Words And People

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Idiocy On Parade

You may be aware of the story that the folks responsible for buying equipment in Los Angeles County have objected to the use of the terms master/slave on equipment.

Someone apparently looked at a videotape system and filed a discrimination complaint.

To avoid legal complications, the following notice was sent:

Subject: IDENTIFICATION OF EQUIPMENT SOLD TO LA COUNTY

Date: Tue, 18 Nov 2003 14:21:16 -0800

From: “Los Angeles County”

The County of Los Angeles actively promotes and is committed to ensure a work environment that is free from any discriminatory influence be it actual or perceived. As such, it is the County’s expectation that our manufacturers, suppliers and contractors make a concentrated effort to ensure that any equipment, supplies or services that are provided to County departments do not possess or portray an image that may be construed as offensive or defamatory in nature.

One such recent example included the manufacturer’s labeling of equipment where the words “Master/Slave” appeared to identify the primary and secondary sources. Based on the cultural diversity and sensitivity of Los Angeles County, this is not an acceptable identification label.

We would request that each manufacturer, supplier and contractor review, identify and remove/change any identification or labeling of equipment or components thereof that could be interpreted as discriminatory or offensive in nature before such equipment is sold or otherwise provided to any County department.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation and assistance.

Joe Sandoval, Division Manager

Purchasing and Contract Services

Internal Services Department

County of Los Angeles

This caused a bit of an uproar.

The person who sent the memo tried to spin his way out of it, saying that it was “nothing more than a request” and that “I do understand that this term has been an industry standard for years and years and this is nothing more than a plea to vendors to see what they can do,” he said. “It appears that some folks have taken this a little too literally.”

Well, when you’re the guy responsible for buying megaamounts of equipments for one of the biggest cities in the U.S., and you say something is “unacceptable,” why, yes, vendors who have or want big contracts will tend to take you quite literally.

This is especially true when you have your IT staff looking for those words, and taping over the words “master/slave” and write “primary/secondary” whenever they make a service call.

The person who wrote the memo said he had gotten a few dozen emails on this.

Here’s one of them:

—– Original Message —–
From: Edward Stroligo

To: webmail@co.la.ca.us

Sent: Monday, November 24, 2003 7:41 AM
Subject: Is the following true?

From http://www.reason.com/hitandrun/003490.shtml . According to this, Joe Sandoval, manager of purchasing and contract services of the county’s Internal Services Department sent out the following notice containing the following:

{Portion of text from memo already reproduced above}

Is this true? Given that every single computer hard drive, CD-ROM drive, CD-recorder, etc., uses the “master/slave” technology (or abbreviations like “M/S” would it not be difficult/expensive to implement this policy?

Please also note that in the computer world, various connectors and plugs are described as “male” and “female,” and it is not uncommon for computer documentation to describe taking a male connector and plugging it into a female receptacle. If master/slave is deemed culturally insensitive, perhaps this terminology is, also.

I even got a reply back:

From: “WebMail”
To: “Edward Stroligo”
Subject: Re: Is the following true?
Date: Tue, 25 Nov 2003 15:41:00 -0800

Thank you for your comments. I have forwarded your comments to the two departments that gave direction on this issue, as well as to the county supervisors for their information.

Oh, oh. If you’re an LA vendor, and you get a memo soon saying you have to rename male and female plugs something else, I’m sorry!

The Real Core Problems

Many have already written pieces describing this as political correctness run amok. That’s not really the problem here.

The core problem really comes down to two species of stupidity.

The first species is the refusal/fear to think.

Let’s look at the offensive terms. There are situations in which use of these terms would certainly be offensive. Job titles, for instance. I’m pretty thick-skinned, but even I’d be offended and denigrated if I were called that on the job.

But why is it offensive? It is offensive because it directly affects me.

Here, we have people taking offense not only for a designation that not only doesn’t impact their own lives, it doesn’t impact the life of ANY life. It refers to a thing, an insentient object.

OK, you want to play Disney? What race is a hard drive? I’m looking at one right now. It’s definitely part black. It’s just as definitely part gray (and I’ve never seen anybody with that shade of color; how do we define that?). It’s arguable that it’s part white (though that’s a sticker, does it count if you can peel it off)

I’d have to say my hard drive is a Tiger Woods, but perhaps I’m being insensitive. Maybe I should ask it how it feels about the whole subject and what it considers itself to be.

Maybe I should ask my hard drives about this. I must admit, I’ve made plenty of hard drives slaves, and never asked one of them how they felt about it.

But then again, I’ve made even more masters. What should I do about them? What if they like being masters? Wouldn’t that be bad?

But if they like being masters too much, and I make them slaves, that can’t be OK, either, right?

Maybe I should just attach one drive per channel from now on. Or go SCSI (at least until some women’s groups find out).

Silly? Of course. If it is wrong to offend people for applying a word to a piece of organized rust, sand, metal and plastic, just imagine what they’ll do if they saw, heard or read any history show or book about real, human slaves. How could such a person not get even more offended by that?

Nor is this solely a matter of concern for those of African-American extraction. Go back far enough, and you’d have a tough time finding any group of people who at one time or another had never had some of their folks enslaved in one form or another.

What do we do? Do we not have those kinds of shows anymore? Do we just have happy time history? Or do we come up with a different term, like “freedom-challenged.”

It is easy to see that there’s a big difference between the two situations, and the difference is simply to judge between what might reasonably be considered to be personally offensive and what would not.

But this requires thought and accountability. It is so much easier (and often safer) not to think at all and simply ban the term altogether.

No word, no problem.

But what fuels such foolishness?

Pandering To Idiots

In 1999, a Washington DC official used the word “niggardly” in a sentence in a private meeting with a few other DC officials.

If that word isn’t in your vocabulary, “niggardly” means “cheap.” It came to the English language through the Vikings and other Scandinavians, who had the habit of occupying sizable chunks of England (and frequently making many Englishmen freedom-challenged) a milennium or more ago.

His enemies apparently did not check a dictionary, but rather spread the rumor that he has used the “N” word. This whispering campaign got to the point where this fellow offered his resignation to the mayor, which the mayor accepted, saying at the time that he had used poor judgment.

The fellow was eventually rehired after a storm of protest over his resignation. He understandably did decide to take a job elsewhere in the DC goverment, though.

What happened here? We had at best ignorant, at worst stupid people force someone to lose his job not due to his ignorance/stupidity, but theirs.

At the time, some people, including some pretty prominent ones, justified their actions by saying, “Well, the word sounded like the “N” word?” Well, words like “buck,” “puck” and “frock” sound like the “F” word, especially if I’m hearing-challenged. Should we ban them, too?

It seems like these days, so long as you’re upset, anything goes, and if the ruckus is due to your own ignorance/stupidity; it’s still the other person’s fault.

A couple decades ago, there was a Saturday Night Live character named Emily Litella who would editorialize based on something she misunderstood.

Today, we have real-life Emily Litella, except they don’t say, “Never mind” when they’ll proved wrong, they just get angrier.

Far-Fetched?

Let’s pretend I once had a relationship with a particular woman. Let’s call her Amy Miller.

She broke up with me. I’m distraught, upset, miserable. And what does the world do? For half the day, it shoves my misery in my face, wherever I look. They do it in my bedroom, in my car, on the street, in the newspaper, on the TV set. What do they do? They say offensive, insensitive things like 7:54 AM, and start my pain again.

This must stop, and I will sue you all until you stop.

You tell me that AM has nothing to do with Amy Miller or even women? So what? I’m upset, and if it’s good enough for hard drives and soundalike words, it’s certainly good enough for AM. Actually, it’s even better, because this is my pain, not some distant ancestor’s.

You say that this is a personal problem? Nonsense! There are millions of people out there who have broken up with women that had the initials AM. There are millions of women who have broken up with men with the initials AM. There are even millions more men and women who have had their hearts broken by people with the initials PM, too.

We are a mighty force! Once all those suffering victims are made aware that they are not alone, and get organized, we shall triumph!

Far-fetched? These days, hardly.

This is by no means a black thing. It’s a matter of idiocy, which never has and never will discriminate on the basis of race, creed, or color. I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but in New York City, plenty of people of all hues have this “I’m offended” routine down pat.

Just to cite one example that immediately comes to mind, in New York City, there are relatives of WTC 911 victims who are so upset that remains of their loved ones were not found (which is bound to happen, no matter how strenuous the looking, when a 110-story skyscraper falls on people) that they want no building done on the property once occupied by the Twin Towers. Forget the impact on the owners of the property or New York City, only their rage counts.

They contend for attention with two other groups. One of them opposes anything that does not list the firemen and policemen separately from other victims. The other opposes anything that does.

In the meantime, nothing happens.

Idiots are nothing new.

Taking them seriously is.

Empowering Idiocy

I think a big part of the problem these days is that there are effectively no consequences to idiocy. In my crusade against AM, I can, just for a simple example, start sueing clock manufacturers. With a little ingenuity, I can concoct an argument that I’m disabled due to my breakup, and go before anyone of the numerous antidiscrimination boards to make my case.

Most of the time, I’m going to lose, but at the least, I’ll make those I target pay out a bunch of money for lawyers, and at best, some will knuckle under and actually do something, just to get rid of a pest.

Look at warning labels these days. In most cases, behind the warning stands some idiot. Pretty advanced ones, too, if this webpage with many profound examples of idiot-proofing is any proof.

If I’m not appeased one way or the other, I’ll also chew up the time of the courts and agencies, too, at just the cost of my own time and effort.

Talk about asymmetric warfare.

If I really want to be taken seriously, all I need to do is round up as many like-minded idiots as possible. Then I become a political force.

What is going on here? This is what happens when you remove rationality and judgment from the process. This is what happens when you substitute subjective feelings and political power for objective reasonableness.

When you toss out the rational, what do you have left?

But what is the result of all this? We have empowered idiots and idiocy. So long as someone is upset about something for some cause (I dare not use the term “reason”), these people are empowered.

We have made the emotional state of being offended the trump card in societal affairs. It does not matter what rights other have, so long as you’re offended, people need to stand up and pay notice. Otherwise, you get called an -ist by the social fascists, it gets repeated by the media, and you get into one mess of trouble.

The Solutions

No, the answer to this is not to get rid of these agencies or courts or crimes. That would be just as idiotic as what we have now and would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. They were created for good reason, there still are many instances where there is indeed legitimate reason for them to do what they do.

Idiocies like this trivialize the serious, legitimate problems which still exist, and enpower other idiots (including those who make such institutions necessary in the first place) to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

What we need to do is bring back accountability to those who would file suits or complaints for nonsense.

What we need to do is bring back a mostly abandoned concept to U.S. jurisprudence, the concept of a penalty for a frivolous lawsuit/complaint.

In British jurisprudence, they handle this matter quite simply. If you sue, it’s winner-take-all when it comes to legal costs. If you win, the loser pays not only what you sued for, but your legal costs, too. If you lose, though, you pay their legal fees.

While they may be too extreme and discourage many reasonable lawsuits, the opposite isn’t too good, either. You get too many suits/complaints when the suer/complainer has nothing to lose.

“Frivolous” doesn’t mean “you lost.” “Frivolous” means “an average reasonable man would find your case ridiculous.”

Impose a fine or percentage of the winning side’s court or administrative costs on nonsense, and soon you’d have much less nonsense, and more time and resources to deal with serious, legitimate problems.

More informally, we could do something else.

Bring Back The Banned Words

No, I’m not talking about the “N” word; I’m thinking of other words that have been effectively banned from serious conversation. Like the “S” word. Like the “I” word. “S” as in stupid. “I” as in idiot.

Nowadays, these words are either not used at all (as is “Somebody might be offended” not considering in the least the offense a particular idiocy might have caused), or used so indiscriminately as to drain them of all meaning (like Eddie Murphy used the “MF” word so much that it became hardly more offensive than “Good morning.”

These are serious words that should be used only in deserving cases, but again, that takes reason and judgment, and that’s why God gave you a brain.

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