I have been sick for most of my life. This is both incredibly simple and incredibly complicated. Here is the short version: my immune system does not know how to protect me. My body attacks itself and I become inflamed. I am always in some type of pain.
I was 14 when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease with no known cure. Countless medications, several surgeries, a handful boyfriends, and a few periods of remission later, I was unexpectedly thrust into a new kind of sickness. At 27, without warning, I experienced crippling lower back and hip pain. After months of failed treatments and tests, I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a type of autoimmune spinal arthritis common in people with bowel diseases. From then on, my fate as a very slow-moving person in constant need of a restroom was sealed. I cope with my disabilities by perpetuating two possibly false facts: one, that there is humor in illness; two, that one day I will no longer be ill. I have learned that while there is no appropriate time to tell someone that your spine would love nothing more than to fuse with your pelvis, there is definitely a joke in there somewhere.
Before I fell indefinitely ill, I experienced two blissful years of love as a healthy person. Derek kissed me in the music closet on Valentine’s Day in sixth grade. Marcus told me I was beautiful and held my hand at a winter dance. There was a sordid encounter during a matinee screening of Titanic with a boy from another school.
After nearly 15 years of practice, I can assure you that there is a specific look reserved for the moment someone realizes you are fragile. I used to prep prospective partners for this when first dating them. “I have this illness,” I’d explain. “I may look okay now. This is the fun part. We are drinking gin and laughing and my hair smells nice and we’re telling each other our greatest hits stories but one day I will inevitably drop off the radar or my medication will fail. I’ll find myself in need of a gastroenterologist, a rheumatologist, and a steady hand.” My hair does not smell nice at the hospital. They do not serve gin there, but most of the time there’s morphine.
Men my age, single men, have not mastered the art of concealing their reactions when faced with the prospect of a breakable me. It’s more delicate than horror, slight enough that I’ve had to see it again and again to notice. And even then only after looking backwards to figure out what went wrong.
I’m not sure how or when men learn to comfort. I did not grow up being comforted by a father. I was raised by women. To compensate for this, I’ve had a long history of dating men whose arms I could collapse into. When you are buried in someone’s chest you cannot see fear spread across their face. Scared men have held my hand in hospital rooms. They have walked me and my IV pole down endless fluorescent hallways. They have reached out towards me through MRI machines and sat next to me while I’ve been infused with all sorts of potions that haven’t quite worked yet. They have listened through bathroom doors and pulled over on highways.
At different points, those men fell away. One couldn’t bear to make the hour-long drive to the hospital, opting instead to sleep with a much healthier college classmate as I recovered from surgery one winter. One explained that I was “too much, all at once,” which may, in fact, be true of my overall personality, but also particularly descriptive of his alcoholism and general air of resentment. One suggested I call a cab to take me to the emergency room as he was busy at the time. I phoned my parents instead.
By the time I met Jacob I was exhausted from years of apologizing for being a burden. One of our first dates was spent in the infusion wing of the University of Washington Medical Center, him snacking on complementary saltines and keeping me occupied as I received large bloody looking doses of iron through an IV. Sitting side by side in vinyl recliners, surrounded by nurses and sleeping patients, we spoke like any couple in the beginning stages of a romance. We could have been anywhere at all.
Two people rarely enter into a relationship knowing that one of them will be chronically ill. That comes later. Years in. After longer, more serious commitments have been made. So often, “I love you” carries with it a list of requests: do not leave, do not reject me. How do you ask someone to love you in sickness and in health but mostly in sickness? I’ve found that it’s not about them bringing you flowers two months in. Will that person gently hold your parents’ hands as they wait for you to come out of surgery? Will they kiss the fresh scar that runs the length of your torso? The most important thing is endurance.
Jacob enters into each new challenge with such blind optimism that I never realized what a cynic I was until we lived together. The man was born to make the best of it. When high doses of steroids like Prednisone render me ravenous and unable to sleep, we take advantage of early morning breakfasts and new energy for household projects. When flare-ups make leaving the house unbearable, we are indoor people. He is my partner on the couch with our dog between us and matching Apple devices on our laps. When I had over a foot of my digestive tract removed last March, Jacob reveled in ordering a la carte from the hospital menu and watching marathons of our favorite television shows as I provided pain medication-fueled commentary from my bed.
It was not always like this. The first time I got sick, really sick, while Jacob and I were together, he was surprised that I didn’t look ill. Many people who struggle with chronic illness will explain how agonizing it is to regularly be told, “Well, you don’t look sick!” With the exception of a limp that comes and goes and steroid-induced moon face, my disabilities are outwardly invisible. Barring the breakdown of society as we know it, this genetic casserole of autoimmune disease I’ve been handed will probably not kill me. I have a superior support system, health insurance and time. Jacob and I are co-conspirators in managing my illnesses. After years of practice, he can read the look of otherwise imperceptible pain on my face just as I can sense his eyes on me from across the room, or the weight of his hand on the small of my back.
Flannery O’Connor, who died of complications from Lupus at the age of 39, described sickness as a place where “nobody can follow.” Chronic illness is isolation. My brain will focus on the smallest things during a night spent in the bathroom or lying in bed with a heating pad, hoping for my medication to kick in. A single line of a pop song will play over and over in my head as Jacob snores next to me in the dark.
Recently, I was hospitalized for a lung infection most likely brought on by the combination of immunosuppressant drugs I take. Jacob drove me to the emergency room after he arrived home to me struggling for air with our tiny dog making worried circles around my ankles. We spent the next few days in a holding pattern that has become all-too familiar, with him and my parents trading shifts while a team of doctors struggle to figure out what, exactly, can be done about me this time. So far, my immune system is a stubborn mystery and, as usual, I was prescribed a new set of drugs with no real explanation of what landed me there in the first place. Jacob as always, is cautiously optimistic, but I’ve been traveling alone in this body of mine long enough to know better.
Chronic illness is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. At some point, you learn to adjust. Before my last hospitalization we had arranged for a weekend away on the Oregon Coast to celebrate our anniversary. “It doesn’t matter if you’re not feeling well,” Jacob explained as we walked from one end of the hospital floor to the other, both of our hands steadying my IV pole, “we’ll build a fire, sleep in. It’ll be easy.”
Three weeks later, he asked me to marry him on a beach in Oregon in the pouring rain.
Previously: What We Have Going for Us
Photo via dougtone/flickr.
Drew Zandonella-Stannard has been writing about the Internet on the Internet since 2002. She lives in Seattle and thinks you're swell.12 Comments
(photo by Trey Ratcliff)
The occasion of our glorious gathering is the existence of the Pavlok wearable fitness tracker, described by the Telegraph as a device “which gives the wearer an electric shock if they fail to meet their daily exercise targets” and by the incomparable Lindy West as “like a Saw movie and/or dystopian nightmare in which thigh gaps have become the global currency.” Here’s the idea: you set some daily goal (which the Pavlok site suggests might also be something like writing 1,000 words or going to sleep on time, but let’s be real — they mean exercise), and if you do not meet your goal, the device will zap you like you are some kind of lab rat. I know what you’re thinking: a brief electric shock is just what I need to get sleepy for a responsible bedtime! (No. This is not what you’re thinking.)
I have so much to say about this method of fitness-by-torture that I could literally write all day and not finish. This post would grow and grow, my endless anger at the world that constructs beauty ideals so toxic that this seems reasonable to anyone spilling over until it takes over the whole site, breaking the tent poles and all. I will not do this thing. I will use my ability to control my own body and brain in this small manner. I will do this because I am in fact not a lab rat but a human being with autonomy and free will, and I don’t need to fucking strap a torture device to my wrist to be the kind of human I want to be.
This is not the first time I’ve written about efforts to introduce torture into weight loss. This idea makes a certain kind of insidious sense, if you buy into the notion that being fat is a moral failing of individual persons (an idea, btw, that transparently is at odds with the idea that we’re in the middle of an “obesity epidemic,” but who says logic has anything to do with fat-shaming?). If you think that fat people are fat because they are constitutionally incapable of eating less or exercising more, and that “calories in < calories out” is a method that will always lead to thinness, then the idea of torturing fat people just a little bit for their own good sounds pretty effective. I mean, sure, it’s unpleasant, but it will work, and that’s more important, right?
Look, it’s true that habits are hard to establish and hard to break. Gamifying your life is an intriguing possibility that uses rewards and punishments to provide external motivation for behavioral changes, and sometimes that works: it can be very very hard to overcome your internal inertia to do something good for yourself, especially if you are prone to depression. Personally, I have become worlds more likely to do the dishes and to write every day since I started using HabitRPG, a free site where I can set my own rewards for good behavior and also have a red panda cartoon companion level up with me. It’s just a little extra boost of motivation each day: if I draft a new poem, I am a tiny bit closer to buying a new dress from Ureshii. There are lots of ways to trick yourself into performing more self-care — including enjoyable exercise as self-care! — that are about building you up rather than breaking you down. Because you know what is not that likely to make you overcome self-loathing-based inertia and go for a jog? STRAPPING A PAIN MACHINE TO YOUR BODY.
This unholy child of Pavlov and Milgram is the logical extension of a fat-shaming culture. Not only are you supposed to volunteer to torture yourself, but you’re also supposed to spend money for the privilege. Make no mistake, Awkwardeers: this is part and parcel of the massive beauty and weight loss industries that sell you the idea that there is something disgusting about your body and then sell you products to fix it, thus reifying the disgust by making it real for you even if it’s not for anyone else.
You are not disgusting. You do not deserve to be tortured. You would not torture someone else, because you are not a torturer. You are a human being with as much worth as every other human being on the planet. You are made out of atoms that were ejected by supernovae when the universe was young. You are a fucking miracle.
Thus ends the lesson. Here begins the dance party!
While I’ve always been opposed to the death penalty, I cannot say it has always been for lofty moral reasons. I’m certainly not opposed to killing in self-defense, and there are absolutely a lot of people who will leave the world significantly improved once they are rotting away in a frequently defiled grave. (That said, the list of people I would like to see kneel before la raccourcisseuse patriotique is topped by the likes of Henry Kissinger over garden-variety multiple murderers.) But for many years, my objection to capital punishment was based on a theoretical and principled — some might say downright libertarian — belief that allowing the government to have the power of life and death over its citizens was a very bad idea. Even today, I think I’m on pretty sound footing saying that I don’t think the state ought to be able to murder me, no matter how much a number of my fellow citizens might want it to. Public opinion being the fickle thing that it is, one never knows when one might find one’s self on the wrong edge of that particular sword.
Nowadays, though, my objection to capital punishment has become far more rooted in practical matters. Leaving aside all the ethical questions over how, why, whether, and when we should be able to take a convicted felon’s life, we seem to lack competence in actually doing it once we have decided to do so. Of all the hurdles that the death penalty must clear, surely the lowest must be “Is the person we are going to execute actually guilty of the crime for which they have been convicted?”; and yet, even that most basic question has been increasingly difficult to answer in the affirmative. Since the death penalty was reinstated over forty years ago, 144 death row inmates have been exonerated — which, and let us be frank here because, this being a matter of law, the blunt meaning of certain information is often lost in a misty gauze of obfuscating legal language, means that they were completely and utterly innocent of the heinous crimes for which they were arrested, tried, convicted, and very nearly put to death. While this is only a small portion of the total number of people on death rows, it is not a small number of innocent human lives, and life, after all, is what we proposed be taken from them. Since life is the one quality than precludes any repayment once lost, this alarmingly high number has so spooked a number of state governors, ranging in locale from liberal Washington to conservative Illinois, to suspend the death penalty entirely until it can be determined that it is not, in fact, killing innocent people.
Of course, that’s not all — as many as 200 other inmates, whose ultimate fates rest entirely on the thankless effort of capital punishment opponents who are largely unpaid as the state has zero interest in uncovering its own mistakes, are believed to be likewise either entirely innocent, or innocent of the specific charges that sent them to the death house. In far too many cases, the question before the jury is not “Did this person commit an act of murder, and if so, was it sufficiently heinous to justify execution?”, but “Were the authorities able to secure an easy conviction?”, “Did this person receive an inadequate legal defense?”, or “Was this person found to be scary and African-American by the correct number of police officers?”. Race, class, and gender disparities in death row populations are egregious enough; add to them the innumerable legal and social barriers to finding a judge and jury who are genuinely impartial regarding the infliction of capital punishment, and it’s clear that the real surprise isn’t that so many death row prisoners are innocent, but that so many of them have been exonerated and freed.
Lately, we have been forced to contend with the further fact that not only are we incompetent at making sure the people we send to death row are actually guilty, but also, we suck at the physical task of executing them, even when we know they’re guilty. Three months ago in Oklahoma, convicted killer Clayton Lockett, in the elegant phrasing of Dahlia Lithwick, was murdered in the process of being executed; the administration of the cocktail of drugs meant to end him was botched, and his heart exploded before the situation could be set right. Last night, Arizona inmate Joseph Wood, too, found himself the victim of an incompetently mixed dose of death potions (at least, we assume they were incompetently mixed; in one of the most staggeringly undemocratic rulings in recent history, the Supreme Court has decided that the state does have the right to kill you, but it does not have the obligation to tell you how you’re going to die), and spent an agonizing two hours slowly gurgling to death on a steel gurney. That this happened is less of a shock than the fact that it doesn’t happen more often, as many states are engaged in a ‘let’s just stick some shit in there until he dies’ experimental phase of the most allegedly humane form of execution. (Jonah Goldberg, once again proving that he can be wrong about anything, recently tweeted his support for the notion that if you oppose all forms of the death penalty, your opinion on which forms are more or less humane has no value.)
In light of increasing evidence that, in addition to not being able to figure out who to execute or when to execute them, we also are unable to master the process of how to execute them, one is tempted to agree with the conservatives who argue that the government is simply no good at anything. Oddly, though, the same people who think the Affordable Care Act should be revoked in its entirety because its website wasn’t ready on time, and who think that the SNAP program should be eliminated because there is a 1% fraud rate with food stamp disbursement, don’t seem to agree that it might be wise to rethink the death penalty just because we convict a bunch of innocent people and can’t seem to get the act of poisoning someone to death right. To the contrary, they think we should be executing more people, guilt or innocence be damned, and if it hurts, good! This is, of course, because they conceive of capital punishment in caveman terms and feel that watching a convicted criminal shake himself to pieces on a bad dose of chemicals has the same moral value as swatting a mosquito. To them, we have a vengeance system, not a justice system; the idea that sticking someone full of toxic goop and watching the suffer to death places them on the same level as the Hillside Stranglers makes no sense to them, because they don’t think it’s what you do, it’s who you do it to. They do not accept the reasoning that a code of laws is meant to reduce the overall amount of suffering in the world, not to double it so that it spreads around to the just and the unjust alike, and they do not credit the belief that the most notable effect of putting murderers to death is to create two dead bodies instead of one.
Unfortunately, they seem to be in the majority, as evidenced by the fact that America, alone among democracies, clings to the death penalty. So nobody’s really concerned with what I think about our complete incompetence in its, well, execution. So I’ll just suggest that if the budget-cutting hawks want someplace to start, they might want to consider shaving a quick billion by getting rid of this particular boondoggle before their turn their eyes to the NEA.
I have always believed that a good joke can change the world.
Now we have proof that it’s true: “Office Space helped rid the world of ‘flair.’”
“About four years after Office Space came out, T.G.I. Fridays got rid of all that [button] flair, because people would come in and make cracks about it,” [Mike] Judge recently told Deadline. “One of my ADs asked once at the restaurant why their flair was missing and they said they removed it because of that movie Office Space. So, maybe I made the world a better place.” Indeed, now a chastened, more mature T.G.I Fridays no longer forces its waiters to talk about their flair, instead allowing them — and their grateful patrons — a side order of dignity to go with their bacon mac ‘n’ cheese bites.
Granted, in the grand scheme of things, the fact that waitstaff at chain restaurants were required to don “flair” in an aggressive display of mandatory cheer and (literally) uniform individuality was not one of the gravest injustices besetting humanity.
Still, though, the end of such demeaning work requirements does, as Judge says, help make “the world a better place.” Thousands of people stuck in lousy dead-end jobs now have slightly less-lousy dead-end jobs.
But let’s not get lost in the particulars of this case, what’s important here is the confirmation of the general principle: A good joke really can change the world.
We have other examples that this is true but we don’t always notice them because the effect of good jokes usually tends to be defensive. The craftspeople at some of our finest joke workshops (the guilds of Stewart, Colbert, Onion, Toast, Silverman, etc.) expend a lot of energy playing a kind of whack-a-mole game in which prophylactic jokes prevent the world from getting worse. That’s a harder thing to identify or measure, but the effect is real.
Consider, for example, that in 2009, the possibility of President Sarah Palin did not seem wholly preposterous the way it does today. That was the work of thousands of jokes — some perfectly crafted, some kind of sloppy and off-target. The cumulative effect of all those jokes helped to make the world a better place — or to prevent it from getting worse in one particular way, which amounts to something like the same thing.
The relatively modest achievement of Judge’s Office Space joke is a reminder that this isn’t easy. Judge crafted a precise and devastating joke and then was able to deliver that joke through an expensive, high-profile platform. Alas, most of us do not have access to such platforms, and we can’t hire someone as skilled and popular as Jennifer Aniston to ensure that our jokes are so perfectly delivered.
But pay attention to Judge’s description of the process that unfolded over time. It took several years from the release of Office Space before the last buttons were removed and partial dignity was restored to these workers. And it wasn’t solely because of Judge and Aniston — it was due to thousands of people all over the country repeating and embellishing and riffing on the original joke.
It takes a village. The good news is that we now have powerful new technology and new tools for disseminating the best jokes — Twitter and other social media. Our best jokes can now be spread, amplified, applied and reapplied with great cumulative power.
Even so, could even the best jokes ever manage to eliminate something more serious than the indignity of “flair”? Could even a perfect joke ever hope to make a difference when it comes to serious, pervasive, enduring structural injustices like patriarchy, plutocracy or racism?
We’ll never know unless we try.
Here’s John Oliver, doing his part, attacking the obscene injustice of American mass incarceration with what might really be one of the most potentially powerful weapons we have — a bunch of good jokes:
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]5 Comments
The 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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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"
The above is a guest post by Lauren Squires.
Are 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.
"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.
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.
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
Long 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.
God 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Below is a guest post by Kieran Snyder, taken with permission from her always-interesting tumblr Jenga one week at a time.
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.
"wheres my tea and also drugs" Indeed!
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
"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."
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?
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
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.
Researchers 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?2 Comments
When 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.18 Comments
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.