The Pronoun Game

The media say
Bradley Manning, today
Has decided he’s making a change
He’s making a stand
With his latest demand
But reactions have been a bit… strange.

Cos as far as I see,
It’s all “Bradley” and “he”
Like the networks are sharing one plan
But it’s Chelsea, you see,
(And the pronoun is “she”)
Who’s stopped living her life as a man

So… on Here and Now, on NPR, the hosts announced Manning’s request, and that they would be referring to her as Chelsea from now on. But the rest of NPR (at least while I was listening) was not on the same page. Most of the news sources that I have seen have struggled a bit, most often landing on “he” and “Bradley”.

This blog, unless I suffer some sharp blow to the head at some point, will speak of her as Chelsea. Comments, too, please. My house, my rules.

Ok, that’s done. The real reason for this post was to point you to Zinnia’s blog (I’m sure most of you are already readers), where Lauren simply rocks.

Feelings And Actions

He felt he was in love again—so many years had passed
And every time he saw her face, his heart would beat so fast

It happened out in public—you could see it all along
But surely, it was out of love, and could not, thus, be wrong

He never hid his feelings—he was sure to let them show
And because he signed her paychecks, well, she couldn’t tell him ‘no’

He never went ‘too far’, of course—that anyone could tell
And if she felt uncomfortable, she hid it very well

He always was a charmer—he never was a jerk
He loved the way her hair would gleam, and she? She needed work.

He acted out of love, you see—it couldn’t be his fault
He saw it as a friendship… but she saw it as assault.

There is no end to the “advice” given to the victims of sexual harassment and assault. They should have done this differently, or that differently, or worn different clothes, or not smiled, or smiled more, or not been so friendly, or not so distant, or any of dozens of other mutually impossible things. So you can look for that advice elsewhere. This is for the people who are actually at fault.

I had a friend who engaged in sexual harassment. I was there when it happened, and did not see it. This advice is your chance to learn from my mistake. (The harassed woman did go to my friend’s supervisor, and he was disciplined and counseled, and the situation was resolved to her satisfaction. All of which I learned about much later, when I learned that what I had been witnessing was, in fact, harassment.)

My friend openly confided that he was utterly smitten with X. They seemed to have a great working relationship. She was working in his lab, on an honors project, gathering and crunching data. He was her advisor. I could go into more detail, but I’d rather not.

Now, it is entirely possible that he knew exactly what he was doing, and was deliberately manipulating the situation–including my own perceptions of what was happening–to his own end. That is quite possible. But I’m going to assume, for now, that what he told me was honest, was his very real reaction, and that he had no intention of harm whatsoever.

He was still in the wrong. He was still harassing, creating a hostile workplace, and perhaps more. It was not up to her to make his boundaries clear; he was in a position of power over her. It does not matter what his motivation was; what matters is his behavior, and his behavior was inappropriate.

Our culture thrives on stories of motivation, especially the ultimate motivation, love. Romantic comedies show us that stalking is ok, as long as it is for true love (which will be rewarded in the final reel). The old fogeys among us might remember what a cultural event it was when Luke and Laura got married; they met, of course, when he raped her. Love conquers all.

No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter that my friend was in love (or claimed to be–for today’s purposes, I am assuming he is being honest). Actions do not have to be motivated by a desire for control, or power, or dominance; behavior does not have to reflect misogyny, or hatred, or disdain. The road to criminal behavior may be paved with the best of intentions.

Motivation is no excuse. Don’t search your feelings; look at your behavior. If you are in a privileged position, it is never up to your subordinate to set limits. By the time someone corrects your behavior, you have gone too far.

His case is what changed my thinking on this–I hope that, in a similar situation, I would now know better. I did nothing at the time, because I saw nothing. I was looking at his motivation, not at his behavior. I was wrong.

Learn from my mistake.

Beck: Blitzer Was Set Up

The forces of spiritual darkness are strong,
As they plot, and they plan, and they scheme,
In support of the atheists’ ultimate plan
To destroy the American Dream

The atheists’ plan is: Pretend to be nice,
While the world goes to Hell (or to heck)
And they probably would have been able this time
If it weren’t for the work of Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck is a master of finding the truth
He’s the best at connecting the dots
Where others see nothing at all out of place
Glenn Beck and his minions see lots

When Wolf asked an atheist woman, on air,
If she’s properly thanking the Lord
Observers were mostly amused by a gaffe
But that’s not how Glenn Beck had it scored

Glenn Beck saw the bias as clear as could be—
Some producer had rigged it, of course—
Propaganda and lies to make Christians look bad,
And to show off the atheists’ force

If the Christians and heathens are equally good
Then you can’t claim religion as why
And Beck himself knows, you can’t credit at all
Some invisible guy in the sky

So it must be conspiracy! Atheists aren’t
Just as good, in the Glenn Beck world view!
This claim, that the godless are people like us…
What a horrible thing, were it true!

Via Rawstory (video at link), Beck’s take on the Wolf Blitzer gaffe:

“I think he was fed some information about the guest he had on beforehand — that’s what producers do — given some questions that he should ask, etc., etc.,” Beck explained. “Some producer, who is sympathetic to the atheist plight or just doesn’t like Christians or whatever it is, thought it was important to point out that, in the middle of the heartland in American where most people are God fearing, there are atheists there too.”

“It’s important because it informs others what they are being taught about atheists from atheism and the bully pulpit and other sources of bias that is not a correct reflection of reality in plain view,” he continued. “We are not fighting against flesh and bone, we are fighting the forces of spiritual darkness. And it doesn’t matter what people’s intent are, but I will tell you that, that was there for a reason.”

Darkness and evil! It’s a bad, bad thing to think atheists are as good as believers:

“Have I done anything this week, have you done anything that would make anyone say, ‘Wow, what is it about them? I want to be like that. I want to be able to provide hope to others in dark times,’” the radio host said. “If you haven’t done anything different than what an atheist can do this week then your light is not shining very bright at all.”

“Because, quite honestly, if there is no difference, I mean, wouldn’t you rather stay at home on Sunday? Wouldn’t you rather just go ahead and just do what you wanted to do and not listen to some invisible guy in the sky?”

Science, Science, Science, Science, Penis Size, Science, Etc….

The papers were released online—
They numbered sixty-six—
So, how to make one paper shine?
The writers have their tricks.
A catchy title sure is fine
To pluck you from the mix
A subject could be quite divine,
But leave you in a fix….

See, that one wrote of saving wine,
But this one wrote of dicks.

I’m not a regular reader of PNAS (the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), though I probably should be if I had the time… but I ran into a popular press story with a stop-the-presses title: “Science proves women like men with bigger penises.”

Past research has seemed to indicate that women, as a group, are drawn to larger male members. But those results have been disputed as sexist, or scientifically flawed, or both.
So Mautz and his team, working at the Australian National University, designed an experiment in hopes of settling the controversy. They created 49 unique, computer-generated, nude, life-sized male figures. Each figure varied in three traits: height, shoulder-hip ratio and flaccid penis size.

You can find more at the link, or at the other link, or probably by watching the evening news, at this point. I, myself, was amused that this paper, out of 66 that were published in PNAS today, was the one that merited 15 paragraphs at NBC.

My suspicion is that if a paper about penis size was not available, we’d all be reading about how global warming is going to effect wine production. Which it is–just check the other link.

And among 66 papers looking at ape parasites, hippocampal neurons, planetary basalts, noble-metal nanocrystals, antibiotic resistance transfer, and bovine viral diarrhea virus, we had a total of two titles that had potential in the mainstream media (when did I grow so cynical?). On a normal day, wine production would have been enough.

But not when up against penis size.

(BTW, one of my biggest and most reliable sources of hits on the old blog was a post about “the biggest dicks of all“–that is, about the frauds at enzyte who were marketing snake-oil. Hey. Posts about penis size sell. Apparently, even in the science business.)

Writing For The New York Times Isn’t Rocket Science

He made a mean lasagna
And was quite a dad indeed,
But what really made him stand apart
Was how he wrote a lede—

Now, there’s some that lede with puzzles,
And there’s me, that ledes with rhymes
But cheap clichés won’t work
At the respected New York Times

His devotion to his family
Was really quite exciting—
It certainly deserved a place
Ahead of, say, his writing.

He might have written brilliance
In agreement or defiance—
His cooking gets the lede, cos writing
Isn’t rocket science.

….

She changed the world; she truly lived
A pioneering life…
A rocket engineer, but first—
A mother and a wife.

This afternoon, my twitter feed blew up. The obituary of Yvonne Brill, pioneering rocket scientist, a woman who accomplished astonishing things while overcoming the prejudices of her time… led with this:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

Not with her engineering accomplishments, which won her the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (presented to her by president Obama). Not with the propulsion system she invented, which became the industry standard.

Mrs. Brill’s development of a more efficient rocket thruster to keep orbiting satellites in place allowed satellites to carry less fuel and more equipment and to stay in space longer. The thrusters have the delicate task of maneuvering a weightless satellite that can tip the scales at up to 5,000 pounds on Earth.

Mrs. Brill contributed to the propulsion systems of Tiros, the first weather satellite; Nova, a series of rocket designs that were used in American moon missions; the Atmosphere Explorer, the first upper-atmosphere satellite; and the Mars Observer, which in 1992 almost entered a Mars orbit before losing communication with Earth.

From 1981 to 1983, Mrs. Brill worked for NASA developing the rocket motor for the space shuttle. In a statement after Mrs. Brill’s death, Michael Griffin, president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, praised her as “a pioneering spirit” who coupled “a clear vision of what the future of an entire area of systems should be with the ingenuity and genius necessary to make that vision a reality.”

Beef Stroganoff came first.

All the discrimination she overcame? Yeah, I’d have said she was just the exception to the rule… except that maybe she isn’t excepted after all.

********

Update! It seems even the New York Times cares about social media. The first paragraph has mysteriously changed… now, it reads:

She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

So, when twitter explodes, the NYTimes listens.

If You Don’t Agree With This, You’re An Idiot

It’s the modern world I live in,
And I use it when I can
I get all my information
From my common, fellow man
I won’t venture an opinion
Till I see what others think—
And I’ll read it all in pixels,
Cos I cannot wait for ink.
Yes, the internet is perfect
When you cannot wait for ink.

Now, some drama is expected
When you get your news online
Where a claim won’t go unchallenged
(And this happens by design)
A democracy of chaos,
Where the hoi polloi will roar—
When the comments are uncivil
I will listen all the more!
Yes, when comments are uncivil
This will bring them to the fore.

There is vitriol aplenty—
It’s a caustic, nasty mess!
Some may strive, perhaps, to educate,
Still others, to impress—
While yet others play a sort of game,
Where points are won or lost
Where truth and reputation are
A portion of the cost
Yes, respect for fact or person
Is a line that’s often crossed!

When the comments are uncivil
They are given much more weight
So the rude and boorish bastards
Hold more sway in the debate—
There’s no need to point to evidence
Or logic, you can tell—
When the comments thrive on rancor
All you have to do is yell.
Yes, the winner (on the internet)
Is he who best can yell.

In today’s New York Times, an editorial that speaks to the current state of news commentary on the interwebs. The editorial comments on a recent article in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, investigating the relative effect of civil vs uncivil commentary (regarding a nanotechnology issue) on participants’ opinions of nanotechnology’s risks vs benefits.

Ok… if you read the NYTimes article the results are “both surprising and disturbing”.

Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.

In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.

But, really… these were not big effects. The sample sizes were large, so significance could be found without really large effects. But… oh, well.

What is strange is that there is no mention in the NYT article of the religious interaction effect. From the paper itself:

Our findings also reveal a significant interaction between religiosity and incivility on risk perception. (beta=-.07;p< .05). Among those exposed to uncivil comments, those with high levels of religiosity were more likely to report higher levels of risk perception and those with low levels of religiosity were more likely to report lower levels of risk perception...

So, yeah… incivility contributes to polarization of positions. Perhaps especially with regard to religious issues. And incivility is a weapon, it appears. Not that it should be, but it is. Incivility and argument should be orthogonal… but it seems, empirically, they are not.

Civility matters, empirically, it seems. And truth matters. And people are more swayed by incivility than by truth, especially where religion is concerned. So… dickishness, on such comment threads, is actually an adaptive trait, contributing to one’s cause?

We are all so screwed.

Free Speech, Or Plot To Kill And Eat His Wife?

We see these rights as absolute—
No state would dare restrict ‘em—
We have not broken any law…
Until there is a victim.

We’re free to speak of fantasies
Of murder, rage, or hate—
We haven’t crossed the line, of course,
Until… it is too late.

Our whispered, dark conspiracies
Are safely out of reach—
Until you find a body,
Hey, you can’t restrict free speech!

In the New York Times today, a troubling story of the cop on trial for conspiring to kill and eat a number of women, including his wife. She’s the one who accidentally stumbled across the evidence on a home computer. Her husband had been chatting on some fetish sites online, and she found detailed descriptions of how she and some of her friends were to be tortured, killed, and cannibalized.

Or… the officer was merely engaging in fantasy writing, with no plans to actually do anything he described. Torture porn has a market, after all, and the first amendment is there to protect the speech we detest. I have, in satirical verses, linked to a cannibalism site (one I sincerely believe is itself satire). These were only words, after all, and no one is harmed by mere words.

No one harmed. Imagine finding such writing, naming you (some people don’t have to stretch much to imagine such a thing). In this case, the woman moved from New York to Nevada, and contacted the FBI, understandably frightened for her life. No one harmed.

It will be interesting to watch this one play out. Words have consequences, and free speech is not absolute. And while this case is obviously an extreme, we can see the roles in this case reflected in so many other places. To what extent can you say, even to yourself, that hurting someone is any more acceptable because it is just with words?

There is one aspect to this case that sets it aside from the others that spring to mind–the officer clearly never intended his writing to be discovered by his wife. If it was mere fantasy (as the defense claims), any harm it did (and it did do real harm, unquestionably) was unintentional. There are others waving the free speech banner who are quite intentionally attacking others.

In a way, that makes them worse than this guy.

We’re All Gonna Die!

We’re all gonna die! We’re all gonna die!
And it’s only a matter of time.
We’ll live on in memory, and then not at all
(and it’s not any better in rhyme)
The meek and the mighty, the great and the small
Will be gone. So the message is clear:
Since you won’t be immortal, you’ve no time to waste;
Get the most from your life while you’re here.

A strange day today… lots of death–and yet, none of it today.

Radiolab (on our local radio, at least–the episode was from 2009) had 11 meditations on death and dying. Listening, I found out things I did not know about myself–mostly, that I had very strong opinions on most of the segments, and that I disagreed (again, strongly) with a good many of their guests.

As I drove along, I took a bit of a detour in order to hear the whole program. I found myself driving a road I had not traveled in many years, not since my kids were small, and I was driving cuttleson to a friend’s house. I passed that house, and remembered that this kid… a boy from my daycare, whom I had read stories to while he lay on his cot… this boy had died in a fire, at the age of 19, a few years ago, overcome by smoke as he tried to reach the door.

One of the Radiolab segments, long time readers will not be surprised, reminded me of my brother’s death. My brother continues to make a difference, years after his death, in very specific ways–in my classes, in programs he started at his work, in community projects he initiated and contributed many hours to, let alone in the memories of his wife and children, who must miss him even more than I do.

Perhaps my favorite segment reminded me of the big picture. I will likely not be remembered in a century… but it is possible. I will almost certainly not be remembered in a thousand years… but some are remembered from a thousand years ago, so it still possible. This segment took a longer view. A hundred million years. Our species will, in all likelihood, be gone. Most of the species we know–perhaps all of the species we know–will be gone. My book will be transformed to carbon–342 sheets of paper-thin coal, the verses long gone. (Ok, that doesn’t bother me–not so much as the segment’s assertion that Mozart will be gone, presumably along with Beethoven, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Justin Bieber).

We are all going to die–not just individually, but as civilizations, and as species. We won’t last forever.

Like the sidebar says… Since the music plays so briefly… can you blame me if I dance?

XKCD comic, “time robot”

(image, XKCD, of course)

A Good Cartoon

When our local, right wing publication
Shows a doodle that leads to frustration
I’m hopeful, real soon,
That “A Good Cartoon
Will provide me the proper translation

I should have shared this ages ago; with luck, I’m the last one to this party and you already know about “A Good Cartoon”. You see, the two most thorough newspapers available in Cuttletown are both very right-wing: one in both stories and editorials, the other mostly just in editorials. They both seem to have a contract specifying that they run the most knee-jerk extreme right wing wingnut editorial cartoons. And, dog help me, I am a compulsive cartoon-reader.

So the genius (I say this sincerely, not ironically) behind “A Good Cartoon” is welcome relief. The translations of what the cartoons really mean are just wonderful. (Well, most are wonderful; just enough fall short to remind me that what is being done is not easy.) Take some time, and read back through the cartoons you probably saw first during the presidential campaigns. There is a special deliciousness to those once you no longer have the anxiety of “but this idiot could be President!” lurking around.

If you tend toward right-wing politics yourself, you might enjoy these just for the sheer artistry, but if you tilt to the left, you get both the artistry and a very welcome dose of unabashed liberalism.