Signal Boost: Please Help In Any Way You Can

I’ve just read something that made my stomach lurch. The ways that people can be so cruel to each other staggers me sometimes, especially when there is not a shred of remorse, or even understanding of how much suffering one has caused. (WARNING: graphic images if you follow these links).

A month ago, Tolbert, 21, and his boyfriend Anthony Gooden Jr., 23, were jolted out of sleep by the feeling of boiling water splashing across their torsos, faces and limbs. Gooden’s mother’s boyfriend, Martin Blackwell, stood over them, pouring the water, they say.

The 21-year-old must now wear compression garments 23 hours a day for the next two years, she wrote in an email to The Washington Post, and is attending weekly counseling and physical therapy sessions to deal with his emotional and physical scars. It’s difficult for him to go outside, because sunlight exacerbates the pain of his burns.

Gooden, who was burned even more severely, was in a medically-induced coma for several weeks, she said. According to his GoFundMe page, more than 60 percent of his body was burned, and he had to undergo skin graft surgery to repair damage to his face, neck, back, arms, chest and head.

And what does Martin Blackwell, this pathetic excuse for a human being have to say for himself?

“They were stuck together like two hot dogs … so I poured a little hot water on them and help them out,” he said to police, according to the incident report. “… They’ll be alright. It was just a little hot water.”

Fuck that piece of shit. I hope he gets the book thrown at him, federal hate crime laws and all.

In the meantime, please donate and spread the word.

Picking Picking Picking…

The bane of my existence.

I mentioned in my introductory post that I am currently working 13-hour days. This is because I am scrambling to finish the last experiments we need in order to publish our paper, and I need to have them done yesterday.

I work with C. elegans, a little nematode which is barely visible with the naked eye. It is convenient, especially for experiments involving aging, because you can keep large numbers quite cheaply, they have a rapid life cycle and normally live for around 20-25 days. Great right?


Given the fact that they don’t live very long, lifespan experiments are commonplace in worm labs, meaning you check to see how long it takes for the worms to die. However, these worms are also hermaphrodites, so they lay eggs even if there are no males around. As I said they have a very rapid life cycle, around 4 days long, which means that after a few days you might confuse your original population of worms with the progeny that they produced in the meantime, and that wont do if you want to know how long it takes for your worms to die. The solution? You have to transfer your adults onto new plates, by hand, every couple of days, to separate them from the larvae. This is commonly known as picking, and everyone hates doing it.

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Cultural Differences: Ritualized Corporal Punishment

The very first cultural difference that I can remember noticing was when my uncle threatened to hit me when I was around 10.

The question about whether or not one should be allowed to hit their children is a contentious one, even in countries like Italy. Some think that it should be punishable by law. Others think that it is the only way to get some particularly rambunctious kids to behave. Many are somewhere in between, not wanting to judge others on how they raise their kids. This post is not about that question, but rather on how I came to realize that the culturally accepted ways in which corporal punishment is practiced in my two countries of origin are starkly different, and that I was the only one who could stop a very serious misunderstanding from taking place in my family.

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The Murky Waters of Mocking Ideas and Armchair Diagnosing

As skeptics who are active on the internet, mocking silly ideas about creationism, anti-vaxxers and general woo are par for the course. Many of us are ruthless in this mocking, often stemming from a feeling of indignation that people could try to promote ignorance and impede others from educating themselves on the facts. We like to tell ourselves that we’re mocking ideas, and not people but let’s face it, we also mock the people who promote these silly ideas. We have all, at some point, thrown around words like “stupid”, “ignorant” or “idiot” when describing people like B.o.B and his flat-earther tweets, or Ray Comfort and his banana video.

On the other hand, armchair diagnosing is generally accepted as something one should never do. There is, of course, very good reason for this. It often comes from a place of malice, trying to marginalize another person. Even those who do not do it out of malice are usually being condescending, arrogant in thinking that they can diagnose someone just because they watched a psych TV show, or attributing pathology to perfectly normal behavior and reactions. Generally speaking no one benefits when lay people throw around terms like “schizophrenic”,  “bi-polar” or even, simply, “I think that person has a mental issue”. So, let’s not speculate about people’s mental health status through the interwebs, right?

However, as much as I would like to deny it, I also find myself doing this, on occasion. What follows is not an attempt to justify or make excuses for armchair diagnosing, but rather to discuss one reason why some people do it that is often ignored.

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Cultural Differences: Many to Come

I have mentioned before that I was raised by an American mother and an Italian father. Throughout my entire life, I never had one country with which I fully identified. As a child in Italy people called me “American”, as I never really fit in with the Italians, having watched very little Italian TV and having never gone to Italian schools. In the US I have always been referred to as “Italian”, having never lived there, been raised in that culture or having any kind of regional American accent. It’s more of a pan-US accent, and many Americans who meet me are unsure as to how to place it, and would believe me if I told them I was from a different English-speaking country. This odd position that I always had between countries has given me a knack for spotting and scrutinizing cultural differences, and they are things that I enjoy writing about.

However, it is also clear to me that many people have a very hard time understanding different cultural perspectives. I would like to illustrate what I mean with a very mild story, about pasta.

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Tough Questions: Will You Lie To Your Kids?

Note: I wrote about this before, but it has been heavily rewritten as I have thought about it further

The easy answer is no. While I do not have children at the moment, it is a distinct possibility in the future, and I have always thought that I want to be completely honest with my kids, if I ever have any.

I don’t think that this is a tough question when it comes to teenagers. I remember how my mother never told me anything about herself and her teenage years, and this created distance and mistrust between us. However, when it comes to small children, there are two lies that I was told as a child which I find myself wanting to perpetuate: Santa, and heaven.

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Another Battle Won, a Tiny Step Forward for Italy

This month, Italy has finally decided to make the morning after pill available over the counter, without a prescription, to everyone over 18 years of age.

This battle began in 2000 and now, finally after 16 years, it has been won.

This also means that pharmacists cannot cite a moral objection to the medication, and are required by law to provide it.

If you are living in Italy, especially in a rural part, know your rights. You can report a pharmacy that continues to deny you access to Ru486.

“Better late than never”, said Silvio Viale, the doctor who was at the forefront of this fight. I suppose so, but let’s keep moving forward shall we? One baby step at a time.



A Better Comparison for Trump

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the comparison between Trump and Hitler. While I think there is a discussion worth having there, I cannot forget, as an Italian, that there is someone which makes a far better comparison for the Donald.

When I found this floating around the interwebs, I almost chocked.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 4.28.11 PM

Of course, it goes well beyond political silliness. The comparison between Trump and Berlusconi is quite uncanny.

An article in the New York Times sums it up quite nicely.

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I Might Actually Agree With Republicans for Once…

Recently, I was treated to a fair bit of lefty schadenfreude when a story came out about how some Virginia lawmakers got sick after drinking raw, a.k.a. unpasteurized, milk. Many of the same people whom I follow seemed to have put this in the category of “stupid anti-science boneheadedness”, alongside creationists or flat-earthers. While I agree that drinking raw milk straight from the cow is going to be far more likely to give you the runs than pasteurized milk, I actually don’t think that it should be illegal.

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