Read this: http://xkcd.org/1571/
Short story prompt: la cizra mensi
The hero of your short story has found a way to summon the Weird Sisters of Macbeth fame to inquire after the future. Worried that the witches will try to trick your hero by giving a prophesy that can be favourably and plausibly read one way, but that also has an alternate, surprising and terrible interpretation that is consistent with the words of the prophesy, your hero finds a way to force the witches to speak in Lojban.
Unfortunately for the hero of your story, a witch’s prophesy can backfire in unexpected ways that still respect the letter of the prophesy itself, even if it’s delivered in a language that’s syntactically unambiguous.
In the spirit of this short story prompt, I have rendered the first part of Macbeth, act 1 scene 3 into Lojban for your enjoyment. Corrections and suggestions welcome. :)
termafyfe’i 1:  .i doi lo mensi do pu zvati ma
termafyfe’i 2 .i lo jai bu’u lo nu catra lo xarju
termafyfe’i 3 .i doi lo mensi do zvati ma
termafyfe’i 1 .i lo fetspe be lo blopre pu cpana be lo galtupcra ku ralte lo narge
 gi’e omnomo gi’e omnomo gi’e omnomo .i lu ko dunda fi mi li’u se cusku mi .i lu ko cliva doi lo termafyfe’i li’u lo zargu citka cagna cu se krixa .i lo nakspe be lo se go’i pu klama la .alepos. gi’e bloja’a la .tirxu. .i ku’i ne’i lo julne mi lo te go’i fankla
 .ije mi simsa be lo ratcu poi claxu lo rebla ku co’e gi’e co’e gi’e co’e
termafyfe’i 2: .i mi dunda do pa lo brife
termafyfe’i 1 .i do xendo
termafyfe’i 3 .i mi co’e pa lo drata
termafyfe’i 1:  .i mi ralte ro da poi drata .i je’a lo blotcana cu bifca’e ro da poi farna be fi lo makfartci pe lo blopre ku’o zi’e poi se djuno .i mi ba simsa be lo sudysrasu bei lo ka sudga ku rincygau
 .i lo nu sipna ku ba canai lo donri ku .a lo nicte ku dandu za’e lo galtu dinju canko gacri .i zo’e ba dapma renvi .i ba ca lo tatpi jeftu be li so pi’i so cu jdika lo ka stali .e lo ka pacna .e lo ka gleki
 .i zu’u lo bloti to’e pu’i se daspo .i zu’unai lo go’i vilti’a se renro .i ko viska lo se ralte be mi
termafyfe’i 2: .i ko jarco fi mi .i ko jarco fi mi
termafyfe’i 1 .i mi nau ralte lo tamji be fi lo blosazri
 poi ca lo nu zdani klama ku bloti janli morsi
[.i ne’i damri]
termafyfe’i 3: .i damri .i damri .ua .i la .makbet. je’a tolcliva
ro da poi termafyfe’i: .i lo cizra mensi noi xance jgari simxu zi’e noi klama be fo lo xamsi .e lo tumla be’o sutra
 cu klama fi’o tadji tu’a di’e .i ciroi klama lo tu’a do .i ciroi klama lo tu’a mi .i ciroi ji’a klama .iki’ubo krefu fi li so .i ko smaji .i lo makfa cu bredi
[.i nerkla fa la .makbet. .e la bankos.]
I saw Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) last week. I wasn’t planning on it, but then I heard that a bunch of Men’s Rights-type dudebros hated it for attempting to undermine the patriarchy or something, so I kinda had to. I didn’t remember it until after the fact when my little sister pointed it out, but the vain cry of “liberal brainwashing” also seems to have been the reason I went to see The Muppets (2011). Apparently the ire of conservative loud-mouths is all it takes to get me to go see a movie. Take note, Hollywood.
This is not the only parallel I found between Mad Max and The Muppets. Warboy Nux is Gonzo the Great, reimagined as a brainwashed member of a post-apocalyptic automobile cult.
Like Nux, it would not be out of character for Gonzo to stand on a moving vehicle, throw an exploding spear at something and cry “Witness me!” as he performs a stunt that is very likely to kill him. Gonzo and Nux are both creatures of the extreme. This is why we like them. They are interesting because their characters feel things so deeply, and the storytellers, in both cases, know that the way to highlight this depth of feeling is by making them care—and care strongly—about things that seem absolutely strange to us.
While Gonzo is less likely to be actively trying to hurt someone with his antics, even Nux seems to be less motivated by malice than by a heartfelt (albeit misguided) desire to live a life that is remarkable and meaningful. These characters both have an exterior of explosions, chrome and spectacle, and it takes barely a scratch to reveal an interior of adorable, sometimes-pathetic, but utterly non-ironic, earnest longing. In The Muppet Movie (1979), the most touching moment is Gonzo’s I’m going to go back there someday. If you’re going to cry during The Muppet Movie, this is when it will happen.1 Nux’s whispered “Witness me” in his final few seconds is similarly and unexpectedly emotional. Nux gets a finale that’s as climactic as he could have ever dreamed of. And most heart-wrenching, after an earlier failure in the eyes of his god, he expresses his redemption among his new friends in the language of the cult he came from.
I think that’s what’s so great about Nux and Gonzo: They feel, believe and act in extreme ways. They don’t do things by half-measures and they don’t try to hide their passions under a layer of irony or sarcasm. This makes them very vulnerable, and this is what makes them great.
1 Recommended reading on the subject of Gonzo the Great: Joey Comeau’s Lockpick Pornography.
This summer, I took a two-week long course on systematic reviews and meta-analytic techniques for which there was some required software, in this case, Stata. As a McGill student, I was encouraged to buy the student version, which was about $50 for “Stata Small.” Not bad. I’ve paid more for textbooks. So I got out my credit card, bought the license, installed it on my computer, and ran the very first example command of the course. I immediately got a string of red letter error text.
The error message was telling me that my license did not allow me enough variables to complete the command. I checked the license, and it said I was allowed 120 variables. I checked the “Variable manager” in Stata, and I had only assigned 11 variables. (I checked the variable limit beforehand in fact, and made sure that none of the data sets that we’d be working with had more than 120 variables. None of them came close to that limit.)
So I emailed Stata technical support. It turns out that the meta-analysis package for Stata creates “hidden variables.” Lots of them, apparently. So many that the software cannot accomplish the most basic commands. Then they tried to up-sell me to “Stata SE.” For $100 more, they said, they would send me a license for Stata that would allow me to run the meta-analysis package—for realsies this time.
I asked for a refund and decided that if I really needed Stata, I would use the copy that’s installed on the lab computers. (Now I’m just using the meta package in R, which does everything Stata does, just with a bit more effort.)
For the record: I am perfectly fine with paying for good software. I am not okay with a one-time purchase turning me into a money-pump. I thought that the “small” student license would work. All their documentation suggested it would. If I had upgraded to “Stata SE,” would that have actually met my needs, or would they have forced me to upgrade again later, after I’d already made Stata a part of my workflow?
It probably would have been okay, but the “gotcha” after the fact soured me on the prospect of sending them more money, and provided all the incentive I need to find a way to not use Stata.
A few years ago, I bought a number of pieces of classical music through the iTunes Store. I shopped around, compared different performances, and found recordings that I really liked. This was back when the iTunes store had DRM on their music.
I’ve recently switched to Linux, and now much of the music that I legally bought and paid for can’t be read by my computer. Apple does have a solution for me, of course! For about $25, I can subscribe to a service of theirs that will allow me to download a DRM-free version of the music that I already paid for.
This is why I won’t even consider buying television programmes through the iTunes Store: It’s not that I think that I will want to re-watch the shows over and over and I’m afraid of DRM screwing that up for me. It’s because I’ve had some nasty surprises from iTunes in the past, and I can borrow the DVD’s from the Public Library for free.
For the record: I do not mind paying for digital content. But I won’t send you money if I think there’s a “gotcha” coming after the fact.
I’m really trying my best
People who produce good software or music should be compensated for their work. I don’t mind pulling out my wallet to help make that happen. But I don’t want to feel like I’m being tricked, especially if I’m actually making an effort in good faith to actually pay for something.
Since DRM is almost always fairly easily circumvented, it only punishes those who pay for digital content. And this is why I’m sympathetic to those who pirate software, music, TV shows, etc.
Judge Eliana Marengo recently told another human being that she had to be stripped of her identity and publicly humiliated in order to have her case heard in a court in Québec. That is to say, the judge refused to hear the case while she was wearing a hijab.
For clarity, Article 13 of the regulations of the Court of Quebec make no reference to headscarves. This was just one judge’s decision to make life harder for another human being. And it was racist.
Wait, how was it racist?
This is a point that people keep refusing to understand. I have written previously about how you can be substantially racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. without ever actually making reference to a person’s race, sex, orientation, gender, etc. This is exactly the same thing.
A policy that makes life harder for one group of people is discriminatory against that group, regardless of how obliquely that group is singled out in the wording of the policy itself. And it’s still discriminatory even if that policy contains an ostensibly non-racist/non-sexist/etc. counter-example to ward off suspicions of racism, sexism, etc. (Cf. the Charter of Values and conspicuously large crucifixes).
It is laughable that Marengo invoked equality to justify her racist abuse of power. She deigned to instruct us in righteousness by telling us, “The same rules need to be applied to everyone.” To get an idea of how the rules are applied to everyone in Québec, I have compiled Table 1, below.
White people do religious stuff in the public sphere in Québec all the time. Nobody minds. Nobody gets upset. Certainly nobody refuses to give them the basic justice that all humans are due. But when one private person of colour wears a hijab to court, suddenly a) it’s fair game to publicly humiliate them and strip their identity, and b) it’s hitting below the belt to call it “racist” when it happens.
Table 1: A convenience sample of conspicuous religious accommodations in the province of Québec, indexed by race
|Religious thing||Private or public?||Who did it? (Race)||Is it okay in Québec?|
|Prominent crucifix in legislature||Public||White||Okay!|
|Giant cross overlooking biggest city in province||Public||White||Okay!|
|Big white cross dominating the provincial flag||Public||White||Okay!|
|Nearly every street and city named after a Christian saint||Public||White||Okay!|
|Private person wearing hijab in court||Private||POC||“This is unacceptable! Religious people are always demanding more and more accommodations. This is not about race at all!”|
If you want a historically accurate portrayal of the life of Alan Turing, The Imitation Game might not be the film for you. The major contours of Turing’s life are covered, which is to say, you will get a story with roughly the following plot:
Mathematical genius and figure widely regarded as the father of modern computer science provides invaluable military intelligence that leads to victory in World War II by breaking the German Enigma code. He is criminally prosecuted for homosexuality and commits suicide.
However, once you get past those, the similarities between the actual Alan Turing and the one portrayed in The Imitation Game start to break down.
The overarching theme of the whole film is a sort of analogy between some police officer’s evaluation of Turing, and the Turing Test (“The Imitation Game”), which is a famous problem in philosophy of mind and computer science. The idea is that Turing was giving an account of his life to this officer, and from those responses, we were supposed to judge what sort of thing Turing was—machine, man, etc.
I suppose this is why they played up Turing’s social awkwardness as much as they did. They wanted to shoehorn the whole film into an analogy to the Turing Test. I suppose it also introduced some conflict, and they thought they could sell movie tickets with Cumberbatch doing his “I’m a terrible person but you like me anyway because what I do is so useful” routine. (C.f. BBC’s Sherlock, IT WORKED ON ME I GUESS.)
Overall, I am glad I saw it, and I recommend it. It was entertaining. Cumberbatch’s Turing was likeable, and I felt like (inaccuracies aside) it honours the memory of Turing in its own way. It’s somewhat historically inaccurate, and it’s tied together with a fairly hamfisted attempt to unite the story to Turing’s theoretical work, but that might be okay. I feel like modern movie-goers have an easy time separating what they see in the cinema from what they take to be true about history anyway.
One last note about accuracy: At the end of the film, the captions on the screen seem to indicate that computers used to be called “Turing Machines.” This is not quite the case. Turing Machines are abstractions that exist in thought experiments for philosophers and computer scientists. That said, I would be okay with it if we did start calling computers “Turing machines.”
Quick summary of how racist James Bond is
I recently finished reading Goldfinger, which is in the Public Domain in Canada, and thus free and legal for Canadians to download from Project Gutenberg Canada. Before I get to the homophobia, I think it’s relevant to report that Bond refers to Oddjob or other Koreans as “apes” or “lower than an ape” on no less than five different occasions—for the interest of those keeping score at home.
James Bond and Lesbians
There are two female characters in Goldfinger: Tilly Masterton and Pussy Galore. Masterton doesn’t reciprocate Bond’s sexual advances, which is explained as follows.
Bond thought she [Galore] was superb and so, he noticed, did Tilly Masterton who was gazing at Miss Galore with worshipping eyes and lips that yearned. Bond decided that all was now clear to him about Tilly Masterton.
So it turns out that both the female characters are Lesbians with a capital L. (Seriously, he capitalises the L every time.) Tough luck for Bond, right? Not so fast! In my previous blog post, I consider the possible meanings of the following quote from chapter 17.
Bond liked the look of her. He felt the sexual challenge all beautiful Lesbians have for men.
Which I understand might be a reference to the rape myth—the idea that if you force yourself on someone, they’ll eventually like it.
Unfortunately, during the action scene, Masterton didn’t stay with Bond as he told her to.
The girl’s hand tugged at him. She screamed angrily, ‘No, No. Stop! I want to stay close to Pussy. I’ll be safe with her.’
Bond shouted back, ‘Shut up, you little fool! Run like hell!’ But now she was dragging at him, checking his speed. Suddenly she tore her hand out of his and made to dart into an open Pullman door.
This was a bad life-choice for her—trying to find her Lesbian love interest at a time of crisis. And we learn how much of a bad choice it was only 10 paragraphs later.
The little figure still lay sprawled where she had fallen. Bond knelt beside her. The broken-doll angle of the head was enough. He felt for her pulse. He got up. He said softly, ‘Poor little bitch. She didn’t think much of men.’ He looked defensively at Leiter. ‘Felix, I could have got her away if she’d only followed me.
If only she had stayed with Bond! The gentle but firm hand of a man was what she needed. Not some Lesbian. So I guess Goldfinger is supposed to be a cautionary tale? “Don’t be too capital-L Lesbian, or you’ll end up dead?”
Anyway, after the action is all over, Galore throws herself into Bond’s arms, and the creepiest pillow-talk imaginable happens:
She lay in the crook of Bond’s arm and looked up at him. She said, not in a gangster’s voice, or a Lesbian’s, but in a girl’s voice, ‘Will you write to me in Sing Sing?’
Bond looked down into the deep blue-violet eyes that were no longer hard, imperious. He bent and kissed them lightly. He said, ‘They told me you only liked women.’
She said, ‘I never met a man before.’ The toughness came back into her voice. ‘I come from the South. You know the definition of a virgin down there? Well, it’s a girl who can run faster than her brother. In my case I couldn’t run as fast as my uncle. I was twelve. That’s not so good, James. You ought to be able to guess that.’
Lesbianism explained! Galore’s uncle turned her into a lesbian, and now Bond will turn her straight again with the sexytimes that she always wanted. And the book ends with Bond’s “passionate, rather cruel mouth waiting above hers,” and Bond’s mouth “ruthlessly” coming down over hers.
So, there we go. Somebody wanna write some good non-racist and queer-positive fan-fiction to get this taste out of my mouth?
In other news
I think there’s a typo. In chapter 20, it should be “Cary Grant” instead of “Gary Grant.”
I have always been a big fan of the Public Domain. For works that are still under copyright, I feel like I am (and legally speaking, I think I might be) just renting them. This is unsettling to me for a few reasons.
First off, there’s always the possibility that publishers could claw back books from my e-reader that I rightfully paid for, by doing something like deleting them remotely. This is unlikely, but it has happened before.
Also, I don’t generally write fan-fiction, but I like the idea of fan-fiction. Some of it is better than the original even. While I don’t write much of the stuff myself, I do make cultural references either in conversation, or writing or blogging, and there’s a difference between making a cultural reference to a non-Public Domain thing and making a cultural reference to a Public Domain thing. When you draw an analogy to a Harry Potter character, for example, it comes across as corporate. Like you’re an advertisement for Warner Brothers. You know that for anyone to “get” your reference, they have to have lined the pockets of either WB or Bloomsbury Publishing. If I make reference to Moby Dick in an essay, though, it doesn’t have that same “corporate sell-out” flavour.
And that’s why I was so excited by the fact that this January, James Bond himself entered the Public Domain in Canada. That’s right, Ian Fleming died on August 12, 1964. Since he’s been dead for 50 years, that means that in Canada, there are no laws protecting his intellectual property anymore. Of course, the movies, the soundtracks, and everything else associated with James Bond will be under copyright forever, but the original novels by Ian Fleming and the characters within them, including James Bond, are now fair game.
So when Project Gutenberg Canada announced that Goldfinger is available for download (free and legal for Canadians), I got myself a copy. I was prepared to a certain extent for the novel to be a … umm … product of its time. After all, Bond is a fast-living, smooth-talking, hard-drinking, womanising secret agent man. That’s kind of his thing.
Then I got to this description of Oddjob:
He was a chunky flat-faced Japanese, or more probably Korean, with a wild, almost mad glare in dramatically slanting eyes that belonged in a Japanese film rather than in a Rolls Royce on a sunny afternoon in Kent. He had the snout-like upper lip that sometimes goes with a cleft palate, but he said nothing and Bond had no opportunity of knowing whether his guess was right. In his tight, almost bursting black suit and farcical bowler hat he looked rather like a Japanese wrestler on his day off.
Which was unsettling. But then it got worse:
‘Here–‘ Goldfinger took the cat from under his arm and tossed it to the Korean who caught it eagerly–‘I am tired of seeing this animal around. You may have it for dinner.’ The Korean’s eyes gleamed.
Those two were pretty bad, but I think par for the course for 1950’s racial sensitivity. The next quote takes it a bit further than the last two.
Bond intended to stay alive on his own terms. Those terms included putting Oddjob and any other Korean firmly in his place, which, in Bond’s estimation, was rather lower than apes in the mammalian hierarchy.
It’s not just a casual statement of implied inferiority. He’s explicit about exactly how he feels about Koreans. And in case you thought that Bond was just being angry because he got beat up by Oddjob, he doubles down on the whole “ape” thing later on.
There’s only one way out of here and Oddjob, that Korean ape, is guarding it.
I haven’t quite finished the book, although it’s pretty short, so I imagine I’ll be done tomorrow or the next day, depending on how my métro ride goes. I may have to update this post with more Ways In Which James Bond Is Super-Racist. For right now, I’ll leave you with this weird homophobic thing:
Bond liked the look of her. He felt the sexual challenge all beautiful Lesbians have for men.
I really don’t know exactly how to interpret that. Maybe a straight guy can fill me in on what sexual challenge it is that all beautiful Lesbians have for men?
I’m doing an experiment. A lot of my thesis work consists of me clicking between form elements, spreadsheet cells, or parts of text documents, entering short bits of text and then clicking away to another thing.
I’ve been trying to bring my efficiency up, but running into a wall. The rate-limiting step in my workflow is not my typing speed or how quickly I find information, but rather how fast I can switch from mouse to keyboard.
A few years back, I switched from QWERTY to Dvorak, which was distressing at the time, but turned out to have been an excellent life choice. (Highly recommended!) I’m going to try left-handed Dvorak out for a bit and see how it takes. :)
Yesterday, Dr Weijer from Western U came to the STREAM research group at McGill to give a talk on the ethics of fMRI studies on acutely comatose patients in the intensive care unit. One of the topics he briefly covered (not the main topic of his talk) was that of patients who may be “awake,” but generally unaware of their surroundings, while in an acutely comatose state of some kind. Using an fMRI, questions can be asked of some of these subjects, by telling them to imagine playing tennis for “yes,” and to imagine navigating their home for “no.” Since the areas of the brain for these two tasks are very different, these can be used to distinguish responses with some accuracy. In some rare cases, patients in this condition are able to consistently answer biographical questions, indicating that they are in some sense, conscious.
One of the questions that arises is: Could we use this method to involve a comatose patient in decision-making regarding her own care, in cases where we were able to establish this sort of communication?
Informed consent in medical ethics is usually conceived in terms of: disclosure, capacity and voluntariness, and the most obvious question to arise in the types of cases we’re considering is whether or not you could ever know with certainty that a comatose person has the capacity to make such decisions in such a state. (Indeed, a comatose patient is often the example given of someone who does not have the capacity to consent.) Dr Weijer was generally sceptical on that front.
Partway through his discussion, I had the impression that the problem was strangely familiar. If we abstract away some of the details of the situation in question, we are left with an experimenter who is sending natural language queries into a black box system, which replies with a digital (0/1) output, and then the experimenter has to make the best evaluation she can as to whether the black box contains a person, or if it is just an “automatic” response of some kind.
For those of you with some background in computer science, you will recognise this as the Turing Test. Over the 65 years since it was first suggested, for one reason or another, most people have abandoned the Turing Test as a way to address the question of artificial intelligence, although it still holds a certain popular sway, as claims of chatbots that can beat the Turing Test still make the news. While many would reject that it is even an important question whether a chatbot can make you believe it is a person, at least in the fMRI/coma patient version, no one can dispute whether there is something important at stake.