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November 26, 2003

MASTER/SLAVE....I've been ignoring the "master/slave" controversy over in Los Angeles County, figuring it was just some stupid dustup that was being overhyped by the usual suspects. But apparently not. Via Eugene Volokh, the county is really taking this nonsense seriously.

(Quick summary: some county employee complained about having to work with computer equipment marked "master" and "slave." This is standard ISO approved nomenclature for things like disk drives and is used worldwide. For example, if you have multiple SCSI drives in your PC, one is the master and all the rest are slaves.)

Anyway, a manager in the purchasing department wrote a letter to vendors asking them to relabel their equipment. That's pretty dumb, but it's just one guy and the vendors aren't going to do anything anyway. But now there's this:

Under orders from the affirmative action office, county departments have surveyed about 1,000 pieces of equipment and taped over "master/slave" and put "primary/secondary" on the equipment, officials said.

....[Dennis A. Tafoya, director of the affirmative action office, said] "This has got some people's hair up on the back of their neck. They believe it's a question of being politically correct. It's not that at all. It's an issue of valuing diversity, respect and dignity for the individual who comes to work here every day. The issue that resonates in different people's minds is a very negative connotation."

If this isn't PC run amok, I don't know what is. "Master" and "slave" are ordinary English words, not epithets, and it's absurd to try and ban them from common usage.

Making a bunch of county employees run around with rolls of masking tape to cover up faux offenses is playground stuff. "Knock it off and get back to work" is all the respect that this particular complaint deserved.

POSTSCRIPT: Before anyone asks, yes, this stuff actually matters. There are plenty of genuine offenses left in our society, and childish stuff like this just leads people to throw up their hands in disgust and conclude that all complaints of racial offensiveness are equally ludicrous. It's a real disservice to take things like this seriously.

Posted by Kevin Drum at November 26, 2003 06:06 PM | TrackBack


Comments

In high school I had an argument with a kid that was convinced that "slavery" meant "slavery of Africans + decendants." He had a psuedo-Marxist "The history of the world is the history of the race relations" concept of the Universe.

Master/Slave is standard ATA nomenclature and has been for years. It defines the relationship between multiple devices for which precisely one is the recognized as the boot volume. Primary/secondary does not work as it implies an ordered hierarchy. Principle/suboordinate would work I suppose. I have NEVER looked at Master/Slave in this context and considered race at all. It always meant hard drives to me.

Posted by: Saam Barrager at November 26, 2003 06:30 PM | PERMALINK

I absolutely agree. "Master/Slave" are *purely* technical descriptions -- and valid ones at that, as any PC-savvy teenager could tell you. I could understand the desire to take this course of action if the words were loaded or purposefully used with ill meaning, but this doesn't even come near that point.

Do they still call cigarettes "fags" across the pond? (And is "fag" used there as it is here?)

Posted by: the good reverend at November 26, 2003 06:31 PM | PERMALINK

I noticed another blog that mentioned that theri system had used (years ago) the terms "master" and "tracker" instead, with no ill effects. I feel ambivalebt on this particular issue, having felt for years that it was a stupid and insensitive set of terms to use but that it's not over important... but then.

I just thought of this. This is unimportant PC BS, right? Okay, it is a small thing. But why, among many of the same people who will decry this as small potatoes PC BS, the notion of the "broken windows" theory of cleaning up a city is A-okay? If going after very small crimes is indeed an effective method to ultimately make a city like NYC safer and better overall, why isn't going after very small things like "master/slave" terminology also an effective method to create a desirable change?

Posted by: QrazyQat at November 26, 2003 06:34 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, they still use fag to mean a cigarette. I have a friend from England who used the word once on Roger Wilco and had the rest of us in the US rolling on the floor. He said he was going to take a break to have a fag.

Ok, you had to be there.

Posted by: Guy Andrew Hall a.k.a. Rook at November 26, 2003 06:38 PM | PERMALINK

In high school, we had something called Senior Slave Day, an auction to buy a "slave' for one day during school hours. Out of 800 students , only 3 were Blacks, so who knew? That was 1959. Now that the school is 75% Black, do you think they're stil holding slave day auctions?

If you were Black, would you want to see the word "slave" or "master" on your computer at work every day? Perhaps all the employees are White like you and I.

I understand your point, but there is nothing wrong with removing language that may offend someone if no harm results one way or the other and some people go to work a little happier.

Posted by: John W at November 26, 2003 06:43 PM | PERMALINK

As a practitioner of non-hierarchical polyamory, I find the recommended usage in LA County of the expressions "primary" and "secondary" (e.g. for SCSI disk drives) to be demeaning and disrespectful to my lifechoices and relationships.

It's hard enough to be polyamorous in a predominantly monogamous workplace, and especially so if one is "out" to one's co-workers and management. This unfortunate terminology merely provides an opportunity for unwelcome jokes and other forms of harrassment -- which in fact constitute sexual harrassment -- for polyamorous employees of Los Angeles County by their less enlightened peers.

Posted by: Alan Bostick at November 26, 2003 06:46 PM | PERMALINK

I also thought this was something that was being overhyped, and I still think that. It's just a case of a city councilman who is power-mad (rather ironically) but essentially harmless. Why give him so much attention?

Anyway, to play the devil's advocate a little, I can at least see his point. The word "slave" is charged, especially when used in conjunction with "master." There's no reason to use "slave" instead of "secondary;" it was probably just named by some geek 30 years ago who never imagined that a hypersensitive city legislator would have any reason to think about the lingo surrounding a magnetic storage device. (In fact, some computer companies, like Microsoft, have always used the primary/secondary terminology, probably for just this reason. Is there anything wrong with that?)

Of course, this also doesn't mean that money should be spent on making the change. That's where the "power-mad" part comes in. I can think of much more outrageous wastes of government resources by much more influential power-mad politicians, though, so why waste your beautiful mind thinking about this one?

Posted by: neil at November 26, 2003 06:46 PM | PERMALINK

"why isn't going after very small things like "master/slave" terminology also an effective method to create a desirable change?"

Because people don't model their lives by the terminology used for IDE drives, that's why. The use of master/slave isn't supporting or encouraging the institution of a slaveholding society. IT'S A PIECE OF ELECTRONICS.

Nor is it a racial issue, seeing as how there isn't a racial group that hasn't had its members enslaved at some point in history.

Posted by: Jon H at November 26, 2003 06:49 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with primary/secondary is that those are already in use with computer equipment. Most desktop PCs will have a primary and secondary IDE port, allowing a primary master, a primary slave, a secondary master, and a secondary slave.

Posted by: jon at November 26, 2003 06:49 PM | PERMALINK

Secondary doesn't imply control, it just implies hierarchy. Master/slave implies control. And what term do you use with slave, but master? Should it be slave and buddy?

And, again, race has nothing to do with it. Everyone's been a slave, and everyone's owned slaves. Whites have been slaves, and blacks have owned slaves.

I suppose the next thing, LA will be going after male/female connectors, and insisting that all their devices have gender-free interconnects because the act of penetrating a wall socket is insensitive.

Posted by: Jon H at November 26, 2003 06:53 PM | PERMALINK

John W. writes: "If you were Black, would you want to see the word "slave" or "master" on your computer at work every day? "

Perhaps the word "child" and variants should be eradicated from the workplace to avoid hurting the feelings of the barren and those who've lost children to illness or accident.

Posted by: Jon H at November 26, 2003 06:57 PM | PERMALINK

Jon, I think you're drawing a false conclusion. Perhaps it's true that there isn't a racial group that hasn't been enslaved at some point in history. It absolutely does not follow, though, that the term "slave" should have exactly the same meaning to every race in America in the early 21st century. For one thing, not every racial group has been enslaved _in America_. Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find a single American white person who has an ancestor from the last five or six generations who was a slave, whereas there are probably few American blacks who don't.

So don't say that this isn't a racial issue, and don't assume that it means as little to everyone else as it does to you for this bogus reason.

Posted by: neil at November 26, 2003 06:57 PM | PERMALINK

neil writes: " Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find a single American white person who has an ancestor from the last five or six generations who was a slave, whereas there are probably few American blacks who don't."

You could probably find people of Russian descent whose recent ancestors were, essentially, slaves.

Posted by: Jon H at November 26, 2003 06:59 PM | PERMALINK

It should be noted that it's rare (in my experience, anyway) for "master/slave" to appear anywhere except deep in a computer's settings (which can sometimes be seen during a computer's startup process) and amongst the tediously tiny listings of serial numbers and model numbers on the back or bottom of external hard drives.

If I'm mistaken, please correct me.

Posted by: the good reverend at November 26, 2003 07:00 PM | PERMALINK

Jon: Well, comrade, go and find me one. I bet I can find a dozen black people while you're still interviewing Eastern European-looking people about their family trees. Slave is a racialized term in America. (Whether this justifies a Cultural Revolution is a separate issue.)

Reverend: I believe that some BIOSes will list the hard drives during the boot sequence, and label them as master and slave. I've never seen it written anywhere on a computer that you don't need a screwdriver to get access to, though, which makes me wonder about these stickers. Most drives just have MA and SL etched in plastic above a set of jumpers, in fact. Here's a guess: LA county computers have labels on them describing the hardware, and the labels have master/slave printed on them. If this is the case, then the correctional stickers are less of a big deal. Us techies are probably imagining someone unscrewing a case and putting a decal over the back of a hard drive, but I won't believe that until I see it.

Posted by: neil at November 26, 2003 07:10 PM | PERMALINK

John W: "there is nothing wrong with removing language that may offend someone if no harm results one way or the other and some people go to work a little happier."

If there were anything even a little bit genuinely offensive here, I might agree. However, the message here is that even things that have no intrinsic offense at all are legitimate objects of mock outrage. It just encourages people to look for things to be offended by, a behavior that is distressingly common among all groups these days (including white males, I might add).

Plus, there really is a downside: it degrades the idea of actual offense. Why even bother paying attention to complaints of offensiveness if this is the kind of thing it's likely to be? If you cry wolf too often, no one comes when there really is a wolf.

Posted by: Kevin Drum at November 26, 2003 07:12 PM | PERMALINK

And one other thing I'm curious about: if "master" and "slave" are banned in this context, which is completely technical, is there any context in which they're OK? Or are they completely banned from the English language?

Posted by: Kevin Drum at November 26, 2003 07:14 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I think your point can be turned on its head. If you can use the term "master" and "slave" for something as simple as one hard drive passing commands on to another one, then doesn't this degrade the idea of actual slavery? I don't think you can assume that a completely technical context is the most appropriate one for it. You might think so yourself, being a computer guy (and I, too, see it as harmless), but not everyone thinks this way.

Anyway, we'll see whether this guy goes after the bondage clubs next, but I suspect that this is his beef.

Posted by: neil at November 26, 2003 07:20 PM | PERMALINK

I find myself going against the grain on this one. If you did an independent word association and asked people to associate the combination of master/slave, how many would pick plantation owner and black slave versus disk drives? Of course, I tried this on myself and I came up with Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden (but that's only because 'Jeanie' made such a big impression on me!)

I could probably be talked out of my position, but I think I'm empathetic to the offended here. I can understand how the words could invoke a visceral response in some.

Posted by: poputonian at November 26, 2003 07:27 PM | PERMALINK

scsi is not really a master/slave thing (the master is the motherboard). firewire is similar, aside from the head node, others have no hierarchy. scsi mainly supports 7/15 nodes, firewire supports 63.

really, this master/slave stuff is only ata (commodity pc), but from the dictionary for "slave":

4. A machine or component controlled by another machine or component.

torn on this one... primary/secondary seems more accurate as to how ata operates, and yet, must we allow a continual parade of hyper-empathists to jew us of innocent jargon.

sanitizing language to suit everyone is impossible. i'll never forget christopher ricks (_the state of the language_) warning that if we wished to study metaphysical poetry, we best consider our tolerance for cunt puns. of course, he indicated the door was available for those of low tolerance.

(another bit i'll not forget was his easy slander on the irish as incestuous, and most surprising, he walks even more quickly than he lectures...)

Posted by: sean broderick at November 26, 2003 07:28 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, this is exactly the kind of stupidity that trivializes real concerns.I am black, and yes I spend all day working with computers - and I have never for one moment seen it as offensive. This is the kind of bullsh*t that people will cite the next time I have a real racial concern. D'y'all remember that New York councillor who lost his job because he described a budget as 'niggardly'? That's the same kind of hyperPC that solves absolutely nothing - in fact I have a theory about hyperPC practicioners: they feel somehow *personally* guilty, and this is their method of alleviating their guilt. I'd rather I was treated with respect and dignity and fairness, instead of being 'compensated'.

Posted by: Coriolanus at November 26, 2003 07:33 PM | PERMALINK

and, oh yeah, I spend a lot of time in London, England, and it's still called a fag there. Yeah, it's a crackup.

Posted by: Coriolanus at November 26, 2003 07:35 PM | PERMALINK

> You could probably find people of Russian descent
> whose recent ancestors were, essentially, slaves.

dont forget the irish, endentured servitude was
also slavery. .

i had irish immigrant ancestors, i dont feel offended by this terminology one bit, hmm wonder why. .

primary/secondary controller
master/slave drive

its asinine to waste time and money
taking out the drives and covering up
the writing on them with something more "pc"

SHEEYEESH

Posted by: cary at November 26, 2003 07:39 PM | PERMALINK

I was going to also mention that SCSI is not a master/slave architecture. I believe you mean IDE.

This is asinine, really. Political Correctness run amok. It is an attempt to pollute the technical language of an industry to meet some arbitrary requirements. What's next, the banning of male/female connectors?

I'm sure LA County uses unix-derived systems (e.g., Solaris, linux). How will they feel about daemon processes that spawn children, kill them and then wait for notification of their deaths? These are the actual terms used, for over 30 years.

Posted by: kherr at November 26, 2003 07:39 PM | PERMALINK

Having for years used only Macs with SCSI drives, which are identified with just numbers, I had never encountered the master-slave nomenclature until working on a friend's PC. "Aha," I thought. "Yet another indication of the evil that lurks in the soul of the PC."

Now that Macs, too, use IDE drives, I encounter the terminology more frequently and, yes, I usually pause for a moment to contemplate its various levels of meaning when I'm messing around with a computer's drives. I suspect the terms were dreamed up by some geek who wanted to inject a little drama into an otherwise hum-drum routine. I suspect the same of anyone who wants to make an "issue" of it.

But it's not a real master-slave relationship. The master doesn't own the slave. The slave is not bound to the master. You can turn a slave into a master and a master into a slave by fiddling with a a couple of jumpers.

I'm more concerned with the master-slave relationship between computers and their users. Sometimes I feel I am the master and the computer is my slave. Then there are times that it seems to be the other way around.

Posted by: Nat at November 26, 2003 08:02 PM | PERMALINK

I'm finding this all discussion quite fascinating. I recall back in my youth in California people talking about "interfacing" with each other. Odd that computerspeak had so penetrated our society even then that human communication should be defined in terms of 1s and 0s.

And while I am no fan of PC, I do ask that you ponder this: we have become so inept at simply talking with each other, many of us need programs like PowerPoint to give shape to ideas we are sharing with people in the very same room with us.

The only thing I would suggest here is that language conveys subtlety we don't even know we have. When Dubya -- Christ! Can't he even spell that right? -- speaks in London, he needs a PowerPoint backdrop to tell us, "United Kingdom," as if the Brits were stupid enough to have the same form of government as the United States -- United Kingdom, United States, United Kingdom, United States. Strangers facter than fiction...

As to the master and slave discussion: maybe we need to rethink our whole relationship with the computer. Anybody here tried to get any work done when your PC is crashed?

Posted by: Jackson at November 26, 2003 08:04 PM | PERMALINK

As someone who just installed a new hard drive, this is fresh in my head ... Kevin is right on the money in everything he's said.

This would be different if all white hard drives were called masters, and all black hard drives were called slaves. But these are legitimate words, and they describe the hard drive relationship. Otherwise, let's just ban the words from the English language.

Actually, I think "hard drive" is a term that's offensive to my Christian sensibilities ... I'll let you ponder that.

Posted by: AdamW at November 26, 2003 08:10 PM | PERMALINK

That does it. I am renaming "Master" and "Slave" to "Bourgeoisie" and "Prolotariat"

Posted by: Matthew Saroff at November 26, 2003 08:12 PM | PERMALINK

sean broderick wrote:
"and yet, must we allow a continual parade of hyper-empathists to jew us of innocent jargon."

The irony of that sentence is pretty damn...well, damning.

Posted by: Penon at November 26, 2003 08:55 PM | PERMALINK

Because people don't model their lives by the terminology used for IDE drives, that's why. The use of master/slave isn't supporting or encouraging the institution of a slaveholding society

It is a stretch, but then isn't it also an incredible stretch to claim, as the "broken windows" theory does, that not coming down really hard on extremely minor crimes encourages robberies and murders. And of course the question is not the question you imply it is -- it's not whether or not this terminology supports or encourages a slave-holding society, but rather whether or not it is offensive to people.

Posted by: QrazyQat at November 26, 2003 09:01 PM | PERMALINK

"Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find a single American white person who has an ancestor from the last five or six generations who was a slave..."

Ha! Tell that to all the white folks who talk about their "Cherokee" great-grandma. If you want to find out for sure, get slave reparations passed and see how many white folks find and carefully document their enslaved ancestor(s).

Posted by: David Thompson at November 26, 2003 09:04 PM | PERMALINK

I guess we'll now be asking "Is my PC PC?" Well, would you look at that: the same acronym with TWO meanings. How ironic in a debate spawned by people having trouble with that concept.

Posted by: Matt at November 26, 2003 09:17 PM | PERMALINK

Oh dear god this is stupid. Complaining about master/slave as technical terms?! David Horowitz on his best day couldn't make this shit up! Like Kevin asked, is there any context in which these words would be appropriate or should we simply strike them from the dictionary?

The left over the course of the past few decades has made an art form of taking perfectly good ideas and taking them to ridiculously foolish extremes.
This ofcourse means that conservatives in the culture wars don't really have to convince anyone of the value of their own positions. They just have to shake their heads and tsk solemnly at the idiocy of the left and voila, instant public appeal.

Look, a guy who goes around making fun of minorities, women and gays is just a jerk. But a guy making fun of minorities, women and gays in the face of the "liberal establishment" which wants to shut him down, is a rebel, a freedom fighter. Hard-lefties have taken being a cantancerous old fart and made it sexy.
It's like they want to lose.

Posted by: WillieStyle at November 26, 2003 09:18 PM | PERMALINK

QrazyQat writes: "It is a stretch, but then isn't it also an incredible stretch to claim, as the "broken windows" theory does, that not coming down really hard on extremely minor crimes encourages robberies and murders. And of course the question is not the question you imply it is -- it's not whether or not this terminology supports or encourages a slave-holding society, but rather whether or not it is offensive to people."

And the response is that a reasonable person wouldn't be offended by "master/slave" used in reference to electronics.

People who are that sensitive need counseling.

Incidentally, I bet LA county personnel have no problem using an ottoman, despite the fact that the Ottoman empire was a massive participant in slavery (of whites and blacks).

Posted by: Jon H at November 26, 2003 09:21 PM | PERMALINK

1. If this was the ONLY remnant of our ugly past to confront someone, it would be over reacting. If the only fights about race that get on our radar are where we have to use the phrase "over-reacting" or "reverse descrimination" I'll bet we're actually guilty of at least turning a blind eye to stuff that's everywhere, really ugly, and EASIER to find than these issues. What's the comparative value of this incident in one direction, and the fact that the Majority Leader of the Senate hung with the CCC, until getting "demoted" to only chairing a committee? I hope everyone who wrote in on this one finds time to comment proportionally on someone like Haley Barbour!


2. I know someone who likes to use the word "bitch" in a technically correct way, but we know what he really means. Maybe this is an effort to nibble away at the clever ways modern racists have to still get their point across.

Posted by: jim at November 26, 2003 09:26 PM | PERMALINK

The worst thing about this master/slave dustup is that it provides fodder for the right wingnuts to harp about political correctness. In the proper context, issues of political correctness are indeed serious, but the present example is probably not going to accomplish much more than creating a very lenghty thread over at the New Republic.

Posted by: peter jung at November 26, 2003 09:30 PM | PERMALINK

Okay yea my ancestors were slaves in Russia 4 generations ago. I am not black.

Master/slave is part of the standard. LA County should seek to have the standard changed if they have a problem. As it is they have just ensured that their IT department is less cost effective than any similar department just because they will have to have staff mediating the county's action with the standard into the foreseeable future.

Big brain dead move? You betcha!

Posted by: filchyboy at November 26, 2003 09:30 PM | PERMALINK

I am feeling somewhat contrarian about this also, I think because of all the posts worrying about whether the freepers will make fun of us or not take us seriously if aren't careful to complain about only Really Important things. Pfui. They'll make fun of us and belittle our issues regardless. I don't like people trying to shut me up by accusing me of being PC.

The "niggardly" incident was quite different. There someone lost his job (IIRC) because of using a word entirely appropriately. Here, no one is trying to get anyone fired, or adversely affect anyone. They just want to put tape over the labels on their computers. It is hard for me to see why anyone would be offended, but I'm not inclined to tell them to shut up either.

Posted by: EmmaAnne at November 26, 2003 09:46 PM | PERMALINK

Frankly, you guys who think that Irish indentured servants are equivalent to African slaves are providing ample evidence to this guy's claim that Americans are desensitized to the horrors of the African slave trade.

Here's a hint: the Irish WANTED to come here. And they even got to eat and drink on the boat over. What a deal!

Posted by: neil at November 26, 2003 09:53 PM | PERMALINK

Call me a moral relativist, but I just can't get upset at the idea of enslaving a computer. My objections to slavery don't extend to slavery for inanimate objects.

Posted by: rea at November 26, 2003 09:54 PM | PERMALINK

primary/secondary have been used for close to a decade now by some manufactures. If master/slave is ISO approved nomenclature (I trust you implicitly Kevin), I don't see any reason not to change it and make it effective during the next product cycle if it offends some.

Technology turns around so fast, "master/slave" could be extinct in a year.

"master/slave" lacks the nostalgia of wop, spic, krout, nigger, etc. - and while "slave" associated with "sex" is interesting, it does start to loose it's luster when associated with disk drives.

Posted by: dorsano at November 26, 2003 09:58 PM | PERMALINK

I do think this is silly. But since it is such a trivial thing, thus making complaining about it silly, it is also, by the same logic, silly to care if it is changed.

The first time I heard the terminology I thought: 'wow, what idiot named this?' I would never use terms like that for something like this, for this very reason. There are plenty of other ways to describe it. Hell, even the gripes about the primary and secondary IDE interfaces are moot. It is completely unambigous: Primary Master, Primary Secondary, Secondary Master, Secondary Secondary. Sure, it sound stupid. But so does Primary Master, and we're back to the boneheaded moron that came up with the terms.

Posted by: Timothy Klein at November 26, 2003 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

This is so far beyond the level of asinine, attention-grabbing whining that I find it appalling this got more than a roll of the eyes from LA County.

The best points I've seen or thought of so far are as follows:

1. Master/Slave are standard industry terminology, and have been for well over a decade. This terminology is used not just for hard drives or IDE devices, but for power converters, remote control vehicles, networking, and virtually any other scenario in which no other pair of words can as aptly describe the relationship between two objects or systems. The American Heritage Dictionary, among others, recognizes this as a legitimate definition.

2. Blacks have been working with computers and in other fields which use this terminology as long as it's been around--and in my fifteen years of working with PCs, this is the /first/ time I've ever heard of someone finding the term offensive. This strongly argues that the vast majority of black people do not--a supposition echoed by the current results on CNN's pol, which show that 90% of respondents, irrespective of race, don't think this is an issue. You couldn't get that many people to agree on /any/ issue CNN puts up.

3. Someone suggested that pursuing something like this was analogous to hunting down all the little crimes in the city. I disagree. First of all, it presupposes that this is even a wrong to be addressed. I don't think it is, and clearly the vast majority of the country--and, I'd argue, black people--don't either. Second, if your desire is to increase racial sensitivity, then pecking away at things like this is actually counterproductive--it causes most people to roll their eyes, and reduces support for going after legitimate grievances.

4. Someone else wondered what all the fuss was, since all they saw was LA County re-labeling some computer equipment. This is not the point, nor is it correct. These people are actually trying to pressure manufacturers into /changing/ the terminology. To say that this would go over like a lead balloon among the people who actually work with computer equipment is crediting lead with too little buoyancy. It is arrogant, asinine, and if the companies involved have any sense they'll tell LA County to stick their own labels on their own PCs, and stick their hyperactive PC-ness where it came from.

Posted by: Catsy at November 26, 2003 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

When someone says the phrase "master and slave", and someone else gets all teary eyed and says some variation of the phrase "Dammit man!, My grandfather was a slave!", it just kinda reminds me of a couple things.
First, playground insults. Anyone who gets mad because some bully calls his Momma a bad name is more sensitive than I have sympathy for. In other words, overly sensitive restrictions on any type of speech generally get a "sticks and stones" type of response from me.
Second, in context, these words are entirely appropriate to express the content of their intended meaning. The first listed definition of "master" on dictionary.com is: "One that has control over another or others." An especially appropriate definition is listed as the fourth meaning of the word "slave", "A machine or component controlled by another machine or component." Also, the second listed meaning seems appropriate, "One who is abjectly subservient to a specified person or influence".
These words are intended to mean exactly what they do mean. The definitions of the terms used precisely and unambiguously show what is meant by the relationship expressed in using those terms. To infer a racist or otherwise socially unacceptable meaning in using those words in this context, and then take action to strike the words from common usage, would give entirely too much power over language to anyone who might feel offended for any reason.

Posted by: Spork at November 26, 2003 10:55 PM | PERMALINK

Even though issues such as this are idiotic in and of themselves, they need to be addressed. It needs to be realized that there is no constitutional right to NOT be offended in one way or another. Hastening to accommodate those "offended" on such issues simply inspires more such demands in the future, and fosters their concept of a "right" to not be offended by whatever. And if this ever gets established in general, society will become hopelessly dysfunctional and entropic, due to the perceived need to micro-manage and micro-legislate the use of what would amound to an entire dictionary of words that would no doubt offend someone, somewhere.

Antoinetta III

Posted by: Antoinetta III at November 26, 2003 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

neil wrote:

"Frankly, you guys who think that Irish indentured servants are equivalent to African slaves are providing ample evidence to this guy's claim that Americans are desensitized to the horrors of the African slave trade."

perhaps you are the one who is desensitized. .
a cursory google finds lots of information about white slavery in america. .

here is one in particular. .
http://www.electricscotland.com/history/other/white_slavery.htm

not that i dont agree with you that the slave
trade in general was horrific. .

"indentured servant" was just a euphemism
for "slave". .

this really isnt something i feel like debating. .
just trying to be as objective as possible. .

adieu. .

Posted by: cary at November 26, 2003 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

neil writes: "Frankly, you guys who think that Irish indentured servants are equivalent to African slaves are providing ample evidence to this guy's claim that Americans are desensitized to the horrors of the African slave trade."

You're the only one who brought up indenture.

Try the European and Slavic people who were taken into the Ottoman slave trade, among others. I don't think anyone was asking to go, but areas of the Ukraine had their population depleted from people being taken away.

Pretty much every society has had slaves. Native Americans, Europeans, Africans, Asians. You didn't even have to be a different skin color to be a slave, you just had to be from somewhere else, so escape would be difficult.

Posted by: Jon H at November 26, 2003 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

OK, now suppose the geeks thirty years ago had thought of the names, "Nazi" and "Jew", instead of "master" and "slave".

Posted by: Andrew Boucher at November 27, 2003 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

Damn these computer manufactures to hell, how dare they name their components in such a manner that could remind someone that in past history there were slaves and these slaves had masters. How inconsiderate of them, can't they see how they're torturing peoples souls? This must be stopped. From now on the word master shall not be used. We must call on all auto manufactures to rename brake master cylinders as primary cylinders no more clutch slave cylinders their all secondary now, a masters degree at college nope it's a primary, and don't forget it's primarybation now. /sarcasm off

Posted by: R.L. Hunter at November 27, 2003 12:38 AM | PERMALINK

It's sort of interesting that the language is slightly different: an electronic device is slaved to a master, rather than enslaved by a master

Posted by: Boronx at November 27, 2003 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

"OK, now suppose the geeks thirty years ago had thought of the names, "Nazi" and "Jew", instead of "master" and "slave". "

Well, see, "Nazi", and "Jew" don't mean controller and controllee. "Nazi" and "Jew" are political or religious ideologies. "Master" and "Slave" describe a relationship of relative power, and do in fact indicate controller and controllee. The controlling hard drive is not having a sadistic and genocidal relationship with that meek and opressed secondary drive, driven only by its ruthless drive to stamp out all other drives that might compete with it, but it is actually forcing the other drive to follow every command it sends. Hence, "Master" and "Slave".

Posted by: Spork at November 27, 2003 01:14 AM | PERMALINK

"It's sort of interesting that the language is slightly different: an electronic device is slaved to a master, rather than enslaved by a master"

Interesting that in context of electronics, slavery is a temporary condition, subject to change by a jumper setting. That the quality of being enslaved is a transient condition, rather than inherent in the device, makes me think that indentured servitude would be a more apt metaphor; and that perhaps we should be calling these devices "Master" and "Servant", rather than "Master" and "Slave".

Posted by: Spork at November 27, 2003 01:20 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's just me, but I've never encountered anyone who, being introduced to the "master/slave" nomenclature in computers for the first time, didn't blink and say "What nutjob thought that up?"

And in my experience, after you've got used to it (which happens within three months or faster) you forget your first emotional reaction to it, because you no longer associate master/slave in computer tech terms with anything but an association of hard drives.

It would take more energy than I've got to change the master/slave usage.

It would take more energy than I've got to complain about people changing the master/slave usage.

I honestly don't think it matters - one way or the other. If LA County wants to change it, let them. If it really doesn't matter, why get het up about it?

Posted by: Jesurgislac at November 27, 2003 01:26 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe I'm just another BDSM type in denial, but this phraseology bugs me. The systems I've implemented or designed (token-passing or peer-to-peer) have been, Thor help me, relatively democratic. Okay, I'm just a pussy whipped PC liberal. Or just a really cheap system designer. Or maybe I just prefer the resilience of distributed systems.

I don't think that the persistence of this terminology, so long after the Emancipation Proclamation, is obviously content-free.

Putting the same assertion in another way, is it at all surprising that the guys who come up with this kind of shit can't get a date?

Posted by: bad Jim at November 27, 2003 01:47 AM | PERMALINK

But it's not a real master-slave relationship. The master doesn't own the slave. The slave is not bound to the master. You can turn a slave into a master and a master into a slave by fiddling with a a couple of jumpers.

Which sort of makes the point about ALL races and peoples having being slaves I guess.

Posted by: tadhgin at November 27, 2003 01:49 AM | PERMALINK

Slav (to describe Slavic peoples) comes directly from Slave. Most Russians have no problem using the term slav. This isn't the only similar example (e.g. Welsh meant foreigner and slave in Saxon England and the Welsh caleed themselves something else entirely)

Posted by: Mr. Kurtz at November 27, 2003 01:58 AM | PERMALINK

tadhgin: master/slave doesn't mean the master OWNS the slave, it means the master CONTROLS the slave, or the slave is subject to the master's will. You can switch which controls the other(s), but it only changes the direction of the master/slave relationship, not the properties of it.

Posted by: the good reverend at November 27, 2003 03:00 AM | PERMALINK

Slav (to describe Slavic peoples) comes directly from Slave.

According to Bartleby you've got the direction wrong: the word "slave" comes from the word "Slav" (more or less), not the other way around.

You're correct about Welsh, though; the native word was "Cymraeg", meaning "person of Cymru", the Welsh name for Wales. IIRC, the word "Welsh" is much like the word "Celt" in that it was originally a generic word for "barbarians over there" that was eventually applied to a specific group of people.

All of this is beside the point of the thread which, frankly, is the best commentary I can make on the issue.

Posted by: Anarch at November 27, 2003 03:14 AM | PERMALINK

Technology turns around so fast, "master/slave" could be extinct in a year.

No chance.

This concept is essential in communications, where you have to synchronize clocks (which basically means a slave derives its signal from a master) in SDH circuits.

And forgive Kevin for his SCSI/IDE mixup, he's just a marketroid. ;)

As for the controvery, yeah it's beyond stupid; it provides ammunition for the "liberal-opression"-crowd and it's condescending to any formerly-enslaved minority, as if they're to stupid to distinguish between a technical concept and actual history.


Posted by: Felix Deutsch at November 27, 2003 04:28 AM | PERMALINK

Enough of this discussion! I'm going off to the movies. Is Crowe in "Primary and Commander" as good as people say?

Posted by: rea at November 27, 2003 04:59 AM | PERMALINK

As part of the annual Passover ritual, Jews remind themselves, "On this night we remember that we were slaves in Egypt"

Posted by: David at November 27, 2003 05:41 AM | PERMALINK

I hear he's pretty good in "Primary and Male, but could have been Female, making sure that things get done that should get done by people, mainly by telling them what they should be doing."

Posted by: bryan at November 27, 2003 05:45 AM | PERMALINK

*Second, if your desire is to increase racial sensitivity, then pecking away at things like this is actually counterproductive--it causes most people to roll their eyes, and reduces support for going after legitimate grievances.*

Exactly my point! Equality Fatigue, is what I call it. EmmaAnne, you ever heard of the boy who cried wolf? That's what's happening here! If people hear too many trivial concerns, when I have a *real* concern, it'll be treated as crying wolf again. That's why I'd tell the person to shut up and come back when the issue's really serious. You tackle the serious stuff *first*, and *then* you tackle the itsy bitsy stuff - no computer nomenclature ever denied anybody an opportunity, or stopped him because he was driving a nice car, or shot him because he looked like he was reaching for a gun when he was reaching for a wallet.

*it's condescending to any formerly-enslaved minority, as if they're to stupid to distinguish between a technical concept and actual history.*

Too true. I crack up when people here (I'm in Canada right now) are hesitant to describe me as ' the black guy' for fear of offending me. Ridiculous, you may think, but that's what we think (and I'm speaking for the black people I know) when we hear stuff like this....and I'll bet an elephant tusk that the offendee wasn't black, but thought it was offensive to black people. Ever tried asking people what they found offensive instead of trying to assume? It might clear up a lot of sh*t.

Posted by: Coriolanus at November 27, 2003 06:09 AM | PERMALINK

Volokh is a horse's ass. I'm sure that he finds it sweet that you link to him, but the fact is that he is a horse's ass.

Posted by: raj at November 27, 2003 07:06 AM | PERMALINK

Hmmm?

Cost of reprinting all the books, technical manuals, labels using this terminology...

Cost of re-tooling all of the dies and molds using this terminology...

Cost of retraining all of the service people using this terminology...

Cost of updating all of the web pages using this terminology...

Has anyone asked LA how much they have budgeted to pay for these 'cosmetic' changes?

Get real here. Peasants under the feudal system experienced the same indignities as slaves under the American system. There are very few people in the world today whose ancestors weren't slaves at some point in history. Slavery still exists, for crying out loud, but it is irrelevant to computer terminology.

Posted by: BryanD at November 27, 2003 07:29 AM | PERMALINK

As typical, Volokh is a horse's rear end.

If the people involved object to the language change the YahWeh-damned language until the people having to use the language are satisfied.

OK?

If Volokh is satisfied with the language, fine. But if others aren't, who gives a tinker's damn what Volokh says?

Posted by: raj at November 27, 2003 07:59 AM | PERMALINK

I feel a bit out of place in this debate because I am probably one of the lesser PC people you'll meet in the Democratic Party or Academia. However, I have to agree that "master"/"slave" is a bit inappropriate. Now, do I want some Affirmative Action Czar sending out his minions to enforce the change? Not really.
But what I think this does point out is the predominance of caucasians (and asians) in the technology field. Don't you think that if more African Americans worked in the field this particular nomenclature would have disappeared a long time ago?
I am sympathetic to the fact that primary/secondary does not quite fit, but really there must be some terminology that would work, or one we could make up, that would alleviate this problem?

Posted by: justin at November 27, 2003 08:09 AM | PERMALINK

But if others aren't, who gives a tinker's damn what Volokh says?

I liked him when he wrote about IT security, but now he's just shrill.

Posted by: Felix Deutsch at November 27, 2003 08:12 AM | PERMALINK

I'm 100% certain that the master-slave terminology traces back to the TV show "I dream of Jeannie" in which Barbara Eden plays every geek's dream of a woman who's pretty, cheerful and easy to get along with. (No sex on the show, but geeks have some imagination.) Jeannie alsways called the geek in the show "Master".

Posted by: Zizka at November 27, 2003 08:13 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe this post should go to slashdot.

The master/slave nomenclature may be standard but it's technically inaccurate: the master drive in no way controls or directs the slave. Primary/secondary *would* be more accurate.

But, it's been done this way now for 10 generations. Tradition!

Posted by: Joey Giraud at November 27, 2003 08:13 AM | PERMALINK

anyone who has ever replaced the hydraulic brake or clutch system in a car has had to deal with a "master cylinder" and a "slave cylinder." sheesh. what's next-changing the "male-female" designations on hardware because of their alliteration to genitalia???

Posted by: susan at November 27, 2003 08:21 AM | PERMALINK

referring to the nuts, bolts and screws-type hardware ;-)

Posted by: susan at November 27, 2003 08:22 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with all those saying that this doesn't warrant a great load of passion, but even so...

Terminology changes. The fact that something has been a technical term doesn't mean it always has to be. We are at liberty to choose other terms. Sure, changing specs and labels is a pain, but it does happen. Modifying a lot of software and some hardware to handle IPv6 will be a pain, for instance, but it's worth doing.

As a couple of folks noted up above, the terminology of master and slave seems normal and uninteresting to tech types only because we've gotten used to it. People at large who discover that there are bits of their computer stuff identified as master and slave pretty much always do boggle, and sometimes that shock of discovery is worth paying attention to.

As several folks also noted up above, what master and slave devices do isn't what masters and slaves among human being do. Which means that the words are already being misused, at least if the associations are supposed to matter. We wouldn't be giving up anything by changing them.

I don't see any pressing moral reason to keep the terms. I see some advantages to changing them. I see that it would be a hassle to do so, but I also see that we collecitvely manage to do things that are hassles. And I think that there's a clear gain in removing extraneous causes of confusion and annoyance precisely because they are extraneous - I'd rather invest my passion in something with a lot more at stake.

Just doing my part to remind folks that libertarians can be taken for fuzzy-headed liberals as well as fuzzy-headed conservatives, I guess.

Posted by: Bruce Baugh at November 27, 2003 08:30 AM | PERMALINK

Now all of the auto repair manuals in the city repair shops will have to change Master cylinder and slave cylinder to something else too.

Posted by: BOHICA at November 27, 2003 09:35 AM | PERMALINK

This isn't Political Correctness run amok. Its "lawsuit aversion" run amok. A complaint like this being made has the implicit -- and often the explicit -- threat that if something isn't done, a lawsuit will be filed. Even if the agency is sure they would prevail in court, there is a substantial cost involved in preparing for and dealing with the lawsuit. Particularly given the state of local government finances in California, that's something most of them will bend over backwards to avoid. The action of the county has nothing to do with "PC" and everything to do with money.

The complaint itself may have nothing to do with political correctnesses, either. There could be any number of motivations, including that this guy is just a serial troublemaker, or that he has some performance problem that he is worried about getting disciplined for, and is trying to insulate himself by setting up a claim that it was retribution for the EEO complaint.

Posted by: cmdicely at November 27, 2003 09:52 AM | PERMALINK

Bruce,
*the terminology of master and slave seems normal and uninteresting to tech types only because we've gotten used to it. People at large who discover that there are bits of their computer stuff identified as master and slave pretty much always do boggle...*
snip

Actually, I haven't heard anyone *boggle* (what is 'boggling', anyways? ). I only heard the term a couple of years ago, but then I only really got into computers about 5/6 years ago. I never *boggled* at the terms, I didn't even for one moment think of it in any context outside the electronic. And Kevin makes a good point - if they are offensive in this context, in what context would they be considered inoffensive? Should they be deleted from the language?

And EmmaAnne, you said the 'niggardly' episode was different because someone's job was on the line? This is my question - divorcing the episode from the consequences, d'you think that it was an instance of hyperPC?

Posted by: Coriolanus at November 27, 2003 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

"You could probably find people of Russian descent whose recent ancestors were, essentially, slaves."

Yes, about 99 % of them. The Bolsheviks, history's original PC crowd, and Stalin did a pretty fair job killing off anybody who wasn't.

"What's next, the banning of male/female connectors?"

Don't give these jackasses any new bright ideas - I'd hate to walk into Best Buy to ask for a " transgendered " connector for my computer.

The solution to this PC busybody problem is merciless and unrelenting public ridicule from all quarters of the political spectrum.

Another poster brought up the " Niggardly " incident in DC where PC leftists with a profound ignorance of basic language skills hounded an innocent official with the misfortune to have ben properly educated out of a job. Malice and a desire to control everyone else motivates the PC crowd, not sensitivity and equity.

Posted by: mark safranski at November 27, 2003 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

" been " not " ben "

Sheesh ! Speaking of basic language skills.... ;o)

Posted by: mark safranski at November 27, 2003 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

I already wrote one thing about this elsewhere, but I CAN say that I never found it particularly stupid terminology, and yes, I was into cars before computers. To keep the pot stirred, there are no master/slave cylinders in an airbrake system :)

Posted by: mndean at November 27, 2003 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps I am totally dense but not once, in all my years of working with computers, did the master/slave harddrive relationship bring to my mind anything involving slavery. I always thought they were the right words to describe the relationship. I am basically shocked anyone thought this offensive at all.

Posted by: platosearwax at November 27, 2003 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

It is far, far more troubling to attempt to control people's thoughts by controlling their language than it is to reference an outmoded and unacceptable social structure.

This is left-authoritarianism and it is no more acceptable than the rightwing variant.

Posted by: Spinozer at November 27, 2003 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Personally, I've been in a decade-long crusade to remove the words "sunset" and "sunrise" from English vocabulary, because of the unscientific, pre-Copernican notion of our solar system they imply. No succes, so far.

Posted by: R.Mutt at November 27, 2003 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Originally, at the start of the middle age in Europe, the word employed to refer to people who were no free derived from latin servus, like serf. since there was no overproduction of serfs, with the evolution of feodality they began to adquire r?ghts, and most ended rather free. When the Turks conquered South-Eastern Europe, they captured a lot of people , who were Slavic. And they sold some of them, so in most of Europe Slav[e]s were people without rights, and that replaced serf. The problem with black people was that they could not go in the general populace to escape their servitude.

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume at November 27, 2003 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

*Personally, I've been in a decade-long crusade to remove the words "sunset" and "sunrise" from English vocabulary, because of the unscientific, pre-Copernican notion of our solar system they imply. No succes, so far.*

R Mutt, sh*t man, don't do that.....I just spilt Guiness all over my nice, white, shirt front. You owe me....nah, actually I owe you for a good laugh.
Happy Thanksgiving, y'all (although we had ours a month ago - Canada).

Posted by: Coriolanus at November 27, 2003 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

This sort of unreasonable complaint tends slightly to discourage managers from wanting to hire minorities. From a manager's POV it's yet another potential problem added to the ever-present risk of discrimination lawsuits over decisions involving promotion, salary, job responsibility, etc.

Of course, racial discrimination is illegal, as it should be. Still it's better that managers be eager to hire people, rather than being forced to do so.

Posted by: David at November 27, 2003 01:13 PM | PERMALINK

If the master/slave terms are changed, then it'll only be a matter of time before the new terms are judged objectionable, because they are euphemisms for a master/slave relationship, so they need to be replaced again.

Posted by: Jon H at November 27, 2003 02:38 PM | PERMALINK

Some Los Angeles Probation Officers carry a caseload of hundreds of probationers. I wonder where they find the time to be inspecting lables on electronic equipment?

Posted by: byteboy at November 27, 2003 03:06 PM | PERMALINK

My guess: the geeks who introduced this terminology into computer language have been reading Hegel as undergrads (they're called geeks for a reason) and if that's true then no need to worry because the slave wins bigtime in the end while the master ends up looking pretty pathetic.

Posted by: novakant at November 27, 2003 03:12 PM | PERMALINK

> But it's not a real master-slave relationship. The master doesn't own
> the slave. The slave is not bound to the master. You can turn a slave
> into a master and a master into a slave by fiddling with a a couple of
> jumpers.

For which, I suppose, the correct technical term is really "shackles"...
;-)

Posted by: Carl Manaster at November 27, 2003 06:50 PM | PERMALINK

Eventually, there will be no words that someone doesn't find offensive and the government will have to sanction our vocabulary. It's Orwellian. Political correctness afterall got its start in Stalinism...

Posted by: anderson at November 27, 2003 07:29 PM | PERMALINK

Add to those efforts the linguistic innovations that George Orwell described in the afterword to 1984 as "Newspeak" and you have limned the basic features of political correctness: "The word free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such statements as 'this dog is free from lice' . . . It could not be used in its old sense of 'politically free' or 'intellectually free' since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless."

The only masters and slaves left in the West are in our computers. Free... oh crap, can't use that word. Can't even attempt to "frr..." any "sla..." because neither exist....

Posted by: anderson at November 27, 2003 07:55 PM | PERMALINK

Michey Mouse wants to be free! He's a slave to intellectual property elitist white masters, and every time he gets close, they move the goalposts.

Language is a virus, infecting and enslaving us all. ##$@!#$!#@#$!!!

Posted by: Tom Grey at November 28, 2003 02:29 AM | PERMALINK

Just use "Dominant" and "Submissive", and you're done! Heck, it even implies how the partners are allowed to switch roles/labels!

Geez, some people...

Posted by: Saint Fnordius at November 28, 2003 03:04 AM | PERMALINK

I think that thinking about language -- about the terms we use, their derivations, the values they embody and impart -- is important. One thing we need to think about is the term "pc" -- which has been broadcast by the right as a political tactic to stop this thinking process. Talking about "sanitation workers" rather than trash haulers and ragmen causes us to think about the status and rewards we afford those who perform the difficult and fundamentally important work of dealing with a society's refuge. Recognizing that those who look after our children and parents are "caregivers" rather than "sitters" makes us consider such labors as multifaceted and value laden, not mindlessly inert. The title "administrative assistant" more truly suggests the indispensable skills, knowledge and experience needed to perform in such positions than "secretary" ever did. All these "pc" terms and myriad others draw our attention to the central importance of workers and laborers in how a society functions and prospers; they cause us to redistribute our notions of status and remuneration -- or at least they should. They make us think, the first step to empowerment. And groups in power recognized this, needed the thinking to stop because it was dangerous to them, and did what they do best; got us to react to "pc" language rather than think about where language comes from, who it controls and who it serves.

Kevin and others are just wrong about this one. Master & slave cylinders, drives, those stupid t-shirts couples wear . . .whatever. These terms describe the cruelest of human power relationships; when we use them we should be conscious of that. They should not be enshrined as mindless metaphors that desensitize us to the realities they define.

Posted by: cs at November 28, 2003 04:46 AM | PERMALINK

The slave economy is so very passe. I recommend "Lord/Serf" to describe the relationship between hardware devices.

Posted by: Jeff at November 28, 2003 05:00 AM | PERMALINK

CS,
*All these "pc" terms and myriad others draw our attention to the central importance of workers and laborers in how a society functions and prospers.....They make us think, the first step to empowerment.....And groups in power......got us to react to "pc" language rather than think about where language comes from*

Great sentiments, cs, and something I completely agree with, but do you see you are making my argument for me here? All those labels you described were used of *people* to downgrade their contribution, and those people (or class of people) suffered as a result. You really think that the slave component of the computer is suffering because it is called a slave? This brouhaha about 'slave/master' is not reflective of trying to empower *anybody*. It is not about thinking about the words at all, it is about reacting! This person, like the people in DC (thank you, Mark, for the correction) who reacted to niggardly, is not thinking about what the words *mean*, he is simply reacting.....and you know what? I woud bet serious money (I believe I offered an elephant tusk) that he's not part of the group he believes this term is offensive to. That is my biggest complaint; I am black, and sh*t like this comes up all the time at work (where most people are white) - 'Did you hear that ridiculous complaint?' People then become conditioned to treat discrimination complaints as prima facie 'ridiculous' - and that reduces empowerment. Equality is a powerful tool minorities have, and like any other tool, it loses efficacy when it is overused....and it becomes especially galling when this overuse comes at the hands of people who say they are using it for us. Isn't it up to me to determine when and where I will use my tools?

Posted by: Coriolanus at November 28, 2003 05:52 AM | PERMALINK

Next move: try to get Britney's I'm a Slave for U banned from
the radio. Because Boys is so much better.

Posted by: Dan the Man at November 28, 2003 07:30 AM | PERMALINK

"The title "administrative assistant" more truly suggests the indispensable skills, knowledge and experience needed to perform in such positions than "secretary" ever did."

And Colin Powell is the Administrative Assistant of State ;o)

" Secretary " once denoted a powerful official or confidential right-hand advisor. The common understanding of the word's meaning changed when it began to be applied incorrectly to office stenographers, receptionists and filing clerks.

Words receieve their meaning from the phenomena to which they are attached. Calling Garbagemen
" Emperors "," Demigods " or " Sanitation workers" doesn't change the fact that they handle refuse or the public perception that handling refuse is an unattractive if absolutely necessary occupation.

Posted by: mark safranski at November 28, 2003 07:58 AM | PERMALINK

When I was younger and into building plastic aircraft models, parts that glued together were labeled male/female. The male parts had little projections that fit into slots or holes in the female parts. Hell, that's how I learned about sex!

If master/slave is outlawed, they'll have to pry male/female from my cold dead fingers.

Posted by: Paul Woodford at November 28, 2003 08:07 AM | PERMALINK

Still, better than sending government workers around with rolls of tape to rename everything "The Ronald Reagen" whatever.

As for replacing "master"/"slave" for computers, why not "Rove"/"Bush"? (Besides, of course, that hopefully no one will know what those names mean in a couple of years...)

Posted by: lollius at November 28, 2003 08:09 AM | PERMALINK

How about: "corporate campaign contributor"/"politician"?

Posted by: R.Mutt at November 28, 2003 08:29 AM | PERMALINK

I don't see any pressing moral reason to keep the terms. I see some advantages to changing them. I see that it would be a hassle to do so, but I also see that we collecitvely manage to do things that are hassles. And I think that there's a clear gain in removing extraneous causes of confusion and annoyance precisely because they are extraneous - I'd rather invest my passion in something with a lot more at stake.

First of all, if you're looking at this from a strictly cost-benefit ratio, which it sounds like you are, then it doesn't pass muster there. If you change this terminology, you will be unnecessarily dooming millions of dollars worth of reference manuals to obsolescence, requiring that countless man-hours be spent updating and changing them--to say nothing of updating web pages. This already happens quite enough in the computer industry; there is no need to add to it. Furthermore, every hard drive that is already out on the market will still be labeled thusly--but worse, the BIOS of every single PC in existence which has an IDE controller will still say "master" and "slave" until the BIOS is updated. Many of these computers will be around for at least another decade; there will /still/ be a need to maintain and teach the old terminology for legacy purposes. Thus defeating the purpose, since techies in general tend to reject arbitrarily enforced changes of terminology--witness how many IE users still, five years after the beginning of Netscape's decline into obsolescence, refer to their Favorites as Bookmarks.

I fail to see how appeasing a tiny number of over-sensitive reactionaries, when the terms cause no actual confusion to the people who /need to work with them/, is worth all of this.

From a moral standpoint, this sort of thing must be resisted on principle--because if you capitulate to stupid bullshit like this, you set a precedent which, extended ad absurdum, allows reactionary control freaks with agendas to dictate every aspect of life and language on the basis of what statistically insignificant individuals find offensive. This is already happening, and it actually hurts the minorities it claims to help by making real grievances seem silly by association and dilution--the "cry wolf" syndrome.

Posted by: Catsy at November 28, 2003 09:00 AM | PERMALINK

What Catsy said - in triplicate

Posted by: Coriolanus at November 28, 2003 09:50 AM | PERMALINK
This is left-authoritarianism and it is no more acceptable than the rightwing variant.

I think allowing people to sue for perceived harms, and other actors making decisions in their own interest based on that is much more libertarian than authoritarian.

Posted by: cmdicely at November 28, 2003 09:53 AM | PERMALINK
Eventually, there will be no words that someone doesn't find offensive and the government will have to sanction our vocabulary. It's Orwellian. Political correctness afterall got its start in Stalinism.

Er, no, it didn't. "Political correctness", inasmuch as it exists at all, is just a current name for the process of wanting people to refer to things by names that fit best by the way the complainer thinks of them, and began probably about the first time two humans conversed in language.

Posted by: cmdicely at November 28, 2003 09:59 AM | PERMALINK

Good definition, CM. I note that Republicans tend to get overcome with Political Correctness when people refer to President Bush as Resident Bush, or Shrub, or "That drunk who went AWOL", or Chimp....

Posted by: Jesurgislac at November 28, 2003 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Definately needed to chip in and second everything Catsy said just above as well as what cmdicely said about the legal system being part of the problem before that. Another point that needs to be made is that when tallying the actual costs of implimenting such nonsense is that we concentrate on the specific financial stuff, and we overlook a more insiduous, invisible problem. The staff that gets paid to do this are also pulled away from whatever tasks they would normally be involved in. The office is thereby disrupted. This stuff usually ends up demanding the creation of a permanent oversight or enforcement component, or permanent changes in one process or another. This in turn entails not only more ongoing financial costs but also a bit of a learning curve until workers are brought up to speed. All this, finally, detracts from whatever the real purpose of the business or organization is, the mandated changes in processes and language builds a generally small amount of dysfunctionality in the system. It?s easy to point to demands of this nature and think ?It won?t be that much trouble to change?, and if this was rare, this would likely be true. However, there is more and more of this stuff coming down the tracks all the time, and, unfortunately each time you accept one of these demands, you weave a bit more dysfunctionality into your operation. This is cumulative in nature, and over time becomes absolutely disruptive to the day-to-day operation of the organization. I work around and with a number of 501c3 Non-Profit organizations, and have noticed that virtually all of these are infected with the sort of political correctitude that causes them to be hyper-sensitive to complaints such as the Master-Slave crap. They generally eagerly embrace such demands and hasten to comply; and I have seen them become increasingly disorganized, incompetent, and less effective as time goes on. It was mentioned that organizations have the ability to deal with these kinds of hassles, but the point is to avoid hassles if one can, not go out self-inflicting them on ourselves especially to placate some hyper-sensitive idiots.

And these things are frequently accompanied with the idea of a lawsuit, which, as has been pointed out, most people want to avoid even if they know they?ll win, just because of the hassle and expense. There is an absurd level of ?Excess of caution? both within governmental agencies and the Non-Profits and this also causes them to both refuse to consider practical options and to adopt ineffective policies and costly and dysfunction-causing actions. There needs to be some standards set to weed out this stuff before it ever sees the inside of a courtroom. Reforming the legal system is material for another discussion thread but it seems some basic standard of harm (physical injury, loss of income, position, etc.) which the plaintiff has personally incurred, as well as a similar standard of culpability (intent, gross negligence) on the part of the defendant should be established before a case goes to a jury. The motives of the plaintiff should be taken into account. This would eliminate most of this BS right from even coming up in the first place and empower those confronted with it to stand up to it and reject it immediately when it does.

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Posted by: Antoinetta III at November 28, 2003 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

I suspect this thread is nearly dead, but since a couple of people did address my earlier comments, I will reply.

Coriolanus says this is like the boy who cried wolf, which I think is another variant on the idea that if we carefully avoid making an issue of small things, we will be taken seriously when we complain about the big things. This has a kind of logic to it, but I suspect the opposite is true. When you complain about a lot of things, you are doing what Eric Alterman calls "working the refs." If they ignore your complaint this time, they'll feel more obligated to deal with the next complaint.

Several people mentioned the custom of labeling the side of interfaces male and female. As an EE, I had to get used to that one quickly, as my male classmates would have loved to see me embarrassed by it. I learned that even Velcro has male and female sides. But while this teminology is somewhat suggestive, I don't think it's the equivalent of the master/slave label. Labeling interfaces pimp/whore (or even procurer/prostitute) would be more equivalent, as including a heirarchy. I think procurer/prostitute would get irritating after a while, and if all the interfaces in the lab were labeled with big signs saying procurer/prostitute, it might even move into the offensive area.

I'm not so much arguing that master/slave *is* offensive, as that I'm not inclined to immediately blow off people who say it is. I'm more inclined to listen and think about their argument. Calling an argument PC is just a way of shutting them up without thinking about their argument.

Posted by: EmmaAnne at November 28, 2003 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Coriolanus says this is like the boy who cried wolf, which I think is another variant on the idea that if we carefully avoid making an issue of small things, we will be taken seriously when we complain about the big things. This has a kind of logic to it, but I suspect the opposite is true. When you complain about a lot of things, you are doing what Eric Alterman calls "working the refs." If they ignore your complaint this time, they'll feel more obligated to deal with the next complaint.

Both sides of this have a certain amount of logic to them. What you refer to as "working the ref", and what Coriolanus and I referred to as "crying wolf" both have, at their core, the fact that attention is being increasingly brought to bear on an issue via repetition. The difference is that "working the ref" is arguably positive attention, whereas "crying wolf" is negative attention.

As any parent who's tried to instill this in their kid knows, positive attention-getting gets you what you want, and negative attention-getting gets you ignored. I think making a fuss over non-issues like the master/slave nomenclature can result in nothing but negative attention--which, rather than drawing attention to real injustices, will dilute people's perception of how important the real issues are.

Posted by: Catsy at November 28, 2003 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

One difference is that "working the ref" is intellectually dishonest, while "crying wolf" is just stupid and ultimately self-defeating.

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Neil --

There were Irish chattel slaves in America and the West Indies during the colonial period.

Until well into the 19th Century, Irish were bonded to the land in Ireland. In Russia, serfdom lasted until the begining of the 20th Century.

Yes, the overwhelming majority of slaves in the world in the last 100 years of slavery were Africans. But slavery, as a historic institution, was pretty much the lot of conquered peoples without respect to color for nearly all of recorded history, and before.

Currently, in the few areas in which slavery still exists (Arabia, Thailand) the majority of slaves are NOT African.

Posted by: Kevin Murphy at November 28, 2003 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and let's take a good look at all these "male" and "female" connectors. Do devices with female connectors have less power than those with male connectors? What if 57% of male devices are "masters"? We need a study!

Worse are "motherboards" and "daughterboards" -- what kind of message are we sending when daughterboards have male connectors and plug into motherboards? Are we encouraging incestuous transexual lesbianism?

Why is the Black wire always ground? How come the Black wires never do something important? Are we saying that Black=Ground=Dirt?

What about "floppy disks"? Might this not diminish the self-esteem of impotent men?

The realy amazing this is that there are people in these bureaucracies that have nothing better to do. Budgets aren't as tight as we thought.

Posted by: Kevin Murphy at November 28, 2003 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, do you think you could do a follow-up post on this when you've spent a lifetime being black?

Posted by: John Isbell at November 29, 2003 08:22 AM | PERMALINK

First of all,
Kevin, that last post....gold! Shit, I'm going to have to stop reading these boards in public - people look at me funny when I crack up like that. Come to think of it, the watercooler at work has one black spigot and one white spigot - d'you think they're trying to send me a message? I'm going to have to do a study to see how many of the white people drink off the black spigot. Hmmm......
Second,
What Catsy said again! Look, working the refs isn't always net positive. If you ever watched Michael Jordan(one of the best ref-workers ever, IMHO)play, you'll see that he didn't complain at the clear fouls. He saved his 'working' for the borderline fouls, for the fouls which could have gone either way. 'Working the refs' works best if you have *some* grounds to work with, not when the complaint is positively unfounded. In the same way, 'working the refs' on discrimination works best when you have some grounds to work with, but if you put in a complaint this laughable, it actually irritates the 'refs' and you suffer.

Posted by: Coriolanus at November 29, 2003 08:58 AM | PERMALINK

I hear Arnold's been looking for some things to cut in CA government... howabout the person who has enough time to survey 1000 pieces of equipment for the words "master" and "slave"? That doesn't seem to be a position that is really necessary...

Posted by: Al at November 29, 2003 09:10 PM | PERMALINK

There are too many people with nothing to do but participate in a PC dialog over something that was outlawed over a hundred years ago. Get over it and get on with life. As was stated above, slavery is not something that happened only to one race. ( I won't even get into the different degrees of slavery, such as credit cards. )
One of the reasons for the furor over the "Master Slave" controversy is some people refuse to take responsibility for their own position in life. If you are, or are not, the decendent of a slave, it really does not matter. At some point you will have (OK, should) take responsibility for your life and not blame something that (may have) happened to one or several of your ansestors!

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