Saturday, March 28, 2015

I'm Still Here

Because I've been very bad and neglectful of this blog for so long, I'm going to do something I wouldn't ordinarily do: I'm going to point you to a promotion for the impending re-publication of three of Denton Welch's novels as e-books by Open Road Integrated Media.  Welch (1915-1948) was a queer English writer whose work I admired and wrote about in the gay press thirty years ago.  My readers are mature adults, I know, and won't be swayed by mere commercialism.  (They offered me a free e-galley, but I passed on it, just to keep my purity.)  It appears that his work is still mostly in physical print, but if you're interested in owning (or rather licensing) the electronic versions, they are due for release in the first week of April.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Running the Government Like a Business

This is what it looks like (via):
Western militaries are experimenting with having future drone pilots command up to four aircraft at once, adding new potential challenges even as a top-secret U.S. drone’s crash in Iran exposed the risks of flying unmanned aircraft thousands of miles away.
And why?
To save money and make unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) less reliant on massive ground support crews, weapons manufacturers are working with military officials to develop more autonomous control systems and improve networking among planes.
At the moment, it can take hundreds of support staff on the ground to run a single drone for 24 hours, adding cost and complications at a time when budget-cutters are looking for billions of dollars of program cuts.
As emptywheel writes, what could possibly go wrong? Especially now that drones are going to be used in the US.

[Another post that had been languishing in the drafts folder for longer than I want to admit.  But it's still relevant, I think.]

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Passion of the Moral Mind

Yo, Is This Racist? suddenly erupted onto my Facebook feed recently,* for the first time in months.
Anonymous asked: I came across this libertarian who said she didn't believe in women's rights but individual rights.  Is it safe to say she's a bigot?

Bigots, always think they’ve found some kind of rhetorical loophole that allows them to ignore the obvious nature of existing inequality, that the reason people who aren’t total pieces of shit support “women’s rights” or “black rights” or whatever, is because those groups of people (and others) have fewer rights than the people who control everything, and that allows them to pretend that people who want more equality in the world are over-reacting, or even that we need “men’s rights” or “white pride” or whatever.

It’s telling, however, that if someone only espouses any rhetoric about equality in support of the PEOPLE WHO ALREADY HAVE FUCKING POWER, they miiiiiiiiight just be complete piece of shit bigots, or, I guess, if you want to be nice, so fucking stupid and clueless that they’ve been fooled by this pathetic argument. Could be either, I guess.
It occurs to me that I haven't mentioned a book I read lately that I found really useful: The Tactical Uses of Passion: An Essay on Power, Reason, and Reality,** by the anthropologist F. G. Bailey.  I hope to read some more of his work, but what I want to bring from The Tactical Use of Passion is Bailey's distinction between what he calls "the moral mind" and "the civic mind":
The moral self excludes, we argued, ideas of right and duty.  But it is evident that such phrases as “not oneself” and “above oneself” make sense only if we measure performance against the rights and duties expected of the person.  In some of these cases displays of emotion (for example, being “beside oneself”) indicate a flaw in the self, an inadequacy.  A person who is beside himself is unable to undertake the responsibilities that normally attach to his status.  Often the judgment means that he is absolved from guilt: “He could not help it.”  Evidently this self, unlike the moral self, is validated by accounting procedures.  It is the “civic” self and it includes an element that is apart from emotions, either dominating them as a control or standing as a rival for the use of available avenues of expression.  In other words, the “civic” self signals that a mind is at work.  Let us look at situations in which this idea of the self controlling emotion (rather than being revealed in displays of emotion) appears [51].

... What reasons could be advanced to justify such an image of the weakness of rationality and the strength of passion?  First the moral self carries its own defenses in that it is rooted in the passions and is therefore immune to rational arguments.  It has a facility for twisting and rendering unintelligible negative messages from outside the relationship: a jamming device, so to speak.  This, too, is a kind of fa├žade: a pretense that the real world can be left to go its own way.  It is also a shield keeping away what Weber calls” the cold skeletal hands of rational orders” and “the banality of everyday routine” [77] ...
I hope it will be fairly clear why Andrew Ti's outburst brought Bailey's discussion to mind.  Bailey doesn't consider the "the moral mind" to be bad; it's one way to organize and prepare for action.  "The civic mind" comes on the job when goals and directions have been decided by "moral" means, and it's time to figure out how to get to the goal.

The thing is, in a narrow technical sense, that Libertarian Lady was correct.  Civil Rights, for example, are rights of the individual, not rights of a group.  But facts should never get in the way of a good ragegasm.

So I take Ti to be exercising his moral mind, waxing passionate for Righteousness.  But my civic mind is at work now, and I'm reminded of some of Sartre's remarks on anti-Semitism and irrationality:
I mentioned awhile back some remarks by anti-Semites, all of them absurd: "I hate Jews because they make servants insubordinate, because a Jewish furrier robbed me, etc."  Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies.  They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge.  But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words.  The anti-Semites have the right to play.  They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors.  They delight in act­ing in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.  If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.  It is not that they are afraid of being convinced.  They fear only to appear ridiculous or to prejudice by their embarrassment their hope of winning over some third person to their side.
I recognize the syndrome Sartre was writing about here, and I think this applies to Ti no less than to the "libertarian" he's discussing.

* To be honest, not all that recently.  I'm trying to clear out some posts from my backlog from the Drafts folder.

** Cornell University Press, 1983.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Woman's Place Is in the Lab

In recognition of International Women's Day, the science-cultist Facebook page I Fucking Love Science posted a lot of memes about women scientists.  One of my friends reposted the one above.

It's certainly interesting, so I decided to look Noether up in Margaret Wertheim's useful book Pythagoras' Trousers (Norton, 1997).

This meme gives the false impression that Noether remained in Germany under the Nazis. In fact, says Wertheim, she "soon found herself desperately seeking a post abroad. Unlike Einstein and Hermann Weyl, who had been installed at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Noether was unable to obtain a research position. In the end she took a post teaching undergraduates at the women's college Bryn Mawr, but it was clear to everyone that she needed a place where she could continue her advanced work. In 1935, just as it seemed the Institute for Advanced Study was on the verge of appointing her, Emmy Noether died as a result of complications from an operation to remove an ovarian cyst." So, although at least she didn't have to dodge Brownshirts in the US, she didn't receive the recognition she deserved here either, and got shunted off to the side while her male colleagues were taken better care of. As Wertheim observes, "Whatever resistance Einstein himself had faced from the ivory towers of academe pales by comparison with the treatment they [Noether and Lise Meitner, q.v.] encountered" (190).

It's good that women scientists are getting this coverage, but it seems not only tokenistic but somewhat dishonest and evasive, since it overlooks the fierce resistance that women in science faced, not from religious nuts, but from their male scientific colleagues -- or from "science," as IFLS calls them -- right down to the present.

Oh, and P.S.: Einstein's condescending remark about her, quoted in the meme, is interesting too, when you consider that "When Einstein was battling with the mathematics of general relativity, she was one of the people recruited to help him" (ibid.).

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Didn't I Say That on the Other Side of the Record?

The advice columnist Dan Savage "called out" antigay bigot Ben Carson last week for saying on CNN that being gay was a "choice."  Carson had pointed to people who "go into prison straight and come out gay."  Savage challenged Carson to prove his claim by choosing to become gay himself, by sucking Savage's dick.

I've said before that one reason I'm finding it hard to write this blog is that I feel like I'm repeating myself.  But then, so is Dan Savage: he said the same thing to another antigay bigot a few years ago, and I can't add much to what I wrote about him at the time.  Since then, however, he's shown his moral superiority to bigots by calling some high school students "pansy-assed" because they walked out on one of his personal appearances, using a homophobic epithet to try to shame them; and by saying that he sometimes thinks about "fucking the shit out" of the antigay bigot Rick Santorum, again using the homophobic trope that fucking another man degrades him.  As I wrote of Savage's remarks about Santorum, Savage is indulging in homophobic abuse that no one should be allowed to get away with, using sex as a metaphor for debasement and humiliation. He's tapping into the same reservoir of male violence that drives queerbashers and rapists.  And, of course, he's also revealing his own hangups about being gay himself.  So why listen to Ben Carson when you can get your daily dose of antigay bigotry from Dan Savage?

Carson backed down and apologized, but also "criticized CNN for airing the comments he'd made in an interview and said he won't be addressing gay rights issues for the duration of his presidential campaign."  Hahahahah, I'm sure he won't.  If he's going to be a presidential candidate, he'd better get used to the comments he makes during interviews (!) being aired and otherwise published.  I doubt his candidacy will get very far, though, since like other Republican hopefuls he's prone to making stupid gaffes that will entertain his hardcore supporters but put off everybody else.

On the other hand, Carson said something true: that "up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality."  Maybe his medical training has paid off after all!  But if he really cared about factual accuracy, he wouldn't make any statements at all about the etiology of sexual orientation, and he certainly wouldn't have said what he said about the effects of prison on sexual orientation.  Nor would he claim, as he continues to do, that homosexuality is a choice.  But he seems to be driven to make a fool of himself, so even in the apology he posted on Facebook he said that "we are always born male and female", which as a scientist he should know is oversimple, and that he thinks "marriage is a religious institution"; if he really believed that, he'd reject civil marriage, the interference of the State in a religious institution.

It's interesting how far Carson (like other religious bigots) has surrendered to the Politically Correct Gay Agenda.  Does he want homosexuals to be executed, as Scripture commands?  Does he want to reinstate sodomy laws, or Don't Ask Don't Tell?  Does he want same-sex couples to be outside of all legal recognition and protection?  No, he does not:
I support human rights and Constitutional protections for gay people, and I have done so for many years. I support civil unions for gay couples, and I have done so for many years. I support the right of individual states to sanction gay marriage, and I support the right of individual states to deny gay marriage in their respective jurisdictions.
That's not a Bible-believing Christian talking, not one who stands firm against the moral erosion of American society.  That's a flaming liberal.  Even when he says that marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman, he's agreeing with the liberals that polygamy -- a Biblical and traditional value, mind you -- is wrong.  Someone really should ask him, though: since he thinks marriage should be defined and sanctioned by states rather than the Federal government, does he think that Loving v. Virginia, which overturned state laws against "interracial" marriage, should be overturned?  And if he really believes that permitting legal same-sex marriage is an illegitimate redefinition of marriage, why is he willing to let states do it?

"I am not a politician," Carson concluded.  As a presidential hopeful, he is a politician.  But he won't be one for long, the way he's going.

Ah there, you see?  I've said all this before, though sometimes about different people.