Notes on Free Speech — Only for some?

I have been conflicted over the idea that, in the name of free dialogue and advancing discussion of topics of social and political import, that some university campuses have banned certain speakers from talking at their campus. Of course, this has been going on for decades.

Most people (such as I) react incredulously to such totalitarian measures, and dismiss this as academics having their heads in the clouds to the point that they have become out of touch with the meaning of their own rhetoric (is it possible to advocate free speech while banning people from speaking?). But so too, I have had the experience of people (on a personal level) whose dialog is toxic to frank discussion.

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From: XKCD Comics (https://xkcd.com/261/). Under the Creative Commons license v 2.5 (Attribution-Non-commercial-Generic). These comics may be copied and shared but not sold.

There is the kind of rhetoric that is intended to shut down open discussion of issues. It ranges from hate speech to science discussions to discussions about sex. We have banned free speech over several internet media, the most famous kind of banning has to do with “Godwin’s Law”, which unfortunately specifically targets references or comparisons with Adolf Hitler. I think the spirit of the intent of forum moderators invoking it was (or should be) to ban speech which is designed to intimidate others from expressing themselves, that is, creating a toxic environment designed to shut down opposition rather than enable them to fully express themselves and be heard. Views are not shared, because sharing views is no longer safe.

 

OOC Recipients 010: You would want your kids to look up to them

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Marc Garneau

Marc Garneau — Kids all want to be astronauts. Or firefighters. Or race car drivers. Most kids stand a better chance at being one of the latter two. Engineer Marc Garneau got the first one: he went on three NASA Space Shuttle flights. And in going full circle with this, he is now, after a stint as chancellor at the University of Ottawa, the Liberal Minister of Transport, and MP of NDG-Westmount, on the Montreal island. He received the Order of Canada membership in 1984, just after his first flight.

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Louise Arbour

Louise Arbour — Another Montraler who served as the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations at The Hague. In 1999, she was later appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada by then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien. She has a long list of honorary degrees and awards from all over Canada.

The disappearance of misc.activism.progressive and the emergence of Thought Crime Radio

Almost four years ago, the articles in the USENET newsgroup misc.activism.progressive ground to a halt, and moderator Rich Winkel has all but disappeared from the USENET, whom I learn resided in Harrisburg (up until 2010, at least), a half hour or so drive from his former employer, the University of Missouri. He is now a computer systems analyst, and in his spare time, is a writer for the Thought Crime Radio blog.

misc.activism.progressive (MAP) was a moderated newsgroup which accepted submissions from authors of left-leaning articles. Opinions ranged from the mainstream NY Transfer News Collective (who often sent articles from, or based on news from Reuters, Wall Street Journal, the UK Independent and other feeds from the popular press) to the conspiracy theorists at InfoWars.

Some time between 2007 and 2008, one of the biggest contributors to MAP, NY Transfer News Collective, stopped posting articles, and its parent company, Blythe Systems seems to have folded, leaving no Internet trace of itself. The daily output of MAP was cut in half as a result.

Postings gradually died out until March 2011 when they died out completely. As far as I had been able to search out, there appeared to be no warning of this in previous years. Mind you, one would have to search through tens of thousands of posts going back to 2007 just before things started to peter out. By about 2010, name searches for “Rich Winkel” began to come up empty, but his email address was still around.

This newsgroup was always a great source of thought and news regarding labour, politics, and “alternative voices” (as long as you stay away from Infowars). It was always weak on health and science coverage. Medicare was well-covered (because that was more about government, and they were always better at that), but articles along the lines of “chemical xyz can kill you” were usually flaky and withered once you did your own research.

Measles epidemiology and junk science

To take a very recent example, Rich Winkel attached his name to this article, written a few days ago, which claims zero deaths from measles since 2003, but 108 deaths due to vaccines during the same period. The first quote he offers for the zero figure was by CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat, filtered though Associated Press, filtered through Fox News, filtered though the blog Vaccine Impact. The VAERS database he refers to says in its disclaimer that any statistics mentioned should not be taken as cause-and-effect. Anyone with high school math can tell you that correlation does not imply causation. VAERS says that they take in all reported data such as mortality after the injection of a vaccine whether or not the death was associated with a vaccine. The deaths, in other words were recorded in the database even if there were pre-existing conditions, accidents, or whatnot.

But of course, zero is a powerful number. I mean, zero. Zero! How can you argue with zero? Well, in fact you can. Going back to the CDC’s epidemiological data, there are deaths on any year between 2003 and now caused by Measles in the United States. It’s just that the number of measles outbreaks themselves is so low in the United States that it would not surprise me that the numbers would be extremely low (during 2003-2012 between 1 and 4). If I were the CDC chairman, I would round those number to zero, too.

And that would be one death for every dozen or so cases – some years, that a dozen cases would be all of the measles cases in a country of nearly 300 million inhabitants. On the other hand, the 108 figure is quoted without saying how many Americans were vaccinated during the past 12 years. Once I do the research from the source (rather than from quotes of quotes), I seem to get a picture of a successful immunization program, and the 108 deaths (out of the hundreds of millions of vaccinated Americans) could have been due to anything. One death out of a dozen for measles is a larger number than 100 deaths out of 300 million for vaccinations, by several orders of magnitude.

Death is one of the end products of measles, by the way. The CDC reports that, worldwide, 168,000 people died as a result of measles in 2008 alone. That number is pretty sobering.  This is a significant decrease from over 700,000 deaths in 2000. The CDC says that all of these numbers are low, since measles tends to be under-reported. But the 78% decrease, no doubt happened due to a successful immunization program. The CDC says the worldwide numbers cannot go down to zero, since there are counrties such as India, which are slow to apply the recommendations of the WHO, or cannot afford to.

The Florida cases reported by the CDC back in September, 2014 consisted of four child siblings, all between the ages of 7 and 13, none of whom were vaccinated. Measles is transmitted through the air by affected people coughing or sneezing. Did it spread? No, it didn’t. Why? The children in the school they attended, as well as the staff, were immunized, according to the same article. The children attended an amusement park where it was likely someone with measles was there from another country (this is usually the main disease vector in the United States for catching measles in any given year).

The family of those children claimed a religious exemption from vaccinations, and for some time the children recieved a free ride from needing to be immunized thanks to being around their immunized classmates (this is called herd immunity), but that was no protection once they came close to anyone with the actual disease.

Questioning whether the vaccine “works” is a distracting issue (actually, a non-issue since whether the measles vaccine works is beyond debate by any informed person including the CDC and the WHO), and a confusing, obfuscatory barrage of decontextualized factoids from this-and-that source does not advance any useful discussion.

The Philosophical issue of vaccinations

The issue here isn’t about a non-working vaccine or about big bad pharma making money off immunizations (which they are, but in at least this one case, it is well-earned IMO), but Rich Winkel misses a greater philosophical question that can indeed cause much genuine and badly-needed debate:

The parents of these children deny their children the vaccination, making a claim to associated with their freedom of religion. Should the need to protect the population from disease override the indiviual’s freedom of religion for the good of the general population?

I would weigh in that surely, not immunizing your children places them in harm’s way, and you ought to be seen as a negligent parent if you chose this path, regardless of your beliefs; but at the same time, you are exposing others to disease by their lack of protection. The viruses don’t care about your rights, that’s for sure.

But hey, that’s just me. This is more of a topic which would play to Rich Winkel’s strengths, and it truly is a debate suppressed by the major media organs of our culture. I would leave the non-debate as to whether the Vaccine “works” to Fox News.

Schooling and Unschooling

It is not clear as to whether Dayna Leigh Martin has the lock on the market of ideas comprising the “Unschooling” movement, however, her meandering explanations, when put together, make it unclear to an onlooker such as myself as to whether this is viable, and if it is, whether it is something every family can do.

Well, Ms Martin is not even close to being the only one advocating unschooling. In fact, there are many in her company that have their own radical ideas.

I like radical ideas. I agree with her sentiments. Personally, I sucked at math until I was out of school and taught it to myself. That included calculus, also. I am also largely self-taught in computer languages, have built my own computers, and also have enough knowledge of my car and my moped to do minor to mid-size repairs. I am living proof that learning is just what humans naturally do, and it might appear that school is unnecessary.

But of course to say so, I misrepresent the facts. If we only look at my numeracy, technical, and trades knowledge, I clearly benefitted from unstructured, independent self-teaching. But without school I still would not have had the facility I have for literature, for Shakespeare, would never have bothered with Chaucer (but was glad someone had exposed me to it), for the importance of keeping up with current events, and for rounding out my literacy generally. Without my teachers in early school, I probably would not have had the confidence I had in adulthood to fill in my own gaps in math.

Self teaching is not for everyone. For one thing, as I understand it, only a teacher can grant credit, leading to graduation and a grade-12 equivalency to proceed to college. But even so, not everyone would have had my patience or persistence in teaching myself the basics of the math I failed to learn in the earlier grades.

Martin has confidence that if learning feels good to a child then that is the learning that should be facilitated. However, a child cannot see the future further than their own nose, and sometimes, if they want to become an oceanographer, for example, then that requries study in a surprising number of fields, many of which may seem unrelated to their topic as a child. Sometimes the learning experience may be unpleasant, since it may require the learning of things the child perceives as boring. There are many kinds of learning which may seem unpleasant at the time, but the rewards were delayed until later. I found this for teaching myself computer languages. You could try compiling a program literally hundreds of times before it would work, but once it did, it was a great feeling. There is a lot of learning that in this way, involves tolerating a great deal of frustration and not giving up. I am unsure if a child would see that on their own.

Children also change their minds, as well. Today’s budding oceanographer becomes tomorrow’s budding astronaut. Is a parent really going to follow the whims of the child around that much, or will there come a time when today’s lesson will be on “focus” and “persistence” (a lesson that the child may not want to hear)? A child in a public system can accomodate the changing of a child’s mind more easily than a parent.

Another problem I have is that for the most can you buy female viagra over the counter part “Unschooling” takes as its basis an assumption (not enitrely untrue) that schools act as enforcers of social norms and of a pecking order in society. Seen from this perspective, schools teach obedience, and there is an overwhelming consciousness that this is the way schools always were.

This is far, far from the case. Schools have been around in its present form for less than 200 years. Unschooling, as I see it, is a return to the days before organised schooling, when parents passed their knowledge and literacy, and skills on to their children. This was a necessity on the farm, as well as at the Blacksmith shop in town.

The family, thus, had an exceedingly important role that nowadays is being invaded by psychologists, psychiatrists, educators, counsellors, test-taking agencies, and even marketers, who have jointly acted to remove that power from the family. This saddens me, and in the past decade, the Internet, cell phones, and other electronic gizmos has further invaded their consciousness, even minimizing further the sphere of influence of parents. It is becoming apparent that nowadays, parents feel they have so little to pass on to their children that they become as disposable as cogs in an assembly line which must make way for next year’s model of car.

Also, children learn better in an environment where they are not judged. In a school they are passed, failed, diagnosed with ADD and the like; they compete for attention with 24 other children, and the teacher is somehow expected to reach all of them. But I don’t think that will even happen in the best classrooms of that size. In a family setting, they are more likely to be understood on their own terms and judged less often. Making mistakes becomes less of a public embarrassment and more a part of the learning process.

But not every parent believes that “not controlling” their children is the way to raise them. I can see many parents having a problem with that mentality. Obviously, you have to know what you are doing, and what is it exactly do you mean by “control”, anyway? Children have a kind of wisdom that is unburdened by later biases and indoctrinations; but at the same time, they do not have the gift of foresight and wisdom that allows parents to pass on worldly knowledge to the young which they could have not learned any other way. Far from merely facilitating learning, adults have something meaningful and worthwhile to pass on to children. Discipline is also something to pass on. It gives you the gift of pursuing bigger and better learning goals. The kind of goals you can’t achieve by digging things out of the dirt or by reading a book with pictures in it.

A child who is unschooled can only be as competent as his or her parents. The parents involved cannot be expected to be competent at all subjects. I don’t think I would be competent in all subjects either.

Judging by the blogs I’ve read on the subject, many which have not been updated for some years, for most parents the passion tends to burn out soon enough, and it becomes a fad. Dayna still practices un-schooling, and preaching the gospel to anyone who will listen. However, for whatever reason, one of her websites, http://unschoolamerica.com, has been taken down and its domain parked.

Version 2 of the TI Nspire operating system

My main complaint about the Nspire and Nspire CAS, the need to have some kind of input statement in its programmnig language, looks like it is closer to reality. I just have to fiddle with it some more to see if it can really place data in tables (or now, spreadsheets), and see if I can really do I/O in a running program as was the case for the TI-84 family. To be clear, I am not using the new “touchpad” version of the CAS, I am using the slightly older version, which had the original keyboard.

When I did a test statement

Request "---> ", j
and ran it, the calculator came back with a screen using “–>” as a prompt, and a blank for me to input something. I entered “36”, then the input window disappeared, then the string

--> 36
was output. The input window seems cumbersome.  That could be because I like command line input, and think it has less memory overhead on a device where every byte of RAM is precious.

At any rate, the value is stored in j, and this was proven by doing the multiplication

4j
and I got 144. This was on a calculator whose memory was cleared due to the OS upgrade. The cursor is much more sensitive, and there is a noticeable speed impovement over prior OS versions.

I tried to make a simple program, and got nowhere with the Request statement, when I placed it inside a FOR/END FOR loop in a named program.

Crappy Album Covers #160 – Elvez Prezley

Album_Cover_Crap_212_-_kristianhoffman_com This would be the soundtrack to Elvis’s first comedy, GI Blues, released in 1960 by Paramount Pictures, where he acts as Tulsa alongside some token girl named Juliet Prowse, who plays Lili.
Album_Cover_Crap_211_-_kristianhoffman_com This is not Elvez, but “El Vez” (The Time), played by Hispanic smart aleck Robert Lopez. He is not strictly an Elvis impersonator, and has been known to do covers of other artists.

Lopez was born when the original album was created, and this parody was released almost 40 years later, in 1996.

The TI-NSpire: On the bright side

I have said much that I think needed to be said about the down sides of the NSpire CAS calculator. This was because I had heard enough promotional peddling from other people about this calculator that I thought the air needed to be cleared and people be brought down to earth about the calculator. I had gotten enough hits on this topic that I thought others must be concerned as I am too.

This time, though, I would like to say a few things about this calculator that make the CAS indispensible. For Grade 12 math, I find that, because the CAS hands you the answers, it is easy to make questions for the students using it. Also, when it comes time to correct, I can enter a calculation a student gives me which I hand’t thought  of, and quickly check if 1) expressions are equivalent to my answer key; 2) their calculations lead to the same answer as mine when it becomes unclear, and the student hasn’t explained their logic. Marks come off whenever students make me go to this trouble, but it is good for assigning partial marks, and saves me lots of time.

I was also able to write answer keys very quickly for things that would take some time in calculating and be more error-prone, such as cross-products and simultaneous equations in three unknowns. The latter could be found using the rref() (that is, “reduced row-echelon form”)  function and converting the equation system into a matrix.

Even as I have computer-based software such as Maple that already has a CAS, the NSpire CAS is much more portable, enabling me to do quick solving or graphs anywhere so there is less of a need to have to lug my laptop around all the time.

Binary adding machine using marbles

My marble adding machine in action. More at http://woodgears.ca/marbleadd

What impressed me is not just the fact that it looks like it could be used as 1) a great woodworking project, and 2) a great computer science tool in grade 10.

There is another video that explains the mechanics behind this adding machine a little better:

The origin of the phrase "silent majority"

This phrase was made popular by Richard Nixon around 1968 when he attempted to discredit Vietnam war protestors as a group of vocal fringe elements, while he was secretly escalating the war into Cambodia. “The silent majority”, it was supposed by Nixon, still supported the US involvement in Vietnam.

It must be admitted, that 40 years later, the phrase still resonates with us. But as clever and smart as Nixon was, he did not come up with it himself; the phrase actually had its origins in classical literature. It was used to describe dead people. So, surely that must mean that in Nixon’s democracy, we should always respect the opionions of the dead, since there will always be more of them than of us. This need to respect their opinions is made more urgent by the fact that dead people cannot speak for themselves, and thus have no voice of their own in our political discourse. In addition, most of them are hard-working dead people who have never committed crimes.

In recent elections, however, dead people have in fact lent their weight to various political parties by voting in several recent elections in several states in the US. Dead people have also run for political office, and one of them won an election in a race against John Ashcroft. In America, dead people are full participants in the democratic process, benefitting both Democrats and Republicans.

Surely, Nixon’s phrase has resonance, not in the apologetic, hawkish, warmongering sense, but in the originally intended sense, backed by over 1000 years of classical European literature.  I think Nixon really was referring to dead people, and he may have even been invoking the spirit world.

What is the true origin of that phrase? I was itching to find out.

At first, I thought “silent majority” must have originated from Dante’s Inferno, where would likely have used it to describe the dead. It turned out to be too juicy a fact to be true. He doesn’t use the phrase.

Phrases close to this have been pointed out a few years ago by the late classical scholar James B. Butrica, who quoted several writers, including the ancient Roman writer Petronius (AD 27-66): “Abiit ad plures” or, “S/He’s gone to the majority”, a fancy way of saying “S/He’s dead”. Butrica says that the same phrase was also used some 200 years earlier by Roman writer Plautus (circa 254–184 BCE).

At any rate, all I have to say is: one man, one death. It wouldn’t be terribly democratic if one man had two deaths. And also, I believe quite strongly that if you vote when you are alive, then if you die right after you leave the polling station, then you shouldn’t be allowed to come back and vote again as a dead person before the polls close.

In closing, I must say that the constant invocation of “the silent majority” over the years whenever most discourse opposes what a politician does, is a fallacy. We only have one way to read “silent majority” (I’m talking about the living this time), which is to say that if you don’t speak up, it is because it (whatever “it” is) doesn’t arouse your passions, and thus you don’t care. If the majority of voters decide not to vote, for example (as is too sadly the case most of the time), then their silence is not seen as a vote for anyone, and their non-votes are never counted. A politician cannot “listen” to the silent majority, because there is nothing for them to hear.

Foggy essays

I have a “foggy” essay generator that just did the following, for an essay on folklore:

Of course, the characterization of critically co-optive criteria adds explicit performance contours to the profound meaning of "The Raw and the Cooked". Conversely, a constant flow of field-collected input ordinates must utilize and be functionally interwoven with Krapp's Last Tape. Similarly, a primary interrelationship of system and/or subsystem logistics is holistically compounded, in the context of improved subcultural compatibility-testing.

If I handed a whole essay like this in to a prof, I don’t know what I’d get, but it’s likely he’d see through it and just think it was junk, which it is. anti fungus. It has a database of random sentences and catch phrases, and it just weaves them together into a mind-numbing treatise of meaningless drivel. I think George Orwell would have had something to say about it.