Remember social events?

There is this meme floating around Facebook — sorry I can’t show it to you, because I don’t care — that puts up four movie franchises, like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, & Marvel, and asks you to pick only three. I enjoyed seeing all of them once, but sheesh, enough, I don’t particularly want to rewatch any of them, I’m not particularly interested in seeing any of them continued, I don’t need any spin-offs or alternative universe series (Star Trek did that, hated it, Marvel is apparently planning to play games with the time line, I hate that too). Give me something fun and creative that does not expect me to get invested in the next movie that will come out. That’s all I ask. I have simple tastes. Show me a monster from outer space eating spaceships, I’ll contentedly buy a ticket and eat my popcorn. I don’t need to know there will be a monster from outer space eating spaceships II. It’s actually a bit of a turn-off because I know executives somewhere are drooling over piles of cash and planning more without concern for the quality, and by the time we get to monster from outer space eating spaceships VII it’s going to be dreck intended to shear the sheep still lining up to see it. Or, inevitably, it will be bought by Disney. So just stop. Please, for the love of gods, I don’t need to see another Spider-Man or Batman origin story, OK?

But I do love going to the movies. Always have. I’ll go see whatever is playing at our local movie theater, which I hope manages to weather the pandemic. It’s been closed for a year now! I’ve had my vaccination, which will kick in with full immunity in about 6 weeks, and once the theater reopens I’ll be there every week, and I won’t care much what is playing. This video ramped up my nostalgia.

The drone pilot is really, really good, but it’s also a great perspective on just going to the movies. Also, it was recorded in Plymouth, MN, a suburb of Minneapolis — I’ve been there, but not to that particular theater. Now I want to go to the movies, any movies.

The same pilot also made a similar video of Bryant-Lake Bowl — I have been there, multiple times. I even gave a talk in the little auditorium attached to it, and I’ve been there for one of Rebecca Watson’s quiz shows, which were held as part of Convergence. It’s a great place, a center of community, where people get together to relax, have fun, drink beer, and talk.

I want that back. I want it back sensibly and safely, though (note all the mask-wearers). I’m not an extrovert, but I still would like to hang out in communities of my fellow ape-creatures, quietly, just sitting back and savoring the vibes.

By the way, we’re slowly coming back. I see that Convergence is planning an in-person con in Minneapolis on 5 August, which should be OK — we’re all supposed to be vaccinated by then. I might still be a little nervous about attending, so I’ll play that one by ear. Skepticon is playing it safe and will be an entirely on-line con on 13 August, which is reasonable — they would have had to book the venue at about the time the pandemic was peaking (which does make me wonder where Convergence acquired all that confidence).

Ethics in Journalism

It’s getting hard to find, and apparently you won’t find it at the NY Post. They ran a sensationalist, titillating story about a NY paramedic who also opened an OnlyFans account to try and make ends meet, sneering at her “racy” content (curiously, also including a few “racy” photos for those who read the NY Post), and ending with a quote from a veteran paramedic who “blasted” her for her choice of a side job, and a quote from the website of her employer that forbids “inappropriate conduct”. The story is clearly trying to stoke Puritanical outrage and get her fired.

Well, Lauren Caitlyn Kwei has fired back at the “journalist”.

Lauren Caitlyn Kwei
December 14 at 7:35 PM ·
Over the past 3 days, my life and the intimate details of it have been made public for millions of strangers to read and judge. There are many people telling me what they think I should do and giving me advice I did not ask for. Let me be very clear: I did not want the NY Post to run this article, much less use my name. When Dean Balsamini first “interviewed” me, he did not tell me what this was about until after I disclosed most of my background. He did not include in his article that I started crying on the phone when he finally did tell me what he was inquiring about. He did not include that he played this “friendly guy” reporter who just wanted to get MY side of the story, since ya know, they were gonna run it anyway, with or without my input. I know my actions have consequences and I know some of you think I was naive. I truly believe whoever “tipped” the post does not know me personally because anyone who knows me knows the kind of person I am. Let me tell you who I am. This is me.
I’m twenty-three years old and from a small town in West Virginia. My mother’s family is from northern West Virginia and my father’s parents were immigrants from China. I am the eldest of 4 children and our family was one of the only mixed race families in my predominately white town. I graduated from Winfield High School in a class of 200, the largest at the time. During high school, I was active in show choir, GSA, NHS, and dance classes. I moved to NYC when I was 18 to pursue my lifelong dream of being on broadway. I completed AMDA, started auditioning, and then decided it wasn’t for me anymore. So I became an EMT. I worked as an EMT for a year then I quit because I couldn’t put myself through paramedic school on minimum wage. I went back to hosting at a restaurant to make ends meet while I worked a year through paramedic school, which was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I graduated paramedic school in February of 2020 and have been working ever since. I struggled a lot during the height of the pandemic. I was suicidal a lot of this year. I had panic attacks at work and even had a supervisor tell me I should consider another profession if I didn’t grow a thicker skin. I am a damn good paramedic. I LOVE my job and I love taking care of people. I don’t want to quit my day job and get my bag on OnlyFans — I want to serve the city of New York. That’s all I have ever wanted to do. I have always believed in using my voice to speak for those who many not be heard I was raised to ALWAYS show kindness and compassion. The NY Post gave me a voice. So here I am, showing myself to the world. I’m here to tell you all that my First Responder brothers and sisters are suffering. We need your help. We have been exhausted for months, reusing months old PPE, being refused hazard pay, and watching our fellow healthcare workers die in front of our eyes, in our ambulances. At least three NYC EMS workers died by suicide this year and there has been very little action about the lack of mental health care accessibility for first responders. EMS are the lowest paid first responders in NYC which leads to 50+ hour weeks and sometimes three jobs. My brothers and sisters DESERVE CHANGE! Visit emspac.org for a Mission Statement and to see how you can help. How’s that for a story, NY Post?!
Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart for your donations, support, and love. I am so thankful and plan on using this platform to voice the needs of my NYC EMS family. This is just the beginning, folks.
Lauren Caitlyn Kwei

The real story is that young people all across the country are struggling to make a living and are particularly hard hit by this pandemic, even as the rich prosper even more. It is especially tragic that health care workers are made to suffer most even as we need them most. You don’t get to decry individuals making choices about how to earn an income while simultaneously supporting a system that demeans and diminishes their choices, while also setting irrational priorities that harm society. Who hurts us most, a woman taking her clothes off on camera or a billionaire sucking out all the wealth of a nation?

Oh, and fuck the NY Post.

Nice worm

So, there’s a new movie version of Dune coming out, and the preview just dropped.

One catch: the book is unfilmable. I will be stunned if this turns out decently, but I’ll probably watch it anyway, if movies exist then.

Hey! What’s Paul doing with Spiderman’s girlfriend? Let’s see how effective his killing word is against a web-slinging wall crawler — I’m there for that, for sure.

The Scots version of Wikipedia is written by an American teenager

An American teenager who, by the way, doesn’t speak Scots. They copy Wikipedia articles written in English and use a dictionary to change a few words here and there, and they’ve been doing this at such a steady pace they’ve churned out tens of thousands of articles and hundreds of thousands of edits, and are the sole author on about a third of that version of the wiki.

The problem is that this person cannot speak Scots. I don’t mean this in a mean spirited or gatekeeping way where they’re trying their best but are making a few mistakes, I mean they don’t seem to have any knowledge of the language at all. They misuse common elements of Scots that are even regularly found in Scots English like “syne” and “an aw”, they invent words which look like phonetically written English words spoken in a Scottish accent like “knaw” (an actual Middle Scots word to be fair, thanks u/lauchteuch9) instead of “ken”, “saive” instead of “hain” and “moost” instead of “maun”, sometimes they just sometimes leave entire English phrases and sentences in the articles without even making an attempt at Scottifying them, nevermind using the appropriate Scots words. Scots words that aren’t also found in an alternate form in English are barely ever used, and never used correctly. Scots grammar is simply not used, there are only Scots words inserted at random into English sentences.

Wow. As a kid, this person must have stumbled into Wikipedia editing, discovered a formula for getting credit as an “author” by rote copying, and then turned it into a matter of personal prestige. He probably thinks he’s making a legitimate contribution, but it’s “simply English, spelled poorly, likely intending to resemble a stereotypical Scottish accent.”

This is my problem with Wikipedia, and why I tell students it’s not an acceptable source for their papers. The lack of professional oversight means some people’s enthusiasms take over and are used as a substitute for expertise, and you can never be sure when that has happened, so you have to double- and triple-check everything the wiki says — you can use it in an initial exploration, but mainly to pluck out additional sources and rely more on authenticated publications.

This is the first I’ve heard of such wholesale fabrication, though.

This is going to sound incredibly hyperbolic and hysterical but I think this person has possibly done more damage to the Scots language than anyone else in history. They engaged in cultural vandalism on a hitherto unprecedented scale. Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites in the world. Potentially tens of millions of people now think that Scots is a horribly mangled rendering of English rather than being a language or dialect of its own, all because they were exposed to a mangled rendering of English being called Scots by this person and by this person alone. They wrote such a massive volume of this pretend Scots that anyone writing in genuine Scots would have their work drowned out by rubbish. Or, even worse, edited to be more in line with said rubbish.

Now I’m wondering what Wikipedia will do about this massive vandalism. Are they just going to rely on crowd-sourcing the cleanup? Will they even try to do a cleanup?

Bioethics has teeth

I told you that He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who had been carrying out gene editing on human subjects, was doing bad science and violating lots of ethical restrictions. I was right, obviously, because he was immediately repudiated and arrested by the Chinese government. You might be wondering what happens if you break the rules of bioethics — isn’t it all just an agreement between peers not to meddle in experiments that might cause trouble for each other? Well, now we know: He Jiankui has been tried and sentenced. He’s being fined over $400,000, and is going to prison for three years. Two of his colleagues are also going to jail. They’re also going to get a lifelong ban on doing scientific research with human subjects.

This isn’t just Chinese totalitarianism at work, either. It’s the same in most places.

Robin Lovell-Badge at the Francis Crick Institute in London told the UK Science Media Centre that a prison sentence and fine would also have been the likely penalties if someone had conducted similar work in the UK.

Maybe not everywhere, though. The people who carried out the Tuskegee syphilis study were not punished; the doctors who were paid to tell the public that smoking was safe were not punished; Andrew Wakefield is still roaming free, and is even making movies to spread disinformation; you can lie all you want about climate change. Jiankui seems to have picked the wrong victims, or lacked the corporate backing, to make his violations of human rights ignorable.

P.S. I think a hefty fine and a few years in prison would be the minimal punishment for Wakefield, who is responsible for the deaths of who knows how many children.

You can’t go back again in Star Wars

I have really good memories of the first Star Wars, back in 1977, and the latest installment made me rethink them. What genuinely thrilled me in the first movie was that it was like nothing else out there — it was strange, it was original, it was an odd mashup of a fantasy novel and a space opera, it was…creative. It was also epic and heroic and all those good things.

But here’s the problem with that: you can’t get that enthralling sense of newness and surprise if you keep going back to the same material again and again. At the same time, the corporations running the game don’t want to gamble, they want to milk the same cow ten thousand times. You can walk into this new Star Wars movie and enjoy yourself because it is comfortable and familiar and rehashes the old tropes yet again, and that’s fine — it’s just like that new Scorsese movie, The Irishman, because it is like every other gangster movie that’s been released in the last 40 years. Great, if that’s what you want.

If what drew you to Star Wars in the first place was the novelty and creativity, though, it’s not here. This movie has the Hero-Discovers-They-Had-Royal-Blood-All-Along. It has the Villain-Who-Is-Redeemed. It has the Overwhelming-Evil-Force-With-One-Itty-Bitty-Weak-Spot. It has the Battle-In-The-Throne-Room, while Space-Battle-Seems-To-Be-Doomed going on at the same time. It has Porgs…and Ewoks! It is McDonalds and KFC and Burger King, the old reliables that produce the same thing everywhere and everytime, but will never ever astonish you. It’s been commoditized.

I was actually getting pissed off and disappointed during this movie, because it totally lacks any creativity or unexpected shocks. It’s as if JJ Abrams went through all the old entries in the Star Wars universe, picked out all the memorable themes, dumped them into a blender, and poured the resultant slurry out on a tray and served it up to the audience confident that they’d recognize the scraps of the old flavor and love it. And he’s right. People will eat it up and make the corporation lots of money. I shouldn’t be disappointed, because this movie wasn’t made for me. Sometimes people want formulaic nostalgia, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Except…there is reason to be worried. The dominant forces in science fiction entertainment are Star Wars, Star Trek, and Marvel Superhero movies, pure comfort food that provide little intellectual stimulation. We have to hope the flood of money pouring in for the predictable and familiar encourages them to take an occasional gamble on some weird one-off like Annihilation or Arrival or Watchmen.

We also have to hope the good ones don’t get coopted into long-running mega-franchises, because all that can happen with that is that they’ll be run into the ground and turn into deep furrows that limit originality. In art, death is good, opening the doors of change and inspiring new ideas, so let these series die. I fear, though, that now that the Evil Empire of Disney has seized control, Zombie Star Wars is going to be revived and walk the earth forevermore.

Call to arms, Minnesota!

I got a letter from the Minnesota Science Teachers Association. It seems there is some skullduggery going on to undermine our state science standards, from the Minnesota Rural Education Association. Well, cool: I’m an educator in rural Minnesota, but I know nothing about the MREA. I’m sympathetic to the idea of an organization that opposes/complements those elitist tyrants of the Twin Cities <shakes fist eastwards>. So what does the MREA want?

Minnesota Science Teachers and Citizens:

Science education in Minnesota is at a crossroads. As the Science Standards Revision Committee works to produce a new set of state science standards, the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) is going to the state legislature this session in an attempt to reword statute 120B.023 thereby diluting the quantity, quality and rigor of the state science graduation requirements. Their proposed wording to the statute would still require biology and either chemistry or physics, but would reduce the current third science credit to a set of electives that does not require that “all academic standards in science” be met. This essentially removes earth and space science standards as part of the graduation requirements already in state statute 120B.024 (4) (ii.) and would allow districts to choose what science standards they will or will not teach.

If we, as science educators and citizens, want our students to receive a balanced, comprehensive background in all science disciplines, i.e., be scientifically literate, it is essential that you act now.

Below are samples of letters/emails that can be reworded or used as is and sent to your state representative and state senator. (These letters are also attached as a Word doc to this message.) Your voice must be heard or our new state science standards will be reduced in rigor and merit. Hand-picking which benchmarks will be taught in our schools harms science education for all students. A strong response from science teachers and citizens will tell the Legislature that our students deserve the best science education possible.

Go to https://www.leg.state.mn.us/ to find the names and e-mail addresses for your state representative and senator.

Please e-mail your state representative and senator as soon as possible. Be sure to include “Don’t Cut Science Education Standards” in the subject line. Thank you for your continuing efforts to provide our students with a quality, comprehensive science education.

Shorter version: they want to change the standards to allow high school students to focus narrowly in meeting their science requirements, and also want to open school districts to allow them to decide what science to teach. The first part I’m already disinclined to support because public school educations are already general enough — I’d rather they get a solid overview of multiple disciplines, because I care more about a broad background than that students get to ignore geology or chemistry if they want. As for the second part…I don’t trust rural school districts that much. State standards are there to make it harder for schools to compromise.

But OK, let’s be fair. What does the MREA say about their own plan?

MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan encouraged the state to amend the benchmarks statute 120B.023 that states, “Schools must offer and students must achieve all benchmarks for an academic standard to satisfactorily complete that state standard” by adding that high school students must meet the benchmarks in biology, physics or chemistry, and one elective set of benchmarks from the following: physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences or engineering, or technology and the applications of science. Schools must offer at least two of these elective sets of benchmarks.

So currently, high school students should take biology, physics, and chemistry, and one of a defined set of electives. The MREA would like to change that to an or, and let the schools decide what the additional science elective ought to be. Why? They don’t do a good job of justifying the change.

Minnesota faces a well-documented skilled-worker shortage and Minnesota Academic Standards currently hold high schools back from providing the education and training needed to effectively prepare students for their future jobs. Today’s system operates on a one-size fits all approach for students no matter their plans after graduation.

Ugh. Education as a purely vocational enterprise. No, thank you. I have a lot of respect for good vocational training, but that’s not what public school should be about — it should be about giving citizens a broad, basic background knowledge so that they’re better informed, and know better what they want to do with their life after schooling. No matter their plans after graduation, students should have at least a rudimentary understanding of science (and art, and history, and language, etc.) Focusing on JOBS is counterproductive.

I also find it weird that they say they’re concerned about a skilled worker shortage, and their solution is … to teach less science? Strange. I think there must be other motives they aren’t talking about.

The MnSTA provides some sample letters for Minnesotans to use if you want to write to your rep. I’ll include them below the fold.

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A Puzzle for Humanism

I should start by saying: unlikely my previous posts, this isn’t properly a book review. The major ideas in the discussion spring out of Kate Manne’s book Down Girl: The Logic of Mysogyny. I do give a general review of the book over on Goodreads; TL;DR: The book is excellent, timely, and thoughtful; people should read it. Manne illustrates a particular problem that I think is worth raising on this blog, given the discussions of ethical positions around humanism, feminism, Atheism+, etc.

Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” is one of the most widely cited phrases in public ethics and social justice, but it is often egregiously misused. Somewhat famously, Chelsea Clinton cited it in discussion of a man casually committing a horrific act of violence; political scientist Corey Robin was quick to point out that this is not the way Arendt was using the phrase. Documentarian Ada Ushpiz has similarly pointed this out in criticizing Eva Illouz. To gloss over these longer responses there, the dialectic goes like this.

Many folks think that “the banality of evil” refers to the attitude of indifference towards humans by the person causing harm; the idea that evil can be regarded as banal by the person committing the evil act because they have dehumanized the victim. This is the wikipedia gloss on Arendt’s view, butthe focus on dehumanization actually gets the point entirely (and dangerously) wrong.

Manne points out, as Arendt did as well, that many callous and casual acts of violence are not the result of dehumanization of the person against whom one directs the violence, but rather the result of paranoid or vindictiveness. The effort to dehumanize Jews holds far less prominence in Nazi thought than the thought that Jews were manipulating the political state of affairs, exploiting gentile Germans, and the like. It was not regarding them as inhuman, though there are tropes that track dehumanization, but rather the paranoia around “the Jewish Question.”

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