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Alexei Navalny. 4 June 1976 – 16 February 2024

He said you keep going. Yulia, who’s as lionhearted as he was, is doing that, somehow.

For those of us who are nothing special, it’s hard.

How did it all go crazy all at once?

Remember the beginning of the abortion fight?

Sorry. Stupid question. Anything older than two weeks is Not Memorable in the Mediacene.

The abortion fight geared up in the 1970s after the widespread use of birth control. Before that, even fully patriarchal white evangelicals didn’t have a big problem with it. Then the shocked realization descended. Women couldn’t be controlled by fear of pregnancy. This could not stand. At that rate who knew how much male control they might flip off next.

The next thing we knew fetuses had become “babies” and here we are. Women can be stopped from leaving Texas in a throwback to the days of escaping slaves. Totally appropriate, of course, for the current three fifths humans who might be trying to evade their primary function as incubators.

The things is, definitions are important. Vital. Critical. Essential. Do I need to put it in bold all caps?

That’s not a new thought. Socrates pointed it out a few years ago. So let’s start by defining who’s human, in the sense that matters to being a legal person, and who isn’t.

Corpses have rights. Organs cannot be removed from a corpse, even to save someone’s life, without prior permission. Compulsory organ donation is not a thing. People are not allowed to use other people’s bodies for their own benefit, even to save lives.

But wait, you say. Forcing women to carry pregnancies is compulsory life support on a grand scale. And it’s done all the time. It’s different.

Yes, it is different. Only women can do pregnancy. Corpses and organ donors might be male. That’s the only difference between whose body can be used by others and whose can’t. There’s no other difference in principle between forcing some people to provide life support but not others.

That train of reasoning shows it doesn’t matter whether you think a fetus is a legal person or not. It’s irrelevant to the question of why women, and only women, are forced to provide organ donation to save lives.

For the sake of completeness, though, let’s see whether fetuses are legally persons. Again, it doesn’t matter if they are. No legal person, except if they’re women, can be sacrificed for another. But, legally, fetal personhood does not extend to, for instance, counting as a second occupant of a car driven by a pregnant woman in an High Occupancy Vehicle commuter lane on a highway. Fetuses don’t inherit if their mothers die intestate, as children would. Birthdays don’t count from conception (except in Korea) but from, well, birth. I could go on.

The longer one goes on, the clearer it becomes that the only situation in which fetuses are persons — and not only persons but ones with more rights than anyone else: the right to take over someone else’s body — is when the body in question is female. That quiet part was even said out loud in an Alabama case.

Alabama’s new blanket ban on abortion “protects the sanctity of unborn life,” with one curious exception: The law deems only fertilized eggs inside a womb worthy of protection, not ones routinely destroyed in the process of fertility treatment.
“The egg in the lab doesn’t apply,” Clyde Chambliss, state senator and sponsor of the abortion bill, said during the Alabama legislative debate. “It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.”

If it’s all about the “babies,” this makes no sense.

So, in the abortion power grab we’ve seen what happens when we don’t bother to define which rights are involved or who is a legal person. Abortion is not about a right to privacy (although privacy is important). Nor is it about health care (although that’s important, too.) It’s about something more basic than that. It’s about the right to control your own body, the right not to be the property of the state or anyone else.

By not seeing that clearly — by still not seeing that clearly — we’ve fallen back into a situation where women are deprived of their most basic rights. And people barely notice. It’s about “health care,” isn’t it? Lots of people can’t get the health care they need. What’s the big deal?

Now we’re falling down the cliff of the same type of error in the fight over sex, gender, trans rights, and women’s rights.

The main defense, the only(?) defense that’s been consistently applied so far, is in the UK. Beliefs that womanhood is a sex-based category are as worthy of free speech protections as the belief that womanhood is gender-based according to one’s own sense of gender.

And that’s where I start screaming.

Hello? Have you all gone mad? This is not like being a flat-earther. Without any other knowledge, our eyes tell us we do live on a flat earth. This is worse.

Going by the evidence of your own everyday eyes, without any knowledge of math or science, the existence of female and male sexes is an absolute bedrock FACT. It is not a belief. The essence of facts is they go on being facts no matter what you think. You can believe babies are picked up in a cabbage patch. It doesn’t matter. In mammals like humans, they will still arise by a combination of egg and sperm and subsequent pregnancy ending in birth. That’s what a fact looks like.

In contrast, the statement that we have a gendered essence of masculinity or femininity is a belief. It’s a similar concept to the soul. There is no physical, material evidence anyone can point to of, say, a little nugget buried perhaps near the pineal gland which is the locus of a gendered essence.

That’s not to say the belief is wrong. Giordano Bruno believed there were thousands of peopled worlds. He was judged insane (and a heretic). Recently, the probabilities are turning toward his view, although we still have no proof. We have no factual proof of the existence of God, which just means we don’t _know_. A strong feeling that God does or does not exist is not proof. A strong feeling that a gendered essence exists is not proof. It’s meaningful to the believer; not necessarily to anyone else.

Pretending that a fact is somehow equivalent to a belief is nonsense. Facts remain, whether they’re believed or not. Facts will have consequences whether they’re believed or not. Facts must be accommodated so that their consequences aren’t damaging.

Beliefs, on the other hand, just have to be kept to oneself and one’s co-believers. Nobody is under an obligation to participate in someone’s beliefs. Pretending they’re facts to live by just ends in instant absurdity. Imagine a religion (I’m sure there are none like that) which considers nonbelievers subhuman, while the nonbelievers believe the same of the religionists. Since there are no verifiable facts involved, nothing exists to agree on even if they wanted to. The only way out of the absurdity is if one side can annihilate the other. Unless you want eternal war, beliefs can’t be forced on others.

Pretending they’re equivalent also implies facts are optional. We don’t have to live by someone else’s beliefs, so we also don’t have to live by any facts they point out. Except that facts go on having consequences no matter what we believe. Eventually, facts can be stubborn enough to kill people if we’re stupid enough to ignore them.

That’s the once and current disaster with the abortion issue. That’s the train we’re on with the trans issue.

Trans civil rights must be respected the same as everyone else’s. One of those rights is to believe what they like. That’s everyone’s right. The UK is making a start by pointing out that beliefs can’t be imposed on others.

The next step is to acknowledge the existence of facts. One of them is the existence of biological sexes.

Covid is not gone, not mild, and we’re helping it get worse

The myth of increasing mildness allowed economies to go back to “normal” without spending more money. No need to improve ventilation. No need to provide vaccines against transmission and infection, only against “serious disease.”

But … we had been warned. The early data pointed toward this:

[A friend’s] third bout of Covid was significantly worse than the previous time they caught it.

“I thought every time you catch an illness it’s supposed to be a bit better each time?”

The misleading codswallop around covid drives me straight into podium pounding. A BBC article has several examples.

This year even fewer people are being offered the vaccine [in the UK, but also everywhere else]. … Prof Openshaw says he is not a “doomster”, but thinks the result will be “a lot of people having a pretty nasty illness that is going to knock them out for several days or weeks.”

“I’m also hearing of people having nasty bouts of Covid, who are otherwise young and fit. It’s a surprisingly devious virus, sometimes making people quite ill and occasionally leading to having ‘long Covid’,” he says. …

The official government decision in the UK is to vaccinate those at risk of dying from Covid or needing hospital treatment. This relieves pressure on the National Health Service.

Prof Riley argues: “But that’s not to say people who are under 65 are not going to get Covid, and are not going to feel pretty rough. ..

“A lot of people have very little immunity to the Omicron viruses and their variants.”

If you are feeling rough with Covid – or rougher than you have done before – it could be this combination of waning antibodies and evolving viruses.

So where does this leave the thought that Covid is on a trajectory towards becoming a mild, innocuous infection?

There are four other human coronaviruses, related to Covid, that cause common cold symptoms. One of the reasons they are thought to be mild is we catch them in childhood and then throughout our lives.

Prof Openshaw is clear “we are not there yet” with Covid, but “with repeated infection we should build up natural immunity”.

In the meantime will some of us have to suck up a grotty winter?

“I fear so,” says Prof Riley.

Let’s take these in turn.

Regarding government decisions to vaccinate only those likely to end up in hospitals. This means nobody else needs the vaccine, right? Because nobody else gets sick, right? No. Wrong. We would have heard about the end of covid among all younger people. We haven’t. Quite the contrary. So governments have some other reason for limiting vaccinations. Money is one that comes to mind.

About those evolving viruses:

  • First, let’s consider the soothing assurance they’ll get more mild. Yes, that can happen, as with common colds. The reason it happens is because some people died, the ones in whom it was not mild. The reason it happens is because some people stayed too sick to produce children.
  • Evolution rewards producing more progeny. Nothing else. (If you’d like more information, this is all basic biology. A first year college biology textbook can get you started.)
  • The process of weeding out susceptible people takes centuries. If you’re one of them, the process is not going to feel “mild.” If one of them is your child or your partner, or your parents, the process is not going to feel mild.
  • So, sure, with repeated infection we’ll build up natural immunity. There’s a lot of death and disability and grief and poverty along the way, though. And we’re just at the earliest days of the process with covid.
  • There is one driver toward “mildness” on the viral side. The virus produces the most progeny if the host stays well enough to keep mingling with others, at least initially. Once it’s spread, it does not care what happens to you. You can be incapacitated or die. It doesn’t change the success of the virus. So, yes, there’s evolutionary pressure for initial mildness. There is none, on the viral side, for making sure you’ll be okay.

While I’m on the subject of evolution, let’s talk about what makes a virus become unimportant. One route is it kills the people who have problems so none of the remaining people notice any suffering. The second route is the virus evolves away from being able to infect people. (That does happen, but rarely.) A third option, only available recently due to science, is to vaccinate everyone so universally that transmission is impossible and the virus dies out in humans. (That was achieved with smallpox, and almost with polio until some antivaxxers felt that getting sick was better.)

The key point is how the virus evolves. In smallpox, for instance, production of new variants is very slow (for a virus). So it can’t quickly jump across species. That means the human variant is found only in humans and there is no animal reservoir that can reinfect people even if it’s stamped out.

In covid the rate of new variant production is very high. That means only very strict anti-transmission measures (lockdowns) would have helped, and (once it was available) vaccination of everybody very fast to stamp it out before variants appeared that could escape. We didn’t do that because it was too much trouble and who wants their tax dollars going to vaccinate some foreigners. Now we have omicron variants that are highly infectious. The kind where walking through a room two hours after an infected person is enough to catch it.

[2023-12-21 Edited to add: the newest ‘variant of concern’ JN.1, offshoot of BA 2.86 on the omicron branch, is the most infectious yet. This is not by accident. Viral variants that are better at spreading will spread more (um, duh), meaning they produce the most progeny, which equals evolutionary success. So the more viruses we allow to be out there, the more we’ll see increasingly infectious variants.]

Variants are random. The virus is throwing things at the wall, so to speak. Sometimes those changes are not good for the virus and it dies out, as I mentioned above. Sometimes the changes do little. And sometimes they make the virus worse for humans. The worst would be a variant that spreads while people don’t even feel sick (covid? check), have high infectivity (covid? check), and then a disabling or lethal progression in most people (covid? not yet).

The more viruses there are “throwing things at the wall,” the more likelihood one of those millions of throws will be a lethal variant.

That’s what we’re enabling by telling everyone to get sick and not worry about it.


Are there solutions? Of course. They cost money or tiny changes in behavior. Governments and too many people would rather pretend they’re immortal than make the effort.

  • Inhaled mucosal vaccines, aka nasal vaccines, that prevent transmission, not just death. There are some very promising candidates in animal trials and early stage clinical trials (e.g. more here). If governments cared about more than headlines, and supported mucosal vaccines the way they did the (brilliant!) injected mRNA vaccines, we’d have them already.
  • UVC lighting. Ultraviolet-C light is lethal to bacteria and viruses, but too weak to harm people. Those who know say you can even look straight at it without damage to your eyes, although I wouldn’t test that on myself. But there’s no need to stare at it. So long as the lights are directed toward walls or ceilings, or into a disinfecting unit, they can clean room air down to undetectable quantities of virus.
  • Ventilation improvements. Room air needs at least five changes per hour with fresh air, not recirculated, and to pass through HEPA or equivalent filters to remove viral particles. Corsi boxes are a do-it-yourself way to do this until building regulations catch up. UVC lighting can be incorporated into the system to disinfect the circulating air. These ventilation changes would drive down the incidence of all respiratory diseases to mere hundredths of what they are now, just like closed sewers drove down all the diseases dependent on the fecal-oral pathway.
  • Accurate, free testing (at point of use), universally applied, to avoid asymptomatic spread. Number of repeat tests needed for certainty depends on the frequency of false negatives in a given test.
  • Financial support to all who have positive tests so they can stay home and not spread disease.
  • Masking on buses and any other enclosed spaces where people gather on a transient basis. (Yes, masking, I know, how unbearably awful. You know what? You get used to it if you don’t drive yourself up a tree about it, and if the disease is at low enough levels that you only have to do it for short periods of time, like on a bus.)

So, the short version is: almost all the covid suffering is preventable. Stupid money-serving myths about mildness only create the suffering we’re desperate to pretend away.

Israel – Hamas

Updated in comments, Nov 4th. First published Oct 10.

The whole setup looks beyond dubious.

1. Hamas are a bunch of terrorists who will commit any atrocity to gain any advantage, no matter how small. Their definition of “advantage” comes from their own weird terrorist dictionary.

2. Iran’s Shia co-religionists are Hezbollah, but recently they’ve become closer allies with Hamas. Iran’s mortal enemies in the Middle East are the Saudis. Recently, agreements were being brokered between Israel and the Saudis. Guaranteed, two extremely well-armed enemies becoming allies was giving Iranians the vapours. Blinken says the US has seen no evidence yet that Iran pushed Hamas into starting this war. The idea being to make normal relations with Israel impossible for the Saudis. Iranian involvement is not generally accepted. But the effect of the attack and the timing is terribly convenient.

3. And then there’s Bibi. The guy who responds to pathetic pipe rockets by flattening whole city blocks. The guy whose strategy with the Palestinians seems to be to bomb them back into the Stone Age every few years so that they can never get far enough up on their feet to be a factor within Israel.

He was told by his military months ago that his extrajudicial power grabs were going to make an attack against Israel likely. The response from his inner circle was, to say it politely, We Don’t Care. (This was on the BBC? Haaretz? web site, “Fuck you” they supposedly said, and has since disappeared. Was it untrue? Maybe. It does fit with his past behavior of waiting for any provocation — which Hamas was only too glad to provide — to respond with overwhelming force.)

I may not think much of Netanyahu, but I doubt he’s the kind of psychopath who purposely set up death and kidnapping for Israelis so he’d have an excuse to finish off Hamas. But I can very easily see him thinking that if his power grabs do cause an attack, then that’s a feature, not a bug. Bring it on, I can see him thinking, and we’ll flatten you.


So here we are, waiting for Bibi to finish off thousands of people or to start WWIII and start the destruction of millions more.

No entries received from trans swimmers for new ‘open’ races

I know. I know. There’s too much going on, starting with the planet running a fever to shake off this weird infestation of primates who are out of control. (Admittedly, we are doing almost everything we can to help.) But I can’t stand to think about those things so I’m going for distractions like everybody else.

This one whacked me between the eyes. (Paywalled version here.)

headline in the London Times: No entries received from trans swimmers for new ‘open’ races
Global regulator World Aquatics’ pilot event in Berlin will not take place due to zero interest

So much for the plaintive cry of But-we-just-want-to-pla-a-a-a-y.

I guess it’s no fun unless you coast to victory among people in a different league. They could be worried about pushback if they tried to horn in on the children’s prizes.

I wonder if people will ever start listening to those of us getting the short end — we’ve been pointing this out for dogs’ years. There are plenty of ways to participate in sport without taking anything away from women.

I’m not saying anything about The Indictment except

Duh. There aren’t enough pixels in the world for a “Duh” that’s big enough. Meanwhile, with evidence right in the indictment that Trump was swanning around Bedminster, boasting about his loot, that place still hasn’t been searched.

Wake me up when he’s in jail.

Trans rights and anti-trans legislation in the USA

Since I’m always fuming about those trans “rights” which are just privileges being pushed by misogynists, I have to comment on the recent garbage.

Apparently, we’re doing this. Texas and Montana and Florida and who-knows-who-else-I-can’t-keep-up have been passing laws making it illegal to be trans, making it “legal” to take children away from parents for letting children switch gender, making it illegal for doctors to provide any cross-sex medical care to minors, and so on and so forth and so on.

(If you have a WashPost subscription, Philip Bump has a good article about the frequency of these laws in the various states. As for, as he says, it being “explicitly political, following an intentional effort to elevate transgender issues by right-wing activists,” yours truly pointed out that they’d be doing this years ago.)

These are human rights violations. Totally beyond the pale. A disgrace, a travesty, and a crime.

(Another parenthetical comment, which wouldn’t be necessary in a rational world. Feminists who advocate for women’s spaces are on the opposite side of trans issues from rightwingers. Feminists’ point is that you don’t need to cut biological bits to fit yourself into a socially determined cage. Feminists want to eliminate the cages. They advocate for women’s spaces to help women in our current misogynist world, not to limit them. Rightwingers, patriarchal caste system boosters, and general misogynists want to make the cages compulsory. The two are opposites. (Yes, I’m shouting.) Repubs are the opposite of feminists when they ballyhoo anti-trans legislation. Yes, both want to safeguard women’s spaces and stop minors from making decisions they could regret. For opposite reasons. The philosophy behind it becomes important when they can push their agenda through. Feminist implementation increases self-determination; misogynists just make stronger cages.)

There’s a right to control your own body, to control your own medical care, which is about as basic as it gets. Because children don’t have enough life experience to always know what they’re getting into, some caveats are essential for them which I’ll get to in a moment.

Nobody has the right to tell another human being what kind of sex to have or who to have it with or how to look while they’re having it, always providing all parties involved are pleased with the situation and are adults capable of understanding their choices.

In the case of children, nobody has the right to shut off their futures without knowing anything about them. The function of parents is to support and guide them into keeping their options open. Not closed.

So in the case of desperately unhappy children who want to be another sex, there has to be counseling. There has to be feminist counseling which can help them see how much of the desire is real and how much is the hope of escaping idiotic gender straitjackets imposed by sexists.

Kids being kids, I’d think it’s quite likely many of them would be happiest with being able to experiment. Wear whatever clothes they want, call themselves what they like, and see how things go. Medical treatments that close off their future sexual and reproductive lives seem like a really bad idea. But counselors see the one in a million exceptions, and there may well be some children for whom medical treatment is appropriate. That is a private decision for the child involved and those professionals helping them.

The point here is that it’s never a decision for politicians to make. They can require counseling for children before sex-changing medical treatment (and provide the funding for counseling). They cannot tell anyone which medical treatment to have or not to have.

And, unless the children have made it clear to social workers that they’re trying to escape, they certainly can’t take children away from their parents.

We’re invisible. Nobody is hurt

I thought I might be somebody!
They tell me I was wrong.
For no one was harmed in the race we ran;
I was no one all along.
Mary Leng

The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed. (William Gibson, whenever he said it.)

In most of the OECD, most disasters haven’t hit most people hard yet. Covid maybe came the closest. In some of the US some women are brought to death’s door because life is sacred. Not their life, obviously. There are wildfires. Floods. People die. But mostly the disasters just loom. They happen to other people. Even so, cartoons are the least of our worries, right? So I’m not sure why this one tipped me over the edge. But it did.


Barney & Clyde cartoon. Child asks teacher whether Shakespeare's plays had men in drag. Teacher confers with standby lawyer and then responds, 'On the advice of counsel'
Barney and Clyde cartoon referring to Republican bans on mentioning anything except Stepford wives in class.


Yes, it’s beyond the pale for the Republicans to censor books, to tell people what kind of sex to have or how to talk about it, to subject women to forced pregnancies, or to tell unhappy children they can’t get help for their conditions (yes, I do mean kids who feel trans and I do mean help).

But while we’re virtuously against racists and Nazis and homophobes and transphobes, there’s a giant elephant in the room. Totally unseen.

Does anyone honestly think that the reason men played women’s parts in drag in Shakespeare’s day is that theatres were being bravely transgressive? That the public was eager to stick it to The Man by gender-bending? That they were less hung up on sexist stereotypes than dumb Republicans?

Men played the women’s parts because women couldn’t. Women were men’s possessions, kept boxed in at home, not out in public. They certainly weren’t to prance around on a stage. They could expect violence and worse if they tried to run around loose.

They still can.

If you’re one of the people making that worse, you know what? It doesn’t matter what your reasons are. It doesn’t matter whether you think women are subhuman, like an incel. Or whether it’s because you’re so progressive you’re only concerned about trans people. Either way, women count for nothing to you. It’s the same old misogyny dressed in makeup and spangles.

How subhuman are you? Let me count the ways.

I can’t think of any other group where the law can simply say, “You? Why should we protect you? Who do you think you are?”

With any other group, people may think that, but you don’t say it. Not in national media of record.

From The Times. (Original ref here.)

Making misogyny a crime would waste our time, police say

Plans to criminalise misogyny to ensure women in Scotland “live free from abuse and denigration” risks overwhelming officers and cutting into the time they need to investigate other offences, police representatives have said. …

“If it is a priority then we will make it a priority but it may mean that, as a result, we can’t do some other things — for example deal with other kinds of reported crime — as quickly as we currently do.”

Nice little orderly society you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it because someone told us to waste time on frills.

And in the US, of course, women have been turned back into breeders without all those rights which really aren’t appropriate for creatures like that anyway. I mean, bodily autonomy? That would interfere with their function!

There’s a gradual awakening to how much hate speech can influence people. Except when it’s porn. I have it on good authority (Gail Dines) that heterosexual porn has moved so far from erotica at this point, it has nothing to do with it. It’s a solid mass of degradation and pain. For women. Because that’s a high and of no concern to anyone. Women don’t feel pain like human beings do, you know.

Meanwhile, millenials and Gen Z say in polls that women’s rights have gone too far. Women make funny wittering noises when people say that, but you never know what they want. It’s not easy to dial rights further back than losing bodily autonomy — that’s the definition of slavery — but no doubt they’ll think of something. Time to end all those extravagances we indulged in. We have real problems now.

Hollow Laughter

My God. The ink isn’t even dry on Sturgeon’s silly — and I do mean silly — trans Self ID bill. It hasn’t even gone into effect yet. The echoes of how bigoted it is to worry about predatory men taking advantage of Self ID haven’t even died away in Holyrood. Just about mid-sentence in blathering about how it’s just a bit of admin and won’t make any difference, the first thug is already trying to work the system.

Adam Graham / Isla Bryson, convicted of two rapes, suddenly discovers he’s trans and needs to be in a women’s jail.

And — this is the part that beggars belief — the authorities were all set to send him to one AFTER THEIR RISK ASSESSMENT.

After the risk assessment. After that.

If there’s a louder way to say women don’t count for shit (shit, after all, can’t be completely ignored), I don’t know what it is.

After two days of shock among the public, Sturgeon decides that maybe inflicting this by now well known rapist on women will be bad publicity. She apparently still plans on inflicting other stalkers and assaulters on women, just not this one.

Yvette Cooper, a UK Labour MP who’s been submerged in the trans tank forever, suddenly says it’s just common sense not to put sex criminals in women’s jails.

O rly? Hoodathunkit?

Now transfer out Karen White/Stephen T. Wood and all the other predators you’ve foisted on female prisoners before feminists forced enough media to notice this crime against humanity.

I have to admit I’m disappointed

In my secret heart I’ve always hoped that greater inclusion of women in running things — schools, businesses, corporations, governments, worlds — would mean it raised the tone of the place.

Which means I’ve always harbored a secret conviction that women are somehow, somewhere, better than men.

Well, Liz Truss has been as much proof as even I need that mediocre women can now rise to the heights, just like mediocre men. Maybe not in quite the same overwhelming numbers, but still, they’re starting to pop through.

And now we have Nicola Sturgeon distinguishing herself. She is not mediocre. But why does her role model have to be Machiavelli?

What’s she done? She’s spent way too long pushing through gender identity laws that basically allow easy self-ID. Women, who’ve had too much experience of male predation, object to being made even more vulnerable. Parents object to the lack of thought given to safeguarding minors. (The issue in both cases is not transness as such but opening the door to pervy males. I mean, Boy Scouts, anyone?) England objects to having different definitions of women depending which side of the Scottish border you’re on.

Polling says 59% of the Scottish population is against having males in women’s spaces or girls’ sports or all the rest of the usual examples. Thirty eight percent think it’s a good idea.

Yet in the face of such opposition, Sturgeon, with her politician’s sixth sense for following the crowd, has instead been ramming through this grossly unpopular bill. Because it’s so important to help trans people, she says.


It didn’t fit. She’s never had principles before. Why now? Why this?

She’s been pro-Scottish independence since way back, and that is a popular stand. Just shy of popular enough to win referendums, at least so far, but fairly close to 50%.

So it looks like she’s forced the trans issue to create a heads-I-win tails-you-lose situation. The UK government in London either has to let her ignore the UK-wide Equality Act, which guarantees women rights that self-ID steps on, or they have to say UK law supersedes Scottish law, which will inflame Scottish nationalism and fracture the UK even more.

Either way, she wins. She can either preen about being the wildly progressiive First Minister who gave trans people everything they want, or she can be an icon of Scottish Self-Rule leading the nation out of its chains.

Machiavelli couldn’t have set it up better. And he would have been just as happy to use a minority as mere gunpowder. If she’s a friend to trans people, they don’t need enemies.

Only women are asked to put trans rights first

That’s the title of an article in today’s London Times and, really, it says it all.

Only women are asked to put trans rights first.

You’d think that would be enough to red flag the issue for anyone. But no. Misogyny is a hell of a drug.

Women count for so little, any male’s passing malaise is worth any and all damage to women.

And there are millions of women who’ve swallowed that, hook, line, and sinker. The misogyny comes wrapped in a cookie labelled Cool Girl. Which is all it takes.


What it says about artificial intelligence when AI draws birds

I posted this as a thread on Mastodon (I’m trying to practice threads, like climbing a mountain, because it’s there). I kind of like it and want it somewhere where I can find it as well 😛

First, an example of what AI thinks might be a bird from Emily Oliver.

kind of bird-looking, white and fluffy with a beak. But no eyes, one ear or something, and five toes on the feet
A kind of bird-looking object, white and fluffy with a beak. But no eyes, one ear or something, and five toes on the feet

The non-maven non-geek tends to think of Artificial Intelligence like this:

  • get powerful computer
  • furnish with amazing software
  • Presto! AI.

In reality it works like this: 1) get powerful computer. Check. 2) get software. Check. Then the missing step — missing because most people are only dimly aware of it — train the AI on a dataset.

The dataset is selected by the geeks making the AI. (It doesn’t have to be, but that’s how it currently is.) If their dataset is current US physics grads, it’ll be +/- 3/4 white men. If they’re making an resume reading AI for employers, it’ll favor white men because that’s what its training told it is a common trait of physics experts.

It’s obvious if you think about it for a second, but an AI is only as good as its training. It’s almost human that way.

A visual example makes clear how very small differences, mistakes a human would never make, are enough to make nonsense of AI results. Something to remember when AI makes the first cuts on college and job and mortgage and parole applications. From Daniel Solis.

A kindly looking bird without a ribcage or even wings although it does have primary feathers


cheerfully aggressive wren sort of bird that looks streamlined like a dolphin without noticeable wings. Or feet.

These are from datasets of bird illustrations, after which the AI is told to draw a bird. It doesn’t always draw nonfunctional edge cases. But rather often. So, clearly, it is ESSENTIAL to have public access to the training dataset and methods. (See also Emily Bender.)

Commercial AI, the ones making those resume-reading decisions, all — without exception as far as I know — hide everything under “proprietary.” Think about that as you look at the “birds.”

A disgusted looking kind-of-dinosaur sitting next to a similar thing which is only the lower half of the so-called bird.

It’s The Teachers, Stupid

Headlines about how behind the kids are after lockdown and not going to school. How in-person school is essential.

I actually know something about this so I’m a-going to hold forth. Brace yourselves.

For me, it started in the late 1990s at the dawn of the widespread web. I’m a major hermit. People are okay but not very necessary, y’know? So I thought online teaching and learning would solve all our problems. I won’t bore you with the whole process. Here are the take home lessons after decades:

  • Fully online learning without a specialized online-adapted curriculum is only suitable for advanced students who already have considerable knowledge of their subject.
  • Online learning is significantly facilitated if the participants meet and get to know each other in person. Australians have spent decades teaching children by correspondence and now online. (It’s that far-flung outback with hundreds of miles between houses.) At some point(s) in the school term, the kids travel all the way to a boarding-type school for a week or so and have classes together. Without this, there is just not enough engagement.
  • Online learning at basic levels takes more, more, much more tailored curriculum and teacher time and specialized training in some of the teaching skills than in-person. It takes more time and costs more money to achieve the same level of learning. Not less.

It never works when some educrat expects the real world can magically go virtual. It especially doesn’t work when the educrats decide it’s a great time to save money on teachers and materials. After all, they’re just sitting at home on their butts doing nothing, amirite? None of the tools, time, or money were applied. What you get then is this:

detailed pencil drawing of the back half of a horse, showing just about every hair in the tail, becoming sketchy in the middle, and then the head end is just a four year-old's crooked rectangle for a head and two sticks for front legs

You can’t really say it’s the children who’ve fallen behind. They learned what they were taught, which wasn’t much. Especially when, also magically, parents without any teacher training were somehow expected to fill in for teachers. Early in the pandemic lockdowns there was some recognition of the gap. It seems to be gone now.

There’s one other giant massive awful fact that goes unmentioned and has nothing to do with online-ularity. A huge number of children lost parents and people dear to them because of covid. Even with the best in-person schools and the kindest teachers, grief and stress set children back. That’s not news. That’s a reason to approach pandemics more rationally and usefully.

My personal hopelessly cynical take on this all-in-person-all-the-time-damn-the-viruses-full-speed-ahead business?

People have already forgotten that teachers are a essential component. They cost money, after all. It makes it harder to cut costs if you recognize what they do.

No, the real motivation is to get the kids out of the house and off the parents’ hands to where somebody can babysit them for a while. The “think of the children learning!” is just a BS cover story. If they were really concerned about learning they’d be lobbying for small class sizes. Also for lighter teaching loads to enable individual attention to the students. Because if you let teachers do their jobs, children learn. It’s right there in the name of the profession.

Red alert: Republicans say sky is blue

And at once, like a platoon of triggered Daleks droning, “Exterminate. Exterminate. Exterminate” the Democratic side of the argument is puffing in outrage. Oppose. Oppose. Oppose. How very dare they. How wrong can you be. The sky is lime-green!

The thing about reality is it stays the same whether you believe in it or not. It stays the same no matter how you explain it.

If Republicans say the sky is blue because they spray painted it to make it lovely, it doesn’t matter. It stays blue.

If the Democrats insist it’s lime-green because they know the Republicans don’t even own a can of spray paint, it doesn’t matter. It stays blue.

Seriously, people. You can agree on plain, measurable, stubborn facts without tainting yourself as a believer in bullshit.

And yet, when it comes to the trans issue, the Dems can’t bear to acknowledge facts, any facts, because the Repubs have taken to using a few.

How stupid can everybody get? (Don’t answer that.)

Fact recap: Vertebrate mammals come in two sexes. (The arrangements in fungi and clownfish and snakes are irrelevant to that fact.) The female sex produces eggs and, if not a marsupial, grows the young in a womb. In vertebrate mammals, the homogametic sex is female, with two similar sex chromosomes, XX, in every cell in her body. Males are heterogametic, XY. Women have a 99%+ role in producing the next generation. All the downstream consequences are what humans make of the biological facts.

Those facts are directly related to women’s life trajectories. Women’s biological ability to produce babies could make them significant or make them a very valuable commodity, depending on how society organizes itself. Given the human tendency to get while the gettin’s good, we know how that choice was usually resolved.

Then, of course, once you’ve decided to keep women as brood mares, plus servants and comfort animals in their otherwise unoccupied time, you need a whole mythology justifying it and sexism is born. Once you’ve decided to exploit someone, they have to be inferior (else you’ll be the baddie for treating them badly), and misogyny is born right next to the sexism.

The Repubs have decided to take the path of maintaining the system at all costs. Pretend it’s based on reality by pointing out sexes exists and there are two of them. Use that to justify the whole invented superstructure confining everyone to one of two roles.

The Dems could have pointed out that, certainly, sexes exist. Biological facts require protections and accommodations for women. Larding on stories about it has nothing to do with reality.

But that, horrors, would have meant “agreeing” with the Repubs.

Actually, no. Recognizing common reality just marks you as sane. It’s not agreement.

It does mean that people hear you recognize a blatantly obvious fact, that two sexes exist, so it may be worth considering the rest of what you say.

But no. The Dems had to go all in on denying everything, right back to the existence of sex. Transwomen-are-women is part of the credo, including obvious counterfactuals such as male-bodied people can somehow compete “fairly” with women, even though they’re in a completely different weight class. The sky, they shout, is lime-green! And they’re hoping to make it stick by repetition, just like a creationist or a flat earther or a climate crisis denier.

That does not work. The facts stay the same. The earth stays spherical. Evolution keeps working. The climate crisis gets worse. Babies get made by women.

All you accomplish is to label yourself an ideological nutcase willing to sacrifice half the human race to weird beliefs. Which is a label rightfully belonging to Republicans. But you just handed them your strong suit on a plate and let them pretend they’re the ones who are reality-based.

The solution to global warming

Well, not really of course, but nonetheless. If there was any way to do this, it could work.

I read recently about a creative researcher, Dr. Corina Amor, who may have insight into curing old age1, allowing all of us to live to 130 or so.

Let’s say it worked and we could get this out to everyone on the planet. Suddenly all the geezers at the top of the game would be looking sixty, seventy, eighty years into the future.

It’s not just their grandchildren who’d have to deal with Florida being underwater and the entire Midwest USA being a dried up flatland of blowing dust. And India and China and Europe and Africa all dealing with similar and equivalent and worse catastrophes. It would become their personal future all of a sudden.

And they’re the ones with the power to actually try to steer us away from disaster.

I bet a lot of them would suddenly see the value of doing that, even at the cost of 1.2% less profit on the quarterly shareholder report.

Wouldn’t that be nice.


1. Personally, I’d wait before buying shares. The problem with curing old age is that it looks like old age may be our answer to cancer. By far the largest risk factor for cancer is old age. All that incorrect DNA accumulates over time and leads to cancer.

By slowing down the rate of cell renewal, (so, letting cells get older and older without replacement which is what old age is), cancers also grow much more slowly. In old age, some grow so slowly that they have no effect before the person dies of other causes. This allows old people to live longer, and that’s important for our success as a species. That’s why humans benefited from slowing down cancer in old age.

Humans’ superpower is knowledge of how to deal with everything in one’s life. Before the invention of writing, that knowledge could only be as extensive as the information accumulated by the old and passed on to the young. The old then were what libraries and the internet are now. Having old people around who knew what to do was a huge boost to the survival of the group.

Point being: if we cure old age, we may well just have a galloping cancer epidemic that _shortens_ life spans. Unless we can also figure out how to cure cancer.