A University of Minnesota student did that

The first words that caught my eye were the words “University of Minnesota student”. The second words were “pleads guilty to rape charges”. I read the story anyway and was horrified. It includes the full victim’s statement, and it was gut-rending. I can’t quite imagine the mind of Daniel Drill-Mellum — how can he do what he did to that woman? How can anyone cause that much pain to anyone?

Don’t read it. I regret having done so.

But there is one somewhat milder piece of the story that jumped out at me. The rapist was an acquaintance, as they often are, and a friend, the kind of friend you call after a traumatic experience, had praised the guy and acknowledged, after the fact, that Drill-Mellum had hurt other women before.

I remember stumbling out of the apartment and running in fear, thinking that he would surely come after me. That feeling still sticks with me to this day. I first texted a friend to come and get me, and then called another. The friend who, earlier in the day, told me, “I love Dan”. This friend answered the phone to me sobbing uncontrollably and said “don’t even say a word, I know what happened. He raped my friend too”. In the months to come, I would become angry about this statement, and the fact that this wasn’t the first time he had done this to someone, but at the time I was just happy that he had said “rape” so that I didn’t have to. I had no words for what I had just experienced, and I still don’t.

How do you do that, too? I hope this “friend” is also feeling some fraction of the guilt that ought to be wracking him right now.

The beginnings of a wonderful horror story

Who knew? That stupid article about how to interrupt a woman wearing headphones has real legs, and is stirring up a lot of irritable snarling all over the place. One of the most interesting kinds of responses, though, is the horror story. This reaction by Alexandra Petri is beautiful, and sent chills down my spine.

You can talk to anyone, you tell yourself.
It is only a woman, you tell yourself.
But you know that it is not.
Women were something different.
Your comrade made the awful mistake of talking to the Woman Who Is Reading A Book On The Subway. You watched it happen.
He made her look up from the book and her basilisk eyes fell on him, unblinking, and he melted.
You still remember the screams.
They were so horrible that the city lay awake for days trying to forget them.

Yesterday half your comrades were ordered to shout “Smile!” at the Woman Who Is Walking.
And the woman did. Too wide.
So wide that her mouth engulfed the street and became a vast cavern.
Six of your friends were devoured.
You could hear the unladylike slurping sounds from blocks away as you beat a hasty retreat between the Scylla of the Woman Who Has Put Her Bag Next To Her On A Bar Stool and the Charybdis of the Woman Who Is Just Jogging.
You did not attempt to speak to either of them.
They passed you.
You were left unscathed.

You are about to talk to the Woman in Headphones.
My God, I pity you.
You are close now. Almost in range.
Before The Woman and behind her the ground is littered with shoes and hats and pick-up manuals and AXE body spray.
She sits patiently gnawing on a thigh bone.
You do not think she is single or looking.
You cannot make out the words she is listening to.

You know how this will go.
You know what the headphones mean.
You know what will happen when you ask her to remove the headphones.

Read the whole thing. It’s bone-chilling beauty. Like women, apparently.

If a quill pen was good enough for Thomas Jefferson, it ought to be good enough for 300 million people in a 21st century nation

Here’s another holdover from the founding fathers: not only do we have a constitutional amendment based on 18th century concepts of firearms, but we’re only allowed to keep track of them with record-keeping practically straight out of colonial America. Our country’s gun registry is a lot of pieces of paper in cardboard boxes, and thanks to the gun lobby, we aren’t allowed to computerize the information.

“It’s a shoestring budget,” says Charlie, who runs the center. “It’s not 10,000 agents and a big sophisticated place. It’s a bunch of friggin’ boxes. All half-ass records. We have about 50 ATF employees. And all the rest are basically the ladies. The ladies that live in West Virginia—and they got a job. There’s a huge amount of labor being put into looking through microfilm.”

I want to ask about the microfilm—microfilm?—but it’s hard to get a word in. He’s already gone three rounds on the whiteboard, scribbling, erasing, illustrating some of the finer points of gun tracing, of which there are many, in large part due to the limitations imposed upon this place. For example, no computer. The National Tracing Center is not allowed to have centralized computer data.

“That’s the big no-no,” says Charlie.

That’s been a federal law, thanks to the NRA, since 1986: No searchable database of America’s gun owners. So people here have to use paper, sort through enormous stacks of forms and record books that gun stores are required to keep and to eventually turn over to the feds when requested. It’s kind of like a library in the old days—but without the card catalog. They can use pictures of paper, like microfilm (they recently got the go-ahead to convert the microfilm to PDFs), as long as the pictures of paper are not searchable. You have to flip through and read. No searching by gun owner. No searching by name.

Thanks, NRA!

Support a criminal!

James Croft is looking for assistance to cope with his own life choices.

  • He chose to be a humanist.

  • He chose to speak out loudly about that.

  • He chose to join a protest against police brutality in St Louis.

  • He chose to try and record an instance of police beating a protester.

  • He chose to get arrested…oh, wait, no. He didn’t choose. The police chose to arrest him for daring to document their actions.

And now he’s e-begging to get money to cover his court costs and support his criminal lifestyle. Do you want to encourage that sort of thing? Then yes, you should give him cold hard cash and make yourself a co-conspirator, an accomplice, no less.

Wait, you can actually destroy someone on the interwebs?

Do you find yourself deeply annoyed by those headlines on Facebook and social media sites that declare that this politician or that scientist DESTROYED their opponent in a debate? It never happens. I’ve been in debates where the consensus is that I ‘won’, or was most informative, or was most difficult to refute, but the opposition usually has some rationalization to salvage their position. You can’t literally ANNIHILATE someone with an argument.

Or can you?

Neil deGrasse Tyson was accused of belittling a 9 year old girl who asked him a question, and one of those conservative talk-radio blowhards, Neal Larsen, made a big deal out of how awful Tyson was. Unfortunately for Larsen, his information came from one of those even more annoying “satirical” news sites (which is another of my pet peeves — I block people who cite those abominations). Larsen was loudly ridiculed for his gullibility.

And then…a miracle! Larsen didn’t give up his radio show, but he has resigned from writing a newspaper column over the exposure.

Larson acknowledged the error in his final op-ed, adding that he apologized to deGrasse Tyson for his mistake. But he also complained about the amount of attention his failed attack received.

“For those in the national spotlight, this is probably old hat, but I wasn’t equipped to handle the influx, logistically or emotionally,” Larson wrote. “If anyone had sent a kind word or more gentle and constructive criticism, I apologize because I probably missed it in the onslaught of hate.”

Aww, poor man. If only someone had given him a cookie, he might have been inspired to soldier on and produce even more bullshit like this, below:

However, Larson will continue broadcasting his radio show. Daily Kos pointed out that he has used it to argue, among other things, that Donald Trump is suited for the presidency because of his “alpha-male” personality, and that the choice of mascot for Washington D.C.’s NFL team is better than “a screaming Black Lives Matter activist, or a finger-snapping drag queen.”

Still, Tyson did manage to shut down a little bit of vileness. Larsen is still babbling on the radio, but he’s not poisoning newspapers anymore, which is a bit of progress.

So maybe Tyson didn’t DESTROY him, but I think we can at least say he was DECIMATED.

An awful lot of speculation on very little data

Over the last several days, I’ve seen a lot of excitement about a particular result of the SETI search. Scientists observed a signal from the direction of a star called HD 164595, which is about the size of our sun, and “only” 95 light years away. It’s also known to have a non-Earth-like planet in orbit around it; maybe there are some nice rocky planets in the habitable zone, as well?

In case you were curious, here’s the “message”:

Strong signal from the direction of HD 164595. “Raw” record of the signal together with expected shape of the signal for point-like source in the position of HD 164595. Credit: Bursov et al.

Strong signal from the direction of HD 164595. “Raw” record of the signal together with expected shape of the signal for point-like source in the position of HD 164595. Credit: Bursov et al.

It was a burst of energy significantly larger than the fuzzy noise seen in their usual observations. It happened once. It’s also a lot of energy to abruptly emerge from the neighborhood of a star, and that’s interesting in itself. The scientists involved are recommending that we keep an eye on that star — and I agree that we might learn something from that.

But it’s not likely to be an alien civilization trying to talk to us. That ought to be at the bottom of everyone’s list of possibilities. Even Seth Shostak has nothing but sensible interpretations.

This is a bit of a puzzling story, as the Russians found this signal a year ago or so, but just didn’t let others know. That’s not good policy, as what you really want is confirmation at another telescope, but… Is it real? The signal may be real, but I suspect it’s not ET. There are other possibilities for a wide-band signal such as this, and they’re caused by natural sources (or even terrestrial interference).

I just did a quick calculation of how much wattage they’d need to wield from 94 light-years (I think that’s the distance) in order to produce the apparently received signal, and that would be a big utility bill, even if they were directing the transmission (as opposed to broadcasting equally in all directions).

What I find odd is all the sites talking about inferring Kardashev levels from the size of the burst. The Kardashev scale is a science-fictiony estimate of the amount of energy available to a civilization: we’re at Kardashev 0; it would take a Kardashev 1 civilization able to tap energy sources equivalent to the entire amount of energy falling on their planet from their star to send a signal aimed directly at us; and it would take a Kardashev 2 civilization to produce an expanding sphere of signal nonspecifically propagating in all directions.

It seems to me that that is all an argument against this being communication from aliens. That one little blip took a greater amount of energy than our entire society can produce. It’s reasonable to argue that a more advanced civilization could have access to even more energy, but then you’d have to argue that super-advanced highly technological aliens then used their vast power to send one uninformative short blat of power outward. This would only make sense if the planet were inhabited by an entire species of privileged frat-boy types who thought it hilarious to fart at the universe.

That isn’t interesting. I’d be more enthusiastic if this were a novel natural phenomenon.

Never trust John Hagee with a secret

He’ll just babble the secret out everywhere and ruin it. He has revealed that the Anti-Christ will make himself known to the world on 30 August 2016. Way to ruin the surprise, guy.

(Warning: what follows is a half hour of stark raving madness. I only lasted 4 minutes.)

Welp, I was going to keep everyone on edge until 11:59 tonight, but I guess I might as well ‘fess up.

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The canonical Nice Guy

Can you stand one more story of men behaving badly today? I promise to stop after this one, but it’s just so classically awful–a nice guy loses it when he’s turned down for a date.

tried being nice. From the time I wrote a MyTake honoring what I love most about women to when I defended older women from the misogynistic charge that they are worthless. I even wrote a letter to my future daughters, because I loved women and delighted in the fantasy of someday raising women of my own as a father. But now things have changed, and changed badly they have.

To those who have been following my recent escapades at work, this is the update you asked for.

Upon receiving my “Yes” and her phone number, I called the girl in question and tried to plan an official date. Not only did she reject me, which is strange after initially expressing interest and volitionally giving me her phone number of her own choice, but she told all of my coworkers that I stole her number off of Facebook and have been stalking her, and that I am a creeper.

She was a lying cunt, simply put, and has completely jeopardized my status in the workplace.

That’s only the beginning. The rest of the monster article is just JRICHARDS1996 raging about evil women who are nothing but whores and how he prefers a conniving prostitute to those wicked females and how he used to be such a nice guy but never again because women are so bad. And he leaves us with a final threat.

As it is, I will never approach another woman again. That nice guy that was once inside of me is completely dead. Dead, and you killed him. You crucified him. You nailed him to the Cross.

Show of hands–how many women reading this are now grieving at the loss of this Nice Guy from the dating pool?

How many of you think it would be appropriate to scoop something out of the cat box and hand it to him, saying “Here’s a cookie”?

Jesus,no. You have to read another article by this guy: In Honor of Femininity: The 5 Things I Love Most About Women. It begins…

I have been accused of sexism and misogyny multiple times by females on this website. And even though those claims could not be further from the truth, I thought it would be in good taste to vindicate myself by composing a tribute to femininity. That is, a celebration of what it means to be a woman. So in honor of femininity, I have taken the liberty of listing the five things that I love most about women.

You can guess what follows. Just to spare you, the five things are:

  • They are Cute. Like, when they paint their toenails or bake cakes.

  • They are Sexy. “Have you seen just how sexy the female form is buck naked?”

  • They are Selfless. They take care of children and clean house for us!

  • They are Nurturing. “Even the most attractive, classiest ones still have a soft spot for crying losers such as myself, and are there to provide comfort.”

  • They are Emotionally Receptive. “Whether it is consoling a man on the verge of a suicide or expressing some little bit of kindness to an addict at rock bottom who needs to feel loved even if by a random stranger, women are capable of understanding emotion and doing what needs to be done.”

To put the W(t)F in awful, the whole thing is illustrated with half-naked pinup pictures.

You’re doing it wrong

Times Higher Education has another of those tedious articles in which some learned academic harumphs that you should not use social media. This one is kind of interesting, though, because his reasons why you should not tell us a heck of a lot about about Gabriel Egan.

How many friends have you got, and how many people do you know? If you use social media such as Facebook and Twitter you can probably quantify these things quite readily, but the answers will be wildly inaccurate as we all routinely overestimate these things.

What is more, the answers will be irrelevant to your work as an academic. We are all quite naturally obsessed with what our friends and acquaintances think of us and we crave evidence of the esteem in which we are held.

In return for feeding our desire for evidence of how we are doing in our social interactions – our narcissistic craving for others’ approval – first Facebook and then a group of other social media corporations persuaded half of humankind to give up their most intimate personal details.

So Gabriel Egan thinks people engage in conversations on social media to run up the score, to get a quantitative tally of how many friends you have? Is that how he thinks?

Gabe, Gabe, Gabe. I know there are some people who think that way, carefully counting their twitter follows and facebook likes, but the people who are really good at social media are using it as a channel for communication and self-expression. They are not keeping score. If you are, and especially if you think that’s the whole reason for using social media (or publishing papers or getting grants), you’re doing it all wrong, and your reasoning about it is invalid.

How to Talk to a Woman Who is Wearing Headphones


Dan Bacon is oblivious. He’s written this longish article explaining how to get a woman to stop what she is doing and pay attention to a man, and never once stops to think about what the woman might want. He seems to think that if he’s cute and ingratiating enough, someone will like to be interrupted.

I have a shorter article explaining How to Talk to a Woman Who is Wearing Headphones, and here it is.


That’s all. Have some respect and understand that other people aren’t necessarily all about you, you narcissistic dork.

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