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 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.
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:

the bear stearns of organized pedophilia

It’s a bit dicey to find anything funny in the sexual slavery / prostitution ring known as the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, aka, the Mormon child abuse cult). Bill Maher managed to do it by pointing out the discrepancy between society’s treatment of misbehavior by “cults” and misbehavior by “religions”.

If you can stomach it, watch the video at Crooks and Liars. It’s funny but only if you can laugh at the really fucked up things that infuriate you and make you despair of the world.

Relevant transcript below the fold.


of penumbral emanations and scholarly trends

Speaking of penumbra yet again (1, 2) , I had previously blogged about a Circuit split on laws banning sex toys — it was Valentine’s Day, and I was feeling a bit whimsical, so I wished for a “penumbra” that would strike down stupid laws.

LawPundit “ha[s] an opinion” on my wish for a penumbra that covers “no stupid laws”; I thought it was pretty amusing & worth checking out.

LawPundit also annotated my use of the word “penumbra” with a link to google:define:penumbra. Unfortunately, I don’t think that quite captures the legal nuance. Legal scholar/lawyer-types know the reference, of course, but for those non-lawyers, “penumbra” is famous in Constitutional law as a reference to Griswold v. Connecticut. In Griswold, the Supreme Court overturned a Connecticut statute that made it a crime to buy contraceptives. Justice William O. Douglas, looking at the Constitutional guarantees of individual liberties as a whole, wrote that the statute violated the individual right to privacy, which could be found looking at the “penumbras” and “emanations” of Constitutional protections. The language is a little funny, but standing alone, or with Eisenstadt (which extended to unmarried people the right to buy contraception), this case, and the words “penumbra” and “emanations”, would provide simply a pleasant diversion to while away the afternoons in contemplation of rarely-used words in legal opinions. The concept of “penumbras” of a set of enumerated rights is not that bizarre, especially in light of the Ninth Amendment (which notes that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”) and the Tenth Amendment (which states clearly that powers not delegated to the US, nor prohibited to the States, “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”). These Amendments practically beg for penumbral analysis, and “privacy” (a concept theoretically defined and refined only in the last 125 years, but whose spirit animates much of the Constitutional protections) and “autonomy” (not considered one of the Constitutional “rights”, per se, but I keep wishing) are ripe concepts for that sort of analysis.

But conservatives have freaked out when the penumbras that protect privacy were extended to abortion in Roe v. Wade and to other matters of sexual privacy since then, and and now excoriate the very notion of penumbras. And emanations. (One could argue that the very essence of conservatism is a certain distaste for emanations.) So, “penumbras” the concept has acquired a certain air of disrepute in many legal circles, because even scholars who find it perfectly reasonable to examine the Constitution as a whole as well as in its discrete little parts, tend to back off a bit from Douglas’ sweeping penumbras and emanations, so successfully have right-wingers trashed those ideas. A damn shame, because the concept is perfectly reasonable, and it’s only the rabid dog opposition to abortion that has cast the shadow over Griswold and its penumbral emanations.

not exactly tempted by faith or incomplete

Then-mere Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) wrote in “Introduction to Christianity”, his “best-regarded book”:

“Just as the believer knows himself to be constantly threatened by unbelief, which he must experience as a constant temptation, so for the unbeliever, faith remains a temptation and a threat to his apparently permanently closed world,” he wrote. “In short, there is no escape from the dilemma of being a man.”

Unless you’re a woman, I guess, which is maybe why I escaped the temptations of faith.

More recently, as now-exalted-and-infallible Pope Benedict, he wrote:

While the biblical narrative does not speak of punishment, the idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become ‘complete.’

Fish without a bicycle, that’s me.

[nyt 1/29]

copyright versus writers

“I wish with all my heart that you will be able to publish a new translation.”

Simone de Beauvoir, 1982.

Another example of copyright being used by the copyright owner to control or restrict dissemination of a copyrighted work — regardless of the likely desires of the creator. Ampersand at Alas, a Blog writes about publisher Knopf’s control over Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, citing Sarah Glazer’s editorial, “Lost in Translation”, NYT Aug. 22, 2004. Apparently, Knopf refuses to allow a new French-to-English translation to fix the (apparently) glaring problems with the first translation. This editorial is over a year old, so I just checked as a quick & dirty proxy for a Books in Print search. All the English versions I found still cite to the Knopf translation (copyright renewed in 1980).

Ann Bartow’s commentary on Sivacracy includes this very pointed observation:

Once again copyright law is preventing rather than incentivizing the creation and distribution of important ideas and expression.

When the government brings the force of law to bear to prevent a person from using particular words or images to communicate, and/or to prevent her from distributing or reading certain words, to some of us that seems a lot like censorship. Copyright laws are a restraint on speech, but one that is tolerated by the First Amendment because the copyright system is supposed to incentivize the creation and distribution of useful, creative works. That’s not what is happening here.

Like most authors, Simone de Beauvoir probably had to capitulate to every demand made by her publisher just to see her book in print. Copyright laws could be re-written to at least slightly improve the balance of power between authors and publishers, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

update 12/21: Alas, a Blog has heard a rumor that Knopf may have agreed to a new translation, and links to another article on the issue.

on not freaking out about bias in public interest tech/ip

NYPL hosted a panel a few weeks ago on the Google Print issue. I noticed that there were no women on the panel. This was shortly after I’d seen a flyer for a conference Yale was hosting on Search, which also had very very few numbers of female speakers or commentators. I’d been trying to craft a cogent & reasoned critique of sexism in the industry and practices that lead to gender disparate conference panels in a field where, if anything, a majority of leading scholars are women. In the meantime, Ann Bartow wrote on the matter, and I linked to her in lieu of posting separately, and then I got focused on other things.

But today (12/6), trying to wrap up a similarly long-hanging draft post about Google commentary, I came across a two-post discussion in comments on Larry Lessig’s blog entry about the NYPL debate. First, Ann Bartow briefly noted the absence of women on the NYPL panel:

With little effort I can think of 50 or more women who could have been part of this debate without diminishing the quality of the discourse in the least; in fact quite the contrary. The majority of librarians, and library patrons, in this country are female, as are the majority of book purchasers. Yet not a single woman gets a voice in this debate.

To which unfortunately “David” cluelessly responded:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but women read as men do, as far as I know. By this I mean that the process is structurally equivalent, they look at the page, decode the glyphs or higher-order primitives (such as words) and convert this information into symbolic representations of the writing. Same can be said for search. Is there some peculiarity in women’s reading that would make it imperative to have them represented? Do they do something differently that needs addressing by itself? Because if they do not, as I would hold, it is a disservice to claim they should be represented. Women are first and foremost people, and just as 53-year-olds need not be represented in a debate, because their is no functional difference that requires it, neither do, in most debates, women.

So, whether there are women in the debate or not is entirely irrelevant, and subtracts no legitimacy whatsoever. It could be argued that women could participate just as the men who did, and this is true. Maybe there was a bias against women in the choice of debaters. Whether that was the case or not, though, doesn’t make it imperative to purposefully choose women as debaters on this and most other topics.

David wanted to be corrected if he was wrong, so here goes. He got one thing right: “Maybe there was a bias against women in the choice of debaters.” But alas he completely obfuscated this point with his off-point and non-responsive paragraph about whether men and women have special ways of reading. Or perhaps he simply confused himself. So let me shed a little light:

Professor Bartow said nothing about men’s special ways of reading. She did not “claim” that women “should be represented” because of something they bring to the debate. Rather, she made one simple point: The panel was not gender-representative of any relevant population: IP/law experts, book people, librarians, etc., who are qualified to speak on Google Print issues.

She was concerned about special ways of selecting speakers. That’s a problem of sexism, not cognitive processing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but both men and women spell sexism S-E-X-I-S-M.

David’s response reflects a broader problem in responses to critical engagements with sexism, racism, and other biases, which is, when racism or sexism is called out, to engage in one or more knee-jerk denials: “There’s no sexism here!” or, classically, “I’m not racist!” or “I’m not sexist!” as if it were a personal insult. One can observe three kinds of major knee-jerk responses: One, to become so politically correct that one becomes a caricature of one’s own politics. Two, to deny the critiques, and censor the critics by calling them politically correct. Three, to do the crazy white panic (“I’m not a racist! You don’t think I’m racist, do you? But I’m so not racist!”), so beautifully dissected by Alas, a Blog.

Hey, I’m not immune from any of these responses. It’s pretty natural to do this kind of thing when you’re dealing with a conflict between how you think you ought to be, and how you are being perceived. But that makes these responses all the more important to understand.

And understanding these kinds of natural responses helps us understand what David did, and didn’t do, and could have done more helpfully instead, in his response to Ann Bartow’s simple pointing out of a gender disparity.

When a critic points out a possible problem, the ideal response would be for people to hear and evaluate the critic’s comments, and respond appropriately (and not disproportionately or personally; go back and read Alas, a blog again.)

The first step: Is the criticism accurate on the facts? In the case of the NYPL panel, manifestly, yes: the panel was disproportionately — all — male.

The second step: Is the criticism accurate in its analysis? Well, here is a problem, because Professor Bartow just pointed out the facts, leaving the analysis mostly to the reader. Not entirely; she did try to subtly deflect content-oriented rejoinders by pointing out that the inclusion of women could have been quality-neutral, and that tended to lead the reader to the analysis that this wasn’t a content issue. But for the most part, she made a neutral observation about gender representation and left the rest of the rather obvious analysis to the reader.

Apparently, though, any suggestion of sexism can trigger knee-jerk responses: “There’s no sexism here! No sexism! Gender is irrelevant to books! Linguistic processing of higher-order mammals blah blah blah!”

David failed to analyze Professor Bartow’s critique of implied sexism in a rational way. Instead he hand-waved and obscured the criticism with a non-response. (<annoyed Sarcasm> While missing the point entirely, he did manage to sound very brainy by couching his non-response in big words and impressive phrases like “structurally equivalent” or “higher-order primitives.” It reminds me of the literary debate between William Faulkner & Ernest Hemingway: Faulkner on Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” Hemingway on Faulkner: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” Lots of fancy words don’t necessarily mean you’re on point. </annoyed Sarcasm>)

Rather than analyzing Ann Bartow’s implied critique of sexism, David instead shifted the debate. He didn’t deny the observation, and he didn’t even really deny the implied critique — he actually admitted it: “Maybe there was a bias against women in the choice of debaters.” But the locus of his response is something completely different — the value of diversity — and he then steers away from the point of original observation even further by questioning whether women and men are cognitively different. Bajillions of gallons of ink are being spilled on that question, by the way, so it’s hardly an open-and-shut question, but the point is that David chose to deny & distract rather than to engage the question. And my sense, from watching oh-so-many stupid arguments about sexism & racism, is that David’s response thus falls into exactly the same category as so many other pointless responses to criticism these days. The pattern goes like this: A: “That’s racist!” B: <radiating outraged indignation !> “How dare you call me racist?”

So let me just state what I would have liked to have seen David or other commentators on the Lessig blog, or other readers of the Lessig blog do: Read Ann Bartow’s observation. Note to themselves, Huh. By golly, she’s right: there were no women on the NYPL panel, and there certainly could have been. That’s suggestive of sexism. When I do this kind of work I’m going to make sure that I don’t fall prey even to unconscious sexism or other bias. And I’m going to help other people avoid it too.

Don’t freak out. Don’t go all sarcastic or blah blah blah about the Western canon or higher order verbs or mammals or whatever weird issue you have. Everybody falls prey to internalized, subconscious sexism, racism, and other biases sometimes. Just try to be more self-aware about it and don’t freak out when someone calls your attention to it. It’s not an attack on you or on your livelihood or on western civilization. (Well, maybe western civilization ….) Unconscious bias is remedied, in part, by having your consciousness raised and beoming more aware of unconscious bias.

And I had a much longer response detailing why this kind of response is so silly, so irrational, so pointless, and so not helpful, but instead, I’m going to just point, once again, to my new favorite post of the year: How Not To Be Insane When Accused Of Racism (A Guide For White People) at Alas, a Blog.

Oh, and by the way. Thanks, Ann, for doing this work. It’s appreciated.

charles darwin’s posse

A friend passed me this stamp along with the following message for ‘pro-science subversives’:

Charles Darwin has a posse.

These stickers are being introduced to increase awareness and appreciation of Charles Darwin. His theory of natural selection provided a simple, non-supernatural explanation for how life on earth had evolved and continues to evolve. Although scientists worldwide view evolution and natural selection as completely uncontroversial, popular support in the United States is waning, especially with respect to the origin of humans. Without more public displays of affection for the theories of natural selection and evolution, it is likely that more and more schools will allow or even promote the teaching of evolution “alternatives” that invoke dabbling by supernatural entities. To provide some of the needed visible support for science and reason, please consider stickering something with his image. Sure, these efforts are probably completely futile, but wouldn’t you sleep better tonight knowing that you’ve done your part to delay our slip into Dark Ages II? Instructions and tips can be found below. Thanks!

… And in keeping with my passion for noting cultural begats, I note that designer Colin Purrington says of the image that

The overall design shamelessly emulates the “Andre The Giant Has A Posse” art project that I got to witness when I was a youth in Providence.

“André the Giant Has a Posse” was conceived by Frank Shepard Fairey and “at least one other unidentified person”. The WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment] threatened a lawsuit (presumably right of publicity?) and the image mutated into a more iconic image with the words “OBEY” or “DISOBEY”. More info at and Wikipedia.

aleatoric serendipity

Thanks to the Third Circuit, I have a new word for the day: “aleatoric”. It means “characterized by chance or indeterminate elements” according to Hmm, I think. Like Jackon Pollock. Or Pollack.

So I went online to figure out whether it was in fact Pollock or Pollack, which I did simply by Googling “Jackson Pollack”. Not easy to resolve since of the first 6 entries that Google returned 2 of them list “Pollock” and 4 list “Pollack.” And the first entry listed “Pollock” and then said “Var: Jackson Pollack.”

But in looking at the very first entry, for Jackson Pollock Online,, I noticed that the text that Google excerpted was this copyright notice:

Note that the listings on this site are a unique compilation of information and are protected by copyright worldwide.

Curious, I went to the website. The actual page has this text down at the very bottom of the page, in small type, in the usual credit/disclaimer portion of a webpage. Why did Google choose to highlight this text? A mystery of the Google display algorithm that I’m not motivated to follow up on. Maybe because the text is bold. The copyright portion of the notice reads in full:

All images and text on this Jackson Pollock page are copyright 1999-2004 by John Malyon/Artcyclopedia, unless otherwise noted. Note that the listings on this site are a unique compilation of information and are protected by copyright worldwide.

The notice has 5 small thumbnail images of JP [problem solved] paintings. And otherwise the text is a list of paintings, organized alphabetically by collection (museums first followed by public art galleries). It’s unclear whether they actually employed any particular selectivity in listing the JP works or if they just listed those available and known to them in publicly accessible collections.

… Just one more example of copyright insanity. What are they protecting, their exceedingly thin or (IMO) nonexistent compilation copyright? The copyright in the thumbnail images? No, there’s basically very little here for them to actually copyright. But they are being reflexively protectionist. I’d be interested to know more social psychology so I could better understand what’s behind the flood of copyright notices around the world. … I do believe the effect of these notices is ultimately negative. A random person sees this notice and now may believe that there could be a copyright in this work. Now they’re afraid to copy the list of works, or do so only with a feeling of guilt. Geez. What a waste of everyone’s time and energy.

Reminds of the Simpson’s episode when Homer was inventing many things, and when he would make presentations of his drawings to his family, he protectively said, “Patent pending, patent pending, patent pending,” pointing his pointer in each family member’s face for emphasis. [Google sent me to the usabilityworks blog which lists this as Simpsons episode CABF05, airdate 2001-01-14.]

critical montages complaint about ip

I always like to see non-usual-suspect rants about IP, so here’s one from critical montages [11/27] (you’ll have to go there to see the insightful links)

No Sharing

Ever notice the Waffle House menu’s insistence that Double Waffle is for “dine-in only, no sharing”? A common prohibition at low-end restaurants, it’s also a small-print reminder of what capitalism is all about.

From enclosure to enforcement of intellectual property rights, capital’s message is always No Sharing.

Products of intellectual labor, unlike land and waffles, can be shared by all without diminishing their use value for anyone, however. “Copies” are as perfect as “originals” for the most profitable products — such as drugs and software — in the age of mechanical production, withering the aura of private property and making the revolutionary act of sharing and sharing alike irresistible. Capital, of course, tries to stop it, but, in doing so, it makes visible the “invisible hand” of the market, demonstrating that it is not scarcity but state power at capital’s disposal that prevents us from having what we want — even what we need to save our lives.

monster slash

No, it’s not fanfic about Bigfoot & Yeti, together at last. Bobby “Boris” Pickett remakes “Monster Mash” to point out Bush’s slash & burn environmental policies. See


We were hiking in the forest late one night
When our eyes beheld an eerie sight
Our president appeared and began to frown
Then he and his friends cut the forest down.
(he did the slash)
they did the forest slash
(he did the slash)
it was brutally brash
(he did the slash)
public opinion was mashed
(he did the slash)
they did it for the cash

The lobbyists were having fun,
The horror party had just begun
The guests include big timber, big oil
Mining magnates and their sons.
These visions haunt me and fill me with disgust
If we don’t stop them our environment will be lost
So come on now and join me; I’m glad to show you how;
Tell our president to save our forests now.

seeking order from chaos

it’s the small things in life which we love – the small coincidences which create seemingly non-random structures.

for instance yesterday i was talking by IM to my sister c.h. – she casually referred to the fact that she drinks. i said, c.h., do you drink alcohol? i’m shocked, shocked. she didn’t know the reference, and i explained casablanca to her.

today, after taking a good chunk of time and working on v.m.’s xml project, i took a tv break – turned the tv on, and voila, here is casablanca.

maybe not the most startling coincidence ever since casablanca must show on tv many many times… but still the random coincidences create a certain pleasing connectivity in the world.