Alan Turing

September 14, 2009

I only recently discovered that Alan Turing was gay (or, at least, slept with men.) I think I had about five minutes of elation, in which I mentally stood him next to Ada Lovelace in my pantheon of idols with whom I can identify, before I learned the second half of the story: mere years after being chemically castrated as punishment for his homosexuality ‘gross indecency’ Turing committed suicide. He hasn’t budged in my affections– I just relate to him now more personally and more painfully than would be necessary in a more perfect world.

It seems everything conspires to keep bringing him to my attention, though, so have two links, on his life and on the recent British apology for his mistreatment:

Orson Scott Card, meet Alan Turing, from Feminist SF.

For Alan Turing, a real apology for once, from Language Log.

Finally, I leave you with a poem by Matt Harvey, from the BBC Radio.

here’s a toast to Alan Turing
born in harsher, darker times
who thought outside the container
and loved outside the lines
and so the code-breaker was broken
and we’re sorry
yes now the s-word has been spoken
the official conscience woken
– very carefully scripted but at least it’s not encrypted – 
and the story does suggest
a part 2 to the Turing Test:
1. can machines behave like humans?
2. can we?


Disability fail?

June 10, 2009

So, I was reading this BBC article about an upcoming game/movie franchise that involves humans controlling created human/alien avatars in order to forcibly colonize a planet named Pandora whose native inhabitants, from the sentient Na’vi to the animals and plants, do not want humans there. I thought it was just a little messed up– like, isn’t is usually considered a bad thing to invade somebody’s home…? Are we going to be rooting for the unjustified human takeover? Or is this one of those gams like Shadow of the Colossus where you’re supposed to feel bad about what you’re doing? (And what if people don’t feel bad, or don’t feel bad enough? A lot of people probably don’t see a problem with colonization.)

I thought that encouraging people to casually support murdering people whose land you want was probably going to be the major flaw in the game, but at least there might be a way to do it well (by making it clear that the players are engaged in, shall we say, questionable activity, and having the ending reflect that), but I’m not sure how in the world they’re going to salvage this:

Mr Landau said that Jake Sully changes sides and helps the Na’vi “lead a revolution to force the humans – and avatars – off Pandora”.

The catch, said Mr Landau, is that when Sully is in avatar mode, he is fully mobile; back in human form, he is confined to a wheelchair.

“It’s a moral dilemma that he will have to face.”

It remains to be seen if this moral dilemma from the movie will be replicated in the game.

Okay, so the moral dilemma is…?

Maybe the game-makers think the dilemma is that he thinks helping the Na’vi is the Right Thing, but he might choose to help the humans anyway, because he could control an avatar to get around instead of being stuck in his pitiful wheelchair-bound life. The humans could give him everything he’s dreamed of! They could fix his miserable, worthless life! Because, you know, wheelchair = MISERY.

Oh no. Is he going to choose to follow his principles, and therefore choose to remain in the wheelchair, to teach us a Very Special Lesson about how brave he is to go on with his life as it is despite all his hardships? I hope not.

But wait– he’s siding against the player. Is he going to be evil and bitter, then? What’s the moral dilemma if he’s on the opposite side? Unless he chooses to join the human at the end… indicating that having an avatar body is worth betraying his principles! Dear god, he better not Learn To Hope and forsake his bitter ways if he does.

Augh! Is there any way to have a disabled character with a “moral dilemma” around their ability that isn’t full of stupid tropes and hopelessly centered around able-bodied privilege?? What do you guys think– how might this play out?

Late term abortion provider shot to death in KS

May 31, 2009

Okay, folks, this is merely a preliminary to something I will blog more extensively on when I have slightly more material to work with.

As it is, Dr. George Tiller was shot to death in the lobby of a church today on his way to worship.

He was the only late-term abortion provider in the state of Kansas, and probably for a radius of a couple hundred miles. I understand that many women came from surrounding states for Dr. Tiller’s services, and that both Dr. Tiller and his clinic were persecuted for providing these health care services to women. They were taken to court numerous times, and Dr. Tiller was just cleared two months ago of the 19 misdemeanor charges most recently brought against him.

Dr. Tiller had been shot and injured once before for providing abortion services.

And yet, no one gets shot in the U.S. for refusing women birth control. No one.

RIP, Dr. Tiller. I hope there is someone as courageous as you to fill your shoes, for the sake of all women in the American Midwest.

Mind The (nonexistent) Gap

May 27, 2009

In the comments thread to this post, good ol’ Goggler dirtyrose left us a message clearly crying out for a good rant:

The View just did a segment about a study claiming that women are more depressed now than they were in “the good old days” of the 50s (which is a misconception and never existed the way people remember it…). It was some of the most anti-feminist crap I’ve ever heard and I was SHOCKED by it.

Crowfoot responded with the following, just as clearly crying out for a blogaround:

That stat is familiar – I think Shakesville had a post about that? Or was it Tiger Beatdown? In any event, if that statistic is actually true (which I have serious concerns about), do you think that it might be because while we are constantly told we’re all equal and shit, we’re still actually treated like meat-socks and/or children, but we can’t complain about that because we’re all so apparently equal and shit so we must just be over-sensitive. Also, we’re almost all of us working full time and still doing the lion’s share of the housework, so more exhaustion? Maybe?

As a compromise, I provide for your reading pleasure a blogaround of rants:

Tiger Beatdown did, indeed, cover this gem, in a typically hilarious post titled “IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Tales of the Backlash,” which begins thus:

Greetings! Are you aware of how sad – so sad! So prone to bleak despair! – all women now are, due perhaps to progress? Well, we are. Sad, that is! I read a study about it! It was full of SCIENCE. I even wrote about the SCIENCE, for The Guardian’s Comment is Free! Observe.

You may notice that the last word there is a quote; this is because Sady actually wrote at The Guardian but I loved her her Tiger Beatdown intro too much, so I quoted that one. Click either link (or both!) for the full-frontal Sady Awesome.

However, Crowfoot was right about Shakesville, too: SKM covered it in “Mini-Brooks Minds The Happiness Gap” — way to pro-actively steal my title-pun, Shakesville! A salient quote:

Douthat begins by accepting the premise that women’s happiness is falling worldwide. He then moves on to speculate about why that might be. First, he whips out the old high school debate tactic of bringing up the explanation he does not believe in order to shoot it down:

Again, maybe the happiness numbers are being tipped downward by a mounting female workload — the famous “second shift,” in which women continue to do the lion’s share of household chores even as they’re handed more and more workplace responsibility. It’s certainly possible — but as Wolfers and Stevenson point out, recent surveys actually show similar workload patterns for men and women over all.

I have not paid $5 to download the working paper, so I do not know if Wolfers and Stevenson do in fact claim that workloads are equal for men and women, or if their data are convincing. But notice that Douthat breezily dismisses the very concept of a second shift, without feeling the need to argue his point.

Incertus also did a great job for addressing the fact that a “happiness gap” doesn’t obviously stem from feminism as its cause, and in fa, in “Liberated Women Are Sad.”

It does not occur to him that the freedom to be honest and complain is actually a part of that revolution he’s talking about. “Being unpleasant” and “being unattractive” are heavy weaponry when used against a group of people who must make their way in the world by being pleasant and attractive, as opposed to by their intelligence, strength, and hard work. A woman in the 60s who sat down and said, “my life is unfulfilling and I am unhappy,” would have to deal with the consequences of “being that way.” A woman today has less to worry about. It’s even (almost) fully acceptable today (in certain circles) to complain about how motherhood sucks and having children ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. This is a case where freedom equals the ability to mention that you’re unhappy.

Now, Shakesville gave the hat tip to Language Log, a blog that I follow gleefully and which was my first source for this lovely story. “The happiness gap is back” features a collection of links on the topic, as well as the following graph and accompanying question:


And I’ll ask a simple question: What fraction of graphically and statistically literate people think that the right way to describe the data summarized in that graph is “In postfeminist America, men are happier than women”?

My final impression: gee, anti-feminists sure don’t need much to get all riled up, do they? We must be doing something right.

Hey, Christian Fundies Listened To Me!

March 24, 2009

Well! What interesting timing. Just when eloriane and I were both thinking about same-sex marriage (ok, I was mostly scrunching my eyes shut and spewing), Vermont goes and votes almost unanimously for marriage equality! Okay, maybe 26 – 4 isn’t all that “almost unanimous” mathematically, but hey! It’s not a squeaker 😀 And yes, the vote does need to clear the House but it sounds like that’s likely not going to be a problem. w00t! This is awesome news, Vermont!

Of course, being the newshound that I am ,*ahem* I learned of this first from Shakesville, thankyouverymuch Ms. McEwan. I don’t read the news, it seems. I read feminists’ take on the news. Much easier for the blood pressure.

Over at Blurt, the blog of Vermont independent newspaper Seven Days, they bring us  a view of what it was like inside the Senate during the debate and the vote:

Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor), the key sponsor of the Senate version, tossed aside eight pages of notes to “speak from the heart” in an effort to urge his colleagues to support the bill.

Campbell said marriage needed to be inclusive, and into its fold brought people who were committed to upholding the rights and responsibilities of marriage, as well as the love it takes to make it work.

He took offense at some opponents labeling gays and lesbians “those people.”

“You know who those they people are? They are our policemen. They are our firefighters. They’re teachers; they’re garbagemen; they’re the guy who plows the street,” said Campbell. “They are our children, our sisters, our brothers. That’s what they are. They are human beings and as such and as it’s said in this bill they should be treated equally.”

*sniff* You know, usually when I go to weddings I don’t get emotional. Often there’s this part of me inside that is really hoping that the bride won’t go through with it. “Run!” says the voice in my head. But, the only same-sex marriage I’ve been to is also the only wedding where I cried. Being able to love, openly, and to have that love acknowledged by the community? That means something. Good for you, Vermont senators, for doing the right thing.

Quick hit: synthetic blood from stem cells

March 23, 2009

So, this is some super-cool science news from the BBC!

UK scientists plan a major research project to see if synthetic human blood can be made from embryonic stem cells.

Led by the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, the three year trial could provide an unlimited supply of blood for emergency transfusions.

Scientists have already shown it is possible to take a single stem cell from an early human embryo and encourage it to develop into mature blood cells in the laboratory.

And a US firm called Advanced Cell Technology has managed to produce billions of red blood cells from embryonic blood cells in this way.

The challenge now is to scale up the production and move the science from the lab to the bedside, which will take years.

Professor Turner said: “We should have proof of principle in the next few years, but a realistic treatment is probably five to 10 years away.

“In principle, we could provide an unlimited supply of blood in this way.”

This is especially handy since they can pick out only those embryos with O-type blood to create the stem cells. O is the only safe blood type to use in emergency situation, since it’s the “universal donor” and contains none of the antibodies that some people react to. Unfortunately, only 7% of the population has blood type O, so it’s always in short supply. By creating synthetic blood from stem cells, we can not only be sure to eliminate the risk of blood-borne diseases in transfusions, we can also have unlimited quantities of type O blood on hand for any time we’re unsure of (or don’t have time to check) a patient’s blood type! Hurray!

Well, mostly hurray. Some people aren’t so happy.

However, many groups object to the use of embryonic stem cells on the grounds that it is unethical to destroy embryos in the name of science.

Josephine Quintavalle of the public interest group Comment on Reproductive Ethics said: “Like so many of the claims associated with embryonic stem cells, this is first steps research rather than a cure around the corner, and just as hypothetical as the rest of the claims which try to justify destroying the human embryo for the benefit of mankind.

First, this isn’t in the name of science. I mean, I like science, so I don’t think things done “in the name of science” are less worthwhile just because they’re not focused on practical benefits. It’s just inaccurate in this case. We’re researching this process in the name of saving millions of lives, not in the name of science.

Also, does this make any sense at all as a reasonable way to protest?

“Associating this controversial research with a National Blood Transfusion service may even end up contaminating the feel-good image of blood banks.

“Those who donate blood but who defend the right to life of the human embryo may be reluctant to continue giving their blood.”

Scientists are researching ways to, in ten years, solve the problem of not getting enough O-type blood from voluntary donations. So now, you think blood banks are Evil, so you’re going to stop donating blood. Zuh?? Wouldn’t it be the opposite way around– every ounce of blood you donate is a widdle baby embryo that doesn’t have to be turned into synthetic blood? If you don’t want us to make stem-cell blood, don’t stop donating yours! Form huge crowds of type-O donors and mob those blood banks so we don’t have a reason anymore for synthetic blood! You think these scientists could get any funding if the blood banks were glutted with type O blood? No way! Refusing to donate is only going to increase their support!

But I guess that kind of logical thought is too science-y for this crowd. So go ahead, give the blood banks a miss. We’ll carry on without you. In the name of science!

EU bans the use of ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ (and sportsmen and statesmen) because it claims they are sexist

March 18, 2009

Yup, you read that right. EU bans the use of ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ (and sportsmen and statesmen) because it claims they are sexist (emphasis mine.) Not, because, you know, it’s sexist.

I think I would find the over-the-top outrage a lot funnier if it wasn’t, well, sad.

No, really just read this! (I’ve inserted my own comments, but otherwise this passage is unaltered from the original.)

Instead of using the standard titles, it is asking MEPs to address women by their names.

No! Truly, society shall crumble!

And the rules have not stopped there –


they also ban MEPs saying sportsmen and statesmen, advising athletes and political leaders should be used instead.

Man-made is also taboo – it should be artificial or synthetic, firemen is disallowed and air hostesses should be called flight attendants.

Uh… really? That’s it? These seem, uh, pretty obvious to me.

Headmasters and headmistresses must be heads or head teachers, laymen becomes layperson, and manageress or mayoress should be manager or mayor.

Wait, seriously? The words manageress and mayoress actually existed? That’s about as pathetic as millionairess. And people object to eliminating them??

Police officers must be used instead of policeman and policewoman unless the officer’s sex is relevant.

The only problem words that do not fit into the guidelines are waiter and waitress, which means MEPs are at least spared one worry when ordering a coffee.

Thank goodness. I was really concerned about them. Those poor MEPS, and the loss of their mayoresses.

They have reacted with incredulity to the booklet, which has been sent out by the Secretary General of the European Parliament.

Scottish Tory MEP Struan Stevenson described the guidelines as ‘political correctness gone mad’.

Haha, this is my favourite part, this poor guy’s hilariously overwrought rant!

He said: ‘This is frankly ludicrous.

You’re frankly ludicrous, oooh! (Except actually, he kinda is. Keep reading.)

We’ve seen the EU institutions try to ban the bagpipes and dictate the shape of bananas, but now they seem determined to tell us which words we are entitled to use in our own language.

‘Gender-neutrality is really the last straw. The Thought Police are now on the rampage in the European Parliament.

Seriously, guys, it’s like, 1984 or something! Thought Police!!

‘We will soon be told that the use of the words “man” or “woman” has been banned in case it causes offence to those who consider ‘gender neutrality’ an essential part of life.’

Indeed, that slope, it is so slippery! Why, soon, women might ask that we pay them as much as we pay men who do the identical work! The horror!

In all seriousness, I’m excited about this change, and while I’d prefer for people to recognize the inequity and the role language plays in perpetuating it, and choose to alter their language accordingly, well, maybe it’ll work in the other direction, too. At the very least, this is a step in the right direction.