Unexpected Science: Sixth Grade Edition

Lionfish live in the ocean
Little Lauren gets a notion:
Might they live in rivers, too?
Would they thrive in brackish water?
Lauren, ichthyologist’s daughter,
Knows just what to do

Slowly starts desalination
Learns some brand-new information
Of which we’re now aware
New understanding’s always great
So, never underestimate
The sixth-grade science fair!

Via NPR, new information from a young scientist–a sixth grade science project demonstrates that invasive lionfish would be able to survive in brackish river water, widening the range of potentially threatened ecosystems.

“Scientists were doing plenty of tests on them, but they just always assumed they were in the ocean,” Lauren, now 13, tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers. “So I was like, ‘Well, hey guys, what about the river?’ ”

In the beginning, she wanted to conduct her test by placing the lionfish in cages at different points in the river, but she had to simplify the project.

“It was just a small, sixth-grade project, and I really didn’t have all the tools necessary,” she says. Her dad, who has a Ph.D. in fish ecology, suggested that she put the fish in tanks instead.

Now, there are a lot of problems with science fairs, and frankly, Lauren’s very good research points out some of them–for instance, the odds of any random kid from her class having access to six different aquarium tanks (and the equipment needed to maintain them) are remote. This sort of science fair shows the role privilege can play.

But it also shows that a great question, and an elegant test of the answer, can sometimes come from unexpected places. Reminds me a bit of Emily Rosa. And we should not be surprised in the least when kids’ science fair ideas are influenced by what they have grown up listening to around the dinner table.

Inclusive Becomes Sexist, In One Easy Step

If you want to play the market—
And to out-perform the Dow—
There’s an index fund that’s figured out
A brand-new method how!
If you recognize diversity
In leadership positions
You can make a great portfolio
From other funds’ omissions!

If you specialize in companies
Where women are in charge
You’re omitting eighty-nine percent
(Cos men rule, by and large)
See, women in the boardroom
Are a rarity, it’s true,
But investing in these women
Can be lucrative for you!

But! Addressing disproportion
In the modern business scheme
Means investing more in women!
(It’s a feminazi dream!)
So the MRA’s start screaming
“This is sexist, can’t you see?—
Why, such actions are atrocious…
They no longer favor me!

So… I found this by traveling backward, having seen the final product first–but I think it best to start at the beginning. There is, New Hampshire Public Radio reports, an index fund that focuses on companies with women in leadership positions:

There are 406 companies in Pax’s new index fund, including Microsoft, General Electric, and Estee Lauder. Besides being well-established brands, they have one thing in common: women in leadership positions. Ninety-seven percent of all the companies in the fund have two or more female board members. In a traditional index fund, says Pax CEO Joe Keefe, women sit on only about 11 percent of board seats.

You know there’s significant research at this point showing that where women are better represented on corporate board and where women are better represented in senior company management that those companies actually perform better.

So… 2 or more female board members. So most of the boards still have men, and may well have a majority of men. There’s no real threat to men here, nor is there any implied in the research:

It’s not that women are better at business than men. Sorry, ladies. “What the research points to,” Keefe says, “is that diverse groups make better decisions than non-diverse groups.”

Ok, I could do without the “Sorry, ladies.” What the research is telling us is what feminists have long realized: you don’t do your business any favors by excluding half of the potential brainpower. If the existing inequalities (seriously, 89% of companies have no women on their boards?) are there because men are naturally better at business, this fund should tank. But no, a fund that addresses institutional sexism is doing quite well!

The NHPR article is titled “Pax Index Bets Women-Led Firms Can Beat The Stock Market“. I’d probably have read it with that title anyway, but that was not the title I first saw. Via a box at the Union Leader, the first title I saw was “Pax World believes sexist fund can beat the market“.

That’s right–a fund that seeks inclusiveness and diversity, because it deliberately searches for the 1/9th of companies that have both men and women on their boards, and not the 8/9ths of companies that have men only, has been labeled “sexist”.

“Religious Freedom Is Fading…”

I’ve got Jesus in my bedroom
I’ve got Jesus in the halls
I’ve got paintings, prints, and posters
Of my savior on my walls
There’s a Jesus on my dashboard
While I’m driving down the street;
And my shirt says “Jesus loves you”
To the strangers I might meet

Now, my neighbors’ yard is filled with saints;
It’s hard to count them all!
There’s a Virgin Mary Grotto
Carved directly in their wall
There’s religious iconography
(They say it helps them cope)
And a special little closet
Filled with pictures of the pope

There are twenty-seven churches
I could visit if I like
There are twelve that I could walk to,
And there’s fifteen more by bike
They are thick as flies on honey
Some are old and some are new
But a couple public places
Have no Jesus-stuff in view!

There’s no cross above the courthouse
There’s no crèche at City Hall
There’s no Jesus on our currency—
“In God We Trust” is all—
I could put the Ten Commandments
Carved in granite at Town Square
But the secular “progressives”
Say there’s no religion there

It’s a travesty of justice!
It’s a trampling of my rights!
It’s oppression! It’s barbaric!
They’ve got Jesus in their sights
And they plan to take us over—
Wipe religion from the map!
That’s my honest, true, opinion…
Though it’s total fucking crap

A Christian Post editorial, utterly unsurprisingly, confuses the reeling back of the slightest measures of over-privilege with jack-booted religious repression. It is laughable in some of its claims (“The lackadaisical religious expressions of presidential candidates and their parties is another point at which religion’s impact has been parsed out.”), and varyingly disingenuous and sloppy in others:

While the fading of American religious freedom may seem subtle to some, in actuality it has been blatantly pursued for some time. For instance, think of the trend to remove prayer in any shape or form from public venues. Think also of the debate over whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed. Call to mind the upheaval caused by the phrase “Under God” being printed on US currency. The limiting of religious texts within certain venues, such as educational institutions, is another instance.

“Public venues”? Not at all–you can have all the religious expression you want; you just cannot have the government take your side. “Whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed”? Display it at your home, at your church, at your own place of business…but do not force me to display it at my house, or at any place where you and I both are represented. “Under God”? Heh… it’s “In God We Trust”, actually, on currency, and “under god” in the pledge. And the very fact that these two examples exist despite multiple challenges rather undercuts your argument.

There is no argument, actually. There is misrepresentation, there is false witness, there is paranoia, there is a martyr complex of epic proportions.

Related post
Another one
And another

Meatspace Report

In case you were wondering, it is entirely possible to have a memorial/funeral service with absolutely no religious overtones (or even undertones, or, frankly, tones). My estimate is that a bit less than half of the people there were atheists… a bit less than a third were openly atheist, though that is a hard thing to know.

I had a blatantly atheist speech prepared, but only on the condition that a drastically religious speech called out for mine. I was very happy to give my non-blatantly atheist speech. Along with many other heartfelt recollections, from many others.

All in all, it was beautiful.

Thanks for your patience.

“A Symbol Of National Unity”

I shouldn’t be shocked—hey, they’re only the news,
They can say what they want with impunity—
But it took me aback that they called a cathedral
A “symbol of national unity”.

It’s a beautiful building, I have to admit,
(Darth Vader hides in the façade!)
But it seems our one nation once deemed indivisible
Separates now, “under god”

The cathedral is of the Episcopal Church
So the Baptists, of course, disagree—
Not to mention the Wiccans, or Muslims, or Jews…
But it’s Unity, clearly, you see?

It’s not their intent to do anything wrong
They try to be open, it’s true
They’d love to unite the whole nation, of course,
But that’s something religion can’t do.

It’s a feel-good story; the National Cathedral is getting its needed repairs after the 2011 earthquake sent God’s message that He is a Darth Vader fan. It’s beautiful architecture, wonderful stone carving (my favorite is at 1:40 in the video, reminding us that artists have long used whatever source material they could, from pagan gods to bible stories, as an excuse to showcase naked bodies), extraordinary stained glass (which includes secular themes, like the Apollo lunar landing, incorporating an actual moon rock in the design), and I am happy to see it being restored.

Also, despite being the “National Cathedral”, every dime paying for its construction and repair is from private donors. It officially is an Episcopalian cathedral, not a U.S. one (its official name is “The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington”), although it has seen events from many denominations, and secular events as well.

But one thing it is not, though the linked story makes the claim–it is not a “symbol of national unity”. I can see why the Episcopalian Church would want to call it that–the Pew numbers put traditional and evangelical Episcopalian/Anglicans, combined, at under 2% of the US, not even in the top ten denominations, percentage-wise; to lay claim to a unified “National” anything would be a serious cap-feather. I think, maybe, the only real symbol of unity for this diverse country might well be the motto e pluribus unum, which at once recognizes our differences and our common identity.

But of course, that has been replaced by “in god we trust”, which just emphasizes the fact that it is not in religion’s power to unite, only to divide.

Vials Labeled “Variola” Found. Could Have Been Worse.

Unless you are from Brazil, the scariest news today may have been the discovery of forgotten, unsecured, vials labeled “variola” (smallpox, to you and me) in an NIH lab.

Hey, at least it was labeled! I’ve been cleaning out my office these past weeks, and if that NIH lab had been anything like my office, the detritus of decades would still be present, but virtually none of it would have been labeled.

One small unlabeled vial
Sitting there, forgotten
One small unlabeled vial
Lurking in the lab
It might be dehydrated spores
Of a weaponized fungus
Just waiting for wars
It might be a virulent pox
An assistant mistakenly
Left in a box
It might be a deadly disease
That could devastate countries
As quick as you please
It might be a parasite fluke
Or an isotope ready
To power a nuke
It might be some chemical goo
That can turn your cheeks’ roses
To cyanide blue
It might be a germ that’s evolved
So an antibiotic’s
A problem that’s solved
It might be the ultimate cure
Unless we uncap it,
We can’t know for sure…
There’s little more frightening, no denial,
Than one small unknown, unlabeled vial

With sincere apologies to everyone’s favorite Uncle Shelby, who did all the heavy lifting.

On The Deeply Held Religious Beliefs Of Corporations

A local corporation is a member of my church
Though it never puts a dollar in the plate
I haven’t seen it in the pews, no matter how I search
Though it claims it’s more devout than me, of late
It reads its bible daily, and of course it watches Fox,
It’s offended by the liberal elite
It loves Scalia’s reasoning (“He thinks outside the box!”)
Saying personhood is not confined to meat

If the church’s wisdom dictates, say, that women be controlled
There’s a trick our local corporation learned:
Your insurance isn’t yours at all, despite what you’ve been told
Compensation isn’t something that you’ve earned
You must subjugate your wishes to the corporation’s will—
Your insurance is dependent on their whim
So it’s really up to Jesus which prescriptions you may fill,
Cos the corporation puts its faith in Him.

If it holds beliefs devoutly, while abstractly it exists
It’s protected by the constitution, too
And (all thanks to Hobby Lobby) the Supreme Court now insists
Its protections mean it’s even safe from you!
In a battle of religious rights, it’s kinda, sorta, funny—
Corporations have beliefs, by all reports!
They are just like you or me—except, of course, they have more money…
But, of course, that doesn’t matter to the courts.

Before The Beginning

Day one was the day in which God creates light,
And the Earth—which came first, if my thinking is right—
Day two, we get water, both vapor and sea;
Then land, and some gardens, we get on day three;
The sun, and the moon, and the stars, on day four;
Day five we get fishes and birds by the score;
Day six we get animals, Adam, and Eve;
Day seven He rested, or so I believe.

He wrote it, of course, so he gets to be hero…
But what did God do on the day before zero?

If God is eternal, but matter is not,
Then He was here first (and by more than a lot!)
An eternity spent before we were here sinning,
Unless, of course, God has, himself, a beginning…
Either way, he was here before water or light
So… what was He doing, on minus-six night?
Was He here by his lonesome? Or here with some friends?
If so, for how long? Cos “before” never ends!

Sure, some can be hidden, with magic or tricks…
But what did God do on the day before nix?

If God is eternal, what happens before
Day Minus-Six-Million, Three-Thousand and Four?
Omniscient, and thus well aware of His fate,
With billions and trillions of eons to wait?
Did He sit there, divinely and utterly bored
As He waited the very first Year of Our Lord?
Since space—indeed, time—had not yet been created,
Seems God only knows just how long He has waited.

Can theology tell us—I think that it ought—
Just what did God do in the days before nought?

I’ve lost track of what I was reading that put this notion into my head. A comment somewhere, but where?

Tornado Warnings, Now And Then

It was just the other morning
When we heard the weather warning
And we tried to drag the pets downstairs, for shelter from the storm
I remembered, with a chortle,
I was young once, and immortal,
And defied the nearing twisters, playing Frisbee by the dorm
Ah, but real life can be frightening—
I’ve since lost someone to lightning—
So I run inside from thunder, though of course I know the odds
And I’m thankful to the science
Where it’s safe to put reliance
How much better than to fear we’re at the mercy of the gods