Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Astonishing iPhone of the Future

Business Insider reports the following:



This old thing will be obsolete before it's even released.

Apple are already working on the next iteration of the device... not only will they remove the home button and headphone jack, but they'll do away with all of the hardware entirely. The Virtual iPhone will be the lightest and most cleanly designed product Apple ever produced. Since it will be hardware-free, this will allow Apple to convert their labor-intensive Genius bars into payment kiosks; allow the company to free up expensive engineering staff; and concentrate on what's really important to them... taking your money.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

XKCD - Not so smart this time.


The XKCD comic by Randall Munroe is often informative, and often smart. Today, though, it misses the mark.

It starts of like so...


And it continues on at 500 year increments to the familiar "hockey stick" projection at the end:


But the problem isn't the length of the graph, nor the bottom of the graph. Personally, I doubt anyone would dispute the contents of the graph itself at all. It's the caption at the top of the graph:

WHEN PEOPLE SAY "THE CLIMATE HAS CHANGED BEFORE"
THESE ARE THE KINDS OF CHANGES THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT

And the problem with it is that this is not true. Not by orders of magnitude. It's a blatant falsehood.

THESE are the kinds of changes they're talking about:


In fact, this is the actual graph trace they most often use. Randall's timeline is cropped to the very end of the geological timescale of this graph. Let's repeat: they're looking at 600 millions of years; he crops it to the last 20 thousand.  They're looking at a temperature scale that peaks well above 25 degrees Celsius; he crops it to a fraction of that.

When you do that, here's what it looks like to the person you're misrepresenting:


The problem with strawmen such as this is that you can never get away with it, and it never makes you look smart. The people who you're misquoting know that you're misquoting them. The end result is that you either look hopelessly ignorant, or you look like a liar. It's not a false dichotomy. You either didn't know the actual argument (i.e. you're ignorant) or you did know and you chose to replace it with some other argument you just made up (i.e. you lied).

I've read XKCD for a very long time, and one thing that you cannot say about Randall is that he's ignorant.

Therefore...*

--==//oOo\\==--

Note, please, that I'm illustrating why you shouldn't use strawmen.

This post is not about whether climate change does or does not occur. For that matter, Randall's comic is not about that, either. He concedes that people say it does. But what he's doing is misrepresenting their views to make them look as if they've not done their own research. In doing so, he paints himself as the little kid in the corner who doesn't know jack shit about what the grown-ups are talking about. That's unfortunate, because he could have instead focused on their actual views and the numbers that they actually use.

But he didn't, and as a result he proves nothing.

He doesn't even make them look ignorant.

He actually makes them look more informed than he is.

D'oh



* On further consideration, it could be a false dichotomy in a sense, if we consider that Randall's engaging in a completely different logical fallacy. He could be using a faulty generalization. That is, taking the opinion of a minority and applying it to all people who say that the climate has changed before. However, a faulty generalization is simply another form of ignorance... ignorance about the ubiquity of your sample as opposed to ignorance of their views. So nu...



Sunday, September 11, 2016

Movie Review: The Legend of Tarzan

I saw The Legend of Tarzan at the cheap cinema. I'd read a lot of bad reviews of it -- it garnered only 36% among professional critics on Rotten Tomatoes -- which is why I waited; but having seen it, I disagree strongly with those reviewers. Specifically to the reviewers who thought the pacing was "slow", I advise you to get your ADHD treated... it's affecting your job performance. I have more to say to other reviewers below.

Rather than relating a blow-by-blow, I thought I might just ramble a bit, listing some of my expectations, likes, and dislikes about it as they come to mind. It's in the dollar-cinema now, folks; and the story itself is based on 100-year-old books, so there will be spoilers

From what I'd heard, I expected this production to have an anachronistic "modern" sensibility with respect to the characters. The first rule of historical anything is that you cannot judge the people of that time by the standards of today. I expected this to be violated. I also expected the film to be filmed with unbelievable CGI animals and out-of-place Legolas-like derring-do.

Well, this is Tarzan. It's going to have animals, and in this day they're going to be CGI. But with one unimportant exception (an alligator on a leash) I wasn't pulled out of the narrative by bad rendering. The animals didn't talk, and they didn't behave unlike animals. The 'gorillas' firmly mirrored those of the books, which means they weren't gorillas at all... they were the fictional species that Edgar Rice Burroughs called the mangani. In the same way that bonobos are not chimpanzees, these differ from gorillas in temperament and intelligence. This is the first movie that I recall having seen that makes the distinction explicit.

Tarzan himself did not command the animals, nor did he 'talk' to them except using body language appropriate to the animals themselves. This was introduced expertly in the first meeting of Tarzan and animal on the screen.

Speaking of which... the title character is addressed as 'John' for most of the film. John Clayton, Earl of Greystoke. The movie isn't an origin story (THANK YOU!) and it doesn't begin in Africa, but in London. Lord Greystoke has long been settled in his ancestral home with his wife, Jane Clayton (nee Porter). 

The very subtle humor of the film is firmly established in a scene where Her Majesty's Government requests the services of 'Tarzan' on a public relations mission to the Belgian Congo. Lord Greystoke replies by quietly sipping tea with his pinky finger extended. I almost laughed out loud.

I think the characters are well-drawn. Alexander Skarsgård skillfully portrays the difficult balance between the dignity of John Clayton's aristocratic heritage and his unique, barbaric upbringing. He manages to bring that aristocratic bearing to Tarzan; as well as a touch of embarrassment over his humble beginnings to Lord Greystoke. Before I move on, I want you to look at that picture with the tea again. Observe how he's holding his hands. Nice touch.

We're quickly introduced to George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), an American envoy who entreats Clayton to accept his government's invitation so as to investigate reports of slavery in the Congo. However, this is not a stereotypical Colonial "White Savior" story. It's far more personal and respectful than than than that. As Jane explains, the villagers and their chief respect Tarzan not out of hero-worship; but because "no man ever started with less." Clayton's mission is to save Jane; but the task of routing the slavers belongs to Williams.

Jackson portrays Williams perfectly. He's a badass in his own environment, who quickly discovers that, heritage aside, Africa is not his environment. Nevertheless, he keeps up and holds his own. As with all the characters, he has dimensionality. He's not just about getting the slavers. We learn he has some guilt of his own.

Oh, the look on that face. Oh, the reason for it.

Jane is the daughter of American missionaries, played by Margot Robbie. Although she is a smart, strong, independent woman; the story does not portray that unrealistically. She's closer to Lois Lane than Harley Quinn in this film. A notable moment: they work the Johnny Weissmuller "Tarzan yell" into the film in a way that doesn't sound cheesy in the slightest. I had firmly expected that if they were to use it, it would be in a "ha ha" kind of moment, as when the William Tell overture plays in "The Lone Ranger". It wasn't like that at all. Instead it was a little bit creepy, and provided the perfect moment for Margo Robbie. Jane's reaction to the yell was an expression that communicated every word of, "My husband is going to f*ck you up and you don't even know it. I feel so sorry for you even though you deserve it, you bastards." All of that in one look.

Sidney Ralitsoele
I LOVE the casting of the natives, and it bothers me that I don't know more of them by name. Hands-down, my favorite is Wasimbu (Sidney Ralitsoele). I don't even recall if Ralitsoele has a single line of dialog in the film. His strongest scenes didn't require it. 

Djimon Hounsou plays Chief Mbonga, who wants Tarzan delivered to him to face the crime of killing Mbonga's only son. Again, this is a fully fleshed character whose motivations drive the (somewhat convoluted) plot; not just someone stuck in there to provide native flavor. Not only does he look like he was chiseled from a solid block of onyx; the man can emote.  I truly feel for him when he has to choose between justice for his son and justice for his people.

Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou)
Now it wouldn't be one of my reviews without my unvarnished opinion, would it? I've seen a hyper-sensitive reviewer ask whether it's even possible to make a Tarzan film that isn't racist. To me, the answer to that is not only "no", but "what frakking moron would want to?" This depicts events at a time when Africans were being enslaved, not in America, but in Africa. If you do any period piece in Africa set in that time, and you didn't depict racism, then you flatly didn't do your job as a filmmaker. If you want to see Tarzan without race, go watch the Disney cartoon... there isn't a single Black person in there, though it is full of sanctimonious White voices. No really, check out the credits... not even one Black voice in that "African" adventure. Not even to play an animal. It's like a private safe space for Liberal hypocrites. This is by design. Disney deliberately left all Black people out of the production so as not to appear racist. And you won't find a word about it in the reviews, either (88% positive on Rotten Tomatoes). So if you're looking for Tarzan without the discomfiture of race, you should be quite comfy there. 

The fact is, director David Yates manages to do something in The Legend of Tarzan that Disney didn't even try... and that is to portray Blacks in Africa as people. They're not caricatures. They're not wallpaper. They're neither idealized nor demonized. They're not Westernized and sanitized. They're just people, as they lived in Africa in 1890.

The monsters in this film are White. Christopher Waltz plays Captain Leon Rom with exactly the right mix of oil and poison to evoke the baddies of 1930s Hollywood.  As a representative of the Belgian king, Rom is doing his utmost to fully exploit the Congo to refill the depleted coffers of his monarch... and enrich himself in the process, of course. To do that, he needs an army of mercenaries. To pay them he needs cash, and he can get it if he delivers Tarzan to Chief Mbonga, who's sitting on a fortune in raw diamonds. To get Tarzan, he kidnaps Jane. And there you have the plot.

To Rom, exploitation of the Congo means not just the resources and mineral wealth, but enslaving the people. He's a bad guy all around. He's obviously racist, as folks were wont to be. And if that weren't evil enough, he carries a rosary of indestructible Madagascar spider-silk, which he uses as a weapon. That little dig at religion might help the snowflakes get past the race thing, if they only forget that Jane's parents were well-loved missionaries in the Kuba village. 

Rom is backed by 20,000 lily-white mercenaries and their banker. If you ground the lot of them into fine powder and sifted it carefully, you might find a single shred of decency and honor among them. So I note with no sense of injustice that the titular character and his wife happen to be of the same race as the 20,002 bad guys. Enough of that nonsense.

There are a few things about this movie that I especially liked:
  • Tarzan isn't some demi-god. He doesn't win every fight. There are even some fights where the point is to not win. And sometimes he just flatly loses a fight. There's one point where that happens -- embarrassingly -- and my first reaction was, "wait a minute! That doesn't happen to heroes," followed quickly by, "but it should, more often!"
  • Director Yates manages to subtly work in just enough of every pop-culture reference to Tarzan that anyone can find an Easter egg. The casting and character design, as well as the treehouse, even strongly favor the aforementioned Disney cartoon. There was the Johnny Weissmuller yell, of course. The distinction drawn between gorillas and Mangani. Lord Greystoke's calloused knuckles. 
I actually have a hard time thinking of anything that I particularly don't like about it. Although I wouldn't call it perfect, it's as good an adaptation as I've ever seen. The pacing does start out slow, but as someone who's not six years old, I enjoy the exposition. And when it does get to the action, that action is so furious as compared to the prim urban scenes that the excitement is magnified. 

As the credits rolled, my biggest question was how The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen failed to include John Clayton as a member.


Tuesday, September 06, 2016

A Parable

The experiment was a shambles.

"We'll just have to let God sort it out," said the Professor.  I laughed.

"What's so funny?" He was looking at me with an expression I didn't recognize.

I stammered, "Well, it was just... funny, I guess. I mean, you're a scientist, and... uhm..."

"And I shouldn't be calling on God, is that what you mean?"

"Well... it was a joke... right?" Nobody seriously believed in those dusty old myths anymore, did they?

"It's because of my studies that I believe in God," he began. "What do you think sets Man apart from the animals? Intelligence? Tool usage? Language? Nothing? When I was an atheist, all of those were reasonable answers. Then I realized that all other animals, though they lack intelligence, are born with a great deal of knowledge. Animals do complex things... amazing things for which there's no easy explanation, and we wave a hand and call it instinct. No one teaches the tailor-bird how to weave, or why. No one tells a sparrow where or when to migrate. No one teaches a bear to hibernate. No one teaches an ant how to build a city. On the whole, animals are not self-destructive; they do not wage war (except maybe some of those ants). They know their place in the world. They're born stupid, but wise.

"We humans are entirely different. By comparison we're brilliantly intelligent, but we're born completely ignorant. Why, we can barely procreate without someone more experienced to teach us how. Archaeology reveals that we started with nothing, and what learning we have survives only so long as we tell others. And we have to work very hard for that information. Numerous times we gained astonishing insights, only to lose them in a generation. How do you build a pyramid? I don't know either. You'd think we'd be smart enough to just look at one and see; but we're not. And it seems to me sometimes that the more we learn, the more we lose. Even as we put men in orbit, we kill our progeny and deny our true nature. We seem destined not only to be born ignorant, but to remain that way. Understanding this opened my mind to belief in God."

I cocked my head in confusion. The Professor noticed, and smiled kindly.

"Oh, don't you see, boy? What more fitting punishment could there be for a people who stole from the Tree of Knowledge?"




If you enjoyed this story, you may enjoy another of my blogs, 
Look though the archives for short fiction of a unique variety.

Photo of Magnolia Plantation & Gardens by F. Everett Leigh

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Update: Trump is Still an Underpants Gnome


A friend of mine posted a link to an interview with Donald Trump, calling it "Lucid, energetic, and on point!"

Now, this was on FoxNews, so you could expect it to be a very friendly atmosphere. Well, I couldn't care less about "energetic" because it says nothing about the merit of a position, and being enthusiastically wrong isn't a selling point.

But I was looking forward to hearing something lucid and on point. So here's the link:


That's a promising headline, no? I was really happy to see that this is a "two for the price of one" sort of link, as there was also an interview with Dr. Ben Carson to clarify some details. Great!

As with all Trump interviews, he spends the bulk of his time discussing what other people think of Trump according to Trump. And it's always good and wonderful and successful and well-received, etc, etc. It's tedious listening, but I kept my ear open because I want that headline justified.

Concerning the Wall and his meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, what did he have to say? Only that "the wall will get built, and in fact that was sort of acknowledged if you look at the statement, and he [Peña Nieto] disagrees on who's going to pay for the wall, but that's a negotiation, and I will tell you that the United States will not be paying for the wall. Mexico will be paying for the wall."

Well no shit. Trump says he will tell you that, and in fact he has been telling you that, but that doesn't mean anything. All it says is that he'll keep saying it. It's bullshit, but he will keep saying it. It's a good thing that's all he's promising, because it's all he can deliver.

And... "sort of acknowledged"? What kind of confirmation is that?

In fact, Peña Nieto has released several statements saying flatly that Mexico will not pay for the Wall. So if this is a negotiation, understand that the current bargaining position of Trump is that he has nothing. At this moment, Trump doesn't even have the Presidency; so Peña Nieto has no incentive to concede anything whatsoever. This visit only served to highlight that.

Later in the interview Trump was asked why Latinos should vote for him, and his answer was that he would bring jobs and stop crime. Those are the role of business and police respectively, neither of which is Federal, but let's ignore that for the sake of politics. All things being equal, that would be a satisfactory message... the same message that every politician brings, actually. But all things are not equal. He's the guy who promised that he would be deporting 11 million illegal immigrants. That's a promise, by the way, on which he's had to backtrack. Today the message is that he will strengthen the wall; get rid of the "bad players" (gang members, drug dealers, the "cartel people" etc); then sit back, assess the situation, see where we are, and make a decision at that time.

That's no assurance if you're a natural born American voter wondering if your mother or father will be deported. Remember, if you came to this country 18 years ago and had a child, then you might not be able to vote, but they can. And Trump will not win them over; and probably not their friends either. And many of the swing voters will view his avoidance of this issue through the filter of confirmation bias, concluding that there's bad stuff to come, and he won't talk about it. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop at eroding his Latino support. Once you've fed the confirmation bias about racism, Black support is going to go with it.

In fact, as soon as I typed the above, I went looking for a link to confirm his current polling figures, and there it is, as of today: "Trump's Attempts to Woo Black Voters Are Having Opposite Effect". He's polling at 8% nationally among Blacks. 0% in Ohio. That's zero percent.

--==//oOo\\==--

So I turned to Carson, interviewed by Greta van Susteren. Surely he would have some details about financing that Wall, since Trump's too busy stroking his ego to talk about it.

But no... it was another head-scratching WTF conversation.

van Susteren opened with this translated tweet from the Mexican President: "I repeat what I said personally, Mr. Trump. Mexico would never pay for a wall."

So who will? Dr. Carson offered this:  “Recognize that a lot of money is going to be saved by enforcing our borders, by not, you know, giving various types of benefits to people who are here illegally. That money is money that we otherwise would not have had and that can be applied to the wall and various other things. That’s I believe the spirit in which that comment is made. I don't think Mexico is going to write a check out and say here, pay for the wall.”

For the record... that is the UNITED STATES, taking money that we currently spend ON MEXICANS, and spending it ON MEXICANS. That is 100% entirely unlike making Mexico pay for a garden fence, much less a wall. Keep in mind, now, that estimates range anywhere from $10 to $25 billion dollars. The Washington Post estimates $25 billion, and they're probably closest to being right; it's a government project. So Trump would like you to believe that they will save a sizable portion of that on unspecified 'benefits'. This is despite the fact that the government will not, according to Trump, be targeting any people who are actually receiving those benefits; as these are not the drug dealers and "cartel people" that he mentioned. So the "plan" as revealed by Carson is to pay for it with an initial savings of zero.

Zero.

Also, of the government benefits received by immigrant-headed households today, none of that is for the immigrants. It's for U.S. born children of those immigrants, all of which are bona fide native-born American citizens, who cannot be deported under U.S. law. All that you can do by removing their parents is to throw these children into foster care, actually increasing the burden on the taxpayers. The net result of any legal deportation is less than zero. It's negative. And all of this is to put up barriers at a time when more Mexicans are emigrating than immigrating.

OK, so they're not going to make any sense today.

I've debunked Trump's campaign rhetoric before, and there I noted another Wall financing scheme that has somewhat more direct merit than the one above. That is, he would either impound or impose stiff tariffs on wire transfers from the US to Mexico. Keep in mind that many of these are from people working near minimum wage and living well below those means so they can send money home. Of course this is also identical to using US money from the US to pay for it.

You're not supposed to notice that.

You're also not supposed to notice that if he follows through with deportation, then that money will dry up. It's going to dry up anyway. People will move away from that to PayPal, Internet banking, Bitcoin, or any number of alternatives. The people sending this money may not be tech-savvy themselves, but this is opens opportunities that are just too good to pass up for those that are. And the more he tries to close off these other means of commerce, the more he will damage the legitimate American businesses that depend on them.

Trump doesn't think. He emotes. And you who support him... well, I know you mean well, but I truly don't believe you're thinking, either. You're emoting with him. Otherwise you'd see that Trump is the classic model of an Underpants Gnome. He has some basic idea that he is just sure will result in Good Thingstm, but he hasn't the slightest clue whatsoever how to implement it.

via South Park

Could he still win the election? Oh, hell, anything's possible... he's running against an unrepentant walking security leak with faulty memory and a long history of cronyism and corruption. Rather than vote for that, 5% of Americans would rather write in the dead gorilla Harambe. But that same 5% would vote for the dead gorilla over Trump.

As for me, I'm going to vote for a candidate. I can't vote for the corrupt Democrat, and I can't vote for the incompetent Republican. So I will vote for a former governor with a proven track record as a chief executive who has demonstrated the ability to get diverse people pulling in the same direction. I'll vote for Gary Johnson. And if he loses, I still will have voted for the right person, unlike the people who chose instead to waste their votes.




New Political Party Logos

I read a comment stating that the Liberals need a new logo that better reflects their party's philosophy, so I made this one.

I'll just leave this right here.




Isn't it great that satire is explicitly protected under copyright law?


Just to be fair, here's one for the Republicans:








Friday, September 02, 2016

Character Assassination

It's not enough that John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln. Now historical revisionists would assassinate his character as well.


This appears on a Facebook page called "Knowledge Room Revolt". It's captioned as follows:
"The REAL Deal..... Good Ole Abe and The Emancipation Proclamation. was his concern really about blacks and slavery? And did the emancipation truly free the slaves? It's time to get it correct!"
I agree. Let's get it correct. The first step in doing that is understanding the vast gulf between this video and the truth. Let's skip editorializing for a moment and go straight to the core premise... that the Emancipation was a lie; there was little concern for the rights of Blacks and every concern for economics of White Power; that it came about because the powerful Whites of the North could maintain their supremacy over the powerful Whites of the South.

The presenter (who I believe to be the producer, Kara L. Poole) says that one can't understand the Emancipation Proclamation without understanding event that preceded it: the Civil War. I say absolutely... yes... let's roll with that. And you can't understand that without understanding the election that preceded it, which means you have to look at the Lincoln-Douglas debates; and you can't understand that without examining the views of the man before he had any stakes in that election.

As a lawyer, Lincoln repeatedly defended Blacks in courts. They weren't well-connected; they weren't powerful; they couldn't pay a lot. In some cases it would have been more beneficial to Lincoln himself to return a freed slave to chains rather than argue their case in court, as was the case of Bailey v. Cromwell in 1841 when he defended a freed woman and her children. And yet he took these cases though the only benefit to him was to his conscience.

His thoughts on slavery were crystal clear. Here's a letter he wrote to Joshua Speed in 1855, long before he ran for office. Remember, this was a private letter to a friend. He didn't write it for posterity; he didn't write it to get votes; and he didn't write it to pull the wool over your eyes.
"You know I dislike slavery; and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it... I also acknowledge your rights and my obligations, under the constitution, in regard to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet. In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio, there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continued torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair for you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the Constitution and the Union. … How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy."
And then there were the contents of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Lincoln was a pragmatist; he knew that you cannot work to the betterment of society if you allow your society to dissolve. He wished for the Union to remain intact, just as the Founders wished for its formation, and in the political climate of the mid-1800s this seemed impossible if slavery were to be summarily abolished. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that his reasons for consistently fighting against the spread of slavery were based on moral grounds. His arguments were not populist. He was widely considered to have lost the debates, although to modern eyes it was anything but. Lincoln won the 1860 election with less than 40% of the popular vote. Nevertheless, he spoke his conscience. When Lincoln addressed slavery as being morally wrong in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, he didn't do it to hoodwink Black voters... there were none.

That's not to say that all was peaches and roses. Lincoln acknowledged his own bias, publicly, in the very first debate, of which I present here a sample:
I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that, notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [Loud cheers.] I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects-certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. [Great applause.]
Regarding Lincoln's acknowledgement of his own bias, note two things: he's looking for votes (including Southern votes) in an overwhelmingly racist climate; and he nonetheless claims that this acknowledgement is no cause to deny any man his natural rights. No matter what you think of another person, they have the same rights you do. And to the point, that although they were enslaved by law, Negroes had the right to Liberty. That was an extraordinary thing to say when the Founders penned it; no less extraordinary when Lincoln affirmed it; and practically unheard of among nascent postmodern "Big Brothers" who affirm that you have only the rights that don't offend them personally.

Lincoln would have been completely unremarkable had he done the popular thing to universal acclaim with no need for introspection. But students of our grandparents' generation knew that Lincoln had to overcome the biases and prejudices of his time. They knew of these flaws that accompanied the ideals because they were tasked to actually read the Lincoln-Douglas debates as well as the founding documents of our country. Their admiration for Lincoln was greater because they knew of these impediments, not because they were ignorant of them. But today's students know nothing of such things because they are encouraged to discard those musty old documents and rely on the interpretations of ideologically warped pedagogues.

--==//oOo\\==--

Poole begins her presentation with the words "under Colonial education", setting an overtly anti-historical editorial tone for the piece. She speaks of "Union" and "Confederacy" domination before their existence, when prior to 1860, "the Union" meant one thing, which was the whole of the United States. And as you have read yourself, she's simply ignorant of the morality of it. She misquotes Lincoln: as you can read above, the quote she frames as having been stated with frankness to visiting Black ministers was actually taken from the first Lincoln-Douglas debate. Furthermore, she deliberately misquotes even that, using only the most racist subquote, and replacing "the race to which I belong" with "the White race" without brackets and strips it of the context which I have restored above. The actual preamble to this meeting of ministers was as follows:
The President:“Why should the people of your race be colonized, and where? Why should they leave this country? This is, perhaps, the first question for proper consideration. You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated. You here are freemen I suppose."
A Voice: "Yes, sir."
The President: "Perhaps you have long been free, or all your lives. Your race are suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people. But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race. You are cut off from many of the advantages which the other race enjoy. The aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when free, but on this broad continent, not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours. Go where you are treated the best, and the ban is still upon you."
Poole frames this meeting as an attempt to "deport" slaves rather than an offer to fund their willing emigration, of which they could, and did, refuse. She imagines it to be the an attempt to brainwash their congregations, and punctuates it with a bunch of Trump for President imagery. She doesn't consider for even a moment that Lincoln was trying to find the best solution for an injustice that could have no perfect solution; that he was considering whether the injustice of having a People ripped from their homeland might be properly addressed by returning them to that homeland, as had been done before with the Jews released from Babylonian exile; and then again later with the creation of Israel. Historically, this was the redress that White people had accepted for themselves. The quote she presents as Lincoln's (about "mixed-breed bastards") was never said by Lincoln, but was from an 1862 paper by Reverend James Mitchell, who had pitched the idea of a Central American country of Blacks, as "That region had once known a great empire and could become one again."

Before we leave the incident of the ministerial delegation, let's look at the Poole's conclusion: "So the Civil War was NOT fought for slavery." Yet Lincoln's remarks to those ministers included the following:
"See our present condition---the country engaged in war!---our white men cutting one another's throats, none knowing how far it will extend; and then consider what we know to be the truth. But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. Nevertheless, I repeat, without the institution of Slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence."
That they were so abhorrent of slavery though they did not care for the people who are enslaved tells us that the issue was indeed the slavery itself. Remember the caption of this video: "was his concern really about blacks and slavery?" As a slave, would you have given a damn about Lincoln's personal "concern" for you so long as Lincoln's moral opposition to the institution gained you your freedom?

Poole not only presents grievous factual errors such as those I note above (and in some cases, pure fiction wrapped up as scholarly conclusions); she commits the unforgivable academic sin of judging the people of history by the standards of today. And in all of that, she simply makes no logical sense. There was no need for an expansion of White power in the 1860s... as she noted herself, Whites already had all the power. The South fought to preserve slavery in the face of what it saw as imminent extinction; whereas the North fought first and foremost to preserve the Union. And as slavery, being the divisive element, could not be allowed to stand, the Emancipation Proclamation was about ceding power over their own lives to Blacks to the greatest extent possible while still preserving the Union. It was about fulfilling the promise of the Constitution. Lincoln already had that moral inclination when he took office, but he didn't think he had the Constitutional authority to carry it out, and that is why the Emancipation Proclamation was a "practical matter". Many historians agree with him about that technicality: he lacked the legal authority. But prompted by the War, Lincoln nevertheless took the authority and exercised it. His moral certainty strengthened, not weakened. And he ended his life in favor of Black suffrage. Following his death it was the party of Lincoln that passed the 14th Amendment despite 100% Democratic opposition in both the House and Senate.

That a man like Lincoln could run for office at that time and be elected while speaking out publicly for this was nothing short of astonishing. That he was in favor of Black suffrage before White women had a vote is astounding. That the great-grandchildren of the beneficiaries of his legacy could be so petty is contemptible. Were I enslaved, I could not imagine begrudging my freedom because the man who secured it for me didn't follow it up with an invitation to marry his daughter.

As to whether Lincoln was "really" in favor of ending slavery, I will reach back before the War and necessity and expediency, and quote from the same first Lincoln-Douglas debate that was so egregiously misquoted in this video:
"I believe we shall not have peace upon the question until the opponents of slavery arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction."
Remember that people like Poole are entitled to spout all the nonsense they like, but that doesn't obligate anyone to accept it for anything other than the nonsense it is. In order to be so wrong, she has had to deliberately overlook overwhelming evidence that contradicts her conclusions. She has to have been looking for and cherry-picking evidence that supports her pre-drawn conclusion that Whites - but this one in particular - must be evil.

This video isn't scholarship... it's racist apologetics, for the express purpose of keeping people at a perpetual distance who might otherwise move past their differences to come together in unity. This isn't different from the White revisionists who call the Civil War "the War of Northern Aggression" without irony; and who claim that the whole thing was about States Rights, not slavery. This is exactly the same kind of rhetoric used by the KKK, and as a country, we're already sick of it from them. What do we need with a remake of that tired old show?


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

ABC

I found this at Whisper.sh
I'm going to follow the wind today.

It's gone way past ridiculous. LGB turned into LGBT, then LGBTQ, etc. At each attempt to make people feel special, other people feel left out and offended. Then they have to be included explicitly, which offends someone else. So they have to be included. So now it's LGBTQIAPD, which stands for "Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans*, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Aromantic, Pansexual/Polysexual, and Demisexual".

In other words, ABS ("Anything but straight"). Or if you prefer the newer terminology, ABC ("Anything but Cis"). These are shorter and easier to remember... and they still mean exactly what's intended by the longer alphabet soup.

I don't care much about labels. Call yourself a gazebo, and it won't bother me. But if you're picky about your own label, then I do have to remind you that imposing a label on other people is a completely dick move. So if someone tells you that they're Straight -- not Cis -- and you want to correct them, then you're the jackass*. That's your label. Wear it with pride. And because I am a dick, I have no problem saying that or using "ABC".

Of course, to be all-inclusive you have to just drop the labels entirely and treat People as People. But that's not the point for people who collect letters of the alphabet.

--==//oOo\\==--

This actually came to mind today by way of analogy, from an unrelated conversation, so I'm going to let myself wander back into a completely different interpretation of the ABCs.

Hey, STEM folks... an Artist made this!
Created by Colleen Simon for opensource.com
In education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), has relatively recently given way to STEAM (the "A" is for "Arts").

It's another case of being "inclusive" so as not to offend, even though in the process you dilute your message. (The "Black Lives Matter" group understand this for their own movement). I joked that this would eventually become STEAM HEAT (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, History, English, Athletics, and... uhm... "Things" (gotta make it spell stuff). In other words, "school".

It's not that the listed things are objectively more important overall than those things that aren't explicitly listed. Rather, they're subjectively more important to those who focus on them. That's why the focus exists. But really, it's all important, as you learn from the people you exclude the moment you make your focus public. The people who aren't doing STEM are often feeding the people who are. Take them away and see if they're not important.

Personally, I don't think you have to "push" STEM, and I say that as someone who works in a STEM field. We should offer it, but not push. People who are interested in it will seek it out, and those who don't tend not to be very good at it. The people who are pushed into it are often resentful and leave it for something more satisfying. And those who weren't pushed sometimes just fall into it. Surprisingly few of the programmers I work with received computer-related degrees.  I think we are waaay too focused on technical fields as the panacea for all educational problems and a road to The Good Life. Our educators are so focused on their vision of society that they forget that they're neither the boss nor the architect of that society. They get too enraptured by quotas to remember to allow people to choose what they want to do for themselves. As a result people are made to feel bad about becoming skilled workers, and feel like failures for feeding their own families with satisfying, paying work, whatever that might be. If you're going to be offended, be offended at that. It's an outrage perpetrated by people who think they're doing good.