Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cakewrecks and Kwanzaa



I don't know if you ever read the blog cakewrecks, but it's the gofugyourself of the pastry world, and they recently had an entry about a "Kwanzaa cake" that had been featured on Sandra Lee's (just awful) Food Network show. It took me a few readings to understand what exactly it was, but the cake had been created by Lee out of a storebought angel food cake, frosted with chocolate cinnamon icing, and decorated with popcorn, corn nuts, pumpkin seeds, and canned apple pie filling.

Gee-ross, right?

Until I read all the text in the post, I assumed it was some kind of racist joke with a "black people are tacky" punchline the blog author was making. The possibility remains it could have been a slur of that type on the part of Lee and her producers, and Wrecks was just reporting the carnage. The Food Network has long been criticized for excluding people of color, so I wouldn't put it past 'em.

Anyone familiar with Lee's show won't be surprised that she could take a wreck so far, but if it's too much for you to believe, YouTube has the clip


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

TVA Disaster

I first heard about it on blogs/facebook, but from what I hear that's the only way a person is going to get much information about the gigantic environmental disaster that's occurred in Tennessee. I don't think it's a stretch to think of it as a Katrina-scale disaster, right down to a completely inept governmental response/prevention. The conspiracy-theory-turning wheels in my head blame the media blackout on coal industry sponsorship calling the shots of manistream media coverage.

At first, reports said that Arsenic and Mercury levels in drinking water in affected areas were safe, and there was a call to boil water (wouldn't that just concentrate the toxins that are now admitted to be present?).

If Bush really doesn't want to be remembered as the guy who bungled Katrina, he'd do well to get on this thing as soon as possible. Who else gets the chance to create and then try to mitigate this many disasters in eight years in office?

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Project for Tomorrow

I've been thinking about doing this for a long time, but the new HHS conscience rules have finally convinced me to go for it: I'm going to call the different pharmacies in the Moscow-Pullman area and ask whether they provide service to those seeking contraception (emergency or otherwise). I've never had occasion to look for Plan B, so I don't know whether the pharmacy I use will sell it. They have gotten a lot of business from me this year, and I'm hoping they won't lose it tomorrow.

It's now the responsibility of any woman wishing to use prescription contraception to find out whether her medical providers will actually write or fill prescriptions for it. A few weeks ago, I saw someone somewhere suggest that Planned Parenthood get into the pharmacy business, and how fantastic it would be if they had pharmacies across the country that could be relied upon to serve customers' reproductive health needs. PP does already distribute birth control pills and Plan B, but a chain of pharmacies separate from clinics would surely be easier to maintain and a good revenue source. There's no PP clinic in Moscow, but I'd be happy to patronize a pharmacy if they operated one here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Procrastinator

Bush's legacy rehab program seems like something he should have started on, say, 8 years ago, instead of now.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Energy conservation in the West

I heard something on the radio the other day about the impact things like leaving lights on in rooms you're not using has on the environment, and it got me thinking about what my usage of power is causing to happen. In the Western US, most of our power is derived from salmonicidal dams, but they're there whether I leave my lights on or not. So I doubt that my conservation of energy could be translated into a number of salmon saved from a gruesome fate deep in the turbines.

Breaching dams or not is a pretty controversial subject in this area, but my feeling from what I've learned on the subject is that fish hatchery programs haven't worked, and even if we breached all the dams and tried heavy fish hatchery programs, we probably wouldn't see salmon runs return to anything but a pale shadow of their former existence. So if we don't get salmon back, what's the point of losing these green energy/economy-boosting resources?

So, who's up for a trip to the Hoover Dam?

Monday, December 15, 2008

"You're cute when you're angry," as a compliment

I've been watching the series Friday Night Lights, and I now have a gigantic crush on Coach Taylor. I was watching a scene where he gets really upset at a referee in a game, and I thought, "Aw, he's cute when he's angry," and realized why people think that could ever not be an insult. When you love someone, you love seeing them pursue their passions, and seeing them angry presents the opportunity to see what endears you to them emerge in full force. In eight years of monogamy, I've learned how good it is for Andy and I to go out with lots of people, since we both have and enjoy the instinct to try and "win the cocktail party," and get to see each other show off in ways we've already used up between ourselves. His kid with a retainer voice makes me laugh every time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hypothesis: There are fewer women in science because their brains aren't suited to hostile work environments

I hadn't looked into the story of the (male) biology professor who was demoted for refusing to take part in a sexual harassment seminar, thinking I could safely ignore yet another conservative whiner who can't deal with being implicated in the problems he perpetuates. The "Sexism is terrible and pervasive, and how dare you imply I am part of the problem when obviously I hate sexism more than anyone ever!" hand-waving isn't fooling anyone. From the article:
McPherson maintains that his refusal has little to do with sexual harassment and much to do with individual dignity.
Uh huh, sure, because sexual harassment doesn't harm any individual's dignity, so we can ignore it in favor of some dude who doesn't want to feel like he's ever contributed to the problem. Professor McPherson's feelings are hurt, so let's stop paying attention to the people whose careers are derailed by ignorant jerks and make an exception for him and his illusions.

Refusing to learn anything new about sexual harassment isn't making McPherson look like the expert on the issue he must be if he is so far beyond the problem that it is an insult to try and give him new information about it. If he were really worried about individuals' dignity, he would put some effort into helping maintain it, instead of derailing the efforts others are making. It's just not possible to make this kind of stink in good faith, because if the University feels the need to inoculate itself against the risk of sexual harassment by taking a shotgun approach, it must rely on a certain amount of ignorance to be perpetuated. If McPherson is so knowledgeable on the subject, he should know this, and accept help in being proactive about informing the pockets of ignorance that exist in anyone's understanding of the world. I don't think he doesn't know this stuff, but I think he doesn't care if he's perpetuating the problem. Precautions aren't punishments. People are fallible, and need to anticipate when their weak areas will be pressed beyond what their own sense of decency can withstand.

I will admit that I don't think I, as an entry-level female who has a fair amount of experience thinking about these things, would learn a heck of a lot at this kind of seminar, but a potential victim's ignorance is not as dangerous as a potential perpetrator's. When you're a man in a position of power in a field that tends to exclude women from positions of power, and you exercise bad judgement, you ARE perpetuating the status quo. Losing the privilege that the status quo awards you feels random and unfair, but never having access to it feels that way too.

Monday, December 08, 2008

What a brave man

Gregory Berns, director of the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University is cleverly and courageously doing his job (i.e. taking on research projects) in the face of an uncertain (no - bad) economy. We stupid rats in boxes get nervous when our savings disappear, and don't have the capacity to add the current buzzprefix "neuro" to our job titles. If I got paid to annoy people stuck in MRI scanners, I'd be daring, too.

I DON'T care what your business is, but if you think it will eventually come back to what it was — your brain is in the grips of the fear-based endowment effect. What I am doing is looking for new opportunities. This means applying neuroscience discovery to realms where it hasn't been used before.

I have teamed up with anthropologists to apply brain imaging to understand the biological roots of political conflict. I am starting another project to use brain imaging to predict which teenagers are likely to make fatally bad judgments and, hopefully, train them to make better decisions.

This strategy keeps the exploratory system of my brain active. And right now there are incredible opportunities to do something differently. Yes, they're risky, and some will fail. But while others wait for the storm to pass, I'm busy expanding into new areas. If I wait for money to start flowing again, the opportunities will have passed.

I've moved on, but that doesn't change what happened

I have to admit that I found it via Fark, but this is an interesting article about people advocating on the behalf of sex offenders whose crimes exist within the range of at least icky and illegal, but in the minds of many, are not especially criminal.

My understanding is that in some states, sex offenders are registered at different levels, according to the severity of the original crime and the likelihood of reoffense. This makes perfect sense to me: rape is rape, but victims are always different, as are circumstances of the crime. The article goes out of its way to excuse statutory rape as not that bad. From where I sit, it seems like the tendency to commit such a crime is something a perpetrator would be likely to mature past, especially after being punished for it. A 23-year-old may think they have a lot in common with a 16-year-old, but they're probably not going to feel that way when they're thirty (because they don't). I was most alarmed by the work of one Jan Fewell, who looks up sex crime victims and calls them to try and recruit them to her offender's advocacy group and defend their own perpetrators by asking that they be treated leniently in light of the specific circumstances of the crimes they committed.

Fewell calls a victim and asks whether they were the victim of rape or if they'd had consensual sex. Leaving the two choices that stark seems a little manipulative to me, since a sex crime is prosecuted not for how a victim eventually comes to feel about it, but for the transgression itself.

I don't think sex offender registries do what they're supposed to do: they are said to exist to protect the communities in which sex offenders reside and work, but I think this is disingenuous. These registries exist to shame sex offenders and expose them to the vigilantism that can fit within the bounds of the law, like social stigma and employment and housing discrimination.

So a level III sex offender moves in next door. What am I supposed to do about it?

It's shameful to commit a sex offense, but I don't think forcing sex offenders into isolation and poverty really protects anyone. It might feel to most like a fitting punishment, but punishment doesn't undo or prevent crimes. Whatever a sex offender takes from a victim doesn't ever get paid back. Suffering is non-transferable.