Tag Archives: commentary

informal commentary

sexism is not, actually, “open source”

There’s been a blog flurry about the use (dare I call it “appropriation”?) of the term “open source” for a project aimed at facilitating gropes of women’s breasts at SF cons. The project was called the “open source boob project” and proposed to pass out buttons so that people (“women”) could affirmatively opt-in to the project and say: “yes you may” or “no you may not” (ask if you can grope my breasts).

The original poster was unfortunately clueless about sexism, and writing from a position of utterly unexamined privilege. Many, many gajillions of postings have pointed out the numerous ways the proposal is bad:
* it makes people (“women”) feel unsafe
* it makes people (“women”) feel pressured to participate
* since cons are also meetings for people in the SF trades and professions, it may pressure people (“women”) to participate to advance their careers, in the fine old school tradition of sexual harassment

… I could go on, but instead I’ll just point to the feminist SF blog and FSFwiki and Feministing for summaries and links. Particularly noteworthy responses include:
* open source swift kick to the balls by misia
* open source african hair project from plastic sturgeon
* The Open Source Women Back Each Other Up Project! by vito_excalibur
* Open Source Male Assholes by springheel jack, excellent for its libertarian fallacies analysis. My only complaint is I wish that the author had used the capital L Libertarian, since there is, in fact, a large thread of libertarian thinking that specifically recognizes social inequalities: anarchism, the original and still the best “libertarian” philosophy/analysis/action plan.

The thing that caused me to post about this over here, as well as interacting with the general blog furor, is the appropriation of the term “open source”. This also did not go over well. But isn’t it interesting the way “openness” and “open source” has become some sort of synonym for permissiveness? Despite the massive way this is a completely wack analogy? (see inhammer, below)

Links discussing the open source aspect include:

  • matthew garrett
  • inhammer: failure of metaphor
  • rivkat: “a category mistake of the ugliest kind”
  • In a comment on the Rivkat thread, Ithiliana picked up Rivkat’s phrase “Bodies are rivalrous” and made an awesome LJ icon: Later…: I keep coming back to this image and staring at it. Honestly, I just love this so much that I want it plastered all over my blog, my shirts, my bumper stickers, and maybe my household windows.
  • designated sidekick at girl-wonder.org extends the metaphor to “closed source misogyny” and suggests “Let’s put our male entitled view of women’s bodies as our property to use, modify, open source and otherwise interact with into a neatly closed source wrapper, bundle it in DRM, load it on an iPod and repeatedly strike our narrow minded selves in the face until the bleeding starts, and continue until the ability to stand upright stops.” Hear, hear.

apparently i’m married to pharyngula

Yesterday I excitedly pointed to this io9 blog entry about vat-grown meat: “You see!” I told my partner. “You see! I was right. We are going to have vat-grown meat, in our lifetime !!!”

The “I was right” or “you were right” is the gold ring of our relationship. The ch-ching it makes when one gets one — ah, I live for those moments.

We had previously argued about this a few times. My partner — a biologist, like P.Z. Myers (aka “Pharyngula”) — has long held that it is impractical, that you need medium to grow it in, blah blah blah technical objections that impede my vision, blah blah blah. I think this technology will provide us transplantable organs, vat-grown meat, and perhaps external uteruses (eventually). She has argued instead that for things like organs and vat-grown meat, we should be cloning humans or animals without brains [and other stuff, that I can’t remember right now] , and harvesting organs from those living brainless creatures. Needless to say I find this utterly repulsive, frightening, and vaguely unethical. “But,” she points out, “the thing that makes us human is our brain [etc]. A clone of ourselves without a brain is just a bag of organs.” Then I bring up the birth of severely disabled children, and we get going on yet another round of the unsolvable discussions that occupy our time.

But lo, today, in response to the same vat-grown meat story that I trumpeted, Pharyngula posted this response arguing that instead of building brainless humane meat from cellular matrices & tissues & then adding support structures, we should be building it top-down — stripping the sentience from our food animals. Needless to say, this is as disturbing as my partner’s vision of brainless clonal twin organ farms. Isn’t this basically what Brave New World did to the various classes of people? If we do accustom ourselves to get over the squick factor about this, isn’t that actually — well, risky and scary?

My partner accuses me of falling prey to Bushian “culture of life” mysticism. Sentience, pain perception, fear, anxiety, happiness — all the things that make killing animals for food inhumane would be irrelevant if the food stuffs had the biological capacity to feel those things removed. I admit my arguments get a little weak around this time. “Muscle memory,” I counter, suggesting that our sentience, while centered on the brain, is perhaps also holistically grounded in our entire body. She mocks the “muscle memory” argument mercilessly.

Anyway, the real point is that their arguments are disturbingly similar (and similarly disturbing). Possibly related to the fact they’re both biologists. On the other hand, I never have seen them in the same place at the same time.

(Also, all this reminds me of Rudy Rucker’s Software, Wetware, etc. — which my partner introduced me to. Cloned human meat was popular — also vat-grown I think — and one of the characters actually made a ton of money from allowing herself to be cloned into one of the most popular burgers. While funny and thought-provoking and all the other good stuff that Rucker & SF generally are, I gotta say that this squicked me out more than almost anything else I’ve read in SF.)

alabama – imprisoning pregnant women like it’s 2020 in Gilead

How did I miss this Alabama story?
Greg L. Gambril, a DA in south Alabama (Covington County), is prosecuting women for endangering their fetuses under a chemical endangerment law intended to protect children from meth labs — “chemical endangerment of child”.

“When drugs are introduced in the womb, the child-to-be is endangered. It is what I call a continuing crime.” He added that the purpose of the statute was to guarantee that the child has “a safe environment, a drug-free environment. No one is to say whether that environment is inside or outside the womb.”

Tiffany Hitson spent her daughter’s first year in Julia Tutwiler Prison. He has prosecuted at least eight women under this law.

WTF is wrong with this asshole? Does he really not have anything better to do? Can’t someone disbar this motherfucker for blatant prosecutorial misconduct in using a law (a) to target crimes not intended to be reached, and (b) in violation of women’s constitutional rights to privacy?

Oh, no, wait — I forgot. Alabama is fucked up and the rest of the country just lets it stay that way. Women in Alabama, women in religious cults in Texas — fuck ’em.

I know the ACLU of Alabama is overburdened, but come on.

Expelled copyright infringement, cont’d

update 4/16: Both a commenter here and also P.Z. Myers have reported that Expelled filmmakers Premise filed on Monday a DJ (“declaratory judgment”) motion on XVIVO‘s copyright claims against them — i.e., asked a judge to look at the evidence & say that they are not infringing. Premise v. XVIVO, N.D. Tex., 4/14/2008.

Here are links to the PDFs of the
* complaint , and
* the statement of interested parties.
And may I just note that PACER is a pain in the ass?

Also via that same post @ pharyngula, Sarah S @ ERV reports that they copied not just the XVIVO video but other sources as well. Quel surprise.

Previous posts:
* Copyright claims against Expelled
* “Expelled” music licensed or not?

Thoughts on reading the complaint below the fold:
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you paid for it; who owns it? Wal-Mart’s contracted recordings

So, Wal-Mart is fighting with its former video contractor over ownership of a variety of recordings of internal Wal-Mart affairs.

An aside: From the description, it seems like some of them might have been automatically captured footage. The question of copyright over surveillance camera footage and other automated recordings is an interesting one, I think, opening up questions that touch on originality in copyright law; artistic intent; purpose of copyright law; norms; blah blah blah. In the land of amazing coincidences, the sort of coincidences that one’s human pattern-seeking brain wants to interpret as cosmically weird or destined or psychic or deistic intervention, but isn’t — in that land, my partner & I were having a heated debate over this very issue, just the other day, before we had heard anything about the possibly relevant Wal-Mart case. What are the odds?!? Given the geeky arguments which infest our home on a regular basis (and the tenuous connection of that discussion to this issue) — pretty good, I’d say.

At any rate, there’s some 15,000 tapes that the company (Flagler Productions) took of Wal-Mart over the years. Wal-Mart used them for holiday parties & whatnot; family style blooper reels to amuse the employees, I guess. Eventually Wal-Mart cancelled their contract with Flagler, which, trying to figure out how best to turn a profit from the mess, decided to sell the videos. Who’s buying? Clip services, documentary filmmakers, litigants, union organizers … Heh heh.

I bet some in-house attorney who failed to include an IP assignment clause in the service contract (or notice its absence) is in trou – ble.

Aside from one’s usual disdain for things Wal-martian, one can’t help but sympathize with the frustrated administration that generated this statement:

“It’s difficult to understand how the company could now sell to third parties the material we paid it to produce on our behalf. … Needless to say, we did not pay Flagler Productions to tape internal meetings with this aftermarket in mind.”

Needless to say.

On the other hand, there’s a certain poetic justice to it: Wal-Mart photo developing is one of the many, many places that have given consumers grief because they couldn’t prove copyright ownership of photos deemed “professional quality”, or that were commissioned for weddings, family portraits, etc.

(link from Howard Besser)

Copyright claims against Expelled

4/11: I had previously (3/27) drafted a brief commentary on Expelled‘s use of copyrighted material. Then, I unposted it while I checked on something, to try to make it more complete. I hadn’t gotten back to it, when the other shoe dropped: One of the copyright holders’ whose material was used in Expelled wrote a published a draft cease & desist letter to the filmmakers. So, I’m re-posting my original comment, even though I haven’t yet had a chance to figure out the licensing status of the animations in question, and I’m doing a more detailed analysis below of the current set of claims. Consider this a rough draft of an analysis.

In part, I’m rushing this out because there are a few misconceptions about copyright and fair use on the Pharyngula blog comment thread. I’ll have to come back & add in the relevant cites when I’ve got a bit more time (probably not before Sunday), and I may have more considered analysis at that point. Right now, this is my quick first impressions on the merits of the claims that XVIVO is making, and the merits of the likely defenses that Expelled could raise.

I’ve gotta say, I’m rarely so personally sympathetic with a cease and desist as I am with this one, a letter from Peter Irons on behalf of XVIVO to the makers of Expelled, for using without permission a biology animation that XVIVO did.

However.

The misuse of science is not the same thing as the misuse of intellectual property, and I have, unfortunately, a number of problems with this cease & desist letter. My problems are more tactical and, of course, from the perspective of a fair use / information policy attorney. But I’ll go through a bit of legal analysis first, because there are some interesting questions. If you don’t find details of copyright interesting, skip to the last 3 paragraphs.

Continue reading

Scientific American fisks Expelled

Scientific American‘s reviews of “Expelled”, the creationist movie with Ben Stein, are the best yet: the one by John Rennie is particularly helpful. It dissects the rhetorical tricks, and fills in the facts that were left out of the film’s assertions about punitive action taken towards experts. Expelled Exposed, from the NCSE, is developing point-by-point rebuttals of the assertions in the film. (Their tagline is: “Flunked, Not Expelled”.)

Continue reading

roommates.com: no 230 safe harbor for discriminatory housing ads

Just saw that the 9th Circuit has issued its en banc opinion finding that Roommates.com is not eligible for Section 230 immunity for discriminatory postings. Haven’t read it yet.

Decision at up at the 9th Circuit website. Opinion by Kozinski, who usually gets this stuff so maybe it’s not too bad.

link from eric goldman

Continue reading

“Expelled” music licensed or not?

Josh Timonen wrote a detailed synopsis of the movie “Expelled”, the creationist film that tries to argue that creationist views are “unfairly” excluded from the academy.

What piqued my interest about this particular post (there have been hundreds by now about how bad the movie is, the deceptiveness of the filmmakers, P.Z. Myers’ being prevented from attending, the NCSE’s excellent “Expelled, Exposed” website, and so on) was that Timonen noted the proliferation of popular commercial music, including John Lennon’s “Imagine”, and a song from “The Killers”; maybe others. Timonen says:

Either Expelled has a disproportionately-large music budget (for how bad of a film it is), or they are using songs they haven’t paid for in their Director’s Cut private screenings (that may be changed before the official nationwide release). John Lennon’s “Imagine” is played (original version) over B&W scenes of what looked like communist China, with a parade of soldiers. The lyrics to the song were subtitled on the bottom of the screen. I think I remember a shot of Stalin saluting somewhere in here as well. The part of the song played was of course “…and no religion too…”, implying that no religion equals communist China. Does Yoko know about this? I doubt she’d be pleased.

The excellent “Mad Hot Ballroom Dancing” got dinged for a lot of money for a lot less music use than this. Could the Expelled filmmakers really not have known they needed to license music? Did they have a giant music budget? Are they relying on fair use? Maybe one could make a fair use case for using “Imagine” to illustrate communist China, although it seems a bit of a stretch to me since the point of the film isn’t China or John Lennon, or even atheism per se.

I’ll be interested to see what happens when it’s officially released. Same music? And what’s the story with the licensing? Does Yoko Ono not control the Lennon estate? Would she really license the music for that purpose? Questions, questions.

Supposedly, the film also includes animations of cellular functions. There have been lots of such animations made in the last few years. P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula described one such animation out of Harvard and XVIVO being edited and used without in creationist lecture tours. What’s the licensing on these, I wonder? Studio Daily describes the animation process and says they can’t provide it, because it belongs to Harvard & XVIVO; there’s a version at Harvard’s MCB website. These were funded by the HHMI and the licensing notes the copyright to Robert Lue & Alain Viel, Harvard University, and says “For educational use only. The use, duplication, or distribution of this material for any commercial purpose is strictly prohibited.” Well, creationist lectures are arguably “educational”, at least in the broadest possible sense, but editing it to create a derivative work — that seems a bit different.

parents pray; kid dies

These Wisconsin parents prayed while their kid lapsed into a diabetic coma and died. So, Madeline Neumann was born to parents who let her die only eleven years later. Her parents think she may be resurrected yet.

I usually think of religion as inherently funny, but it’s also stupidity, and stupidity is dangerous and not particularly funny.

link from pharyngula

geyser of icy particles

I just love the imagery in these descriptions of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, in Friday’s NYT 3/13:

Cassini Gets a Cool Shower From an Ice-Spewing Moon

Then again, no other 310-mile-wide ice-ball moon in the solar system has a geyser of icy particles shooting out of its south pole.

Geysers of ice. Truly, this world is more wondrous than dreams could ever be.

… That some folks think this is somehow not enough to contemplate, by itself, but that they also have to concoct something even more amazing — makes me sad. Icy geysers draw out the reverent in me. Adding, “… this is proof of the magnificence of God who is even more awesome” is just sad, like an emotionally damaged person who can’t hear of someone else’s success without trying to talk about their own.

how eliot spitzer could help us all

Eliot Spitzer could help us all, right now, by not resigning. It would do a huge favor to the ordinary non-politician people who have to live in America to resist the stupidity of letting the personal sex lives of our politicians affect our government. He could show a little “leadership” to his peer politicians in this respect.

He’s fought corporate greed and malfeasance. Will he also fight the utter fucking triviality and hypocrisy that infests American politics?

… 2008/03/14: no, of course not.

2010/11/04: I was interested to read this review of the new documentary, ‘Client 9’, about the Eliot Spitzer takedown. The reviewer, O’Hehir, describes it as, “an act that in retrospect looks an awful lot like a political assassination.” Ya think?

barking dogs != relaxation (or security)

For the record, the menacing presence of very large german shepherds is not a plus at a train station. And when you hear their barks, whimpers, and howls nearby it makes you worry whether they’re attacking someone, upset or excited at someone’s lunch, etc. Word is they’re sniffing for bombs but I don’t think for a minute that that barking was a bomb. Pot or someone’s lunch or maybe someone traveling with a pet. I do noto feel safer, and I do not believe that this makes me safer.

Second train station this year that I’ve seen dogs — Philly and now Penn Station.

the unimaginative world of whorecraft(TM)

A few days ago, the Village Voice wrote an article about a series of World of Warcraft-inspired porn; their article was duly picked up by BoingBoing.

Strangely, BoingBoing missed the IP angle — that “Whorelore”‘s original name was “Whorecraft” but they ran into an “IP” issue, presumably trademark. You can still see “Whorecraft” on some of the pictures at the Village Voice article. (see caption and photo)

In theory, the article makes it sound promising: Attempts to act, an ongoing storyline, warrior women, etc. But sadly, the photo gallery demonstrates that the porn is about as “inspired” and “imaginative” as Star Trek’s aliens: Heterotastic, male-centered, dominant-paradigm-of-female-beauty, and very white. Ho hum.

breadcrumb trail: Village Voice 3/2BoingBoing 3/3 [cross-posted at feminist SF the blog]

the missing “than”

The NYT had the germ of an interesting idea today: What I’d Be Talking About if I Were Still Running, op-eds from presidential candidates who have dropped out. It was only a germ because it turned out that the op-eds were only very short, virtually substance-less talking point-level comments. Now if the NYT followed this up with, say, articles doing journalism that examined the current candidates’ positions on these issues, comparing rhetoric to record, we might have something.

Anyway, I was browsing through these and — I should have known better but I clicked on Sam Brownback’s “A Family Crisis”. He had very little of interest to say — more of the tired “marriage is in a crisis” bullshit — but he did this nice little rhetorical dance that I thought was worth noting. He says:

Children brought up with a mom and dad bonded in marriage are, on average, far more likely to succeed in school, avoid crime and live happier and healthier lives.

Now, words like “more” or “less” are comparative terms. Good grammar requires we include the concepts being compared. Political rhetoric, apparently, permits leaving these things unvoiced. Politicians say the positive, and leave the negative for the readers’ minds to fill in. Grammatical deniability.

These children are “on average far more likely to succeed in school, avoid crime and live happier and healthier lives.” More likely than whom? The unmarried parents discussed in the editorial, sure, but also this clearly suggests same-sex parents. The “on average” lends it a bit of scientific gloss, and ties it into the false and misleading reports of research that are frequently circulated by rightwingers like Brownback.

Pretty slick way to politick.

Elsevier’s environmentally-unfriendly licenses

Why does Elsevier hate the environment and all the trees and all the little children who will be living in a world 50 years from now harmed by Elsevier’s really stupid insistence that its electronic documents be PRINTED and then SCANNED IN before being sent out for ILL ????

Seriously, faculty should really reconsider submitting to Elsevier journals. What a waste of human effort as well as trees.

Open Access News has the rest of the scoop. Although this isn’t new news, it seems like an opportune moment to bring it to people’s attention.

See also digital koans.

gender and politics

My partner and I agree on one thing about the Democratic race: That sexism has played a major role in the treatment of Hillary Clinton. A friend of ours recently pointed out that if the genders were reversed — if Barack Obama were a woman, with little experience but inspiring rhetoric — Obama-as-woman would never have gotten as far as he has — the Democratic front-runner, or, at least, tied for front-runner.

What we’ve also noticed is that, although mainstream media commentators regularly bring up her gender, they have rarely if ever brought up the question of sexism. That virtual media silence has recently broken, precipitated, apparently, only by Hillary Clinton making the observations herself.

The NYT ran the numbers and showed that Clinton was indeed correct — that far more first questions in debates had been directed at her than at other candidates.

Then yesterday on WBUR, on On Point, Geraldine Ferraro was amazing. Sure, she ran roughshod over the host and some callers, but I loved it. Her co-guests were Ellen Goodman, Pat Schroeder, and Katha Pollitt! What a line-up. How many times have we had to listen to whole line-ups of men? Or line-ups of mostly men leavened with one woman? Such a rare pleasure to actually hear so many smart women talking together on air. It’s like real life, where I get to hear many smart women talking together all the time.

death by religion, part # in-the-hundreds-of-millions

I haven’t heard any recent updates about Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali, the woman sentenced to death for witchcraft. A Saudi Arabian court issued the death penalty in 2005 for a woman who allegedly made a man impotent, through witchcraft, among other sins. According to Human Rights Watch, she was beaten until she signed (by placing her fingerprints) a confession to witchcraft — a confession she couldn’t even read, because she’s illiterate.

Now, there are some bass-ackwards-ass judges in every country, and you might think maybe she got a one-off nutter. Or, that the “modernizing” country of Saudi Arabia might let this go on at the lower levels of its “courts” but surely they step in and right this kind of wrong at the appellate level. Right? Of course, you’d be wrong, because although her case was heard by an appeal court, their decision was reversed by another court, which felt that her witchcraft was such a serious sin that her death would be in the public interest. Witchcraft that causes impotence — what could be more of a threat to the public safety than that?

It is truly astonishing to me that religion apologists tote up the supposed benefits of belief in their faith against this kind of obscenity. “I feel better because I fantasize about seeing my dead relatives when I die” versus “killing an innocent woman for a vicious, sexist delusion” (multiplied times millions, because let’s not forget the Inquisition, 9/11, the Troubles in Ireland, and all the other deaths attributable directly towards religious delusions) — yeah, that’s Creationist Math, all right.

Further reading:
* Human Rights Watch, Feb. 14, 2008
* HRW Letter to King Abdullah, Feb. 13, 2008
* Heba Saleh, BBC News, Feb. 14, 2008
* Lester Haines, The Register, Feb. 14, 2008