Riffing on Reprobate Spreadsheet: Womanhood Edition

So, you should read RS for the new post up on the incoherence of TERF philosophy and/or ideology, it’s well done. But I want to single out and emphasize one particular bit. HJ Hornbeck excerpts a Medium article credited to a number of folks1 and proceeds to challenge it on a number of points. While I don’t have more than a few quibbles with what HJ wrote, HJ acknowledges that there is much more that could be challenged than was covered in the Reprobate Spreadsheet analysis. This is a place where a bit more of that challenging will happen.

Here, I want to emphasize a point that HJ made briefly that I believe could use more attention, add a couple of points original to me, and then allow you to get more from HJ’s original analysis. Here is the section I wish to reanalyze, a smaller portion of HJ’s first excerpt2:

the view that the category of ‘woman’ is correctly defined as ‘adult human female’. Biological essentialism is a position about whether certain traits of women are biologically produced by sex category membership. Womanhood itself is not a genetic ‘trait’ and no-one on either side of the dispute thinks it is conceivably biologically produced in the way that, arguably, emotional intelligence or maternal instinct is supposed to be.

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Feminist Perversions: Sea Shanty Edition

Right then. A little while back Cat Mara on WeHuntedTheMammoth came up with the idea of WHTM-themed sea shanties:

[W]hat would a blog’s comment section be but a mutual admiration society? Why else would people come here and leave comments if they didn’t like the other people doing so? One could just lurk, or read the articles posted on the main page passively through an RSS reader. It’s not the Army. We didn’t enlist; we weren’t pressganged…

At least I wasn’t. If David approached any of you in a seedy waterfront bar and said, “aaar, I be formin’ a blog and be in need of trusty hands to work the bilge in the comments, will ye take me shilling?” you’d tell me, right? Are there shanties? Tell me there are shanties!

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They Are All Up In Your Constitution, Winning Your Rights

Careful reader of this blog may remember that I consider the greatest legal genius in history to be Charles Hamilton Houston. If you don’t know who he is, well, read a book because a blog post alone won’t do it. Okay, fine. I’ll give you a bit to get started.

This is the one person more responsible than any for Brown v Board of Education (Topeka, Kansas) and the success of legal efforts to end segregation everywhere in the US. This is the one person who had not merely the legal success to argue and win that case before SCOTUS (he didn’t, as he had recently died: that was his little-known protege, Thurgood Marshall), but rather the nearly incomprehensible foresight necessary to plan literally decades ahead.

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“It’s Always Men”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was beat up by a baseball team yesterday, rhetorically. The team’s management wanted to show some right-wing propaganda and show some they did. Displaying a video prepared by others that included shifting images illustrating a Reagan speech, the team’s stadium screen showed pictures of AOC, Kim Jong-Un, and Fidel Castro while the Gipper’s voice said, “Enemies of freedom”. It would, of course, be bad enough if the three faces were all elected officials who belonged to the Democratic Party, but grouping AOC with Kim and Castro was particularly bad.

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Hell is Hope Hicks

As you may already be aware, the NY Times just published an Maggie Haberman essay on Hope Hicks’ most recent dilemma: should she break the law (again) or should she obey the requirements of a congressional subpoena?

The NY Times and Haberman advertised the article on twitter this way:

Now, some took issue with the glamour photo shoot that the Times commissioned for this piece. To the extent that criticism has any validity, it’s not about merely displaying a photo of Hope Hicks, it’s about the fact that they clearly spent significant resources in order to craft an artificial image that comports with Haberman’s editorial depiction of this former Trump aide (and those critiques that mentioned the photo without including this more detailed objection run the risk of communicating an anti-feminist message that what is important in media coverage of women is the photo shot editors choose to run). The lavishing of resources emphasizes the PR function of this effort; it is, in short, not a news story.

And yet, this wasn’t featured in the Times’ lifestyle section. It was featured in “Politics” which, when it is not overt opinion (which should be confined to the OP/ED pages anyway), is supposed to be news. So what is the news story here?

That leads us to the other criticism that many have already made: choosing to comply or not comply with a legal order is not an existential question any more than choosing to print up a few million dollars’ worth of counterfeit bills. Both lawyers and philosophers (mainly ethicists) took issue with this ridiculous and inaccurate description, so it’s not surprise that I, too, found it risible. The philosophers mainly focussed on the misuse of “existential questions” in a way that Sartre would have found condemnably ignorant even if it did tend to validate his assertion, “Hell is other people.” The lawyers had a different take, not so much emphasizing the “existential” part, but focussing rather more on the “question” part. One lawyer, Max Kennerly (@MaxKennerly), put it this way:

Most existential questions have no clear answer. What is my purpose in life? What happens after I die? Is there a higher power guiding my destiny? Does my dog have a soul?

Other “existential questions,” however, are answered by 2 U.S.C. §§ 192 & 194. Compliance is mandatory.

Yet, despite my laughter when I read that and my sympathy to those who would call out the Times for bad philosophy and bad law, my most significant problem with this story and the promotional tweet is neither of those. Instead, read this tweet from Sam Wang @SamWangPhd:

“Should a federal employee obey a lawful order, or stay loyal to an individual? Here at @nytpolitics, we can’t say. It’s just all a partisan game! We’re not going to make a value judgment! We have great portrait photographers though.”

The NY Times isn’t doing something new in this story. They are treating compliance with the law as entirely optional for the rich and well connected even as other stories, say, stories about a famous woman who went to jail for defying a subpoena, don’t include the same PR efforts or gosh, who can say whether it’s fair that someone obey a subpoena support for lawlessness as the Hope Hicks profile.

The Times is doing what the times always does: it’s opposing accountability for the rich and powerful who have the most motive and opportunity to destroy US democracy, while insisting on strict accountability for those who break the law in a principled stand on behalf of what they believe to be a necessary resistance to the subversion or destruction of democracy. Thoreau-like, I can believe that Manning subscribes to the maxim

“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

But the proper response for those of us on the outside is not to scream, “Yeah, lock her up!” at democracy’s defenders and, “Let’s all sympathize with the lawless,” as they attack that democracy. Believing that we have reached the point where the true place for a just trans person is in prison is not to believe we have accomplished something wonderful that must be perpetuated.

The anti-democratic limits on acceptable discourse accepted and propounded by the Times must be opposed. The Times and Haberman and her editors are not worthless and thus irrelevant. The magnitude of this mess is only appreciated by accepting that the Times has an impact on the policies and practices of justice (and other things) and have great value to those that benefit from advancing the Times’ skewed view of proper accountability. Ignoring the Times is not a principled and logical and effective way to deal with their anti-democratic trolling. Instead, the Times must be countered each and every time they embrace the ideology of an accountability-free elite. We must never forget that the Times isn’t portraying the Trump administration as wise and sympathetic philosophers because they are working honestly or even diligently to divine the best possible response to problems of Gordian convolution and unsolvability. The upper ranks of the Times (including Haberman and her editors) are portraying the Trump administration as wise and sympathetic philosophers because they, too, believe themselves better off in a world without accountability for the US elite.

This ideology must be opposed wherever it presents itself.

 


Although I originally titled this “Hell is Hope Hicks” I later thought that perhaps it would be better titled, “Hell is the New York Times”. Ultimately I decided not to change it, though there are certainly reasonable critiques of making Hicks the focus of the title when the main critique is not of Hicks’ disdain for the law (which exists and is critiqued in passing), but instead the NY Times advocacy of disdain for the law – or at least advocacy for the idea that we must consider disdain for the law to be a reasonable position which might be reasonably held by reasonable people in a democracy.

The Zebrafish Go To Eleven

One or both of you may already know about https://aiweirdness.com. It’s a site of GARGANTUAN fun, run by Janelle Shane (Ph.D., I presume, though the site only mentions her Ph.D. studies. It doesn’t specifically say she received the degree and I know too many people who are ABD). Her day job is in optics research (probably playing with lasers, because don’t all those optics researchers play with lasers? Don’t they?), but in her spare time she

train[s] neural networks, a type of machine learning algorithm, to write unintentional humor as they struggle to imitate human datasets.

She’s done quite a lot of this from her places of residence and work, located on the occupied territory of the Arapahoe nation. She’s had computers create heavy metal band names. She’s had them write backstories for Dungeons & Dragons characters. Perhaps most successfully, she’s had them create names for racehorses (most successfully because racehorse names never make any sense, so it’s pretty difficult for a computer to foul up the task). She even attempted to go against type and have a neural network write intentional humor in an experiment where she fed the neural network the text of a large number of jokes and then had the network output its own. The results were NOT fractal. On one level of analysis, the results were clearly predictable. Yet on another level of analysis that clearly did not hold true:

What did the new ants say after a dog?
It was a pirate.

On the other hand, I feel the neural network might have paid me a compliment and/or summed up the inevitable aftermath of every single Jurassic Park movie:

What do you get when you cross a dinosaur?
They get a lawyers.

Important safety tip: Don’t cross the dinosaurs.

“But wait!” you exclaim if you have developed object permanence. “Wasn’t this all supposed to be about zebrafish?”

Why yes, astute reader. This post was and is all about zebrafish. You see, the most recent effort by Dr. Shane was to train networks to take the title of a list and the first few items on a list and then complete the list. For instance, in Olympic events, the 9th place medal is the Sigil of Destruction. Still, that’s better than finishing 11th and getting City Pollen. Shane also experiments with cake ingredients and anniversary gifts, but there is nothing the neural nets love so much as animals. Indeed it gleefully listed its favorite animals, if I am not gratuitously anthropomorphizing. (Fact Check: I am gratuitously anthropomorphizing.) Here you have the favorite animals of neural net GPT-2:

1. Giraffes
2. Maize
3. Polar Bears
4. Pigeons and Giraffes
5. Cats and Warthog
6. Javanese Canines
7. Tiger Teeth
8. Black Swans
9. Alligators
10. Basilisks

and, of course, number

11. Zebrafish

 

 

 

Trump Would Rather Have His Racism Than $20 In His Pocket

So, when redesigning the US$20 bill, the treasury department took a poll on the best person to next be depicted. You may remember that Andrew Jackson, the genocidal maniac who was critiqued by other slave holders for how cruelly he treated his slaves, graces your US twenties right now. Since the US has been notoriously bad at featuring women on its currency and since the new bill was due to come out in 1920, the anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the US, and because US citizens have more sense than the government, the person selected to honor the new bill is Harriet Tubman… except the men couldn’t have a white guy replaced by a Black woman, so the new design was to keep Jackson, but move him to the reverse side of the 20 while putting Tubman on the front.

Creating a new bill is a time-consuming task, not least because after the old one has been out for a while, counterfeiters will have learned to mimic most of the features and the new bills, in addition to being durable in water, somewhat more tear resistant than most papers, and meeting US consumers’ subjective expectations that a bill seem “official” and not feel plasticky (which implies “fake”), new anti-counterfeiting techniques need to be designed into each new bill. Even when the person featured in the portrait does not change, the bills themselves do every so often and updating the counterfeiting countermeasures is a significant part of that. For this reason, the Treasury is literally in a constant state of research and development of new features that can be built into any new bills.

This time round, however, Steve Mnuchin, the US Secretary of the Treasury, has just told congress that despite the long lead time and the overwhelming poll support for Tubman, she will not appear on the $20 bill in 2020. Instead, Mnuchin suggests, 2028 is a more likely date. This would extend the current design to 25 years of use. We are already at 16, and the previous record for the longest use of a single design is about 15 years. In 2017 Mnuchin suggested that the Treasury might not release Tubman on the 20 because consumers become attached to particular persons on particular bills. This rationale was given despite the fact that the decision had already been made to keep Jackson’s image on the bill, if on the other side. But now, in 2019, Mnuchin has just announced that due entirely to needing to develop new anti-counterfeiting techniques, Tubman’s image cannot appear when originally intended.

The whole thing stinks, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Take a moment to think and you’ll realize that even if no new anti-counterfeit measures were ready to be placed in the 2020 series bill, changing the design and keeping the current measures is better at challenging counterfeiting than doing nothing at all. So why delay?

The real answer we can only guess, but I have three good ones: 2020 is a Presidential election year, and not only does Trump idolize Jackson, but I think he’s also afraid that his racist supporters will be furious at him if his treasury department releases a $20 with a Black woman on it – no matter how many white men are on it with her. If enough of his supporters are racist (a reasonable proposition), then pissing off the racists will hurt Trump’s chances at reelection.

And so here we are, we can’t have nice things because

  1. Trump idolizes a genocidal maniac who embarked on the ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples from the areas of US territories that were recognized states during his term, and generally from any economically valuable land,
  2. Trump’s supporters are too often racist to risk the US government promoting the picture of a Black woman during an election year, and
  3. Trump is his own racist supporter who doesn’t want to see a Black woman’s face on “his” money.

It’s amazing how Trump can combine the most obscenely consequential power grabs with the most trivial and petty exercises of that power.


PS. And will the Democrats call this out for the racism that it is? Of course not. We’ll get a few comments about how it’s disappointing that 100 years after the ratification of the 19th amendment we still have never had a woman’s portrait on US paper currency during a federal election in which women were entitled to vote. But they certainly won’t say anything about racism, or even about how Mnuchin’s assertions are literally irrational.

 

Pi = 3.2 says committee that is surely not at all drunk

Right, so. Many people here will have heard about Indiana’s attempt to legislate the value of pi. This was quite a long time ago, mind, but it’s still funny. I was just reminded of this by the delightful Pharyngula commenter Jaws. It inspired me to re-read an article from a couple years ago – before I started this blog. The story about the legislation is funnier than I remembered it.

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