Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How Bathroom Bills will NORMALIZE the presence of men in women's bathrooms

The so-called bathroom bills that specifically state that transmen and transwomen are required to use the bathroom that matches their sex registered at birth rather than the gender that the individual identifies and presents as. The rhetoric so often seems to be based on the idea that this will protect girls and women from harrassment (often portrayed as sexual harrassment) in women's bathrooms and locker rooms.

Never mind that this never happens.

Never mind that this is the same sort of baseless attack that had been trotted out against homosexuals (almost exclusively gay men) for centuries.

Never mind that the argument tends to be so heavily focused on women and girls that it borders on paternalistic condescention on the one hand and willfull blindness to the analogue happening to boys and men (or perhaps the silence is based around the tacit position that a woman can't sexually harrass boys and men).

Never mind that - unless the room is otherwise empty and the man in question is able to overcome the sole woman in the room - a man entering a women's room will almost certainly be screamed, kicked, hollered, and pushed right back out again.

Never mind and ALL of those points.

Let's focus, instead, on how the argument is so often presented: that there is a male sexual predator that will put on a dress in order to enter a woman's bathroom, and that stopping trans-women from entering women's bathrooms will stop male sexual predators in dresses from entering a woman's bathroom.

One of the problems with hypervigelence for the safety of women from a man-in-a-dress from entering women's restrooms and locker rooms is that it completely FAILS to consider trans-men and the impact that forcing trans men will have on who goes in to women's bathrooms.

The bathroom bills will force trans-men (who can look HYPER-masculine) to use the women's bathrooms. Now, let's stop for a second and think about what this means. Trans-men are people whose birth certificates say "female" but now look really male. If the bathroom bills require people to use the bathroom that matches the sex listed on their birth certificate, then men-who-were-born-female will be using the women's bathroom. And these men can look REALLY masculine, such as Aydian Dowling.

This transman will be forced into women's bathrooms in North Carolina

This guy looks more masculine than I do, since he can apparently grow a far better beard than I can, has more body hair than me, and better muscle development than me. And Aydian Dowling - and all transmen - will be forced to use the women's bathroom, because their birth certificates say "female."

What this means is that people who were born female, but currently look VERY male will be in women's bathrooms, because of the law. Which only serves to INCREASE the presence of masculinity in a women's bathroom, NOT to diminish it.

The imagined male predator is a man-in-a-dress, but what supporters of these bathroom bills ALL seem to forget (or be completely ignorant of) is the simple fact that a trans-man (i.e., a person who was born female and now presents as male and will be forced to use the women's bathroom) will LOOK EXACTY LIKE A MAN.

In other words, bathroom bills will force MORE male-looking individuals into women's bathrooms, thus making it EASIER for a cis-male (i.e., born a man, presents as a man) to enter a women's bathroom, NOT more difficult.

On the flipside, there are a lot of transwomen who look MORE feminine than lots of ciswomen, so if these bills are to stop the "man-in-a-dress" from walking into a women's bathroom (or - supposedly, but never actually stated - a woman-in-slacks from walking into a men's room), then a simple visual assessment is not going to be either enough OR fairly implemented (since a hyperfeminine transwoman is less likely to be stopped at the entrance to the women's bathroom than a comparatively masculine ciswoman).

For example, there are even beauty pageants for transwomen:

Without being told that these were transwomen, I would posit that it would be difficult for most people to say that all have bith certificates that list "male" as the sex.

In (unfortunate) comparison, there have always been women who have been labeled as being "mannish" or (at minimum) "not feminine." And if one were use only visual assessment against a socialized gender norm, then there will definitely be cases in which (A) transwomen (i.e., women born as male) could enter a women's bathroom (in contravention of the law) and (B) ciswomen (i.e., women born as female) would be stoped from entering a women's bathroom (in contravention of the law).

So the only way to competently implement the bill is to require the presentation of one's birth certificate to a gender assessor who will sit at the door to all public bathrooms. In addition, the birth certificates should be notarized in order to ensure legitimacy (since - as we learned from Trump's witchhunt of Obama - almost anyone can create a forged birth certificate). And, to be equally sure, there should be some additional, corroborating, piece of government-issued identification (perhaps something with a photograph and that traces all changes to name, address, and gender that may have taken place since the issuance of the notarized birth certificate) that should be presented.

In other words, in order to fairly execute these bathroom bills and ACTUALLY think about the safety of women and children against imagined sexual predators going into locker rooms and bathrooms under the cover of being trans, one would have to set up a surveillance state to ensure that all the "men-in-dresses" are caught (regardless of how feminine they look) while allowing all women-born-as-female to enter female locker rooms and restrooms (regardless of how unfeminine they look)... which seems to be at terrible odds with the principle of privacy and no "big brother" government surveillance that the GOP so often says that they support...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

America and América are false cognates

Living in Chile has brought about some additional awarenesses of false cognates between English and Spanish, and one that I have encountered a number of times is that between "America" and "América."

In Spanish, "América" refers primarily to the single continent in the Western Hemisphere that stretches from the Arctic to the Antarctic. This means that in Spanish, there are five populated continents (Europa, Asia, África, Oceanía, and América). In Spanish, América del Norte (Norteamérica), América Central (Centroamerica), and América del Sur (Sudamérica) are considered to be "subcontinents."

In English, this same configuration of land is made up of two continents - North America and South America - which are collectively known as "the Americas." This means that in English, there are six populated continents (Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North America and South America), with Central America being a subcontinental region.

Therefore, when a Spanish speaking person talks of "América," they are referring to the entirety of the single continent of the Western Hemisphere, which English speakers would refer to collectively as "the Americas," because the term "America" in English means something specific: the nation of the United States of America. This is something that a lot of Spanish-speaking people just don't want to accept, seeking to impose one cultural-linguistic understanding for another, but would rather suggest in considering "America" and "América" to be false cognates, much like "embarrass" (tener verguenza) and "embarazar" (to be pregnant) both stem from the same Portuguese root (baraçar), but now mean very different things (and my Spanish-speaking friends have little problem accepting the fact that the word that means "to be pregnant" in their language doesn't mean that at all in English).

The perceived problem among Spanish-speakers is that "America" is somehow (perhaps imperialistically or at least imperiously) laying dominion over the spatial extent that they understand to be "América." However, I would argue that this - the history of US imperialism aside - this perspective hasn't internalized the contrasting logics of how each language refers to the same land mass and the various peoples living within it. Nor does it adequately consider the history of how the term "American" came into use within English. Let's start with the history first.

240 Years of (non-Indigenous) Nations in North America

In 1774, when the video begins, the Spanish (indicated by the Cross of Burgundy until 1785) are in Mexico, and much of the modern-day central and western United States. Britain (indicated by the Union Jack) is all along the eastern coast of North America (except for Florida) and much of Canada. In 1776, the United States of America declares its independence, and - if you stop the video there - you will note that nowhere else in the entire continent is there any flag that is not a European national flag. From 1776 until 1804 (i.e., 28 years), all non-indigenous governments in the Americas were European colonial governments except for that of the United States of America, until Haiti declares independence. Since it's inception as a nation, the United States of America identifed itself as being separate from Europe, not just politically, but also geographically. This mindset admittedly later became the basis of the concept of "Manifest Destiny" (and all the religiously justified racism and genocide that came from it), but the birth of the United States of America not only created a new nation, it also created a new people, who labeled themselves - and were labeled by others - "Americans." As a comparison, one can look at a comparative n-gram of "American" against "British" - which only really came into use after the Acts of Union in 1707 - and is thus only a couple generations older than the concept of "American." What's clear is that the term "American" made a jump that vaulted it to the same relative level of commonality as the term "British" at the same period, and they followed their own trajectories subsequently (although tracking against each other during WW1 and WW2). It should be clear, therefore, that the concept of "American" predates the independence of any other European colony.

Conversely, when we look at a Spanish n-gram between "América" and "América del Norte" and "América del Sur" (and their respective cognates), the term "América" remains far and away the most common use. Indeed, it isn't until the mid-1800s that either "América del Norte" or "América del Sur" even reach a sufficient quantity to be seen in comparison. Furthermore, it is clear from a comparison of English vs. Spanish that the concepts of separate North and South Americas were more established earlier on in English - before the US War of Independence. It also makes a kind of sense that - in Spanish - the concept of a separate North and South America did not fit into the mindset of an empire that stretched across a contiguous landform.

So the usage of the term "American" to refer - in English - to a citizen of the United States of America stems from a history in which the only (non-indigenous) sovereign power in the Americas was the United States of America, whose people were born free of any political ties with Europe, and were thus the only (non-indigenous) people in the Americas that were considered to be "of America" and not subject to any other nation or empire.

Relating Culture and Linguistics
The idea of "America" in English - as outlined above - is associated with the United States of America and the term "Americans" in English is associated with citizens of the United States of America. Furthermore, the idea of a continental "America" is not a common concept in English, with the divisions of "North America" and "South America" predating the US War of Indpendence. Therefore, insisting upon the logic that "America" actually means the entirety of North and South America, when that historically wasn't at all a common notion in English is like suddenly insisting upon the logic that "embarrass" actually means "to be pregnant," when the common understanding of the common Portuguese root word was not a common notion in English (and perhaps in Spanish) for a couple hundred years.

But let's look at what Spanish speakers present as alternatives to "America" referring implicitly to "the United States of America" and "American" referring to "a citizen of the United States of America": estadounidense and norteamericano.

estadounidense. This directly translates as "United Stateser," which could serve as a description of what a person from the United States of America is, and even though it sounds *bleaugh* to me, I recognize that this dissonance is merely based on personal preference, and continued repitition of the phrase may well make it palatable over time. However, there is a problem beyond that of personal aesthetics: the United States of America isn't the only country that uses "United States" in its name. Setting aside the 11 historical nations that used "United States" (at least in their English translations) in their name, the modern world has Mexico, whose official name is "los Estados Unidos Mexicanos." If people from los Estados Unidos de América should be called estadounidenses after the "Estados Unidos" part, why is this logic not extended to citizens of los Estados Unidos Mexicanos? The response could well be that they are from México, but if the argument that "America" does not match the geographic boundaries of the landmass with the same name (even discounting the fact that there is no continental "America" in the English-speaking world), then neither does modern-day Mexico match the geographic boundaries of the landmass from which it draws its name: Mēxihco, also known as the Valley of Mexico, which makes up only roughly half of the Federal District (where Mexico City is found). According to the logic of "America means all of the continent of America" (which - again - let's skip past the part where there doesn't exist a single continent of America in English), "Mexico means only the Valley of Mexico." Yeeeah... no; if you want to make the argument, it needs to be applied consistently, and in the case of Mexico (the other Estados Unidos in today's world), the naming is not applied consistently.

norteamericano. This directly translates as "North American," and it is even more problematic than estadounidense in describing specifically people from the United States of America, because in the English-speaking world, the concepts of "North America" and "North American" are concepts that are inclusive of the United States of America, and not (generally) used to mean only the United States of America. Even in the Spanish-speaking world's conceptuaizatio of América del Norte (aka Norteamérica), the area includes two nations that are not the United States of America, namely Canada and Mexico, which makes me wonder what sort of inherent biases are at play when someone suggests norteamericano to be an adequate alternative to the English term "American."

americano. This term directly translates into "American," exists in Spanish, and is defined by the Real Academia Española (RAE) as:
  1. Natural de América (Natually of the continent of America)
  2. Pertenece o relative a América o a los americanos (Pertaining or related to the coninent of America or things that are American).
  3. indiano (Spaniards who return rich from the continent of America)
  4. estadounidense (citizens of the United States of America)
  5. café americano (coffee made by adding hot water to espresso)
  6. chaqueta de tela, con solapas y botones, que llega por debajo de la cadera (a sports coat)
Let's run through the definitions one by one. We discussed already why definition 1 doesn't fit into the logic of the English "the Americas" description of what the Spanish see as a single "América." For this reason, definition 2 is similarly unusable. Definition 3 is (apparently) historical, and therefore not applicable in today's world, but still I have to ask, WTF? Why does Spanish have a specific term for a Spaniard that goes back to Spain after making it rich in the Americas, whose root word is the same one as the word describing the indigenous people of the Americas? There could be a simple, innocent, non-racist reason for the existence for this word, but without further digging, the implications seem really messed up. Definition 4 indicates that the term americano can be a synonym for estadounidense, which - from above - is the Spanish word for citizen of the United States of America. Okidoki...Definitions 5 and 6 refer to describe objects and not people.

Concluding Remarks
The major argument against using "America" and "American" to refer, respectively, to "the United States of America" and "citizens of the United States of America" seem to be based on a cultural-linguistic difference between English and Spanish. To recap:

In English
  • There is no continent "America," but two continents ("North America" and "South America").
  • "American" cannot refer to people from the single continent of "America," since there is no such thing in English.
  • "American" refers, instead, to people from the first (non-indigenous) nation to declare independence from a European empire, making all its citizens of the land of America.
In Spanish
  • There is a single continent América, within which there are two major subcontinents (América del Norte and América del Sur).
  • Americano refers to people from the single continent of América, including all people from Chile to Canada, but it can also refer to a Spaniard who made it rich in the continent of América or it could mean a citizen of los Estados Unidos de América. It's not so exclusive a definition, apparently.
  • People from los Estados Unidos de América are referred to as either estadounidenses (despite the inconsistency of labeling these people against the people of los Estados Unidos Mexicanos) or norteamericanos (despite this definition implicitly including countries and people who are not from los Estados Unidos de América, namely los Estados Unidos Mexicanos and Canadá).
In the end, if the disagreement stems from the implied misappropriation of the term América (which it wasn't), when the term refers to the entire continent (which doesn't conceptually exist in English), then why even accept the name los Estados Unidos de América? After all, the official name of the country could indicate dominance over the continent of América, even as the preposition de can also indicate that the country is mere associated with América.

Conversely, why allow the country of Colombia to have control over the more classical name for the Americas? After all, if one wishes to argue that America=América, which was named after Amerigo Vespucci, and - only by a twist of fate - came to be used to describe the continent(s) of the Western Hemisphere, then why not also argue that Colombia=Columbia, which was named after Christopher Columbus, and used to describe the entirety of the "New World" as far back as 1738? Or is the argument for consistency of scale only important, because América currently refers to the name of the continent, whereas Columbia no longer does? Again, it's a logical (if tangential) inconsistency in the general argument that the English-language conceptualization of "America" need align itself perfectly with the Spanish-language conceptualization of América.

Seems far easier for people to recognize that different languages use words from the same word root in contrasting ways. Sometimes (like between "to embarrass" and embarazar) the contrast is so great as to make the words so obviously different. Sometimes (like between "climate" and clima) there is a great amount of overlap, making implicit distinction present in one language unapparent in the other. But still, if native English speakers can learn that - in Spanish - the two continents of North America and South America are subcontinents in a single continent called América, and that citizens of the United States of America are called - despite the logical inconsistencies inherent in the words - estadounidenses and norteamericanos, and that the term americano can refer to anyone from the Spanish continent of América, a Spaniard who made it rich in the continent of América, or a person from the United States of America (but to avoid confusion and reminders of US imperialism, one should avoid using americano to refer to what nearly every English speaker means when they say, "American," then why shouldn't Spanish-speakers learn the implications of "America" and "American" in English?

In other words, "America" and "América" are false cognates, deriving from the same root, but having evolved into different concepts in English and Spanish.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Random health assessment: Resting heart rate

Just for shits and giggles, I decided to check my resting heart rate. I had been riding my bike as a daily commute, averaging 25kph to work and 22kph from work, and I wanted to see if there was a benefit to all this bike commuting.

According to topendsports, an average resting heart rate of someone 35-40 years old is 71-75 bpm.

My resting heart rate prior to re-starting my bike commute was about 70bpm (and I was 37 at the
time), which put me right around average, maybe slightly on the border with "above average." As a point of reference, my resting heart rate when I was a vasity swimmer in high school - at 16 years of age - was 47 bpm, which put me well within the athlete level.

Now, it's not surprising that resting heart rate will increase with age, but moving from an athlete level to average means that I knew what it was like, and 70 bpm seemed really fast. But now, my resting heart rate is roughly 55 bpm, which works out to being on the upper end of "athlete" for a man in my age category.

And that feels nice.

Maybe it is also time to check my BMI (with recognition of problems of height and muscle density) and my blood pressure?

Friday, April 22, 2016

No, socialism almost certainly isn't what that anecdote on Facebook wants to scare you to think it is

Recently, a friend of mine posted a story about an economics professor failed his class, because the students gave a misguided understanding of a socialist nation that Obama would bring, and because - as you follow the story - of the professor's own complete lack of understanding of what socialism is (beyond an equivalency between socialism in general and a hyperbolic representation of Stalinism and Maoism). When someone pointed out to him that - as a person so serves in the US military - wasn't he a member of a socialist organization, my friend denied it, pointing out how he is graded and promoted based on his merits, and that isn't how socialism works.

But my friend is wrong; his idea of socialism (and that of the anecdotal - and most likely fictional - professor) is not how socialism works. The US military is a socialist organization, because socialism is a political (and economic) system that says that the society owns and regulates production, distribution, and exchange. And, in the case of the military, this is exactly what the US government does. Specifically, the US military:

1. regulated by the government (socialist!)
2. is operated (ostensibly) for the benefit of the society (socialist!)
3. is paid by taxes drawn from society (socialist!)
4. is not permitted to make decisions based on profit motivation (socialist!)

One could also point out that the Commander in Chief is not a part of the military, but a civilian (who could be a veteran) that is voted by popular vote (well, kind of) of all citizens (and - since there are no slaves and very few nationals that aren't citizens - this is also socialist control, albeit a step removed).

In contrast, a private military of mercenaries might be regulated by government (but historically they haven't had such strong regulations, and often the companies that paid for them insisted upon the right to use their militaries as they saw fit, even in the name of the nation the company represented), is often operated for the benefit of those who pay for it (which is not a society at large), the monies may be drawn from private coffers (or - historically - was given as a cut of booty), and they are allowed to make decisions based on profit motive (although this could be curtailed to an extent by contracts of guaranteed monopolies, such as were given to the British East India Company and the Dutch East Indies Company).

If one understands that "socialism" means many more things than "Marxism" (let alone "Stalinism" and "Maoism"), one can actually start to understand that Lincoln's "government of the people, for the people, by the people" is actually socialism. You will note that the VA - and all the veteran care programs that preceded it - were socialism. You will note that public roads, bridges, and highways are socialism. Police and fire services are socialism. Sewage treatment and drinking water provision are socialism. Even tax breaks based on having a mortgage is socialism.

It is, therefore, possible to have a highly socialist system that isn't based around the presuppositions of what socialism is that the story above describes. Never mind that such anecdotes completely fail to understand what socialism - let alone Marxist socialism - actually is, how modern democratic socialism actually operates (and how communist socialism along the lines of Stalinism and Maoism preferred political propaganda and party-line politics to the ideals of even Marxist socialism), and how much of the modern United States is built heavily upon socialism. (Indeed, the only thing that such stories tend to highlight is the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action.)

IOW, meritocracy and socialism need not be at odds, despite all the anecdotes and stories like the one above paint socialism as being.

Conversely, one can look at militaries that were not socialist organizations, and if one looks at many militaries across time, one will note that militaries rarely operated on meritocracy, were rarely operated for the benefit of a nation of citizens, and often were associated with private interests that purchased the use of that military to further its own (non civic) ends. Thus were the British East India Company and the Dutch East Indies Company operated, not to mention all the funding of mercenary armies that Venice did from medieval times through to the 18th Century.

Furthermore, simply being a republic or a democratic republic does not mean that meritocracy is the general condition. Look at the history of pretty much every European power prior to 1917: they were (for the most part) democratic (or moving in that direction), but still *heavily* class-based and not-at-all meritocratic. As was much of the United States at the same time (although less so than in Europe, and less so in the military).

In sum, if one thinks that socialism is and can only be *Marxist* socialism, then this would be like saying that "the right to bear arms" is and can only be referring to Revolutionary War-era weaponry. It is, in other words, a comparison that is only seen to be not-at-all ridiculous by people who ony have enough knowledge about the subject to make them sound silly when they make such claims.

When do you translate a name?

This morning, I was listening to the morning 24horas broadcast, and listened to the story about the 90th birthday of Reina Isabel (Queen Elisabeth). The next story was about a book fair where people could buy books from great authors, including William Shakespeare.

Waitasec... Why translate "Elizabeth" into "Isabel" but not "William" into "Guillermo"?

I already knew that European explorers during the "Age of Discovery" were all given transliterations into various languages, with "Christopher Columbus" being known as "Cristóbal Colón" in Spanish and "Christoph Kolumbus" in German; "Amerigo Vespucci" is known as "Américo Vespúcio" in Portuguese and Spanish; and "Ferdinand Magellan" is known as "Fernando de Magallanes" in Spanish and "Ferdinando Magellano" in Italian. True, the differences were not often great, but many of the "great European explorers" of that era are known by their transliterated names (so if a German typed "Christoph Kolumbus" into the Spanish-language Wikipedia, they don't get to the "Crist{obal Colón" page).

But what about authors and monarchs?

I went to look at the Spanish-language Wikipedia page for William Shakespeare, and it is: William Shakespeare. There is no other moniker by which he is referenced on the Wikipedia page (which I use as my easy-access translator). And so I went a little further, and checked other Latin-script alphabets, and they all called him "William Shakespeare." Even in Gaelic and Hungarian, the spelling remained the same, despite their highly distinct orthography. But the entry on Queen Elizabeth II all had the name and title always translated into the linguistic equivalents.

Okay, so what about other famous English-named authors?
  • James Joyce is always spelled JAMES JOYCE in all Latin-script Wikipedia pages.
  • Mark Twain is always spelled MARK TWAIN (and his real name is always spelled SAMUEL LONGHORN CLEMENS) in all Lantin-script Wikipedia pages.
  • Jane Austen is always spelled JANE AUSTEN
What about Classical-era authors and philosophers?
  • Homer is transliterated into different versions (e.g., Homero, Gomer)
  • Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus) is translated into different versions (e.g., Plinio el Viejo, Idősebb Plinius)
  • Aristotle (which is transliterated from the Greek Ἀριστοτέλης) is transliterated into different versions (e.g., Arastotail, Arystoteles)

So it seems that famous English authors retain their names (at least since Shakespeare forward), but names from the Roman Empire and before got transliterated (and translated when there were descriptors associated with that name). What about monarchs?
  • William I (aka William the Conqueror) has his name translated into the native version in all cases.
  • Charles I of Sweden is translated from the Swedish Karl I, and it is subsequently translated into the local variants of Charles/Karl.
  • Stephen I of Hungary is translated from the Hungarian Istvan I, and it, too, is translated into the local variants of Stephen/Istvan.
  • Al-Mansur of the Persian Abbasid Caliphate is known as homonymous versions of either "Al-Mansur" or "Abu Ja'far" in all Latin-script Wikipedia pages.
  • Ibrahim I of the Ottoman Empire is known by homonymous verions of "Ibrahim" (not "Abraham") in all Latin-script Wikipedia pages.
So European monarchs have their names translated, while non-European monarchs apparently don't, even when the name exists within a European context, such as with Ibrahim I. But then what about non-monarchical heads of state?
  • Thomas Jefferson remains spelled THOMAS JEFFERSON, despite there being transliterations of Thomas in other European languages.
  • George Washington remains spelled GEORGE WASHINGTON, despite there being transliterations of George in other European languages.
  • Oliver Cromwell remains spelled OLIVER CROMWELL, even though there are many different versions of Oliver across Europe.
So, monarchs have their names translated. Non-monarchical heads of state don't have their names translated. Interestingly, when I looked up non-monarchical heads of state on the Russian pages, their names were transliterated from the pronunciation in the original language, so "Charles de Gaulle" was transliterated to "Sharl de Goll," which is far closer to the French pronunciation than if they had used the same transliteration that they did with Charles Darwin ("Charlz Darvin").

I guess the rules for translating names of people (between European languages) are:

  1. If it is a European monarch, you translate the name to the local language equivalent.
  2. If it is a Classical anyone famous, you transliterate and/or translate the name to the local language equivalent.
  3. If it is an explorer from the Age of Discovery, you translate the name to the local language equivalent.
  4. If it is anyone else, you leave the spelling as-is.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Another example of a parent showing how little they understand basic arithmetic concepts (aka: this isn't an example of Common Core being wrong)

I saw another example of complaining about the mathematics Common Core by a parent whose grasp on mathematics wasn't as strong as they thought it was:

The "brilliant" commentary from the page is: "Imagine how confused this kid is now when teachers are telling him "Yes, you can get 10 when you add 8+5." It's almost like we are intentionally and structurally trying to make kids less intelligent, or something ..."


This person apparently doesn't even know how much they are demonstrating their lack of understanding about the mathematics they are complaining about. Indeed, they fail to even note that the point they think the teacher is making ("Yes, you can get 10 when you add 8+5") is not what the teacher is actually saying. Indeed, if the parent actually read the entirety of the explanation written in blue marker, they would have seen, "Yes you can. Take 2 from 5 and add it to 8 (8+2=1). Then add 3." (Emphasis mine.) The whole bloody point is that you can get 10 from 8+5, so long as you also understand that you will have an additional 3, because:

8+5 = 10+3


I will admit that it's a really poorly worded question. However, the official answer is actually correct, and - more importantly - it shows the application of the distributive property in arithmetic, which is a principle so foundational in mathematics that - without it - mathematics wouldn't function.

To describe why 8+5 = 10+3 you have to recognize that:

8 = 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1 and 5 = 1+1+1+1+1


8+5 = 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1

And this can be re-grouped in any way you want (and those ways go on into infinity if you consider configurations that include negative and non-integer numbers), because of the distributive property. One of those infinite number of ways is 10+3.

A more "algebra" way of thinking about this is to write:

8+5 = x+3

... and then ask "solve for x.

And this sort of thinking is a really important skill when you start to do anything that uses any sort of algebraic thinking (which - in modern terms - means doing almost any sort of function in a spreadsheet).

But let's look at the larger question about the validity of the mathematics in the Common Core. A lot of the Common Core math curriculum is written by mathematicians. Therefore, to challenge the mathematics of the Common Core is almost always going to be baseless and only show that you don't know much about mathematics. In other words, as long the problem isn't about a problem or explanation getting printed incorrectly, the mathematics in the Common Core are almost surely going to be correct.

However, being correct is not the same thing as being worded clearly. Indeed, to challenge the clarity of the teaching materials of the Common Core as being poorly presented or poorly worded can be spot-on, since it is rarely the case that the people who learn how to teach mathematics are actually professional mathematicians (and vice-versa). Therefore, it isn't surprising that the mathematical concepts are not always presented in the manner that makes sense to the non-mathematicians who are teaching the kids (let alone the majority of parents, who haven't sat down with mathematics for decades).

So yeah, the statement "Tell how to make 10 when adding 8+5" may not have been the best way to get people who learned the "old math" (i.e., rote learning that forced people to do pigeon-hole math) to understand or help their children how to actually grasp the powerful, fundamental number theory underlying this simple problem.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Michigan Senate passed an anti sodomy law. WTF?

So apparently the Michigan Senate just passed an animal rights bill. This would prevent people who have being convicted of animal cruelty from owning pets for handling animals for several years as punishment of their animal cruelty and to potentially save the lives and dignity of animals from these people. However, one state senator decided that it would be a great idea to also include in this bill language that would make sodomy act between two humans also illegal. In an animal rights bill. 


So what does animal welfare have to do with anti sodomy? Well either everything or nothing. On the side of everything, we have to go back to the etymology of the word sodomy. Now the word sodomy comes from the name of the mythical town called Sodom, which the Bible said was full of wickedness and licentiousness. One story that supposedly exemplifies the ways in which Sodom was the story of Lot. in the story a pair of Angels show up at lots doorstep and they are pursued by a crowd that wants to rape them Andrew Luck takes the Angels into his house and says no don't drink these angels here, take my to virginal daughters instead. Because for some reason giving your two virginal daughters to be raped by a crowd is better and more moral then just not letting the crowd attack anyone but I digress. Somehow this story is to show that this licentiate wicked behavior was against God I suppose because they wanted to fuck angels in the butt or that was the implied reason. And so we have the word sodomy which encompasses any sexual act that goes against God.
Now for many very conservative Christians this appears to also mean that beastiality and sodomy are the same thing or at least belong in the same category of being against God. We see this in cases like with former senator Rick Santorum who famously compared homosexual marriage to man on dog. When people started to say WTF, he backtracked and made it a general slippery slope argument, but the whole connection between same sex marriage and man on dog sex is a common trope in and amongst conservative Christians. Apparently this is why an amendment that makes consensual sex between two human beings in a non procreative manner is part of an animal rights and welfare bill. Because bestiality and oral and anal sex are all against the conservative Christian God.
On the other side, beastiality and sodomy have nothing to do with each other, and the term sodomy is not used because it carries with it a lot of unclarified and embedded meaning that is just plainly illegal by statute law by constitutional law in Michigan, and constitutional  interpretation at the federal level.

But who cares about that? Apparently for some conservatively Christian minded people, man's laws are subservient to God's laws, even when God's laws are not actually enumerated on points such as these, and even when God's laws specifically go against actual legislation. (Strangely enough, though, human laws in human traditions trump God's laws when the traditions and laws in question are those that conservatively minded Christians believe are good for them.)
So yes, the Michigan Senate passed a bill that in an amendment makes sexual activities that both heterosexual and homosexual people may engage in equivalent to beastiality and place it in a bill that was intended to protect animals against animal cruelty. Because one senator could not understand the difference between man on dog and human on human. Apparently the bill now will go to the Michigan House where they will decide whether they want to strip out this amendment. Hopefully, this amendment will get stripped out without much fuss and the bill that gets passed out of conference committee will also have this amendment stripped out.


UPDATE: Thanks to a friend of a friend for the specific language of "the abominable and detestable crime against nature with mankind or with any animal" from the bill. Apart from the legal position that the ACLU is arguing against (which is that this bill should have any language that links it to the actions between people struck due to such language being unconstitional), as a biologist, I have to bring up some points of contention against the other parts of the framing of this part of the bill, specifically the blatant deeply embedded conservative Christian moralizing.

What is really difficult is determining how to define what is and isn't "abominable," "detestable," and a "crime against nature," since these terms are highly subjective. Fifty years ago, a black man having sex with a white woman (even if they were married) would have been both abominable and detestable and likely justified as being a crime against nature. Hell, this is still seen as detestable by many people in the country (just ask Gov. LePaige of Maine about what he thinks about black men having sex with white Maine women). Without any legally defensible definition of "abominable" and "detestable," the perception is left to the witness, many of whom might disagree with what is and isn't "abominable" and "detestable" sexual acts with a consensual sexual partner.

And as to the "crime against nature" part, as the natural sciences have shown time and again, non-procreative sexual activity is practiced throughout nature, often quite vividly in the animal kingdom. So, even the phrase "crime against nature" cannot - by the standard of nature - apply to anal, oral, manual, or tool-assisted sexual activities. Heck, even the use of live animals as a masturbatory aide (bestiality among non-human animals) has been witnessed by scientists as has the use of dead animals, plants, and other inanimate objects (necrophelia among non-human animals).

Does all this evidence from nature about how animals engage in what is characterized as "crimes against nature" that are "abominable" and "detestable" mean that nature is commiting a crime against itself? Obviously not. What it does show is how firmly up his own arse this particular senator was when he was crafting this moralizing legislation based on his own (presumably religiosly based) perception about what kinds of sexual activities consenting human adults do with each other.

Now, none of the above is to say that one cannot legislate against the animal abuse that is bestiality. However, IMO such a law would not be based around a framing of the issue that is "the abominable and detestable crime against nature with mankind or with any animal." (As the ACLU pointed out, the "with mankind" part of the bill is unconstitutional anyway.) Cut out all of the social norms and religiously motivated language and just write something like, "The use of animals for sexual gratification by any person shall be illegal." There. Done.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Arguing with someone who sees the world fundamentally differently than you do

A friend of mine recently posted a link to a great article, "The 'Other Side' Is Not Dumb", which makes a very valid point:
What is emerging is the worst kind of echo chamber, one where those inside are increasingly convinced that everyone shares their world view, that their ranks are growing when they aren’t. It’s like clockwork: an event happens and then your social media circle is shocked when a non-social media peer group public reacts to news in an unexpected way. They then mock the Other Side for being “out of touch” or “dumb.”
My response to my friend was that there are times when the other side is actually, factually wrong, and for those cases, seeking to understand the echo chamber of factual incorrectness is - itself - problematic (unless you are conducting a psychology or anthropology experiment).

But, more broadly, I know that this sort of thing is a problem; I know that it is a fundamentally human problem in how the brain organizes and understands information. As such, I know that I am prone to this sort of echo chamber logic and being on Facebook makes me even more prone to it (especially in terms of US politics and social topics, since I am living outside the US and Facebook is one of my major sources of information about US politics and social topics). For this, I am actually grateful that I have friends (only a few, admittedly) that regularly post topics on which I differ with them. It makes me think honestly, since I know (as well as I can know) that they are not dumb, that they didn't drink the Kool-Aid, and that they aren't just being reactionary.

...but then there are their friends or their family members. You know: people that I don't know, which means that these are people whose intelligence I know next to nothing about, and who I tend to judge quite harshly based on the words they write, the reactions they have, and my interpretations of their meanings.

...and it is (perhaps) worse with those friends of friends or family of friends on Facebook who I do know somewhat through past interpersonal interaction. And I do form a sort of idea of their intelligence, and (often) recognize that they might be very good people, but that (sometimes) they don't actually take time to think beyond the rhetoric they speak in person or online. To them, perhaps strangely, I am the least sympathetic.

One example came with a family member of a friend of mine, who seemingly can never find a good thing to say about the current US president and the former Democratic Speaker of the House. (Well, perhaps they might think that something they posted was flattering, but only in the sense that it was incrementally less anti-administration than normal.) Whenever I point out their inconsistencies in argumentation or factual holes in their argument, it is never met with approval or recognition that their facts were wrong. Indeed, when I point out problems with their logic about their arguments against the government, it often comes to a point in the back-and-forth where they state the following:

"I want to return my country to what made it great. Why do you have so much disdain for this country?"

Hmm.... That always struck me as odd. I mean, who is being more disdainful of the country: the person writing anti-establishment things about the sitting president and (from 2006 to 2010) the sitting Speaker of the House or the person explaining how their arguments just don't hold water?

And I never get a good answer as to when it was in the US's history that they want the country to return. At what point was the US great in a way that is now lost (and presumably was lost ever since that black, Kenyan, nazi, marxist, socialist, muslim, ineffectual dictator was voted into office by an overwhelming majority of fellow citizens back in November 2008)? When I get things like they want to "return the country to what the founders envisioned," I ask them if this means that they want a return to slavery? Well, no, they don't. Maybe just segregation? Well, no; not that, either. What about when women didn't have a vote, couldn't get employment in almost any profession, and when husbands could legally rape their wives? Well, no, they don't want to return to that USA, either. Maybe when we had a nation-wide military draft and we were stuck in a quagmire of a war in Vietnam (which was starting to spiral radically out of control)? *Cough, cough.* No. Maybe they want to return to the Reagan years, when the government illegally sold weapons to a nation that had held several US diplomatic staff hostage, when the government sold weapons to Afghanis who would later become the Taliban, and when the government gave amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants (all things that these commenters tend to hate about current US policy)? Oh, not that, either? Seems that the whole "return my country to what made it great," is merely a nostalgic longing for a yesterday that never existed. Which is rich when you think about it, since their desire for a "return" is actually a desire to change the country into something that it never was before: it isn't conservatism at all, but merely luxuriating in nostalgia.

However, when people ask why I seem to "hate my country" because I criticize it so much, I ask them why not criticizing the faults of a nation is actually a show of love. To me, a lack of criticism indicates that you don't care about how something could be. After all, I don't criticize the efforts of those I care little about. I criticize specifically because I care. Criticism is praise. Criticism means that I expect that you have the capacity to do better. Criticism means that the potential has not been reached. On the other hand, the US doesn't need another flag-waver. Waving flags says nothing about how to make a country great again. Waving flags does nothing but serve to distract from pointing out the problems inherent in the system. Dictatorships have their whole populace out waving flags; it is not a sign of a great country.

My love for the US is embodied in my criticism of it.
My concern for the US is embodied in my criticism of it.

In contrast, I do not criticize North Korea: I condemn it, because I do not expect it do be capable of better. I do not criticize ISIS: I mock it, because I know it is doing what it wants to do.

I also do not criticize Luxembourg: I have little care for it, either way, despite the few people I know who live there and love it.