WWVB : What Would Vannevar Blog?

May 30, 2021

Categories, Transgender Athletes and Cognitive Dissonance

(This is a copy of a facebook response I made, in response to Eryn Hughes' question about transgender athletes). Categories are an interest of mine. These are strictly My Thoughts Only, and I have no credentials.

It seems to me that at one time, rapid categorization probably conferred an evolutionary advantage. Assessing creatures and objects and categorizing them as dangerous, as unimportant, or as food was crucial to success.

It may be that over time, we are bred to be makers and users of categories. We may be both creators and victims of categories.

As opposed to the time of saber-toothed tigers when people were generalists, in today's world so many people are specialists and survive within an economy that rewards niche categorizations.

We project our categorizations upon others. We seek categories for ourselves, aspirationally. We install categories into our children.

The habit of categorization may have served us well once, but it may not serve "us" well any more. There's a lot of habits our species have left behind. The admixture of categories, competition, and capitalism distort our culture and the playing field.

Whole industries are based on categorization. Money and power flows to the competitors and corporations that thrive within our socially accepted categories. Money ignores the people that don't fit into our categories -- or even worse, power punishes people who challenge our established categories. See Colin Kaepernick.

Our categories are not mere suggestions; we enforce them, and we (socially and economically) punish people who don’t fit into the categories.

I would offer Caster Semenya as an example, (or Mokgadi Caster Semenya OIB as she is known at home). Her performance and even her existence challenge our categories, and so we banish her from organized sport, or insist that she take performance-degrading drugs in the name of sportsmanship. What a contrast to our white Euro cyclists with their performance-enhancing drugs.


At least some solo sports initially present themselves as harmless categories where it's simply the human vs. the clock as in running, swimming, etc. There are still huge economic implications: sponsorship, scholarships, support.

Our categories are social constructs with major capitalist implications, and then we project them onto our children. Children's team sports, which rely on organization and cooperation to get a quorum on the field, mirror adult (corporate, economic) team sports.

Our school system schedules Black and Gold days, and non-participant children are criticized and peer-pressured into the local category which can approach fetishism.

Athletic children have to pick a category and then cast themselves into their category’s lifestyle. Football or baseball? Offense or defense? Short or long distance?

Righty or Lefty? Few will choose switch-hitting. Fewer still will choose switch-pitching, which we don’t have an accepted term for. See baseball’s arcane Pat Venditte Rules for Ambidextrous Pitchers.



http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/downloads/y2015/official_baseball_rules.pdf See, Ambidextrous Pitchers.

To Be Certain, our enforcement of categories and baseball’s tremendous complexity in handling category switchers mirrors our inability to deal with category-bending regarding our most primal impulses, and certainly reflects the issues about transgender athletes.

We don't like to mix/match our categories. Why isn't Serena Williams seen as America's greatest athlete, let alone best tennis pro? Or Simone Biles? And why isn’t the world’s most successful soccer team (the US Women’s Team) paid as well as the American men’s soccer team?

The answer is that our categories include the same racial, gender, and tribal flaws as our culture. Who can say that sport as-we-know-it is pure? Or even only slightly corrupt?

The competition in our organized sports is so fierce that only small differences set the top competitors apart from the merely world-class. Tiny biological differences matter: height or weight in some sports, VO2-Max in others, and the tiniest natural nuances are financially lucrative if they fall within our categories. Otherwise, you’re Caster Semanya.

In the end we seize upon our most vulnerable people to maintain our precious categories. Rachel McKinnon, PhD was the focus of rage and hate as the transgender cyclist who confounded our categories. She became the focus of then-President Trump’s tweets. The notoriety was so great they changed their name to Veronica Ivy.



Can there be any doubt that our generally accepted categories in sport are social constructs? Are we amazed that Caster Semanya, Colin Kaepernick, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, and Veronica Ivy are minorities?

Just as we see in the social / political realm, we ignore the people that confound our comfortably acceptable categories.

We assuage our hurt feelings by demonizing the vulnerable non-conformers and by granting victim status to grievants who would maintain the legacy categories, the status quo.

Allan Bakke felt they were kept out of medical school because of a new categorization. Dr. Jennifer Wagner felt that losing to a cross-category competitor was unfair. Society has supported them.


Further, consider the effect of language upon our categories. Benjamin Whorf suggests that we can only think about and communicate about topics that we have words for. We don’t have easy words for Caster Semenya, or Elliot Page, or Pat Venditte, and we’d rather support our comfort than actual people.


At a very basic level, our categories helped; tigers vs chickens, flight or fight, etc. In the face of complexity our categories no longer serve us well; we incentivize ourselves to reject individuals rather than reject a counter-productive social construct, and we revert from enlightenment to tribalism in defense of our precious categories.

I've recently read "Sorted" by Jackson Bird, and I'm currently reading “Sorting Things Out” by Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star, and I’d recommend either to anybody interested in categorization and language.

I'd appreciate feedback/ critique as readers see fit.

April 05, 2021

Tape is the New Spray Paint

Upper West Side of Manhattan: A street artist with a supply of construction tape has been putting exhortations in fences around the neighborhood.

Stay Where You Grow"

stay where you grow : UWS graffiti

Focus on You

focus on you
October 13, 2020

Too Tense During Sukkot

Sukkot is a Jewish festival called the Feast of Tabernacles or sometimes call the Festival of Shelters. During this time, little booths or shelters called sukkah are built according to traditional rules. It's all very nice.

At CMU there's a bicycle-towed Sukkah so people can make their observance on campus. In NYC I've seen rental pickup trucks with a Sukkah on the back, double-parked to make the facility available.

In New York City this summer, restaurants have been permitted to establish open-air dining (streateries) in one lane of the street, sometimes displacing parking and sometimes displacing a lane for moving traffic. Some of the structures resemble Sukkah's quite a bit to me.

On another street, there's a bike lane. So the restaurant row goes outside the bike lane. Then the trucks making deliveries double-park and the actual flow on the street is like a blocked artery.

As the season progresses and it gets colder, and sometimes it rains, the shelters become more elaborate and become even more like Sukkahs. I wonder when this is no longer outside dining. There are heaters and electricity in these things.

New York is increasingly becoming a tent city, to a limited degree. None of those businesses in tents is paying any tax on the public space their using for private business.

I do not eat in these tents; I think there's insufficient protection. I do order takeout from local restaurants; I order over the phone, and not through the App, so the restaurant doesn't have to share the money with the App service.

Imagine if people (rather than businesses) set up tents and made their residence in the street like that. The authorities would clear them out on the first day. But businesses?

July 25, 2019

A Perspective on Caucasian-Eating Bacteria

As a society, as a culture, as an economy, America didn't really care about Sickle Cell Anemia, which mostly affects African-Americans. America didn't really care about HIV-AIDS, which mostly affects homosexuals and the poor virtuous hemophiliacs.

But we really do care about Necrotizing Fasciitis, (NF), the term used when people's interiors are invaded by flesh-eating microbes. This is a severe disease of sudden onset that spreads rapidly. The most commonly affected areas are the limbs and perineum (ewww).

Let's examine the nomenclature, the name-calling. Carnivores (people like me) are flesh-eaters. President Trump is a flesh-eater. Lots of animals and fish are flesh-eaters - for instance, sharks, a species we make movies and TV shows about. We're usually not finicky about flesh-eaters. In fact, a lot of us think that people who are non-flesh-eating are kind of a pain in the ass.

Old-school flesh-eaters have always respected the Hierarchy of Life: Rats eat bunnies. Cats eat rats. Coyotes eat cats. Wolves eat coyotes. Lions and tigers eat wolves, oh my. Humans that own corporations kill lions and tigers for status. Sigh. The pecking order points down.

Except these new flesh eaters don't know their place; they aim high and eat Humans. If you have a fear of zombies or cannibals, this is the obsession for you. These are human-eating little critters, so we convey special umbrage in our response.

Unfortunately this is a situation where critters are eating mostly white people. Do a Google search on flesh eating bacteria and click Images; mostly the results are white people, people who have the time and money to go to the beach. You might say that the disease disproportionately affects Caucasians along social-economic class lines. Also: NF affects Electoral College swing states.

This is our own fault. We've sprayed the planet with DDT, phosphates, carcinogens, plastic, fuel exhaust, and enough Axe body spray to kill all the easy critters. Darwin said the result would be a winnowing out of the ecosystem; only the hardy surviving critters would procreate, resulting in new critter strains that would be stronger than the DDT/Axe combo.

And now they're eating Us. This is like every drive-in sci-fi movie ever made, except it's real and it's here and now, not sometime off in the very distant future like 2025 when we expect Miami to be underwater.

This is classic Niemoeller: first the diseases came for the black people, and I didn't care. Then they came for the gay people and hemophiliacs, and I didn't care. Now they're coming for white people in coastal swing states HELP THEY'RE EATING US.

We know how this movie ends, right? Some new religious figure will declare the problem to be God's judgement for rejecting the Founding Fathers; True Believers will move to Utah place and foreswear the coasts; People magazine will run stories on disabled veterans who survived combat only to be killed by a hot tub.

We did this. Well, we've done a lot of things, but this is affecting white people and summer vacations.

December 23, 2018

One Pgh : On Thin Ice

If you want change, it takes money. If you're a mayor who wants change, it usually takes a new packaged funding stream. In the hands of the right mayor with a good arrangement, it can be effective. Otherwise it can be a slush fund.

WESA lays out a sloppy start with their reporting, Peduto’s OnePGH Aims To Address Pittsburgh's Problems. So Far It Hasn’t Solved Its Own.

I think "thin ice" is the perfect visual for OnePgh. All the beneficiaries of the status quo - the Foundations, Private Sector, Developers and Non-Profits (CMU, Pitt, UPMC) are represented. They don't seem to know much about it, and haven't condescended to any funding. None of the challengers to the status-quo are represented.

Peduto's program does seem to conflate "resilience" with unity and social justice. There's a lot of marketplace talk in the program, and not much social justice. They talk about workforce but not about population.

It's probably not coincidental that this initiative surfaces after the Mayor and Council have implemented a scheme of approving some citizen orgs and disapproving others; you have to be on the right list to deserve attention. OnePgh is a power play, a money play, and a control play for Peduto's next wave.

The Payments-In-Lieu-Of scheme is difficult but can be a mayor's fantasy if the money appears. Usually, a mayor with a Program writes up the proposal and the budget and submits it to City Council. It's fairly transparent and the people's representatives get a voice. But with OnePgh, there is no accountability or transparency; there's no legislative review or approval. It's just a bag of money coming in and going out.

Finally, we note the program name, One Pgh, seems like a response to the critique of there being Two Pittsburghs. I don't see much in this new program that's going to heal Pittsburgh. Maybe that would be a better name for a better program: Heal Pittsburgh.

December 19, 2018

Blocking Traffic at the County Jail and the Dirty Dozen

More on the subject of Two Pittsburghs.

On October 25, a small group of protesters blocked Second Avenue outside of the Allegheny County Jail, protesting the housing of trans-women inmates in the male population inside the jail.

You can look at the Post-Gazette video and see that the protestors are diverse: black, white, men, women.

According to the Trib-Review, 11 protestors were arrested for blocking the street. Ten were released and continued protesting on the sidewalk; the 11th was held in custody. Quick-and-dirty summary: people blocked a street for a peaceful protest and got arrested.

Now let's talk about the Dirty Dozen, which is an annual slice of the Most Liveable Burgh that takes place just after Thanksgiving (Nov.24th this year).

Cyclists race up the 13 steepest streets in the Metro area - some inside Pittsburgh, some outside Pittsburgh. There's a small nucleus of actual racers, a large complement of enthusiasts who want to ride the hills, and a large number of people who come out to stand on the sidewalks and cheer them on. This is, with few exceptions, a White People Thing. This is a First Pittsburgh event.

The Dirty Dozen relies on squads of volunteers to block the streets the cyclists will compete on. Each street is closed for about forty-five minutes. No permits, no police, no authorities - just people with flags saying, the road is closed for the Dirty Dozen. These are key roads that connect the peaks to the river bottoms. People are delayed and inconvenienced.

The Dirty Dozen is primarily a white male activity. The leadership group is white.

Why do we treat these two groups so differently?

Why can the Dirty Dozen travel around the Metro region, closing streets as they will, and be recognized as one of the quirky things that makes Pittsburgh Most Livable? Why are the people who protest caging transwomen prisoners in the male population at the County Jail arrested for blocking a street?

Smells like White Privilege. Smells like Two Pittsburghs.