little moments of alienness and not

Sep. 25th, 2017 09:10 am
brainwane: My smiling face, including a small gold bindi (Default)
[personal profile] brainwane
Years ago, when Leonard was writing Constellation Games, he named the various alien species after different human words for "alien" or "foreigner". So there are Aliens, Foreigners, Farang, Gaijin, Extraterrestrials, the Others, and so on. One species of them is the Auslanders; later a German-speaking friend told us the spelling of the plural ought to be Auslender.

Today I was rereading a little chunk of Lake Wobegon Days and came across Keillor referring to Ausländers, and was reminded of that moment years ago. And then just after that was the passage about Flag Day, and I was catapulted far further back, to fourth grade and the first time I read (or was read?) any of this book. I was in a Gifted and Talented class in an elementary school in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, with that teacher who had a chunk of the Berlin Wall in her classroom. Did she read that to us or did I read it by myself?

Saturday I was on the 7 train back home from Maker Faire and I was sitting near some girls who -- as they happened to say aloud, in their conversation with each other -- were 12 or 13 years old. I am about three times their age. Yet I wanted them to look at me not as an alien grownup but as someone they might be like. They all have smartphones and evidently deal with boys sending them dick pics. And they act blasé about it; I don't know how they actually feel. The next day I talked about this with the people staffing the table next to mine. One of them suggested that boys have always done sort of body-part-display to girls less as a sexual come-on and more as a thrill-of-the-forbidden act, with dick pics as analogous to mooning. We joked about the dedication of an imaginary man from a previous century who worked in rotogravure or lithograph or woodcut. Or at least, like, Matthew Brady or someone using silver nitrate film.

cue "Ashokan Farewell"

My dearest Elizabeth. Tonight the Union Army rests. We know not what battle the general will order us to tomorrow. But know that my love for you is the wind that calls your name through the trees. Here's a dick pic. I had to sit for five hours for the army portrait painter boy to make this.

Sergeant Cowling was killed at the Battle of Bull Run.


I was laughing pretty hard by the end of this.

Maybe one reason I like laughing with others, and making others laugh, is because it is a kind of proof that we are not entirely aliens to each other.

(no subject)

Sep. 20th, 2017 08:57 am
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
[personal profile] seekingferret
Listening to the West Wing Weekly podcast, I'm up to 2x3 The Midterm Elections and one of my least favorite scenes in the West Wing, when President Bartlet 'dismantles' Dr. Jane Jacobs's homophobia.

BARTLET
Good. I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.

JENNA JACOBS
I don't say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President. The Bible does.

BARTLET
Yes, it does. Leviticus.

JENNA JACOBS
18:22

BARTLET
Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here.
I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7.
(small chuckles from the guests) She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, and
always clears the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While
thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working
on the Sabbath, Exodus 35:2, clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated
to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here's one that's really important,
'cause we've got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes
us unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins
still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be
together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn
my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?


I know I've complained about similar rhetoric before. The argument is this: There are things in the Bible that a modern religious person doesn't observe. This abrogation means that any parts they do still observe are inherently hypocritical, because if they claimed to follow the Bible they would follow the whole Bible.

This is a really stupid argument. Christianity explicitly rejects some of the Hebrew Bible's obligations. It's not hypocritical for them to not observe these things, it's inherently doctrinal, and it could even be argued (as I've sometimes been forced to, because sometimes Christians do weird and offensive things with Jewish ritual) that it's hypocritical if they DO observe those things. The Christian Bible says that Christians do not need to keep kosher. It's right there in the text!

And even things Christians do still observe that are mentioned in the rant are not necessarily observed in the Biblical way, on purpose! Jesus doesn't condemn the idea of the Sabbath, and Christians do observe a Sabbath, but Jesus condemns the idea of putting people to death for breaching the Sabbath. So Christians have a much more relaxed approach to the Sabbath than Jews do. Again, this does not make them hypocrites. It means they ARE observing their religion.

This infuriates me particularly even though I usually don't care all that much if Christians are revealed as hypocrites, because this argument is the classic anti-Judeo-Christian argument: Ostensibly directed at Christians by people who don't bother to distinguish between Jews and Christians. Jews have our own approaches to difficult passages in Tanakh, but generally we don't believe that the ritual law has been abrogated. We think we still are obligated in most if not all of the things Bartlet mentions as absurd rituals. Orthodox Jewish farmers in Israel, to this day, don't plant two crops side by side in a field. And though we don't have the executive ability to carry them out, most of the stoning laws Bartlet mentions are still technically on the books.

And Orthodox Jews generally still believe we are obligated in the prohibition of et zachar lo tishkav, no matter how difficult that may be to reconcile with modern ideas about love and sex. But it's not like the fact that I don't eat shellfish is what allows me to hate gays without hypocrisy! That's the frustrating part of this argument for me. If you accept it, you seem to be accepting the idea that IF Christians hadn't abrogated parts of the Torah's ritual law, they'd be free to consider homosexuality an abomination. But the people who are making this argument clearly don't believe that. They believe that considering homosexuality abominable is evil and homophobic regardless of whether you eat shellfish. So people making Bartlet's argument are making an argument they don't actually believe to try to trap religious people with sophistry.

So when you're criticizing Christian homophobia, or Jewish homophobia, try to do it with an argument that you actually believe, and which actually engages with Christian or Jewish doctrine rather than with your imagined fake version of that doctrine. Ask a Jew how they reconcile Veahavta lereacha kamocha with the idea of telling your neighbor they can't marry the person they love. Ask a Christian how they can send their churchmates to abusive conversion therapies when Jesus preached kindness and humility and not judging the sins of others.

But don't ask them these things because they're traps you're seeking to catch them in. Ask them because religious people have thought about these questions and we have answers to them, answers our critics often refuse to listen to, and because the conversations about these questions are worth having and worth struggling with. These are hard questions that challenge our faith, and serious theists ask them. Serious atheists ought to, also.

And what frustrates me most about this scene, why it's one of my least favorite West Wing moments, is that President Bartlet, deeply Catholic, who once considered the priesthood, must have some answer to these questions that isn't dependent on taking Catholics to task for eating shellfish. This scene is profoundly out of character on a theological level for the man delivering it. And I don't like when President Bartlet lets me down.


Edit: Thanks for comments- I will not be able to respond until after Rosh Hashanah at earliest
brainwane: My smiling face, including a small gold bindi (Default)
[personal profile] brainwane
I posted on my other blog about supporting a new New York City Council bill that would require city agencies to publish source code used to make decisions.

On MetaFilter, I posted about a transparency case pending before a California appeals court; the EFF and ACLU have submitted amicus curiae briefs saying (to simplify) that the right to due process includes the right to inspect source code used to convict you. Evidently the creator of the closed-source DNA testing software doesn't think so. As is often the case on MetaFilter, there are very lucid explanations in the comments regarding complicated technical issues.

And I really like the photo I used to illustrate the potential for algorithmic bias.

Cool things

Sep. 14th, 2017 09:48 pm
brainwane: My smiling face, including a small gold bindi (Default)
[personal profile] brainwane
Max Gladstone: "What happens when it’s so difficult to understand the people we live beside—or the people we love—that we can’t help them? That we don’t even know how to help each other?"

These awesome photos of Sloane Stephens!

Some useful information on the General Data Protection Regulation which will affect many of us starting May 2018.

"ProPublica would like to hear from people who have expertise in some facet of the health insurance industry." And then they will do investigative journalism on it!!

Upcoming New York City Council bill on algorithmic transparency:

g. Each agency that uses, for the purposes of targeting services to persons, imposing penalties upon persons or policing, an algorithm or any other method of automated processing system of data shall:

1. Publish on such agency’s website, the source code of such system; and

2. Permit a user to (i) submit data into such system for self-testing and (ii) receive the results of having such data processed by such system.


(If Legistar's RSS feeds work, [syndicated profile] nyc_algo_bill_feed should let you track further actions on it.)

on the hair bounty

Sep. 14th, 2017 12:52 pm
brainwane: My smiling face, including a small gold bindi (Default)
[personal profile] brainwane
So I saw the news story about Martin Shkreli getting punished for posting online and offering USD$5,000 for a strand of Hillary Clinton's hair. And it gets at a bunch of deep primal or overlapping things, doesn't it?sexist bullying )

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