Now My Phone Can Say “Fuck”!

Expletive DeletedThis is literally the best fucking news I’ve heard all day. As you know, I recently got my very first smart phone. And it has been nice. There are a number of things I can do on the phone that I just couldn’t before. And now I can browse the web with a reasonable amount of ease. But by far, the biggest change has been that I can use the Android Voice-to-Text feature, which allows me to speak my text messages. It’s very nice.

There was just one problem. You all know what a foul mouthed motherfucker I am. And the Voice-to-Text features censors my language. It isn’t bad if it is a simple “fuck,” because every can figure out what “f***” means. But what about “m***********”? Any ideas? If you do have an idea, it’s because I used the word earlier in his paragraph: motherfucker. But okay, I suppose that I could deal with that kind of thing. But recently, I said to my phone, “I know you don’t like to be sexualized.” It was in reference to a tweet a friend of mine had received that I figured she would not appreciate. And the phone spit back, “I know you don’t like to be s*********.” Since when is “sexualized” a naughty word?

This led me to the extreme measure of picking up a copy of Android Phones for Dummies. In general, I have found the Dummies series to be rather good and at a decent amount of depth. I was pleased the book did deal with the issue, “Uttering f*** words.” But other than saying that the phone does it, there was nothing. Well, there was this:

Your phone knows a lot of blue terms, including the infamous “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” but apparently the terms crap and damn are fine. Don’t ask me how much time I spent researching this topic. [Emphasis very much mine! -FM]

Well, I wasn’t fucking interested in which words I couldn’t say. I was interesting in stopping the fucking phone from saying things that I clearly wanted to say. After all, I could use “mom” curse words or say “stupid” instead of “fucking.” If I say “fucking” it is because I fucking what the fucking phone to fucking text it that fucking way! Also Dan Gookin didn’t explain to me that it wasn’t just naughty words that were off limits but the entire discussion of sex, apparently. This is a book that was published in 2012. So it’s pretty recent. Remember that.

So I threw the book aside and I turned to Google. I searched for, “stop voice input censoring android.” And the first thing that came up was an article from LifeHacker, Stop Android’s Voice-to-Text from Blocking Swear Words. That article was published in 2011, so clearly it was around for Mr Gookin to find, but I suspect that Mr Gookin is just fine with censoring. Computer books are usually written by people whose ethical complexity started and ended with learning not to cheat at four-square.

The procedure is laid out in the article, but it is trivial. Go to your base phone setup. Go to “Voice input and output.” Then go to “Voice regognition settings.” And there you will find “Block offensive words.” Touch it to turn the fucking thing off. And never go back!

Afterword

The book Android Phones for Dummies seems pretty good overall. I don’t want to put down the book generally. But it amazes me that the author would take all that time to learn about the feature but not learn how to shut it off.

Wilhelm Wien and Blackbodies

Wilhelm WienIt seems the worse my mood gets, the worse the birthdays I have to choose from get. I’ve heard it said that depression is anger targeted inward. I don’t think that’s true. But I do find I have a curious combination of depression and anger. I think you can see that anger in everything I’ve written today. I don’t expect this article to be especially angry. Just short.

On this day in 1832, Horatio Alger was born. He was a very popular writer in the 19th century. He wrote what is charitably called “crap.” Typical kind of story: poor boy goes to rich man’s house in search of employment; rich man has a dog that immediately takes to the poor boy; rich man hires him because of the dog, and it is up, up, and away for the poor boy’s prospects, who probably ends up marrying the rich man’s daughter. It’s exactly the kind of stories that the people wanted to believe during the Gilded Age and exactly the kind of stories the rich wanted the poor to be reading. Today, “Horatio Alger” is a synonym for any kind of unbelievable rags to riches story. In general, we don’t see such stories in their pure form because we are a much more cynical people. (For good reason!) There have been times when there were jobs for the asking. There were times when what most of the Republican Party now believes was true: if you aren’t working, you aren’t trying hard enough. Sorry folks, that’s now no more true than the statement, “Horatio Alger was a great writer!”

Comedian Bill Bailey is 50 today. I know him from Black Books. But he’s a very good stand-up comedian. This bit is pretty funny:

Other birthdays: Dutch landscape painter Jan van Goyen (1598); Italian poet Metastasio (1698); composer Vasily Kalinnikov (1866); biologist Ross Granville Harrison (1870); inventor of my least favorite game Risk, Albert Lamorisse (1922); actor and dancer Gwen Verdon (1925); comedian Charles Nelson Reilly (1931); writer Edmund White (74); actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus (53); actor Penelope Ann Miller (50); and I’m sure a fine actor but he annoys me, Orlando Bloom (37).

The day, however, belongs to the great physicist Wilhelm Wien who was born on this day in 1864. He is a very important figure in our understanding of blackbody radiation. The idea of this is that you can tell what temperature the surface of an object is by the color that it radiates. The sun is yellow and so that means it is roughly 6,000 K. But don’t get confused here: a yellow piece of paper is not 6,000 K; it is yellow because that is the light it reflects not the light it radiates. The piece of paper is at room temperature, which means it radiates light in the IR spectrum which we humans can’t see. Wien deduced “Wien’s displacement law, which calculates the emission of a blackbody at any temperature from the emission at any one reference temperature.” This, of course, is why it is always difficult to write about scientists. You see, the sun doesn’t just radiate yellow light. After all, where would the blues and the reds come from? What I was talking about was the maximum. The sun radiates its maximum energy at yellow, but there is still a whole lot of blues and reds to have those wonderful sunsets. So Wien was dealing with these distributions. Anyway, blackbody radiation theory is fascinating stuff.

Happy birthday Wilhelm Wien!

The Cradle Might Fall

Cradle Will RockThis article contains some of my reflections on the movie Cradle Will Rock. I’ve avoided it for 14 years for a very unfair reason. The last years of his life in America, Orson Welles went everywhere trying to get funding to make a movie about this same exact subject. But of course, who could trust Welles? He might make a masterpiece. It might even be popular. And wouldn’t that embarrass the entire Hollywood establishment going back at least two generations? And given the subject matter: leftist politics and specifically an indictment against the kinds of “artists” Hollywood holds in such high esteem? No no no! I’m sure Hollywood would have hired him to direct an episode of Columbo, but that’s about it. So that’s why I avoided the movie even though I think Tim Robbins is a perfectly capable director.

I watched the movie in two settings. The first act is weak. The only thing that really worked was the stylish way that it showed Marc Blitzstein writing the play The Cradle Will Rock. (Note “The” to distinguish it from the film itself.) There is nothing particularly brilliant about it; you’ve seen it in dozens of movies, but it works. And he gets constant advice from his dead wife and Bertolt Brecht, who of course, wrote all of the words of The Threepenny Opera. There is a funny bit that is repeated about adding more prostitutes. Blitzstein has only one. With one she’s just a signifier. There are lots of prostitutes; and it’s only a job title for a tiny fraction of them.

There are basically two plot lines. There is the production of The Cradle Will Rock. And then, there is the story of the efforts to get the Federal Theatre Project (FTP) shut down. In reality, there were any number of people who were complaining, but the film focuses on Hazel Huffman (Joan Cusack), who spoke to the committee for three days about communist infiltration in the FTP that she had seen in her position as a mail clerk for the program. The film has some excellent moments of testimony, that demonstrate that nothing has changed. Hearings are still the same kangaroo courts they’ve always been.

After the first act, the film really picks up and becomes a joy to watch. While the government is trying to stop The Cradle Will Rock from being performed, Nelson Rockefeller is having big problems with the mural that he had Diego Rivera paint. One of the many problems he has is that Rivera has painted a cocktail party of the power elites with a giant syphilis cell hovering over it. So as the theater group gets to produce its unusual version of The Cradle Will Rock, we see Rivera’s mural being destroyed. But when the job is done, all that we can still recognize is that syphilis cell. A little heavy-handed? Perhaps, but I loved it. In fact, the film should have ended there. But it didn’t.

There was a mock funeral for the FTP. And at the end, the camera tilts up, and it is no longer 1937. It is Times Square today where everything is a commodity. Really?! That’s how you want to end it? It would have been no less subtle for Tim Robbins to come on the screen and say, “I’m talking about today, folks!” Except, that isn’t really where we are. In 1937, workers’ rights were on the rise. There would be decades of prosperity until the power elite started to take back their power, first slowly in the 1947 and then very quickly from the mid-1970s onward. The problem in 1937, was that we allowed that syphilis cell of the power elite to live, and slowly destroy our nation.

The best scene in the film has to do with a minor subplot. It is where Tommy Crickshaw (Bill Murray) walks past his two ventriloquist pupils who he hates. One of them asks if he will look at their new act. It’s implied that it will be a scathing attack against him for testifying against the FTP. Crickshaw says, “You’re reds. I don’t talk to reds.” One of the pair, Sid (Jack Black), gets a quizzical look on his face and says, “We’re not red, darling. Pink. Like a flower. We’re homosexuals? Not communists! You thought we were communists?!” They both laugh and the other says, “Oh, that’s rich!” It was established at the beginning of the film that the Communist Party would not accept homosexuals. It’s an interesting juxtaposition and kind of explains humanity very simply: people don’t like others who aren’t like them. So in this particular case, the people complaining about the FTP have lots of different reasons for being against it—racism, sexual hangups, politics—but it’s all the same: fear of the Other. Interestingly, one Other that the power elite do not fear are the fascists.

The end of the film feels triumphant. But it really isn’t. We the people are allowed temporary victories. But in the end, the power elite always wins. And it isn’t just the fact that they cause people to starve in the land of plenty—or to suffer in the land of luxury. It is that they restrict our cultural values. They defile our art. They are the people who oppressed Michelangelo 500 years ago, but now admire him as the great artist he was. These are the people who, if they had had the power would have destroyed everything he did, so the power elite of today couldn’t think of themselves as oh so deep for their appreciation now.

If we allow them, in 500 years, the only art that will remain of the turn of the 21st century will be Everybody Loves Raymond.

Afterword

After Hazel Huffman testifies before congress and gets the FTP cut by 20%, all of her co-workers are angry at her. They won’t even speak to her. She’s sure it is because they are communists or sympathizers. But that’s not it at all. As I am fond of pointing out: 95% of the people just want to live their lives. They want to go to their kids’ school plays and have barbecues and maybe watch some television. Huffman made a big theoretical stand against communists and miscegenation. But nothing she did made the country better or safer. All it did was cause 3,000 people to lose their jobs. I forgive her. She was only 26 years old. As we get older, we become more practical. That’s why I’m a Democrat. It’s the practical party. It’s the party that does things because they work, or at least might work. The Republican Party—ironically made up of mostly older voters—is the party of theory. They are the ones who think that since it is theoretically possible that unemployment benefits will lull workers into complicity, we ought to let their children starve. When you’re 26, what do you know? But the Republican Party isn’t made up of a bunch of 26-year-olds. So what is their excuse?

Danica McKellar Teaches Female Stereotypes

Girls Get Curves

Back in the 3 January birthday post, Ever Since Marion Davies, I wrote, “The great film director Sergio Leone was born in 1929. Interestingly, he isn’t even listed on the front page birthdays of IMDB. Who is? Danica McKellar who I’ve never heard of…” This does not mean much. It is common that I won’t know a single one of the film celebrities who IMDB lists. This caused longtime reader and insightful commenter Rick Fane to write:

FYI – Danica McKellar played Winnie Cooper, the girl next door on The Wonder Years. She took some time off from her acting career to study Mathematics at UCLA where she graduated summa cum laude.

She has written several books which encourage girls to resist hiding their intelligence and to sing the praises of math and science.

I have never seen The Wonder Years, which is not exactly shocking. But I had heard of this series of books—most likely on NPR: math books for girls by Hollywood actress… You know the drill. Although I’m not keen on actors writing books, I liked the idea. I truly think that the reason people in general don’t like or “get” math is because math teachers are, with few exceptions, dreadful.

So I went to the library and picked up Girls Get Curves, a book on high school geometry. I provided a really big picture of the cover of the book so you could get a good idea of what’s in store. Don’t misunderstand, I get it: it’s like a magazine cover with enticing articles like “How do you attract guys?” and “8 self-esteem boosters.” But given the playfully seductive picture of Ms. McKellar, I have a really big problem with, “inside: body image quiz!” Hey girls, does this cover make you feel inferior? Does it make you feel like you’re an ugly cow? Well, then you’re normal. But that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna rub it in your face! (To be fair, the earlier books by McKellar have far more acceptable covers.)

I want to be clear: I didn’t read this book. I read parts of it. I skimmed it. Actually, I think that Danica McKellar should get third author status on this book. First, the book is more designed than written. There is no indication of who designed it, but it is well done in the sense of looking good. In terms of being distracting, it’s terrible. But I’ve been in the publishing biz for a long time now, I know that its all about getting people to buy books not read them. Second, the book is filled with compelling if stereotypical images by Mary Lynn Blasutta, who gets credit only on the copyright page.

I am at a distinct disadvantage in discussing this book, however. I know the subject rather well. I am a male. And I am long past my wonder years. So it is probably meaningless that I hate this book. But I think if I were a young female, I would also hate it. This is not to say that all young females would hate it. But given that when I was a boy, I didn’t want to be a stereotypical boy, I assume if I had been a girl, I wouldn’t have wanted to be a stereotypical girl. And this book screams, “OMG! You can be a bubble headed girl and still be good at math!”

Except, you know, you really can’t. It’s long been know that girls turn off to math at exactly the time they turn on to boys. Now there is still some question as to whether this is a hormone thing or a social thing. The evidence (that I’ve seen and I am certainly no expert) is that it is a social thing. And this book does not encourage girls to be themselves. It pushes them to be a very stereotypical image of a 15-year-old girl. Consider:

If Taylor wears pink, then Lizzie wears pink.
If Lizzie wears pink, then Jessica wears pink.
If jessica wears pink, then Brittany wears pink.

And then we’re given this new info:

OMG, Taylor is wearing pink.

Without that last line, we just have a bunch of conditional “rules.” But when we find out that Taylor actually does wear pink, it sets off a chain reaction that causes not only Lizzie to wear pink but also Jessica and Brittany!

OM-fucking-G! I can forgive everything but “pink.” And that it is about dressing up. And… Oh fuck it: it’s all horrible.

It is also no surprise that every image of a girl or woman in the book is slender. In fact, in one of the “testimonials” in the book, we have “Jessica Keramas.” Before, she was, “Overweight and shy.” It doesn’t matter what she is now, except, of course that she is slender and extroverted. It is very clear that both overweight and shy are pejoratives. And given the rest of the imagines of females in the book, I can only geuss that Keramas was not anything close to, say, Chris Christie. But Keramas is quoted saying, “Math skills helped me get in shape.” Yeah, all you tubbos, learn a little math and maybe a boy won’t be so disgusted with you!

I may not have ever seen The Wonder Years, but I know what it is. It’s that show with a kid from The Princess Bride. See, I’m not that out of it. It wasn’t a sit-com, but it was still more or less the 1990s equivalent to Leave It to Beaver. It presents an idealized kind of reality with stereotypes galore. And that’s fine with entertainment. But in the case of Girls Get Curves, I doubt very seriously that much education is getting done. I think books could be written that do what this one claims to do. But I suspect this is a book that parents buy their daughters, who just let the book collect dust.

The problem is that the book is part of the problem of telling girls to be a certain way. On top of that is the message, “And it’s okay to be good at math!” But the first lesson is so much stronger than the second. It drips from every page. In fact, the cover is the perfect example. If you look closely, you can see some lines and numbers. But the take away from the cover is, “Ain’t Danica McKellar hot?!” So instead of “it’s okay to be good at math” it is “it’s okay to be a certain kind of girl and be good at math.” If the book was only purchased by those kinds of girls (Sorry: the parents of those kinds of girls!) it wouldn’t have been a bestseller.

To Dream the SNAP Benefit Dream

Paul RyanHave you heard the news, sonny?! The Republicans are concerned about poverty! It must be true, because everybody’s talking about it. And the Republicans are making speeches! But they aren’t interested in little things like food and shelter and, you know, education. They are interested in dreams. The Republicans want the poor to dream again. After talking to Paul Ryan, Bishop Shirley Holloway said, “Paul wants people to dream again. You don’t dream when you’ve got food stamps.” And they want the poor to dream big. Marco Rubio said, “Raising the minimum wage may poll well, but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American dream.” That was quoted in a PBS News Hour article titled without any sense of irony, The War on Poverty: Not Just a Liberal Campaign.

Oh yes! The Republicans care about the poor. That’s why they’re united in cutting extended unemployment benefits. That’s why they’re united in cutting food stamps. That’s why they’re united on leaving the working poor without medical care. And so much more! Matt Yglesias noted of Bishop Holloway’s statement that food stamps prevent dreaming, “Scott Winship, a conservative policy analyst who’s working with Ryan’s staff concede that this kind of thing ‘makes Republicans look like they’re just punishing poor people, which in my experience is a common side-effect of punishing poor people.”

Marco Rubio Time Magazine CoverSo what we have here, is failure to communicate. And I do mean that. This is just another re-branding effort by the right. Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio both support slashing food stamps and unemployment benefits. But they say a couple of things about allowing the poor to dream and the “liberal” PBS says that conservatives have started their own war on poverty. And it isn’t just PBS. In general, the mainstream media just follow right along. It doesn’t matter what the Republicans do, it’s what they say that matters. So there is failure to communicate. Conservatives lie and the media report those lies as fact. It must be true, Gwen Ifill said it!

Paul Krugman’s column today was, Enemies of the Poor. But even he is being too easy on the conservative movement. He notes, “The point is that a party committed to small government and low taxes on the rich is, more or less necessarily, a party committed to hurting, not helping, the poor.” First, the Republicans are not not not committed to small government; they are committed to big government that helps the rich. But we can talk about that some other time. The point is that hurting the poor is not just some side effect of their ideology. It is a key part of their ideology. And you only have to look at a blog post Krugman wrote today to see this.

In You’re All Losers, he shows that the use of the word “losers” in books has gone up by a factor of four since the 1960s. You see, the problem is that it is a big deal when a Republican politician stands up and says that we have to do something to help the poor. It doesn’t matter that the politician has no actual policy ideas and that it is clear that “helping the poor” really means “hurting the poor.” It’s news! But when a Republican politician says yet again that we are stealing from the “producers” and giving it to the “moochers” that’s not news. No one’s interested in that.

After running in circles trying to put the best spin on all this Republican anti-poverty talk, Jonathan Chait concludes where I started, “If Republicans only care about poverty policy insofar as they can use it to rebrand their party for 2016, it seems fair to conclude that they don’t actually care about it at all.” And indeed they don’t. I would go further. Maybe the real anti-poverty program is to allow all the poor to die quickly. That would be a highly effective program. Of course, being dead is even worse for dreaming than food stamps.