Cultural Differences: Trusting Authority

Note: This is a post from last year, from the old blog.
Another country, another opportunity to spot the cultural differences that make life so interesting.
When I moved to Germany, I noticed that this was a place in which caution was very much in the common culture. Germans have insurance for things that would never even cross my mind. When discussing these issues, people would ask me things like “well, if you are walking down the street and you pick up a piece of wood that someone was throwing away and the pile of wood falls on you, then who is responsible? Which insurance pays?” Um… if a pile of wood fall on you cause you were messing with it, that gets filed under sad day for you? No? Does this filing chapter not exist here? OK.

[Read more…]

It Was Deliberate

We know that the American “War on Drugs” disproportionately affects minorities. We know that, despite the fact that white people and black people use drugs at approximately the same rates, black people are arrested far more often. However, I have often encountered skepticism about whether or not this was an intended repercussion of this so called “war”. Was is just a bungle? Was it a genuine attempt to attack the problem of drugs in the States, which then became a tool to undermine African American and Hispanic communities by racist police departments?

A recent article in Vox makes me think that their intentions were clear. As Nixon’s domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman put it, many years later:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

This pronouncement was made in 1994. I’m only finding out about it now, though I don’t know if it’s because I have been blissfully unaware of it, or because it actually hasn’t seeped into the discussion about the war on drugs.

Have you heard about this before? And, if so, why does this not come up far more often when debating whether or not to continue this failure of a policy?

A Fun Way To Learn About Vestigial Characteristics

Recently, PZ seems to have gotten into a bit on an online kerfuffle with a creationist who, among other things, does not seem to understand what a vestigial characteristic is. Well he’s in luck, even if he doesn’t want to read articles or books about evolution. Vox has kindly put together an excellent video giving examples of vestigial characteristics you can find in your own body.

I seem to be full of these vestiges of my evolutionary past. I have a palmaris longus and I can wiggle my left ear (though not my right) very well.

Evolution is fun

That’s Really, Really Hard to Read

Dyslexia is a word that gets thrown around a lot, to the point that very few people really know what it means, or how to spot the signs in children. I remember, when I was learning how to write, my teachers told my mother that they feared I was dyslexic because I wrote my 5s in a funny way. My mother scoffed at them. “She’s not dyslexic, she’s just left handed. She’ll figure it out”. She was right, I turned out not to be dyslexic and I can write the number 5 perfectly well now, which should have been obvious to my teachers given the fact that I was also one of the best readers in the class.

It wasn’t until college that I met someone who really described what dyslexia was like to me. She explained that it was much easier for her to read words on a screen, rather than printed, and that the words moved around on the page. That sounded very annoying to me, and I understood why they gave her extra time in exams at the university. Not everyone did, though, and I heard some people complain that she got what they saw as an unfair advantage for such a “little thing like dyslexia”.

I then came across this website, which actually simulates what its like to try to read a text with dyslexia.

You should follow that link. It’s incredible. My friend’s mild explanations did not do it justice.

The problem with throwing around words like “dyslexic” is that it makes people think that it’s really not that big a deal. If you know anyone who bitches about people getting “special treatment” in class or exams due to a learning disability like dyslexia, send them that link. I am full of admiration for my friend who managed to get top grades in Uni despite her disability.

Another Terror Attack Rocks Europe

According to the BBC:

Twin blasts hit Zaventem airport at 07:00 GMT, killing 11 and injuring 81, Belgium’s health minister said.

Another explosion struck Maelbeek metro station an hour later. Brussels transport officials say 15 people were killed and 55 injured, 10 seriously.

Belgium has now raised its terrorism threat to its highest level.

The attacks come four days after Salah Abdeslam, the main fugitive in the Paris attacks, was seized in Brussels.

I have nothing to say about this. I have no words about Islam and Islamophobia, who to blame or who to be mad at, how to react or what this will all lead to. I just find myself filled with a hollow, empty sadness. I just have one question.

Will this ever end?

That’s The Most Ridiculous Thing I Have Ever Heard

It has recently come to my attention that, in the United States, it is not uncommon for children as young as 3 to be expected to represent themselves in immigration court.

Yes, I said 3

Yes, I said represent themselves. As in legally. As in without a lawyer.

There is a petition, please sign it, spread the word, counteract the injustice which disguises itself as stupidity.

Of course it goes well beyond stupidity. According to the ACLU

The U.S. ordered the deportation of almost 2,800 children who did not have counsel between July 2014 and August 2015. The Guardian reported at least 83 individuals were killed upon return when deported to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras between January 2014 and October 2015

It’s reprehensible. It breaks my heart.

No matter where you stand on the immigration debate, the idea that toddlers are capable of legally representing themselves is ludicrous.

Conflating Morality With Legality

Note: post from the old blog
I started thinking about this topic when I was discussing the legality of C-sections in Italy with a colleague of mine. I was unaware of this, but apparently it is technically illegal in Italy for a woman to give birth via C-section unless there is a legitimate medical reason for doing so. Given the rather loose language that entails, and the fact that there are far more C-sections being performed in the South compared to Northern Italian states, leads us to believe that if a woman really wants to have one, she can find a doctor who will be willing to schedule her one. The point of disagreement between us was based on whether or not this law should exist at all.

[Read more…]

I Now Know Why This Is Harmful

I was first introduced to the fact that some see evolution as controversial when I was in high school. There was a Jehovah’s Witness somewhere in the school, and her* parents complained that they did not want their daughter learning about evolution, as it was contrary to their beliefs. The school informed them that, most unfortunately, evolution was a core part of the curriculum, and that she was just going to have to learn about it if she wanted to take biology. However, they would be sensitive to their beliefs, and mention “the controversy” in class.

[Read more…]

Sunday Cooking With Crys: I

Despite the fact that I have far too much to do at work, I try very hard to take one day off a week. I need it for my sanity, but also so that I can clean my house and cook for the week. While I detest the cleaning I have fun with the cooking, and I try to make one complicated or completely novel dish, as Sunday is also one of only two days a week in which I get to have dinner with my boyfriend.

My boyfriend does the shopping, as I never get out of work on time. Every week I write him a list, and every week he promptly forgets it at home and goes on to buy a random assortment of things. Unless I have to prepare a specific dish this doesn’t annoy me, but rather forces me to be creative, flick through my cookbooks and keep it interesting.

Last week, my complicated dish was chinese panfried dumplings, which were great. The week before that it was cornetti (i.e. the Italian version of the croissant), which were a complete disaster. This week I went for something that was not so much complicated as completely novel: a mexican beef stew prepared with beer and chocolate.

More info, recipes and pictures below the fold

[Read more…]

Hey PZ, You Missed One!

I have been reading Pharyngula for many years before joining FtB. Recently, PZ published excerpts from a couple of papers, which caused me to both laugh and groan at the evident laziness of the reviewers. In one case, a review in Cell seemed unaware that flies are, in fact, animals. In a paper published in PLoS One (and later retracted), the authors concluded that the hand is perfectly designed by a Creator. In both cases I found myself asking, doesn’t anyone proofread these before sending them out? Even so, don’t the reviewers actually read through the bloody paper before publishing them?! It certainly seems as though they pick through them with a fine-toothed comb whenever I try to get some work published!

The disappointment aside, there is one paper that I do not recall PZ ever mentioning, but I feel that it deserves a shout out all the same. Not because the science is faulty (it seems perfectly fine), nor because of an idiotic conclusion. It deserves a shout out because it is just so, damned funny. It comes from another one of our beloved PloS Journals, PloS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

[Read more…]