Shared posts

21 Jul 14:10

A Woman Tapes Her Street Harassers

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino


Via BuzzFeed: a Minneapolis woman named Lindsay is talking to and taking video of her aggressive catcallers, as well as handing out these Cards Against Harassment (a gesture which many of the men find, naturally, to be quite aggressive). You will recognize so many awful interactions in this guy above, as well as this "I honestly don't know why you'd be offended" business bro, and this "bitch means that you're sexy" fellow, and oh no, all the other ones.

Lindsay's work is the Lord's work, requiring much more patience and blood-pressure regulation than my normal blank face/middle finger combo; in light of the fact that men tend to refrain from this behavior when other men are present, there cannot possibly be enough visibility on shitty harassment that half of the population barely blinks at and half of the population barely sees. [BF]

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21 Jul 15:00

On Community Spaces and Being a Trans Muslim

by Mahdia Lynn

Humboldt_Park_flower_box_and_parkThe Toast’s previous coverage of trans* issues can be found here.

On Friday afternoons, we do our best to meet up somewhere in the city. Sometimes it’s my apartment, sometimes his; maybe the park if it’s nice out and we can find a space with some privacy. Privacy is important. We lay out a patchwork of blankets and sit in silence for a while, taking in the day or letting go of the week behind us, depending on what kind of week it’s been. After a while he pulls up a song on his phone, presses play, and sets it between us as we arrange ourselves. Shoulder to shoulder, facing Mecca, we focus quietly and listen to the call to prayer. We are a congregation of two – a tiny fraction of the Muslim Ummah, isolated by a culture of segregation and orthodoxy.

We’re the transgender Muslims of Chicago.

Gender variance isn’t very well understood or accepted in modern Islamic culture (or most other cultures, to be fair!) It’s a society of explicit gender segregation, and a society in which gender expression is limited to few options. Outside the mosque, the Good Muslim Men wear the taqiyah while out from the back door come the Good Muslim Women in hijab. If you want to pray in public or connect with a community of those who share your faith, putting forward a distinctly “correct” gender presentation is required. There’s a process which every trans person knows very well – the act of a person assessing the gender of a stranger, and from there, figuring out how to treat that person. It can be as subtle as the decision to refer to the person in front of you as “brother” or “sister.” It can be as violent as attacking someone for failing to fulfill gendered expectations. As a transgender Muslim, you have three options: fulfill the gender role proscribed to you and deny your trans identity, leave the mosque and practice in private, or pass well enough in your preferred gender and add an extra prayer every day that the community doesn’t find out your status as a trans person. I chose the third, but I was granted a path which made that decision much easier than what most have to go through.

I was twenty-five when I converted to Islam. I had already been out as trans for near a decade, and navigated the world as a woman in a pretty uncomplicated fashion. Spending far more time dwelling on the context of my conversion as a woman rather than as a trans person, my transgender history was something of an afterthought in the process of converting. I had the distinctly cosmopolitan experience of living in a big city far away from my “old life,” free from the complications of history coming back to betray me by way of a high school friend or family member in the grocery store clocking me. Still, finding my place in the Muslim community was trying at first. Passing or not; I’m still a tall chubby white girl with short, curly red hair. I don’t like drawing attention to myself and am happy to pass through life mostly unnoticed. In the scene of ex-punks and queers I knew so well, I was very good at not being noticed. In the face of a new, scary (though exciting) and highly normative (though beautiful and brilliant) community ahead of me; I did not have the security of invisibility I had once known. Still, I was let in the door with open arms. As I studied Qur’anic Arabic textbooks the men at the bookstore called me “sister” and guided me to the best scholars. While getting side-eye and questions from my old community when I decided to take on hijab, I found myself chatting with other women on the train swapping hijabi trade secrets for surviving Chicago summers. I was a weirdo, sure, and an outlier; but I was a Muslim woman.

Just not a Muslim trans woman.

It was around this time that I attended the LGBTQ Muslim Retreat. The prospect of hanging out in the New England wilderness with a bunch of queer family was enticing – but more importantly, it felt like for the first time in my life I might meet another trans Muslima.

To say the retreat was transformative is an understatement. The wisdom and intensity within the ninety-some attendees was mind blowing – it’s probably for a different article and I’m sure a dozen people have already said it better than I ever could, but suffice to say I have no doubt that this cadre of queer Muslims is bound to change things. Whatever, another time, moving on:

On Saturday night there was a transgender caucus in a small library on campus. There were only three of us there. I was once again the only person on the transfeminine spectrum.

Just as in my community back home, I decided to keep my trans status in the closet for the time being.

I met M at the retreat. Two thirds of the Trans Muslim Contingent, and it turned out we lived in the same city. While I spent my childhood in post-hippy liberal Christian churches, M grew up in the orthodoxy and gender segregation of a particularly conservative upbringing in southeast Asia. He refused to go back to the mosque in light of the violence and repression of gender policing in his youth, though he held on to his faith and decided to practice in private. I still navigate the segregation and traditional conventions of modern Islam, but choose to put my queer/trans brothers and sisters (and gender nonspecific siblings) first. Since the retreat, M and I catch up once a week or so. If he isn’t working on Friday, we share in Jummah prayers together; when one of us is busy, the other can Skype in to an inclusive service put on by a mutual friend in Toronto. It’s small, but we have our little queer ummah, and within it our faith stays alive.

As Ramadan approaches and we look for a family to break fast with come sundown, the realities of being a transgender Muslim set in. Flashing all of the proper signals I pass through gendered space unscathed, always left fearing how much I have to lose if outed. Some are forced to put on drag as a different gender just to feel accepted in their faith. Others eat dates behind closed doors, pushed out by a culture of exclusion and gender policing. But together, we create an alternative: meeting as one, praying side by side, and building our own communities.

Being inclusive shouldn’t be a radical act. When I’m kneeling in some quiet corner of Humboldt Park praying next to my brother, it doesn’t feel like one. But when our lives are upended and we’re denied acceptance through discrimination and gendered violence, simply being there for one another and celebrating the strength in our diversity can be a beautiful and transformative event.

To find progressive Muslim spaces, you can check out the Inclusive Mosque Initiative for international locations and resources. As people come together, diverse and inclusive Muslim community is popping up all over the place – until then, the El-Tahwid Juma Circle at the Toronto Unity Mosque broadcasts its services every week over Skype for those who can’t access safer spaces in person. Mahdia Lynn rolls with a small cadre of queer muzzies in Chicago and is 98% already certain that you’re an awesome person, so you can send inquiries/comments/tasteful selfies to mahdialynn at gmail dot com.

Read more On Community Spaces and Being a Trans Muslim at The Toast.

15 Jul 15:00

The Ocean Is Full of Worms and Gonads and Monsters

by Lynne Elkins

Lynne Elkins’ previous work for The Toast can be found here.

Today, I am not here to talk to you about science*. Instead, I would like to share a truth that you may not have fully realized, which is that the ocean is a horrifying place full of monsters.

You might be thinking, “But I always wanted to be a marine biologist! I love dolphins!” And to be fair, dolphins can blow coordinated hunting bubbles and have names for each other and probably are much less prone to sexual assault than folks like to say. But most of the ocean is not made of dolphins, or even mammals. It is mostly full of worms.

Okay, fine, maybe not “mostly.” or “full.” But there are a lot of worms. Here, again, you might be saying, “But I wanted to be a marine biologist and study things other than charismatic megafauna! Marine worms are beautiful!” Sure, some of the worms have pretty colors and crazy fringes, which they obviously use as a glamour to fool gullible humans. But you are forgetting the most important thing: THEY ARE GIANT WORMS. And some of them look like this:

1200px-Proboscis_worm

Less beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong: marine worms are fascinating. This is because monsters are terrible and fascinating. Consider, for example, the very famous Giant Tube Worms that live around deep sea volcanic vents. This is a 7 foot-long worm that can grow 5 feet in under two years, with no digestive tract, with which is red because it contains hemoglobin. In other words, it is a worm that nearly has blood that is taller than you and uses its mouth as its anus.

(These monstrous properties, of course, are the true reason to celebrate the 1991 discovery of the Tubeworm Barbecue.)

You might now be asking, “But what about non-worm things?” Sure. Let’s talk about some other creatures, like, say, echinoderms. Everyone likes starfish, right? Everything that isn’t hunted by starfish, I guess. Have you ever seen the inside of a sea urchin? I have, and please let me tell you about it: These alien monsters are almost completely hollow, except for a skinny intestinal tube that floats around inside their body, and the whole “Aristotle’s Lantern” skeleton mouth thing, which contains rasping teeth so hard they might be able to grind through rock (debated! these are things you debate about monsters.) The little hole at the top of the spiny shell is, in fact, the anus. Marine animals probably could be classed as horrifying simply based on the positions of their anuses. I would also like to address the whole “five-sided skeleton” thing, which, while interesting, is wrong and should not exist. Also, crinoids (sea lilies and feather stars) were echinoderms that reached a meter tall or more in the geologic past; and now we know that they are, in fact, still around, floating about or walking on their fronds like legs. I have touched them and seen YouTube and can confirm this is true. Summary: echinoderms are monsters.

Moving along: cephalopods, once the enormous monster predators of the oceans, are terrifyingly intelligent, curious, capricious thieves that can squeeze themselves through tiny holes and instantaneously mimic random objects (and to be fair, they still include some enormous predators, such as giant squid.) The mimic octopus takes cephalopod mimicry skills to terrifying heights. Blue-ringed octopods are some of the most venomous creatures on the planet, and they do bite humans. And the extreme deep-sea vampire squid (whose full latin name literally means “vampire squid of Hell”) is blood-red with “limpid, globular eyes,” can release a bioluminescent mucus into the water from its “writhing arms” which blinds opponents in a crazy light show that lasts up to 10 minutes, and can, you know, turn its own body inside out. Of course.

We have not yet discussed isopods. That is mostly because I wanted to delay the horror for myself. They are horrifying for many reasons, such as, for instance, what they look like:

Bathynomus_giganteus

Or this. Or this.

But those examples, while terrible in appearance, are not the worst isopods, which honor is reserved for the parasitic isopods. Those are the ones that attach themselves to the tongues of fish, causing the tongue to wither and fall off; they then take up permanent residence in their host fish’s mouth. Some live off whatever food the fish is eating, while others drink the fish’s own blood. Oh God. Why am I writing about this.

Read more The Ocean Is Full of Worms and Gonads and Monsters at The Toast.

17 Jul 12:03

Gods and genre

by Nicola Griffith

I hadn’t intended to start blogging here until next Thursday, when my novel Hild comes out in the UK, but, hey, I saw the news about Marvel’s Thor and couldn’t resist.

So: Thor is now a girl. This changes everything. Sort of.

Let’s ignore the fact that Thor is a god, and mere mortals shouldn’t expect gods to behave like us, because if you take that thought train too far we end up wondering why gods are identified as one sex or another in the first place. And then we have to get into a long and complicated discussion of how religion works and next thing we know the wheels have come off. Today I’d rather stick to the notion of Thor as entertainment. (I can’t speak for tomorrow…)

Entertainment—just like religion—reflects culture rather than leading it. You could make a different argument, perhaps, about Art with a capital A but, again, for today let’s avoid those derailing possibilities and stick to entertainment. And comics, and the films based on them, are first and foremost entertainment.

Traditionally comics were supposed to entertain boys and young men, though girls and women have always also read them. Girls, though, were basically ignored as a demographic by creators and powers-that-be so comics were designed with the sensibilities of boys in mind. At least this is what I used to think until reading Saladin Ahmed's Buried Badasses: The Forgotten Heroines of Pre-Code Comics. Go read it. Women—and people of colour—were catered for, and advertised to, in comics until the fifties and America's moral panic over, well, everything. But in the last sixty years, and now, not so much. (This is currently true in much entertainment media. See, for example, women in film or women in literature stats.)

The results are apparent in the art. The bodies of comic book characters of both sexes are anatomically impossible. And women are ridiculously sexualised. If you have no clue what I’m talking about go read Jim Hines’ Cover Posing posts—be sure to click through to the group pose wherein our own Charlie Stross bares more than most of us would probably like.

So will Thor be drawn differently? The writer of Thor, Jason Aaron says. "This is not She-Thor. This not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe."

The preliminary art isn't terrible: the new Thor shows no cleavage, no bare midriff or thighs. But if her breasts get any bigger they will overbalance her. And I would like to have seen her posed in action mode instead of in a pose that takes up little space. The armour, of course, could be better--but it could be better in almost every comic I've ever read, where improbable isn't a glitch it's a feature.

So what if Marvel really means it? What if the new Thor behaves exactly like the Thor we know?

Call me wary. Old habits are hard to break, and these particular habits run deep in the f/sf genre in every medium. Genre—like gender—is a reflection of culture (and etymologically they come from the same root).

Think for a moment about the terms Hard SF and Soft SF. Or, actually, to save you effort, here’s a short (and deliberately provocative, sorry1) snippet I wrote for Science Fiction Studies five years ago:

Hard Takes Soft, Still

SF as a genre is terrified of the body. As a result, its depictions of physical pleasures are rare. Historically, writers and readers seem to prefer their characters to pop nutrition pills rather than delight in a gourmet meal, dwell 24/7 in sterile environments rather than wander through a wood, and jack into virtual sex rather than touch another human being.

When SF does dare mention sex, the focus is on the intellectual and emotional aspects of the experience. SF still subscribes to Cartesian dualism: the mind is pure, adamantine, and noble, the body bestial, soft, and squicky. (I have talked about this at length elsewhere: see my essay “Writing from the Body.”) Even a hint of body-to-body sex can be enough to earn an sf novel an Approach With Caution warning—that is, categorisation as soft SF.

In this regard, the world-view of the SF Old Guard has a lot in common with that of the cultural guardians of Old Iceland. Embedded in the Icelandic sagas is that society’s tendency to divide the world—politics, intelligence, gender, sexuality, the physical properties of objects—into hvatr (hard) and blauôr (soft). Hard equates to bold, independent, powerful, vigorous, sharp, dry, and decisive; soft to weak, powerless, dull, moist, and yielding.

Guess which was deemed the more admirable quality.

Guess which kind of SF, hard or soft, is privileged critically.

For the Old Guard, a novel’s hardness depends to some degree on the biological sex of bodies entwined. Women are perceived as literally and metaphorically softer than men. If the viewpoint character having sex in an SF novel is a woman, the squick factor is doubled. If she’s having sex with another woman, the Old Guard passes out.

Consider reviews of my second novel, Slow River (1995), in which much real estate was devoted to denouncing (I’m paraphrasing) the “exclusively and explicitly lesbian sex.” The thing is, there’s plenty of heterosex; reviewers just couldn’t see past the (to them) Othersex. Given the way they carried on, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was porn. Certainly many dykes read the reviews, thought “Woo-hoo, one-handed reading!” and bought the book. Then they sent me pissed off emails: Where’s all the sex??

Consider, too, a well-known experiment: put ten engineers in a room, three of them women. Ask observers how many are female; they will say “half.” The Other blots out the Norm. (Yes, this experiment is ancient as these things go—dating from the 1960s or 1970s, I think. No doubt observers in today’s brave new world would require as many as, gasp, four women to qualify as “half.”)

This is as true now as it was then. It’s the twenty-first century, yet still I have never seen Slow River—a novel stuffed with shiny hardware, chemistry, and extrapolations about the future—labeled as hard SF. The Old Guard still rules.

Given my brief Hard Takes Soft was a necessarily simplistic argument—in the real world nothing is uniform. But what's interesting to me, five years later, is that it already feels a little out of date. For starters, I’d change "is privileged critically" to "was privileged critically." Now I'd say, on balance, that the automatic privileging of hard sf over soft is no longer something to bet on unthinkingly. The world is changing. Again. A look at history shows many pendulum swings—each accompanied by much agitation from the peanut gallery ranging from complaints of the established citizenry to the destruction of civilisation, never mind all-white, for-boys comics—and I think this is one such. Notions of gender are undergoing a seismic shift—see, for example, my recent post about the word Wife—and the genre is moving with it. The great boulder is rocking in its cradle.

My hope is that soon it’ll be thundering downhill, unstoppable. My hope is that we can look back in five years and see the Thor news as a twitch in the seismograph. But so very much depends on how the artists draw her.

Discuss.

1 It was for the symposium, Sexuality in Science Fiction, a "mosaic of position papers" edited by Rob Latham and the brief was that we be pithy and provocative.

18 Jul 14:00

Modern Politics, the Slave Economy, and Geological Time

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Flashback Friday.

I have borrowed the information and images below from Jeff Fecke at Alas A Blog.  His discussion, if you’re interested, is more in depth.

There is a winding line of counties stretching from Louisiana to South Carolina, a set of states that largely voted for McCain in 2008, that went for Obama.  The map below shows how counties voted in blue and red and you can clearly see this interesting pattern.

 

These counties went overwhelmingly for Obama in part because there is large black population.  Often called the “Black Belt,” these counties more so than the surrounding ones were at one time home to cotton plantations and, after slavery was ended, many of the freed slaves stayed.  This image nicely demonstrates the relationship between the blue counties and cotton production in 1860:

 

But why was there cotton production there and not elsewhere?  The answer to this question is a geological one and it takes us all the way back to 65 million years ago when the seas were higher and much of the southern United States was under water.  This image illustrates the shape of the land mass during that time:

I’ll let Jeff take it from here:

Along the ancient coastline, life thrived, as usually does. It especially thrived in the delta region, the Bay of Tennessee, if you will. Here life reproduced, ate, excreted, lived, and died. On the shallow ocean floor, organic debris settled, slowly building a rich layer of nutritious debris. Eventually, the debris would rise as the sea departed, becoming a thick, rich layer of soil that ran from Louisiana to South Carolina.

65 million years later, European settlers in America would discover this soil, which was perfect for growing cotton.

So there you have it: the relationship between today’s political map, the economy, and 65 million years ago.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

18 Jul 01:53

25 Questions for Teaching with "Word Crimes"

by Ben Zimmer

The following is a guest post by Lauren Squires.


While "grammar nerds" are psyched about Weird Al's new "Word Crimes" video, many linguists are shaking their heads and feeling a little hopeless about what the public enthusiasm about it represents: a society where largely trivial, largely arbitrary standards of linguistic correctness are heavily privileged, and people feel justified in degrading and attacking those who don't do things the "correct" way. What's behind linguists' reactions are at least three factors.

First, while Weird Al talks about "grammar," most of his prescriptions do not pertain to what linguists consider the "grammar" of English, and this reflects a widespread divide between the use of the term "grammar" in everyday language and "grammar" by linguists. This divide frustrates linguists, because it makes them feel like everyone misunderstands the very substance and nature of their field of study.

Second, a little rumination on Weird Al's violent reactions against "bad grammar" raises deep and longstanding questions of social equity regarding class, education, race, age, ethnicity, gender, and how these relate to languages, dialects, and social registers. There is ample research on these issues (which any sociolinguist could point you to), but the upshot is that the notion of "Proper English" typically serves to prop up the already-privileged speakers whose native language variety it is (sort of) based on. This puts speakers whose native language variety does not approximate "Proper English" at an immediate disadvantage in society, the same way that privileging Whiteness puts those who are not White at an immediate disadvantage in society. It is not the linguistic differences themselves that do this (just as it is not the racial/ethnic difference themselves that determine privilege), but the *attitudes* about them. This is why many linguists are having a hard time laughing with Word Crimes: to do so feels like complicity in an ongoing project of linguistic discrimination that intersects with class, race, and other kinds of discrimination.

Third—and the motivation for this post—is that the view of "grammar" as "you must learn the rules or else be ostracized" just makes grammar no fun at all! Studying language—really digging into it, uncovering its remarkably complex yet orderly structure, investigating what makes it different across speakers and communities—is SUPER FUN! Giving people a list of rules of things to do in order to not be criticized is NOT FUN! I want my students to think language is FUN, and to have FUN thinking about language!

So as a teacher, I want to say: Weird Al can think what he wants about language, and you the audience can laugh along or not, depending on your views on language or taste in music or whatever. But please do not mistake the video itself for an educational video. It will not teach students about language. It will not teach students about grammar. I've seen many comparisons to Schoolhouse Rock, but would any student who didn't already know what a "preposition" was leave Weird Al's video understanding it? No. Rather, on its face, this video teaches people that there is a right way to speak/write, and if you don't do things that way, you're a bad person (or a sewer person? or a person with a disability?) who should not breed. Nothing about how language works, or why these "rules" are what they are.

There are certainly valuable linguistic lessons that can be taken from Word Crimes, but not without a teacher encouraging students to think beyond the video itself, to ask questions about the rules Weird Al wants us to abide by. In this spirit, I worked up an off-the-top-of-my-head list of questions for teachers considering using this video in the classroom. I teach college English linguistics classes, so that's the audience I'm familiar with, but I think these questions could be useful for teachers at any level to think through for themselves and maybe modify for earlier grades, different subjects, etc. Some are questions about language/grammar, while some are discussion questions to spark class conversation about some really important issues. Whether you like these questions or not, I hope that if you do use this video in teaching, you work up your own list of questions, rather than letting the video stand on its own. Have fun!

25 Questions for Teaching with "Word Crimes"

  1. What is the difference between "spelling" and "grammar"?
  2. What is the role of words in grammar?
  3. What is the function of dictionaries in society?
  4. Who makes dictionaries? Why? How do dictionary makers decide what a word means?
  5. What is the difference between "language," "English," and "literacy"? How does "literacy" relate to spelling and/or grammar?
  6. Weird Al points out that nouns can be divided into mass nouns (which are typically modified with "less") and count nouns (which are typically modified with "fewer"). Can you think of other sub-categories of nouns (that is, nouns that behave in different ways from other nouns)?
  7. When someone says "I could care less," do you interpret it as Weird Al says (that they DO care), or do you understand their intention? If you understand their intention, why would it matter which way they say it? Can you think of other examples when what someone says may be ambiguous, but their meaning is clear from context?
  8. Who decides what is "the right way" to say things?
  9. Why do you/we trust some people, but not others, to decide what is "right"?
  10. Weird Al discusses the difference between "it's" and "its." He says people need to use "the right pronoun" in deciding when to use one or the other. Are "it's" and "its" actually different pronouns, or the same pronouns with different functions? (not as easy as it may seem!)
  11. What is the difference between a "possessive" and a "contraction"? Give more examples of each.
  12. What is a "participle," and what would it mean for a participle to be "dangling"? Why do writers sometimes want to avoid "dangling participles"?
  13. What is an "Oxford comma"? Some professional editors use the Oxford comma, and others do not. Come up with an argument to support each rule.
  14. Weird Al claims that "B" "C" "R" and "U" are "words not letters." Do you agree? Can you make an argument that these ARE, indeed, words?
  15. Weird Al says you should NEVER write words using numbers (like "WORD5"). But people DO write words using numbers, sometimes (otherwise Weird Al wouldn't need to tell them not to!). When do you think people might choose to spell words this way? Are there times when it might be appropriate to do so? Are there times when it would be completely inappropriate to do so? Does the spelling affect how the words convey their meaning?
  16. Weird Al says it's ok to write words using numbers if you're 7 years old (or if your name is Prince…you probably don't get that joke). What do you think is behind his acceptance of spelling this way for children? Do you think 7-year-olds spell this way?
  17. Weird Al mentions "Proper English." What do you think he means by this term? What does this term mean to you? How do you think you learned the meaning of "Proper English"? Do you think you speak "Proper English" all the time? When do you or don't you?
  18. Do you use the word "whom"? (advanced: Do a search using an online corpus for "to who" versus "to whom" and see what you find. Is "to whom" in as widespread usage? If not, should we be worried? Why or why not?)
  19. Weird Al makes sentence diagrams! Try to diagram this simple sentence using Weird Al's system (which are Reed-Kellogg diagrams): "Weird Al hates bad grammar." What do you think the purpose of sentence diagramming is?
  20. What IS the difference between "good" and "well"? Would you say "I'm doing good" or "I'm doing well"? Why?
  21. Weird Al doesn't like people "misusing" the terms "literally" and "irony." Can you think of words that you and your friends use to mean something different than what other people might mean by them?
  22. Weird Al singles out emails and blog posts as places where particular bad grammar resides. What do you think is behind this? Do you think YOUR emails, blog posts, or Facebook posts contain different grammar than your school papers, texts, or spoken conversations?
  23. What do you think the function of emoji are is in online communication? Do you or your friends use them? Where do they usually go in a message (beginning, middle, end)? How does their position relate to their function?
  24. Weird Al seems to think that preschool is where proper grammar education begins. Do you remember learning about grammar in preschool? What are your first memories of learning about grammar? Do you feel satisfied with the amount of formal grammar instruction you have had in school? Why or why not?
  25. Weird Al says some pretty mean things about people who don't use "proper English." Where do you think his negative attitudes about such people come from? Do you think he's justified in his beliefs? Why or why not?

The above is a guest post by Lauren Squires.

17 Jul 20:30

It's Time to Address Porch Sign Syndrome

by Jona Whipple
by Jona Whipple

OR F---ING ELSEAre you, or do you know, a middle-aged woman with an empty nest? Then you may need to learn about the dangers of Porch Sign Syndrome, a common and serious problem which causes the afflicted to purchase a variety of wooden signs to place around their home. These signs are easy to obtain: they can be purchased by anyone at a craft fair, in any store styled a “boutique” or “antique mall” in any small town, and through legions of original Etsy sellers. Colors are muted, surfaces are distressed with crackle paint and sand paper. The signs express a philosophy of the simple lifestyle; they advocate the enjoyment of beverages and the forgetting of worries. The rate at which baby boomers are purchasing porch signs in this country has tripled in recent years, probably, and it’s up to every concerned citizen to recognize the symptoms and stop this epidemic. What follows is a guide to recognizing the categories of Porch Signs.

Porch Rules

"Take a nap!"

"Rest and chat!"

"Sit a spell!"

These are all general porch rules. There are others, which range from the generic ("Relax!") to the tasteless ("No Peein’ Off The Porch!"). Failure to follow porch rules may result in ostracization, and it may result in nothing at all. Porch rules signs can contain anywhere from 1 to 50 rules, or however many ways there are to tell a person to chill out. Porch rules signs also dictate the beverages you are expected to enjoy on the porch. Is this a beer porch or a lemonade porch? You won’t know unless you read the signs. Is there a weathered old Coca Cola bottle opener screwed to the wall, with a sign above it containing some stereotypical statement about Irish people and laziness, with big foamy mugs of beer painted next to the words? Congratulations, this is a beer porch! Is there a framed cross-stitch of little birdies that says, “A Kind Word Is Never Wasted”? That is probably not a beer porch. Look around for the glass pitcher of lemonade. Lemonade is all you’re getting on this porch.

Signs of a more pushy nature also belong in the porch rules category. The sign on the little wooden bench that says “Grandkids Only” in mock childlike handwriting next to a rusty watering can with fake tulips in it, when there are no grandkids, is still technically a rule. It’s also a really annoying way to remind you of what you’re supposed to be doing with your life. 

Fancy Quotes

Relaxation brings a lot of things to the surface, like deep quotes about life. Most often, it’s a line from a famous poet, or a line attributed to a famous poet. I’m pretty sure Walt Whitman never said “Life Is Better On The Porch,” unless maybe it was summer and he was talking to a good friend and he didn’t really mean it or, for that matter, suspect that his friend was about to write it down and sell it to a porch sign company. Other quotes will be from unrecognizable sources, and people will read them (something about enjoying life to the fullest! Martinis! Chocolate! Sunglasses!) and they will chuckle politely and think, who is Zerf Bladnor? I should probably know who that is… hope nobody notices that I don’t know who that is.

Join the Club!

This variety is meant to inspire camaraderie. It’s safe here! We’re all friends! Taken too far, it can encourage the keeping of the dark and shameful secret that is Porch Sign Syndrome. Though it might seem welcoming, becoming a member of the "Front Porch Club" can be a binding legal agreement. Be careful. Always take note of your surroundings: if you see a sign for the Porch Sitters Union, and you’re sitting on the porch, you’ve officially become a member. "Leave Your Cares Behind”—that’s an order. "Sit Long. Talk Much. Laugh Often”: even if you don’t really want to, you have to. You joined up. It’s too late. And it's usually posted somewhere nearby that "What Happens On The Porch Stays On The Porch", so really, we shouldn’t even be talking about this right now.

THIS IS A REQUIREMENTGardening

There is generally a flower garden near the porch. This can be a row of store-bought potted marigolds that were dropped into a hole in the front yard last Saturday, or an elaborate arrangement of rose bushes and ferns. These porch signs will boast the wonders and joy of tending a suburban home garden. "Gardeners Get To Stay In Their Beds All Day!" "It's Cheaper Than Therapy… And You Get Tomatoes!" (The thing you don't get, though, is therapy. You have to pay for that, and then you have to go once a week, and talk to someone about how your mom won't stop buying all these goddamn signs and it's really making you sad all the time.)

Several other symptoms of Porch Sign Syndrome may manifest in the form of wine bottle sculptures, miniature wheelbarrows, old-timey wrought-iron baby carriages, a rake that's flipped upside down and made to look like a Santa face, or stone geese with an outfit for every holiday. These items can appear on or near a porch at any time.

It may take some time for the average porch sign addict to stop purchasing and displaying these in an attempt to fill the void of your absence with wooden proclamations about “The Good Life.” Change doesn't happen overnight. But it can happen. This can be cured. Maybe you should point out that most of the signs advocate an easy life, the opposite of a life with several small children, which still other signs advocate. Maybe you should point out that several of the signs fall down when the wind blows, and isn’t it kind of a pain in the ass to pick up the one that commands you to “Enjoy the Breeze!” for the 1000th time? Maybe you should just refuse to go in any store with your mom that’s deliberately made up to look faux time-worn, with dollies made of corn husks smiling stupidly in the windows? Maybe you should just say, “Why can’t you stop buying this shit?”

Even with your best efforts, relapses can occur. Do not be discouraged. Years after overcoming this affliction, your mother may hand you a tiny smooth rock into which someone has carved “FAMILY” and say, smiling, her eyes sparkling with the glittery, nostalgic tears of Christmases past, “Isn’t that neat?!” And you will have to say, “Not really.”

 

Jona Whipple is a writer by day, librarian by night, and sometimes the other way around. She lives in Chicago and blogs at cupcakeheartbreak.com about all the stuff that happens to her.

6 Comments
17 Jul 14:30

Welcome to the New World Fish Pond

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

new worldLong ago in the Banglamphu district of Bangkok, the store operators of the New World shopping center built an extra seven stories on top of the four that had been approved by the city administration; 20 years ago, the city demolished those seven stories, leaving four roofless stories, which after a few years of rain became a 500-square-meter pond. Mosquitos started gathering in the stagnant water, so in 2003, residents of the surrounding area brought fish to the pond; for years a small group of 10-20 regulars have visited the New World Fish Pond frequently, raising their carp.

Now everyone has cottoned onto the New World Fish Pond and it will probably be condemned by the public works department, but how lovely must it have been for those weirdo regulars? A gutted, rusting, ruined building sustaining life and order. From the Wall Street Journal:

“We’ve been feeding these fish vegetables and bread for seven years,” said Sommai Chuanpak, a 62-year-old who owns a coffee kiosk near the entrance. “The government can stop visitors entering the building, but it can’t stop us feeding the fish,” he said.

Via. 

0 Comments
16 Jul 18:00

“This list of castles in America is incomplete. You can help by expanding it.”

by Mallory Ortberg

mansion1God bless this internet we have, and God save this Wikipedia that dwells therein. There is nothing more exciting than coming across a list of American castles and reading there is more to discover, there are more keeps and fortresses and citadels in the secret high places of this land than you had ever dreamed.

I have been to two of them, I think (I feel like the Winchester Mystery House and Scotty’s Castle both deserve to be on this list as well. PERHAPS I SHALL ADD THEM) — Hearst Castle and Rubel Castle, which is, no lie, considered “the Watts Towers of the San Gabriel Valley.” The San Gabriel Valley: never good enough.

There is one called VIKINGSHOLM.

Read more “This list of castles in America is incomplete. You can help by expanding it.” at The Toast.

16 Jul 14:00

How To Solve Problems

by Mallory Ortberg

This doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it does work a lot.problem

Read more How To Solve Problems at The Toast.

16 Jul 14:00

Overweight Americans Have the Lowest Risk of Premature Death

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Last year the Journal of the American Medical Association released a study aiming to determine the relationship between body mass index and the risk of premature death. Body mass index, or BMI, is the ratio between your height and weight. According to the National Institutes of Health, you are “normal weight” if your ratio is between 18.5-24.9.  Everything over that is “overweight” or “obese” and everything under is “underweight.”

This study was a meta-analysis, which is an analysis of a collection of existing studies that systematically measures the sum of our knowledge.  In this case, the authors analyzed 97 studies that included a combined 2.88 million individuals and over 270,000 deaths.  They found that overweight individuals had a lower risk of premature death than so-called normal weight individuals and there was no relationship between being somewhat obese and the rate of early death. Only among people in the high range of obesity was there a correlation between their weight and a higher risk of premature death.

Here’s what it looked like.

This is two columns of studies plotted according to the hazard ratio they reported for people.  This comparison is between people who are “overweight” (BMI = 25-29.9) and people who are “normal weight” (BMI = 18.5-24.9).  Studies that fall below the line marked 1.0 found a lower rate of premature death and studies above the line found a higher rate.

25-29

Just by eyeballing it, you can confirm that there is not a strong correlation between weight and premature death, at least in this population. When the scientists ran statistical analyses, the math showed that there is a statistically significant relationship between being “overweight” and a lower risk of death.

Here’s the same data, but comparing the risk of premature death among people who are “normal weight” (BMI = 18.5-24.9) and people who are somewhat “obese” (BMI = 30-34.9).  Again, eyeballing the results suggest that there’s not much correlation and, in fact, statistical analysis found none.

30-34.9

Finally, here are the results comparing “normal weight” (BMI = 18.5-24.9) and people who are quite “obese” (BMI = 35 or higher). In this case, we do see a relationship between risk of premature death in body weight.

35

It’s almost funny that the National Institutes of Health use the word normal when talking about BMI. It’s certainly not the norm – the average BMI in the U.S. falls slightly into the “overweight” category (26.6 for adult men and 25.5 for adult women) — and it’s not related to health. It’s clearly simply normative. It’s related to a socially constructed physical ideal that has little relationship to what physicians and public health advocates are supposed to be concerned with.  Normal is judgmental, but if they changed the word to healthy, they have to entirely rejigger their prescriptions.

So, do we even have an obesity epidemic? Perhaps not if we use health as a marker instead of some arbitrary decision to hate fat.  Paul Campos, covering this story for the New York Times, points out:

If the government were to redefine normal weight as one that does not increase the risk of death, then about 130 million of the 165 million American adults currently categorized as overweight and obese would be re-categorized as normal weight instead.

That’s 79%.

It’s worth saying again: if we are measuring by the risk of premature death, then 79% of the people we currently shame for being overweight or obese would be recategorized as perfectly fine. Ideal, even. Pleased to be plump, let’s say, knowing that a body that is a happy balance of soft and strong is the kind of body that will carry them through a lifetime.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

14 Jul 21:31

The concept of stress, sponsored by Big Tobacco

by vaughanbell

NPR has an excellent piece on how the scientific concept of stress was massively promoted by tobacco companies who wanted an angle to market ‘relaxing’ cigarettes and a way for them to argue that it was stress, not cigarettes, that was to blame for heart disease and cancer.

They did this by funding, guiding and editing the work of renowned physiologist Hans Selye who essentially founded the modern concept of stress and whose links with Big Tobacco have been largely unknown.

For the past decade or so, [Public Health Professor Mark] Petticrew and a group of colleagues in London have been searching through millions of documents from the tobacco industry that were archived online in the late ’90s as part of a legal settlement with tobacco companies.

What they’ve discovered is that both Selye’s work and much of the work around Type A personality were profoundly influenced by cigarette manufacturers. They were interested in promoting the concept of stress because it allowed them to argue that it was stress — not cigarettes — that was to blame for heart disease and cancer.

“In the case of Selye they vetted … the content of the paper, they agreed the wording of papers,” says Petticrew, “tobacco industry lawyers actually influenced the content of his writings, they suggested to him things that he should comment on.”

They also, Petticrew says, spent a huge amount of money funding his research. All of this is significant, Petticrew says, because Selye’s influence over our ideas about stress are hard to overstate. It wasn’t just that Selye came up with the concept, but in his time he was a tremendously respected figure.

Despite the success of the campaign to associate smoking with stress relief, the idea that smoking alleviates anxiety is almost certainly wrong. It tends to just relieve anxiety-provoking withdrawal and quitting smoking reduces overall anxiety levels.

Although the NPR article focuses on Selye and his work on stress, another big name was recruited by Big Tobacco to promote their theories.

It’s still little known that psychologist Hans Eysenck took significant sums of cash from tobacco companies.

They paid for a lot of Eysenck’s research that tried to show that the relationship between lung cancer and smoking was not direct but was mediated by personality differences. There was also lots of other research arguing that a range of smoking related health problems were only present in certain personality types.

Tobacco companies wanted to fund this research to cite it in court cases where they were defending themselves against lung cancer sufferers. It was their personalities, rather than their 20-a-day habit, that was a key cause behind their imminent demise, they wanted to argue in court, and they needed ‘hard science’ to back it up. So they bought some.

However, the link between ‘father of stress’ Hans Seyle and psychologist Hans Eysenck was not just that they were funded by the same people.

A study by Petticrew uncovered documents showing that both Seyle and Eysenck appeared in a 1977 tobacco industry promotional film together where “the film’s message is quite clear without being obvious about it — a controversy exists concerning the etiologic role of cigarette smoking in cancer.”

The ‘false controversy’ PR tactic has now became solidified as a science-denier standard.
 

Link to The Secret History Behind The Science Of Stress from NPR.
Link to paper ‘Hans Selye and the Tobacco Industry’.


14 Jul 17:58

Men interrupt more than women

by Mark Liberman

Below is a guest post by Kieran Snyder, taken with permission from her always-interesting tumblr Jenga one week at a time.

image

About a month ago at work I overheard one woman complaining to another woman about a man’s habit of interrupting everyone in meetings. Then they went further. “That’s just how it is around here. The women listen, but the men interrupt in meetings all the time,” one of them summed it up.

As a moderate interrupter myself – I’m sorry if I’ve interrupted you, I just get excited about what you’re saying and I want to build on it and I lose track of the fact that it’s not my turn and I know it’s a bad habit – I started wondering if she was right. Do men interrupt more often than women?

Search for “do men interrupt more than women” and you will find a variety of answers. The answers loosely break into two categories: 1. no, they don’t, and 2. yes, they do.

The empirical linguist in me got to thinking, and a few weeks ago I decided to figure it out.

The setup: I wanted to find situations where I could observe groups of men and women interacting without being a significant participant in the conversation myself. I am not always a talker, but when I am a talker, I am a seriously big talker and I am a definite interrupter. So I needed to find contexts where I wasn’t going to be tempted to talk myself. I also didn’t want to eavesdrop, so I needed to find contexts where I was a welcome listener.

I defined an interruption as any communication event where one person starts speaking before the other person has finished, whether or not the interrupter intends it.

The reality: I spend a lot of my weekday hours in the office, and in the job I have, I am invited to a lot of meetings. I started looking at my calendar to identify meetings where I was mainly going to be present as a listener, where there were at least four other people in the room, and where the gender mix was close to even. Since I work in tech, this last one is easier said than done, so I wasn’t able to strictly apply it, but I got close. On average, 60% of the speakers in any given room that I observed were men, and 40% were women.

I wanted to understand four things: how often interruptions happen; whether men or women interrupt their colleagues more often; whether men or women are interrupted by their colleagues more often; and whether men and women are more likely to interrupt speakers of their own gender, speakers across gender, or some other pattern.

I took notes that covered fifteen hours of conversation over a four week period, and the conversations contained anywhere from 4-15 people (excluding me). It is totally possible that I missed some interruptions since I didn’t record the meetings like I would have done in a real field linguistics study.

What I found was interesting.

People interrupt a lot.

And the more people who are in a conversation, the more interrupting there is – until some peak rate is reached and holds steady no matter how many additional people are added into the conversation.

I noted 314 interruption events spread over 900 minutes of conversation, which means that collectively people interrupted each other once every two minutes and fifty-one seconds, or just over 21 times per hour. But the actual interruption rate (y-axis) correlated closely with the number of active participants in the conversation (x-axis):

This is interesting because it suggests that there are only so many interruptions that a conversation will tolerate before it’s not a conversation anymore. Keep in mind that all the conversations I observed were formal work meetings where people mostly adhered to a single conversation thread; it is very likely that in a more informal setting, many of the larger groups would have split themselves into smaller groups having multiple conversations. In fact, these results make me wonder if 7 people is the natural tipping point for that kind of splitting in social groups. Someone has definitely studied this, but I have not.

Men interrupt more than women overall.

All told and no other factors considered, men accounted for 212 of the 314 total interruptions, about two thirds of the total. The men I observed accounted for about twice as many interruptions overall as the women did.

It’s worth noting that the groups I observed were not 50/50 split between men and women to begin with. Among the individuals I observed, 60% were men; I worked hard to find rooms to observe that included high representations of women, which took some doing but luckily is not as hard to do in design as it is in engineering. That means that if men and women had shown the same rate of interruption, we would expect to find that 188.4 of the interruptions came from men. We actually see 212.

So there you have it: at least in this male-heavy tech setting, men do interrupt more often than women do.

Men are almost three times as likely to interrupt women as they are to interrupt other men.

Here’s where things start to get really interesting. Of the 212 total interruptions from men that I logged, 149 of them – that’s 70% of the total – were interruptions where women had been previously speaking. Men do interrupt other men, but far less often.

These numbers are a little worse than they look in terms of balance since the rooms had only 40% women to begin with. Although I didn’t track gender representation in overall speaking turns (I only tracked interruptions), I believe women in this setting are taking far fewer than a 40% share of speaking turns. That would make these numbers even more skewed than they already appear; whenever women take a speaking turn, they are getting interrupted.

Women interrupt each other constantly, and almost never interrupt men.

Of the 102 interruptions from women that I logged, a staggering 89 of them were instances of women interrupting other women. That is to say, 87% of the time that women interrupt, they are interrupting each other.

Let’s pause and dwell on this for a sec: In fifteen hours of conversation that included 314 total interruptions, I observed a total of 13 examples of women interrupting male speakers. That is less than once per hour, in a climate where interruptions occur an average of once every two minutes and fifty-one seconds.

Does anyone else think this is a big deal?

I’m used to thinking of myself as an irritating interrupter, and I probably am. I didn’t track my own behavior over the same time period because it’s impossible to get that right. But looking over the data has made me wonder whether I really exhibit the pattern that I thought I did. How many of my own interruptions are directed towards female colleagues?

There’s lots more to investigate here. If I were still a Real Linguist, I’d see this as an opportunity for a Real Study. For instance, how much does the male-centric nature of the tech setting bias these results? Like, if someone did the same observations during faculty meetings at an elementary school, would they find the inverse pattern? And what actually does happen in single-sex environments? And this is a whole other enchilada, but how much does sexuality play a role in interruption patterns? I didn’t attempt to track that this time, but my informal observations suggest that this would be worth a study unto itself.

So there you have it, take or leave: men interrupt more than women. And when they interrupt, both men and women are mostly interrupting women.


Above is a guest post by Kieran Snyder.

A relevant study, whose findings are somewhat similar and somewhat different from Kieran's findings, is Jiahong Yuan, Mark Liberman, and Christopher Cieri, "Towards an integrated Understanding of Speech Overlaps in Conversation", ICPhS 2007. The abstract:

We investigate factors that affect speech overlaps in conversation, using large corpora of conversational telephone speech. We analyzed two types of speech overlaps: 1. One side takes over the turn before the other side finishes (turn-taking type); 2. One side speaks in the middle of the other side’s turn (backchannel type). We found that Japanese conversations have more short turn-taking type of overlap segments than the other languages. In general, females make more speech overlaps of both types than males; and both males and females make more overlaps when talking to females than talking to males. People make fewer overlaps when talking with strangers than talking with familiars, and the frequency of speech overlaps is significantly affected by conversation topics. Finally, the two conversation sides are highly correlated on their frequencies of using turn-taking type of overlaps but not backchannel type.

Note that we looked at very different sorts of conversations — Kieran observed business meetings in a male-dominated technology company, while Jiahong, Chris & I analyzed telephone conversations among family and friends – the CallHome corpora in Arabic (LDC97S45), English (LDC97S42), German (LDC97S43), Japanese (LDC96S37), Mandarin (LDC96S34), and Spanish (LDC96S35) — and telephone conversations between strangers — the Fisher English corpus (LDC2004S13).

As Kieran notes, there are results pointing in several different directions on the question of whether men interrupt more than women. There are several obvious (and compatible) reasons for this variation: differences in types of people and types of conversations; possible failure to distinguish among the several very different sorts of speech overlaps; interactions among gender, age,  and status of interrupters and interruptees; etc.

It would be interesting to compare (for example) the ICSI Meeting corpus (speech and transcripts), which include about 75 hours of recorded and transcribed meetings held at ICSI during the years 2000-2002. These are multi-person face-to-face working meetings in a high-tech organization, and thus similar in that respect to Kieran's sample.

 

14 Jul 17:00

Young Henry VIII Was One Benedict Cumberbatch-Looking Son Of A Bitch

by Mallory Ortberg
Holly

"wheres my tea and also drugs" Indeed!

henry im sherlock holmes lets solve crimes but definitely not have feelings
oh im learning what friendship is and also solving crime at the same time
what a surprising turn of events

henryi prefer scarves to people, make a GIF of me

henryi don’t have time for social niceties OR the authority of the Pope

henryjohn
shave off your mustache
while you are at it shave off your feelings as well
my face is smooth
like my heart

henryi dont like emotions OR the house of York
wheres my tea and also drugs

henryjohn hobbit you are my roommate but also my friend
no dont smile
dont say thank you
youve ruined it now

henrybe quiet
the game is on

henrymartinjohn in one way i’m teaching you about crime
but in another way your teaching me about friendship
we’re both learning
only youre learning more because im really quite smart

henrywatsonjohn if you don’t help me produce an heir i shall cut off your head

henryi know everything about you from your gloves
i have a thousand peacoats and absolutely no emotions

henryi notice everything
thats why my face is so long
to better notice things

henryhoo boy
almost had a feeling there
that was close

Read more Young Henry VIII Was One Benedict Cumberbatch-Looking Son Of A Bitch at The Toast.

14 Jul 17:45

"An obsessively determined woman willing to start on the bottom rung"

by Emma Carmichael
by Emma Carmichael

ITS MRS STEAL YOUR JOBFor ESPN, our pal Kate Fagan profiled Natalie Nakase, a former UCLA basketball player who hopes to become the first female coach in the NBA:

The topic of women coaching in the NBA has surfaced from time to time. But in years past, the only woman mentioned with any seriousness was longtime Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt, the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history, male or female. In other words, only a woman with Summitt's credentials could be deemed capable of coaching men. At the same time, this theoretical moment — "Female To Coach NBA Team!" — is invariably portrayed as a splashy, front-page kind of move, a socio-cultural experiment doubling as a marketing ploy, like a scene from the movie "Eddie" with Whoopi Goldberg, who plays a super fan plucked from the rafters of Madison Square Garden and inserted as coach of the New York Knicks.

The problem with these scenarios is they never account for the possibility that a behind-the-scenes player will rise up to steal the show. The NBA's first female coach probably won't be a Big Name hired as a publicity stunt. She will, more than likely, be someone like Nakase: an obsessively determined woman willing to start on the bottom rung of the NBA ladder, no matter how many people advise her that more opportunity exists in the women's game.

[EDIT: Thanks to clace for pointing out this article's a year old and is recirculating thanks to Nikase's appointment as a Clippers assistant coach in this year's Summer League.] Nakase was a head coach in Japan's top-tier men's league last year, and is now a video intern with the Los Angeles Clippers—the same role that rather infamously launched Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's career. Paging Mark Cuban. [ESPN]

2 Comments
14 Jul 00:00

Superm*n

See also: Spider-Man reboot in which he can produce several inches of web, doesn't need as much chalk powder on his hands when he goes rock climbing, and occasionally feels vaguely uneasy about situations.
13 Jul 14:00

Sunday Fun: Beyond the Gender Binary

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Thanks to Holly Robin at The Robin Head for this great comic on our obsession with a gender binary. Click over to read the whole thing or enjoy these two excerpted panels:

1 (2)1 (2) - Copy

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

11 Jul 18:00

So, You Make Comics!

by Jason Katzenstein

Jason Katzenstein’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.
youmakecomics (1)

Read more So, You Make Comics! at The Toast.

10 Jul 19:46

Nick Clegg: You shouldn't trust any government

by Jonathan Calder
From an interview Nick Clegg gave to Henry Porter for the Observer in February 2011:
"I need to say this – you shouldn't trust any government, actually including this one. You should not trust government – full stop. The natural inclination of government is to hoard power and information; to accrue power to itself in the name of the public good."
09 Jul 16:56

Protect Your Identity With This One Simple Life Hack

by Dave

The other day I was watching an episode of The X-Files in which a dead guy came back to life in another man’s body. When he tried to tell his wife who he was, she didn’t believe him. I laughed, because this is a problem I will never have.

See, after watching some Buffy, Doctor Who, Star Trek, and other nerd shows, we have a system. A code phrase that only we know. If one of us is ever rejuvenated, aged, Freaky Fridayed, mind-swapped with a gorilla or dog, regenerated, cloned (technical definition), time-traveled, or so forth, we can instantly prove our identity to the other by saying this code phrase.

It also works the other way. In case of android duplicate, imperfect double, shape-shifting mutant/alien, Doppelganger, high-quality rubber face mask, illusion, and other situations it can be used to expose the fraud right away.

I’m surprised more couples don’t have such a code phrase. Every one I’ve talked to acted like this was new to them, but in how many TV and movie situations would it have solved the problem in an instant? Why wouldn’t you do it?

It’s not perfect. We don’t know enough about parallel dimensions to know if the code phrase is unique to this one. In some cases of body duplication memories may be preserved. It’s possible that one could be hypnotized against one’s will and still be able to access the code phrase. Clones are a big mess I’m not even prepared to deal with. Even with those limitations, I think the system is solid enough to recommend.

Don’t waste any time! You never know when an errant wish or malevolent gris-gris will put you in this situation! Talk to your partner and develop a top secret code phrase right now! Make it unusual so that it’s not easily guessed, but don’t make it too elaborate or you’ll have trouble scratching it into the dirt when you’re in your bear form.

Maybe you’ll never use it. Maybe you won’t be one of the statistics. But isn’t it better to have some kind of protection to keep from being an X-File yourself?

11 Jul 13:45

The 1 Million Chinese Families Whose Only Children Have Died

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

At NPR, a piece about Chinese parents who are organizing for government benefits after losing their only children to illness or accidents:

Population experts estimate that over 1 million Chinese families have lost their only children. They say that number could exceed 10 million by midcentury.

The pain of losing an only child is magnified by Chinese tradition, in which if you fail to carry on the family line, you're seen as dishonoring your ancestors.

Xiaonan's mom admits the one-child policy did not cause her son's death, even though it has put her in a tough spot in her old age.

"Here we are, at this age, without children. Who'll take care of us in our old age and bury us when we die?" she asks. "Without the policy, we might've had two or three children, and we wouldn't be in this situation."

The issue of whether or not they're eligible for government compensation is slippery, and depends in one light on whether or not the one-child policy is viewed as a reproductive rights violation or just a reproductive rights… mini-violation, as Wang Haidong, the excellently named family planning official, seems to want to admit in his quote but does not actually. [NPR]

0 Comments
11 Jul 14:00

A Simple Lesson on the Social Construction of Race

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Flashback Friday.

The images below are all screen shots from the fantastic American Anthropological Association website on race.  They are designed to show how we take what is in reality a nuanced spectrum of skin color and turn it into racial categories.  In this first image, they show how we could, conceivably, separate human beings into short, medium, and tall based on height:

In this second image, they show how, by adding two additional figures, both taller than the tallest in the previous image, the way in which we designate people can easily change.

And this third image demonstrates how, when we actually consider all potential heights, where we draw the line between short and medium and medium and tall is arbitrary and, ultimately, not very useful.

Skin color is like height.  If we just look at three groups with very different skin colors, there appears to be a significant and categorical difference between those three groups of people.

But, if we consider a wide range of people, it becomes clear that skin color comes in a spectrum, not in categories (such as the five from which U.S. citizens are forced to choose on the census).

Much more on the social construction of race at our Pinterest board.

This post originally appeared in 2008.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(View original at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

11 Jul 15:15

2 AM "Eat Until Sleepy" Routine Validated by Science

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

a light bedtime snackResearchers at Japan's Yamaguchi University have done a thing in the grand pursuit of knowledge about how humans can best binge-eat their way out of jet lag, and here is what they did: they put a bunch of mice on a normal schedule of food and daylight, then they turned off the lights completely and tried to reverse the clock through switching the feeding times. Turns out, the food as a regulatory mechanism was enough to get the mice switched onto the new schedule. Then they tried the switch again, injecting half the mice with an insulin-blocking compound, and those mice took twice as long to adjust as the mice who were just happily eating their way to artificial normalcy.

"In short," says Discover Magazine, "insulin seems to help our stomach’s clock rapidly sync up with mealtimes–which helps our bodies’ entire circadian clock sync up with our daily sleep/wake cycle."

So you can eat lots of insulin-producing carbs to be sleepy, or also eat lots of insulin-blocking fat and protein to wake up. Story checks out? This is how I have been living my entire life to date?? Sometimes when there's nothing else to burn you have to set yourself on fire, i.e. eat a whole second dinner in the wee hours and coma yourself into bed?

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10 Jul 16:45

42

by Sarah Miller
by Sarah Miller

Coming ;) SoonWhen I woke up this morning to see that a friend of mine had sent me Tom Junod’s essay, "In Praise of 42 Year Old Women," I felt a lot of things. First of all, I felt happy. I mean, I had been following Junod’s career for many years, and so I've watched him begin so many articles with the word “You.” And this piece began with “Let’s face it,” which was obviously progress. So yeah, I felt good, the kind of good you feel when you see a kid who always walks in Little League get a hit, or when your dog is choking on a piece of rawhide and then just suddenly stops. Except with a dog you were thinking you might have to reach down its throat at some point, and I have never gotten to the point where I thought about reaching down Junod’s throat to extract something other than the pronoun "you." And now, I don’t have to!

The next thing I felt was relief: Tom Junod still wanted to have sex with me, and more importantly, laugh over hamburgers afterward, as he admired me in a stunning shift. Because according to Junod, I’m still hot—not like 42-year-old women used to be, back when they were super gross, like Anne Bancroft in The Graduate. And according to Junod what makes me hot isn’t just being hot, it’s that, unlike other women who just haven’t had all this time, I also finally figured out how to be sort of interesting.

Because—to borrow a phrase—let’s face it. Young women may still be perfect physical specimens. They can put on a bustier and high heels and arrange their legs, as 42-year-old Sofia Vergara has here, in a pose that’s not quite open and not quite closed, but they just don’t have, according to Junod, my “toughness, humor, and smarts.” He doesn’t come out and say that they don’t, but he definitely doesn’t say here, “Oh, the reason 42-year-old women are hot is because of what they look like.” No, it’s because we have a certain gravitas combined with what remains of our beauty. Young women don’t have that gravitas. So we sort of have the best of femininity. 

I guess this is supposed to make me feel good. I guess it’s supposed to make me feel good that at a party in a summer dress, I am “the most unclothed woman in the room.”

Or, well, I want that to make me feel good, but first I have to figure out what “most unclothed” means. According to Junod, I’m "the most unclothed" because “you know exactly what she looks like, without knowing exactly who she is.” (We couldn’t escape that second person singular for long!) I’m trying to figure out this idea of not knowing who I am? As opposed to the younger women at the party? Is it easy to know who they are, because at this point, they’re just body parts? Is 42 years how long it takes for the female brain to develop, and then, there’s, like, this sweet spot where a woman has brains and a body? And you (the universal male you, of course, otherwise known as Tom Junod’s BFF) want to just crawl up in that “lust with laughs” sweet spot and have a blast?

OK, Tom. To borrow another phrase, “Are you trying to seduce me?” I am actually 44, so I hope my collagen-intelligence ratio is still in your ballpark. Oh, I just looked you up on Wikipedia and I see that you’re 55. Oh, yeah! That is such a hot age. It’s like, you’re still alive, but only for about 30 more years.

 

Art by Jia Tolentino.

Sarah Miller is the author Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn and The Other Girl. She lives in Nevada City, CA. Follow her on Twitter @sarahlovescali.

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10 Jul 16:05

How To Tell If You Are In A Jorge Luis Borges Story

by Mallory Ortberg

libraryPreviously in this series: How to tell if you’re in a Dorothy Parker story.

You are in a library that may not exist. You are having a terrible time.

It is unclear whether you have been writing the story, or the story has been writing you.

You visit the south of Argentina, where something terrible happens to you.

You are standing inside a sphere. Its center is everywhere and its circumference is nowhere. You are terrified.

Everyone around you is being murdered in a perfect Kabbalistic pattern.

A Scottish man sells you a book that ruins your life.

A red-haired woman tells you that you have always been a dead man.

You are lost in the desert. Your map is the desert itself.

You may have committed a murder. You’re not sure.

Everywhere you look, you see a sinister equilateral triangle.

A train conductor is rude to you, who was once a king in Babylon.

You are dreaming. You have never existed. You are being born. You are a thinly veiled version of Borges himself, and you have been dying for a thousand years.

A gaucho with a knife is laughing at you. There is blood on your saddle, but you have been in a hospital for the last four days. There is no saddle. Now it is you who is holding the knife, and no one is laughing.

You are standing in the middle of an empty city that is also the corpse of a tiger. There is one company in the entire world, and it does not exist, but it is watching you.

You may be a man, but then again you may be a mathematical thought experiment; it’s difficult to tell.

You die in a labyrinth.

Read more How To Tell If You Are In A Jorge Luis Borges Story at The Toast.

07 Jul 15:00

Can geekiness be decoupled from whiteness?

by Tim Chevalier

As a fledgling nerd in my teens and early twenties, grammar pedantry was an important part of geek identity for me. At the time, I thought that being a geek had a lot to do with knowing facts and rules, and with making sure that other people knew you knew those facts and rules. I thought that people wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other clearly without rigid adherence to grammatical rules, a thought that may have been influenced by the predominance of text-based, online communication in my social life at the time.

The text: Let's eat grandma! Let's eat, Grandma! Punctuation saves lives, juxtaposed with an image of an older woman
The image shames people for where they place commas and suggests sarcastically that a punctuation error could result in misunderstanding of a suggestion to have a meal as a suggestion to practice cannibalism.

If Facebook had existed at the time, I would have been sharing this image, and others like it, with the best of them. I was sure that correct use of punctuation and adherence to the grammatical rules of standard American English was an essential step along the way to achieving truth, justice, and the American Way. Though I wasn’t sure exactly how. It definitely seemed a lot easier to teach people how to use commas correctly than to teach them how to take another’s point of view (something I wasn’t very good at myself at the time), and like the drunk looking for their keys underneath the lamppost because that’s where it’s easier to see, I ran with it.

Nerds, Rules, and Race

A few years ago, Graydon Hoare mentioned Mary Bucholtz’s article “The Whiteness of Nerds” (PDF link) to me. As a recovering grad student, I don’t read a lot of scholarly articles anymore, but this one has stayed with me. Perhaps that’s because the first time I read it, felt embarrassed. I felt that I had been read. By this point, I suppose I had let go of some of my attachment to grammar pedantry, but I still felt that it was just a bit of harmless fun. I realized that without being consciously aware of it, I had been using devotion to formal rules as a way to perform my whiteness — something that I would certainly have denied I was doing had someone accused me of such.

Bucholtz argues, in short, that geek culture (among American youths) is a subculture defined, essentially, by being whiter than white:

“This identity, the nerd, is racially marked precisely because individuals refuse to engage in cultural practices that originate across racialized lines and instead construct their identities by cleaving closely to the symbolic resources of an extreme whiteness, especially the resources of language.”

Bucholtz is not saying that there are no nerds of color — just that nerd culture, among the teenagers she studied, was defined by hyper-devotion to a certain set of white cultural norms (which some youths of color are perfectly happy to adopt, just as some white youths perform an identification with hip-hop culture).

If we accept her analysis of nerd culture, though, it’s clear that it excludes some people more than others. Adopting hyper-whiteness is an easier sell for people who are already white than for people who are potentially shrugging off their family of origin’s culture in order to do so. If it’s assumed that a young person has to perform the cultural markers of nerd culture in order to be accepted as someone who belongs in a science class or in a hackerspace, then it’s harder for youths of color to feel that they belong in those spaces than it is for white youths. That’s true even though obsessing about grammar has little to do with, say, building robots.

In my own youth, I would have said that I liked nitpicking about grammar because it was fun, probably, and because I wanted to communicate “correctly” (perhaps the word I would have used then) so that I could be understood. But was I harping over it for the intrinsic pleasure of it, or because it was a way for me to feel better than other people?

I think people who have been bullied and abused tend to use rules in the hopes that rules will save them. It’s true that many kids who are academically gifted and/or interested in science, math and engineering experience bullying and even abuse, even those who are otherwise (racially, gender-wise, and economically) privileged. It’s also true that some of the same people grow up to abuse their power over others in major ways, as most of the previous posts on this blog show. As a child, I thought that someday, someone was going to show up and stop my mother from abusing me and that that would be made possible by the fact that it was against the rules to hit children. I think that’s part of how I got so interested in formal systems of rules like grammar — eventually leading me to pursue programming language theory as a field of study, which is about using formal systems of rules to make computers do things. I suspect many nerds had a similar experience to mine.

But it’s easier to like formal systems of rules when those rules usually protect you. If you live in a country where the laws were made by people like you, and are usually enforced in ways that protect you, it’s easier to be enamored of technical adherence to the law. And, by analogy, to prescriptive sets of rules like “standard English” grammar. It’s also easier to feel affection for systems of rules when people like yourself usually get a say in constructing them.

Not all nerds are abuse survivors, so perhaps other nerds (as adults) value rule-following because they believe that their aptitude for compliance to formal systems of rules is the key to their economic success. From there, it’s easy to jump to victim-blaming: the line of thought that goes, “If other people would just learn and follow the rules, they would be successful too.”

“Mrs. Smith is a wonderful linguist. Give her a few hours with a grammar and she’ll know everything except the pronunciation.” — Graham Greene, The Comedians

In Graham Greene’s novel The Comedians, set in Haiti in the 1950s, Mrs. Smith — an American who is in the country to proselytize for vegetarianism (not realizing that in the country she’s visiting, nobody can afford to eat meat) — believes that all she needs to do to speak the language of the natives, wherever she’s going, is to memorize the language’s grammatical rules. Not only does she not (apparently) realize the difference between Haitian Creole and Parisian French, she doesn’t seem to know (or doesn’t care) about idioms, slang, or culture. If she really is a wonderful linguist, perhaps she has a native ability to pick up on connotations, which she’s discounting due to her belief that adherence to rules is what makes her successful.

In general, it’s possible that some grammar pedantry is motivated by a sincere belief that if others just learned how to speak and write standard English, they’d be able to pull themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps. But success doesn’t automatically grant insight into the reasons for your success. Maybe understanding rules is secondary to a more holistic sort of talent. Maybe you’re ignoring white privilege, class privilege, and other unearned advantages as reasons for your success, and others won’t enjoy the same outcome just by learning to be good at grammar.

Maybe it’s especially tempting for programmers to play the prescriptivist-grammar game. By nature, programming languages are prescriptive: for programs to make sense at all, a language has to have a formal grammar, a formal mathematical description of what strings of characters are acceptable programs. If there was a formal grammar for English, it would say, for example, that “The cat sat on the mat.” is a valid sentence, and “Mat cat on the sat.” is not. But there isn’t one; English is defined by what its speakers find acceptable, just as every other human language is. Different speakers may disagree on what sentences are acceptable, so linguists can outline many different dialects of English — all of which are mutually understandable, but which have different grammatical rules. There is no correct dialect of English, any more than any given breed of dog is the correct dog.

Programming consists largely of making details explicit — because you’re talking to a not-very-bright computer — that most other humans would be able to fill in from context. Context is why most of the grammar memes that people share are very shallow: no English speaker would actually sincerely confuse “Let’s eat Grandma!” with “Let’s eat, Grandma”, because of contextual knowledge: mostly the contextual knowledge that humans don’t treat each other as food and so the first sentence is very unlikely to be intended, but also the contextual knowledge that we’re talking to Grandma and have been talking about preparing dinner (or, I suppose, the knowledge that we have survived a plane crash and are stranded with no other food sources). If punctuation really was a life-and-death matter any appreciable portion of the time, the human race would be in deep trouble — on the whole, we’re much better at spoken language, and written language is a relatively recent and rare development.

But I think programmers have a good reason to value breaking rules, because that’s what programmers do whenever they are being truly creative or innovative (sometimes known as “disruption”). Hacking — both the kind sometimes known as “cracking” and the legal kind — are about breaking rules. In spoken language, grammatical rules are often (if not always) developed ex-post-facto. It’s probably more fun to study how people actually use language and discover how it always has internal structure than it is to harp on compliance with one particular set of rules for one particular dialect.

Bucholtz argues that nerds are considered “uncool” by virtue of being too white, surprisingly, since white people are the dominant cultural group in the region she was studying. She made that observation in 2001, though. Now, in 2014, “nerd” has come to mean “rich and high status” (at least if you’re male), much more than it means “unpopular and ignored”. We hear people talk about the revenge of the nerds, but are we really talking about the revenge of the hyper-white? Nerds often see themselves as rebelling against an oppressive mainstream culture; is it contradictory to resist oppression by defining oneself as “other” to the oppressor culture… by outdoing the oppressor at their own game?

Bucholtz addresses this question by arguing that while “cool” white youths walk a delicate balance between actng “too black” and “too white”, “nerdy” white youths resolve this tension by squarely aiming for “too white”. I don’t think she would say that the “cool” white kids are anti-racist, just that in defining themselves in opposition to the cool kids’ appropriation of Black American culture, nerds run the risk of behaving so as to devalue and stigmatize the culture being appropriated, intentionally or not.

Moreover, we know that cultural appropriation isn’t a respectful act; are the “hyper-white nerds” actually the anti-racist ones because they refrain from appropriating African-American culture? And does it matter whether we’re talking about youth culture (in which intellectualism can often go unappreciated) or adult culture (where intellectualism pays well)? I’d welcome any thoughts on these questions.

Unbundling Geekiness

What am I really doing if I click “Share” on that “Let’s eat Grandma!” image? I’m marking myself as discerning and educated, and I don’t even have to spell out to anyone that by doing those things, I’m shoring up my whiteness — the culture already did the work for me of convincing everyone that if you’re formally educated, you must be white; that if you aren’t, you must be poor; and then if you’re a person of color and formally educated, you must want to be white. I’m also marking myself as someone who has enough spare time and emotional resources to care a lot about something that has no bearing on my survival.

Incidentally, I’m also marking myself as someone whose neurology does not make it unusually difficult to process written language. There are similar memes I can share that would also mark me as someone who is not visually impaired and thus does not use a screen reader that would make it impossible for me to spell-check text for correct use of homophones. An example of the latter would be a meme that makes fun of someone who writes “fare” instead of “fair”, when the only way to avoid making such a typographical error is to have the ability to see the screen. In “Why Grammar Snobbery Has No Place in the Movement”, Melissa A. Fabello explores these points and more as she argues that social justice advocates should reject grammar snobbery. I agree, and also think that geeks — regardless of whether they also identify as being in “the movement” — should do the same, as it’s ultimately counterproductive for us too.

Geek identity doesn’t have to mean pedantry, about grammar or even about more substantive matters. The Hacker School Rules call out a more general phenomenon: the “well-actually”. The rules define a “well-actually” as a correction motivated by “grandstanding, not truth-seeking”. Grammar pedantry is almost always in the former category: it would be truth-seeking if it was about asking what unclear language means, but it’s usually targeted at language whose meaning is quite clear. I think that what the Hacker School document calls “grandstanding” is often about power dynamics and about who is favored and disfavored under systems of rigid rules. But rules are to serve values, not the other way around; I think geekiness has the potential to be anti-racist if we use our systems of rules in the service of values like love and justice, rather than letting ourselves be used by those systems.

Thanks to Chung-Chieh Shan and Naomi Ceder, as well as Geek Feminism bloggers Mary and Shiny for their comments on drafts.

08 Jul 16:05

Dropping the F bomb

by skud

One thing I talked about in the history of Geek Feminism that I presented at Open Source Bridge the other week was that, as far as I know, GF was the first group in the tech side of geekdom (tech industry, free and open source software, etc) to use the word “feminist”. In SFF fandom, this had been going on for years, for instance with the explicitly feminist SF con WisCon, but in the tech world we mostly had groups for women which did not use the F word in their names or in any visible materials explaining what they did.

I’ve found myself having a lot of conversations lately about feminist identification in these fields. They usually go like this:

A friend or acquaintance: You should meet Q. She’s organising this great group for women in tech!
Me: Oh cool. Is she feminist?
AFAQ: What do you mean? Of course she is! I just told you she does work with women in tech.

I sometimes question myself on this, wondering whether I’m splitting hairs, but in fact this is based on several experiences I’ve had where “women in tech” groups have been anti-feminist.

Here’s an example, from the early days of GF.

I had started the wiki in 2008, and in 2009 I was very interested in some nascent women-led open source projects, which led me to keynote O’Reilly’s Open Source Convention that year. Around this time, I used to hang around in the IRC channel associated with the women’s group for a certain open source project. I used that open source software, followed the project’s progress, had made friends with other women in the community at open source conferences, and considered myself a member of their community, so it seemed pretty natural for me to hang with their women’s group on IRC.

It felt good, at first, to be in a group of tech women who had similar experiences to me. Yet, when I started to talk about feminist issues — mentioning sexism in the wider open source or tech community, for instance — I was shut down. I was essentially asked to leave the channel and go somewhere else if I wanted to talk about that stuff. Better yet, it was the project’s male community manager — men were allowed in this channel — who took it upon himself to push me out of that space, and who still continues to this day to shut down feminist discussion in communities that he leads.

Around the same time, another women in tech group — still operating, but they have taken down the post, so I won’t link them — posted the following on their public blog:

When people hear about [our women in tech group], it usually invokes images of oppressed Femi-Nazis that can’t cut it and need to grow a pair, but to them I say, “really?”

Not long before, the same group had posted an article distancing themselves from women who they deemed to be ugly nerds. They talked at length about how great it was to be a woman in the tech field — they weren’t like those women in tech, no, they were attractive and flirty and fun, and they didn’t spend all day buried in code, they did sexy things like design and marketing. I’m probably mis-paraphrasing because, again, they’ve taken down the posts in question, but the general gist was that this “women in tech” group was not for women like me — feminist, technical, and probably not pretty enough by their standards.

Women in tech groups are not necessarily feminist. Some actively work against feminist ideals.

Apart from those blatant examples of anti-feminist women’s groups, there are others that choose to be “apolitical”, effectively supporting the status quo. There are many examples of women in tech events and groups that unquestioningly support oppression along many axes. I’ve seen women’s events sponsored by organisations that are known for their anti-women policies. I’ve attended high profile women in tech events which habitually privilege male speakers as keynoters and on panels, rather than finding equally qualified women. I’ve attended women’s events that made gender-essentialist assumptions about my sexuality, gender expression, skills and interests that have made me very uncomfortable. And I’ve seen more cases than I can count of women’s organisations which focus on the good things — encouragement! empowerment! celebration! — while papering over the very real problems that exist in the tech field.

These groups generally don’t use the word “feminist” anywhere in their name or in their publicity materials, and for good reason: they don’t want to get into politics, because to do so would be to have to examine their own privilege and understand their own problems. And then, they’d have a lot more trouble finding sponsors — most of whom are large corporations with an investment in the status quo. That’s hard. I get it. And often they do some good work despite this, so I don’t want to be totally down on them. But I would also rather spend my attention and time with groups that do choose to struggle with the tough stuff.

What about the organisations which are feminist, but don’t say so? Maybe there are a bunch of women’s groups and events out there that have a good solid understanding of feminist principles, act on them to the best of their abilities, and are open to discussion and improvement where possible. The problem is, I have no way of knowing which they are. That’s why I have to ask, “are they feminist?”

Apart from that, all I can do is look at the group’s actions, and try to glean what I can from them. Do their public communications show a wide range of women involved — by age, ethnicity, ability, appearance, etc? Do their events support people from a range of backgrounds? Do they use the word “girls” or other infantilising or sexualising words for women, without any apparent sense of irony? How much prominence does their organisation give to men? Do they accept sponsorship from companies with anti-women policies or behaviours? Do they have a code of conduct for their events, showing that they recognise the existence of harassment and other such problems?

This is a lot of work. Usually too much for me to bother with. And so, in shorthand, I ask: “are they feminist?” If a person or organisation identifies themselves as feminist, then at least we can start out with some degree of shared understanding — or at least I hope we can (there are enough variations in feminism that that’s not always true, but at least it gives an opening for comparing stances, and an increased likelihood that we’ll share some language for discussing them.)

If not, then my experience has shown that, at best, we’ll have a mismatch of ideals and may not get along all that well. Or perhaps I’ll be called names and told to take my ideals elsewhere. Or worse. There’s no way to tell.

Identifying as feminist isn’t like waving a magic wand, meaning you’ll never do anything sexist or oppressive, but it’s a start, an expression of intent. I wish more women’s groups would do it.

08 Jul 13:45

Human Dolly Parton Offers to Adopt Abandoned Festival Dog Dolly Parton

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

Glastonbury was huge for Doll Parts this year: she covered "Yakety Sax," someone named an abandoned festie dog in her honor, and now she's offered to adopt this furry, lonely namesake (that is, if none of us get there first). [BBC]

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08 Jul 18:58

In Honour of Surviving a Conference Call…

by Blake Stacey

…about a paper which has been years in the making.

[From Is It College Yet? (2002).]

07 Jul 18:15

10 Signs You're in a Catfish Situation

by Cara Weinberger
by Cara Weinberger

srsly1) You are fried and in a sandwich.

2) You swam around the ocean and other schools of fish stared at you because you’re not conventionally attractive, even in the fish world.

3) You tried to grow a mustache but you just grew more whiskers instead.

4) You work in marketing at a non-profit devoted to the elimination of the derogatory term “bottom feeder.”

5) Your grandma is 9 years old and you’re really starting to worry about her health.

6) You try to talk to girls but all that comes out is a “glug, glug, glug."

7) You set off fireworks and have a barbeque on every June 25, since Ronald Reagan declared that to be National Catfish Day in 1987.

8) You brag about the time you were almost caught by a fisherman, but realized the fly was fake right before you bit it.

9) You’re jealous of your cousin who won the contest “Who Wants to Live in an Aquarium,” hosted by noted goldfish Ryan Seacrest.

10) You tried to go on OKCupid to create a fake profile to lure in unsuspecting females, but you ran out of oxygen and died before you could even upload a photo.

 

Cara Weinberger is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn.  You can follow her on twitter @caraweinberger.

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