and boat arrivals are bottlenecks, and it’s easy to test incoming people.  Land borders tend to be porous and it’s easier to spread.

Not all landlocked or bordered countries are doing poorly.  Four Southeast Asian countries, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are all doing well despite bordering countries in crisis.  But (to me) the most notable exception has been Mongolia, landlocked between Russia and China.  There are few more than 300 cases, 12 active, and zero deaths as of today.

Just because Mongolia has 8000km of border with the two neighbors doesn’t mean it’s easy to get in.  Much of it is mountainous or through the Gobi Desert.  Driving into Mongolia can be as dangerous as it is distant, so most travel in and out is either by rail or by plane.  Mongolia cut rail travel to Russia and China in February and as of June still blocked most air travel in and out.

As said above, airports are bottlenecks and so are train stations, making detection and monitoring a lot easier.  Starting in March, Mongolia began disinfecting trains every two hours and test passengers.  With more than 8000 passengers per day of domestic travel, it’s a reasonable measure.  They have also been disinfecting public spaces with sprays.  Thus far, they report only one local transmission, from a French national to another person.

Two of the main reasons Mongolia’s government took immediate action are its inadequate medical system and population centres.  A quarter of the population live in the capital, Ulan Bataar, which is also where most of the rail and air traffic pass through.  Many live in Soviet-era apartment buildings, poverty and cardiovascular conditions are common, so COVID-19 could spread like wildfire if it got into the population.

Fortunately the Soviet era paid dividend with a high literacy rate (approx. 95%) and with most having cellphones (many have smartphones), the dissemination of accurate public health information was as effective as it was here in Taiwan.  The Lancet has a good writeup on Mongolia’s success.

Technology Review: How Mongolia has kept the coronavirus at bay

Davaadorj Rendoo, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Public Health in Ulaanbaatar, explains Mongolia’s national strategy.

Mongolia shares the world’s longest land border with China, but its early and highly centralized pandemic response has been so effective that not a single person in the landlocked country has died from covid-19. A former army colonel turned public health official recounts how Mongolia enacted its extensive quarantine and testing regime under a state of emergency.

We first heard about a new virus spreading in China around New Year’s Eve. On January 10, we issued our first public advisory, telling everyone in Mongolia to wear a mask.

Here’s the thing: we don’t actually have a great public health system. That’s why our administrators were so afraid of covid-19. We don’t have many respirators, for example. We were really afraid that if we got community transmission even once, it would become a disaster for us. What was in everyone’s head was to be prepared before the spread. Another reason we were so keen to protect the community is because we have the world’s longest land border with China—2,880 miles [4,600 kilometers]—as well as continuous human flow for education and business from China to Mongolia.

Mongolia is a big country with a sparse population, about 3.2 million people. Because our country has a very harsh, dry, and cold climate, every year from November to February we have an awful flu season, and the Ministry of Health always encourages people to practice good hygiene and wash hands, especially young children. So many of our suggestions were not new.

[. . .]

We also opened a dedicated, 24-hour covid hotline. People were getting all kinds of wrong information from social media. One big hoax was that because Mongolians eat very healthily and live in traditional nomadic lifestyles, we would not get the virus and had a “natural immunity.” Another big one was that because it is cold and dry, the virus does not survive here, and it only survives in warm and wet climates. Today, even the majority of herders and nomadic people have satellite TV with solar energy, so they can still access information.

[. . .]

We don’t know how long the state of emergency will last. Some of our highest officials have said we will close our borders indefinitely. We cannot take anything for granted. In Japan, they lifted restrictions and the virus came back. Until the end of this summer, we are not easing quarantine at all. But schools will have to start in September. What we still recommend every day to the public is to stay ready, because community transmission might be just around the corner.

Dr. Rendoo may not be very confident in his country’s ability to cope with the disease, but credit to them for not wasting time and doing everything right.  Cheap prevention wasn’t hard.

The UN, in typical fashion, is more concerned about “the economy” and “debt”.  If their concern were Mongolia’s (and other countries’) long term well being, they would be calling on creditor nations and the World Bank to forego servicing of debt.  Instead, like most others, their focus seems to be on “reopening”.  This is likely because, like Bolivia in South America, Mongolia has large quantities of mineral resources that other countries want.  Mongolia has a flawed democracy, mostly free but heavily weighted toward one party, making corruption a problem, both internal and external.  They had national elections in June 2020.

Did You Notice? : There’s more than just the headline

I’m sure by now others have heard the story: Cheetolini talked to Bob Woodward in March about COVID-19, at a time when there were less than 20,000 cases and about 500 dead.

He knew how dangerous it was.  He “played it down”.  He knew people would die.

Trump Admits Playing Down Coronavirus’ Severity, According To New Woodward Book

President Trump acknowledged the deadliness of the coronavirus in early February and admitted in March to playing down its severity, according to interviews with the president that are included in a new book by legendary reporter Bob Woodward.

“This is deadly stuff,” the president told Woodward in a Feb. 7 conversation, according to the book, which is called Rage. “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”

But at the time, Trump was publicly saying that the virus was less of a concern.

And yet, this isn’t the part that bothers me the most.  CNN is also covering the story, and they included recordings between Woodward and Cheetolini.  Listen to Cheetolini talk.  He doesn’t sound like an incompetent buffoon.   He sounds perfectly in control.

‘Play it down’: Trump admits to concealing the true threat of coronavirus in new Woodward book

President Donald Trump admitted he knew weeks before the first confirmed US coronavirus death that the virus was dangerous, airborne, highly contagious and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” and that he repeatedly played it down publicly, according to legendary journalist Bob Woodward in his new book “Rage.”

“This is deadly stuff,” Trump told Woodward on February 7.

In a series of interviews with Woodward, Trump revealed that he had a surprising level of detail about the threat of the virus earlier than previously known. “Pretty amazing,” Trump told Woodward, adding that the coronavirus was maybe five times “more deadly” than the flu.

Trump’s admissions are in stark contrast to his frequent public comments at the time insisting that the virus was “going to disappear” and “all work out fine.”

This is the second recorded excerpt found on the CNN page.  He does not sound like someone who could barely pass a cognitive test:

Woodward: And so, what was President Xi saying yesterday?
 
Cheetolini: Oh, we were talking mostly about the uh, the virus. And I think he’s going to have it in good shape, but you know, it’s a very tricky situation. It’s –
 
Woodward: Indeed it is.

Cheetolini: It goes through air, Bob. That’s always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch, you don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.

And so, that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than your – you know, your, even your strenuous flus. You know, people don’t realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?

Woodward: I know. It’s much forgotten.
 
Cheetolini: Pretty amazing. And then I say, well, is that the same thing-
 
Woodward: What are you able to do for –

Cheetolini: This is more deadly. This is five per- you know, this is five percent versus one percent and less than one percent. You know? So, this is deadly stuff.

I want to know why Woodward sad on this for six months instead of making this public and saving lives.  Careerism and selling a book?  Agreed to sit on it?

Justice Denied: Again and again and again

The US military occupies many countries; I mean, it has bases and installations in many countries around the world.  Any in many of those countries, the behaviour and actions of their members is ranges from appalling to criminal.  The incidents in Japan alone are shocking and repetitive with no end in sight except when bases are removed.

I lived in South Korea from 2001 until 2005, and was there in 2002 when the “Yangju highway incident” happened: two of the US military ran over and killed two 14 year old girls.  Some say intentionally.  Instead of being arrested and tried in a civilian court, the US whisked them out of the country, protecting them from prosecution.  At a farcicial court martial whitewash back home, they were deemed “not guilty” of manslaughter.  They were never returned to South Korea for trial, and the families never received justice, compensation or even the decency of an apology.

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

There are a handful of US naval bases in the Philippines, one of them at Subic Bay, roughly 100km northwest of Manila.  In 2014, a marine named Joseph Scott Pemberton committed a gruesome murder of a Filipina named Jennifer Laude.  He met her for sex and went to a hotel in Olangapo City, outside Subic Bay.  After realizing she was Transgender, he strangled her along with brutalizing her in other ways.

Although Pemberton was arrested and tried for the crime, the US military pressured the Philippine government into undercharging him with manslaughter.  (Under Obama, rembember; Benigno Aquino III was Philippine president at the time.)  Pemberton was sentenced to only ten years.  Even more appalling, on September 1 2020 it was announced he is “released for good behaviour” after only five years and eight months.  He will be allowed to leave for the US instead of being transferred to a civilian prison as was planned.  And since he has no criminal record within the US, his conviction in the Philippines won’t follow him.  He got away with a hate crime.

Court orders Pemberton’s early release on ‘good conduct’

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 2) — A local court ordered the release of Joseph Scott Pemberton, the US Marine Lance Corporal convicted of killing Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude in 2014.

According to the September 1 decision of the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court’s Branch 74, Pemberton should walk free for good behavior.

Pemberton has served a total of 2,142 days or over five years and eight months in prison, but the court credited to him a good conduct time allowance of 1,548 days or more than four years. This yields an accumulated jail time of 10 years, one month, and 10 days, the court said.

“Thus he is now entitled to be released for he had already served the ten (10) year maximum of his penalty,” the order, signed by Presiding Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde read. The Court of Appeals initially sentenced Pemberton up to 12 years of imprisonment, but this was later reduced to a maximum of ten years.

This is not justice.  This is one cowardly thug president kowtowing and capitulating to another.  The message is clear: US military members can continue to rape and murder with impunity, just like cops back home.  Small wonder US cops recruit from the military.

It also sends a clear message that Philippine courts can be bought, that they view Transgender people as being worth less than cisgender people.

Words Matter: Dictionary.com updated its lexicon

In a rare bit of good news, Dictionary.com has added, updated, and amended its definitions of many words, most notably those describing LGBTQIA people.  Language doesn’t just describe, it is used to characterize both positively and negatively.

Dictionaries, like libraries, should be professional and unbiased, above and outside of political ideology.  They should be a reflection of people and society, not an extension of government nor an “authority” of what belongs in society.

“Asexual,” “Deadname,” “Biromantic” and More Added to Dictionary

The dictionary is queerer than ever.

On Tuesday, the website Dictionary.com announced that it is adding 650 new words to its glossary, in addition to revising over 11,000 existing definitions in its search engine. The update — which the site says is its largest-ever — reflects changing vocabularies around race, sexual orientation, gender, and mental health, and several new entries comprise terms pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community. These words include “ace,” “asexual,” “biromantic,” “deadname,” “gender-inclusive,” “trans+,” and “Pride.”

For instance, the newly added search result for “biromantic,” an adjective, refers to an individual “who is romantically attracted to people of two specific and distinct gender identities, as both men and women,” according to Dictionary.com.

[. . .]

“The work of a dictionary is more than just adding new words,” explained John Kelly, a senior editor at Dictionary.com, in a statement. “It’s an ongoing effort to ensure that how we define words reflects changes in language — and life.”

The numerous revisions are designed to put “people, in all their rich humanity, first,” Kelly added.

Kory Stamper (LitHub) wrote in 2017 about the changing definition of marriage.  Although lexicographers are educated enough to understand the need for change, her essay demonstrates part of the problem of dictionaries: not changing “accepted” definitions until there is a critical mass that requires it.  Definitions should change when societies change, even when it’s the tiniest minority.

How a Dictionary Got Into the Marriage Equality Debate

I ducked my head back under my arm and tried to be as Zen as possible, but curiosity got the better of me. I clicked the link and was taken to a clip from The­ Colbert ­Report. “Folks,” Colbert began, “turns out my old nemesis is back.” As he pulled a Collegiate up onto his desk, I maneuvered the mouse over to the pause button and jabbed violently. Noooooope, I thought, no, I can’t watch this. Not after the last two weeks. But the screen had frozen at an odd point, and I felt slightly uncomfortable staring at a grimacing Stephen Colbert. I relented. I slid my glasses up to the top of my head and rubbed my face vigorously. My forehead throbbed where I had been pressing it to my desk.

Colbert was finishing up a joke about “zymosan” when I focused on the screen again. He was saying that we had changed the definition of “marriage,” and added a new meaning: “the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage.” This was true. “That means, gay marriage,” he explained. “I’m beginning to suspect that Merriam and Webster were conjugating more than just irregular verbs.”

I snickered. It had been the first honest laugh I’d had in a while.

[. . .]

Lexicographers like to justify our existence by saying that words matter to people, and that the meaning of words matter to people, therefore lexicography­ matters. This is only a bit of a lie: if a word matters to a person, it’s most likely because of the thing that word describes and not because of the word itself. Sure, everyone has a word (or a handful of words) that they adore because they love the sound, the feel, the silliness or silkiness of the word; I defy anyone to say the word “hootamaganzy” aloud and not immediately fall in love with it, regardless of what it means.2 But scanning through the top lookups on any dictionary website shows that most words that interest us do so because we are unclear about the thing to which they are applied or we want to use the definition to run a litmus test on the situation, person, event, thing, or idea that that word was used of.

We know this bit of behavioral trivia not because this is innate knowledge lexicographers have about how people interact with their dictionaries but because of Internet comments. As dictionaries have moved online, lexicographers have developed a direct connection with users that they’ve never had before. The one thing that is most striking about all these comments—good, bad, ugly, and uglier—is that lots of people are really interacting with language in the etymological sense, expecting a mutual and reciprocal discourse from the dictionary definition.

Isolated Case: The murder of Daniel Prude proves it isn’t.

By now those paying attention all know about the murder of Daniel Prude last March and the similarity to the murder of George Floyd.

Floyd was murdered by strangulation in Minneapolis.  Prude was murdered the eaxct same way in Rochester, 1600km away and eight weeks apart.

That tell me these murders weren’t perpetrated by “lone wolves” or “bad apples”.  It tells me this form of torture and murder has become “standard training”, and cops are being encouraged to use it.

You have to wonder where US cops learnt this.

How many other similar murders have gone unreported and mislabelled as “accidents” or “self-inflicted”?  It’s reminiscent of murders during South Africa’s apartheid era that were labelled “natural causes” and “heart attacks”.

Half Measures: Now what about the false arrests and convictions?

California’s senate has passed a bill that will ban the torture and abuse of wrongly placing Transgender women in men’s prisons.  It is highly likely governor Gavin Newsom will sign it and become law.

This is barely a start, not the end of the problem.  Now what about corrupt cops harassing Transgender people?  What about false charges?  What about false accusations being believed by cops (the attacker accusing the Transgender person they were attacking)?  What about biased judges who impose their bigotry upon their jobs?  What about false convictions and false imprisonment?  And what about legalizing sex work for the few who earn their living?  What about cops who falsely accuse Transgender women of “prostitution” because they were carrying condoms?  There is so much more that needs to be done.

California Passes Historic Bill Ending Incarceration of Trans Women in Men’s Prisons

Senate Bill 132 is headed to the desk of California Gov. Gavin Newsom after passing the state legislature on Sunday.

The bill’s author, State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), celebrated its passage following a two-year effort to enact the proposal. He noted that trans female inmates are “at severe risk of assault and sexual victimization because they’re automatically housed by their birth-assigned sex,” especially transgender women of color, and said this vulnerable population should be “housed where they’re safest.”

Transgender people should not be forced into isolation because they aren’t protected where they are forced to live,” he said in a statement. “They should be able live by their gender, and SB 132 will allow for that outcome.”

TERFs will undoubtedly be upset.  They want Transgender women housed with men because they want harassment, assaults, rapes, and murders to happen.  If their actual goal were “protecting biological womyn!” they would be advocating Transgender-only wings in jails and prisons.

But they don’t.  They demand placing Transgender women in with predators because they know what will happen.

The Old Drunk Fell Down: Good riddance

Protesters in Montreal worked to bring down the statue of John A. MacDonald, the first Canadian prime minister.

Activists topple statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in downtown Montreal

A group of activists toppled a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Place du Canada in downtown Montreal on Saturday afternoon in the aftermath of a protest calling for the defunding of the police force.

A handful of people climbed the monument, tied ropes around the statue and held up banners before unbolting it and pulling it down. The falling statue’s trajectory caused the head to fly off and bounce onto the cobblestones below. A video posted to social media captured the moment.

Good.  People may wax poetic about MacDonald as a “father of confederation”.  But the reality is he was a drunk, a racist, and a perpetrator of genocide against the First Nations people.  His treatment of Canada’s indigenous people, the lynching of Louis Riel, Chinese immigrants (the racist “Chinese Head Tax”), his taking of bribes among other crimes makes him a national embarrassment.

Here is what Sir John A. Macdonald did to Indigenous people

Of course, all this was happening in an era that was comparatively brutal almost everywhere

“I have reason to believe that the agents as a whole … are doing all they can, by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense,” Macdonald told the House of Commons in 1882.

It’s one of the most damning quotations ever attributed to Macdonald. And yet, in the parliament record it’s immediately followed by an even more damning comment as the Liberal opposition benches accuse Macdonald of not starving Indians enough.

“No doubt the Indians will bear a great degree of starvation before they will work, and so long as they are certain the Government will come to their aid they will not do much for themselves,” said David Mills, who had served as minister of the interior under the Liberal government of Alexander Mackenzie.

[. . .]

When Macdonald took office for the second and last time in 1878, the plains were in the grip of what is still one of the worst human disasters in Canadian history.

Dustbin Trudeau has spoken out against the improvement of the statue, blathering about history and glossing over their actions.  The writer linked below mentions Dustbin’s own participation in that glossing, but his own father’s crimes are going to be topic matter in the next six weeks with the fiftieth anniversary of the October Crisis.

Licia Corbella: Is Trudeau worried about cancel culture coming after his father’s legacy?

Here’s a damning but accurate opinion piece on MacDonald:

Ten crimes of John A. Macdonald

  1. Founded Canada on stolen land
  2. Criminalized abortion
  3. Criminalized homosexuality
  4. Used of starvation as a weapon
  5. Created a repressive police
  6. Expanded capitalism
  7. Promoted residential schools
  8. Outlawed the potlatch
  9. Imposed a racist head tax
  10. Executed dissidents

Time’s Up: The end of an era in Formula 1

Motorsports aren’t an atheist issue and it’s horrible for the environment.  But if others can talk about blockbuster movies….

I have been a Formula 1 fan for decades, since the days of Gilles Villeneuve.  And at that time when I became a fan, the Williams F1 Team of Frank Williams was only in its fourth season, about to win its first World Championships (both the driver’s and constructor’s).  So as a fan, it was sad to hear this week that the Williams F1 Team has been sold to a US investment group for €152 million.  For the first time since 1969, there will not be a member of the Williams family on the F1 grid.

This was inevitable.  Frank Williams is 78 and in failing health, which is saying something considering he spent the last 34 years as a tetraplegic after suffering a broken neck in a car accident, his teams winning seven constructors championships after the accident, including the year of his injury.  He was always a driven man, pardon the pun.  His daughter Claire Williams replaced him as team principal seven years ago. The investment group gave her the option to remain as team principal but she chose to step down.

The team’s failing fortunes are not her fault, but as the team fell further back on the grid, sponsor money becoming harder to find and no upturn in sight, the only options were selling the team or continuing into bankruptcy.  I would rather see the team in new hands with a chance of turning things around (e.g. McLaren, Stewart, Honda) than for a historic name and team to end up collapsing from debt (e.g. Arrows, Shadow, Tyrell, Ligier/Prost, Penske, Toyota).  The resurgence of McLaren and Racing Point (formerly Force India) and dominance of Mercedes (formerly Honda/BrawnGP) give the team and fans hope.

Williams Family Steps Back From F1: What Does The Future Hold? (youtube)

The Story Of Frank Williams: Triumph And Tragedy (youtube)

BBC: Formula 1: Sir Frank Williams and Claire Williams step down from Williams team

Sir Frank founded Williams in 1977 and turned it into one of the sport’s most successful teams.

But after a series of difficult years, the team was sold to US investment group Dorilton Capital last month.

Williams and his daughter Claire, the deputy team principal, are stepping down.

The team have won nine constructors’ championships and seven drivers’ titles, and dominated large portions of the 1980s and 1990s.

But their last win at a Grand Prix was in 2012 and for the past two seasons they have finished last in the championship. Financial losses last year led to the Williams family seeking new investment, and that in turn has led to them leaving the team to make way for new management.

Claire Williams said: “With the future of the team now secured, this feels like the appropriate time for us to step away from the sport.