Thursday, January 29, 2015

Links and Add The Words

I've decided to turn a corner on things, and stop being such a layabout.  In accordance, I am going to post something at least once a week.  Here's what's been on my mind:

A new chemical bond has been discovered.    It sounds like a kind of special case, but it's not nothing.

I also may no longer live in Idaho, but I do keep up on the goings-on.  This week the legislature finally heard testimony about adding the words "gender identity and sexual orientation" to Idaho's standing Human Rights Act. 

The thing that I've found really interesting about this conflict is how people in Idaho have long wrongly assumed that these protections are already written into state law.  They say they act as though that's the case, but I don't trust them.  Unfortunately, this is something I heard on the radio, so I don't have a good link, but when you think about it, people are generally paranoid about an overly-litigious society.  

I know when I was trying to go back to work several people told me that no one would dare screw with me for fear of ADA complications.  In short, that's bad advice.  If you're already in a disempowered position, it's not always straightforward what protections the law affords, and accessing them requires making and proving an illegal imposition on your rights.  

Thus, the mistaken impression that The State protects LGBT Idahoans is not enough to ensure that happens. It may usually be the case, but when it's not, someone gets screwed.    


In not-exactly-biology, I was really into this article by Olga Khazan, and it made me think a little:

I always thought it was weird/insane when coal miners claimed that they were the ones disregarding safety rules and not using equipment by their own judgment, not under the orders of supervisors requiring unsafe work practices to help the bottom line.  But in this article, it says, 

Coal workers are supposed to be offered masks to wear, Smiddy said, but “for a 12-hour shift in a coal mine, there's almost nobody who can wear a mask. They say, ‘It's heavy on my face, I can't breathe with it on.’”

That got me to thinking about how many news stories I ran into this summer about the difficulty of dealing with PPE in the ebola outbreak, and how no one says, "The gowns were just too uncomfortable, so we just took them off."  In fact, I spent a lot of time last summer wondering at how people seemed to be transmitting ebola so easily.  I've used BSL 3 PPE in a relatively low-pressure environment and it didn't strike me as a particularly big deal.  Ebola is the next step up, but it still seemed like people who should know better were getting sick all the time.  Then again, from the sounds of it, health workers were doing their work without the aid of gowns and masks quite a lot as the outbreak spun up.  I'd really love to hear from someone who's been there about how that comes to pass, and whether it rests on ignorance or a mixture of carelessness and bravery.  I wonder what the difference is between health care workers and their PPE, and coal miners and theirs.  Ebola kills you quicker than black lung, but still.  Even if this tangential thought isn't all that interesting to you, read this article.  It does a good job of showing the intersections between poverty and disability and how our country's safety net isn't constructed in a way that can quite handle those complications. 

Oh, and if you've made it this far, please leave a comment saying you're reading, or hit me up on social media.  I'll keep shouting into the void if you don't, but I'd appreciate it if I knew someone was reading.    

Monday, August 11, 2014

Neither articulate nor clean

I have a habit of losing track of how well I'm articulating myself when I speak, but it turns out that I'm definitely not the only one.  For some reason, I have always been hugely amused by the ambiguity in language, and respond to misinterpreted words with embarrassing fits of laughter (like how my sister always thought NPR's Bob Edwards was Bob Backwards.)  I just hope no one interprets my amusement as language snobbery.  I don't think these mistakes are dumb - I think they're kind of brilliant, and give insight into how people think about language.

I noticed how lazy I can be about articulating myself soon after I graduated college and started working closely with a woman who'd grown up in China.  She was a great phonetic speller (which I imagine is true of most people who grow up speaking Chinese) and wrote down exactly what she heard people around her saying.  To Xun, Anthrax was antruas.  This was about ten years ago, and I've slipped considerably in the interim.  

I have to wonder when being inarticulate becomes an accent or dialect in itself.  

Monday, July 07, 2014

Security without passwords

This idea strikes me as right.  Passwords are unwieldy and hackable in ways that location isn't.  However, it's kind of hard to give myself a visceral sense that this would be more secure.  It's like how people a generation older than I am like to have documents printed out.  I've always felt like something is more secure if it's stored in a digital format somewhere.  I lose paper all the time.  What if I spill something on it?

HT to D for the video.

I don't really tell my spouse my passwords, but I also don't really care if he uses my devices, usually.  I wonder how the actual implementation of this new authetication regime deals with shared devices.  

FYI: If this seems like a weird subject for me to be taking on, you might be interested to know that my spouse has taken a job at Google, and we're now living in California.  So this kind of thing is on my mind more now.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Elephant in the Drawing Room

I work with animals in captivity, and I love it.  There are things about it that make me uncomfortable, and I've been wrestling with them for a while now.  I found a movie on Netflix called The Elephant in the Living Room which told the story of a pretty impoverished guy who kept a lion as a pet.  My first reaction to the idea of a guy keeping a pet lion in Ohio was, "That's horrible!"  The movie also followed the activity of a police officer who responds when exotic animals kept in situations like that get into trouble.  He was portrayed as the enlightened savior, the reasonable one.

Then I got to thinking that there are lions at "my zoo" whose lives aren't very much like the lives of wild lions.  What makes it so much better for a zoo to keep an exotic animal than for some schlub in middle America to do that?  He's not a zoologist or vet, but that doesn't mean he's not a clever and sensitive guy with a sense for what animals need.  My intuition tells me that he can't provide for a lion what it needs (namely, space and other lions).  I'm just curious about how much of my intuitive revulsion at the idea of keeping a lion as a pet is informed by my social class.  My experience among animal lovers tends to have been that the more affluent an animal-lover, the more they feel like an animal needs its space.  But even people who take the hardest line against pettification of animals have a hard time resisting nuzzles from an animal who's giving them.

Overall, the movie really seemed like a study in class-differentiated attitudes towards animals among Americans.

The thing that blew my mind was when Lambert's owner ended up taking in a female lion, and since he didn't really have the right facilities for Lambert (the original lion he'd raised) and the female, he ended up keeping them in a grimy horse trailer for a period of time.  The female lion got pregnant and ended up having a healthy baby.  I was shocked that things turned out so seemingly well in what looked like deplorable conditions.

The real shock came when Lambert was accidentally electrocuted.  The movie depicted this, and it was sickening and terrible.  I think it just goes to show that caring for exotic animals requires a lot of resources.  Accidents happen, but the rules that accrediting agencies come up with will help prevent them.

I don't think wild animals should be treated like pets and hand-raised to be human companions.  People really get excited about animals, and want to snuggle them and keep them as pets.  I don't believe that an animal necessarily needs to be in its natural environment to be "happy."  It's a difficult thing, when the natural environments aren't as available as animals need them to be.

Then there's the issue of access to the animals: I think zoos do a good service in giving people the chance to see animals close-up and really understand what it is we're working to conserve in the wild.  There are lots of people out there who are driven to be up close and personal with wild animals, and I'd prefer they do something like get educated and maybe become a vet or find a wildlife sanctuary to work at.  But there are people who don't have access to that kind of thing and will do things like bring home a lion cub.  I'm glad that the law doesn't side with them, but I just wish that the man in this movie had a better outlet for his desire to be with animals.        

Thursday, May 08, 2014

I'm cheating on you with another blog

But I swear, it doesn't mean anything to me!  If you've been reading my blog, or just know me, you probably know that I'm not religious.  A friend of mine mentioned that she wanted to read the Bible and see what she thought.  I told her I'd be happy to do the same and blog it with her.  We current non-believers have joined up with a Christian to go through the Bible and respond.  If you're interested, check out The Pragmatist, The Perplexed and The Prophet.  I'm Pragmatist, and Perplexed is the one who initiated this project.  She's doing some nice cliffs-notes TWOP-style recaps of each chapter, so I've hardly touched my own Bible, I have to admit.  

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A Crackpot's Views on Nutrition

I like like like food.  Cooking it is fun, but often I find myself balking at cooking due to laziness and a lot of pressure I put on myself to EAT RIGHT.  Plus, I tend to panic when I get hungry.  If I have a bunch of things like Kind bars sitting around, I can go days where 75% of the food I consume comes in bar form.  It's carby and low-effort and sort of expensive, but it makes me stop worrying about how I'll get my hunger sated.  I read a review of Soylent, the nutrition shake that everyone somehow is convinced is much cooler than Ensure  (Via Andrew Sullivan.) and it sounds to me like Soylent is a gateway to orthorexia.  If I'm going to replace my fun, stimulating food with a goo, I think plumpynut sounds much yummier.

I have some sort of crackpot ideas as to why living on Soylent won't work out very well.  I don't have any good links, but I have gotten the impression over time that an entire diet of nutritional supplements generally won't cut it for maintaining good health.  If we're going to accept that as true, then I can move on to why I think it doesn't work.

At Zoo Boise, I got to hang around some giraffes a lot (I miss you, Julius and Jabari!), and the giraffes were fond of chewing on the fence of their exhibit.  A guy who was watching that said he was a vet and that some herbivores will just chew on things because there's a behavioral-physical loop where if the animal's body doesn't do enough chewing, it doesn't feel like it's sated.  In that case, they just chew on whatever's around.  This comes up when herbivores eat food that's too soft for them.

I find that I don't feel very "full" after processed food gets to digesting inside me.  I wonder if it's the same mechanism working in me.  The same goes for when I am eating a lot of yogurt or cottage cheese or other semi-solid food.

The other thing that I imagine influences why "whole foods" tend to work differently in our bodies than what I'll call "constructed foods," is some research that showed that the RNA found in the organisms we eat can control  the transcription of our own genes.  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lucy in the Sky Without Anxiety

I use antidepressants, and have for years.  I was resistant at first (mostly due to some ableist nonsense about being one of those people with something wrong.  I also didn't understand that I had any kind of problem.)

Popular ideas about "happy pills" are so wrong about how these drugs work.  A "happy pill" would be basically useless, I think.  The thing that makes a good antidepressant useful is that it makes depression manageable, so you have the strength/insight to deal with symptoms as they come along.  

I had to learn a lot about psychoactive drugs when I dealt with a lot of anxiety and depression as my life turned upside down in 2008.  This is not to mention insomnia, which has been a problem for most of my life.  I ended up using a lot of sleep aids then, and looking into anti-anxiety meds.  My impression of anti-anxiety meds like benzodiazapenes wasn't a good one.  They seem more like traditionally-recreational drugs, where they just push a psych symptom out of view for a while, until the drug wears off.  

I don't see how that helps very much.  It's the difference between a hand up and a handout.  Then again, these drugs are widely used for an illness I don't know that I've truly experienced.  However, Andrew Sullivan points to someone's anti-anxiety experience with psilocybin that sounds precisely like my description of why antidepressants are useful drugs.  

Hallucinogens and other recreational drugs that aren't alcohol or marijuana are pretty taboo in the world of psychology, but I wonder if they need to be.  

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Add The Words Idaho

So I was pretty busy as I got close to moving from Boise, but I regret not being a part of the Add The Words campaign.  Check out this really amazing trailer, but be warned that it starts with a metaphorical punch.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Be Careful, but Don't #CancelColbert

I just love Stephen Colbert.  Let's get that out of the way first.

Because of that, I don't think his show should be canceled.  He regularly plays with fire, and it's both brave and reckless of him.  I do wish he'd stop with the transphobic jokes, but I watch and enjoy his show.  He's a biting social critic, and generally a voice for morality in public life.

Sometimes he steps over the line of decency, but almost always in a way that ridicules others' cruelty, rather than joining in it.  When he makes a joke that goes, "Ha ha, how can Dan Snyder not know he's being an asshole?" by employing an ugly and hurtful stereotype, he's doing something inherently risky.

I think I've reversed my position on hate speech being necessarily worthy of legal protection.  I used to believe that it needs to be, because it is speech.  Now I believe that it's a luxury of my position to be able to laugh off a slur.

When I say this humor is "risky" I don't mean, "at risk of offending liberal crybabies."  I mean it risks the safety and comfort of marginalized people.  Correlation isn't causation, but the specter of a more-racist society is enough to scare me off of saying the n-word even in private.  A society where the n-word is frequently used is probably an especially dangerous society for black people. I'd  rather not be comfortable with the hallmarks of white-supremacy, in case there's a causal relationship I don't quite understand.  It takes a lot more than just not using a particular word to evolve beyond our legacy of white supremacy, but I think good-hearted people generally agree that a racial slur is something we can give up in service of that goal.  In fact, it's possibly the very least that can be done. It is a limitation on expression, but I find it to be truly tiny.

The joke was unnecessarily offensive.  Stephen Colbert the man did not choose to highlight it, probably for that reason.  

Monday, February 03, 2014

I Signed Up for Obamacare

...and it was not a good experience.  It took me hours, and a few phone calls.

Looking back, I'm not quite sure what the problem was, but apparently Chrome and don't play together well.  I spent a lot of time on something unresponsive, just figuring it was slow.

Click login, see nothing is happening, and come back later to find that my click wasn't registered.  Finally log back on with a new browser, and get an error saying that I need to log out and try again, then get stuck looking at the login screen again.  That was a mistake.  I made an account, applied for the ability to choose a plan, and got to the point where I thought I was finished, but realized I hadn't chosen a plan.

If you need to do this too, you might want to see Sarah Kliff's guide to signing up with

In the end, I was able to enroll in a plan, but I was very determined to make it work.

Monday, December 16, 2013


I've been wondering why I don't write any more, and decided I can of course blame Republicans.  They're a terrible opposition party.  There's no back-and-forth to follow; only back.  I also need more stimulation than I get hanging out in my apartment.  (When I leave it's very cold out and I am likely to spend money.)

However, it appears that I may be moving to the Bay area very soon, and a new environment should be pretty stimulating.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Honesty and Decency are Superhuman

I wrote this post a long time ago, and I'm not sure why I never published it.  Luckily, Ta-Nehisi Coates' new piece about the capacity for evil in any run-of-the-mill person made me think of it.  I wonder how many things I do unconsciously that are as bad as complicity in Nazi Germany.  I have some ideas, but I am more interested in what it takes to be good in the world.  From where I sit, it takes a lot of courage and energy to be merely decent.

Amanda Marcotte pointed out how extremely cool it was that Charles Ramsey stepped up to make a difference in what seemed like a run-of-the-mill domestic violence incident.  It turned out that he stepped in at a time that allowed several kidnapped women to escape their decade-long ordeal, but there was no way he could have known that.  (Amusingly, he says in an interview that he knew something was really really wrong when a white lady ran into his black-man's arms.)

Amanda nicely takes this incident as a reminder that we need to pay attention to the world around us and intervene when we can.

She's right about that, but it bumps up against the progressive tradition of mocking "cookie-seeking."  If you don't know what that is, it's doing something normal and decent (like not raping people) and asking for praise.

Decency takes a significant amount of self-confidence and bravery.  It's hard.  We may as well be generous with our cookies.  There's a reason that people keep reading inspirational tales of heroism so they can internalize the ability to act.  

To be clear, I think that Ramsey did something that should be expected of all people, but I also think it was brave.  It's an action that deserves commendation, but shouldn't be exceptional.  If we were all half as good as we think we are, every day we'd do four or five things that would impress a stranger.  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Donde el caucho se une con la carretera

I took two years of Spanish in high school, and felt like I learned a lot then, but it's been 13 years since I graduated and I've let that knowledge atrophy.  Enter Duolingo.  I've pretty much run through the stuff that I learned in high school and am learning new things now.  I was almost able to write the title of this post in Spanish without googling the translation!  (In English it means, "where the rubber meets the road".)  It's interesting how my interaction with the program has evolved over time.  There are a lot of steps where one has to listen to spoken Spanish and transcribe it, also in Spanish.  At first, I would have to listen to the recording over and over to get it right.

Now that I've been practicing a while, the recordings are starting to sound like words to me so I don't have to just memorize the syllables I heard and write them down.  I know I don't have the best working memory, so at first I just chalked it up to that.  It turns out that my problem was that I didn't (don't) know Spanish, not that I'm a special snowflake with an unusually bad memory.

The program also involves a fair amount of speaking into the microphone, and I'm extremely glad it does.  An English speaker doesn't roll her R's very often, and once I am out of practice, I sound absurd when I try to do it.  According to Duolingo, I am able to read about 50% of Spanish-language articles.  That seems a little too optimistic to me, but I'll see what I can do when I finish the program.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Food-blogging February: The Peanut Butter Cookie Trials

I haven't written much over the past few years - I figured I should get back to my roots and do some food blogging.  I intend to write something every day, so it is likely to stay pretty pedestrian and home-cooky.  I know it's not February yet, but I made some cookies today and wanted to be sure I get going on this project.

Peanut butter is a big part of my diet.  I love it, but have a hard time finding peanut butter cookies that aren't too sweet.  Maybe it's time I develop them.  I'm starting with this recipe, from Simply Recipes.  In the comments, someone says that they cut the white sugar down to 1/4 cup, and I followed that advice with a little twist inspired by overmeasuring - I just used 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar for the total sugar.  Another variation from the recipe is that I didn't get to baking the dough until it had rested for about 36 hours in my fridge.  From the taste of the dough, it may be a little too sweet, but I'll bake them and see how they come out.

Baked them 13 minutes at 350 degrees, they spread a little further than I expected, and they are somewhat overcooked, but the sweetness is about perfect.  The peanut flavor is not perfect - that will need a boost, maybe with some chopped peanuts.  Maybe the long resting time was too much for the baking powder, and they expanded horizontally instead of vertically.

The problems with the usual peanut butter cookie recipe that I'd like to solve are:

  • Long resting time
  • Lots of butter

I have a few modified recipes that I could try out next time.  Recipe A, to address the butter content, will be:
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup RT butter
1 egg
1.25 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Note that the volume of wet ingredients stays the same here.

I suspect that replacing some of the butter with peanut butter will result in a better PB flavor and less spreading.  It might also make for tougher cookies that don't rise as well, but I'll just have to bake them and find out.  As for the time variable, I'll try one batch after a half hour's rest, another after an hour's, and if neither is satisfying, I'll try two and three hours' rest batches.

I originally conceived of this as an experiment to work on in the near future, but I don't know that I want to eat that many cookies in a short time.  Once this batch gets eaten, I'll use my modified recipe and resting times.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

If the NRA took anything seriously

If the NRA were mildly serious about keeping guns out of the hands of the "bad guys," and the self-declared unserious and irresponsible, they would be very pleased to see James Yeager lose his right to carry guns.

I've been entertaining myself with some thought experiments about what would happen if the NRA weren't a bunch of machismo-poisoned culture warriors and industry shills.  If they hadn't relied so heavily for so long on the nonsense about needing to be personally armed against a tyrannical government, they could be telling us that we need a gun mandate, and everyone should be required to buy one and learn to use it as part of a well-regulated militia.  It would be good for their industry, and make sense regarding the common-sense interpretation of the second amendment.

Instead, we get self-reliant sharpshooting cowboy nonsense. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Learning How People Learn

Working in the Discovery Center and at the Zoo, I have to guess a lot about what kids know when they show up and what I could possibly teach them.  I am not very good at guessing ages, but I find a "shibboleth approach" works pretty well when it comes to gauging a child's knowledge.  When I am in the butterfly garden, I like to ask kids if they know that all these butterflies used to be caterpillars, and if so, what's the big word  that's used to describe the process of changing from that wormy thing into a butterfly?  If they balk, I'll start it for them, "meta-" still leaving a chance for them to get it even if it didn't come to mind immediately.  What doesn't really work is to just ask, "Do you guys have any questions?"  That's a little too blank-slatey for strangers, I think.

These are things it's taken me a while to figure out.  I do remember a few major failures I've had in interactions with kids.  Once, a mother came in with her son who needed to talk to "a scientist" for a Boy Scouts project.  I volunteered myself, and I forgot to get down to the kid's level, and totally lost him when he didn't know what DNA was.  After that, I ended up sort of explaining my last job (molecular diagnostics) to his mother.  D'oh.

I've gone over this in my head several times since it happened about a year ago, and I even woke up this morning thinking about how I could have done better.  Between that, and seeing this link to a series of videos aimed at small children who need to interact with doctors from a Pinterest buddy, I was inspired to write up some of my experience learning education by doing education.  Plus, I need a bit of an extra push when it's this chilly outside and I need to get to the zoo in a few hours.  

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Hall of Sexual Harrassment

This is what I dressed up as for Halloween.  I did a big drinky party on Saturday, and this Wed went out with a couple of friends to visit the haunted houses/woods.  We went to a couple, and this was a new experience for me.  I was a bit sleep-deprived, so I was sort of hard to startle.  For some of the people hiding behind corners getting ready to jump out and scare me, I was a disappointment - so much so that they followed me down the path trying to get at me.  I'll give them that as being legitimately creepy.  My two companions were a lot easier to get a rise out of.  And I'll admit a few things made me shriek.

I found that somewhat disturbing - very much like the phenomenon of men who won't let you walk by on a street without responding to a vulgar comment.  The worst was the dude who asked me if I was a "pussy-flavored-pop-tart."  Dude.  No.  You don't know what my costume is, let it go.

The most amusing part of one was a "public health care center" offering "end of life counseling."  I wonder if they have that bit in blue states.  And they had to change the death panel sign after a while, I'm sure.

I left feeling like I was made of stone, a Halloween grinch.  There are things that creep me out, but they tend to be slow to burn.  I have a very hard time with wind storms.  And almost every time I've come across a snake in the wild, it's made me shriek.  Embarrassingly, when camping, I listen very carefully for the bears that are surely coming to eat my marshmallows.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Location Location Location

A recently-concluded legal battle over the custody of IVF-created embryos involved at least one person who felt a lot more attached to her embryos than I ever have to any.  A couple created several embryos with the aid of reproductive tech, and only ended up having one child before they eventually divorced.  The mother, as it turns out, won custody of their daughter, and sued for custody of the embryos, which she won and eventually destroyed.

When it comes to reproductive choice, I've liked to discuss hypothetical situations about artificial wombs and claims to embryos and fetuses that would exist outside a woman's body.  It's sort of difficult to think about because it's so different than what humanity has been dealing with for all of our existence, but some court cases are demonstrating the simple-to-me principle that the right to abortion is one that exists because incubation occurs in a woman's body.  Once an embryo or other proto-kid of two parents is no longer in her body, the mother has lost her veto power.

Personally, I think that either parent should retain the ability to destroy embryos that are not in a woman's body.  In general, I think veto power should be retained when it comes to creating whole new people, so long as it doesn't require forcing abortion on an unwilling woman.  But I can understand why people would err on the other side.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Gallows of Good Faith

People love to make fun of "Hopey-Changey," and they're right to.  Obama's 2008 campaign was based to an embarrassing degree on sentimental and generic idealism.  However, I still think that he tried to put it into practice.  Ever since he came into office, there have been outraged progressives upset that he even tried for compromise on anything with proudly-intransigent Republicans.  He gave them the chance to step up and govern, like they've been elected to do, and when they declined, it became just enough rope to hang themselves with.  You only need to see Romney's attempt to tear down Wall Street and back "Romneycare" to see that obstructionism in a time of crisis isn't just treading water and storing up political capital for when you get back in power and can use it up.  Win enough weeks and you've won the war.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


I just downloaded an Android app for tracking my menstrual cycle, and it's ad-supported.  So far all the ads are for apps which use GPS to stalk one's partner.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lots of dead ends

The IUCN has profiled a lot of the very endangered animals it likes, and the comments are full of the stuff that had kept me frustrated with environmentalism for most of my life, like desperate calls to "wake up."  A commenter says

According to the Queensland Museum book of dinosaurs we have already lost 99% of species on this planet over time. We have to be more responsible as a species to try and save what we have left. 
This stuff bothers me because it's framed as an alarming talking point, but it's really just how things work.  Natural selection gives us an unsentimental system that makes most species dead-ends.  Where one goes extinct, another is supposed to arise and take advantage of the empty ecological niche.  The problem is that people have stepped in to fill a number of niches, and that's been harmful to biodiversity.  Where people are, large predators tend to disappear.  

It's not that people don't understand that there are competing interests, it's just that they're very difficult to balance.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mature Enough for Girlhood

Jezebel is discussing the phenomenon of extra-girly famous women, with a tone that suggests worry.  Megan Reynolds has responded.  It is kind of true that women are embracing a lot of things that fit girls better than they do women - like glitter, unicorns, and cute kitties.  I can identify with this a little, since I just turned thirty and have only recently been confident enough to really consider experimenting with my own style.  I never learned to put on makeup until I was 25.  Going with silly fashion trends takes a certain amount of confidence.  Teenage and younger girls are usually giant balls of insecurity, so I don't know why we're looking to them for bold silliness.

As a teen, I was influenced by the swing revival of the 90s and dressed sort of conservatively.  To this day, I dress far older than my age.  My skirts are almost always full, swingy, and knee-length.  It was when I was about 22 that I finally realized that little tiny pigtails are the ideal way to pull back short hair for a workout (You can lay down on a yoga mat without having a big bump in the back of your head), and at the time I felt a bit too old for the look, but I've continued doing it since then.  It seems pretty unfair that once I get to a point where I feel like I can try some stuff with fashion, I'm "too old" for it.

Another dimension is that most of the women in the Jezebel piece are very financially stable, They probably have the sense that they worked their childhoods away so they could achieve that, and they are owed some latitude to play that they never got as children.  In fact, I have that feeling myself.  If I worked my way into a career that isn't going to happen now, I get to wear that sparkling cloisonne strawberry necklace.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Just too horrible to contemplate

Like many, I'm tempted to blow off Todd Akin's comments about pregnancy as the product of rape being impossible.  It's so obviously stupid that it's hard to know how to respond.  This has given me some insight into how anti-choice politics work.  Akin probably has a hard time believing something so horrible could just happen to someone who was raped (something already horrible having happened to her).  I concur that it's difficult to comprehend.  Once in a while, you hear about something so bad that it just can't be the case that it ever has happened or ever will.

Except it did happen and will happen again.  People do things to mitigate the horror of an unfair world.  In the case of rape producing pregnancy, most people tend to agree that the best thing we can do to mitigate the horror is to let a woman opt for aborting the pregnancy.  But if you live in a tidy world where there is always a correct, not-just-acceptable-but-good choice, you just don't get pregnant when you're raped.  If you're pregnant, you were obviously not raped, so STFU.

If the world were just, we wouldn't have to enforce justice on it.  If our leaders can't handle that, they're irresponsible vermin who should slink back into their fetid caves and hide until we've forgotten about them.

The last people who we need in charge are the ones who have not asked the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" because they think bad things don't happen to good people.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Throw Away the Key

In some ways, I am totally baffled by Romney picking Ryan as veep.  I agree with the analysis that Ryan's presence on the ticket shifts focus from Romney's strong issues (self-reliance, business, Obama Bad) to his weaker ones (social programs, taxes).

For a while, I've had a theory about vice-presidential selection that I think the GOP might be using: it's a great way to contain a weirdo.  Who's less relevant in Washington than the veep?  The conventional wisdom about a VP balancing a ticket hasn't really shown itself to be true.

When I do that thing liberals do - fantasize about what it would have been like if Gore'd gotten into the oval office - I think about how great it would have been to keep Lieberman locked up in the vice presidency.  

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

This again? Why won't people be serious about guns?

Florida is (again) trying to ban pediatricians from asking the parents of their patients if there are guns in the household.  This was already struck down as unconstitutionally-restrictive of the doctors' rights.  And it pissed me off royally, since people are always trying to regulate what doctors tell women about abortion, but see this as an intrusion on the second-amendment right to bear arms.

What?  Seriously?  A doctor asking if you have a gun in your home is making it hard for you to keep a gun there?  (Well, after you find out that if someone dies at the end of that gun, it's most likely going to be part of your family, you'll probably be a little less stoked about gun-ownership.  But God and the NRA forbid you learn that kind of thing from your doctor.)

It's one thing that this is stupid legislation.  It's quite another that it's being pushed again after a couple of high-profile gun crimes.

Just what about senseless gun violence makes Americans think it's time to pretend like we don't know they're dangerous?

I can usually ignore the gun control issue, but I'm getting riled up over how hard-headed Americans are when it comes to their guns.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Did you know that the hyrax is closely related to the elephant?

Working at the zoo, there are a lot of conversations where I have to sort of skip over complicated points about biology, and condense things into soundbytes.  My ultimate goal is to keep simplifying something from being dumbing it down.  It's the hardest part about working at the zoo vs. the Discovery Center.  I try to keep information concrete, which is pretty easy given that we have all sorts of animal skulls and stuff to teach with.

The place where this comes up most is in conversations about classification and "relationships" between animals.  I think people in general think of these things as more concrete than they actually are.  I know I always did.  Linneas had no idea what DNA was, so a lot of the relationships that were determined to exist historically were based on things like outside appearance.  After you spend some time learning about single-celled organisms, you start to realize that the traditional means of defining a species are really not so relevant.  Asexually-reproducing organisms are pretty much classified by how much of their genetic code they share.  After a certain degree of difference in highly-conserved regions of their genetic material, they're considered different species.

This was especially interesting to think about when I worked in medical microbiology.  These microorganisms are critters that you can't see without a microscope, and are really only interesting to us insofar as as they affect our health.  I got to a point where it began to sound like semantics to me.  I mean, once penicillin kills an infectious agent, who cares what species or subspecies it is?  In my own medical care, I certainly don't much care (not enough to pay for the tests).  When it comes to epidemiology, however, the story is different.  Genetic signatures can help trace the sources of outbreaks.

This is exactly what people are talking about when they say "race is a construct."  Race, and species classification, are just systems we use to understand and categorize the world around us.  The natural world doesn't need us to tell it what we think of it.

I do this science education stuff in an area where people are often a little hostile to the idea of evolution.  I think a better understanding of this kind of thing would be really helpful, because popular conceptions of evolution are convoluted by the hierarchical pictures like the above.  I wonder how much resistance to evolution would go away once people had a better understanding of it.

(I don't mean to give the impression that I always felt like I understood this.  Most of the insight I'm trying to get across here were realizations I had in lecture halls in college, feeling like I should have always understood this stuff.  In case you're curious, the classes that were most instrumental to these realizations were anthropology 101, history of biology, biology for majors, and genetics.)

A rock hyrax
An African elephant

Friday, June 01, 2012

Conflicted Interests

I started this post a few weeks ago, but after the NYT just took the subject on, I decided I should go for it. I thought it was a little too negative, but the stakes with endangered species are high no matter how you look at it.

I went through orientation to work at Zoo Boise this summer as a "Zoo Naturalist," and I went in with  few reservations.  I wasn't sure that even the best enclosures were quite good enough for wild animals.  I'm still not sure that they are, but now I have a slightly different attitude about it.  Zoos create an educational opportunity that can't be replicated anywhere else, and raise a ton of money for conservation.  I think of it a little like I do animal dissection in biology classes - it puts a few animals at a disadvantage so that people can learn more about them and be inspired to take the next step and really get into science and conservation.

As a kid, I was a totally annoying environmentalist who would give you crap for littering, and simply didn't understand why people use pesticides in producing food.  Through my life, I've gotten really alienated with environmentalism in general, and have struggled to understand it in a pragmatic way.  I'm hoping my time at Zoo Boise will help me get back in touch with my environmentalist side (it is extremely fun so far), and yeah, conservation is quite expensive, but that's why part of your admission to Zoo Boise goes to their conservation fund.

One thing that I was very impressed with is that one of the nature preserves Zoo Boise works with, Gorongosa National Park, is administered in such a way that things are tolerable for the people who live there.  Money doesn't just go to maintaining park grounds, but to health care facilities for neighboring people.

Mostly, I've never been able to balance out the human needs with the environmental ones, morally.  In general, I lean much more toward helping people than I do animals, and I've always been extremely grossed out by the imperialist overtones in a lot of conservation movements.

To illustrate something I think should work pretty well, The US is trying to reintroduce wolves to their natural range in the Western US.  A lot of Idahoans don't like it.  Even our governor wants to kill him some wolves.  Frankly, I don't get it.  We have replaced a lot of the herbivores that used to roam around here with domestic ones that we like to eat.  Oddly enough, wolves like to eat cows too.  Sometimes they kill one - usually the gov't will pay damages, and so will an environmental group.  What's the harm done, if you pretty much don't lose money on the venture?  Camping is a little scarier, but it's supposed to be a little tiny bit scary.  (Last week, a cougar was seen gallivanting around downtown Boise quite near my home.  Frankly, I stayed off the greenbelt for a few days.)

Let's just PREtENDA that the woman isn't even there!

Congress has no problem with discriminating against already-born, adult, American gay human beings, but has a giant fit about selective abortion.  I hate hate hate that this invasive thought-police stuff is happening, but it's all the more insulting that PRENDA passed when ENDA has no hope.

Of all people, Andrew Sullivan captures the root of why this is bad, bad law:

I'm just deeply skeptical of how legal authorities could determine such a motive if the women do not say so. Banning explicit advertizing or marketing for sex-selective abortion would be another thing. But my sense is that this is all underground anyway, very hard to root out, and the kind of government power that would be unleashed in trying to figure it out is not compatible with a free country. I mean, how do you prove motive in such cases?

Right.  Who's to say it's the wrong kind of discrimination?  And even if it is, who really really cares?  China is seeing strange and bad effects from widespread anti-girl bias in sex-selective abortion, but there's really no proof that this is spreading much further.  It proves nothing, but I'd rather have a girl baby, mostly because I've spent almost no time with little boys.  

That's just me admitting a preference, but not intent to abort if things don't go my way.  Frankly, the kid will be their own person, so it's a roll of the dice, boy or girl. 

And I think that's the major point that anti-choice legislators refuse to understand about reproductive rights.  A significant portion of what happens in reproduction isn't under anyone's control.  It's a terrifying and awesome process, and the control a person can have over it should be their right, especially when it's happening inside her body.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

And all of a sudden it slips away from them

They don't get it.  Republicans tried to harness identity politics with Michael Steele and Hilary Rosen, but they just don't get the core idea that people who aren't white men have legitimate greivances with systems set up to screw them.   Mitt Romney's trying to untwist the pretzel-logic of at-home mothers needing to work outside the home for welfare.  It doesn't make sense, and he can't force it to.  They're trying to raise the stupid ruckus they think that Democrats are trumping up all the time.

Seeing the tug-of-Mommy-War has made me think that this is when Americans can really attack the problem of support for families with children.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

What Ann and Mitt Romney are Ignoring

Hilary Rosen was right that Ann Romney can't identify much with the financial struggles of mothers who work outside the home.  She was wrong to say she hadn't worked a day in her life.  Ann Romney can afford help with her household duties, and having multiple sclerosis and five children, probably needs it.

This debate gets a little personal for me, since I am likely to embark on at-home motherhood quite soon - with uncertain health, and it seems like it's only a matter of time until someone tells me I haven't worked a day in my life.  I've gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that I can take care of myself financially (It's all a little rube-goldberg at the moment, which is still scary), and if I don't have Obamacare, I need my spouse's health coverage.

What bothers me most about this dialog is the way that conservative men act like the de facto restrictions they think women need (financial dependence on a man so they can follow the natural order and raise children) are a liberating force.  As a woman with ambitions toward motherhood, I can tell you that I don't want the devotion of my time to childcare to leave me even more vulnerable than I already am.  Unlike me, Ann Romney doesn't have to choose between treating her illness and sending her children to college.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I watch an appalling amount of TV, through Netflix and Hulu.  It turns out that I love Toddlers and Tiaras, and have a shameful enthusiasm for Intervention on A&E.  Hoarders is so-so, but I'm just emerging from a really nasty cloud of fatigue wherein I watched at lot of TV and am getting kind of sick of it.  

I know it's exploitative, and I was thinking about how bad to feel about watching this stuff, and I realized that the fact that Americans will go on television at their lowest point just to get the help they need is a pretty serious indictment of the American mental health care system.  It's more like an expose than entertainment.  

I'm just surprised that I've never heard anyone say this.  I don't think Americans think about mental health as something that a community needs to step up and take care of on a public scale, like we kind of do with physical health.  Unless someone with a mental illness makes a major imposition on the life of the public at large, we think we can ignore it.  

It's really exciting to think about a country in which people had access to the mental health services they needed.  The way mental health and incarceration and poverty intersect in our country is very complicated and sad.  

The major conflict I feel about expanding the reach of mental health services is what would be imposed on people who don't want or need "help."  I'll think about this for a while, and if I come to any conclusions, update my thoughts.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How Dare They

I love a lot of things about Idaho, and I'm in the process of putting down roots here.  I'd like to start a family very soon and my legislature is making me scared to.  If something goes wrong with the pregnancy I intend to have, I don't want to be stuck someplace where no one will help me without a bunch of hoop-jumping.  As it is, I'd be "high-risk," and I'm willing to accept what that means.  Maybe I just can't have my own baby.  Or maybe I can - I'd really like to - but it will not be a cakewalk.

Making a baby is serious business, which entails some major risks.  Strict regulations on abortion oversimplify the reality of childbearing dangerously.  The one who tries to think about this stuff ahead of time is made out to be the irresponsible "slut."  Excuse me for following all of your rules for my own reasons.  I'm a grown-up, smart, responsible woman, but I'm not treated like one.  If I need to opt out of a pregnancy, you bet I will try, and an ultrasound isn't going to change what my situation demands, or what I want.  I've spent at least 15 years thinking about what would happen if  I got pregnant - lawmakers seem to think it never occurred to me that I'd have to decide what to do.

I could go on for days about how busybodies want to complicate obstetric care, but the simple fact is that it's totally unnecessary, intrusive, and disrespectful.  That's the salient point here.  I don't deserve this kind of treatment.  

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Duck Face and Shame

If you're not familiar with the culture and customs of Facebook, you probably have no idea what "duck face" is.  I spend an embarrassing amount of time on Facebook, and I had to look it up, myself.  It's apparently a common pose young women assume in photos, and the most popular outlet for misogyny I see in my feed.  Here's a fine example.

The usual thrust of duck face humor is that it doesn't look very nice at all, so stop making that face in your pictures.

I think duck face is just a variant (meant to look playful and silly) on the face most people make unconsciously as an expression of shame.  Making that connection put some things in perspective for me.  Duck face epidemics are probably just epidemics of self-loathing, and the hostile response creeps me out.  Facebook is a great way to indulge vanity (which can be annoying, but isn't the worst character trait I can think of), and it's interesting to see how people try to do so by a sideways, not-obvious approach.  We demand a certain amount of vanity in women, but punish them for any display of it.  If you try to put a funny spin on it, like duck face does, you are the target of everyone's disdain.

I'd love it if I looked fantastically beautiful all the time, and I try to look nice in pictures, but I've come to the conclusion that I photograph poorly (in that I look bad in photos, but I also am terrible at taking them.)

While I'm on the subject of social networking and photos of people, I hate how you can't pull out a camera without people awkwardly hugging and posing for it.  I'd like it if I could take a picture of a party, not just the faces of a few friends at it.  

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Grow up, Leslie

I think Amanda Marcotte is right that NBC show Parks and Recreation is being set up as a sexist cliche, but I think her analysis of Leslie as a perfectly competent administrator and sane person are totally wrong.  Leslie's wanted to be a public servant to her town for all her life, and it's nice to see her follow her dream.  But she's not ten years old anymore.

As someone who followed her somewhat impractical dream all the way through college, I can tell you that a goal that stays static your entire life is kind of a limitation.  I was so focused on being a scientist when I grew up that I ignored pretty much all other areas of learning (and never noticed a talent and passion for writing)to focus on what I needed to catch up on to competently work in my field of choice.  Luckily, it turned out that an aptitude for these things can be developed if you don't already have it in you.

Having that uncomplicated route to a career derailed has allowed me to see that there's a lot more to me than liking science and tech.  I have to play to my strengths now, and that means some modification to my goals.

You can see Leslie slowly realizing this stuff, too.  She's a terrible campaigner, partially due to being clingy and unable to read people.  She's ignored serious romantic relationships in favor of her career (which is generally a false choice in fiction, but she's so set in her desire to stick with Pawnee, she's had to watch some potential happiness leave her there) and if she's going to be in the business of making life work better for people, she needs to understand what the lives of people who aren't so goal-oriented are like.  This stubborn streak is what she has in common with Ben.  He wanted something absurd for the town he bankrupted, and getting it was a disaster.  He's had to adjust his ambitions to fit his personality, and is trying to give Leslie the benefit of his experience.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bigotry Sells

So, Washington state is set to make marriage equality law.

Industry tends to support marriage equality, because it means that they can hire the talented gay people with families away from anti-gay areas, since they can treat them as employees should be treated.

This makes perfect sense, and you'd think it would get supposed free marketeers excited, but it tends not to (See the conservative states that have banned gay marriage over the objections of industry).  A lot of times, when a really obviously bigoted ad gets some attention, people argue that it can't be racist because it would alienate potential customers of color.  Markets are segmented and targeted all the time, which alienates potential customers, but will create some loyalty in the targeted segment.  No one blinks when an ad takes advantage of classism to position its product as one of the good things in life, so why wouldn't one take advantage of sexism or racism or homophobia?

I used to believe this market-based argument against bigotry in advertising, but I've since noticed how attached people are to their -isms.  Anti-feminism is important to some people, and they might buy manly Dr. Pepper. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ron Paul is the least racist member of Congress

The title of this post is actually a comment I've read from a Paul supporter.   Typical Lost Cause bullshit here: Yes, Lincoln's motivation for war was to keep the unity of the country together.  The South was in it to keep slavery, or maybe squeeze a few extra dollars out of slavery's demise in a scam like Paul is describing here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Intersecting Privileges and Oppressions on Facebook

It's true: the first thing I do when I get going on the computer is open up Facebook.  This morning was pretty interesting in terms of intersections of privilege.

The first thing I saw was a photo NPR had posted of amputee and runner Aimee Mullins, captioned "Inspiration, in On Photograph."  Mullins, a white, thin woman, is pictured in a bikini running on a beach, with the aid of prosthetic lower legs.  The comments turned into a little bit of a fight about how hard it would be for someone who wasn't so sexy to be called inspirational.  Mullins is a really attractive woman - it's true.  The thing that started to bother me in the comments were a lot of negativity about wheelchairs; Mullins had the good fortune to access the prosthetic technology she did.  Not everyone is so lucky.  Mullins works with organizations that seek to let everyone access this  tech, and educate people in general about disability, so she's no slouch when it comes to, well, anything.

Next up was an item from the Courage Campaign about Pat Buchannan's complaints that he's being forced out of MSNBC by "militant gay groups" and "people of color."  What stood out to me about this is the implication that people of color and gay groups (there's likely to be some crossover in the membership here) shouldn't have sway over what goes on at MSNBC.  Buchannan has been an embarrassment in American culture for too long, and he knows this was long overdue.

Oh, and what the hell.  I wrote a bit yesterday that would not have made a whole post on its own, so I'll just add it here:

Unfortunately, I am not in the regular habit of giving money to causes that need it.  In the past year or so, I've run into a few really absurd societal failures (like Topeka, KS stopping prosecution of domestic violence) that have prompted me to find a local program and send a few bucks in.  Today, it's transitional housing in Pennsylvania, since  if you have enough money on-hand to pay first and last-month's rent (ish, $2,000 in savings is the cutoff), you will no longer be able to get food stamps.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Economic Butterfly Effect

"The Market" is a complicated system.  The system's rules are often regarded as natural, even if they're arbitrary.  People have occasionally proven themselves bad at engineering complicated systems.  (Think Jurassic Park.)  People have lately proven themselves bad at pulling magical free money out of the market.  We've seen a lot of unintended and bad consequences from economic policies and financial innovation.

I don't see why it's obviously stupid to try and cut down on the population of dengue-carrying mosquitoes, but not obviously stupid to use the system of farm subsidies we do.  In either situation, there will be unintended consequences, but Paul Wolfowitz wasn't just suffering aphasia when he made up the term, "unknown unknowns."

I don't think either of these things is obviously stupid.  You see a lot of caution with regard to economic experimentation in the implementation of the PPACA.  On the one hand, it seems like the long phase-in of health care is a very bad electoral strategy.  On the other, if something horrible happens with a provision or two, we're not so far into it that we can't think of something else to try.

Oddly, I seem to be on the same page as Sen. James DeMint (R-SC) (Via Ezra Klein) with this issue of letting the system do what it does (when we can afford it).  As a statement against weird subsidies, I think that post is over-the-top but basically correct.  I just took out all of the unnecessary Obama-bashing, and added an analogy instead of a ridiculous shout-out to the artificial Christmas tree industry.  

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Language Evolves

One thing I love about the Internet is that it’s democratized writing, and no longer is it just people with the inclination and talent who wrestle with semantics and spelling.  Before chat and texting how often did you hear anyone complain about bad spelling or misused semicolons?  Adding more participants to the world of writing in English has improved it.  Some conventions we’ve been using are just stupid.

Some common misconceptions have almost completely gone away (like, "kerfluffle.") but others are being accommodated.  One can "rifle" through a pile of papers, but that's a really weird word for the activity.  A lot of people say "riffle."  And I've noticed people writing it that way.  While I have never used it, I think riffle is better - it's got a nice onomatopoeia thing going on, whereas the noun meaning of “rifle” is sort of distracting.

Another word I've seen this happen with is "ogle."  A lot of people say it like it rhymes with "goggle."  I think  "oggle" also makes more sense, intuitively.  As such, I have more than once seen the word "oggle" used.  

Another change that doesn’t seem to have completely broken through is with periods and other sentence-ending punctuation’s placement with regard to quotation marks.  When you’re quoting someone, it makes more sense to keep the original punctuation of the quote inside the marks.  If you’re asking whether someone made a particular statement, you should be able to add your question mark after the quote with its punctuation included.  Did Marci say, “This is not what I wanted!”?  

So these were some changes I think needed to be made.  I’m not on board with all of the ones I've seen.  One I simply cannot support is single-spacing between sentences.  It’s strange how much you internalize rules in writing before you can articulate them; I am occasionally very confused by someone using the wrong “their” or “your.”  

I’ve also noticed a huge amount of unnecessary comma use, which breaks some aesthetic rules of mine, and seems to break a logical rule that I haven’t pinned down yet.  For example, if someone says, “Whatever happens, happens,” I don’t think there should be a comma between the repeated words.  A comma should almost separate a question from an answer within a sentence.  There needs to be a kind of tension that the comma supports.  The aesthetic thing is that a comma interrupts the flow of the sentence, making it seem rambly.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pee See

I've been thinking about the ability for words to harm lately, and which ones sting and why.  I'm hurt if someone calls me fat or a bitch or a slut.  There's something at work here with terms that you can't force away from yourself.  Slurs that mean, "what you are, which is is obviously a bad thing," stick.  I consider "bitch" and "slut" to be slurs that basically mean, "woman."  Ditto fat, to a certain extent.  (It's kind of hard to explain, and probably very idiosyncratic.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

I'm Fascinated

I'm a square.  I like rules.  Oddly, it's taken getting older for me to see how deeply this trait is embedded in me, and how badly I need to work around it.  I thought you were supposed to get more conservative as you age.

Anyone reading my blog may be getting sick of the Occupy talk.  But I'm hooked on the puzzle.  I can't quite figure it out (and I'm putting in the effort), but I can't shake the feeling that there's some "there" there.  I think that's a good sign.  If I need to rebuild a lot of my ideas about how the world works, I'm not going to put it off until I'm completely fossilized.

I find this pretty exciting, but it's a personal exploration that could easily get very boring to people who are not me.  I write this blog because I like to think out loud, and I assume people read it because they like seeing someone do that.  I promise to stop the soul-searching, and limit it to the actual revelations.

A thought

I came across a "hur hur, I go totally NUTS when I have my period" graphic on Facebook today, and those things really bug me.  I made a comment about how all people, female or not, are cranky and awful from time to time, but the menstrual cycle's effect on mood is at least predictable.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Disconnect

There was something implied in the occupation of Zuccotti Park.  Picketing, protesting, marching - you do that until your demands are met.  I've been reading about consensus-building, and while it's fascinating and a promising model for organizing, I'm having a hard time getting on board.  If the process is the purpose, then I don't see how anyone will get more than participation ribbons within the next five years.  The most cynical thought I have had about consensus-building is that it's the terrifying result of Special Snowflake-ism.  Occupy is anti-hierarchical, which is not the way we tend to see things handled.  Anti-hierarchy seems in this instance to be anti-power, and therefore anti-empowerment.  I held out a little hope after reading this interview with Marina Sitrin on historical use of consensus-building, only to have it totally dashed by Ted Rall later on.

There are precedents of consensus-building working out beautifully.  But I don't think that will happen at Zuccotti Park.  It's the very last thing I want to say "I told you so" about.  I'd love to be proven wrong.  I've spent hours this week trying to convince myself that I am.

OWS has indeed empowered people to make their pain known.  I'll say unequivocally that is an accomplishment.  If I may be flip, America has been in need of a pity party.  (Tongue in cheek!  You can have a pity party about an actual problem.)  But it doesn't appear that this is all OWS has set out to do; there are still people camping out on Wall Street.

I read an article by Ted Rall today about how consensus-building is basically useless at making things happen, but super-fun and important anyway I guess.  I read this in the latest Boise Weekly, which is running a series on empowering people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities to vote.  Hilariously, Rall's article (wherein he made a snide remark about having to listen to the mentally-handicapped during the occupation) was on the opposite page of the first installment of the series.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Domestic Battery Legal in Topeka, KS

People were circulating a news story warning that the city of Topeka, KS was considering stopping prosecution of misdemeanor domestic violence, but I didn't believe it would ever happen.  I guess I'm naive.  The story as to why this happened is that there was budgetary fighting between the city and the county over who would prosecute these crimes after a budget cut hit their department.  The county declined to take on the task, as did the city.  From Politico:

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor said the 10 percent budget cut forced his hand at a time when his office is bogged down by other cases. In response, he decided in early September that his office would drop its prosecution of misdemeanors - which include domestic violence and battery without a weapon - in Topeka.

If you'd like to donate to a local DV program, the Topeka YWCA can be found here.  I just did; their job is going to be awfully hard without the legal backup.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Atomized Inaction

I went to my first Occupy Boise meeting on Sunday, and left after almost two hours of hemming and hawing.  There was emphasis on  inclusivity far beyond what is possible.  This just doesn't meet the definition of a collective.  What I saw was neither collective, nor action.  The narrowing and unity that Occupy needs to arrive at will be painful, and a lot of goals will be abandoned to create a front that many can ally themselves behind.  As it stands, Occupy appears to be lot of people with legitimate grievances who would like to harness the energy for their own purposes.  I went because I was curious, and vaguely supportive.    

I can't argue with the fact that marginalized people's priorities tend to be pared off first, and I'll admit I don't know what to do about that.  I'll give Occupy the fact that they recognize this problem, but I can't say that they have moved past it.

Unfortunately, I think I'm equally stuck.

I can see how marginalized people see this as an opportunity to get a foothold on the mainstream consciousness, or maybe make some collateral progress.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


I've been thinking more about Occupy Wall Street, and am feeling generally supportive, but not in any specific way.  In fact, I plan on making it to my first Occupy Boise rally tomorrow (I've missed two all ready).  When you compare OWS and the Tea Party, you can see the TP folks are more organized since they're just Republicans, who pretty much have their shit together when it comes to organizing.  A lot of people say that OWS has really bad timing in waiting so long after the crisis/bailouts/whathaveyou, but the fact that it's an election year, and some campaign* may have a chance to capitalize on the enthusiasm and save OWS from just falling apart.

*Elzabeth Warren?  Please?  (I do feel some irrational personal loyalty to Obama, but I'd vote for her in a primary over him.  Or maybe not.  It's very possible that she could do more good in the Senate than as President.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What do you want, and when do you want it?

It's too bad I'm not the only one who is befuddled about Occupy Wall Street.  I'm pretty darn politically aware, and don't need a lot of hand-holding in approaching social issues, but I'm noticing that I lose interest when it comes to insubstantial ideas.  Yes, I want it to be possible to get by in this country.  I'm very interested in how exactly that can be made to happen, but stuff that is literally impossible is lucky if it gets a shrug from me.  Also, anything with a "Step 2. ?? Step 3. Profit!"

Step 1.  Occupy Wall Street.  Right on.
Step 2. This is what I am missing
Step 3. Thank God it's over.

I don't think that there are too many people unaware of our huge recession.  So it's starting to look like:

Step 1: Underestimate the intelligence of everyone
Step 2: Hey, wtf
Step 3: everyone is mad

What we need awareness of is what we need to do.  The problem is pretty damned obvious.  Though, I do look forward to Reimagine Work, the upcoming conference that seeks a roadmap to an economy that people can live with.  As far as I know, the basic premise is to uncouple income from work.  Now that's interesting.  It's a bit radical for my blood, but something's gotta give.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

It Happened to Me

Farhad Manjoo has a column discussing the white-collar job functions that may soon be automated.  I worked in a molecular biology lab from 2004-2008 and during that time, saw a lot of my duties partially automated.

Extracting DNA and RNA from samples that I had to process is something best done by a robot.  It will treat each sample exactly the same, which is almost impossible for a human to do.  These robots had some pretty clever mechanisms (sometimes mashing up different methods, like PCR and ELISA), and took some work that had the potential to be dangerous out of human hands.

In the short run, these automation systems have the potential to drive costs up, since you're using some patented materials. Still, as it is, using kits with pre-mixed chemical solutions takes advantage of the economy of scale for quality assurance, where you can farm that work out to the manufacturer of the kit.  It often works out to be more cost-efficient and reliable than paying an undergrad to do that work in your lab.

Any of this automation requires a person's judgment call during part of the process, especially with things like medicine.  The auto-radiologist may be able to detect subtler patterns than the human one, but I'd still want my MRI results double-checked.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Undue Burden

Florida passed a law prohibiting a pediatrician from asking a parent if they own a gun.  It was later struck down on the basis of it violating a doctor's right to free speech.  Supporters of the law said it was a violation of second and fourth amendment rights.  You know what actually does violate fourth amendment rights?  Restricting abortion.  Conservatives will stretch the meaning of the Constitution to embiggen the second amendment, but it's still fine to force women to give up personal information if they want to have an abortion.  I almost wish there were actually a wealthy abortion industry which could afford to lobby like the NRA does.  We'd be freer.

This is an interesting case of lawmakers saying that people are able to decide when collateral damage is okay (e.g. gun accidents), but women surely can't be trusted to make a similar decision for their own interests or safety.  This is assuming equality between already-born people and those on their way to becoming people.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Excuses, excuses

Andrew Sullivan has been facilitating a discussion on the reasons people don't want women to serve in military combat, and almost all of them have been about their sexuality.  Depleted uranium poses a risk of teratogenic effects on a woman's subsequent children* (but apparently this doesn't count for men who make babies after a day of learning how to use the weapons), men will not get over their desire to do the ladies, etc.  Now it's getting to the issue of rape.

Read the post - I keep starting to write something and finding that what I wanted to say has already been said there.  And anything else I've come up with have just been half-assed theories about male psychology.

*This is a problem when it comes to American women, but civilians in Iraq just have to deal.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Looking at the right things

I was really impressed by this study that showed that laws requiring guided driving practice to get a license have reduced car crash fatalities amongst the people who actually participated, but the number of people who waited to apply for a license until they aged out of the requirement (usually at 18) almost cancel out the number of lives saved by introducing the program.  Interestingly, in New Jersey, where the requirement applies to all people under 21, there's a consistent reduction in traffic deaths.

I like this study because it has a broad perspective on what we can say actually "works."  It's hard to get excited about the effects of the program in its current form if basically the same number of people are dying before they get to drinking age.  Dying when you're 19 in't much worse than dying when you're 16. (I have to imagine; I've never died.)

So, the upshot is that guided practice improves the safety of drivers.  I would not have expected such clear-cut results, but then I don't know any teenaged car accident victims.  Thinking about this made me wonder how much it affects fatality rates that young drivers tend to inherit older and less-safe cars.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sacrifice for Beauty

I like pretty shoes, but being mostly a pedestrian leaves me with few viable options in that regard. I went to a wedding this weekend, and wore a new pair of promising-looking heels. I try to go with old-lady brands, and these were Rockports, so you'd think I'd be doing pretty good. You'd be wrong. I walked about a total of two miles in the shoes, and my heels are torn up like you wouldn't believe. Here's a picture of the carnage that I discovered when I got to my destination. Double that, and you'll be able to imagine what it looked like after I got home.

I've never figured out what to do about this.  It's too bad the world has decided you can't wear socks with a skirt any more.  Until this heals, I'll be wearing sandals every day.  I noticed that Band-Aid makes a foot lubricant to put on your feet so the shoes won't rub.  I wonder if that just means your shoes fall off all the time.  People talk about uncomfortable shoes, but don't really mention that they are out for your blood.  How in the world are people supposed to stand this?  

Monday, September 12, 2011


I saw Contagion over the weekend, and there were a lot of things that were 100% right about the movie, and a few that were questionable.

Who doesn't like a movie that glamorizes their stinky and nerdy profession?  I really appreciated how the cinematography saw the world through the eyes of an epidemiologist or microbiologist.  That menacing doorknob is just covered in deadly germs!  Why won't you people stop touching your faces all the time*?  It was jarring in the places where the movie slipped out of assuming that you know most of what's going on to explain some basic stuff to the audience (I'll admit that I didn't know what fomites meant).  And as someone who's done public health work outside of the CDC, I was a little insulted when the state health departments were portrayed as full of idiots.  Still, I appreciate that it was a detour that allowed the movie to talk to the audience like it's not watching the movie as part of a college course.

Speaking of the movie's respect for its audience, there was a strong undercurrent in the writing of someone who thinks people who haven't studied his specialty are dangerously stupid.  Still, the bad guy profiting off of a bogus homeopathic remedy (but I repeat myself) had educated himself just enough to lie well by the time he was able to influence the public.  In the beginning, he was just lucky to have guessed that the first few deaths were the beginning of a major outbreak, and still pretty paranoid.  His conspiratorial thinking wasn't entirely wrong, even if it was corrupt.

I also had a hard time believing that none of the health professionals read blogs about their area of work.  If you're charged with keeping the public healthy, it's a good idea to know how they're thinking.  And of course, there are those written by professionals for each other.  There was an absolute divide between the crazies who don't have degrees and certification but do read blogs and the trained professionals who only talk to each other.  For an attempt to humanize health professionals, there was quite a lot of paternalistic ivory-tower moralizing.

*As a feminist who rarely gets excited about makeup, I recently decided that the "don't touch your face so you don't ruin your makeup" thing is probably a force against the spread of disease.  On the one hand, it seems like you're sacrificing your freedom to rub sleepy eyes to the patriarchy, but on the other hand, don't touch your face so much.