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

Why Aren’t There More Women in Computer Science? Because They’re Just Not Into Your Bullshit

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Ethan @ 8:23 pm

Female Computer Scientist has a great post up called “Women in CS: It’s not Nature, it’s Culture” in which she points out that the U.S.’s piss-poor recruitment of female students into university computer science programs is far from universal–many countries have gender parity, and in some, computer science is a female-dominated field. She offers up 5 specific suggestions on what US universities can do to fix this, all of which boil down to “So, please – stop mansplaining and start doing.”

I dated a math/CS double major toward the end of her undergrad years. She’s exceptionally good at shooting down sexist dickheads, but even so, she same home with some nerd-douche horror stories.* She’d occasionally refer offhandedly to ‘the other girl’ in her classes. The one. In a school with 30,000+ students. If I’d had to deal with that kind of environment just to get a freaking BS, I’d have gone with a less dudebro heavy program. Like agriculture. Or poultry science.

*Which I’m gonna keep to myself, since I haven’t asked if I could use her college unpleasant experiences as blogfodder.

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July 30, 2010

Recreational Sex is a Survival Strategy

Filed under: gender,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Ethan @ 7:00 pm

There are plenty of studies out there on human sexuality that seem to assume that evolution hasn’t quite caught up with all our modern sexual tinkering, seeing as how they start off assuming all sex, and all our sex drives, stem only from a fundamentally a reproductive urge (this one, which that claims that women who are approaching menopause become “more willing to engage in a variety of sexual activities to capitalize on their remaining childbearing years”  is what spurred my thoughts today) There are points where this makes sense–genetically-driven instinct won’t catch on to the advent of The Pill for a few millenia to come. But other purposes for sex, and forms of non-reproductively oriented sex, have been around for more than enough time.

Queer sex, oral, manual and anal sex are OLD. Judging from our closest living relatives, all those ways of fucking are older than we are as a species. Our hind brains may not have picked up on condoms yet, but ‘I don’t want to get pregnant, so how about you go down on me instead?’ is older than time.

And why should all sex be driven by reproduction? Humans do, and probably always have, used sex for lots of other things–for fun, to strengthen relationships, to ease tensions (and did I mention for fun?). We’re social creatures, and our gene’s survival depends not only on our ability to churn out babies, but on our ability to gain the love and support of others. With fucking. Or sharing food or whatever. But fucking is free.

I’m not an expert in human sexuality, so I’m curious: is there any evidence that having more not-PIV-sex is strongly correlated to having more PIV sex and higher pregnancy rates? If there’s not, wouldn’t it be important to distinguish between sex-in-general, which may or mat not include PIV sex, and sex that’s actually able to lead to pregnancy, when you’re doing research on sexuality and reproduction? Because it’s not a good idea to assume that when you ask someone about how often they have sex, or how intense their sexual fantasies are, that their personal definition of sex is all missionary, all the time.

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July 29, 2010

Never Saw it Coming

I was reading this editorial about the Shirley Sherrod debacle at the Nation by Melissa Harris Lacewell, when a little thought crossed my mind. Breitbart* must have assumed, on some level, that this would work. Riding high from his attacks on ACORN, and having suffered little blowback when his minions tried to tap a freaking Senator’s phone, I doubt he expected his frame-up of an obscure Obama administration official to backfire. There are a lot of variables there, most of which he correctly calculated–that the administration would react out of fear immediately (see Van Jones), that the media would give him press. There were only a few places where things didn’t go as expected: Sherrod stood up for herself rather than back away quietly, and the family she was accused of discriminating against stood up for her.

A lot has already been said about this whole thing, more completely and eloquently than I can say it. But reading Harris-Lacewell’s article, one thing stands out. Brietbart must have assumed that the poor white family in question, the Spooners,  wouldn’t come forward. That either they were redneck Georgia nobodies who wouldn’t notice they were being used in a blogospheric/inside-the-beltway scandal, or that they would stay silent if they did. What he did not anticipate was that they’d put their human decency and friendship with Sherrod ahead of racial loyalty, and call up CNN to tell the nearest reporter what was what.

In the Teabagger Mythos, it’s basically unthinkable that anyone with such impeccable Real Americans ™ credentials as the Spooners (Farmers? Check. White? Check. From an especially Real American state? Check. And so on)  would have a 20 year friendship with a federal official. It’s impossible that they would regard a woman of color who had any sort of power over them with anything but the rankest contempt, no matter how she used that power–even if it was to save their asses in a time of crisis.

Now, I don’t think they deserve endless reams of praise for this. I doubt there was any risk for them in doing so. And between Brietbart’s outright lying and everything Sherrod had done for them, it’s more like they would have been horrible people for not stepping forward. And it’s not fair that their word should carry so much weight, above Sherrod’s own, and even when the unedited video of her actual remarks is readily available.

But I will say this: When poor white farmers in Georgia build relationships with their black neighbors, and when they put defending those friends ahead of letting some white guy across the country exploit them for political gain, the conservative movement in America will be fucked. I dare say they never saw it coming.

*I am assuming Brietbart intentionally posted an edited video to attack Sherrod. The subtext, of course, insinuated that under the Obama administration the USDA would discriminate against white farmers, when in fact the USDA has a long history of discrimination against farmers of color, and moreover Sherrod was working for an independent group when she helped the Spooners find the bankruptcy lawyer who helped them keep their farm.

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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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July 12, 2010

Waxing and waning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Ethan @ 10:14 pm

Hey y’all, just a heads up–I may be posting even more erratically than usual for the next month. I’ve got some spare time on my hands right now, being underemployed, and I decided to play with my zombie story, NaNoWriMo style. Since I doubt/hope I won’t have this kind of time come November, I’m gonna try and do it now, starting this evening. My deadline is 50,000 words my midnight, August 12. If I don’t make it, feel free to mock me mercilessly.

And really, there’s better than good a chance procrastination will set in, and I’ll post twice as much. Either way, now you know.

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