20 Nov 2013 02:06 am
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On this day we remember our dead.

When right-wing bigots lie and fabricate stories about trans* people, you look at our dead and tell me with a straight face who should fear whom. While you worry about your kids feeling nervous about nothing happening, I'm too worried for the children who will one day soon be shot, strangled, suffocated, stabbed, tortured, beheaded, lit on fire, and thrown off bridges simply for existing.

And you on the left: I love all you queers, and I'm glad for your victories; but the next time you celebrate an "LGBT" victory you take a long hard look at your history of throwing that "T" under the bus and you look at our dead and tell me with a straight face how it's not yet time to fight for trans* rights.

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So, a friend of mine wrote a scathing review of the ACM's recent refusal to open access. As he mentions, the ACM claims to be a non-profit organization with the purported mission of fostering the open interchange of information, and yet it refuses to open access because that would cut into the bottom line be "too hard". This is absurd when USENIX, ACL, NIPS, JMLR, etc are all open; to say nothing of the arxiv. If the ACM publicly admitted to being a for-profit organization that would be one thing. I'd still be upset with them, but at least they'd be honest. Until the ACM updates its out-of-date practices, I will not support them because they are not a professional organization that represents the ethical standards of the computer science community I am a part of. If you're also part of this community, then you can help tear down this paywall.

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Google has their well-known unofficial motto "don't be evil". However, as they have grown as a corporation they often run into issues living up to that motto. As a recent example, Google is a major sponsor of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference. Conservatism alone is not evil, however this conference gives platform to anti-gay and white supremacist bigotry. There's a petition which has more details on the issue. Do go read it, and please sign it if you agree with the points made there.

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Stop ACTA & TPP: Tell your country's officials: NEVER use secretive trade agreements to meddle with the Internet. Our freedoms depend on it! For more information see La Quadrature du Net.

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For those readers of an academic nature who haven't heard yet, there's a general boycott of Elsevier going on, which I encourage you all to join. For anyone unacquainted with the evil practices of Elsevier check out Cosma Shalizi's links or the links on n-Category Cafe. While this is a general boycott, you can specify separately whether you (1) won't publish with them, (2) won't referee for them, and/or (3) won't do editorial work for them. For the young academics, there's also some discussion on [personal profile] silmaril's LJ crosspost about the potential costs of joining such a boycott. While it is a non-trivial commitment, I do encourage you to join us.

For those who believe in the public sharing of knowledge, there's also a more general pledge, Research Without Walls, to only do business with journals who provide their articles online and without paywalls. I wholeheartedly support this cause, for many of the same reasons that I support F/OSS. If you notice my name isn't on the pledge yet, it's because I need to do a little more research on which conferences and publications this would bar me from before making a public commitment to prohibit myself from (rather than merely disprefer) venues which do not support the freedom of knowledge.

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Or, rather, why the people who state that are usually wrong.

So this definition for racism was brought up again recently when yet another person claimed we live in a post-racial society. Which is usually the context it's brought up in: someone claims Racism = Prejudice and then declares minorities need to get over themselves because of their evidenced prejudice against white folks; and then someone more educated on issues of racism seeks to correct them (using R=P+IP to disprove R=P). I certainly don't believe R=P, but rather my point of contention is a meta issue about how R=P+IP is presented. That is, the theory of R=P+IP as it is customarily presented online is false, even though I do believe something similar is in fact true.

Why it is wrong comes down to one simple fact: there is no Institution. There is no single power structure in which we're all embedded. Even if we parameterize IP by country (as people often do), it's still wrong because there is no single power structure for the entire country. By stating R=P+IP there is an implicit theoretical belief in this singular notion of IP. And as if the implicit theory isn't enough, people often feel the need to be explicit about it. It is this totalizing discourse which is wrong. In addition to being inaccurate, totalizing claims transfer the problem of racism from individuals and individual actions to some external and ineffable "Institution" which individuals are not able to affect (due to its externality). So in addition to being inaccurate, it also serves to dissuade people from altering their personal actions in hopes of combating racism.

The fact of the matter is that we are, each of us, embedded simultaneously in multiple different and often conflicting power structures. I am not only in America, I'm also in Bloomington and I'm also a graduate student. (And anyone who thinks academia isn't a power structure orthogonal to real life is seriously misled.) More to the point, prior to moving to Bloomington I lived in Baltimore for two years. In Baltimore they have problems with racially-motivated black-on-white hate crimes. Now, when I can be hospitalized or killed for the crime of riding the bus while white, anyone who says it's merely "prejudice" has some very odd definitions rattling around in their head. In Baltimore, yes, blacks can be racist too. So when someone gets on their high horse and starts making totalizing claims about how the general disenfranchisement of blacks in America means they can't be racist, it's my turn to call them out for spouting bullshit.

My time in Baltimore was thankfully free of any (noticeable) racism. And I'm sure most other white residents receive less racism from blacks per annum than the average black person does from whites in most places. This isn't the oppression olympics, but rather it's an existence proof: When I was living in Baltimore there were numerous white people hospitalized and killed due to being assaulted on the bus by blacks because of their race. This happens in spite of the fact that everyone living in Baltimore is also living in America where blacks are typically the targets of racism. These two different kinds of hatred stem from being embedded in two different systems of power. In America whites have more power than blacks and use that to police racial borders. In Baltimore, which has different population dynamics (e.g., blacks aren't a minority), blacks have more power than whites and will use that to police racial borders. There is nothing about the power dynamics of America as a whole which precludes some part of America having opposing dynamics.

So IP is not a constant, nor is it a function only of the country. For the R=P+IP equation to be true, IP must be a function which takes in all the different power structures we live in and highlights whether any of those structures provide power in the given context. Whether my power as a white person in America or my weakness as a white person in Baltimore is more relevant will depend on the situation and is not simply the sum of the power from all structures. Similarly, whatever sorts of power I have as a graduate student are unlikely to be of any relevance in contexts that have nothing to do with education. Institutionalized power is both polysemous and contextually dependent. What is institutionalized in one structure need not be institutionalized in others, and which of these many "institutions" can be brought to bear is constantly changing.

By trying to totalize over these two dimensions, people prone to espousing R=P+IP as if IP were a constant are not only misleading those they are presuming to educate, but in so doing they are also failing to acknowledge that individual institutions can be changed, as can the dynamics of which institutions affect our lives. Institutionalized power can never be entirely eliminated. It can, however, be restructured so that it does not support the marginalization and oppression of racial minorities (or women, LGBTQ, disabled people, etc). And most importantly it is because of our own power within these different systems that we are able, through personal actions, to alter the systems in which we have power. We don't have racism because Those People Out There all got together and agreed to it; it is because our personal actions are complicit in preserving the institutionalized structures which support the oppression of minorities. But those very same institutionalized structures give us the currency needed to alter them; it is not enough to want equality, we must have the power to obtain it.

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I like Smalltalk. Of any of the OO options it's by far my favorite. And yet, this most powerful language of the '70s has been relegated to oblivion. Robert Martin of Object Mentor Inc. gives a talk at Rails Conf 2009, "What Killed Smalltalk Could Kill Ruby, Too", which is well worth watching. I've since abandoned the whole OO paradigm in favor of functionalism, but I think this talk also has a good deal to say to the Haskell community (in fact, hat tip to Nick Mudge on Planet Haskell).

In particular, around 37:00 to 41:00, Martin talks about one of the three major things to kill Smalltalk. This one is the greatest danger for the Haskell community: arrogance and parochialism as a result of an emphasis on purity. The complaint is a common one, though I think the mention of purity is something which should be taken with depth. (Certainly purity is one of the highest horses we Haskellers will climb upon.) In an interesting addition to the usual dialogue, Martin posits professionalism as the countervailing force we need to maintain in the face of the growth of the community.

I highly recommend the video. The actual talk starts about six minutes in, and after the ending at 50:00 there's a Q&A session with a couple good questions.

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For anyone who happens to be reading and whom I haven't spammed about this already:

Why You Should Turn Gmail's SSL Feature On Now

Hat tip to homasse.[1] And while we're at it, you should be using PGP as well.

This isn't paranoia folks, this is the future. Everything you say should be encrypted at every layer, unless you what it to be completely public. If you have a wifi router, you should have WPA2 turned on (not WPA, and certainly not WEP). Every personal transaction should be over SSL. Your ssh keys should have pass phrases on them (which is different than a password, and isn't sent over the wire). Know your data, know everything that touches it. Prophylactics are the sign of a good netizen.

[1] Sorry about the redundant email, I just scraped all the gmail addys from my address book

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Important words from [ profile] pdx42:

In 2006, Dr. Martin Luther King Day happened to fall on January 16. Below, I am reposting a small part of what I wrote for that day, slightly updated for 2008.

In three days' time, on January 21, the third Monday of the month, we as a nation will be celebrating the life, accomplishments, and blessings of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Our nation and our society have truly been transformed for the better by his life. Many Americans regard him as the greatest peacemaker of our history. I believe him to have been the greatest American patriot of the 20th Century.

This weekend, while enjoying your day off on Monday, or listening to a sermon on the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., keep in mind that he was, first and foremost, an inspiring man of God, a man of peace who kept close to the words of his prophet, Jesus Christ. Please also keep in mind that at the time Dr. King was assassinated, most of his civil rights work was done. Almost two years earlier, he had turned his attention toward the injustice of the Vietnam War. I and many others believe that this is the reason he was killed, much more than for his stalwart work for civil rights.

This weekend, many people will be quoting Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. I'll bet you that even President Bush quotes this speech sometime in the next three days. Many consider it Dr. King's magnum opus, but they neglect -- perhaps intentionally, perhaps not -- the speech he gave not long before his death, "Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam". So that this is not forgotten, so that the words of this great patriot, America's greatest peacemaker, are not left to history, particularly in these days when we most desperately need to hear them, please download and listen to Dr. King's thoughts on the Vietnam War, which can plainly be applied to any war.

And do read the original. I know you are all old enough to remember that war. It was my first exposure to politics. I remember it. And I remember being ten years old and asking all the adults around me why we were there, and I remember noone could give any answers then either. I remember green-light videos of those missiles on the news. I remember people talking about Vietnam, a mythical word the wound too new to expose to some kid. And I remember losing power with those green lights when the hurricane hit Maine. It passed straight over us. I remember the eye, the deafening silence.

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So I was recently made aware of the SMART award offered by the DoD and I'm considering whether to apply or not. Now, as those of you who know me fairly well, I may well have moral reasons for not doing so. The question I'm uncertain of, is whether and the extent to which accepting such an award actually would conflict with my morals.

Assuming I make the cut to get the award and pass the security clearance, the award in sum: 31k$/year stipend, full tuition, 1k$ book allowance, and random other things like health benefits. Never say the DoD doesn't know how to entice people in. The obligations in sum: DoD retains certain (unspecified) rights to any inventions, summers spent in paid internship with DoD laboratory or agency, post-graduation employment in DoD civilian S&E workforce (laboratory or agency) for as many years as award received for, and other random things I'm not too worried about. The post-grad employment may require "mobility", the internships are unspecified. Applicants can list agencies they'd prefer to work in, but ultimately it's up to what the DoD decides they want/need. If the contract is broken, then they want all their money back.

Naturally, other benefits would include continued employment opportunities with the DoD, though I have other plans for life (which may also benefit from the addition to my CV). Depending on where I end up transferring to, I'd be looking at one or two years until graduation, meaning one or two years working before I can start on my doctorate which would push that back from 27~28 to 28~30, which pushes getting the degree back to 32~34 if I stay on track— still not too late for a career as a professor, though getting perilously close unless I already have a number of publications by then. Another indirect concern is about that mobility thing; I'm not too concerned for my own sake, but I'm uncertain how it might affect things with my latest romance. Which is ultimately something only she can answer, and no doubt will depend on what her career situation is looking like at that point, but nevertheless.

To make my question more concrete, I'm a pacifist or more specifically nonviolent. To be clear, it's not so much that I have problems killing people per se, it's that I object to the use of violent force as a means of resolving conflict. Having seen some small portion of the depravity to which humanity can sink in enacting violence against itself, as with Einstein, I know that the only hope for our survival is to overcome that most base instinct to revert every conflict into one for blood. To be brutally honest, it's not even the survival of the species I'm concerned with so much as the survival of me and my own and our ability to discover great wonders such as settling the stars or whatever else may be out there. The use of violence to resolve conflict has always and will always be at odds with the desire for survival and exploration. Say what you will about whether the majority of humanity coming to abandon violence is possible, if it is not then we are doomed, if we do not try then we are doomed, consequently we can accept defeat or we can try.

Now, my employment with the DoD would be as a civilian and so I have no need to worry about my own direct actions, however the question is the extent to which my indirect actions and their indirect effects would encourage or discourage the use of violence overall. At one extreme, I could design a critical component for a weapon. Whether the weapon was used in actuality or used only to threaten, either constitutes reinforcing the use of violence. On the other hand, my research could be in something more benign and generally applicable like communications. For which there is a general trend that greater levels of communication tend to reduce conflict (even if only by homogenizing the communicants) though there can also be backlashes when one communicant feels they cannot stop the communication nor hold their own against the cultural influx. On the third hand, my research could also lead to something such as powerful AI, the effects of which could revolutionize the world in dramatic ways which would be difficult to label as either good or bad.

Certainly I'll be putting in for other grants and fellowships, and I have a while before needing to apply for this one as well as being able to decline the award. But I'm curious what my readership thinks of the situation, either those who are also pacifists or those who are not but are willing to consider things from that position.


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