Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Read a book, you uncultured dummy

It's hard not to react badly in a discussion about a prejudice you don't face when you ask somebody a question and they respond that it's not their job to educate you.  They're right, but it's hard to take when you are also told that the burden of the prejudice is not something you can understand, due to your privileged position.

A lot of people don't want to explain their burdens to you because the explanation is frequently just rejected.  I think it's pretty understandable that women would like to walk down the street without hearing strangers' opinions of their bodies, but drawing this conclusion is apparently a feat of intuition and logic that escapes a good amount of the Internet.  So I don't want to explain it again, just to hear that I've made a stupid mistake in thinking that my comfort is relevant to my comfort.

Sometimes, a banal metaphor for a concept gains traction on the Internet, and I usually don't get what the hubbub is.  There is value in finding new ways to explain a concept, but I don't really think that (e.g.) "consent is like tea" is much different than "consent must be given."

Maybe I should be a little kinder about things like "spoon theory" since we're all just trying to get this down, and maybe it takes a fresh look for some of us once in a while.  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

One Weird Trick For Gun Safety Around Children

Lots of small children find guns in their homes and hurt or kill with them as a consequence.  This is an idiotic problem that Americans are tolerating.

It's pretty apparent that being a responsible gun owner doesn't immunize you from this problem.  In fact, I don't know precisely what better safeguards would look like.  If research on gun-related accidents weren't basically impossible to conduct in the U.S., I might.  And I hope that this functional  ban on gun-related research is coming to an end.  

So, once somebody comes up with a fairly reliable way to keep guns away from kids, I'd like to see parents helped with implementing it.  (And even if we just made sure parents comply with current best practices, that's not nothing.)  It would be a lot like the way that local police will inspect car seat installations for new parents, but someone trained in safe storage of weapons would come to your house and see if your storage practices are up to snuff.  Ideally, these consultations would be paid for by gun manufacturers.  And while we're at it, why can't they pay into a fund for research?  

Nothing will prevent all accidents, but I think this idea has a significant chance of saving lives, as well as being Constitutional as all get-out.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Real Housewives of Silicon Valley Make Gazpacho

It's hot today.  I say that calls for gazpacho, which means a trip to the store before it gets truly hot out.  I'm lucky enough to live about a mile from a really great produce/specialized import food stand, so once I slept in a bit and got some cool chai (which I also got at the Milk Pail) in me, I set out to get my groceries.  By 11:00 it was already over 80 degrees, so by the time I lugged everything home, I was dripping in sweat.

Hot weather is my favorite weather.  This kind of morning is my favorite kind of morning.  A little walk and some writing, looking forward to a nice no-cook dinner in the evening.  Maybe some time in the pool in the afternoon.
The fruits of my labor.  The tomatoes are all yellow and at the bottom of the bag.
I used Alton Brown's recipe, but subbed red wine vinegar instead of balsamic and added fresh oregano and chives.  My tomatoes are all yellow, so I didn't add any tomato juice.  When I've mixed tomato colors in the past, it looks horrid.  Despite the modifications, I like the recipe a lot.  The method of straining all of the cores and seeds for juice adds some nice thickening pectin.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Western Liberal's Views on Guns

It kind of blows my mind that the second amendment to our Constitution is (now, explicitly) about an individual right to bear arms.  It just doesn't seem like that big of a deal to me.  Freedom from search and seizure (e.g.) seems like it would come before that.  

But I grew up in country where people care.  

My spouse once idly mentioned that in Idaho, prosecutors can be issued firearms as part of their office.  I said that he would not be reviving that quaint tradition, because I want to keep the risk of in-home gun injury as close to zero as possible.  I do admit to having a little bit of residual culture-war distaste for guns, since I associate them with Republicans and toxic masculinity.  Frankly, they seem sort of tacky.  

Then again, that is a sort of appeal. A Republican's concealed-carry license is a hipster's ironic moustache that raises your risk of suicide by at least three times.  So if you want to push the standards of cultural signifiers and taste, a firearm is not a prudent way to do it.     

I'd think this might increase your suicide risk by a lot more.
CC Timo Luege from Flickr.
But prudence is not everyone's watchword.  A lot of people have dangerous hobbies, but we try and keep them dangerous only to the participants.    I am not about to go out hunting, but I respect a person's desire to be that intimately involved with feeding her or himself*.   

Accidents happen to everyone, including the responsible and well-trained.  It's folly to rely on them not happening.  (The only person I can think of that I've known to die by a gun did so by accident.)  I'm really really risk-averse, so I tend to try and keep myself away from situations where the stakes of accidents are as high as they are with weapons.   

But the really sticky part when it comes to firearms for personal use is self-defense.  It's only sticky because of how hard it is to assess the risk of really scary stuff.  My experience with people who really push this is that they're willing to tolerate or ignore the risks that come with firearm ownership for the extremely small likelihood that they will truly need a gun to defend themself.  I have some pop-psychological theories as to why this is, but they're so uninformed that I will just skip those in favor of simply saying that it does not add up for a person like me, or indeed most people.  There are almost certainly circumstances in which having a gun around for self-defense is going to help you a lot more than the risk of suicide or accident is going to hurt you.  



These numbers are kind of hard to untangle, since there are a lot of things that make you "the kind of person who would keep a gun in their house" that are also things that make you likelier to be in a violent conflict.  So, I'll leave sorting this out to the professionals.  A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology says 
 
Those persons with guns in the home were at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 1.9, 95% confidence interval: 1.1, 3.4). They were also at greater risk of dying from a firearm homicide, but risk varied by age and whether the person was living with others at the time of death.,
I like this bit because it acknowledges the way that the risk factors affect each other.  Young people die due to injuries (violent, interpersonal, or not) a lot more than people who live long enough to acquire diseases.  In fact, young people die almost exclusively due to injuries.  


I am talking about "kinds of people" as in statistically-important populations.  I am "the kind of person" whose marriage doesn't last, since I got married pretty young (among other things).  I hope I'm an exception (It was just my 11th anniversary this weekend), but what happens is what happens.  So don't feel like I'm painting a picture of who you are with this stuff.  

As it happens, I am not the kind of person to keep a gun in her home, and I am not the kind of person likely to die by shooting.  Anyone could have told you that, but when you put together my demographic profile, common sense is born out.    Neither were Mayci Breaux or Jillian Johnson.  

TL;DR Guns are dangerous and I don't really want one around me when I can help it.  People assess risk in wildly different ways, and that's natural.   I'm willing to live and let live, but it's irresponsible to mince words about the risks that guns present.  Again from that paper: 
Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home.



*This is about as far as I respect hunting.  If you feel like testing your coordination, play ping pong or Nintendo.  If you want some fun explosions, find a place where you can enjoy them in safety.  

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

NYT Magazine Scoops NASA

NYT January 2015


NASA July 2015

Coincidence?  Maybe some of us were wrong.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

If You Actually Cared About the Environment


Problem: Obesity
Problem: carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere leading to global warming

Do the math.  One of these problems solves the other.

Fat contains a lot of carbon.  If people are getting so obese, they're a fantastic carbon sink.  So do your part and order a pizza today!  Everyone acts like we're in the middle of an obesity crisis - I say we're in the middle of an environmental solution.  That Michelle Obama probably doesn't mean to be hurting the environment, but that's still the effect she's having.  Every lost kilogram is 850 g of carbon dioxide, sent straight into the rapidly-warming climate.  It may be unorthodox and untested, but so was widespread burning of fossil fuels.  One environmental experiment demands another.

If we're going to give it a shot, we at least need to get the theory down.  According to Wikipedia, the fat stored in human adipose tissue is in a semi-liquid state, and is composed primarily of triglycerides and cholesteryl ester.  The triglycerides undergo lipolysis to become glycerol and free fatty acids.

Doing his part
For a human being to be considered obese (as over a third of Americans are), their body is supposed to be more than 25% fat by weight.  And sorry Mr. Universe but you're not sequestering carbon as well as Homer Simpson is.
Not helping.



I can't find a good molecular formula for myosin or a representative fatty acid without pulling out a paper book, so I'll just use calorie content as a proxy.  Each gram of fat contains about 9 calories, each gram of protein about 4.  I'll admit that there's a lot of information out there about the specific chemical composition of adipose and muscle tissue, but I can't access it for free, so I'm going to wing it until I'm actually writing this into law.  

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.    


xxx


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.