Handing Over Our Thinking to Algorithms

I was struck by something Lukianoff and Haidt said in The Coddling of the American Mind when they describe the response to Rebecca Tuvel’s article (“In Defense of Transracialism”) in Hypatia: “It is striking  how many of the critics’ complaints refer not to Tuvel’s arguments but to her word choices” (p105).  At first, I thought, with a grimace, that’s because so many people can’t understand arguments .

But recalling the proliferation of demands that people’s twitter accounts be suspended, I think there might be something else going on: people are using algorithms, which can identify individual words or phrases, but not arguments, to determine what’s acceptable and what’s objectionable.

And that’s scarey.  Just one of the many scarey things about turning over our lives to various versions of artificial intelligence.  Algorithms and so forth are only as good as their creators, and I suggest that those creators, IT (Business/Computer Studies) graduates, are not the sharpest pencils in the box.

(A predecessor point along the same spectrum: customer service departments that require their reps to follow a script instead of allowing them to think for themselves like human beings.  We all know how frustrating that is.  Just a few degrees more frustrating than the also-predecessor automated answering machine menus.)



Open Season on Women: More evidence of the pornification of our society

I live in a small lake-centered community about three hours north of Toronto, consisting of about thirty houses: about ten are occupied year-round; the others are occupied mostly just during the summer.  So, small neighbourhood.

Over the past few years, I’ve experienced six instances of what I would call over-the-top insult.  Specifically misogynist insult.

Man #1: I’d called the MNR to inquire about laws concerning cutting down trees at the shoreline; I emphasized that the guy was doing so on his own private property, but still, I wondered if that was okay—in some areas it is not, because it messes up the ecosystem.  The man had put up for sale the peninsula in question (my precious view!), and I had already offered to purchase it at its assessed value, at twice its assessed value, at three times its assessed value—he refused to sell it to me, believing that he could get more for the house on top of the hill if this slice of waterfront was attached (true, but what he could get for house-without-peninsula + only-peninsula might have been even more), and he thought that clearing the peninsula would make it more attractive.  (And maybe he didn’t think women should own property.)  That afternoon (after paddling over in the morning and begging him to stop, suggesting that the next owners might actually like the natural woodsiness—to no avail whatsoever), I stopped at his house with yet another offer: I would pay the property taxes on the peninsula until he sold the property if he would agree to not cut down any more trees.  Barely suppressing rage (at what?), he called me a cunt, flicked the rag he happened to have in his hand at me, pushed me back into my car, told me to leave before he became a murderer, then reached in and smacked my dog.

Man #2:  This guy had recently purchased a cottage at the end of our dead-end lane, and his young son had started driving an ATV up and down, and up and down, and up and down, annoying everyone …   So I finally stopped him, told him there was a nearby stretch of road that had no one living on it, and suggested he play with his ATV there instead.  Next up and down, it was his father on the ATV.  He got off, stomped toward me, stood way too close, started jabbing his finger at me, called me a bitch, and told me that his son could drive his ATV wherever he wanted to.  Later, while I was walking on the road (dirt/gravel road with no sidewalks), I saw his fast-approaching pick-up, moved as far to the edge of the road as I could, and faced the ditch so I wouldn’t get any gravel in my face.  He came so close to me, I felt the swoosh of wind; if I’d happened to bend down to re-tie my shoelace while I waited for him to pass by, I’d probably be in a wheelchair now.

Man #3: The smoke from this guy’s burning leaves had been drifting onto my property for hours, forcing me inside with all the windows closed (I’m one of the many for whom such smoke is a headache trigger).  So, deciding to take an indirect approach and thus avoid a physical confrontation, I simply left information about the toxicity of smoke from burning leaves in his mailbox; I figured he could read it and (hopefully) make the decision on his own to just let the leaves decompose in a pile in the corner of his almost-an-acre lot—it was better for the environment that way, quite apart from more respectful of his neighbours.  A few days later, he happened to be picking up his mail when I walked by.  He asked if I had been the one to put the information in his mailbox; I said yes; he then called me a coward and a cunt, all the while standing way too close and doing the finger jabbing thing.

Man #4: My transgression in this case?  I’d knocked over the guy’s pile of rocks.  It had apparently taken him hours to build.  Unfortunately, he’d built it about thirty feet from shore (and not by any means close to his own property), right in the middle of what I think of as my kayak path—which he would have known had he been paying any attention to me kayaking past almost every day for the last twenty years, hugging the shore to be safe from the jetskis.  Apparently he needed a landmark, other than, oh, I don’t know, the dead tree on the opposite shore, in order to avoid the submerged sandbar that was there.  So he raced out on his jetski to me in my kayak and started yelling at me, calling me a bitch, asking me how stupid I was, and generally throwing a tantrum.

Man #5: This time?  Apparently I wasn’t moving quickly enough from the easy walking of the middle of a seldom-travelled dirt road to the soft edge.  That is to say, I wasn’t running out of his way.  So while heading straight for me on his ATV, he shouted ‘Ya gotta get out of my way!’  Not terribly misognynistic unless you recognized the patronizing tone he managed to put into it.  Like I was a toddler who needed to be told to look both ways before crossing a road.  (Sidenote: his father, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, had wanted to hire me to be his maid and caretaker—I’m a consultant for a firm in Washington—and asked if I liked sex and was I any good at it.)

Man #6: I’ve saved the ‘best’ for last.  On my way back from an all-afternoon paddle up the river, I stopped in front of a cottage (another of the eight upwind from my house) to ask that they put out the smokepit they’d had going since morning (so, for eight hours).  Long story short, a guy came running down to the dock and started lunging at me (as if trying to scare away a bear?), calling me crazy, telling me to fuck off, telling me to mind my own business, and finally telling me I should take off my headphones (they were already off), bash my head with rocks, jump into the lake, and drown.  Die.  (He probably also called me a cunt, but I’m not sure, because I was so transfixed by his foaming-at-the-mouth reaction to me, to my simple request … )

So.  What are the odds?  Assuming one man per house, that’s six out of thirty, which is one in five.  One in five men responded with absolute outrage when I challenged them on something.  That in itself isn’t particularly new.  Someone once said that “When men make demands, they expect women to comply.”  True enough.  And when women make demands, men completely lose their shit.

And I’m no stranger to sexism—as a female human being, I’ve been dismissed and/or ignored all my life.

What caught me by surprise, in every case, was the vehemence of the response, so disproportionate to the stimulus (two of the six uttered near death threats), and the ease with which those who called me a cunt did so.

On top of all that, in four of the six cases, I was significantly older than the man in question.  Insults among peers is one thing, but it takes a certain arrogance to insult someone twenty or thirty years your senior: no deference, no hesitation, they were just as reckless, just as abusive, with me as I imagine they might be with their peers.

At first, I thought of individual explanations, something in our history … but to three of the six, I was a total stranger.

So.  What’s going on?  Yes, our society is increasingly uncivil.  And some have attributed that to the internet: in general, people are more insulting when they are anonymous and, no surprise, that rudeness becomes a habit and crosses over into ‘real’ life.

But that doesn’t explain the sexual nature of the insults.  Or the ease—and the rage—with which I was called a bitch or a cunt.

So I’m thinking it’s due to internet porn.  Most porn, now, is incredibly aggressive and humiliating to women (read Dines’ Pornland and Bray and Reist’s Big Porn, Inc.): women are routinely slapped, hit, fucked; spat on, pissed on; and yes, of course, called a bitch and a cunt.  Routinely.  And most men watch porn.  And, well, we become what we expose ourselves to.  (Read the research).  Therefore, most men believe they have a right to hurl abuse, sexual abuse, at a woman.  Any woman.  Anytime.  Anywhere.

(Act accordingly.)


This is Not The Truman Show

I live in a cabin on a lake in a forest (purchased back when people like me, not-rich people, could afford such things).  There are about ten permanent residences; about ten cottages owned by people who may (or may not) be there during any given weekend or week; and, now, oh the horror, about ten houses owned by absentee landlords who rent them out on a short-term basis (typically for a weekend or a week).  So in addition to the 20 or so people who live here and the familiar 20 or so people who are here occasionally, we now have up to another 100 people (because ‘Sleeps 10!’), strangers, who are here pretty much all the time from mid-spring to mid-fall.

I moved here for the beauty, the quiet, the solitude.  Paddling here used to feel like paddling in Algonquin.  It doesn’t feel that way anymore.  (‘Course, I suspect that paddling in Algonquin doesn’t even feel like paddling in Algonquin anymore.)  Now it often feels like paddling around a pond in Toronto.

A while ago I was accused of being rude.  Because I didn’t smile and wave back when I paddled past someone sitting on a dock who’d smiled and waved at me.  Excuse me?

I am not part of your cottage experience.  This is not The Truman Show.  I’m an actual, real person, and I live here.  I do not come into existence when you arrive and disappear when you leave.

You’ve been suckered by the rental ads claiming a cottage escape where you can relax and have fun.  Like many tourists, you think the people you see are part of the package.  I assure you we are not.

You may be able to relax and have fun here.  But keep in mind that you’re really just renting a house in someone else’s neighbourhood for the weekend/week.

So you’ll understand why many of us are pissed off by your jetskis that shove gasoline fumes and engine noise into every cove (and over a gallon of uncombusted fuel directly into the lake for every hour of operation), your all-day firepits that send smoke into everyone’s back yard, and your evening campfires during which due to the acoustics of the lake and your insistence on using your outdoor voices (because, hey, you’re outdoors!  up north, in the wild!) we have to listen to your inane conversations (and sometimes your gawdawful music) when we really want to listen to the loons.  (And I’m the one who’s rude?!)

So, no.  If you smile and wave at me when I pass by (and I doubt you do that to every stranger who passes by when you’re sitting on your porch at home in your own neighbourhood), I’m not going to smile and wave back.




Surely, A Metaphor (for what’s happening to our planet)

Weather websites are issuing air quality alerts because of the smoke coming from forest fires in the northeast, and yet people in cottage country just a few hours north of Toronto have smokepits going all day, presumably so they won’t be bothered by mosquitoes.

Never mind that said smokepits fill the whole neighbourhood with toxic smoke, worse by far than that coming from the forementioned forest fires.

Never mind that there are non-toxic (and non-trespassive) alternatives like zapper racquets and protective clothing.

A confrontation with a neighbour about this ended in a not-quite death threat: it took less than sixty seconds for the man to go from “Mind your own business!” (I am: when your smoke crosses over onto my property, it becomes my business.) to “Fuck off, bitch! Why don’t you smash your head with rocks, then jump in the lake and drown?!”  (Seriously.  That’s what he said.  He was practically foaming at the mouth.)

Canada hasn’t met any of the emissions targets it’s set.  Not one.  (No surprise.  Given Mr. Mind-your-own-business. Who apparently has no understanding of, and/or no interest in, cause and effect.)

So, like South Koreans, who also live with unbreathable air, due to China, I’ll be getting some smoke masks and nose filters.  Sigh.



The replacement of journalism

“The replacement of journalism by rumor aggregators …”  (Zendegi, Greg Egan).  Yes.  That.  Precisely.


Truth and Negotiation

“Caitlin knew she was not a good negotiator, not like Annelise or Rachel.  Sicence didn’t negotiate truth; it tried to discover and prove it.” The Eleventh Gate, Nancy Kress

Ah.  The less regard for truth, the greater one’s negotiation skills.  Explains politics.  The state of the world.


Who should pay for housework?

“In strict economic terms, the almighty free market theoretically considers the work of women in the home to be without value, to be worthless.  It is recognized nowhere in the free market economic model” (The High Road, Terry Fallis).

Also true for the work of men in (and around) the home.

But I would not want to have to pay (via my tax dollars) other women for doing their housework.  Just as I would not want to pay men for their incessant puttering around (my god, one of my retired neighbours has, so far, built five little sheds on his property; it’s bad enough that I’ve had to hear every single cut made by his power saw, every single screw inserted with his power drill … you want me to PAY him for it as well?

The problem is that women do so much more of the work, especially if they have kids.  So the solution is for the household members to come up an equitable arrangement.  Or for the man to pay the woman to be cook and maid and childcare worker and the woman to pay the man for car repair and lawn services.  Or whatever.


“None of the Above” Ballot Idea


Proposes “None of the Above” Be Added to Ballot

Thirty Percent of the Votes Would Trigger New Election



Excellent idea.  from Jack McDevitt’s The Long Sunset


James White’s Sector General series

James White’s Sector General series should be required reading for ANYONE assigned to first contact missions.  Note in the first paragraph below (from Alien Emergencies), the inclusion of specialists in communications, philosophy, and psychology.  Note the exclusion of specialists in any of the hard sciences.  And the military.  (Note also, the more effective way.)

“The Cultural contact people were the elite of the Monitor Corps, a small group of specialists in e-t communications, philosophy and psychology. Although small, the group was not, regrettably, overworked …

“… During the past twenty years,” O’Mara went on, “they have initiated First Contact procedure on three occasions, all of which resulted in the species concerned joining the Federation.  I will not bore you with the details of the number of survey operations mounted and the ships, personnel and materiel involved, or shock you with the cost of it all.  I mention the Cultural Contact group’s three successes simply to make the point that within the same time period this hospital became fully operational and also initiated First contacts, which resulted in seven new species joining the Federation.  This was accomplished not by a slow, patient buildup and widening of communications until the exchange of complex philosophical and sociological concepts became possible, but by giving medical assistance to a sick alien.”

I can’t recommend White’s work enough.  Finally, an intelligent approach to alien life.  (Because yes, pretty much every novel I’ve read, and every movie I’ve seen, to date, has been embarrassing for its UNintelligent approach to alien.  Why haven’t we discovered intelligent life out there?  Because we’re too stupid to visit.)


Everything turned into entertainment

“Look at the world around you, David.  What do you see?  An endless theme part, with everything turned into entertainment.  Science, politics, education–they’re so many fairground rides.  Sadly, people are happy to buy their tickets and climb aboard.”  The Millennium People, J. G. Ballard