Primatonormative

Word invented by my wife, Ulrika.

Derived from “heteronormative,” primatonormative refers to the perspective that human concerns are normative, or the standard from which all others species’ concerns should be judged.

Thus, referring to the stubbornness of one of our dogs, “Shoobie isn’t interested in your primatonormative agenda.”

More bumpiness on the road to utopia

Back in 2002, I wrote a post about an article in the New York Times and an interview on Fresh Air, both by Jefferey Rosen.

The main point was this:

“(I)t’s notoriously difficult to find parking (at Oracle’s headquarters), and the space (Rosen) finally found was far enough away from the door that he had to walk something like 15 minutes to get to the building.

Here’s the big question: If Oracle can’t even reliably predict how many people will park at their own building — which is presumably why they haven’t built adequate facilities, and not because, say, Larry Ellison is a cheap bastard who doesn’t care about his employees much — how reliable do you think they’ll be at predicting terrorists (which is what they were touting their software for as a tool)?”

So now it’s 13 years later… and the state of the art when it comes to using software to make large-scale complicated predictions hasn’t advanced very much. Or such is the implication of this story from the radio show Marketplace, which is all about how UPS is having a more difficult than usual stretch of predicting their delivery times… Which is because they’re being handed bad predictions from their customers about how much product they’re going to be shipping to end customers like you and me for Christmas.

The really interesting part of that, when it comes to looking back up the logistics tail, is many of the companies UPS is delivering for are companies who are mainly or solely online. Which means all the “magic” Amazon, Google, Facebook and others use for their “targeted” advertising… isn’t very good at predicting what, and how much, you’re going to buy.

“The problem that challenges both online retailers and carriers is the increasingly unpredictable shopper. Now that people can buy anything, anywhere, on their phones, retailers and carriers are having a hard time figuring out their next moves.”

That’s a much more systemic criticism than it looks at first glance. Because it reinforces the idea that the relationship between these companies’ advertising and enterprise management tools to how people behave in the real world is fairly… well, random.

This is also reinforced by Facebook’s page for your Ad Preferences. This page, algorithmically generated, is a concise list of what Facebook thinks it “knows” about you, from scanning your posts. And for many, many people I’ve seen, it’s laughably inaccurate. Which means the ads Facebook sells, oh-so-targeted at just the right people to respond to them (or so they tell the people paying to place such ads), are also laughably inaccurate in their targeting.

Which is part of why UPS can’t get your package to you in time.

“YOLO!”

James Garfield, America’s first hipster president, died this day in 1881. Garfield, shown below at an artisanal vodka bar, had been on his way to a Williams College reunion when he was shot by George Steinbrenner, who had heard Garfield was about to give the Red Sox a special tax exemption for players with beards most resembling his own. “YOLO!” the stricken president was heard to cry as he fell, mortally wounded.

James Garfield

Just fading away

Older tech never really dies. It fades and becomes an ever fainter background in our civilization’s palimpsest, never quite reaching invisibility.

For example, as earlier generations outsourced their memory to books, I have largely outsourced my memory to the net. But not entirely, of course. I still have plenty of books at home, and they also largely function as part of my memory. But the net is easier to carry around, even if more fragile due to signal strength and/or battery life.

Lost In Translation

“Such remarks don’t bear scrutiny. Did I actually say that? I do remember saying once that maybe the greatest female novelist in English was Constance Garnett. Sometimes I try to lighten the gloom of discussions but I notice that no one laughs. Instead you see a few people writing down the name.”

— Elizabeth Hardwick

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Related, though different: “The Translation Wars,” by David Remnick, “Tolstoy translated,” by Rosamund Bartlett, and “A Singular Woman,” by Hilton Als.

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“Bloomsbury is . . . like one of those ponds on a private estate from which all of the trout have been scooped out for the season. It is not a natural place for fish, but rather a water stocked for the fisherman so that he may not cast his line in vain. . . . To see the word “Ottoline” on a page, in a letter, gives me the sense of continual defeat, as if I had gone to a party and found an enemy attending the bar.”

— Hardwick in “Bloomsbury and Virginia Woolf”

“Attending the bar”… And thus we see the source for “bartender.” Makes sense immediately on seeing it, but I never thought about it before.

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Hardwick enjoyed teaching; she finds it annoying that so many writers complain about their teaching responsibilities. “There’s nothing to it,” she told me. “You just go in and do your rap. The thing you get bored with is that you have so few ideas.”

— “A Singular Woman”