Archive for ‘culture’


Machinima! Scripting!

As reblogged (“reblogged”) over on the Secret Second Life Weblog, there is a new Second Life machinima out from the impressive (virtual, international) team of Randt and Hoisan (here is Natascha Randt’s weblog entry in German even). Both of them say nice things about me (well, about that Dale person’s) contributions, of which I am (Dale is) quite proud, even though (don’t tell anyone) scripting in Second Life is pretty much always very easy programming.

I should really do a weblog entry sometime about Second Life scripting, because it’s pretty wild. The language it’s done in is a bizarre little thing; the rumor that it was put together over a weekend just to have something working, without much thought, may be true or false, but it certainly feels that way. It’s almost-but-not-quite event-driven, objects are almost-but-not-quite immutable, lists are almost-but-not-quite first-class objects, etc, etc, etc.

And you can tell the built-in functions because they all start with “ll” (el-el, not eleven).

That weblog entry should probably be in the other weblog, though. :)

Besides recommending that you watch the machinima in the first paragraph there (which is very well worth watching!) I will just say here that Second Life is still out there, and still going strong, with constant events, DJs, live music, games, romance an’ drama, shopping (SO MUCH shopping!), building of castles and piloting of vintage airplanes, SF buildings and philosophy discussions lame and non-lame, many strippers on dancepolls, people being dragons and tiny otters and suchlike, and general wild creativity and madness and fun.

There are all sorts of other “VR” and suchlike going on, as the song seems to have come ’round on the guitar again, but I’m not convinced by any of them, including the ones done by Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life. I still strongly believe that enabling users to create content, simply and inside a shared world and without mastering any 3D modeling tools or knowing what a normal map is, is key to why Second Life works, and that all the new efforts centering on geeky 3D goggles and higher resolution displays and giving each creator their own private world, are pretty much entirely missing the point.

I admit I don’t know what to make of, or do about, the fact that the Second Life population has more or less plateau’d in size; but I don’t think anyone else does, either, or that geeky 3D goggles are the thing that’s going to get it to the next ten million users…

So we’ll see!




I went to the Women’s March on NYC, and it was amazing!  Some stories and pictures and thoughts here.

(First off, I know there aren’t solely positive things related to the march; there’s the “where was all this enthusiasm on voting day?” thought, and the “where were all these people at the Black Lives Matter marches?” thought, and the “don’t be so smug about how peaceful it all was; it’s mostly because so many of the marchers were white!” thought, and those all have merit, but I don’t have anything deep to say about them, and I’m mostly going to talk just about my experience here, and not try to draw any Big Conclusions.  Overall I think it was great, to whatever extent there are problematic ties.)

Here are a bazillion photos (and some videos!) that I took, in a Google Photos Album thing that I hope that link lets you get to and all.

I drove to Croton-Harmon and took Metro North in, as I always do. (The little boy was at work, img_20170121_094108and M is not good with crowds, and the little daughter bizarrely lives in Manhattan now, so it was just me travelling.)

The station had various small groups of women and other people, wearing lots of pink and examining the train schedules and carrying signs. One woman was still knitting a Pussy Hat out of screaming pink yarn; I don’t know if she expected to get it done on the train ride or not!

Saturday morning trains into the City are usually pretty empty, but this one (the 9:45 express, I think it was) was about 10 minutes late, and when it did arrive it was already pretty much packed.  Most of the people were on the way to the March, and when a new pussy-hatted group passed by in the aisle, already-seated marchers would cheer.

I ended up riding in the vestibule between cars (which is always, non-ironically, fun), and even that was packed!

Here we areimg_20170121_104838 arriving at Grand Central; lots of us! Can’t see the entire crowdstream because of the awesome Pussy Bites Back sign, but hey, it’s an awesome sign.

Pussy in its various forms and meanings was definitely a Big Theme of the march.  Lots of cat images (and hats), quite a few uterus images, and a significant (though smaller) number of vagina images, pretty much all of which made me happy.  (Keeping in mind, at the same time, that not all people, or even all women, have cats, or uteruses, or vaginas.)

One of the chants (and I’ll say more about the chants, I’m sure) that I think I heard only once, was a nice simple call-and-response of “Pussy!” “Power!” “Pussy!” “Power!”, led by a woman standing on some piece of civic infrastructure by the side of the march; after the chant ended (with the usual loud Wooting), I heard the male person standing up there with her say “That was great!”.

I went out of Grand Central (see the album linked above for some photos from there; it wasn’t as packed because people were arriving and then as quickly streaming off toward various gathering places for the march, but the crowd was still impressive), and turned East on 42nd Street, intending to head for 46th and 2nd, where the DSA was supposed to be meeting up.

On the way I realized that with my “Resist.” tee shirt covered by my scarf and flannel overshirt and hoodie I wasn’t very visible as a marcher, and I wanted to be (should have planned farther ahead and commissioned my own ping pussy hat from M!).  And Lo and Behold there were enterprising NYC street vendors selling Hello Kitty ear muffs in bright pastel colors, so I got one. Admire my tiny-eyed revolutionary look!
Laugh if you will :) but I got many compliments on these earmuffs throughout the day.

I made my way toward 46th and 2nd as the crowd gradually thickened, and only when I was very close did I realize that (a) it mattered a whole lot which of the four corners of that intersection they’d intended, and (b) I was not actually going to be able to find the DSA area, if any, as it was getting impossible to move.


In fact it was pretty much almost impossible to move for over an hour, and no one knew quite what was going on, but it was still very convivial and positive. One older woman felt light-headed and sat down on the sidewalk, and we around her carefully made sure that she was not stepped on by the crowd, and that when she tried to get up but still felt bad, someone summoned a dayglo-vested march volunteer, who was able to push a path though the crowd to get her to somewhere more comfortable to sit.

Now and then a snake of people intent on moving in some particular direction or other for some reason would pass through near me, and sometimes I would move a few spaces by joining the tail-end of the train.  I had a vague notion of heading up toward 48th Street, where it might be less crowded, and looking for the Quakers who were supposedly meeting there, or even skirting the crowd and looking for the Buddhists on 39th, but it was becoming clear that that was unlikely to be feasible.

Also now and then someone would pull themselves up onto the little footing two or three feet off the ground offered by a nearby lamp-post, and announce that they couldn’t see anything in particular happening from up there, either.

In retrospect, I think what was going on was that people were speaking and stuff over at the rally area on I dunno maybe 47th between 1st and 2nd, but only a few thousand people could actually here them, and us over at the intersection on 2nd could hear only occasional cheering, which we always hoped was the march starting, but probably wasn’t.

Eventually I followed enough little trains of people to reach a clearer place (whew!) and breath a bit, and climb up onto a a wide place in a wall and get a better view of where I’d been.  Here is that intersection, from I think 47th Street between 2nd and 3rd (but closer to 2nd), looking at the 47th Street and 2nd Avenue intersection shortly before, or maybe shortly after, the marching proper began:


There is a small marching band perhaps off the edge of the picture to the right, and the rally and speeches and stuff are happening out of sight in the distance center left.

While trapped in the waiting crowd I saw the only thing at all resembling a counter-protest that dayimg_20170121_141643.  You can’t really see it in this picture very well, and I’m too lazy to do any post-processing to make it easier :) but if you move your eye up the center of the three columns of windows on the brown building-face slightly to the left of center there, you’ll see a small bright dot which is an American flag draped out an apartment window, and if you enlarge the picture or squint hard, you may see on the upper part of the window a little blue sign with something white on it.

We theorized down in the crowd there that it might be a Trump sign.  The people in that apartment would stick their heads out occasionally, and the crowd below would all whoop.  Of course we also all whooped whenever anyone stuck their head out any other window and someone noticed, and any time we heard a vehicle honk somewhere, and any time we heard cheering coming from the rally area, so it was a low bar.  :) As counter-protests go, anyway, it was very mild and polite.  As far as we could tell from the ground anyway.

I strolled down 47th to 3rd Avenue, enjoying the ability to like swing my arms, and discovered that that part of 3rd Avenue was closed as well, I guess because people bored with waiting had been marching along it, and the NYPD was just trying to reopen it.  I found a little sandwich place that wasn’t jammed with hungry marchers, and got myself a sandwich and juice for lunch and a little coffee for after, and sat in a little park and ate.

Somewhere in there I’d picked up an abandoned NYCLU “Dissent is Patriotic” sign (typical of my to have a meta-sign about the protest itself rather than about specific things we were protesting!) and someone had offered me a rainbow-heart sticker which I’d stuck on, so here is my picnic.


When I’d finished eating and strolled back toward the intersection, it looked like people were actually moving!  So I got myself into the crowd, and in probably less than another hour :) the various streams of people coming together had merged into one, and we were actually marching!  At a detectable pace!

There is a picture of me actually marching.  I don’t know who the img_20170121_144916young woman next to me, or pretty much anyone in any of these pictures, is, but we were all marching together, which was excellent.

We marched (in the sense of walking very slowly while carrying signs and now and then chanting and whooping) down 2nd Avenue, from 47th Street to 42nd street.  This took awhile!

There were lots of great signs, and great chants. There were some great little kids in a restaurant with big glass windows on the second floor of some building, who put up supportive signs facing out their window at us.

We chanted “Black Lives Matter”, and “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go”, and “Show me what Democracy looks like!” / “This is what Democracy looks like!” (my favorite call-and-response, I think, great rhythm to it), and this wonderful one where the women would do “My body, my choice!” and the men would respond “Her body, her choice!”, and the Soprano / Tenor sort of alternation was really moving.

(Late in the march the possibly-inebriated folks with the “Trump hates puppies” signs tried to get a “Trump hates puppies” chant going, but it didn’t really take.)

The turn onto 42nd was slow; I suspect there was another stream of people entering from East on 42nd or South on 2nd. But the view on 42nd Street was amazing.  I didn’t capture a great picture of it, but all of 42nd from 2nd to 5th was wall-to-wall marchers, and it was a Thing.


That gives some idea: the bridge just visible in the distance center is the Park Avenue “viaduct” right at Grand Central, and the march stretches to it, and beyond into the vanishing distance to Fifth. Pretty amazing!

Here is the march passing under the bridge quite some time later. The bridge itself was lined with people cheering at the march, holding up signs and hanging banners in support, and so on.


And then we continued, and continued, and continued. :)

Under the bridge, past Vanderbilt, across Madison, and to 5th Avenue, where we turned North toward the Fortress of Evil — ehrm, that is, Trump Tower.



img_20170121_165525img_20170121_171544I was getting pretty tired by this time, and it turns out it’s harder to walk really slowly than to walk at an ordinary pace.

Interestingly, as we went up 5th, there were barricades between the marchers in the street and the onlookers and random other folks on the sidewalks (including the much-photographed “sync up our periods” lady above), and the sidewalks were comparatively uncrowded. The barricades paused at the intersections, and had openings here and there between intersections. (I don’t think this was true on 42nd street, where there were a few pointless-looking barricades just scattered here and there, and the march was pretty much wall-to-wall.)

So on 5th, if one got sufficiently tired of walking slowly in the gathering dusk, one could slip off of the street onto the sidewalk at a pause or break in the barricades, and walk along at a faster pace for a big (still carrying one’s sign, wearing one’s earmuffs, whooping, etc), and then slip back into the march a short-block later.

That was nice!

Somewhere in there, maybe 46th Street or so on the way up 5th Avenue, the police came in and held back the marchers a few feet ahead of me, and stretched blue tape across the street.  (Big black smiling cop sidestepped back and forth on the other side of the tape, making the point that while he couldn’t actually stop us if we insisted on continuing to walk, he would in a friendly way try to; or something.)

It turned out they were doing this because some people in cars wanted to cross the road!

Ha ha ha, can you imagine?

The blue tape let maybe a few dozen cards and trucks and buses go by, some of them taking pictures out the window, and we whooped at them. A marcher near me claimed that at least one was a taxi with at least one passenger in it, and we speculated how long they’d been sitting there trying to cross 5th, with the meter running. Silly autos!

After not very long at all really, they took the tape away again and we whooped and marched quickly up the several yards to where the rest of the march had advanced to in the interim.

And then at 54th Street there was a guy with a megaphone (video📹) thanking us for coming out and saying that this is what Democracy is all about, and also telling us that 5th Avenue was blocked off at 55th Street, and this was therefore the end of the march, and we were not going to get to Trump Tower tonight, so we should go away now, or if we really wanted to we could go up one more block and then go away.

He was wearing an EMS jacket and a hat with a logo, and there were some people with march volunteer vests by him.  When I stopped megaphoning I asked him who he was,  and he said he was just a regular guy with a megaphone, and I asked if he was EMS, and he said he was with some neighborhood ambulance (I think?) service, and just one of the volunteers tonight.

(I wouldn’t be surprised if NYPD hadn’t asked him, directly or indirectly, to be there doing that, so that they wouldn’t have to.)

Pretty much everybody wanted to continue, so we got up to 55th Street, where the stream was splitting east and west and people were grumbling somewhat and looking past the police barricades in the direction of the Tower.  The chant turned into a very rousing version of “Welcome to your first day, we won’t go away, welcome to your first day, we won’t go away” (more video📹).

However, we were nice, and didn’t make trouble for the police, and the march more or less ended there, at a row of march volunteers (directly in contact with the marchers) and a barricade, and a row of police (not so much directly in contact with the marchers), police cars, and another barricade, and so on.


Here is a symbolic picture of a single Guardian of Order, making sure that ordinary citizens cannot get too close to the seat of power of the person they are protesting:


(Of course said person was probably not around his NYC stronghold anyway, being busy off in Washington DC disgracing himself utterly.)

I went and stood by the outer barricade next to the rightmost volunteer for awhile, watching the people and taking pictures and chanting and whooping, vaguely speculating about how it would go if the crowd decided to go to Trump Tower after all, and helpfully helping open and close the opening in the barricade that the police were using to let authorized people in and out of the outer security layer.

Eventually I stopped doing that, and walked East a bit along 55th Street, looking at the amazing variety of signs that people had left leaning against the barricades and spread out on the street.  So much wit and passion and creativity! There is talk of someone making like a coffeetable book of photos of signs, proceeds to benefit Planned Parenthood or something; I hope that comes to be. Here are just a few of mine; more in the album linked above.

Soooo many!

I wandered back to 5th Avenue itself, and the tail of the march had arrived and left, and there was a row of shiny NYPC motorcycles slowly coming up.  The police started clearing people from the intersection, and I slipped over to the West side of it, to see what was up over there. They moved barricades around some, amid a bit confusion about exactly what they were doing and who ought to be moved where and stuff. (I asked one NYPD if we were supposed to be like going somewhere else instead, and he just smiled and shrugged.)

Eventually they moved everyone out of 5th Avenue and reopened that and cars started flowing again, to much whooping (video📹). Then they urged everyone on 42nd near 5th to get onto the sidewalks, and started putting up new barricades stuff. Eventually half a dozen of them walked along 42nd toward 6th, side by side, each holding a barricade at waist level, to sort of push back anyone still in the street. It was more an expression of intent rather than an actual pushing, though, since there weren’t very many people in the street anyway, and it would have been trivial to just get into the sidewalk as they went by and then step into the street again (at least one person did, to no obvious effect).

A smallish number of people were still standing on the corner, chanting away, including one rather manic young white guy with a buzzcut who was jumping up and down and pumping his fist in a worrying manner, and a person next to him in a Guy Fawkes mask (the only mask I recall seeing in the march). But neither of them proved to be obviously agents provocateurs or Black Bloc folks, at least not while I was there.

So we chanted “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist U.S.A.!” for awhile (video📹, with me doing just the “No Trump!” part because hoarse by that time), and they moved barricades more so that we could stand in a little area on the edge of the street and walking people could walk on the sidewalk.  42nd Street got fully reopened at some point in there.

I asked another NYPD officer if things were now back to about how they usually were, or if this was still post-march stuff.

“We’ll have to see,” he said, roughly, “it’s just Day One!”

“Oh,” I said, “that’s true, but hasn’t the sidewalk been blocked off and stuff near Trump Tower for awhile now?”

“Yeah,” he said, “but nothing like this,” nodding generally toward the still-chanting people.

So that was interesting.

Eventually I decided that was sort of over, so I went out of the barricaded area and walked around. Nearby was the only property damage I saw all night:


Not at all clear it happened during the March, though; them bus signs are always getting broken off by one thing and another.

Next I wandered over to 42nd and 6th or somewhere, and got a Ham and Cheese and Egg crepe and some water for dinner from a cart guy.

And that’s pretty much the end of the March story for this posting.

img_20170121_224658I texted the little daughter and we had some coffee and dessert, and eventually a sleepy me headed back home on ol’ Metro North.

It was a great time, and I’m glad that I went.

One march, even one day of marches enormous enough to really annoy Certain Thin-Skinned Narcissists, won’t solve our problems by any means (and boy do we have problems omg don’t get me started), but I am somewhat hopeful that it will give people a taste of activism, and a feeling of hope, and ideas about solidarity and involvement, and that as a result things will not be as bad as they would have been otherwise.

And for me personally, being in the City, being with literally hundreds of thousands of like-minded people in the City, expressing support for liberty, equality, justice, love, and all that sort of good thing, and expressing opposition to lies, oppression, sexism, racism, hatred, inequality, and like that, was a really, really good time.




January First

I keep meaning to start this weblog entry about how I’m going to play WoW less and write in my weblog more, but it’s tempting to play WoW instead.

Why is that?

That is probably my main New Year’s Resolution. I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, ’cause y’know.  But that’d be a good one to try, anyway

I have a couple of max-level characters in WoW Legion now; my Demon Hunter (whose only concern is whether she can get enough enemies to attack her at once that her victory over them isn’t boringly trivial), and ol’ Spennix the Rogue (whose main concern is whether she has enough run-away abilities off cooldown to avoid dying yet again).

(And the Demon Hunter’s next major task is to gather 80 (eighty) of something that sometimes (once in awhile) drops from the very last boss in a dungeon.  So yeah.)

My Official 2017 Comic Frame and Aspirational Resolution is of course:

for the obvious reasons.

I’ve even joined the DSA, along with a zillion other Twitter liberals; we’ll see if I manage to do more / other than sending them money and posting anti-Nazi memes.

2017 is sure to be interesting in one or more ways. After 2016, I have no confidence whatever in my ability to make predictions about the future (that’s the hardest kind!) that are any more specific than that.

I should probably Resolve to do Twitter less as well. Twitter is a pretty good thing, really; I’ve encountered lots of interesting people, learned lots of stuff.  It’s my main source of news now. But I spend an absurd amount of time reading it and Liking and Retweeting things; a less absurd amount might be good.

I should sit more, too. And maybe work on my irrational (irrational?) dislike for the word “meditation”. :)

I’ve been doing Quora a bit. At first I was impressed by the quality of the questions and answers; over time I’ve gotten a little less impressed, and wonder how good a use of time it really is; but I did write this, of possible interest:

Why do you practice Zen?

So when you ask a Zen question, you’re likely to get a Zen story. :)

This student is sitting meditating, and one of those annoying Masters comes by and says, “Why are you meditating?”. And the student says “So that I may become an enlightened Buddha.” (Or for that matter “To save sentient beings”, or really any sort of aspirational statement at all.)

The Master nods, and picks up a floor tile, and starts polishing it with a corner of his robe.

The student (perhaps sensing he is in a story) says, “Why are you polishing that floor tile, Master?”.

The master says, “To make it into a mirror.”

The student says, “But Master, no amount of polishing will — oh, I get it, very funny, very funny,” and goes back to meditating.

Or, alternately, how much do we really know about why we do anything?

I meditate because it seems like a cool thing to do. Because it is the practice of the Buddha Ancestors. Because lots of really interesting people meditate. Because when I was small, I would have these moments when I sort of lost track of which was the world and which was me (“I just don’t see how I am me,” I summarized it), and meditation is the best way I’ve found to sort of get back to that feeling again.

Also to save sentient beings.

And to make a mirror out of this floor tile. :)

Again largely thanks to Twitter, I’ve become very aware of my privilege, and of what that means. I can rest and just not think about discrimination and injustice and oppression for awhile, pretty much any time I want, because their effects are not right there in my face unless I go out looking for them. I’m grateful for this, but also want to figure out how to be effective at making the world a freer and juster place even though it’s not forced upon me.

I have fallen even more in love with New York City in the past year. I want to spend more time walking randomly, more time in Brooklyn (and even maybe boroughs that aren’t Manhattan or Brooklyn!), more time out of, and in, Chelsea (or is it Meatpacking?). I want to go to BAM, I want to go to Birdland, and to little music clubs that aren’t Birdland. I want to talk to more people.

Have I mentioned that I wrote a NaNoWriMo novel in 2016? I finished it with like twelve minutes to spare, Pacific time, in November, which was a first. I think it’s online somewhere, let’s see…

The Mercy of Fate

In a fancy Google Doc this year, rather than a flat text file (ooohhh!).  I remember very little about large chunks of it, which were written very very late at night. Or at least what felt like very very late at night to these ancient bones.

All various good people died in 2016, and an awful pathological narcissist was somehow elected President of the United States. But probably you know about those things, and I don’t feel like I have much original to add on those subjects at this point.

Today we are going to make New Years Dumplings, as is extremely traditional!  The little daughter is here, but needs to sleep before she is functional enough to help.  M and the little boy and I are sitting around doing more or less normal Sunday Morning things, except for no bagels because The Bagel Store is not answering their phone and therefore we have concluded they are probably not open because it is New Years Day.

Tuesday (day after tomorrow, apparently!) I go back to work, after a nice long year-end vacation. I’m looking forward to that in various ways; still loving work and even the commute, and of course being in Manhattan with all of its energy and infinite variety.  Maybe tomorrow I will connect my little Chromebook to work, and get a head start on the email backlog.

Maybe today I will go into Second Life and take my usual pictures for a New Years card and a new profile picture.

Maybe I will also play WoW.  Just a little?  :)


No, we still don’t have conversational AI

Yeah, yeah, here I am being annoyed by more or less this same thing again. Everyone needs a hobby. :)

This time it’s a number of things I’ve seen lately that say or imply that we now have AI that can carry on a convincing conversation, that knows what it’s saying, and like that.

First, we have this extremely creepy thing:

It is wrong on so very many levels (“Hot” Robot??). In the linguistic and AI wrongnesses, virtually everything that “she” says in the video is clearly just text-to-speech running on some pre-written text; we don’t have software smart enough to come up with “I feel like I can be a good partner to humans — an ambassador”, let alone to say it and mean it, for any useful sense of “mean it”.

And then at the end, for whatever reason, the robot is hooked up to the typical “AIML” sort of silliness that I have ranted about here before (in archives that are currently offline; have to get that fixed sometime), and also over on the Secret Secondlife Weblog (see the “MyCyberTwin” section of this post, say), and hilarity ensues.

The reporter says “do you want to destroy humans?”, and the “AI” software notices that this matches its template “do you want to X”, and it plays the hardcoded response (perhaps chosen at random from a small set) “okay, I will X”.

And so now we have an “AI” saying “I will destroy humans”, and lots and lots of hits.

But in fact this robot, and the software running it, doesn’t know what humans are, doesn’t know what it means to destroy something, and for that matter doesn’t know what “I will” means. Let alone “I”. Or anything else. All it’s doing is recognizing words in speech, matching the words against a look-up table, and playing a canned response. It is just as determined to destroy humans as is a coffee tin with two googly eyes and a “destroy humans” sign pasted onto it.

Which brings us to “Everything you know about artificial intelligence is wrong“, which is structured as a series of “It’s a myth that X, because it might not be true that X” paragraphs (suggesting that the author hasn’t thought very hard about the meaning of “myth), but which for our purposes is mostly interesting because it bit me with this sentence:

We already have computers that match or exceed human capacities in games like chess and Gostock market trading, and conversations.

Chess and Go, yes (yay, employer!); stock market trading and especially conversations, not so much.

Following the “conversations” link, we come to the story of “Eugene Goostman”, a program which is said to have “passed the Turing Test” last year by convincing more than 30% of judges that it was a human.

30% seems like a pretty low bar, but after looking at an actual transcript of the program’s conversation, I’m amazed it scored above zero. The judges must have been very incompetent, very stoned, or (most likely) very motivated to have a program pass the test (because that would be cool, eh?).

Given this transcript, it’s painfully obvious that “Goostman” is just running that same stupid AIML / MyCyberTwin pattern-matching algorithm that was very cool in 1965 when Weizenbaum wrote ELIZA, but which is only painful now; anyone taking any output from this kind of program seriously, or announcing it as any sort of breakthrough in anything, just has no clue what they are talking about (or are cynically lying for clicks).

Which makes it almost refreshing (not to mention the schadenfreude) to be able to mention a spectacular “conversational AI” failure that was apparently not driven by the usual AIML lookup-table.

Specifically, Microsoft’s recent Tay debacle, in which a highly-imitative conversation bot was put up on Twitter and began imitating the worst of human online behavior. In a way, Twitter was a brilliant choice of task: expectations for coherence on Twitter are low to start with, and interactions are short and often formulaic. But given that Tay appears (appeared?) to operate mostly by straight-up mimicry, the team behind it must either have had very limited knowledge of what Twitter is actually like, or have expected exactly this outcome and the resulting publicity (I’m such a cynic!).

But the most amusing part for me is that Microsoft now has to firmly emphasize that its software has no idea what it’s talking about, and doesn’t mean what it says, and that when it seems to suggest genocide or deny the reality of the Holocaust, it’s just parroting back what others have said to it, with no intelligence or understanding.

Which is basically my point. :)

For those who have tuned in only recently, I’m a Strong AI guy; I think there’s no reason we can’t eventually make a computer that can carry on a real conversation, and that understands and means what it says. So when John Searle comes up with circular arguments that computers can’t think because they don’t have the causal powers of the brain, or says that he knows his dog is conscious because it has deep brown eyes and adorable floppy ears, I am similarly annoyed.

I think the only thing standing in the way of our making intelligent software is that we have no idea how to do that. And that’s something we can fix! But in the meantime, can we stop pretending that trivial pattern-matching “conversation” is in any way interesting?

P.S. When I tweeted (“tweeted”) to Tay, she ignored the content of my “tweet”, and replied lyrically “er mer gerd erm der berst ert commenting on pics. SEND ONE TO ME!”. When I sent her a lovely picture of a brightly-colored banana slug, as one does, she responded “THIS IS NOT MERELY A PHOTOGRAPH THIS IS AN ARTISTIC MASTERPIECE”.

I was not impressed.


Nothing happens when you’re offended; except when it does

I’m afraid I’m going to be political again; comes of hanging out in social media too much in a U.S. election season.

The other day on the Face Book, someone posted some version of this:

along with a little essay about political correctness, and how trigger warnings are censorship, and how kids these days are so thin-skinned that no one can say anything anymore, and so on.

I posted a comment disagreeing, and got (and this is very unusual for me) two different people that I like and respect texting me privately in the Face Book (which I always forget is even a thing) expressing surprise at my opinion.

I’ve been thinking about how to write down my thoughts on these subjects for some time, but without actually doing it. So I thought maybe I’d start with just the basic message of the video clip itself: that when you’re offended, it doesn’t mean anything, and nothing happens.

To first order, I agree with this. The mere fact that I’m offended by something doesn’t in itself mean anything.

But depending on why I’m offended, it may be a sign of something that is meaningful.

The implication of “when you’re offended, nothing happens”, and a thing that the comic up there says more or less right out, is that if someone’s offended, they should just suck it up, sit down, and shut up about it.

But that’s wrong. Words mean things. Words build things up, and wear things down. Structural oppression exists, and words are part of the structure. Sitting down and shutting up does not help us get to a more just society.

If enough people are offended by casual references to some stereotypical negative property of some oppressed group, and refuse to sit down and shut up, and other people stop making those references as often, a little bit of the structure of that oppression has been lifted.

If I’m offended because some comedian punches down for laughs, and I give that comedian poor reviews and recommend that people avoid him, maybe he, or his colleagues, will look for laughs somewhere else.

Or if I’m offended because people are no longer deferring to me because I belong to some privileged group, or because structural oppression that favors me is being questioned, and I complain about that, I both tend to look like an idiot, and to shed light on the privilege and oppression that I’m upset about losing, and even that helps us along toward justice.

If I’m offended because someone said “shit” instead of “poo”, well, probably I should sit down and shut up about it.  :)

So it depends. But also it matters.

Because sometimes, even often, people take offense because of the way they are impacted by injustices in society.

And that’s not nothing.

Maybe sometime in the future: Trigger Warnings, Why the Kids are Alright, and so on.


Demographic substitution does not preserve truth

When I was in kid-school, a Social Studies teacher pointed out to us that there was no entry in the index of our textbook for “Women’s history” or “Women” in general.

I flipped through it and raised my hand, and said that hey, there was nothing for “Men’s history” or “Men”, either!

This is because I was a smug little shit who didn’t have the first clue how the world actually works.

(I like to think that this is a bit less true now.)

The teacher more or less adored me just because I was smart and (usually) well-behaved, and rather than giving me the smack-down I really needed, she (I vaguely recall) just said something like “It’s not the same thing”.

Which is entirely correct.

It’s easy to see why we might expect statements about one group to have the same status (truth, objectionability, etc.) as the same statements applied to another group.  In many contexts, there is basic fairness involved.  “Women should be able to participate in government” and “Men should be able to participate in government” are both true.  “Men should not be jerks” and also “Women should not be jerks”.  Or simple fact: “Most white people have toes”, and “Most people of color have toes”.

On the other hand, a few moments of thought reveals lots of statements for which this doesn’t work.  “Most pregnant people are women” is true; but “Most pregnant people are men” is false.  “Until comparatively recently, the law considered women to be essentially property” is true; but “Until comparatively recently, the law considered men to be essentially property” is false.  “Western society grants extensive privilege to white men per se” is pretty clearly true, but “Western society grants extensive privilege to disabled women per se” is implausible at best.

So far these examples are all of “ought” statements that survive under demographic substitution, and some “is” statements that don’t.  But in any plausible morality, situated “ought” statements are implied by “is” statements about their situation; their context.

A very strong case could be made, for instance, that “Western society grants extensive privilege to white men per se”, and “Mainstream study of history has been from a heavily male-oriented perspective” are both true, and that as a result “It is unfortunate that there is no entry about women in the index of this history textbook” can be true, while “It is unfortunate that there is no entry about men in the index of this history textbook” is silly (because, as I vaguely recall my Social Studies teacher pointing out, the whole book is about that).

More significantly (and I imagine more controversially, although perhaps not among y’all weblog readers), there are sets of “is” statements that don’t survive demographic substitution, from which we can conclude that for instance “Women, people of color, and LGBTQ people have a legitimate need for safe spaces that exclude those not in the relevant group” is true, whereas “Men, white people, and straight people have a legitimate need for safe spaces that exclude those not in the relevant group” is not. Or in shorter words, Women’s Rights and Black Power are not necessarily in the same moral categories as Men’s Rights and White Power.

And I am happy to have written that down, because I’ve had the argument rattling around inchoate in my head for some years.

Now there are a significant number of people posting things on the Internet who would claim that that the concluding sentence, that Women’s Rights and Black Power are not necessarily in the same moral categories as Men’s Rights and White Power, is just obviously false, and unfair, and sexist / racist, and so on. Some of them are, I imagine, smug little shits who don’t have the first clue how the world actually works; some others are just doing a good imitation.  To avoid the argument that we would use to get to the conclusion, they would either deny some of the initial “is” statements (denying that there is currently structural oppression of women or people of color, for instance), or deny in one way or the other that those statements imply the conclusion.

Or, perhaps more commonly, they would just repeat that the concluding sentence is sexist / racist, because what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, because fairness, and so on.  Because, that is, demographic substitution ought to preserve the truth of “ought” statements, and saying that it doesn’t is sexist / racist / etc.

What finally pushed me over the edge to write this down was some Twitter discussion of this rather baffling story on the often-odious “Breitbart” site, by the often-odious Milo somebody.  It’s still not clear to me what the intent of the story is, aside from a general suspicion that it’s supposed to be humorous in some way (I do like the part where someone asks what direction they’re driving, and someone else looks at the GPS and says “up”; that’s funny!).  But at least some of the Milo supporters in the Twitter thread that I foolishly walked into, thought that it was obviously a parody of feminist claims that various aspects of technology are gendered against women.

The argument would be, I guess, something like “I have written this piece claiming that an aspect of technology is anti-male, and the piece is silly; therefore other pieces, claiming that other aspects of techhnology are anti-female, are also silly.”  Or, perhaps more charitably, “See how silly this claim that a technology is anti-male is; claims that technologies are anti-female are similar to it, and are just as silly!”.

And this brought to mind some sort of claim like “It’s silly to analyze technology for signs of structural oppression of women, because it’s silly to analyze technology for signs of structural oppression of men, and demographic substitution preserves silliness!”.

But (whatever other additional things might or might not be going on in the case), demographic substitution doesn’t preserve silliness.  Or various other properties.

So there we are!


Not a good comparison


My mind is like the Autumn moon
Shining clean and clear in the green pool.
No, that’s not a good comparison.
Tell me, how shall I explain?

Han Shan, Cold Mountain (trans. Burton Watson)

I dreamed last night (or I probably did; see below) that I was with some people, and we were laughing about someone who claimed that they’d been officially declared Enlightened by some mystical Teacher, and someone asked me, hey, you’re all into that Zen stuff, I’d think you’d take this more seriously?

And I nodded and said something like:

You know, except for a few annoying [something] sects, it’s not like you go to your teacher and show how you’ve progressed and eventually the teacher says “okay good, you’re enlightened now”.  They might say “okay, keep going” or “okay, here’s what you should work on next” or even like “okay, I think you are ready to teach some students of your own”, but never “okay, you’re enlightened”, that would be just…

and I shook my head and laughed.

(Where the [something] was some Japanese or Chinese word, maybe kensho, or RInzai (no offense to any Rinzai folk in the waking world), or some dream-word entirely, but there was a word there.)

The reason I say above there that I probably dreamed this last night is that it’s like the most literal, ordinary, realistic, unadorned dream I can recall having had, so it’s not by any means impossible that it wasn’t a dream at all, but actually happened sometime recently, and I’ve just lost track of the actual time and place and details and who was there and what that missing word was and all.

It all sort of blurs together, amirite?

So I say to you,
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:

Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.

ol’ Buddha, the Diamond Sutra (right at the end there)


Medical Science Baffled!

Last week The Employer was very generous, saying “sure, take Thursday and Friday off!”, and also “Visit the Whitney on us!”, both of which we did, and the new Whitney isn’t bad, has some great views, shows off art pretty well (given that “putting lots of art in a building with labels so people can walk through and look at it” isn’t a great way of showing off art, although it’s at least convenient), and is only moderately ugly itself, as a building seen from the outside. The neighborhood right around it is hoppin’, and I am wondering how much of that is due to the museum showing up, and how much was pre-existingly hoppin’.

Then there was resting on Friday, and on Saturday we went out with two other families and sundry relations and hangers-on to a performance of The Arabian Nights by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival at (ummmm) Bromdiggers (no) Boscobel (that’s it), and that was great (if not strictly-speaking Shakespeare). The company is always energetic and celebratory, and the productions well-done, and since it was the Fourth of July and they’re been through this before they took a second intermission when the fireworks started going off across the river, so we all had a nice half-hour or whatever watching at least three different shows (the ones from West Point were closest and therefore biggest), and then the rest of the performance. (People never applaud for long enough at the ends of these! I always want to go backstage and apologize to the cast and crew.)

On Sunday morning I went and got a dozen bagels and some cream cheese at the bagel store, and we took them down to The Lake, and other people brought other things, and we had a good time eating and talking and being nostalgic about how we used to do this all the time back when the kids were small, and being amazed by how large the kids are, and how engaged and/or married some of them are, and how adorable the tiny grandchild is (not mine, but the neighborhood’s first, so sort of community property, and sooo adorable). Then when it was time we drove the little boy to the train station for going back to Boston, and had probably rather too large but very yummy burritos from Moe’s (“Welcome to Moe’s!”), and came home.

And I took a shower and sat down and started shivering uncontrollably and having a 103°F fever, and we spent the rest of the night in the local Emergency Room.

Which is unusual!

I am finally feeling pretty normal today, which is I think Wednesday. I am taking two kinds of antibiotics, one for each gramness of possible bacteria, and finally not having to take anything for fever (because I don’t have any). The ER’s theory is pneumonia, only without any symptoms actually involving lungs. My internist was favoring gall bladder (due to observing Murphy’s Sign, which makes me think of the Yellow Sign, of which the less said the better), but a nice lady took pictures of my insides with sound-waves, and apparently my gall bladder is just fine. Personally I favor food poisoning due to cream cheese left out in the sun too long or something, but presumably the analysis of my blood by Medical Science didn’t suggest that.

So now I am feeling mostly better but still housebound, and not wanting to (say) work seriously on work stuff for fear of overtiring and relapsing, and I was therefore going quietly mad for things to do, and it occurred to me that I could write things down in my weblog!

And here they are! The things, that is. Written down. Should there be a picture? What would it be of, though?


Gin and Juice: Summary

Good that old Wikipedia versions never die.


The song begins with a sound effect of a human urinating, followed by an interlude in which an unknown male is speaking, denouncing one of his associates for either committing maternal-sodomy in the immediate vicinity or for having bad breath, it remains unclear which. The unknown male requests some bubblegum, presumably to remedy the situation.

We are then introduced to the narrator with the nom de plume of Snoop Dogg as he discusses the exigencies of his life; his hometown of Long Beach, California, is very dramatic. He finds the will to create his unique musical style amidst all this drama, and does so daily. He then entreats the listener (affectionately called a “g”) to enjoy his tale in said musical style.

Snoop Dogg’s tale starts at 2 am in his domicile, where a party has been taking place and is able to continue late into the night due to the temporary absence of his mother. Women are copulating in his living room, presumably in a lesbian fashion, and intend to do so until 6 am, when they will depart. Snoop Dogg and his associates decide to join the sapphic women. Ever-prepared, they pull condoms out of their pockets before turning off the lights and shutting the doors behind them.

After making it clear that his regard for the females does not involve love, Snoop Dogg and his associates decide that the use of one ounce of marijuana would be a fitting commemoration of the casual polyamorous scenario. Rather than go into details of what is taking place behind closed doors, he tells the listeners (affectionately called “motherfuckas”) to reminisce of revelry in general, preferably while bouncing.

The said revelry consists of the chorus line and the subject of the song title: cruising down the street, smoking marijuana, and sipping on gin and an unnamed juice. The unnamed juice is likely of citrus origin, though the properties of gin are agreeable to all fruit juices.

It is possible that the previous scene, and the upcoming scenes, are projected memories of the narrators told in the present tense. Mr. Dogg then attempts a palindrome about his constant preoccupation with pecuniary matters.

In another memory, Snoop Dogg has procured a bottle of Seagrams brand gin and is intent on consuming it himself, but his associates have worked up a thirst as well. They present their empty cups for Mr. Dogg to fill, but have not offered any payment for the alcohol. Snoop Dogg is angry at the prospect of sharing his alcoholic beverage without reasonable compensation, as these requests happen all too often. He acknowledges their requests, but reminds them that his needs come first.

Snoop Dogg quickly diffuses the situation by reminding the listener that he is very good at cultivating music that captivates his listeners. He wants to know, “Who listens to the words that I speak?” This is most likely a rhetorical question. We do not learn if he ever does share the Seagrams.

Snoop Dogg leaves the party with his beverage to the middle of the street, presumably because his house party has grown beyond the bounds of his yard. He meets a young lady named Sadie who had previously formed a romantic attachment with one of his associates. He flirts with the young lady, but does not expect physical contact because the weather has remained a sultry 80 degrees Fahrenheit. As she initiates physical contact with his testicles, the heat becomes too much. Snoop tells Sadie to refrain from palpating his scrotum and informs her she should not make further contact with that part of him. He says “at ease”, likely to calm down Sadie, but also in an attempt to relax all involved. Snoop Dogg then runs off to engage in an act of mobbing with his associates (affectionately called the “Dog Pound”) in order to cool off and feel a breeze. He urges all to do the same.

We return to the chorus narration, where Snoop Dogg continues to consume marijuana and gin and juice while cruising in a vehicle. He is still concerned about his financial situation, again stated palindromically.

The narrator then recalls a memory that happened later in the same day, presumably at the house party. His friend, Dr. Dre, pays Snoop Dogg a visit, presenting him with several bottles of Tanqueray brand gin and a very well-endowed joint of marijuana. The marijuana is of a strength colloquially described as lethal, which he cleverly alludes to through a reference to the bubonic plague. The combination of drugs proves too intoxicating for Snoop Dogg, and he is forced to imbibe less vivaciously, but he refuses to stop altogether. Snoop Dre then introduces Snoop Dogg to some women who he has brought from a neighboring city in Los Angeles. Snoop Dogg makes his intent to bed (or cot) the women clear, but warns them beforehand that he does not intend to make them climax nor remain near them after copulation has occurred because he does not love them. Women whom he does not love are referred to as “hoes”, the etymological origin of which is unclear, but is in no way related to the garden tool.

The song ends with a repetition of the chorus one more time, where some spontaneous words are uttered after the title verse (a slang word phonetically spelled BEE-OTCH). Mr Dogg’s mental preoccupation with fiscal matters is restated multiple times, likely in attempt to finally make a palindrome, but never succeeding.


A priest and a rabbi walk into a stupa…

So I had lunch with my friend the Rabbi the other day (yesterday, actually, how time flies), and she told me this Joke (paraphrased):

A couple of little Jewish kids come home from school, and they are all like, “Daddy, our Catholic friends were talking about this Trinity, and the Father and the Son and the something-or-other else, and what’s up with all that?”.

And the father sighs, and says, “Okay kids, sit down, this is important.”

“We are Jews.

“There is one God, unitary and indivisible,

“and we don’t believe in him!”

I thought this was funny. :) As was her observation that atheism is a major branch of Judaism.

Later on I told this joke to a Catholic from the Midwestern U.S. (to whom no offense at all). The joke, to say the very least, did not resonate.

I guess there aren’t any atheist Catholics? And probably no atheist Christians, even?

(Or Catholic atheists or Christian atheists. Would that be different?)

On the other hand, there are atheist Jews and/or Jewish atheists (the Wikipedia page is currently proposed for deletion, but it’s there, and of course there’s the joke and all).

And there are definitely atheist Buddhists (or Buddhist atheists?). There is reason to think (although I can never find the right sutra) that ol’ Buddha himself was more or less an agnostic (of the “we have more important stuff to think about here on Earth than that” school, like my Mom was).

So there’s that.

Probably I mostly just wanted to write down the joke. :)

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The Universal Postal Union as Global Superpower

In random rambles related to yesterday’s post, we have been reading various accounts of various alternate realities, and some of them are really quite endearing.

The ones trying to obtain money by lying to people, of course, not so much.

But some of them appear plausibly much purer than that; here:

…[C]ongress passed several laws anterior to the third day of March 1825, when an act, entitled “An act to reduce into one the several acts establishing and regulating the post office department,” was passed. 3 Story, U. S. 1825.

It is thereby enacted,
1. That there be established, the seat of the government of the United States, a general post office, under the direction of a postmaster general.

We need to take notice where the commas are placed on that last sentence. “That there be established, the seat of the government of the United States, a general post office, under the direction of a postmaster general.” When I set off a clause with commas, I make sure that the sentence makes sense without that clause. Taking out the set-off clause, we read . . . “the seat of the government of the United States under the direction of a postmaster general.”

The creation of the Post office occurs before the creation of the seat of the government, and is placed in authority over the seat of government.

Yes, there should have been an “at” right before “the seat” there, and the writer is clearly living in a fantasy world, but who among us can honestly say that we are not?

And this fantasy world is especially appealing, at least to us bookish nerdy types. The Postmaster General in charge of the government! The placement of commas vital to the proper interpretation of documents and other magical spells!

And behind it all, the Universal Postal Union…

The UPU (Universal Postal Union) in Berne, Switzerland, is an extremely significant organization in today’s world….
The UPU operates under the authority of treaties with every country in the world. It is, as it were, the overlord or overseer over the common interaction of all countries in international commerce.

The smiling blue-uniformed postman, with a satchel instead of a gun, benignly overseeing all interactions between countries. How lovely!

And then, the magical instruments of the Post, those beautiful, alluring, dream-tempting stamps…

Involving the authority of the UPU is automatically invoked by the use of postage stamps. Utilization of stamps includes putting stamps on any documents (for clout purposes, not mailing) we wish to introduce into the system.

Put a stamp on anything, mail it (or even don’t, apparently!) and you’re automatically entitled to free dispute-resolution services of both your national Postmaster, and the mighty UPU itself.

For instance, if you post through the US Post Office and the US Postmaster does not provide you with the remedy you request within twenty-one (21) days, you can take the matter to the UPU.

Now if one were to actually visit the UPU website, and observe for instance the announcement from the Postal Operations Council that the “next POC session (2014.2) will take place from 27 to 31 October 2014” (i.e. several weeks ago), one might come away with some doubts about the ability of the UPU to come quickly to the aid of global stamp-users.

But that’s why fantasy is so wonderful!

Just by putting a stamp on a thing, and signing across the stamp, we can all become Postmasters ourselves, and thus part of the benign rulership of the world, able to summon our fellow Postmasters into any court, to testify on our behalf about the importance of not interfering with our (properly stamped and signed) documents.

Since autographing the stamp makes you the postmaster of the contract, anyone who interferes is tampering with the mail and engaging in mail fraud. You can then subpoena the postmaster (either of the post office from which the letter was mailed, or the US Postmaster General, or both), and have them explain what the rules are, under deposition or testimony on the witness stand in open court.

And those boring red computer-printed things that the government and corporations use instead of our beloved stamps? They are, as I think we have all long felt in our hearts, just frauds.

In addition, most of the time when you get official communication it has a red-meter postage mark on the envelope rather than a cancelled stamp. This act is mail fraud. If the envelope has a red-meter postage mark on it, they are the ones who have engaged in mail fraud, because there is no cancelled stamp. It is the cancelled stamp that has the power; an un-cancelled stamp has nothing.

There is a lovely truth: an un-cancelled stamp has nothing.

I’m reminded inevitably of Thomas Pynchon and “The Crying of Lot 49”; the central and mysterious role of postal services in his world, the global reach of Thurn und Taxis, the secret rebellion of W.A.S.T.E..

He knew then how much romance there is in words, letters, envelopes, the Post. As do these stalwart tax-avoiders!

Don’t Ever Annoy The Horn

Post-horn, that is…


That secret and powerful message

It may have been as much as thirteen years since I mentioned my unaccountable interest in Wacko Tax Protesters, but I am happy to see that The Tax Protester FAQ is still there and may even have been updated since 2002.

I was reminded of the Whole Area by a Wonkette piece, How Are The Feminists Keeping Men From Getting Laid Today? (Oh, Wonkette, you are so funny with the funny headlines and all), which refers in passing to one “Peter-Andrew: Nolan (c)”, whose distinctive use of punctuation reminded me of ol’ David-Wynn: Miller, author of such lyrical prose as:


Now normally we would not publicly point and/or laugh at such things, because schizophrenia is not a fun condition to have in general, but it seems at least plausible that D-W:M is actually quite sane, since although his new kind of speech does have the power to bring about world peace, since


the main point, or at least the thing he is by far most famous for, is the claim that if you use this ummmm language you don’t have to pay your taxes, or really obey any laws at all that you’d rather not, because after all


and so on.

(Oh my just stumbled across his translation of the Lord’s Prayer; should I reconsider my thoughts on his mental condition?)

Anyway, it turns out that this is no longer, or perhaps never was, just a USian thing, but has also infested Canada and other FICTION-STATEs.

Here is an amusing weblog entry on the subject from our neighbors to the North: How Not To Manage a Bankruptcy or Income Tax Case, which led me I think to the text of Meads v. Meads, 2012 ABQB 571 (CanLII) which is a very nice overview of the whole Wacko Tax Protester situation by an actual judge writing actual legal reasons and stuff.

I have not finished reading through that yet.

(One of the scammier scams is the claim that if you get a bill or anything else really, you can just write “Accepted for Value” on it, and sign it, and send it back, and you’re all done. This is clearly stupid, but for some reason web sites like this are out there attempting to get the extremely gullible to pay money to find out exactly how to do it. I wonder how many bills they get back with “Accepted for Value” written across them, and how they feel about that.)

Now on the other hand I can’t be too tough on people who actually think that there are secret legal facts that the legal establishment is conspiring to keep from the common people, because it happens to be the case that there are secret legal facts that the legal establishment is conspiring to keep from the common people.

One of the things what was noted just in passing in something linked from something above was a list of various other wacko pretend-legal groups, and one of them was “the Fully Informed Jury movement” or other words to that effect.

And that drew me up a bit short, because unlike the wackos trying to convince people that if you attach signed postage stamps to your clothing you are effectively royalty (really!), the fully-informed jury folks are trying to convince people of something that is in fact true.

To quote from the article that was linked from whatever it was I found this mentioned in, the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Volume 88, Issue 1, Article 8 (Fall 1997), Populism, Free Speech, and the Rule of Law: The Fully Informed Jury Movement and its Implications, by one Erick J. Haynie:

It has long been recognized that juries have the power to render verdicts inconsistent with the criminal law. Since jury acquittals are never subject to appellate review, a “not guilty” verdict will always be final regardless of the jury’s reasoning or its interpretation of the facts.

Which is to say, when you are on a petit jury and the judge instructs you that you are allowed to determine the facts of the case, but must strictly obey his pronouncements on the law, he is well sort of maybe lying just a bit, because in fact you can acquit for whatever darn reason you want. But the lying is in a good cause!

The great distinction in American jury nullification doctrine, however, is that while juries enjoy an unrestrained power to nullify the law, courts almost universally forbid this power to be explained to juries. The prevailing view among jurisdictions is that affirmative instruction on the ability to nullify would lead to lawlessness in the jury decision-making process.

That’s Haynie again. Isn’t that nice? Can’t trust juries to act reasonably if they knew the truth, so we’ll just conceal it from them. Otherwise it’s the End of Everything!

For a jury that is taught the legal reality that, no matter the facts of the case, an acquittal verdict is unreviewable and a guilty verdict will be given much deference on appeal, will also understand that it has nearly absolute power to determine questions of life, liberty, and property however it pleases. At that point, law is no more.

Welllll… This doesn’t seem all that blindingly obvious to me. (Especially since they can only acquit unreviewably, not convict.) Surely there is a position between “lie to people and keep this fact secret” and “tell them they can just do whatever the heck they want”. More on that below.

Our Haynie considers; what are we to do about this? Action is clearly required, now that people can find stuff out on the internet! And there’s even this Fully Informed Jury Association that is trying to tell people this true thing in an organized way omg!

(Their website does sound a little close-to-the-edge here and there; but imagine the feeling of finding yourself in the middle of a conspiracy-theory scenario that turns out to be true! Brrrr.)

Anyway, Haynie again, clutching his pearls:

Silencing attorneys and refusing nullification instructions, however, is no longer an adequate solution to the nullification problem. With the rise of FIJA, judges are no longer the sole gate keepers of that secret and powerful message. Consequently, as the FIJA movement continues to grow it will become necessary for the jurisdictions to develop new approaches to the nullification problem that are more mindful of juror awareness of jury nullification.

Yes, new approaches, that’s what we need!

Fortunately and amusingly, of the various possible new approaches Haynie considers, all of them, except for making it harder for FIJA types to actually throw information at jury members on courthouse grounds, turn out to be unworkable and/or clearly unconstitutional.

(And at this point I begin to suspect that Haynie is a genius of gentle satire, and he’s actually pointing out that the project of keeping the “secret and powerful message” under wraps is actually doomed.)

His conclusion:

And so time will march on until either FIJA withers into nothingness or the rule of law comes to have “about as much force as the Cheshire Cat’s grin.” True lovers of liberty will fear the latter over the former. Anarchy is no better friend of freedom than an overreaching government.

Quite the doomsday scenario! The assumption here is that if people find out from the evil internet that they are allowed to vote Not Guilty just because they think the law is unjust, say, they will start capriciously acquitting people randomly right and left, and it’s Game Over for law and order.

And if you have that low an opinion of potential jurors, you must be pretty unhappy that we have juries at all! Let alone Grand Juries! Why, those people could do anything!

I think in actual practice there are all sorts of jury instructions that could acknowledge the nullification power without messing anything up. Top of the head:

I’ve just explained to you that you are here to determine the facts of the case, and have a duty to follow my instructions as to the law. There is one exception to this: if the facts of the case and the law are such that the accused did violate the law beyond a reasonable doubt, but that in this instance a guilty verdict would be gravely unjust, so that you in good conscience simply cannot vote to convict, you have a duty to vote to acquit. Be aware that this is an extremely rare situation; District Attorneys work very hard not to bring you such cases, and judges work very hard to make sure that when one slips through, we catch it before it gets to the jury. But just for completeness, I mention this here.

All right, that exception aside, to return to what I said a moment ago…

And yeah I’m sure that that has big holes in it since I Am Not A Lawyer and I only thought about it for like ten minutes, but something like it seems plausible to me.

Better than lying to people and just hoping that they don’t find out the truth and bring about The End of Everything, anyway…

But you still have to pay your taxes!


Fifteen years!

Wow, you’d think something would have changed after a week away; flying cars, or aliens walking around Manhattan, or at least a new subway line or something, but NO, everything is pretty much just the same!


Extremely attentive and/or precognitive readers will suspect rightly that we were away for a week because we were in Maine; the first time that happened was in 1999, and this is 2014, so it’s been fifteen years!

And since that first Maine trip was when I started writing a weblog, and this is in some sense the same weblog as that, this is the fifteenth anniversary of the weblog!


Here is a picture of Maine:


Isn’t that gorgeous? Along with M’s sister’s family, and their father and stepmother, we rented a house on top of Dodge Mountain, overlooking Rockland and the bay and points East, with a lovely deck, and chairs to sit in, and tables to put your book and your wineglass on, and beds to sleep in, and all.

It was great.

I did a lot of reading, as usual. That book there is “Karma and Rebirth” by Christmas (sic) Humphries. I wrote it up for GoodReads (hope that link works for not-me people).

(I will resist the obvious temptation to produce lots of weblog content by pasting in all various book reviews I have written instead of just linking to them!)

I read that because I happened across it in some used book store (perhaps Hello Hello Books?), shortly after watching Hemant Mehta’s rather offputting “Can Atheists be Buddhists“, and it seemed like a nice synchronicity.

The Mehta piece is offputting for a few reasons:

  • His conclusion is basically “no”, and I’m sort of both of those things, so yeah.
  • The reason his conclusion is basically “no” is that, he says, although Buddhists don’t believe in a deity, they do believe some stuff (specifically Karma and Rebirth) that Isn’t Scientific, and therefore atheists won’t believe it.
  • This implies that for Mehta “atheist” doesn’t just mean “doesn’t believe in God” for some value of “God”, it means “only believes stuff that is Scientific”, and that seems like just sloppy thinking or sloppy word-usage or something,
  • His conclusion that Karma and Rebirth are Not Scientific seems very offhand and not particularly well thought out; as for that matter is his assumption that all Buddhists believe in either or both of them in any form.

Some day I will have to write a post on Buddhism and Scientificness and Karma and Rebirth and all, and why atheists can in fact be Buddhists, and vice-versa, at least when they are me. Not today, though. :)

Another book, that I’m sure I bought in Hello Hello Books (which is a great bookstore, by the way), and then I read and enjoyed very much, is Doris Grumbach’s “The Pleasure of Their Company”, which I also wrote up for GoodReads. It was good.

I do love lying about in Maine, feeling the wind and reading books and thinking about things.

Also I went out on a boat! And held a lobster!

Here is a picture from on the boat, with the notable deck hand Dana holding the lobster in question:

Dana with the lobster

and here is the lobster, with parts of my hand holding it:


and a little girl looking dubious in the background.

We did many other things in Maine! I took three of the four kids to the beach one day, but the sun was behind clouds and the sand was too wet and rocky and the waves too small and they got cold, so we didn’t stay very long.

Here are some rocks!


They do look coldish.

We went into Rockland a couple of times (although sadly we were not in town for this

Internet Cats

which I bet would have been noteworthy), and into Camden a couple of times (here is a classy black-and-white shot of some water in Camden:

Water in Camden

just because we are posting lots of pictures; more and/or different ones can as usual be found on the Insta-Gram).

Reading back through some of the various Maine and post-Maine postings in the weblog over the years, I see lots of variety in terms of thoughtfulness, randomness, introspection, and so on. I did feel introspective, in a good way, and renewed, in a good way, by it all this year, but in writing about it I’m mostly just writing random things, I think. :)

Maybe largely because I didn’t feel like writing about it at all while I was there (too busy doing it?), and now am writing about it retrospectively, having been home for a couple of days and back to work one day, so somewhat back in the quotidian mindset. Or something?

Here is another picture :) this one of ol’ Red’s Eats (where we didn’t eat this year) as randomly enhanced in its usual drive-by way by Google Plus:

Red's Eats

Kinda neat, I thought.

What else? I read some other books, acquired some other books, sat zazen a bit, had some thoughts, drank some wine, ate some lobster and some blueberry pie, enjoyed some sun and wind.

And I’m not unhappy to be home. :)

About all one could ask for, really!


Four humbugs

It is all too easy and fun to point out widespread notions that are wrong. Because I’ve seen a bunch lately, and it’s easy, and at the risk of being smug, here are four.

thumb downImpossible space drive is impossible.

Headlines like “NASA validates ‘impossible’ space drive and Fuel-Less Space Drive May Actually Work, Says NASA and so on and so on are silly and even irresponsible.

What actually happened is that a single small “let’s try out some weird stuff” lab at NASA (and I’m glad NASA has those, really) published a paper saying:

They tried out some mad scientist’s law-defying reactionless thruster, and they detected a tiny itty-bitty nearly-indetectable amount of thrust.

As a control case, they tried out a variant that shouldn’t have produced any thrust. In that case, they also detected a tiny itty-bitty nearly-indetectable amount of thrust.

The proper conclusion would be that there is probably an additional source of noise in their setup that they hadn’t accounted for.

Instead they concluded that both the experimental and the control setup were actually producing thrust, and that they are “potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma [sic]”.

Which is just silly, per this G+ posting by an actual physicist, and various similar things.

For the other side of the issue, see’s doubling-down Q&A. But I would still bet many donuts against there being any real effect here.

Brain-like supercomputer chip super how, exactly?

IBM Builds A Scalable Computer Chip Inspired By The Human Brain“, “IBM’s new brain-mimicking chip could power the Internet of Things“, “IBM reveals next-gen chip that delivers Supercomputer speed“, etc, etc, etc.

Chief among the things that make me skeptical about how important this is, is that none of the articles that I’ve read give an actual example of anything useful that this chip does any better than existing technologies.

You’d think that’d be kind of important, eh?

Apparently there was a demonstration showing that it can do pattern recognition; but so can an Intel Pentium. It’s also touted as being very low-power, but again it’s not clear to what extent it’s low-power when doing some specific useful task that some conventional technology takes more power to do.

I like this quote:

While other chips are measured in FLOPs, or floating point operations per second, IBM measures the chip in SOPs, or synaptic operations per second.

“This chip is capable of 46 billion SOPs per watt,” Modha said. “It’s a supercomputer the size of a postage stamp, the weight of a feather, and the power consumption of a hearing-aid battery.”

Amazing, eh? If only we knew what a SOP is actually good for…

Hey, my right little toe is capable of 456 trillion quantum vacuum flux plasma operations per second (QVPFOPS) (which I just made up) per watt! It’s a supercomputer! In a little toe! Buy my stock!

(Disclaimer: I used to work for IBM, and they laid off at least one friend who was doing interesting work in actual brain-inspired computing, which I have to admit has not increased my confidence in how serious they are about it. Also I now work for Google, which is sometimes mentioned in the press as experimenting with the “D-Wave” devices, which I suspect are also wildly over-hyped.)

Numbers about “sex trafficking” are just made up.

On the Twitters I follow a number of libertarian posters (with whom I sometimes agree despite no longer identifying as libertarian myself), and lately there’ve been lots of postings about the various societal approaches to sex work.

I tend to think that the more libertarian “arrangements between consenting adults should be regulated only to the extent that there is force or fraud involved” arguments are more convincing than the more prohibitionist “things we wish people wouldn’t do should be outlawed and thereby driven underground where they can be run by criminals who do force and fraud for a living” arguments. (As you might perhaps be able to tell by how I have worded my descriptions of them.)

Recently there was this interesting “In Defense of Johns” piece on, and this also interesting “Actually, you should be ashamed” rebuttal.

One very striking statement in the latter is this:

U.S. State Department estimates that 80% of the 600,000-800,000 people trafficked across international borders every year are trafficked for sex.

which is a really striking number. Half a million people a year kidnapped and taken to other countries and forced into sex work? That’s horrible!

It’s also completely made up, and almost certainly false.

Here’s a paper on the general subject that includes considerable analysis of these numbers, how wildly they vary from source to source, and how little actual fact there is behind any of them. One salient Justice Department quote:

Most importantly, the government must address the incongruity between the estimated number of victims trafficked into the United States—between 14,500 and 17,500 [annually]—and the number of victims found—only 611 in the last four years… The stark difference between the two figures means that U.S. government efforts are still not enough. In addition, the estimate should be evaluated to assure that it is accurate and reflects the number of actual victims.

Between “we’ve found only one-tenth of one percent of the victims” and “the estimates people have pulled out of their hats to get funding are wildly inflated”, I know where I’d put my money.

There are people forced into sex work, and that’s a terrible crime that we ought to find and punish and disincent. But we need to do that by getting all of the truth that we can, not by artificially inflating numbers (or just outright lying) to get more than our fair share of funds, or by conflating a voluntary activity that we don’t like with actual coercion, or by otherwise acting in bad faith.

Sergeant STAR is not AI.

Okay, this one is a bit of a last-minute addition because it was on On The Media this morning, and it fits with our occasional theme of how bad “chatbots” are.

Basically the U.S. Army has this chatbot that answers questions from potential recruits (and anyone else) about being in the Army and all. The EFF got curious about it and filed a FOIA request which was (after some adventures) more or less answered. Details (and some rather confused distracting speculation about different kinds of bots and privacy threats and things) are on the EFF site.

The Executive Summary is that Sgt STAR is basically an FAQ, with something like 288 pages of Q&A’s, and some kind of heuristic matcher that tries to match each incoming question to one that it knows the answer to, and displays that answer. No big deal, really.

And then (the actually useful part) there are some humans who constantly review the log of questions and update the answers to better match what people are asking, and how reality is changing.

The reason the good Sgt qualifies for a Humbug list is that people (including the bot himself) are constantly referring to it as “intelligent” and “AI” and stuff like that.

You Asked: Are you alive?

SGT STAR: I am a dynamic, intelligent self-service virtual guide…

No, no Sarge, I’m afraid you aren’t.

You’re a well-designed and well-maintained lookup table.

And that’s not what intelligence is.


I need you more than whoa

So Lady Gaga really needs to enunciate more clearly. Listening to Artpop playing loudish on the car radio, with the occasional interruption from the maps app telling me how to get home from wherever, I really couldn’t tell what it was.

More than gold? More than goal? (World Cup reference!) More than dope? More than Dole? (mmm tasty canned pineapple rings!) More than whoa? More than low?

Eggs Benedict on the UWSApparently it is “More than dope“.

Anyway! Great fun yesterday, which was M’s b’day. We decided, daringly, to go into The Big City rather than just to some Mall or other familiar space. Brunch on the Upper West Side, at a sidewalk café even!

Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your taxi. (photo: Little Daughter)

Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your taxi.
(photo: Little Daughter)

And little stores, some yarn-related and some not, and the wilds of Central Park, and the Guggenheim Museum.

(The Italian Futurists seem to have been mostly sort of wannabe-Fascist assholes; who knew? The work itself was probably daring and transgressive at the time; today it would be sort of meh.)

And we rested (and recharged my phone; the one thing I don’t like about the Nexus 5 is how battery-poor it is) at work, and then went and met the little daughter (yay!) at this amazing little tea-and-pastries-and-macarons (which I now know have basically nothing whatsoever to do with macaroons) place in Soho, and walked through a buzzing-with-energy Soho evening to the subway and came home.


Oh, and there is the interesting Case of The Two Very Similar CDs, but that will have to wait for another time and/or possible world…



Train Sign nicely vandalizedDid you know that the various advertising signs in (for instance) Metro-North commuter train cars are just thin cardboard things, at least some of which are blank on the back, which are sort of slid insecurely into little tabs in insecure metal frames?

So that for instance it’s entirely possible to:

  • Slip a particularly repulsive one out of its frame and lay it down to one side where the occupants will no longer be subjected to it (at which some of said occupants might potentially express amused gratitude), and even to
  • Slip one that is say urging people to gamble out of its frame, turn it around to the blank side, and slip it back in, and then draw say an abstract smiley face on it.

Of course one probably shouldn’t do these things, because the train line probably has regulations about interfering with the advertising of our Corporate Masters, and one wouldn’t want to get in trouble with the CorpCops…


The shooting-down of flight MH17 was horrible; people should stop doing this kind of thing. I blame it on sociopathic assholes who are willing to cause innumerable deaths for the sake of power; but probably I do this at least partly to find an easy target to blame, so I don’t have to think too hard about what it says about humanity in general, including me. So we won’t think about that now.

But we will think about why, when talking about the people living near where the plane went down, NPR this morning referred to them as “villagers” from a nearby “village”.

(See our earlier essay, Who’s the Chief of the BBC?)

It seemed odd to me. In my youth I lived near the Village of Spring Valley, but I would not have thought of the people who lived there as “villagers”.

The Wikipedia page on “Village (United States)” does not contain the string “villager”.

The page on “Village” in general contains “villager” twice: the contexts are:

Malay and Indonesian villagers practice the culture of helping one another as a community

Most Russian rural residents are involved in agricultural work, and it is very common for villagers to produce their own food.

So villagers can be Malay, Indonesian, or Russian (if rural).

The obvious Google search suggests that “villager” is usually the name of a local newspaper.

A quick search on the BBC suggests that villagers can be:

  • In early 20th Century England,
  • In India (and mostly illiterate),
  • In China (and being hit by a flood),
  • In a hamlet in Devon, England (coping with storms),
  • On Komodo Island (killed by a local dragon),
  • Somewhere in England (I guess), saving a shop.

The two English ones:

Hallsands villager Jonathan Hale said: “Until the storms we had no idea of the policy of no intervention.”

Reg Moule is in the studio taking your gardening questions plus we find out about a shop in the county that was saved by a villager and is now thriving

If we try CNN, we find that villagers are:

  • In Africa (shunning a relief worker who survived Ebola),
  • In “a tiny district” in Nepal (falling prey to organ traffickers),
  • In Iraq (saving a contractor from ISIS),
  • In Nigeria (fighting off Boko Haram).

which are all a bit Other, but maybe CNN just talks about foreigners alot.

Hm, maybe USA Today? There we have just a few villagers:

  • In Indonesia in an earthquake,
  • In Belgium in the 1990s, building a small memorial to some Tuskegee Airmen,
  • In France in WWII, speaking broken English to some American soldiers,
  • Nelson Mandela, in South African in his youth,
  • In Africa, saving a Navy Seal,
  • In Central China, buying a baby,
  • In New Mexica, being a Latino using evil magic,
  • and so on in foreign countries.

It may be telling here that even the USA Today site has mostly foreign villagers, and the one that is in the US is Latino, and so Other.

Not enough to draw any definite conclusions from, but I get the general impression that “villager” is, for the mainstream West, another word used when Othering people, like those living near where airplanes are shot down in foreign countries…


Five trivial ways to feel like you’re meditating!

Attractive white woman, probably meditating

Attractive white woman, probably meditating

Meditation, sitting, zazen, vipassana, samatha, dhyāna: practices like these have long histories in human culture; people in all parts of the world, through long centuries, have devoted their energy, their time, and their lives, to the rigors of practice.

But today, fortunately, we know better!

By removing from these practices anything inconveniently spiritual or in any way demanding, and packaging something vaguely like what remains under appealing names like “mindfulness” or “attention”, we have obtained a set of modern products which contribute positively to the health, well-being, self-esteem, and profit margins of the people who sell them online.

In the spirit of recent highly-clickable works like 13 ways to meditate without sitting like a monk from the inner-awareness site MarketWatch Dot Com, and because many people would like to feel that they are meditating, without actually going to any effort, we prevent these Five Top Tips. Thank you for clicking on our ads.

Take a deep breath now and then. Breathing is good, and helps keep your blood oxygenated. Deep breaths can cause a momentary head-rush that is easily mistaken for something significant. Also, people who meditate do breathe, sometimes deeply.

Think “aummm” to yourself. This is a cool sound, that reminds many people of hippies and meditation and things. Also, something about jewels and lotuses. This sound can be made at any volume; we recommend a low volume, so no one else hears it and thinks you are some kind of weirdo.

Don’t worry. All true meditative traditions agree that everything is really all the same, and that whatever is happening is okay. So you can be meditative by not worrying about anything. Or by worrying. Or whatever, really.

Notice how the people around you are not meditating. Most likely the other people around you on the plane or at the espresso bar are not being mindful and meditating like you are. This leads naturally to the next tip.

Feel good about yourself for meditating. Mindfulness improves self-esteem, and self-esteem is really a kind of mindfulness. Simply by being mindful about the fact that you are meditating, and how well this reflects on you, you are meditating mindfully; it is a Virtuous Cycle!

In addition to these Five Top Tips, experts agree that it is beneficial to eliminate from your life as many problems and distractions as you can; so if possible, try to be prosperous, healthy, and not a member of any minority or historically oppressed groups. Reading the Wall Street Journal is good, too.


Cities are so full of human things

Today around lunchtime, having successfully backfilled a default value into a null field in upwards of (literally) six million records so that we could eventually remove the “if field is NULL, use the default” code from the runtime (something that frankly we wouldn’t have bothered with at the previous employer, but current employer takes code curation very seriously), I decided to go out for a little walk.

For Father’s Day the little daughter gave me this wonderful handmade set of cards (pictured here, along with the delicious truffles from M) describing various favorite and otherwise notable coffeehouses around The City. One of the favorites was Café Grumpy, which has a location in Chelsea, just a few minutes walk from here.

So I picked up a lovely ham half-sandwich from the Five Borough Bistro down the hall, took off my badge in the elevator (good opsec), and walked out into The Big City.

Between 111 8th Avenue and 224 West 20th Street, there are about five blocks, probably about four Starbuckses, the Joyce Theater, a modest number of portals (most of them Smurf Blue), and many many lovely complicated people, some on bicycles. I ate my sandwich while walking North among it all.

Sitting with my cappuccino, I wrote Profound Coffee Shop Words on the Insta-gram.

I get this feeling,
in cities,
that all the other people
are clued into some multifarious but shared thing
that I’m outside of.
Which is I think true
and false
and true.

True because being a really city-immersed and full-time city person is in fact a multifarious but shared thing that I’m outside of.

False because there are lots of different ones, even multifarious and shared; being a really city-immersed and full-time city person isn’t just one thing, any more than being any other kind of person is just one thing (not even a multifarious thing).

And true because everyone everywhere is clued into some multifarious but shared thing that virtually everyone else is outside of.

Speaking of love :) and social media, there is some amusement to be had today on the “March4Marriage” tag on the Twitter, which was started by the odious National Organization for Marriage (a small but mysteriously well-funded group devoted to preventing certain marriages), but which has attracted lots of variously heartwarming, funny, snarky, and otherwise pro-equality “tweets” that made me smile. (The “march” itself seems to have drawn maybe a couple hundred people; a fact that the Twitter has also enjoyed.)

And speaking of the more and less delightful mysteries of the human soul, there is this odd story. The story says that every time a child is born in the U. S. of A., a secret account with some large monetary value is created by the birth certificate, and that this account is used as collateral for large loans from foreign banks that keep the United States (which is secretly a Corporation) running. By filling out certain forms with certain punctuation, the story says, a citizen can get control of that account, and use it to pay one’s taxes, obtain cash, or whatever.

People who promote and/or believe this story are collectively called the Redemption Movement, which has a Wikipedia page and everything, as well as a long and painful (and sometimes funny) history of losses in court, criminal convictions, loony web pages and YouTube videos, and so on. This guy for instance seems schizomimetic on the order of the Time Cube guy:


whereas others are either just easily duped, or relatively ordinary con-persons.

But back to cities. :) It did not pour rain at all on my way out to Grumpy and back, just a very few sprinkles. People had umbrellas up, or were carrying them down, or had their hoods up or newspapers held over their heads, or were bareheaded and looking up dubiously at the sky now and then like I was, or were just walking along. Whereas this morning at the train station up in the ‘burbs, it was raining quite definitely, and I got thoroughly splashed on the legs by a car going too fast through a gutter puddle.

It is nice not to be wet anymore.


Greece v Galloway: well that’s annoying!

subtle coercive pressuresYou can tell I’ve been busy because I failed to notice this last month:

Prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they embark on the fractious business of governing, serves that legitimate function. If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort. That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court. — Greece v Galloway

Basically the Supremes were given the chance to say that sectarian prayer (“we acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross”), or even prayer in general (“blah blah blah God blah blah”), is out of place in government contexts since some of the salient citizens could obviously feel excluded; and they did something close to the opposite, on the amusing and infuriating assumption that this stuff “unites” us in our “common effort”.

There is good coverage of this on Friendly Atheist and very good analysis on ScotusBlog.

Justice Kagan gets it just right in this bit of dissent:

Contrary to the majority’s apparent view, such sectarian prayers are not “part of our expressive idiom” or “part of our heritage and tradition,” assuming the word “our” refers to all Americans.

but also disappointingly does exactly the same thing herself in writing

None of this means that Greece’s town hall must be religion- or prayer-free. “[W]e are a religious people,” Marsh observed.

Not assuming that the word “we” refers to all Americans, eh, Justice Kagan? Hem hem!

The conservative Justices are saying, as conservative Justices tend to, “people like us have no problem with this, and people who aren’t like us don’t really matter much.”

And that’s always bad.

But it’s sad that, as ScotusBlog notes, even the dissenters seem to assume that government prayer is just fine, and the only thing that might make anyone feel unacceptably excluded is if it’s the wrong kind of prayer.



Subtleties of the Seventh Avenue Subway

tracksIn the morning, on the way downtown from Times Square, a packed express (the 2 or 3) stops every minute or two, and the doors open and lots of people get out, because they were on their way to Times Square from uptown.

This leaves room for other people to get in, and then it stops at 34th street (Penn Station) and then at 14th Street which is where we are going.

In the afternoon, on the way home going uptown, a packed express also stops every minute or two, but hardly anyone gets off (not many people are going from downtown to 14th street), so it stays packed, and only a few people (who are willing to squeeze more or less forcefully in) can get on.

A somewhat less packed local also stops every minute or two, so we get into that instead, and we stop at 18th and 23rd and 28th, and then at Penn Station, and finally Times Square where we are going.

Which is not bad, the subway is a fun place with a wide variety of interesting people. It is just a thing which I have noticed.