Inventor of the GPS

Dr. Gladys West, The Black Woman Who Invented The GPS, Gets Honored By U.S. Air Force At The Pentagon  [BusinessGhana]

That seems remarkable.  Not just a woman– a black woman!  Of course, those mean men in charge of the Pentagon made sure she didn’t get credit.   For inventing the GPS.  Everybody knows its true.

Or is it.

The first clue is that most of the websites that refer to Gladys West (the “Dr.” came much later in life– she was not a “Dr.” when she worked for the Air Force)  is the oblique tone of the reference: her work contributed to, was essential to, helped, contributed largely to, and so on.

You ask yourself: is it in the interests of the Air Force to quietly accede to some exaggeration here?  So they could be seen to be honoring a black woman?  So they could be seen to be addressing a historical injustice?  So they could be seen as progressive and enlightened?  If someone thought they were now exaggerating her role, would that person dare to speak up?

The header, “The Black Woman Who Invented the GPS”, is a lie.  She was involved in some of the research required for the project, but to say she “invented GPS” is a gross distortion of her role.   It’s the kind of lie Hollywood embraces.  It’s the kind of lie middling America adores.  It doesn’t really offend conservatives (because it makes it look like they always were colorblind when it came to talent) and it totally gratifies white liberals because it vindicates their politics and their self-satisfaction, and everyone else is glad to feel like they are not really racist because, after all, they enjoyed this film, just like they enjoyed “The Green Book” and “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”.

It does not help your cause to exaggerate.  To lie.  The next time I see a headline insisting that a black woman saved hundreds of lives or stopped a war or built an airplane or solved pi or defeated the Nazis– well?  Did you really?

The Implications

Today it was revealed that the Supreme Court is likely to rule to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Everyone is hopefully clear on the fact that overturning “Roe vs Wade” does not make abortion illegal.  It throws the problem back to the states which now may either ban it, partially ban it, or allow it, depending on the whims of state legislators.

States will now be allowed to compel women to carry a pregnancy to full term whether they wish to or not, even in the case of incest or rape.

If this indeed is going to be the ruling (which will be handed down in June), there are some enormous implications.  Off hand, I can think of these:

  • The Democratic base will be energized going into the fall congressional elections.  This is Mitch McConnell’s nightmare.  Mid-term elections generally favor the opposition party at least partly because the government doesn’t have a burning issue to run against– it is the government many people like to vote against no matter what stripe.  But overturning Roe vs Wade may light a fire under the Democrats.
  • The issue should play well for the Democrats.  About 60-65% of Americans support the general right to abortion, though they also think limits should apply.  Democrats can cite the government telling women what they may or may not do with their bodies.  Republican state governments are going to “compel” women to carry pregnancies to term which can be spun as intrusive or egregious or over-reach or patriarchal.  Republicans cannot really run on “life begins at conception”– at least, I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • Further to that — evangelical Christians will not be satisfied with overturning Roe vs. Wade.  They want the Supreme Court to go further and ban all abortions.  Life, to them, begins at conception.  They may begin to demand that their Republican trolls reflect that in their legislation, which may be a bridge too far for independents and moderate Republican women.
  • Why stop at Roe vs Wade?  There are host of privacy rights implied in the principle that the Constitution does not protect them.  Strip searches?  Infrared scans of homes?  Drones?  Cell phone messages?  Library records?  Who says we (the FBI, Homeland Security) can’t look?   Who says those records are private (unless the police have a warrant)?
  • So when really does life begin?  If state governments begin debating this issue, and pass legislation, and this legislation is appealed to the Supreme Court, we will have an even bigger can of worms.
  • State Senate races in close states could swing.  Susan Collins is safe for now– she has five years left in her term.  Lisa Murkowski– lucky for her– voted against Kavanaugh, so she is probably safe.  But many other Republicans running in purple states will have to answer the question of who they would confirm to Supreme Court given that they might make another really stupid decision.  (Is “stupid” a blunt instrument?  I mean, Alito and Thomas are obviously not fools, but I stand by my conclusion of the fundamental soundness of their reasoning behind their votes on Roe vs Wade.  In the totality of their disregard for history, culture, justice, and just plain common sense: stupid.  Just plain stupid.  It can stand with the Dred Scott decision– that negroes are not “persons”.)

As you would think is obvious, the ruling is at odds with conservative ideals about government being restrained from intruding into areas of personal freedom.  The government should not be able to require you to wear a mask  around vulnerable people even if you could be infected with Covid 19, but it should be allowed to compel you to carry a pregnancy to full term.

 

The Father of Violence

The logic of the militarist is this. The only way to stop the enemy from committing violence against us is to threaten to retaliate as swiftly and surely as possible. The proof for the militarist is this: immediately after we have retaliated, the enemy, applying the same logic, will commit more violence, justifying further decisive and immediate retaliation.

Inevitably, there will be peace talks in the Middle East because even mule-headed politicians like Ariel Sharon eventually get it through their thick skulls that this is not a war he can win.

Arafat is a different problem. Arafat had led a war against Israel for thirty years. Confronted with the real prospect of peace at Camp David in 2000, he demurred. Why? Possibly because he was afraid that the entire structure and culture of his power, the on-going struggle against the imperialist west, would be washed away into a complex labyrinth of regulation and policy. Without administrative skills, his power would be diminished and hemmed in by the demands of constructive engagement.

Is Sharon all that different? His reputation is built upon his military successes. Without Arafat to bash around, he would have to develop real economic and social policies that would benefit the voters. Anger and threats don’t settle strikes, reduce inflation, or generate jobs or tourism.  But the country rallies, usually, around a war-time leader.

 

Ketanji Brown Jackson

I really wish Biden had not announced, during his campaign for the presidency, that he would appoint the first black woman justice to the Supreme Court.

There was no need.  He should have said nothing and then gone ahead and appointed Ketanji Brown Jackson out of the blue, as his choice as the most qualified candidate.

Not because he was wrong.  But because it fed into the false far-right narrative that deliberately choosing a black woman and excluding all white men or women is a form of racial discrimination.

So if a black person is charged with a crime and appeals his verdict all the way to the Supreme Court and is a confronted with 9 old white men who will arbitrate his fate, there is no problem.  They are the best.  They are the most qualified.  And there could not possibly be the slightest racial bias embedded in their judgements.

That’s what the far-right would have you believe because, to be blunt, they are too stupid to see a problem.

What they ignore, of course, is, first of all, that there very likely is a racist element to the selection of those judges.  Every single Senator who voted to confirm those justices could openly, sincerely declare that race did not play a role in their choice to confirm.  But that would imply the belief that racism played no role in the establishment that created the network of personal connections, criteria, cultural institutions, inflections, language, and so on that provided them with the nominees from which they chose the members of the Supreme Court.  They might even sincerely believe that these old white male justices would have enough amazing insights into all of the issues and conditions that black people experience to render an objective and fair verdict on each case.  They might believe that black people experience the same law and the same enforcement strategies as white people and that, therefore, there could not possibly be any discriminations or injustice in the way the police and prosecutors conduct their prosecutions.  The police are just as likely to stop or pull over a white citizen for a “random” check as a black citizen.  They are just as like to respect his rights and assume innocence as a they would for a white suspect.  They are just as likely to use physical force.

That is a fantasy.

I don’t think they really believe it themselves.  They know they cannot openly declare that only white people (or black conservatives) should be on the Supreme Court because they are white.  They can’t openly declare that black people are trying to steal the material benefits created by hard-working white people.

They can’t admit that Clarence Thomas was chosen because he was a black conservative and they relished the idea of liberals having to consider rejecting a black nominee just because he was a lousy ideologically driven judge.

The Uncanny Absurdity of the Uncanny Valley

The problem with programming a machine to feel for others is, of course, that the machine might start to develop other feelings, ones unproductive to her work.  But Klara’s evolving emotions are crucial to our understanding of the novel as a technology of interiority.  The reader experiences Klara’s care for Josie through Klara’s empathetic narration, in which her desire to see Josie flourish and grow fails to completely suppress Klara’s desires.   [From a review by Jane Hu in the New York Review of Books.  2021-11-04]

I am completely baffled that a Nobel Prize winning author, Kazuo Ishiguro, would be responsible for such rubbish, or that a reviewer in the New York Review of Books would countenance such an observation.

I thought, perhaps Klara is a biological creation, as the replicants in “Blade Runner” may be (it’s not completely clear that they are).   When Roy Batty demands “more life”, he is expressing a desire, a want, an aspiration, which no machine can ever have.  That might be intriguing, but, of course, that essentially makes an argument for slavery.

But no: Klara is a robot.  She is at times relegated to a closet.  In the end, when Josie goes off to college, she is sent to a dump.

It appears that Ishiguro wants it both ways, in which case, he has failed as a novelist (I haven’t read the book– so I’ll come back to that when I do).  If, inevitably, humans become aware (as they are in the book) of the fact that robots have feelings, they won’t, presumably, leave them in the closet.  I leave open one possibility: Ishiguro has imagined a new  kind of relationship that the humans experience with their robots that blurs the distinction between mechanical and emotional.  But that does not seem likely given that the characters in “Klara and the Sun” sincerely believe that Klara does have feelings and treat her accordingly.  (It is perceived as an act of kindness when one of Josie’s friends prevents another of her friends from tossing Klara into the air to see if she can land on her feet.)  On the other hand, they put her in the closet.  Which is it?

Yes, many smart people really believe that it is possible for a robot to have feelings.  The theoretical framework for this concept rests on the perverse idea that human consciousness is formed by a quasi-mechanical process that takes place in dense particles.  If you have enough dense particles, eventually a “consciousness” can develop.  This fundamental to the belief in AI.

AI, my friends, is a myth.  Come back to me in 20 or 50 years and you will see I am right.

I have argued that this process cannot possibly produce a being with an aspiration or desire or emotion or any other biological characteristic.  Where does it come from?  How can you add 1 plus 1 and get 5?  There is no component of feeling or consciousness in any of the raw elements of a machine.  No matter how many 1’s and 0’s are in a computer brain, they cannot produce a 2: only a sequence of 1’s and 0’s.   Biological cells are not mechanical: they aspire to eat, to consume, to fuck, to absorb, to kill.   A robot only ever does what it is programmed to do“.  Klara can never be sad about losing her relationship to Josie because she could never have been glad to have it in the first place, and Ishiguro’s concept is absurd and Jane Hu’s review is a hollow, empty shell of misconceived rubble.

In “Never Let Me Go” the Klara’s are biological creations who exist only to give up their organs to other humans.  It’s a strange, alien concept (to us at the moment, in the civilized part of the “civilized” part of the world) which he made believable and sad.  I have no problem believing that such a circumstance could, at least theoretically, exist.

There is no way, theoretical or otherwise, a robot with feelings will ever exist.  Whatever we get– and I’m sure we’ll get it, given our surrender to every commercialization of every device ever– will be something mimics feelings which many stupid people will believe are just as real as their own.

Fuck them.  This is a dangerous course of intellectual development which, if it happens, will have dire consequences.

 

Trooper of the Year

No all police are corrupt, self-serving, fascist pigs.

Of course not.  I am occasionally reminded by friends that you should not judge all police by the bad behavior of a few.  They are right, of course.  But when you read a story like this, you begin to wonder if the people who advocate defunding the police aren’t right.  Here you have a police officer arriving at a scene in which a emotionally disturbed young man is threatening to take his own life.  The sensitive, kindly, thoughtful State Trooper demands that the man drop his weapon.  When he doesn’t– he had it taped to his neck– the distinguished officer shoots him dead.

Now, it is one thing to argue that this outcome was unfortunate.  It is one thing to argue that this outcome was unnecessary (the man in question was in his own room in his own house and not threatening to kill anybody but himself).  It is one thing to argue that the situation was unclear.  But it is something else entirely to give the officer an award for “Trooper of the Year”.

The officer, Jay Splain, went on to kill three more people.  Is there a bigger award than “Trooper of the Year” we can give him?

So the institution of the state police are all in on it.  So many of them felt so strongly that there was nothing wrong with this outcome that they called public attention to it and gave him a prize and a commendation.

Even some conservatives will tell you that this kind of incident could be avoided with a little common sense: there was no need for the police to even escalate the situation at all.

But he had a gun.  But isn’t that his god-given all-American Jesus-Loving wholesome family values right?

Mr. Martin saw nothing wrong with allowing the police to investigate themselves.

Mr. Martin thinks people like me think people like him are stupid.  He’s right.

But I would love to ask Mr. Martin, since the principle of allowing police to investigate themselves is alright with him, would he mind if allegations of welfare fraud were investigated by, say, local black church leaders?  Drug dealers?  Let’s get representatives of the pharmaceutical companies to judge.  Traffic violations?  I think NASCAR should send us some reps.

 

A Rashomon Moment on Highway 401: The Trucker Convoy

In the Japanese movie “Rashomon”, by the incomparable Akira Kurosawa, a magistrate convenes a hearing to determine who was responsible for the death of a man in a remote area of a nearby forest. Each of three protagonists, the man’s wife, a common thief, and the man himself (through a medium) confesses to the murder(!) Why? Because it is preferable to them to confess to a heinous crime than to admit to a dishonorable act that each committed during the incident. In the end, a witness comes forward who saw the incident and relates the truth to the court; only one of them is the real murderer, but all three of them are shown to have behaved shamefully.

“Rashomon” was made in 1950 and is often cited as the reason the film academy added “Foreign” to its Oscar categories. I saw it when I was very young and it shook me, and still influences my perception of why people act the way they do. (Another film I saw around the same time, “Monsieur Verdoux” by Chaplin– had a similarly powerful impact on me.)  Nowadays we sometimes say people are “invested” in a particular narrative. In fact, some people are dying of Covid 19 because of their investment in an anti-vaccine ideology.  To the end, most of them refuse to concede that they were fundamentally, ridiculously wrong about Covid.  They can’t stand the idea of admitting they were idiots.

Science isn’t perfect but it’s a hell of a lot more reliable than some website that caters to a political constituency and rages about conspiracies and media bias. And yes, the “mainstream media” is actually another way to describe accountable, institutional journalism that isn’t perfect but has a pretty good track record of uncovering facts and evidence. Most news organizations presented with the claim that vaccines cause illnesses will diligently seek evidence: scientific studies, personal accounts, opinions of qualified, experts. Something like the extinction or near extinction of certain diseases, like measles and polio– which is not hard to verify– is pretty compelling evidence.

Have I wandered?  No.  There is a powerful connection between the truth revealed by “Rashomon” (and “Monsieur Verdoux”) and truth about the pro-Trump right-wing anti-vaccine rabble that is destroying America.  This is about shame.  This is about people who have long despised the “educated elites” who promote equality and feminism and the fight against global warming and the truth about American history (that it is a history of racism and genocide) and want to tax gas-guzzling pick-up trucks and take away your guns because they have contempt for those things, and not because it is good social policy.

These people have felt a sense of shame at the condescension liberals hold for them and this is their chance to say “fuck you” to the members of the “establishment” who make them feel stupid and vulgar.

And they would go very, very far to avoid admitting that they really are stupid and vulgar.

Pre-School

According to a study in Tennessee, children from poor backgrounds offered a pre-school program (for 4-year olds) did worse in several important categories by Grade 6.

This is not supposed to be true.  It is counter to other studies which generally showed that children do better — they graduate high school and have fewer disciplinary issues– if they have an extra year of school at about age 4.  For as long as I can remember, that has been the accepted wisdom on pre-school.  But this study flatly contradicts those assumptions.

If it survives further analysis and assessment, it will have to be taken into account regardless of the politics of government-funding for pre-school.

The Kabuki Theatre of Putin and the Ukraine

[I am publishing this because I was wrong.  I want to acknowledge it, because that’s the only way we learn to be better and more astute in judging these issues.  I really thought Putin would not go this far, but it is clear he is a madman–madder than we thought–who is dangerous to all of Europe.]

Still leaning towards the idea that all this blather about Ukraine is just so much self-perpetuating frenzy: everyone is reporting it so it must be true. And who is supplying all the networks with the lustrous video of tanks and missiles and armored personnel carriers racing around? The Russians of course.

Gwynne Dyer thinks Putin has no intention of invading and he’s right more often than most pundits. Every TV newscast starts out with “INCREASING tension today… ” but tension can’t increase every day without reaching 100% at which point it’s either the same or it decreases. North Korea had it’s time; then Iran. Now it’s Putin.

Strikingly, nobody ever mentions the size of the Ukrainian army, which is actually the largest in Europe at 250,000.

If you hypothesize that this is all just theatre and watch the news in that context, nothing seems jarringly out of place. The White House wants to look tough and determined; Putin wants to look like he’s big and powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with Biden (he’s not: Russia is really not that big or powerful), the media thrives on a perpetual state of crisis.

It’s like Republicans and the crime the rate: it’s always going up. It’s now at 26,000 percent.

Divine Incest

The Vatican announced on Wednesday that Pope John Paul I, the Italian pontiff who reigned for only 33 days before his death in 1978, will be beatified after a miracle was attributed to him, bringing him one step closer to sainthood.   Ny Times – The Vatican announced …

What is this bullshit?  Did anyone tell the Roman Catholic Church that it is 2021 now?  The witches are gone, the Inquisition is gone, the miracles are gone, the magic is not afoot.

Pope Francis has authorized this step, adding to my disappointment with his appointment.

A sick young girl in Argentina was allegedly healed mysteriously by an “invocation of the Venerable John Paul I” according to the chief miracle detectors and busters office of the Vatican, the “Congregation for the Causes of the Saints”.   Any hospital could point you to dozens of similar “miracles”– unexplained sudden recoveries.

Make sure, Pope Francis, that you appoint your friends to this august body: that’s how it works.  That’s how you ensure that you too will reach the pinnacle.

And popes are not saints.  Saints are not saints.  Olga of Kiev, who brutally murdered thousands of Drevlians (a tribe living in what is now the Ukraine) is not a saint.  But the Catholic Church thinks she is.

What we have is this: each pope for the last 50 years has come to realize that his own canonization depends on establishing a precedent or model that will provide the framework for his own beatification.   I predict that every single pope from now to eternity will be Canonized.  It’s like sports halls of fame: every chief executive in the league offices has arranged it so that his own induction will seem inevitable, by establishing the kind of vague, loosely defined criteria that can be buffed and customized to suit any succeeding executive even if he is as mediocre a person as Gary Bettman.

It’s almost as bad as Franklin Graham inheriting his father’s divine mandate to lecture us all on how Donald Trump is really Jesus.