Cold Comfort

Many millennia ago, a full 275 years BT, an insightful composer once wrote the immortal words,

All we like sheep.

And as true as it is that we all find delight in ovine innocence and playfulness, it is perhaps time to update this ancient sentiment to something more of our moment. I suggest

All we like Janelle Shane.

Should you doubt, you have only to read her new short story in the online science fiction magazine, Strange Horizons.

A short story in such times as ours may seem insufficient. To that notion, I say, Beep. And yet more unexpectedly, Beep.

Syntax and Science Writing

Okay, I know it’s basically a press-release aggregator, but I still check in on ScienceDaily.com from time to time. Today, I found this and couldn’t stop WTFing.

A team of transatlantic scientists, using reanalyzed data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, has discovered an Earth-size exoplanet orbiting in its star’s habitable zone, the area around a star where a rocky planet could support liquid water. [emphasis added]

Now I’m going all kooky with images of a scientist named Talos who is 12,000 miles tall with one foot in Noordwijk, Netherlands and the other in Greenbelt, Maryland.

 

Random Nonsense I’ve Been Thinking & Writing

Something was going through my head reading about Mad Mike’s rocket crash, but after reading a commenter on Wonkette say that flat earthers should be banned from accessing satellite (including GPS) services and data, I was finally motivated to put my thought in words:

Technological estoppel

That should be a thing.

In other randomness, I’ve also recently been thinking

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Gender Neutrality is Wrong … Sometimes

Okay, so this is a quick note for those folks who aren’t completely turned off by pedantry and appreciate thinking more deeply about gender. If you ain’t both, this probably isn’t for you.

When “gender neutral” was first used in the context of trans* advocacy, access to bathrooms was probably a driving motivator of the language. In this sense, “gender neutral” is reasonable: the bathrooms themselves might easily have little to nothing to do with gender, including (importantly) things that humans tend to project gender on to even when they are not in any way associated with any particular human. So “Gender neutral” began largely communicating the idea of having no gendered connotations whatsoever – the sense we’ll use for the rest of this brief note. Bathrooms in the home are generally gender neutral in this sense, though we could certainly make a bathroom communicate femininity or masculinity by decorating it in particular ways. Still, when one tenant moved out, presumably those gender signifiers would also go: so, at least intellectually, we can separate the gender neutral bathroom from the gendered decor.

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The context doesn’t matter

It is said that there are times we laugh because we dare not weep. The times right now are shockingly serious, though as serious as all this is, there’s plenty that Trump gives us to laugh at. So here I’m going to share a quote from today’s public appearance by Hair Furor. Trump actually said this, as part of some press-conference answer that he thought would actually help him. Of course, the context doesn’t even matter. This is just for the lulz:

Yesterday somebody asked me a question and I gave an answer, but always in the form of corruption.

 

The Transcript Isn’t A Transcript

The White House said it was going to release a transcript of the phone call between Trump and President Zelenskyy of the Ukraine. They’ve now released a document, but the document itself gives us a pretty strong warning that should give us all pause about how this disclosure is being reported:

CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion. The text in this document records the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty “Officers and-NSC policy staff assigned t_o listen.and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place. A numper of factors can affect ‘the accuracy of the record, including poor telecommunications connections and variations in accent and/or interpretation.

The word “inaudible” is used to indifate portions of a conversation that the notetaker was unable to hear.

Nonetheless, USA Today gives us this:

Trump administration releases transcript of call with Ukraine’s President Zelensky amid impeachment inquiry

CBS News gives us this:

Trump call transcript shows he pressed Ukrainian president to probe Biden — live updates

CNBC’s article is headlined:

Trump authorizes release of transcript of controversial Ukraine call that mentioned Joe Biden

And no less than that vaunted bastion of journalism, the NY Times writes their headline without any ambiguity:

Transcript: Trump’s Call With the Ukrainian President

Forbes, of all sycophantic outlets, is actually the voice of reason and caution here, despite calling the document a “transcript” in the headline:

Trump’s Ukraine Transcript Reportedly Won’t Contain Entire Conversation

What Forbes says is actually a fair summary of the problem

President Trump said he would release the “complete” and “unredacted transcript” of his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president Wednesday, but multiple reports state that what gets released is unlikely to be word-for-word, per longstanding White House rules.

  • According to Reuters, White House rules on phone calls between the president and a foreign leader would likely mean a transcript would be put together from notes taken by several U.S. officials who listened in.
  • The note-takers are typically National Security Council or Central Intelligence Agency officials.
  • The final official document of a phone call can range from what looks like a word-for-word transcript, a memo or a short summary.
  • And the Washington Post reported that Trump is unlikely to have tape recordings of the phone call. Recordings have not been made since the 70s.

So when you hear that a “transcript” has been released, don’t believe it. Maintain your skepticism. There may very well be no recording back to which we can compare Trump’s document and every single person involved in the preparation of the document we do have answers solely and ultimately to Trump. If in conversations with others who refer to it as a transcript, it might be useful and appropriate, depending on context, to correct the “transcript” language of the person or persons with whom you’re speaking.

And if they doubt you, refer them right back to the official warning on the actual document released:

CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion.

 

 

 

For Your Enjoyment: How do you solve a problem like The Donald?

Apropos of nothing, I happened to dash this off today:

He’s got a favorite word, it’s “Me!”
His list of values starts with Greed.
He grabs any woman’s ass
Thinks gold leaf equals class
And underneath his toupee
you’ll find half an idea per day
He loves the bible so much he made a golden calf!

He never shows up for briefings
His intellect is surreal
He’s always insulting or grifting
Save when you bring the child his Happy Meal™!

I hate to have to say it
But I very firmly feel
The Donald’s not an asset to the world…

Gorka and Miller still think he’s good,
and looks fine in a starched white hood!

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AI Sportsball: Release the Kraken!

One or both of my readers my remember my long time fondness for the work of Dr. Janelle Shane, an optical physicist who delights in exploring the capabilities and limitations of neural networks – computer systems that attempt to identify what certain words or images have in common and then generate novel members of the inferred set. While she has used neural networks for many delightful things, this week she has literally used it to release the Kraken!

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Six Dead Women, One Dead Trans Person

In the aftermath of the Elliot Rodger murder spree in Isla Vista, California, many people wanted to attribute his violence to mental illness. In fact, we had no evidence1 that Rodger had any mental illness known to cause violent behavior, much less that a specific illness did cause that behavior in Rodger’s particular case. On the contrary, we had plenty of evidence that Rodger’s violence was motivated in significant parts by racism and sexism, sexism directed outward at others and racism internalized, contributing, by turns, to an entitlement he articulated to be as a result of being half white and feelings that his failures were due in part to being the child of one Asian-American parent.

We know this because he ranted about it. He ranted about race, he ranted about gender, he ranted about sexual interactions, and he ranted about heterosexual norms and expectations. And he did so in both written form and a video created not long before his murders and death. His words alone are sufficient evidence to believe that sexism and racism played very significant contributing roles in causing his violent behavior. But some people, attempting to stamp down the crazy-blaming arguments that Rodger must have been mentally ill and that this mental illness must have caused his murders, cited things that weren’t actually true. In one particular case, cm’s changeable monicker moved – nobly! – to correct one particular mistake (made by ck):

 ck @#596:

[…] the six dead women in this story did absolutely nothing wrong, and realistically couldn’t have done anything that would’ve deserved this. Maybe I’m missing something, but I think that the only thing we can do for these women now is to try to find some way to prevent this from happening again.

I can’t let this pass without noting that four of the ‘six dead women’ were, in fact, men.
(This lack of attention to, you know, facts drives me up the wall. I’m sorry, but there it is.)

This (however well intentioned, and of course I think it was well intentioned), contributed to anger I had already been feeling over the relentless certainty that cis* people seem to feel every time there’s one of these mass murders that we can be sure of the genders of the persons involved. In fact, we can’t. The media will inevitably erase trans* victims in the future as they have for as long as media have existed in the past. I was more than merely frustrated with this cissexist certainty that no one shot by a mass murderer could possibly be trans and that everyone killed must have a straightforward and easily understandable relationship to society’s gender categories that will inevitably be accurately and completely reflected in their government-issued IDs (a certainty that I in no way mean to imply was merely cm’s, no it also manifested in ck’s and nearly every other person writing about Isla Vista at the time). And so in response I wrote:

Yes. Facts. It’s a fact that four of the ‘six dead women’ were reportedly men.

And, again, I’m not pissed off at cm’s changeable monicker so much as I’m pissed off at the relentless confidence that we just fucking know no trannies were killed. It’s just so easy to be sure that the victims, no matter how many, will all belong to one or at most two genders. Couldn’t possibly be any other way.

I’m fucking tired of it. Mostly I’m just fucking tired of people not seeing that **you can’t end misogyny without substantially taking on and eroding trans* oppression**.

How, precisely, will misogyny end if there are still only 2 permitted genders?

How will you police the boundary of woman without sneering at women who don’t know their place?

What will you do when no woman is murdered unless and until she violates some gender taboo?

Be content? Really?

Fuck every single comment in any of those Isla Vista threads that pretended for half a second that we “know” the genders of the victims – any or all. No matter what help they did or didn’t provide on this or that sub-issue, every single comment that took that shit for granted is part of the fucking problem.

If you can’t give a shit about the trannies, at least give a shit about the excuses trans* hatred gives to murderers of cis women.

How’s that for a feminist manifesta?

So, what makes me bring this up now? Because my magical powers of prophecy have been validated, again. In the Dayton mass shooting the killer was said to have killed his sister. This was widely, widely reported. But it turns out that he didn’t. Instead he killed his trans sibling who was not a sister, and was very probably a brother given his preference for masculine pronouns. And yet the media reported otherwise anyway, erasing the true nature of Dayton’s loss. Splinter News was responsible for first reporting this:

Accounts from friends and social media profiles belonging to a victim in last weekend’s shooting in Dayton, OH, whose name was previously reported as [X X], indicate that [X] was a transgender man who went by Jordan Cofer and used he/him pronouns.

It’s entirely understandable that the reporting was wrong. Cofer’s legal name was given out by police, and the police gendered Cofer in a manner congruent with Cofer’s legal sex as recorded on government ID. Moreover, Cofer had feared mistreatment by family and discrimination at school, and thus was mostly closeted in relation to those groups of people, people that reporters would seek out first for information on a shooting victim. But the fact that this is understandable doesn’t undercut my point. The fact that it’s easy to see how mass media would get this shit wrong, especially in the reporting frenzies that are guaranteed after a mass shooting, means that we should be more skeptical of media reported genders (and, frankly, races).

In this case, (at least according to Splinter) an account linked to Cofer tweeted his brother, his murderer, hours before the shooting rampage and Cofer’s death. This means that his murderous brother had at least some info related to his masculine identity before the killing. We don’t know, and Splinter specifically does not suggest that we have, enough information to say that this even might plausibly have been a hate crime, much less that Cofer’s murderer was definitely motivated by anti-trans* bias. But we do know that Cofer was scared of the reactions his family might have to his masculine identity, name, and expression. Therefore, when we who know that this type of protective response to cissexist family (a closeting, a closing off of information about one’s trans* identity and experience) is common, and when we know records kept by the government are done so in a manner that invisibilizes trans* experience, and, finally, when we know that media will rely on these two sources of information about gender first and foremost, we can only conclude that accepting media accounts of victims’ genders uncritically inevitably leads to permitting cissexism to erase the lives a murderer has ended.

As Splinter says:

People can debate about whether the fact of his gender identity is newsworthy. What is clear, though, is that his friends are free to remember him as they knew him.

The trans community also has a right to account for its dead. [emphasis mine]

Although we don’t know that Cofer was murdered because he was trans*, we do know that some trans* people are. Continuing to treat as reliable media reporting of the genders of persons who cannot speak for themselves means that some murderers will gain accomplices in both the media and its consumers – that means you – in accomplishing the ultimate goal of violent cissexism: the erasure of trans* existence. When a murderer kills a trans* person and the media reports that trans* person’s gender as if it were certain and simple and cis, the media does not merely allow this act of violent erasure. No, the media in reporting erroneous gender actively completes the violence to a trans* life begun by that murderer.

Unless you own a newspaper or TV station or other outlet, you can’t control whether the media you consume participates in violent anti-trans* hatred in this way. But you can actively resist the cissexist certainty that no victim could possibly be trans*, that we must assume cisgender even in the face of certain knowledge that the media can make gender errors and does make gender errors all the time.

Don’t participate in the erasure of Jordan Cofer. Don’t participate in media cissexism. Don’t make the violent erasure of trans* lives any easier than it already is.

 


1: At the time – remember we’re speaking about what happened “in the aftermath”. I also know of no information now, but I haven’t done research on Elliot Rodger to see if anything has changed since then… it’s really not relevant to the point I’m making.