Date: 28 Mar 88 1641 PST
From: Les Earnest <LES@SAIL.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: Short stories of old computer risks
Tired of viruses? I was just purging some old files and ran across a
trilogy of true short stories that I posted on the Stanford bboards two
years ago. The incidents described span a period of twenty years ending 25
years ago, but I think they are still amusingly relevant.
Kick the Mongrel
In a previous account I told how reading a book on cryptography led to my
getting an F.B.I. record at the age of 12 and about subsequent awkwardness in
obtaining a security clearance. I will now describe how I learned that putting
provocative information on a security clearance form can accelerate the
clearance process. First let me describe the environment that gave rise to
White Faces in New Places
In 1963, after living in Lexington, Massachusetts for 7 years, my wife and I
moved to the Washington D.C. area to help set up a new office for Mitre
Corporation. After three days of searching, we bought a house then under
construction in a pleasant new suburb called Mantua Hills, near Fairfax,
Virginia. I hadn't noticed it during our search, but it soon became evident
that there were nothing but white faces in this area. In fact, there were
nothing but white faces for miles around.
We expected to find some cultural differences and did. For example, people
drove much less aggressively than in Boston. The first time that I did a
Boston-style bluff at a traffic circle, the other cars yielded! This took all
the fun out of it and I was embarrassed into driving more conservatively.
When I applied for a Virginia driver's license, I noticed that the second
question on the application, just after "Name," was "Race." When filling out
forms, I have always made it a practice to omit information that I think is
irrelevant. It seemed to me that my race had nothing to do with driving a car,
so I left it blank.
When I handed the application to the clerk along with the fee, he just looked
at me, marked "W" in the blank field and threw it on a stack. I guess that he
had learned that this was the easiest way to deal with outlanders.
Our contractor was a bit slow in finishing the house. We knew that there was
mail headed our way that was probably accumulating in the post office, so we
put up the mailbox even before the house was finished. The first day we got
just two letters -- from the American Civil Liberties Union and Martin Luther
King's organization. We figured that this was the Post Office staff's way of
letting us know that they were on to us. Sure enough, the next day we got the
rest of our accumulated mail, a large stack.
It shortly became apparent that on all forms in Virginia, the second question
was "Race." Someone informed me that as far as the Commonwealth of Virginia
was concerned, there were just two races: "white" and "colored." When our kids
brought forms home from school, I started putting a "C" after the second
question, leaving it to the authorities to figure out whether that meant
"Colored" or "Caucasian."
About this time, my boss and I and another colleague applied for a special
security clearance that we needed. There are certain clearances that can't be
named in public -- it was one of those. I had held an ordinary Top Secret
clearance for a number of years and had held the un-namable clearance a short
time before, so I did not anticipate any problems.
When I filled out the security form, I noticed that question #5 was "Race." In
the past I had not paid attention to this question; I had always thoughtlessly
written "Caucasian." Having been sensitized by my new environment, I
re-examined the question.
All of my known forebears came from Europe, mostly from Southern Germany with a
few from England, Ireland, and Scotland. A glance in the mirror, however,
indicated that there was Middle Eastern blood in my veins. I have a semitic
nose and skin that tans so easily that I am often darker than many people who
pass for black. Did I inherit this from a Hebrew, an Arab, a Gypsy or perhaps
one of the Turks who periodically pillaged Central Europe? Maybe it was from a
Blackfoot Indian that an imaginative aunt thinks was in our family tree. I
will probably never know.
As an arrogant young computer scientist, I believed that if there is any
decision that you can't figure out how to program, the question is wrong. I
couldn't figure out how to program racial classification, so I concluded that
there isn't such a thing. I subsequently reviewed some scientific literature
that confirmed this belief. "Race" is, at best, a fuzzy concept about typical
physical properties of certain populations. At worst, of course, it is used to
justify more contemptible behavior than any concept other than religion.
In answer to the race question on the security form, I decided to put
"mongrel." This seemed like an appropriate answer to a meaningless question.
Shortly after I handed in the form, I received a call from a secretary in the
security office of the Defense Communications Agency. She said that she had
noticed a typographical error in the fifth question where it said "mongrel."
She asked if I didn't mean "Mongol." "No thanks," I said, "I really meant
`mongrel.'" She ended the conversation rather quickly.
A few hours later I received a call from the chief security officer of D.C.A.,
who I happened to know. "Hey, Les," he said in a friendly way, "I'd like to
talk to you the next time you're over here." I agreed to meet him the
When I got there, he tried to talk me out of answering the race question
"incorrectly." I asked him what he thought was the right answer. "You know,
Caucasian," he replied. "Oh, you mean someone from the Caucusus Mountains of
the U.S.S.R.?" I asked pointedly. "No, you know, `white.'" "Actually, I don't
know," I said.
We got into a lengthy discussion in which he informed me that as far as the
Defense Department was concerned there were five races: Caucasian, Negro,
Oriental, American Indian, and something else that I don't remember. I asked
him how he would classify someone who was, by his definition, 7/8 Caucasian and
1/8 Negro. He said he wasn't sure. I asked how he classified Egyptians and
Ethiopians. He wasn't sure.
I said that I wasn't sure either and that "mongrel" seemed like the best answer
for me. He finally agreed to forward my form to the security authorities but
warned that I was asking for trouble.
A Question of Stability
I knew what to expect from a security background investigation: neighbors and
former acquaintances let you know it is going on by asking "What are they
trying to get you for?" and kidding you about what they told the investigators.
Within a week after my application for the new clearance was submitted, it
became apparent that the investigation was already underway and that the agents
were hammering everyone they talked to about my "mental stability."
The personnel manager where I worked was interviewed quite early and came to me
saying "My God! They think you're crazy! What did you do, rape a polo pony?"
He also remarked that they had asked him if he knew me socially and that he had
answered "Yes, we just celebrated Guy Fawkes Day together." When the
investigator wanted to know "What is Guy Fawkes Day?" he started to explain
the gunpowder plot but thought better of it. He settled for the explanation
that "It's a British holiday."
An artist friend named Linda, who lived two houses away from us, said that she
had no trouble answering the investigator's questions about my stability. She
said that she recalled our party the week before when we had formed two teams
to "Walk the plank." In this game, participants take turns walking the length
of a 2 x 4 set on edge and drinking a small amount of beer. Anyone who steps
off is eliminated and the team with the most total crossings after some number
of rounds wins. Linda said that she remembered I was one of the most stable
I was glad that she had not remembered my instability at an earlier party of
hers when I had fallen off a skateboard, broken my watch and bruised my ribs.
The embarrassing cause of the accident was that I had run over the bottom of my
The investigation continued full tilt everywhere I had lived. After about
three months it stopped and a month later I was suddenly informed that the
clearance had been granted. The other two people whose investigations were
begun at the same time did not receive their clearances until several months
In comparing notes, it appeared that the investigators did the background
checks on my colleagues in a much more leisurely manner. We concluded that my
application had received priority treatment. The investigators had done their
best to pin something on me and, having failed, gave me the clearance.
The lesson was clear: if you want a clearance in a hurry, put something on
your history form that will make the investigators suspicious but that is not
damning. They get so many dull backgrounds to check that they relish the
possibility of actually nailing someone. By being a bit provocative, you draw
priority attention and quicker service.
After I received the clearance, I expected no further effects from my
provocative answer. As it turned out, there was an unexpected repercussion a
year later and an unexpected victory the year after that. But that is another
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Missed Punch
An earlier account described how I came to list my race as "mongrel" on a
security clearance application and how the clearance was granted in an
unusually short time. I will now describe a subsequent repercussion
that was a byproduct of a new computer application.
Mongrel in a Star-chamber
In early 1965, about a year after I had been granted a supplementary security
clearance, I received a certified letter directing me to report to the Air
Force Office of Special Investigations at Suitland, Maryland very early in the
morning on a certain day four weeks later. To one whose brain seldom functions
before 10am, this was a singularly unappealing trip request.
My wife somehow got me up early on the appointed day and I drove off in my TR-3
with the top down, as usual, even though it was a cold winter morning. I hoped
that the air would stimulate my transition to an awakened state.
When I arrived and identified myself, I was immediately ushered into a long
narrow room with venetian blinds on one side turned to block the meager morning
light. I was seated on one side of a table on which there were two goose-neck
lamps directed into my eyes. There was no other light in the room, so I could
barely see the three inquisitors who took positions on the opposite side of the
Someone punched on a tape recorder and the trio began taking turns at poking
into my past. They appeared to be trying to convince me that I was in deep
trouble. While the pace and tone of their questions were clearly aimed at
intimidation, they showed surprisingly little interest in my answers. I
managed to stay relaxed, partly because I was not yet fully awake.
They asked whether I had any association with a certain professor at San Diego
State College, which I had attended for one year. I recognized his name as
being one who was harassed as an alleged Communist sympathizer by the House
Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy Era.
Responding to the interrogator's question, I answered that I did not know him
but that I might have met him socially since he and my mother were on the
faculty concurrently. They wanted to know with certainty whether I had taken
any classes from him. I said that I had not.
They next wanted to know how well I knew Linus Pauling, who they knew was a
professor at Caltech when I was a student there. I acknowledged that he was my
freshman chemistry professor and that I had visited his home once. (I did not
mention that Pauling's lectures had so inspired me that I decided to become a
chemist. It was not until I took a sophomore course in physical chemistry that
I realized that chemistry wasn't as much fun as I had thought. After that, I
switched majors in rapid succession to Geology, Civil Engineering, then
Electrical Engineering. I ended up working in a still different field.)
I recalled that Pauling had been regularly harassed by certain government
agencies during the McCarthy Era because of his leftist "peacenik" views. He
was barred from overseas travel on occasion and the harassment continued even
after he won his first Nobel Prize but seemed to diminish after the second one,
the peace prize.
The inquisitors next wanted to know how often I got together with one of my
uncles. I acknowledged that we met occasionally, the last time being a few
months earlier when our families dined together. It sounded as though they
thought they had something on him. I knew him to be a very able person with a
distinguished career in public service. He had been City Manager of Ft.
Lauderdale and several other cities and had held a number of diplomatic posts
with the State Department. It occurred to me that they might be planning to
nail him for associating with a known mongrel.
The questions continued in this vein for hours without a break. I kept waiting
for them to bring up a Caltech acquaintance named Bernon Mitchell, who had
lived in the same student house as me. Mitchell had later taken a position at
the National Security Agency, working in cryptography, then defected to the
Soviet Union with a fellow employee. They were apparently closet gays.
In fact, the inquisitors never mentioned Mitchell. This suggested that they
may not have done a very thorough investigation. A more likely explanation was
that Mitchell and his boyfriend represented a serious failure of the security
clearance establishment -- one that they would rather not talk about.
After about three and a half hours of nonstop questioning I was beginning to
wake up. I was also beginning to get pissed off over their seemingly endless
fishing expedition. At this point there was a short pause and a rustling of
papers. I sensed that they were finally getting around to the main course.
"We note that on your history form you claim to be a mongrel," said the man in
the middle. "What makes you think you are a mongrel?" "That seems to be the
best available answer to an ill-defined question," I responded. We began an
exchange that was very much like my earlier discussion with the security
officer in the Defense Communications Agency. As before, I asked how they
identified various racial groups and how they classified people who were
mixtures of these "races."
The interrogators seemed to be taken aback at my asking them questions. They
asked why I was trying to make trouble. I asked them why they would not answer
my questions. When no answers were forthcoming, I finally pointed out that "It
is clear that you do not know how to determine the race of any given person, so
it is unreasonable for you to expect me to. I would now like to know what you
want from me."
The interrogators began whispering among themselves. They had apparently
planned to force me to admit my true race and were not prepared for an
alternative outcome. Finally, the man in the center spoke up saying, "Are you
willing to sign a sworn statement about your race?" "Certainly," I said. They
then turned up the lights and called for a secretary.
She appeared with notebook in hand and I dictated a statement: "I declare that
to the best of my knowledge I am a mongrel." "Don't you think you should say
more than that," said the chief interrogator. "I think that covers it," I
replied. The secretary shrugged and went off to type the statement.
With the main business out of the way, things lightened up -- literally. They
opened the venetian blinds to let in some sunlight and offered me a cup of
coffee, which I accepted. We had some friendly conversation, then I signed the
typed statement, which was duly notarized.
My former tormentors now seemed slightly apologetic about the whole affair. I
asked them what had prompted this investigation. After some glances back and
forth, one of them admitted that "We were putting our clearance data base on
punched cards and found that there was no punch for `mongrel'."
I thought about this for a moment, then asked "Why didn't you add a new punch?"
"We don't have any programmers here" was the answer. "We got the program from
I said, "Surely I am not the only person to give a non-standard answer. With
all the civil rights activists now in government service, some of them must
have at least refused to answer the race question." The atmosphere became
noticeably chillier as one of them answered, with clinched teeth, "You're the
only one. The rest of those people seem to know their race."
It was clear that they believed I had caused this problem, but it appeared to
me that the entire thrash was triggered by the combination of a stupid question
and the common programmer's blunder of creating a categorization that does not
include "Other" as an option.
The security people apparently found it impractical to obtain the hour or two
of a programmer's time that would have been needed to fix the code to deal with
my case, so they chose instead to work with their standard tools. This led to
an expenditure of hundreds of man-hours of effort in gathering information to
try to intimidate me into changing my answer.
I was surprised to learn that nearly everyone believed in the mythical concept
of racial classification. It appeared that even people who were victims of
discrimination acknowledged their classification as part of their identity.
I never did find out how the security investigators coped with the fact that I
remained a mongrel, but in 1966 I discovered that something very good had
happened: the "race" question had disappeared from the security clearance form.
I liked to think that I helped that change along.
Unfortunately, almost the same question reappeared on that form and most other
personnel forms a few years later, under the guise of "ethnic" classification.
I believe that that question is just as meaningless as the race question and I
have consistently answered it the same way during the intervening 20 years.
I now invite others to join me in this self-declassification, with the hope and
expectation that one day the bureaucrats and politicians will be forced to quit
playing with this issue and will come to realize that the United States of
America is a nation of egalitarian mongrels. I believe that we will all be
In any case, whenever you design a database, please don't forget the "other"
[A Shaggy Database Story, for a change. PGN]
Date: 01 Apr 88 1620 PST
From: Les Earnest <LES@SAIL.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: The "previous account" referred to in RISKS-6.51
e-t-a-o-n-r-i Spy and the F.B.I.
Reading a book got me into early trouble -- I had an F.B.I. record by age
twelve. This bizarre incident caused a problem much later when I needed a
security clearance. I learned that I could obtain one only by concealing my
A friend named Bob and I read the book "Secret and Urgent," by Fletcher Pratt
[Blue Ribbon Books; Garden City, NY; 1942] which was an early popular account
of codes and ciphers. Pratt showed how to use letter frequencies to break
ciphers and reported that the most frequently occurring letters in typical
English text are e-t-a-o-n-r-i, in that order. (The letter frequency order of
the story you are now reading is e-t-a-i-o-n-r. The higher frequency of "i"
probably reflects the fact that _I_ use the first person singular a lot.)
Pratt's book also treated more advanced cryptographic schemes.
Bob and I decided that we needed to have a secure way to communicate with each
other, so we put together a rather elaborate jargon code based on the
principles described in the book. I don't remember exactly why we thought we
needed it -- we spent much of our time outside of school together, so there was
ample time to talk privately. Still, you never could tell when you might need
to send a secret message!
We made two copies of the code key (a description of how to encrypt and decrypt
our messages) in the form of a single typewritten sheet. We each took a copy
and carried it on our persons at all times when we were wearing clothes.
I actually didn't wear clothes much. I spent nearly all my time outside
school wearing just a baggy pair of maroon swimming trunks. That wasn't
considered too weird in San Diego.
I had recently been given glasses to wear but generally kept them in a hard
case in the pocket of the trousers that I wore to school. I figured that this
was a good place to hide my copy of the code key, so I carefully folded it to
one-eighth of its original size and stuck it at the bottom of the case, under
Every chance I got, I went body surfing at Old Mission Beach. I usually went
by streetcar and, since I had to transfer Downtown, I wore clothes.
Unfortunately, while I was riding the trolley home from the beach one Saturday,
the case carrying my glasses slipped out of my pocket unnoticed. I reported
the loss to my mother that night. She chastised me and later called the
streetcar company. They said that the glasses hadn't been turned in.
After a few weeks of waiting in vain for the glasses to turn up, we began
to lose hope. My mother didn't rush getting replacement glasses in view
of the fact that I hadn't worn them much and they cost about $8, a large
sum at that time. (To me, $8 represented 40 round trips to the beach by
streetcar, or 80 admission fees to the movies.)
Unknown to us, the case had been found by a patriotic citizen who opened
it, discovered the code key, recognized that it must belong to a
Japanese spy and turned it over to the F.B.I. This was in 1943, just
after citizens of Japanese descent had been forced off their property and
taken away to concentration camps. I remember hearing that a local grocer
was secretly a Colonel in the Japanese Army and had hidden his uniform in
the back of his store. A lot of people actually believed these things.
About six weeks later, when I happened to be off on another escapade, my
mother was visited by a man who identified himself as an investigator from
the F.B.I. (She was a school administrator, but happened to be at home
working on her Ph.D. dissertation.) She noticed that there were two more
men waiting in a car outside. The agent asked a number of questions about
me, including my occupation. He reportedly was quite disappointed when he
learned that I was only 12 years old.
He eventually revealed why I was being investigated, showed my mother the
glasses and the code key and asked her if she knew where it came from. She
didn't, of course. She asked if we could get the glasses back and he agreed.
My mother told the investigator how glad she was to get them back, considering
that they cost $8. He did a slow burn, then said "Lady, this case has cost the
government thousands of dollars. It has been the top priority in our office
for the last six weeks. We traced the glasses to your son from the
prescription by examining the files of nearly every optometrist in San Diego."
It apparently didn't occur to them that if I were a REAL Japanese spy, I might
have brought the glasses with me from headquarters.
The F.B.I. agent gave back the glasses but kept the code key "for our records."
They apparently were not fully convinced that they were dealing just with kids.
Since our communication scheme had been compromised, Bob and I devised a new
key. I started carrying it in my wallet, which I thought was more secure. I
don't remember ever exchanging any cryptographic messages. I was always ready,
A few years later when I was in college, I got a summer job at the Naval
Electronics Lab, which required a security clearance. One of the questions on
the application form was "Have you ever been investigated by the F.B.I."
Naturally, I checked "Yes." The next question was, "If so, describe the
circumstances." There was very little space on the form, so I answered simply
and honestly, "I was suspected of being a Japanese spy."
When I handed the form in to the security officer, he scanned it quickly,
looked me over slowly, then said, "Explain this" -- pointing at the F.B.I.
question. I described what had happened. He got very agitated, picked up my
form, tore it in pieces, and threw it in the waste basket.
He then got out a blank form and handed it to me, saying "Here, fill it out
again and don't mention that. If you do, I'll make sure that you NEVER get a
I did as he directed and was shortly granted the clearance. I never again
disclosed that incident on security clearance forms.
On another occasion much later, I learned by chance that putting certain
provocative information on a security clearance form can greatly speed up
the clearance process. But that is another story.
Date: 13 Apr 88 1756 PDT
From: Les Earnest <LES@SAIL.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: Re: Discrimination and careless arguments
At the risk of going further afield from the purpose of Comp.risks, I wish
to prolong the discussion of "race." In Vol. 6, #58, David Thomasson
seems to argue that I made careless arguments in the "mongrel" stories,
then he puts forth the following argument.
> . . . Explaining why he refused to reveal his race on a license
> application, Earnest argued as follows (I paraphrase): (1) Race has
> nothing to do with driving a car. Therefore, (2) asking for an applicant's
> race isn't justifiable. My point was not about ideal motor vehicle
> bureaus; it was about logic: (2) doesn't follow from (1). The suppressed
> premise is: (1A) If X has nothing to do with driving a car, then X cannot
> justifiably be put on a license application. *If* once accepts that
> premise, then most of the information on drivers licenses is unjustified:
> name, address, color of eyes, color of hair, etc. And this, of course, is
> patent silliness.
Yes, that _is_ patent silliness. The things that Mr. Thomasson lists at the
end are useful identification properties. "Race" is not, unless you are a
Further on, Thomasson says:
> Asking for race on a driver's license is, I suggest, justified because it
> is useful in identifying the licensee.
Thomasson apparently believes that everyone belongs to some race and that
that race is determinable. He probably also believes that all dogs belong
to some breed. I would like to accompany him to a city pound somewhere and
listen to him identify all the mutts there.
In the 1960s, the Commonwealth of Virginia included in the category of
"Colored" everyone who they called Negro, Indian (both American and most
people from India), other dark-skinned groups, and anyone who was
detectably a mixture of any of these with some other "race." Was this a
useful identification property? I think not.
Color of skin and color of hair _are_ useful for identification and may
reasonably be included on a drivers license. I know a lady with very dark
skin and bright orange hair. What race would you say she belongs to? I
saw a number of comely ladies in Amsterdam awhile back with pale skin and
bright green hair. How should we classify them?
For that matter, if I claim that I am a Martian, can you prove I am wrong?
You probably don't even know what a Martian looks like.
[There is considerable redundancy among this and the following two
messages, but I would rather not do burn any abridgements. PGN]
Date: 17 Apr 88 1907 PDT
From: Les Earnest <LES@SAIL.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: Mongrelism 1: Fuzzy concepts lead to fuzzy decisions
Some people found the mongrel stories amusing, some found them educational,
and at least one person found them disturbing, apparently because they
made fun of deeply held beliefs. So be it.
I regret to report that I have three more things to say on this topic [here
and following]. I really do hope that we can put this to bed soon. In
fact, if the discussion continues unabated I will shortly propose the
formation of newsgroup comp.race to discuss the computational aspects of
race determination. I offer here a preview by showing the current
theoretical basis for the field, which can be stated in a single line:
I particularly enjoyed reading the insightful remarks of John Mainwaring
in comp.risks 6:60 and the educational humor of Will Martin in 6:61.
In comp.risks 6:61, David Thomasson says:
> "Apparently believes...probably believes" -- more Straw Men. In fact, I
> believe that virtually everyone can be put into some racial category that is
> very useful for purposes of identification, even though such categories are
> not biologically precise. As for the rest of the above, Earnest's argument
> has gone to the dogs.
This is cute, but very evasive. Thomasson neglects to identify the exceptions
In the same article, Thomasson later remarks:
> In my experience, "race" has been roughly equivalent to "color of
> skin" in police work. So, while it's true that "race" is biologically
> imprecise (even incorrect), those who use race for identification purposes
> aren't concerned about biology . . .
Here he finally comes to grips with reality. We are left to wonder why
the police don't use skin color for identification, given that they don't
"Black" and "White" are Relative
Nearly all of the people in the U.S. who call themselves Black are
genetic mixtures of African and European peoples. Because our culture
is predominently European, anyone who has detectably African features is
called "Black," even if they are genetically, say, 7/8 European. If we were
a predominently African country, these same people would likely be called
"White" because they have detectably European features. In other words,
current racial classifications are made relative to the "norm," which
makes them intrinsically subjective and rather unreliable.
However, it will shortly be possible to make unambiguous racial classifications
as discussed in the next posting.
Date: 18 Apr 88 0217 PDT
From: Les Earnest <LES@SAIL.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: Mongrelism 2: Genetic Classification and the Urge to Merge
Given that the human genetic code is now in the process of being unravelled,
it should soon be possible to classify people into racial groups in a
meaningful way. One way to do this, once we can reliably disassemble the
code for any given person, is to define various racial standards in terms of
this code, such as a standard Negro, a standard Caucasian, a standard
Chinese, etc. Of course, some people will want to carry this a step further
and define a standard Texan or even a standard South Philadelphian.
Once we choose a set of standards, then everyone can be classified as being
members of the racial group whose standard is closest to their own genetic
code. The Hamming Distance between pairs of codes would be a reasonably
good measure of genetic distance. That is, given that genetic codes are
base 4, we could simply count the number of differences in the base 4 code
Thus, after we get over the argument over which are the standard races, it
should be possible to assign everyone unequivocally to a racial group,
except for the rare individuals who happen to be _exactly_ halfway between
the two closest standards.
While this wonder of future science will support nearly unequivocal racial
classifications, it clearly will not be useful for visual identification.
In fact, I can't think of anything that it _would_ be good for, other than
providing a formalized basis for bigotry. For purposes of individual
identification, the person's full genetic code will be far more useful.
The Urge to Merge
Whether or not we solve the problem of racial discrimination and conflict
through education and political action, human biology will probably solve it
for us in the long run. Recent studies indicate that if there are no more
major influxes of foreign populations into the U.S., distinguishable racial
groups will essentially disappear in this country within 300 years because
of "the urge to merge." In other words, the U.S. is destined to become a
nation of mongrels.
This likely will be disappointing to white supremicists and black activists,
who will _both_ soon be members of shrinking minorities. In fact, they may
be already. I predict that new rallying cries will be heard as the mongrels
become the majority -- maybe things like "Beige is Beautiful."
P.S. With respect to the "urge to merge," I can report that my family is
doing its share. One of my sons, Mark, lives in Alaska and is married to
a Yupick Eskimo lady named Cathy Lincoln. (She also has a Yupick name
that sounds something like attempting to clear your sinus while spitting
out an ingested bee.)
Mark is generally well received in Eskimo communities, though he
occasionally encounters some prejudice. They call him a "gussack" which
has about the same meaning there as "gringo" does further South.
"Gussack" is a Yupick word that was derived about two centuries ago from
the Russian word "cossack." You can imagine how that came about.
Mark and Cathy have three beautiful little mongrels, who can look forward
to participating in the (hopefully) peaceful overthrow of the WASP
group that has run this country for the last 400 years.
Date: Tue, 7 May 91 19:53:23 -0700
From: Les Earnest <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Smart alecks vs. the census computer
A news report indicates that an increasing number of Americans are
thumbing their noses at the Federal government's mindless insistence
on classifying everyone into traditional ethnic categories ["Census
menu contained lots of spice," San Jose Mercury News, 5/7/91, p. 1A].
The feds are reportedly fighting back with advanced computer technology.
Several years ago I pointed out in this forum that no one had yet
devised a scheme that would reliably and unambiguously assign each
individual to a particular racial or ethnic category. Those postings
were later developed into an article arguing that all statistical
studies of racial or ethnic categories and the governmental programs
based on them, especially Affirmative Action, rest upon unstable
foundations ["Can computers cope with human races?" CACM, Feb. 1989].
I advocated answering questions about one's ethnicity with "mongrel"
and a number of people later told me that they had used that answer
or similar ones in the 1990 Federal census.
Today's news story says that the Census Bureau received many answers
such as "a little bit Norwegian," "a little bit of everything,"
"California boy," "Heinz 57," "a fine blend," and "steak sauce."
They somehow decided that most of these responses came from people of
Hispanic descent, according to Roderick Harrison, chief of the Race
Statistics Branch of the Census Bureau. Other answers included "child
of God," "none of your business," "NOYB," and "NOYFB."
The article goes on to say:
"This year, for the first time, spiffy new technology enabled the
census to decipher each and every write-in answer to the race
question. (In 1980, only a small sample was read.) The census
computer was able to sort and assign about 85 percent of those
`unique responses' to a racial group."
This is truly a remarkable claim: apparently the computer has
somehow figured out not only how to classify individuals into ethnic
classes, but how to do it even when they give ambiguous or misleading
answers. If this claim holds up under scrutiny, I will nominate it
as the first example of true artifical intelligence.
The article goes on to mention that there are limits to its classification
"But the computer could not match about 200,000 quirky, smart-aleck
and just plain weird answers such as `golden child,'
`extraterrestial,' `alien,' `exotic hybrid,' `exchange student,'
`half and half,' `fat pig,' `father adopted, race unknown,' `all of
the above,' `handicapped,' and `exquisite.'"
Despite these limitations, it appears that the Census Bureau is well ahead
of the rest of the world in computer science. ;-)
Les Earnest UUCP: . . . decwrl!cs.Stanford.edu!Les
12769 Dianne Dr. Los Altos Hills, CA 94022 Phone: 415 941-3984