Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tuesday ramble

"Communities are weird," said a friend/colleague of mine when I complained to him that some dude (not the guy I'd hoped) I'd met at an event the week before, hit on me. He--my colleague--meant it in the sense that, once you become a part of any community, there are added risks and complications to that kind of thing.

If you're wondering why it was wrong, creepy for this dude to hit on me, when it wasn't wrong for JHL to have done so, the strongest answer out of many was that JHL actually bothered to establish a rapport and gauge my interest--and get my personal contact information--before asking me out. This dude, on the other hand, had talked to me for all of five minutes and asked me out at my work e-mail address (I'd handed him a business card, which is hardly an invitation). To make matters worse, he sent the friend with whom I was there the very same e-mail (thoughts about the event that he clearly thought were clever), minus the ask. Because it's not like we would have talked about it? Please. I guess it's debatable whether his invitation was inappropriate, but it sure as hell was based on little probability of success.

Tuesday (is it really only Tuesday) roundup

Why is the Taliban laying low

You may have noticed that I've had much reason, of late, to question social science studies (turns out, I'm not alone). Always read the study--the methodology, assumptions, actual findings etc. before accepting the conclusions.

However--from the 'I could've told you that without the study' department--of course animals love!

Even stalwart opponents of genetic modification acknowledge that it's less about safety and more about corporate control of the food system, but here's a great debate on the issue. Where I don't see why there's any debate at all is, irradiated food.

This is ostensibly about being open about one's finances, but holy crap, isn't it also about blowing money on appearances?

Ooh, lots of wisdom from both Carolyn and the follow-up letter-writers about when it's constructive and not so much to "challenge" someone. The "you can't handle the truth" argument, of course, reminds me of mom.

Read this yet-another-piece-on-makeup for the comments and only for the comments, but also consider it in conjuction with this piece on weight (i.e., what's attractive vs. what's perceived as attractive vs. who the f* cares).

What is forever? Physicists and musicians debate.

I told a friend about "Llama Cop." Her priceless response: "I just... I can't.  I am this close to losing my faith in humanity."

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturday ramble: my week in reverse

First-world problem: I have friends who live in the District who have parties, and I've taken to not messing with the metro when it single tracks, so I've had to drive to (and in and from) the District two Saturdays in a row now. Last weekend wasn't bad, but today was. Mind you, I made it worst for myself--I was running late, as I'd lost track of time in the course of weeding and mulching, so I figured I'd just wing it instead of mapping it ahead of time. Oh, and I forgot to charge my phone (yes, I have a car charger but I've heard they degrade the battery so I only use it in emergencies). But I got lost enough that I did have to use my phone, and it had just enough battery power to get me there (I could figure out how to get back on my own). And enough gas to get me there and back. Perhaps I should be more on top of fueling my phone and my car? 

Saturday roundup

Minorities in Egypt are not quite at all in the clear.

Proximity to the sun was not Icarus's downfall, so dream big.

Carolyn's response is just so comprehensively brilliant.

I think there was other stuff I wanted to tell you about, but the computer lost it and I can't remember what it was. Do watch the Daily Show's coverage of the grandmother double standard (and the rancher double standard)--just watch all the videos of this week.

It's often complicated to figure out whether your donations are well-spent.

A not insignificant takeaway from the Cliven Bundy saga is that cows are terrible for soil.

Talk of "feeding the world" or needing to, is misleading.

The food industry can't abide the "pernicious trend" of people making their own (baby) food!

A rule of thumb for what not to ask adoptive parents (or their children).

New York City haikus!

Wear those horizontal stripes; the Helmholtz Illusion has your back.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thursday roundup

Lawmakers agree that the prevalence of sexual assault is not okay.
What Snowden might have asked Putin.
This former mayor didn't even think his comments were anti-semitic.

This is pretty pathetic social science, but you still shouldn't idealize your partner.

Either babies are more scheming than you think, or evolutionary biology is a load of crap.

I finally got to watching "Cosmos," starting with the last episode (on lead), which is fascinating and infuriating. Never doubt industry's willingness to poison you while convincing you that their products are just fine. That's why it's important to understand the mistrust out there. But that mistrust shouldn't translate into anti-scientism. On that note, Bruni calls out Jenny McCarthy for chutzpah.

It is true that there's much misinformation flying around about every way of eating. The bottom line is, nutrition is complicated and no diet is a panacea. Veganism is one healthy option; there are compelling environmental and animal-welfare reasons for it; and it's doable. Even this woman who felt the need to say even vegetarians should have no trouble getting enough protein, acknowledges that "even" vegetarians should have no trouble getting enough protein.

I did not know that oranges were not original.

Speaking of NDGT, this piece (in its rush to defend Larry Summers) misrepresents his comments, in which his point is, start with all of those societal factors before you start attributing things to "innate" factors. I'd add that if you're going to talk about innate differences, look at other countries where the ratios for women in science are different.

Lots of take-downs of the Confidence Gap book. Rosa Brooks considers the consequences of overconfidence. Jessica Valenti points out that the world isn't quite safe for women to claim the confidence that reflects our real worth.

Until more men grow the f* up, it's advantageous for many women to parent solo.
Housing is expensive and minimum wage doesn't cover it.

I've been thinking about this a lot: there's so much to appreciate about my job, and there's quite a bit about it that also sucks. These are not mutually exclusive phenomena.

Things that are actually mutually exclusive: love and control.
I totally have a different personality in every language.

This creepy spoon reminds me of the bone church in Kutna Hora.

Naming your company? For maximum marketing value, go for the gutter.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday roundup

Why are some people encouraging moocher ranchers?

In one week, the world lost Jacob Birnbaum and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Peoria, the police state. Oh, and Disneyland, too (the crime there: having large breasts).

On free speech and free criticism, XKCD nails it.

The mommy wars serve no one--I largely agree with that--but I still want to tell this woman to get over herself. She's not at the level of these ridiculous parents, and she has legitimate concerns, but I'm done with the sanctimony. You're exhausted? I'm exhausted, too. Stop blaming feminism or "the larger feminist narrative," whatever you think that is. To me, the larger feminist narrative is that we each have a choice and need to own it.

Don't name your baby kale--especially if you think it's going to inspire him/her to eat healthily. I can only speak for myself, but I'd have rebelled and never touched the stuff.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thursday roundup

Wait, an upstate New York district superindendent in 2011 responded to complaints about swastikas with, “Your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic”??

What cow dung and fertilizer are doing to Florida's springs.

Don't go liking General Mills' products.

I really didn't care for the Slate piece on no makeup because, precisely as the Jezebel takedown articulated, it started from a premise where makeup is the obvious default position:
"Not wearing makeup: is it feminism, laziness or the rise of cosmetic normcore?" wonders Slate. Huh. Good question: having a face and not smearing cosmetics upon it: is it a political statement, sloth, or, uh, some kind of weird fashion thing? Or could be it be some strange, unheard-of fourth option... such as being a human in possession of a face who doesn't feel the need to apply products to it, and it is really just not a big deal?
Katy Waldman, in the original piece, eventually gives away her bias by "defending" (as if anyone was challenging her) her own preference for makeup. She did the same thing not long ago with regard to tights, about which I had to say this:
And then there was the Slate Double XX piece on tights, which rivals the Jezebel series on Foods That Should Not Exist. I'm not asking these sites to be all seriousness, all the time, but is there anything to be gained by engaging in pissing fights about things that don't matter? Some people love tights; some people don't get tights; who the f* cares?? Is it even worth addressing? Some people love tofu; other people love Twinkies. That's certainly worth addressing, but not in a culture-war way. This type of coverage is a microcosm of idiotic internet discourse that dumbs us all down and wastes our time. F*ing hell, stop writing about tights, especially with regard to other people's preferences. Who. The. F*. Cares??
I get that, with makeup (as with ladyscaping), there's more of a perceived need to make it clear that one is following one's heart rather than succumbing to social pressures. And it's important on a societal level to recognize that one's level of makeup or ladyscaping or anything else needn't be read into, but on a personal level? Who the f* cares? Back to the Jezebel response:
It's terrifyingly overwhelming to think that everything a woman does has some kind of big hermeneutic repercussion. Seriously, though — some ladies don't wear makeup because they literally don't think about it ever! Some just don't like it! To posit that there must be some kind of big cultural reason for women to reject makeup-wearing is to imply that everyone sees makeup as a requirement of womanhood; to say that it's lazy intimates that it's a Female Duty. Not all women would agree with that. 
I'm on team "don't think about it ever" although I sometimes put on lipstick because I feel like it and it's easy. I hate the feel of anything on my face or eyes. And I wouldn't like looking madeup. But enough about me; I'd rather turn it over to another more articulate woman--India Arie:
Depend on how the wind blows I might even paint my toes
It really just depends on whatever feels good to my soul

Monday, April 14, 2014

What you go through when your animal is ailing

You kind of find God and start bargaining. "If she gets through this, I will be so much better about brushing her teeth regularly." You start appreciating the everyday annoyances ("why is she not in my face as I'm trying to get breakfast together?"); you just want to hear her whine, annoyingly, again.

The night before Gracie got sick, she was especially whiny (and I was really, really tired); I'd come home and fed her, and thought the least she could do was shut the f* up while I was trying to get my own dinner together, instead of reminding me, vocally and persistently, that she wanted to go outside. I finally let her out, and that's probably when she rolled around and cut herself on something on the ground. But who knows; it could have happened earlier.

The next morning, she wasn't whining for her breakfast. I thought, maybe she swallowed a stink bug and needed to sleep it off. That night, she was better, but not by much, and the next day, I noticed that she was also sore as well as lethargic and unhungry (which, by the way, are the symptoms of all kitty illnesses). So I took her in, panicked. They figured it out and fixed it, and soon she'll be good as new. But now she looks ridiculous, with a shaved backside and a conical collar on her head, and you can hear her from a mile away, since she bumps into everything with the collar (she and I are about equally spatially inclined). But she's eating again (just as of today, really) and her spirits are up. I'm so glad that she's back.

Monday roundup

College rankings should totally factor in how schools handle sexual assault.

Oh, the Economist, you do pretty well, particularly for how technical you get, but some of your facts are still a bit off.

Ohhhh, US Airways. Let us know what you find out in your investigation.

Ffs, keep your discarded sex toys (together with your other trash) out of the oceans. Although, James Dyson to the rescue.

If you want to raise good (moral) kids, setting an example goes much, much further than preaching at them. Related: everyone, including your dependent children, have a right to manage images of themselves. Related (in a different way): when do the ends justify the means?

Do you ever hear something on NPR that makes you a little more conservative, or makes you kind-of identify why conservatives can't stand the thing? This was that for me, and I don't even disagree with much of the content, in theory; microaggressions are real and they're damaging. People who insist on asking non-white (or other foreign-"seeming") people where they're from need to put in their place and discouraged from doing it, especially in this day and age when everybody looks "different." But I don't think the best response to any aggression, including microaggression, is confrontation. Yes, those people are obnoxious, ignorant, and socially inept... but they're probably not deliberately trying to make you feel out of place in your own environment; they're probably just nosy. It's normally to wonder about someone's ethnic identity (again, I'm not saying that anyone's entitled to an answer).

Look, there are any number of reasons that someone's physical appearance might raise questions. If it's about skin tone or facial features, it might raise questions about ethnic origins; an accent might raise the same questions. A protruding belly, it might raise questions about pregnancy. A scar or burn or wound would raise other questions. That's normal. It also doesn't mean that the person who arouses the curiosity owes you an explanation; he or she may not want to talk about it, and you're probably not the first person (that day) to ask. Keep your powers of observation to yourself.

But those of you on the receiving end: I know it's annoying, but chances are, the asker isn't implying that (s)he belongs any more than you do; (s)he's just trying to make conversation. Do as the interviewees suggest--don't answer on the first attempt, and maybe the person will get the hint. But also do as Miss Manners would have you do: avoid humiliating the asker, if you can. "Why do you keep asking me that?" is a pretty good way to draw out any assumptions or underlying issues.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saturday roundup

I love Carolyn's response here, because there's no judgment about choices; merely the statement that there are tradeoffs and they're up to the individual to weigh. I've written about how my issue with many personal finance columnists--like Suze Orman--is that they unhelpfully make decisions for those who seek their advice, rather than teaching them to prioritize. Pair that column with another recent one, where a miserable letter-writer asserts that she nonetheless has no regrets. Her choices are not those I would have made (or did make), but if it's worth it to her to be in an unhappy for a big house and kids, who is anybody else to tell her otherwise?

I also love Laura Bates' column in response to the inane Foster column (to which I will not link).
Feminism simply means wanting everybody to be treated equally regardless of their sex. It's as simple as that. And no part of that definition maligns or "bans" flirting, telling somebody they look nice, or going at it like joyfully consenting rabbits in whatever style, location, position or combination of partners your heart desires.
What it does mean is that women shouldn't be scared to walk down the street; shouldn't be faced with intimidating and aggressive sexual shouts from cars and vans; shouldn't be treated as dehumanised sex objects; shouldn't be made to feel that men have an inherent entitlement to their bodies in public spaces.
Strange though it seems to have to keep reiterating it, the difference between sexual harassment and flirting is really fairly clear. It's actually quite insulting to the vast majority of men to suggest that they aren't perfectly capable of knowing the difference between complimenting someone, starting a flirty conversation, and harassing them. The clue is in the name: harassment. And if you're hoping to end up in bed with someone, of whatever gender, it's really in your interests to steer clear of harassing them, as it's likely to be fairly unhelpful to proceedings.
But for those still in doubt, you could always run through this handy checklist of questions:
• Is the way in which I'm making this advance likely to scare or alarm the person?
• Has the person already made it clear to me that they are uninterested in my advances?
• Does the speed at which my vehicle is moving rule out any likelihood of a response to this advance?
• Is this "advance" actually just a shouted and uninvited assessment on my part of this person's attractiveness/body/genitals?
• Does the context of this situation (a job interview, for example) make a direct sexual advance offensive or inappropriate?
• Am I actually, all things considered, just being a bit of a dick?
If the answer to any of the above is "yes", then perhaps what's happened here is that you have accidentally confused sexual harassment with a respectful sexual advance. In this case I refer you to the advice of a lady on Twitter, who rather eloquently summed things up:
While we're still on Things I Love, Martha Nussbaum on nourishing your inner world:
As we tell stories about the lives of others, we learn how to imagine what another creature might feel in response to various events. At the same time, we identify with the other creature and learn something about ourselves. As we grow older, we encounter more and more complex stories — in literature, film, visual art, music — that give us a richer and more subtle grasp of human emotions and of our own inner world. So my second piece of advice, closely related to the first, is: Read a lot of stories, listen to a lot of music, and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and lives of those you love. In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others.
I won't go as far as to say I love this, but it's a good example of how to write about science: with nuance. In this case, vinegar as a jellyfish-sting remedy... is complicated.

And here's how not to write about science. I get it: people freak out about radiation and don't really understand what it is or where it comes from. But being all cutesy and cagey about it isn't going to allay any fears or address misconceptions. Start reading that and tell me what you think she thinks the issue is: is it radiation, or is it plutonium? It's too bad because there's a lot of decent information in there, but she needed to have chosen a message and stuck with it. If that message was, radiation can be life-saving, why throw people off with uranium writ-large and one "bad" isotope of plutonium? If her point was--and I think it was--"here's how smoke detectors work, and by the way, this process depends on radioactive decay, so don't reflexively fear radiation"--she would have done better to just say that.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tuesday roundup

Ubiquitous click-baiting gets annoying, fast (and CNN, naturally, is shameless).

NOW, among others, should not be fighting big Pharma's anti-science fight.

Grist should not be promoting leather shoes as low carbon (they somehow forgot to factor in the carbon footprint of the cows, though, to be fair, it's more methane).

Does science cooperation have to be a casualty of geopolitics? Probably, but it really sucks for the scientists (and the science).

I have to admit--which is a sign that those people have gotten to me--I found this 'which particle are you' quiz quite fun.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday roundup

Stardust and interstellar gas and cosmic x-rays, oh-my!

If you're gonna invoke deterrence, get your deterrence principles straight.

Um, this talk of tenses and behavior is flawed not because it's written in English but because it's overly simplistic, but that's what I've come to expect of TED talks. (I'm no economist, but I am a lapsed linguist.)

Big data is not a panacea.

One of the things I wouldn't do for science.

Who is Richard Dawkins to think he owns truth? These aggressive atheists are growing very tiresome--and I'm not about to see any images of any messiahs on my toast anytime soon.

I attended a volunteer reception event the other day, at which one volunteer who was given an award thanked the shelter for opening up another day for a given volunteer activity, because so many people from her church were clamoring to help out. I'd rather agree to disagree with people like her than wallow in internet-smugness with people whose contribution to society is dehumanizing people of faith. Just sayin'.

Another take-your-pick: this guy (Osmel Sousa),
“I say that inner beauty doesn’t exist. That’s something that unpretty women invented to justify themselves.” 
And Human Barbie and her f*ed up perspectives, or Phenomenal-Woman Maya Angelou?

Yale made a healthy student eat unhealthily because she was arbitrarily deemed too thin. And I can understand how she must look crazy thin: at my height, she weighs eight pounds less than I do, and I don't have eight pounds to lose. But if that's her body, that's her body; let it go.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday roundup

Let's pair Frank Bruni's column on the Mozilla CEO's resignation with the Times article on women in tech, because it's telling--Bruni makes the point that it wasn't the LGBT community that ousted the CEO, but the tech community itself, which couldn't reconcile his views with its values--that that same community, on a general level, doesn't have the same sense of disapproval for misogyny. There's another parallel (although it's a difference, and one that Bruni didn't note): the CEO was given the chance to repudiate his Prop 8 donation, and he didn't, so it's not like he was being held accountable for past beliefs. In contrast, Pax Dickinson did apologize, did repudiate his abhorrent tweets. As noted in the article, that's not enough for some, but it's huge.

Also apparently rife with misogyny (and also largely over the issue of objectification): the stay-at-home dad community.

I'm all for making science outreach largely about people and not just about the research, but I'd caution against making it too much about the peope, at the expense of the science (see my friendly critique of "Particle Fever," which I nonetheless liked/appreciated. And I get that this was an April Fool's joke and that jargon is alienating (though also useful), but you can't take out all the substance (or content, as the kids say these days).

This is so, so important: it's not controlling to have needs or express them.

Hat tip to Jezebel for the article on body agnosticism, but the best quote is in the article itself:
I come to this topic as a woman who cares about her body and her physical appearance, but is not obsessed with it—in terms of having the perfect figure, or in terms of chastising myself for every cookie consumed. Body obsession is often viewed as the privilege of the slim, healthy, and active, and thus my denigration of “obsession” suggests I’m ridiculing those who are serious about weight management and fitness. Not at all. I’m saying it may not be psychologically healthy to be obsessed with your own body, regardless of how it looks.
My point is that if you can build your character toward a goal of true self-acceptance, it ceases to matter which category you belong to, or who evaluates you as belonging to one category or the other. There are objective benefits to exercising and eating healthily, but there are also objective detriments to fostering an attitude of shame and low self-esteem.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Saturday roundup

Rwanda's (erstwhile?) following-orders mentality... well, its not alone in that.

One should try to muster compassion for a woman whose son has been sentenced to death, but I just can't come up with it for the woman quoted in the Mumbai rape verdict.

Sexual assault has always been part of the storyline in American television, but these days survivors are the focus of their own stories, rather than mere accessories.

I was frustrated with the (perhaps uninentional) false dichotomy in Ian Frasier's article on homelessness; it's not an either-or thing, and the two sides would do well to appreciate--and probably do--that's it's a combination or perhaps a spectrum of external circumstances and individual ones. Dealing with either assumption alone is not the answer.

Politicians are getting sloppy in their ads, in hilaroius ways.

In case you were wondering about superfluous gamma rays as a sign of dark matter.

Grit may be overrated, but this line is priceless:
If enjoying a complex mental life interferes with performance in a contest to see who can spell the most obscure words correctly, is that really an argument for grit?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday roundup

Afghanistan can only be as strong as its institutions.

Coal makes rivers black.

You know I generally prefer to eat unprocessed food, but I think well-made immitation meat is a wonderful thing. Also, vegan cinnabon doesn't look bad, nor does the concept of taxing meat.

Expeller-pressed oil is just as fatty, but not hexane-y.

This woman--full-time translator, sloth foster mom on the side--is my hero.

The truth behind ten ancient myths and legends.

Ooh, (Saturn's) moon-ocean.

Photos well-worth breaking a mirror for.

Oh saints preserve us (and our mullets, wherever they may be).

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wednesday roundup

There's a lot at stake for Afghan women.

This sentiment--aired in the Detroit rape kit saga--is so common that the author didn't think much of it:
She detailed a deficit elimination plan that had been recently placed on her desk from Wayne County CEO Bob Ficano’s office calling work on non-grant-funded sexual assault kit investigations and prosecutions “low priority,” and saying that the work “should be discontinued.”
This, in light of the fact that "to date, almost 100 serial rapists have been prosecuted from the backlogged kits."

(Some) conservative women suggest the rest of us really lean out.

Emotional trauma manifests itself physically; that's science, not new-age quackery.

In memory of Irene Fernandez.

I had not realized that Alan Greenspan had been involved in the Savings & Loan mess (until I read it in Charles Keating's obituary).

This is honestly a sloppy article about language discrimination, starting with the subtitle; the authors ought to define and use their terms more carefully. Are "native speakers" and those "born abroad" mutually exclusive? And, the way that the study is described, it's not clear that it's a language vs. culture thing (would you see the same results with Americans or Australians, or with Nigerians or Jamaicans?). Are you also controlling for class? Get that stuff straight before you generalize the results.

I got distracted before I managed to comment on this shameless click-bait about non-parents paying more in taxes (which we do anyway). I'm all about funding public services, like education, but the idea of taxing non-parents has got to be one of the dumbest ever. Never mind that we already pick up the slack for people who can't quite be full-time at work, etc. Let's focus instead on how this would essentially be a reverse-carbon tax. Or how it would be impossible to implement/enforce. How would you penalize people with fertility issues? Maybe, instead, make it easier for people to adopt?
Jezebel doesn't think Johnny Depp is allowed to say anything positive about China, even about its architecture. From the headline and the analogy to Dennis Rodman, I was expecting some political statement, but all he said was that his experience in-country was positive. I mean, you can say "China has cool architecture" without saying "I approve of China's government." Jezebel needs to chill the f* out and pick its battles.

On a lighter note: these pictures are pretty.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuesday roundup

Moroccan women make tiny amounts of money from carrying massive loads.

Theater matters everywhere, including refugee camps.

By now you've heard about the disgraceful DuPont heir case and perhaps the survivor's "you win" letter to Harvard, both of which smack of one of the most nefarious elements of rape culture: don't bother reporting or testifying, because the justice system and the universities and society are not equipped to help you; in fact, they will probably put you on trial (see, by the way, Anita Hill's interview on the Daily Show, where she talks about just that). And Jon Stewart talks about privilege as exactly what it is and how it manifests itself. Privilege is such an important concept--in this case, people proclaiming the end of society because they are losing the absolute ability to behave badly at the expense of others, as others gain some power--and unfortunately, it's become a meme ("check your privilege" is thrown around with mockery). But this is a discussion for another day because I have to get to work. 

Still unclear as to whether the multiverse is even science?

Someone please veganize these cake planets.

These are so dumb, I can't believe they're real (even in this world of imagined gluten sensitivity).