Ask Well, Know Much

I know teachers are fond of telling students "there's no such thing as a stupid question," which is a good thing because as Neil Postman has pointed out, most kids enter school as question marks and come out as periods.

So I'm all for the no-stupid-question rule within the classroom. But as with so many important things, we sometimes forget to remind young people before they graduate that there are always exceptions to the rule.

Example: In the late 1980s, right after I stupidly became a high school dropout, I worked as a supermarket deli clerk. (I subsequently recovered from my educational rebellion and at least got my G.E.D – an exam, by the way, I think I would have passed with flying colors when I was a freshman, but that's another column).

For several years before that, the store had an ice machine right next to the deli counter – a popular spot for summer shoppers. But then one day, management moved the ice-making machine to the other side of the store.

Not long after that, this friendly woman approached the deli counter and asked: "Do you still sell ice?" So I say: "Yes 'we' do. It's on the other side of the store now." Then she says: "Oh. Is it frozen?"

So, I decided years ago that an African proverb would be my guiding (writing) light. "To ask well is to know much." Asking good questions is often more important, and insightful, than having the "right" answers, precisely because good questions can open up your mind to explore uncharted territory, which brings me to my second point.

Not all opinions are created equal. Yes, yes. We should all respect each other's opinion, but unless my most dearly held opinions have been subjected to the purging fires of the best and most articulate opposing arguments, my opinion is about as interesting as pop-up ads on the Internet.

That's why one of my favorite quips is from the philosopher J.S. Mill, who once said "he who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that." And that doesn't mean finding some opinionated fool who happens to be parroting watered-down arguments of opinion-makers and then attacking his or her argument for the nonsense that it is.

So on to a few questions, and I'll let you decide if they're stupid or not.

Why don't critics of Michael Moore's new flick express the same thorough skepticism with the Bush administration?

One Moore hater told me that one reason he disliked the movie is because it was too conspiratorial and implied shady dealings between the Bush administration and the Saudis without having any "smoking gun" evidence that the private meetings between the two parties weren't innocuous.

OK. Well, why not bring that same skepticism to the Bush administration claim that bin Laden and Saddam were in cahoots because of meetings between al-Qaida members and security officials in Saddam's regime? (Need I mention Iraq's WMDs?)

What's more important – that a moviemaker gets it exactly right or that the President of the United States gets it exactly right?

How many times are fundamentalists going to use the this-country-was-founded-on-Christianity polemic? Never mind the genocide committed on Native Americans or the enslavement of blacks, do they realize that the religious views of America's founders were much more complex than the Apostle's Creed? Thomas Jefferson considered the Bible to be full of untruths, except for certain "authentic sayings" of Jesus.

He took scissors to the Bible to make his own version, looking forward to the day when Jesus being considered "the Supreme Being... in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of... Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."

So how come conservative Christians aren't insisting that Jefferson is burning in Hades, quoting verses from Paul's letters about what hellish future awaits those who mess with the Word?

Why are Fox News conservatives convinced that because "most" news reporters allegedly vote Democrat, it's ironclad proof that the corporate media is controlled by "liberals"? What about editors and publishers? They're the ones who ultimately decide what gets covered and what doesn't. Don't they realize that blaming reporters for biased coverage is a bit like yelling at a restaurant server for a bad meal? Hey buddy, calm down. I didn't cook it, I just brought it to your table.

And how long will I be able to write columns like this before "freedom-loving conservatives" are successful at putting a muzzle on my big fat mouth?

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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