In Space No-One Can Hear You Scream

“Decolonizing” the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI) could boost its chances of success, says science historian Rebecca Charbonneau.

From Scientific American, obviously.

You see,

Increasingly, SETI scientists are grappling with the disquieting notion that, much like their intellectual forebears, their search may somehow be undermined by biases they only dimly perceive—biases that could, for instance, be related to the misunderstanding and mistreatment of Indigenous peoples and other marginalised groups…

But of course. Some editorial trajectories are, I guess, inevitable. As one might imagine, the author of the article, Camilo Garzón, is keen to signal his own modish sensitivities, and so the interview with Ms Charbonneau begins as it means to go on: 

“Decolonisation” seems to be a problematic term,

This prompts much rhetorical nodding, along with the news that space exploration is “a stand-in for encounters with Indigenous peoples.” Sadly, before this claim can be explored or tested in any way, we shift sideways in search of a point. Says Ms Charbonneau:

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Anthropological Snippets

Three items presented for your betterment:  

First up, “Kids and kink can coexist at Pride in a totally fine way,” we’re told.  

You see, exhibitionist displays of fetishes – say, transvestism, sadomasochism, nipple clamps and cock rings - constitute a “justice space” and “kids and youth voices are vital to justice movements.” “Kids,” we learn, “are a vulnerable and marginalised group” and must therefore – yes, therefore - be exposed to narcissistic psychodrama and the penises of creepy, damaged men.

It’s all about those “intersecting identities and oppressions.”

This second item reminds us, inadvertently, of two fairly obvious options. You could, of course, regurgitate pseudo-scholarly prattle in a condescending tone, complete with facial theatre. Or you could just, you know, dial back on the carbs and sugar, and thereby live longer without the serious health problems. Or the mental contortions.

Oh, and somehow, inexcusably, I’ve only today discovered this.

I think it’s safe to say that your cross-cultural interview isn’t going terribly well when the interviewee starts throwing his own faeces at you.

Also, open thread.

Elsewhere (311)

Dan Springer on Seattle’s woke, broke public transport:  

At a recent Sound Transit Board meeting, the outgoing CEO summed up the situation. “Our fare collection system relies overwhelmingly on an honour system,” Peter Rogoff said, “and our increasingly acute problem is that our riders aren’t honouring the system.” By one measurement, as many as a staggering 70% of all passengers are free riders. But even that is only an estimate as there is almost no fare enforcement. Sound Transit did away with fare enforcement officers after a study revealed people of colour were disproportionately getting fined.

Sound Transit Board member Claudia Balducci appears untroubled by this trajectory, insisting that “People are feeling more welcome on our system and less afraid to use it because there’s less of a fear of fare enforcement.” Apparently, this is a good thing. The views of local, law-abiding taxpayers, who are subsidising this experiment in social progress, are left to the imagination.

Ben Sixsmith on the steep decline of Swedish education:

Many of the problems [Magnus] Henrekson and [Johan] Wennström diagnose will be familiar to anyone acquainted with the British education system. Grade inflation has masked declining standards, which, in Sweden, manifested themselves with a Wile E Coyote-esque fall down the PISA rankings. […] Sweden has, in recent decades, undergone an extraordinary demographic transformation. As of 2020, a quarter of Swedish residents had a foreign background. In 2015, research by Dr Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren suggested that “the change in pupil demographics due to immigration explains almost a third of the average decline between 2000 and 2012: 19 per cent in mathematical literacy, 28 per cent in reading literacy, and 41 per cent in scientific literacy.” 

And Emil Kirkegaard on super-progressive Ontario, where “diversity” trumps standards: 

It is now illegal to use a math test to make sure that math teachers know the material they would be teaching.

The motives for removing tests of educator competence soon become apparent. The likely effect on students - including minority students, in whose name competence is being sidelined - is a topic on which readers may care to speculate.

Feel free to share your own links and snippets, on any subject, in the comments.

I Blame Those Evil Towel Conglomerates

From The Independent, a new moral crisis:

A plus-size content creator and traveller who said seatbelts on planes cause “emotional damage” is now sharing tips on how to avoid the trauma.

It occurs to me that the thing causing the annoyance – sorry, emotional damage – is not in fact the seatbelt, or asking for an extender. If, say, a person of average proportions found that all plane seatbelts had suddenly been reduced in size by 38%, this might well be irritating, and somewhat surreal, but it would not, I think, be a likely cause of similar “emotional damage,” let alone psychological trauma.

Likewise, if you’re rendered incensed by the fact that a plus-sized bath towel is still insufficiently commodious, then the cause of any sorrow and agitation probably isn’t the towel, but rather what you’re trying to fit in it. However, it seems that certain obvious realities must not be acknowledged - and so we get performative indignation about how oppressive towels are.

Update, via the comments:

Regarding airborne stowing dramas, readers may recall the delightful and ladylike Lindy West, a “fat activist” whose “work focuses on pop culture, social justice and body image.” In a tearful tale shared in Jezebel, Ms West insisted that she should always be accommodated, regardless of practicality and inconvenience, as if her own choice to be, and remain, notably overweight could have no bearing on the issue. While struggling to squeeze into her plane seat, Ms West decided to pick a loud verbal fight with an adjacent male passenger, and then amused herself by deliberately knocking him with her luggage as he tried to sleep. She then complained, seemingly without irony, that “nobody wants to sit next to a fat person on a plane.”

When not writing about herself for Jezebel and the Guardian, or testing the endurance of plane seats and fellow passengers, and insisting that her difficulties fitting into seats and other spaces are nothing whatsoever to do with her choices, Ms West makes videos of herself eating biscuits and junk food.

The D-Words

Lifted from the comments, a technological feat:  

Traffic cameras in Chicago disproportionately ticket Black and Latino motorists. 

Readers are invited to spot the word that’s doing the heavy lifting. It appears 1o times in the article quoted above, excluding variations.

The red-light and speed cameras are, we’re told, “distributed roughly evenly among the city’s Black, Latino and white neighbourhoods.” Despite which, “the ticketing rate for households in majority-Black ZIP codes” is “more than three times that of households in majority-white areas.” And so, explanations are searched out, including the width of a given road, the effect of passing vacant lots, and the geographical distribution of grocery stores. “Structural racism” is of course invoked, a phenomenon that apparently includes ticketing cyclists who choose to ride on the pavement, illegally.

Those presented as victims of injustice, of “racial inequity,” include Mr Rodney Perry, whose photograph accompanies the piece, and who, in a single year, has received eight tickets for speeding and three for running red lights. The article appears not to have had room to include the views of those injured or bereaved by Chicago’s law-breaking motorists, despite an eye-widening spike in accidents, fatalities, and hit-and-run crashes. Nor, it seems, was there room to consider the possible effect of endless, widespread excuse-making for antisocial behaviour, and its role in making such behaviour more likely, not less.

See also the words disparate, disparity and disparities, which occur no fewer than 22 times.

Update, via the comments:

Rafi notes the article’s supposed candidates for our sympathy - the best that could be mustered, presumably - and adds, “They chose poorly.” Well, as a pin-up for victimhood, a basis for our collective weeping, Mr Perry is a, shall we say, suboptimal choice. But apparently, we are expected to sympathise with Mr Perry, our habitual lawbreaker, and to indulge his excuses, on account of his difficulty paying the $700 in fines that resulted from his repeated law-breaking. As if the financial consequences were inexplicable and somehow unforeseeable. Though it seems to me that not being in the best position to pay the fines that normally result from such law-breaking is a pretty good reason to avoid said law-breaking - specifically, repeatedly running red lights and thereby endangering other people’s lives.

At which point, it’s perhaps worth noting that many of the, as it were, racially insensitive cameras are located near schools.

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The World Of Tomorrow

Goldfish are capable of navigating on land, Israeli researchers have found, after training fish to drive. The team at Ben-Gurion University developed an FOV - a fish-operated vehicle. The robotic car is fitted with lidar, a remote sensing technology that uses pulsed laser light to collect data on the vehicle's ground location and the fish's whereabouts inside a mounted water tank. A computer, camera, electric motors, and omni-wheels give the fish control of the vehicle.

Hey, I’m just reading what it says here. And yes, there’s video

Also, open thread. Share ye links and bicker.


Snowfall in Times Square. Filmed by Nomadic Ambience

As is the custom here, posting will be intermittent over the holidays and readers are advised to subscribe to the blog feed, which will alert you to anything new as and when it materialises. Thanks for another 1.5 million or so visits this year and thousands of comments, many of which prompted discussions that are much more interesting than the actual posts. Which is pretty much the idea. And particular thanks to all those who’ve made PayPal donations to keep this rickety barge above water. It’s much appreciated. Curious newcomers and those with nothing better to do are welcome to rummage through the reheated series in search of entertainment.

To you and yours, a very good one. 

The Little People Must Be Made Pious

Is this scene here, I wonder, what’s meant by “class war”?

As noted before, more than once, if someone’s go-to solution, every time, is to impose on others, to harass and bully random people, effectively trapping them, while feeling enormously self-satisfied about their own imagined radicalism – and while clearly titillated by the ability to dominate - then this tells us very little about any purported issue. It’s a moral non sequitur and rather like saying, “I’m troubled by the plight of the Javan rhinoceros, so I’m going to start spitting at the elderly and keying random cars, and then boast about it.” It does, however, tell us what vain and spiteful tossers these creatures are. And how low a priority their wellbeing should be.

Also, open thread. You know the drill.

Difficult Questions, Carefully Avoided

In the UK in the last census, it turned out that people who identified as white British were a minority in 23 out of the 33 boroughs in London. Now, if you were born in the 1960s, say, which isn’t that long ago, this means a total transformation of the capital city of the country you’re in. I suggest that some people deprecate that, some people love it, most people have a very mixed view towards it. But to pretend that it isn’t a very significant change to occur in a lifetime is nonsensical…

There has been a presumption in recent years in Europe to assume that, historically, whenever you shake the great Rubik’s cube of humanity, it always comes out looking something like The Hague – that everything ends up in the sort of peaceful, decent, liberal settlement that you happily have in your own country… I suggest that this is a very serious underestimation of, among other things, ideas that people bring with them, how long it takes to lose them, and particularly the struggle that liberal societies, in the true sense of the term, have about what they do regarding the integration of people who may not want to join the other elements of the society…  

We wish to have justice for people coming; we should have mercy for people fleeing other places; but we also need to have a sense of justice for people in Europe who pay their taxes, who have been decent citizens, and who need to be asked if there are going to be massive societal changes that will take place. Because we’re not petri dishes, we are countries.

Via the comments, Horace Dunn steers us to this debate between Douglas Murray, quoted above, and Flavia Kleiner. Ms Kleiner is a mass-immigration enthusiast and one of Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30,” a list of entrepreneurs, activists, and people of growing influence. She is, we’re assured, “fighting for your rights and better government.”

Readers who watch the video in full will, I think, note a contrast in disposition and approach. Murray is thoughtful, knowledgeable, and curious. He asks questions, listens, and tests his opponent’s assumptions, exploring what they imply. In contrast, Ms Kleiner seems doctrinaire, presumptuous, and morally glib. When Murray replies to some specific claim or conceit, Ms Kleiner seems uninterested in any possible oversight on her part, as if listening to the other person were some achingly tedious chore. Presumably on grounds that anyone who disagrees must be insufficiently liberal and enlightened, i.e., unwilling to pretend all of the things that she pretends, and therefore unworthy. Even when those whose views diverge from her own are a majority of the electorate.

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No Black Lights Were Available

New York Times contributor David Kaufman, writing here, wants us to know that he’s rendered distraught by “subtle streams of everyday racism that course through our homes, our workplaces, and the outside world.” An endless assault that “bombards people of colour.” People such as himself. It is, we’re told, time for a “cultural reckoning.”

For me, this reckoning begins with traffic signals.

Hm. Perhaps retracing our steps will help. Make things less confounding.  

A few months back, before Covid-19 kept us in our homes and George Floyd made us take to the streets, I was walking with a friend, her daughter, and my twin sons. My friend is White and I’m not — something I’d never given a second thought until we reached a crosswalk. “Remember, honey,” she said to her daughter as we waited for the light to turn green, “we need to wait for the little White man to appear before we can cross the street.”

 And in the very next breath:

I realise that White people like to exert control over nearly everything everyone does, I thought, but since when did this literally include trying to cross the street?

It’s a bold leap. Dense with assumptions. And hey, no racism there. Mr Kaufman - who can doubtless detect racism in the motions of subatomic particles - would have us believe that his friend was using the word white as a racial descriptor, rather than, as seems more likely, an unremarkable acknowledgement of a traffic light’s colour when talking to a child. In light of which, Mr Kaufman’s claims of being “bombarded” with racism – daily, everywhere – become at least explicable, if not convincing. 

As a Black dad, I was struck by the language at play. How is it possible that well into the 21st century, parents all over Manhattan — well-meaning, #BLM-marching parents — are teaching their children to ask “little White men” for permission to cross the street? And why doesn’t this seem to bother them? It certainly bothered me.

The pedestrian crossing signal that so distresses Mr Kaufman – a rudimentary humanoid figure, made of white lights on a black background – can be seen here, from a safe distance. You may want to steady yourselves. It’s all very upsetting, at least for the exquisitely sensitive - people finer than ourselves. And who write for the New York Times. Mr Kaufman then goes on an investigative journey, in which he learns why, in a society with lots of non-English speakers, crossing signals with words – walk / don’t walk – are being replaced by simple, universal graphics, calibrated to capture attention – say, by using lights of a certain hue:

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