It’s not Bias, It’s Discrimination

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006


A trade association has blasted the Massachusetts Information and Technology Division (IDT) for requesting a plug-in for Microsoft’s Office Suite, seizing on the issue as evidence that the state’s policy of mandating the OpenDocument Format (ODF) is “a biased, open source-only preference policy.”

This is false: what the state of Massachusetts is doing is not bias, it is discrimination, and it is what citizens should expect from their government. Preferring open standards is a thoughtful, discriminatory policy.

Unfortunately, the word “discrimination” has grown tentacles over the past 30 years; it is high time for English speakers to reclaim the original sense of the word: to make wise choices between options. To say that someone is “discriminating” was at one time one of the highest of compliments; the civil rights movement has unfortunately (and unwittingly) done the English language a misservice by turning “discrimination” into an accursed word.


  • Discrimination in hiring based on the applicant’s level of education and ability to perform the job;
  • Discrimination in serving somebody drinks at a bar based on their apparent level of drunkenness;
  • Discrimination in issuing a loan based on credit history and income.


  • Discrimination in hiring based on the applicant’s race;
  • Discrimination in serving somebody drinks at a bar based on their nationality;
  • Discrimination in issuing a loan based on gender.

It is perfectly reasonable for Microsoft to argue that discrimination against Microsoft Office because it doesn’t support the Open Document Format should fall under the category of “bad” discrimination: that’s a question of public policy. But it certainly isn’t bad simply because it is discriminatory.

Intelligent Design

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

I was avoiding saying anything about the “Intelligent Design” debate, but I’m just fed up with the inanity of it: I believe that God created the heavens and the earth; maybe He used a Bing Bang, and allowed the natural laws that He created to govern evolution of life. Maybe not. There is plenty of empirical evidence for adaptive evolution within species/genera, but not a whole lot of evidence for macro-evolution.

So, we now have a school district or a teacher saying teaching a dull and vague concept like “perhaps the evolution of species wasn’t totally random, and an unnamed Force guided evolution”. How could this statement possibly be offensive? It is at least as scientific as “perhaps the evolution of species was totally random, and was not not guided by an unnamed Force”. We can’t go back and observe the process! At best the question is philosophical-scientific, not empirical-scientific (until we invent a time machine).

I used to think that when I read the Constitution, I would be able to get a fairly good grasp of what it actually means. The Constitution of the United States includes the following sentence in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. What have we done to our Constitution since that sentence was written? This sentence doesn’t say anything about state governments or the local school board! In fact, many states in the U.S. retained official religions or anti-Catholic laws well into the 19th century. The first amendment doesn’t even say “the federal government shouldn’t believe there is a God”: the amendment is very carefully written to prevent the federal government from becoming explicitly sectarian, and it was actually promoted by the state of Maryland and the Catholics in it to prevent the U.S. government from enacting anti-Catholic taxes or laws.

Judicial activism, congressional ignorance, and misinterpretation of our founding documents has run so far from sanity I hardly believe we live under the rule of law any more. When our current president infamously ignores the rule of law and spies on his own citizens, and a lone judge can arrogantly assume the responsibility for banning the mere mention of intelligent design in a local classroom, it is time for weeping and outrage.