An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

August 29, 2010

Filed under: Blogging about Blogging — Tags: , , — Radical Scientist @ 10:56 pm

Seriously, if you don’t read Samia’s blog already, you really should poke your head over to check out her recent post “radicalism, love and the scientific temperament.” It’s a great, thoughtful, sometimes goofy meditation on how her personal need to understand things–people and proteins–drives her politics an her science. Here’s a taste:

Looking at one’s privilege head-on is painful, and I think we are all familiar with that reptilian urge to simply remove ourselves from the offending stimuli and pretend that shit didn’t just happen. But this doesn’t work in science, does it? The stuff you don’t know…is still out there. Not being known by you. TAUNTING YOU FROM JUST BEYOND GREAT GAPING MAW OF THE ABYSS WITH ITS NOT-KNOWNNESS. How satisfying is it to just leave the answers there, undiscovered? Well, it’s not.

See? I have nothing smart to talk about this week, so go read 49 Percent instead.

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August 24, 2010

Busy busy

Filed under: Blogging about Blogging,DIY — Tags: , , — Radical Scientist @ 3:31 pm

Remember that shared studio/collective craft and art thing I was talking about last week-ish? Well, it’s taking on a life of it’s own. We’d needed 5 members minimum to pay the rent, and we’ve got 7 so far. This past weekend we had a low-key build-out in the space–swept and mopped, set up some tables and chairs, brought in the all-important coffeepot, and so on–and now we’re up and running, even before the planned first of the month. One of the members has suggested we all throw in on a vendor space in the local holiday Sell Shit To Yuppies Craft Fair, which I think is an awesome idea. Hopefully that’ll give those of us who want in a goal to work toward between now and November. Obviously it’s waaay too early to tell how this will work out long-term, but I’m excited to see people so enthusiastic about trying this out.

The downside to this for you, dear readers, is that I’m spending less time sitting around my house being bored and blogging. I’m going to keep aiming for at least a couple posts a week, but it may be more like 2-3 instead of the 4-5 I’ve been managing. Not that y’all care or anything.

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August 10, 2010

Conservapedia: Propaganda or Performance Art?

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t gotten a little tipsy at the club, stumbled home safely, and spent an hour or two laughing their nether regions off at Conservapedia?

I didn’t think so.

I know I’m a little late to the party with this story from Talking Points Memo, which relates the tale of Conservapedia founder and second-generation douchebag Andy  Schafly’s inability to remember the difference between general relativity and moral relativism. Whatever, I’m sure even after someone explains the difference to him, he’ll still believe that understanding deep physics leads people away from Jesus (which, ok, there may be some correlation/causation there), and that that means Einstein must have been wrong. Luckily, Conservapedians were able to snark right back, with this mathematically & logically sound bit of self-referencing on their main page:

Counterexamples to the Bible 0
Counterexamples to Evolution 60
IQ of Atheists 0 divided by 60

Oh, snap! Zero divided by 60! That’s gotta be less than regular zero!

But there’s so much more to love about the internet’s most fake encyclopedia. You could go for the obvious, reading the reality-challenged articles on feminism, atheism, gay rights, Obama’s birth certificate, or other far-right hobbyhorses. But the real genius is the care with which they’ve fabricated delusional alternate-universe explanations for  innocent seeming topics.  Did you know that liberals lie about certain species of North American cactus being endangered, so we can up the supply of peyote? (to be fair, they seem to have deleted the entire article on cacti to hide their shame on that one) Or that Dodos might have gone extinct all of their own? Or that the bible proves the existence of unicorns? Unicorns, people. Normally I’d say don’t feed their egos, but this is some seriously worthwhile comedy reading. Just look at today’s top pages:

Most viewed pages
Main Page 8,067,661
Atheism 4,940,958
Homosexuality 3,565,061
Barack Hussein Obama 1,429,644
Wikipedia 924,932
Adolf Hitler 822,325
Sarah Palin 771,927
Liberal 721,863
Examples of Bias in Wikipedia 688,911
John McCain 585,396

Barack Hussein Obama! Adolf Hitler! Sarah Palin! In that order!

Hours of crying while laughing (followed by laughing while crying) are at your fingertips, thanks to the magic of the internet. Welcome to the future.

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August 3, 2010

Name Change

Filed under: Blogging about Blogging — Tags: — Radical Scientist @ 4:12 pm

In a fit of internet housekeeping, I decided to change my blogonym to ‘Radical Scientist,’ because

A) I figure I should leave the title alone, now that people are actually reading this thing a little, and linking to it and such.And I’d already changed the subtitle.

B) I’d rather pretend to be a teeny bit more anonymous. Who among you  never wanted a secret identity? Especially a secret identity that your boss probably wouldn’t find when they google you?

C) No one else was using it, and it sounded kinda cool. It’s always hard to find people who are progressive or radical in science circles (Let’s face it, y’all: we’re collectively boring), and I’d like to see more scientists in radical circles (I try so hard not to grimace when some fellow-activist goes on a tear about it’s so tragic that The Establishment crushed kid’s souls with useless shit like physics and calculus, to keep them from discovering the Revolutionary Potential of Art. Art is great and all, but shit’s not gonna get done if all we do is hang out and propagandize each other)

Anyway, just FYI: I’m still running this thing on my own. This blog is my own personal treehouse in the forest of the internet. I’ll be changing over my screen names in other places too, as I get to it.

Also, I’m trying to fix the weird reverse-order comments thing. WordPress swears up and down it’s posting my comments in threaded, chronological order, so go figure. In the meantime, read bottom to top and pretend it’s fixed. Switching themes has helped for now, but I’m feeling kinda ‘meh’ about the WP Classic theme, so I’m gonna keep messing with it.

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July 27, 2010

Shove Your Teachable Moments

For, what, the second or third time in as many months, I’ve found myself jumping into a commenting fit of such epic proportions over at Gin and Tacos that I couldn’t resist dragging it out into it’s own full post.

Long story short: Jennifer Keeton,  student in Augusta State University’s counseling program is suing the school, because she both wants to become a school councilor and insists that homosexuality is a disease in need of curing (by her, I guess). And because the school has pointed out that, professionally, that’s not acceptable. It’s a little hard to tell what’s going on at all, because the Augusta Chronicle report is both muddled and leans heavily toward Keeton’s perspective, avoiding any discussion of exactly how she managed to annoy her professors into suggesting a ‘remediation plan’ to dissuade her from, er, “voice[ing] her Christian beliefs inside and outside the classroom on homosexuality and other biblical teachings.”

I am honestly a little impressed that Keaton managed to make such a nuisance of herself that the school got up the guts to tell her she can’t just rant at the children she councils about how Jesus hates them. It’s not easy to get a Georgia university official to tell students to keep their insane brand of Christianity a little more to themselves.

Now, for starters, I am dubious of the idea that extra training will help here. And honestly, I’m a little skeptical of the implied approach here–they seem to be hoping to actually change her mind, by ordering* her into diversity training and telling her to go to Augusta’s Pride last month. First, I don’t think they’ll be able to make her change her opinion so easily. Bigotry doesn’t just melt the first time someone tells the bigot they’re not very nice. Secondly, I think she has a right to hold her fucked up beliefs, even while graduating from a public university. She just needs to understand that she can never, ever let them enter her professional life, because doing so would be a serious ethical breech. Or she could find another line of work.

Also, on behalf of all queer people everywhere, I have one thing to say to the professors who suggested Keeton head to the nearest Gay Pride Parade to learn some tolerance: What the hell are you thinking?! Pride parades aren’t there to show insane homophobes that we’re Just Like Everyone Else. That’s what PFLAG pamphlets and the more risqué Lifetime made for TV movies are for. Pride parades are a chance to wear ridiculous outfits, get drunk in the middle of the day, and enjoy some strength in numbers for once. Sort of like St Patrick’s Day was, back when Irish immigrants faced some actual hostility in the US (but also wanted to get drunk and party). I can’t imagine being heckled by drag queens or browsing the lube selection of local sex toy shop is going to help Keeton warm to treating some poor gay high school student with respect or human dignity. Don’t get me wrong, I love drag queens and sex toy stores, but this is just not the way to go.

And more importantly, I doubt any of the actual participants would want her there. It’s a public event and Keeton can come if she wants to, but I’m a little disappointed that her professors thought it was more important to blow her little mind than to let the entire LGBT community of Augusta enjoy their biggest event of the year without one more hater sneering at them. Not everything queer people do together is about helping sheltered, bigoted assholes realize the error of their ways. Actually, most of the fun of something like pride comes from taking a break from worrying what people who hate you think. The ASU faculty shouldn’t ruin that in a misguided attempt to change Keeton’s mind, they should tell her to go home and think very hard about whether she’d rather keep her homophobia private or pick a new line of work.

While I was an undergrad, there was a controversy that started when a student made some hyperbolic but genuinely mean death threats to a gay professor on his student evaluation. The professor complained to the administration, who shrugged. The evaluations are supposed to be anonymous (though they were done online in a traceable way) (Correction: He recognized the student’s handwriting), and the administration didn’t think the threats were serious enough to bother with. When the professor got the same threats at the end of the next semester (he’s in a small department, and is the only instructor for several mandatory classes), he called the campus paper and the LGBT life office. Long story short, the administration threw up a flurry of ass-covering, it turned out the school’s only route for filing bias complaints was to call the cops (which inspires another rant unto itself), and eventually, the school ponied up the offending fratboy, who they ordered to do sensitivity training. Which he also got out of by suing.

The point of that story, and I do have one, is that they school also ordered him to volunteer at the campus LGBT student center, thinking a little exposure Real Life Gays would teach him a valuable lesson of tolerance. (FYI, the LGBT center’s director flat-out refused, and eventually won) Now, remember kids, this guy was in trouble for repeatedly making homophobic death threats to a professor. The LGBT center is the only set-aside safe space for queer students on a large, very hostile campus. So…the administration thought it would be a good idea to order him in there. Because making empty gestures toward teaching a mean straight kid a lesson is more important than the comfort and safety of every queer student on campus. Because they can’t imagine a use for a queer space other than as a teaching tool for the straight majority. This is why we can’t have nice things, folks.

I’m sure this doesn’t just happen to queer folks. I’d be pretty surprised if these same administrations don’t deal with other -isms the same way–send the privileged offender to hang out with the people they oppress, and hope they learn their lesson. Do it without any visible concern for the people they’re supposed to be learning from. This is tokenism at it’s worst–treating the organizations de-privileged people have built for themselves as nothing more than an educational diorama, there to demonstrate our mysterious ways to the baffled majority.

*Hypothetically, the ‘remediation plan’ is mandatory, but the news article implies that she’s not going along with it (and is suing instead) and states that the school hasn’t taken any action to expel her anyway. So, she’s not exactly being persecuted out of the building, as she suggests.

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July 23, 2010

Welcome New Readers! Let me Drive You Away!

I’ve gotten a couple random bursts of increased traffic here lately, mostly thanks to last week’s post on trans job discrimination getting passed around the intertubes. I’m beginning to suspect some people may even be coming back, reading through other posts, commenting a wee bit (I do love commenters!) etc.

If I may steal a quote from a friend’s blog, YOUR PAGEVIEWS ARE LIKE KIBBLE FOR MY EGO!!!1 :D

But, gentle reader, there is one hitch. I discovered today that there is an actual blog called Daily Parasite, presumably mimicking the success of Daily Puppy, Daily Bunny, etc. And thanks to Boing Boing linking this one particular post, I am now aware of a particular parasitic copepod,* Ommatokoita elongata, that makes it’s living attaching to the eyeballs of sharks. Behold:

That gray mass? It’s a shark’s eye. The white bit is the copepod, with an arrow superimposed to show the point where the little things limb disappears into that shark’s fucking EYE OMG. I couldn’t suffer that alone. You had to come along for the ride.

Anyone still here? Well, really, thank you for reading. I’ve been having more fun than usual lately keeping this blog, probably because a) I am procrastinating from my Big Writing Project (which is going well enough, thank you), and b) because I seem to have inadvertently acquired some readers. Really, though, it’s because I’m endlessly fascinated with Statpress, which shows me the search terms that have lead people to my site. (without any personal info on the searcher) According to my meticulous market research, I should be writing a lot more about bioluminescent puppies. You people on the internet just can’t get enough of bioluminescent puppies. Various permutations on that phrase seriously make up about 40% of my traffic. So, for those of you who missed it the first time, I’ll be generous. Just look at this fucking glowing puppy:

Under blacklight

in daylight

See? Isn’t that both adorable and kind of unsettling? That’s the kind of service you can expect here at impossibletospell.com. Don’t settle for any imitations.

*Tiny little critters related to shellfish.

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July 16, 2010

Libertarians: Overt Douchbags

Today’s post is brought to you, belatedly, by this lovely post over (link should work now) at Gin and Tacos and my thoughts thereon. Long story short: the post is an, er, scathing critique of James Sherk’s (of the Heritage Foundation*) recent appearance on Hardball. (note: much of the audio on the latter half of the video is ruined by Matthews laughing his ass off the soundstage) Sherk asserts that, basically, the Science of Economics Proves having unemployment insurance discourages people from sucking it up and getting a job, any job, ASAP–even if that means moving to where the jobs are, or taking something out of your field and way below your former pay grade. Or all three. And, we are to believe, that’s a Bad Thing, because unemployed people are using Your Tax Dollars to hold out for jobs like their old ones, rather than accepting that the invisible hand of the marketplace has booger-flicked them out of the middle class.

One thing I’ve always wondered: Isn’t it maybe better, long term national economic policy-wise, for the abruptly unemployed to have a chance to hold out for whatever their definition of a ‘good job’ is? Having someone who’s highly trained–whether they have a Ph.D or 20 years experience as an underwater welder–take work way out of their field puts their skills to waste. I’m guessing Sherk would say they’re welcome to keep looking for another teaching or welding job while they flip burgers, but taking that minimum wage job is bound to slow down their job search waaaay down–it’s not like their new boss has any incentive to let a newly-trained employee leave, and they’re not under any mandate to give employees time off to go to interviews. I’m not just speculating, this was been a problem for me when I was in food service and looking to get out. The longer you’re out of a profession, the harder it gets to get back in. At 6 months, you’re an unemployed welder. At 2 years, you’re a former welder.

And for people who don’t have the education or experience to get out of shitty jobs, a sudden influx of formerly-white collar workers is bad, bad news. To take this to a bit of an extreme, consider this: when the last 5 people a McDonald’s hired have a BA or an MBA, there’s a good chance HR will start skipping over applicants sporting a GED. You can see this in places with chronic over education and high employment–isolated college towns and Portland, OR come to mind.

The percentage of Americans with college degrees has meandered ever-upward over the last few decades, and with it, the minimum qualifications for many jobs have gone up incrementally too. Office drone & secretarial type listings often demand a bachelor’s degree rather than a HS or associate’s degree, unskilled workers are expected to have graduated high school, and skilled labor has slowly swung from on-the-job training toward a tech school first, employment later model. I think this downturn will push that trend a little further, as the unemployed people with MBAs settle into office jobs a tier or two below their last position, the people with undergrad degrees go down another notch or two, and so on. People who are highly educated aren’t going to be unemployed forever, they’ll just wind up pushing everyone below them down a notch.

Human-interest stories about the crappy economy always focus on the former banker who now works as a gas station attendant. But what about the guy who can’t get a job as a gas station attendant because all those jobs are now going to college graduates?

I’m guessing Sherk hasn’t had much experience being unemployed without good prospects. So he sat down and thought real hard about it, read some intro economics texts that say things will all work out so long as everyone makes ‘rational’ choices and people have perfect information. And using his Rational Power, he deducted people should go where there are jobs.

But he obviously didn’t talk to anyone in the ‘real world,’ (or even in the rural poverty hot zones of Real America (TM)) or he’d have noticed that he’s full of shit. For starters, there’s no where in the US right now where business is booming and jobs are plentiful. And if he’d talked to anyone actually dealing with unemployment,* he’d know that the whole ‘rational decision’ model isn’t what’s actually sensible for people to do. In a model, moving for a crappy job is better than staying put with no job. But in practice, there are all kinds of costs–the cost of moving, of giving up your friends, family, professional network, etc. If only one person in a couple is unemployed, moving just to see if a state with 7% unemployment is better than one with 10% unemployment is especially stupid. I could go on, but I’m sure everyone gets the point.

*Yeah, I know, the Heritage Foundation fancies itself more conservative than libertarian, but in this case, the economic argument is pure free-market freebasing, which both teams support but libertarians do so with less social finesse. Sherk’s fuck-you-and-your-kids attitude is a stellar example of that kind of malicious social cluelessness. So there.

**At one point he cites his well-off unemployed friends, who he doesn’t seem to have talked to at all, and who are exempt from his admonitions to take jobs they currently consider beneath them.

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June 29, 2010

Science Still Can’t Solve Everything, and Other Breaking News

Filed under: Blogging about Blogging,feminism — Tags: , , , — Ethan @ 8:54 pm

Thanks to Samia for linking to this fabulous, somewhat disjointed series of ruminations from skeptifem about sexism and science. I think she’s neatly summed up a lot of what bothers me about the vilification of science for it’s own sexist ills–science is a morally neutral, but very damn handy set of tools for understanding the universe. Yeah, it’s been used for a lot of truly horrible ends, including holding down women in all sorts of ways. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing worthwhile there, and that feminism and science are inevitably at odds.  She puts it much more eloquently than I have here:

I personally think that the lack of science understanding that most people (especially girls) have in western countries is part of the damage of patriarchy. They kept all the tools for understanding the universe away from us, and some feminists decided that must mean that they aren’t worth anything at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Science is the most reliable and most successful tool for understanding the nature of the universe around us, and I am sad that so many people have decided that it is worthless because men monopolized it. Men monopolized that whole deal where they get to not be raped or be owned as property too, you know. Science is one of the things we should reclaim as a part of the human experience- of curiosity and knowledge, of awe at the universe. Radfems who are anti science are missing the fuck out, and it depresses me.

I do think she take it a bit too far though in denigrating the idea that the non-formally-scientific ways of managing knowledge left to women are always less valid. This is a minor criticism, but hey, I hate to just throw up a link with IAWTC.
I agree that there has been some serious patriarchal baiting and switching to try to get women to lose interest in the tools men have traditionally hoarded. But I don’t know that the patriarchy-approved alternative is always inferior. Just as some things have been put down because they were the domain of women (novel writing  and computer programming, until men decided they wanted it, separating ‘crafts’ from art, etc) some pursuits have been unduly puffed up through their association with manliness.
Reading Thomas Frank’s The Conquest of Cool  (yes, I’ve been on a Frank kick, ok?), I kept chuckling at the 50′s obsession with ‘scientific’ advertising. By which they mostly meant rote, boring and focused-grouped, honing design principles through sciency looking studies and then sticking with them at all costs.  From the sounds of it, ad design is just not an activity that lends itself well to quantification. I say this mostly because the folks who eventually abandoned strict design SOP’s fucking destroyed their competition. I’m loathe to use corporate revenues as a proxy for creative victory, but hell. That was the stated rubric for the ‘scientific’ camp, so we might as well do them the courtesy of judging their failure by their own rules.
And ultimately, why did that happen? Because they’d fallen away from seeing science as a tool set for answering certain types of questions, and had assumed it was a universal improvement over any other way of doing things. And frankly, there’s no obvious excuse for that, beyond fetishizing the ‘rational’ until it doesn’t make sense anymore. Some questions don’t have universal or objective answers. Science still has trouble dealing with unpredicatbility, let alone subjectivity. Standing back while others puff it up into more than it is just keeps us from using tools that do.
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June 14, 2010

Not just a favor post

Have I mentioned my friend Samia is awesome this week? Yes? Tought shit, I’m doing it again.

She has a new post up about broadening the whole women-in-science ‘debate.’ Moving past single lens approach, especially when that one perspective is white, straight, cis and married. She points out that the problem may not be getting a new generation of girls ‘interested’ in math or science so much as changing the atmosphere of those fields to welcome and respect women. I’m not gonna run the whole thing down, you should just read it.

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June 13, 2010

Unsolicited Publicity!

Filed under: Blogging about Blogging — Tags: , , — Ethan @ 8:16 pm

Samia at49 Percent was kind enough to put me up for this week’s Friday Blogaround at Shakesville. (I’m right under Tiger beatdown! OMG!) And that after also making exagerated statements of my awesomeness on her own blog.  In exchange, she has arm-wrestled me into promising to post more. So  I will, really this time. And you, whoever is reading this, should comment more. I hate this echo chamber thing.

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