I get email

I don’t usually get proud Trumpsters writing to me, so this was novel.

You are a narrow mind twit. Liberal minded which proves that you are uneducated in real world topics.
Are you gay or a transgender?
Science has proven these people are indeed mentally ill.
Gays and T’s are most definitely immature, selfish and vindictive.
Yet you write in favor of these misfits. The issue with this is you bash conservatives as if you have the right concept about these issues.
Americans voted for Trump. Time you accept that. We have been the so called silent majority.

Key word: Majority.

The argument “because Trump” isn’t particularly persuasive with me, for some reason.

I also feel like pointing out that Trump didn’t win the popular vote, so you’re not a majority…especially since his popularity is in free fall right now.

Erasing women from media

Someone has made a de-feminized version of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Why? I don’t know. There are people who enjoy making fan-edits of popular movies, but this one…its sole explicit purpose is to remove women from it, to remove and minimize central characters simply because they’re women. I guess the motivation has to have been that he resents the autonomy of half the population of the planet, and also has a lot of bigoted opinions about women.

It’s very strange. There are people out there who just hate other people for their sex and sexuality. It’s a sad sick world with people like that in it.

Here are the editor’s change notes. They say so much about him.

The Last Jedi: De-Feminized Fanedit (aka The Chauvinist Cut)

Specs: 1280×720, x264, 46 minutes, MP3 2.0 audio

Basically The Last Jedi minus Girlz Powah and other silly stuff.

It would probably be easier to make a list of things that were kept instead of things that were changed. Hardly any scene got away without cuts.

The resulting movie is (wait for it …) 46 minutes long.

Yeah I know, it’s not ideal. It’s made from a CAM source (the most recent HDTC one with the Asian hard subs, which is pretty watchable). It has issues. But it had to be done.

You will probably enjoy it most when you view it less as a blockbuster movie and more as some kind of episode from some non-existent mediocre Star Wars series.

Here’s a short rundown of changes (spoilers! full list in description.txt):
– No whiny/reluctant/murderous psycho Luke.
– NO HALDO! She simply doesn’t exist. Her whole subplot doesn’t exist. The Kamikaze is carried out by Poe. ( = Poe dies.)
– Leia never scolds, questions nor demotes Poe.
– Lea dies. Kylo kills her.
– Kylo is more badass and much less conflicted and volatile.
– Kylo takes on more of Snoke’s guards, Rey struggles with a single one.
– No bomber heroism by china girl in the beginning.
– No Canto Bight.
– No superpowered Rey.
– Luke is not a semi-force-ghost and is smashed by the first laser cannon shot. (sorry, I just had to!)
– Phasma is finished after the first blow by Finn. (Women are naturally weaker than men, she isn’t force-sensitive, and we know nothing about any exo-skeleton in her suit)
– Asian chick speaks less, doesn’t bully Finn, Finn doesn’t try to escape, she is never formally introduced. She is just there and occasionally smiles at Finn or screams “Finn!”. She has no sister. Serves her right for all the heinous stuff she did.
– Lots of little cuts reducing the number of female facial shots. Too many to count. (Pun intended.)
– Quite a few scenes rearranged so that the flow of the shortened movie is still somewhat coherent.

Obviously it’s far from perfect. The source is not even on DVD-level. Some of the technical edits were slacked because why not, it’s a CAM source (e.g. some masks and Snoke disappearing). Sometimes there’s an extreme zoom despite the mediocre quality. There are plotholes and continuity errors and some cuts are not as smooth as they should be, especially audio transition-wise. But for what it’s worth, it can now at least be viewed without feeling nauseaus about most of the terrible big and small decisions they made in this film. Also, at least the intro sequence is now very watchable and actually much cooler without all of Leia’s nitpicking. Now it’s all one united Resistance fighting without inner conflict and that’s much more satisfying to watch. Due to the extreme shortening, the whole movie is much more fast-paced now, at times unfortuantely also rushed due to a lack of usable filler footage

There’s also the implicit racism (“china girl”, “Asian chick”). I guess he actually hates a lot more than just half the planet.

Guys. Guys. You should be terrified of this new development.

You know all these accusations emerging about how famous (or not so famous) men are harassing and abusing and ignoring boundaries and being world-class jerkoffs? Some of you are not being dissuaded at all. I’m suspecting that you might be thinking that being an inconsiderate ass is kind of macho, or maybe you’re just oblivious to the idea that trampling all over a woman’s dignity is a bad thing. Welp, you ought to read this explicit,
detailed description of a bad date with Aziz Ansari
. She spills the beans about everything. It’s very TMI.

But here’s the deal. Yes, this woman is explaining how Ansari ignored all of her requests to stop, from gentle hints to clear “NO”s, and awkward attempts to extricate herself from the ‘date’. But again, maybe you don’t care about her desires. But here’s what ought to stop you cold, even if you are a card-carrying member of the MRA/caveman/gorilla school of sexual encounters.

Grace reveals, in cringe-inducing detail, that Aziz Ansari is bad at sex. Clumsy, bumbling, childishly-demanding, needy, with weird quirky behaviors that no one wants to hear about. She doesn’t do it in a vindictive way, either: she’s just objectively reporting what Ansari tries to do on a hot date.

Your performance is being evaluated by outspoken women who won’t be shy about broadcasting everything to the whole wide world. Especially if you’re incapable of respecting them.

Association with a sex worker should not be a criminal charge

Adam Lee has a good take on the “believe women” trope.

The call to “believe women” isn’t an assertion that women’s claims ought to be held to a less rigorous standard of evidence. It’s a rejoinder to the sad reality that, for most of history, women were held to a more stringent standard than men and their claims were reflexively disbelieved.

It’s also not a claim that women are incapable of lying. It’s just that, in general, you should trust that people are mostly telling the truth, unless you’ve got good reason to doubt them, and being female is not one of those reasons.

Which means that when a porn actress, Stormy Daniels, says she did not have sex with Donald Trump, you should believe her, barring any solid evidence to the contrary. It is a non-story. At its worst it might be a tale of consensual sexual interactions between two people, one of whom is sleazy and repellent (it’s not Daniels I’m talking about)…but as long as it’s consensual, it’s only their business.

This is nothing but an attempt to harm Donald Trump, an activity I might approve of, by associating him with the unfair disrepute of sex workers. All it can do is further damage the standing of sex workers in general and Stormy Daniels in particular, to no good end.

And really, in a single week in which we’ve got Trump flaunting unmitigated racism and another rambling, incoherent, arrogant interview in the Wall Street Journal, don’t we have better things to do?

The kitchen as a metaphor for the war against the patriarchy

Remember Mario Batali’s clunky apology for harassment that included a pizza dough cinnamon roll recipe? We found it hard to believe how inappropriate and off-key the whole thing was.

Welp, someone made the pizza dough cinnamon rolls. It’s beautifully angry. Everything about it — the sloppy, incomplete recipe, the bad combination of pizza dough and a pastry, the terrible result — is a bitter metaphor for the institutionalized sexism women have to deal with all the time. I thought the apology was bad, but now I’m sure the celebrity chef is bad, too.

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.”

[Read more…]

Memo to James Damore

Guy. Guy. Guy. This is ridiculous. Your 15 minutes are up.

The Internet

Damore is suing Google.

The author of the controversial memo that upended Google in August is suing the company, alleging that white, male conservatives are systematically discriminated against by Google.

James Damore was fired as an engineer after the manifesto, which questioned the benefits of diversity programs and suggested women may be biologically inferior engineers, was widely passed around the company. In a new lawsuit, he and another fired engineer claim that “employees who expressed views deviating from the majority view at Google on political subjects raised in the workplace and relevant to Google’s employment policies and its business, such as ‘diversity’ hiring policies, ‘bias sensitivity,’ or ‘social justice,’ were/are singled out, mistreated, and systematically punished and terminated from Google, in violation of their legal rights.”

You know, women only hold 17% of the tech jobs at Google. Conservatives control the federal government. Most of the top executives at Google are men. Google is currently being sued for wage discrimination against women. How can you possibly argue that men are being oppressed?

Also, the memo that got you fired was a crock.

Innocent even after found guilty

Now I’m getting chewed out for questioning the innocence of Jerry Sandusky.

The best response is this one:

So..in cases of sexual assault we can now add “found guilty at trial” to the list of kinds of evidence that are unacceptable in making any judgements on the accused. Got it.

Quick! Reopen all the molestation cases against Catholic priests! Those boys be lyin’!

If you’re multicellular, you can’t help but be mosaic

I quite liked this article by Emily Willingham on the male/female brain: she points out something that is obviously true, that individual brains are a complicated mosaic of traits, and that you simply can’t reduce all of the variety to a simple binary.

Humans want tidy patterns, to have things link up neatly and make sense. Our brains strain to make these connections whether they are genuine or not. What’s more difficult is looking past illusory patterns and thinking more deeply about what we’re really seeing. As tempting as it is to collapse a human’s entire being, including the brain, into a single term – male, female – an honest look at how we really behave makes such reductionism look shallow, at best.

The most observant among us manage this in-depth examination. These acute observers are not the scientists, who can be remarkably myopic and rigid within their corners of research, but the storytellers. You can’t tell a good story about people if you’re not a keen observer of human behaviour, and it’s in our storytelling traditions that we find example after example of an inherent if unconscious understanding of the mosaic brain.

It was good, but the article didn’t go in the direction I expected it to go — I guess I’m more reductionist than I thought. When I started reading about brains being a mosaic of different properties, I first leapt to the idea of epigenetic variability in the regulation of of “male” and “female” genes. (Isn’t that where you go, too?)

Here’s the deal. You know that there is this beautifully intricate process called X-chromosome inactivation, or dosage compensation, in which individuals with more than one X chromosome epigenetically shut down most of the genes on all the additional X chromosomes. It’s a really cool process — think about it, the molecules involved have to count chromosomes, and I don’t understand how they do that — but it’s also leaky. About 15% of the genes on the X chromosome escape inactivation, by unclear mechanisms. And further, some of those genes are variable in how frequently they escape inactivation.

For a given gene, escape from X inactivation is not necessarily consistent between individuals or between tissues and/or cells within an individual. A comprehensive survey in human confirms the original observation that some genes only escape X inactivation in subsets of cells. Interestingly, many genes (∼10% of X-linked genes) behave in this manner, resulting in potentially variable expression levels between female tissues and individuals. Whether, in turn, this generates female phenotypic variation is an interesting possibility that remains to be explored. Partial or variable escape from X inactivation is in agreement with progressive incorporation of genes into the X up-regulation/X inactivation systems once the Y paralog degenerated.

Female brains are literally mosaic in their patterns of gene expression — some cells will have one X chromosome active, others will have the other X chromosome switched on, and further, there is a random pattern of genes on the X chromosome that are variably silenced, and different patches of the brain will use different alleles.

And guys, don’t think you can escape this phenomenon: epigenetic regulation is simply a little bit sloppy, and so your brains have random inactivation of some undetermined set of regulated alleles. It’s not as simple as having a boy set of genes and a girl set of genes that are uniformly and universally working in a predictable way in every brain.

But that’s only adding to Willingham’s points. Male and female are clearly insufficient labels to pigeonhole the complexity of the human brain.

By the way, if you want to see the inverse of this argument, take a look at this inane tweet.

Among sexually-reproducing multicellular organisms, nearly every species has two distinct gamete types (“anisogamy”).

Female: big, cytoplasmically rich, sessile.
Male: small and mobile.

That is true. If only we could reduce human beings to single reproductive cells, the gender binary would be valid. Unfortunately for their perspective, it isn’t. Our brains are not single-celled gametes, and I would hope don’t even contain any gametes, which would be creepy and icky.

Never go back and read the books you liked as a youngster

I have fond memories of reading James Michener’s The Source as a teenager — in case you are unacquainted with that author, his schtick was to pick a geographical place and then write a long episodic novel covering its fictional history over thousands of years. The Source is about a mound in Israel, so he writes a chapter about a family at the dawn of agriculture growing wheat there, a small town and their Ba’als, a crusader castle, a group of soldiers in the Arab-Israeli War, you get the idea. It’s a series of vignettes in the long history of this region.

I had a cheap copy of this book I hadn’t read in decades, and just started skimming the beginning. The framing device in this novel is the story of the archaeological excavation at the site led by a man named Cullinane, digging up artifacts that are then used as the centerpiece of each story. And that is the problem. It’s unreadable. It was published in 1965, and it shows.

The first sign of trouble is the characters, who fit awkward stereotypes of The American, The Israeli, The Palestinian. The members of a kibbutz are helping with the labor of the site, and the story spends way too much time talking about how beautiful and scantily-clad the young women are. An Israeli woman named Vered Bar-El is a Ph.D. with substantial credentials as Israel’s “top expert in dating pottery”, but the story starts going in a strange direction. Cullinane is day-dreaming about marrying this petite, pretty girl with flashing eyes working at his side — she has given him no signals anywhere in the story that she’s at all interested in him romantically. In fact, we learn that she’s engaged to another scholar working there…a fellow that Cullinane tries to convince himself is not right for her. And then, suddenly, with no real reciprocal development between the characters,

And then one night in mid-July as he inspected the dig in moonlight he was alerted by someone moving along the northern edge of the plateau, and he suspected it might be a worker out to steal a Crusader relic; but it was Vered Bar-El, and he ran to her with a kind of release and caught her in his arms, kissing her with a vigor that astonished both of them. Slowly she pushed him away, holding on to the lapels of his field jacket and looking up at him with her dark, saucy eyes.

WTF? And this is treated as perfectly ordinary behavior in the field? She, a scholar with a fiance, is not at all shocked at this unprofessional behavior by her team leader? Michener was apparently incapable of imagining this scene from a woman’s perspective.

It makes me sad. I read this book in my teens and it went right over my head, and I just thought archaeology sounded neat and fun and interesting. I wonder how a teenaged girl would have felt about the discipline if they read that — dig leaders get to fantasize about the women working with them, and abruptly give them vigorous kisses.

Now I’m also wondering how common this casual dismissal of women was in the popular literature that might have influenced people’s choice of careers.