Yesterday, before I got here, my dad was trying to fix an invisible machine. By all accounts, he began working on the phantom device quite intently, but as his repairs began to involve the hospice bed and the tubes attached to his body, he was gently sedated, and he had to leave it, unresolved.
This was out-of-character for my father, who I presumed had never encountered a machine he couldn’t fix. He built model aeroplanes in rural New Zealand, won a scholarship to go to university, and ended up as an aeronautical engineer for Air New Zealand, fixing engines twice his size. More scholarships followed and I first remember him completing his PhD in thermodynamics, or ‘what heat does’, as he used to describe it, to his six-year-old son.
When he was first admitted to the hospice, more than a week go, he was quite lucid – chatting, talking, bemoaning the slow pace of dying. “Takes too long,” he said, “who designed this?” But now he is mostly unconscious.
Occasionally though, moments of lucidity dodge between the sleep and the confusion. “When did you arrive?” he asked me in the early hours of this morning, having woken up wanting water. Once the water was resolved he was preoccupied about illusory teaspoons lost among the bedclothes, but then chatted in feint short sentences to me and my step-mum before drifting off once more.
Drifting is a recent tendency, but in the lucidity he has remained a proud engineer. It’s more of a vocation, he always told his students, than a career.
Last week, when the doctors asked if he would speak to medical trainees, he was only too happy to have a final opportunity to teach. Even the consultants find his pragmatic approach to death somewhat out of the ordinary and they funnelled eager learners his way where he engaged with answering their questions and demonstrating any malfunctioning components.
“When I got here”, he explained to them, “I was thermodynamically unstable but now I think I’m in a state of quasi-stability. It looks like I have achieved thermal equilibrium but actually I’m steadily losing energy.”
“I’m not sure”, I said afterwards, “that explaining your health in terms of thermodynamics is exactly what they’re after.”
“They’ll have to learn,” he said, “you can’t beat entropy.”
Previously: Your request to play devil's advocate has been denied.
Thank you for your recent inquiry about hearing both sides. According to our records, this marks the fourth submission in as many days as to whether or not we have heard both sides. We regret to inform you that we have not.
On March the 2nd, you interrupted a conversation by asking "In fairness, have you heard both sides?"
On April the 13th, you spoke over a work acquaintance, reminding her that "We can't actually form an opinion about this until we've heard both sides."
While in an ideal world perhaps we would listen to all sides, the volume of requests we receive on a daily basis makes this impossible.
Your password must contain a pound of flesh. No blood, nor less nor more, but just a pound of flesh.
Your password must contain all passwords which do not contain themselves.
Your password must contain any letter of the alphabet save the second. NOT THE BEES! NOT THE BEES!
Your password must contain a reminder not to read the comments. Really. You’ll thank us.
Your password must have contained the potential within itself all along.
I love that Scrabble dress, actually, and would totally wear it if it weren't SO FREAKING TINY..
Here are my picks for the bizarrest sexy costumes this year. Enjoy!
Except — I know, I know — nothing’s sexier than Scrabble.
I take it back; that costume is fantastic.
Okay, I admit. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here.
Want more? See sexy what!? (2012) and sexy what!? (2010) or What do sexy Halloween costumes for men look like?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.
75 years ago, Helen Hulick, kindergarten teacher and my personal hero, made women's fashion history. Called to testify against two burglary suspects, Hulick arrived to court dressed in her usual garb: pants. The sight was so distracting that the judge rescheduled her testimony, and ordered her to return in a dress.
"Listen," said the young woman, "I've worn slacks since I was 15. I don't own a dress except a formal. If he wants me to appear in a formal gown that's okay with me.
"I'll come back in slacks and if he puts me in jail I hope it will help to free women forever of anti-slackism."
She came back in slacks, he put her in jail, but she did help free women of anti-slackism: the judge's ruling that Hulick was in contempt of court was met with hundreds of letters of protest, and the citation was overturned. So let's take this day to commemorate Helen Hulick, inspiration for women to wear what they want: slacks, skirts, or nothing at all.
This message has been brought to you by a blogger in her underwear.1 Comments
Yesterday’s killing was the 39th school shooting in the U.S. this year. Most of those got little press coverage. Unless someone is actually killed, a shooting might not even get coverage in the local news.
Why would an apparently happy kid shoot several classmates? That seems to be the question that’s getting the attention of the press and perhaps the public. “Struggling to Find Motive,” said one typical headline. That’s the way we think about school shootings these days.
It’s unlikely that any of the motives that turn up will be all that strange. Fryberg may have been upset by a racial comment someone had made the day before or by a break-up with a girl. He may have had other conflicts with other kids. Nothing unusual there.
But “why” is not the question that first occurs to me. What I always ask is how a 14-year old kid can get his hands on a .40 Beretta handgun (or whatever the weaponry in the shooting of the week is). For Fryberg it was easy. The pistol belonged to his father. Nothing strange there either. Thirty million homes in the US, maybe forty million, are stocked with guns.
Do European countries have school shootings like this? Surely kids in Europe get upset about break-ups; surely they must have conflicts with their classmates; and surely, some of them may become irrationally upset by these setbacks. So surely there must have been school shootings in Europe too.
I went to Wikipedia and looked for school shootings since 1980 (here and here). I eliminated shootings by adults (e.g., Lanza in Sandy Hook, Brevik in Norway). I also deleted in-school suicides even though these were done with guns and were terrifying to the other students. I’m sure my numbers are not perfectly accurate, and the population estimate in the graph below is based on current numbers; I didn’t bother to find an average over the last 35 years. Still the differences are so large that I’m sure they are not due to technical problems in the data.
Does the U.S. have a much greater proportion of kids who are mentally unstable? Do our schools have more bullying? Are European kids more capable in dealing with conflicts? Are they more stable after break-ups? Do they spend less time with violent video games? Do their schools have more programs to identify and counsel the potentially violent? I’m not familiar with the data on these, but I would guess that the answer is no and that our kids are no more screwed up than kids in Europe. Or if there are differences, they are not large enough to explain the difference in the body count.
No, the important difference seems to be the guns. But guns have become the elephant in the room that nobody talks about. Even asking about access to guns seems unAmerican these days. Thanks to the successful efforts of the NRA and their representatives in government, guns have become a taken-for-granted part of the landscape. Asking how a 14-year old got a handgun is like asking how he got a bicycle to ride to school.
When the elephant’s presence is too massive not be noticed – for example, when the elephant kills several people – the elephant’s spokesmen rush in to tell us that “No, this is not the time to talk about the elephant.” And so we talk about video games and psychological screening and parents and everything else, until the next multiple killing. But of course that too is not the time to talk about elephants.Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.
Dear Prudence, 23 October 2014:
Dear Prudence, I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids? —Halloween for the 99 Percent
Dear Halloween for the 99 Percent,
Forgive me for straying toward another holiday altogether, but I’d like to paraphrase one of the most beloved literary characters of all time:
Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?
I think you see where I’m going with this. Already you must divert what funds you should rightfully be able to use on that second yacht to supporting America’s notoriously robust, even overadequate, social safety net. Must you also give candy bars to poor, lazy urchins who don’t even know the value of a hard day’s work, and thereby teach them that they deserve the same king-size Kit-Kat bars that the nose-to-the-grindstone children in your own neighborhood have earned honestly?
It’s not your fault that your neighbors’ precious offspring had the foresight and diligence to be born into unimaginable wealth, while these moocher-babies couldn’t even get it together enough to land with a couple of piddly-ass lawyers.
This is America, not communism! Don’t feel bad for standing up to this encroaching oppression; give the poors a Snickers and they’ll soon get all kinds of uppity ideas about having access to the same education, health care and political enfranchisement that their wealthy superiors enjoy. And then where would we be? A nation full of people who believe they’re created equal in the eyes of the Great Pumpkin?
Halloween isn’t about trick AND treat, it’s about trick OR treat. Feel free to avail yourself of the “or” and instead of handing out candy, drop a bootstrap in their buckets.
Before I start my science-story, let me tell you a little about myself. I’m working on my doctorate in evolutionary neuroscience at Emory University. My research focuses on the anatomical specializations in the human brain that support language and conceptual thought.
“But where’s her degree?!” I hear you folks asking. Don’t worry, guys – even if I am still in grad school, I am a legit serious scientist-lady. Like we’re talking going into year 6 of my PhD, and that’s after almost 3 years doing my master’s. I am scientifically decadent, if that’s possible. It’s like if Guy Fieri opened a neuroscience lab and had all his graduate students using Bunsen burners to crisp bacon while he used the cryostat to cut ultrathin slices of Gran Padano. So, context: lady scientist, not really a student, not yet a PhD…
I’m at the point in my career where I will jump for the chance to get more exposure for my ideas. Still thin on publications, but with lots of ideas banging around in my head, I’m not yet enough of an entity in my own field to be considered an “expert.” People don’t email me out of the blue to ask for my opinion. However, I’ve found social media to be a great outlet for communicating science to a broad cross-section of folks. And after spending all day in a windowless lab staring at images of chimpanzee brains on a computer screen, it’s really refreshing to actually talk to other humans about my research (albeit, also while staring at a computer screen.) So I was pretty excited to get a message from a journalist on Twitter who wanted to interview me about a few neurobiology topics, most notably, mirror neurons.
1. A king trusts you to post a letter that may or may not contain high treason.
2. Your friend picks up the handkerchief that your lady has dropped. You demand retribution for this disgusting act of betrayal.
3. You either have a kind, good-hearted father, who is devastated by your misdeeds, or you have a drunken, Napoleon-sympathizing father whom you killed in order to advance your political career. Hardly anyone seems to have a mother at all.
4. A grizzled old priest tunnels into your jail cell and spends eight years teaching you the finer points of political philosophy.
Read more How To Tell If You Are In An Alexandre Dumas Novel at The Toast.
greatest American hero = I like her
garbage = not very good
I love you = we are both on the Internet, and we agree about something
shut it all down = I'm going to stay right here and not leave the Internet and keep reading this
NSFW = this is a picture of food
#tcot = I have not talked to an actual conservative since high school
essential reading = you will have forgotten this by next week at the latest
#FF = here are a list of people I am hoping will eventually notice and follow me back
okay rule A, don't take off her cloak when she's sleeping
rule B, don't touch her hair when she's sleeping
i don't care how asleep they are, don't bend over them and stare directly at their vaginas
no touching someone's hips just because they're asleep either, that seems like a given
In truth, I didn’t pay a tremendous amount of attention to iOS8 until a post scrolled by on my Tumblr feed, which disturbed me a good deal: The new iteration of Apple’s OS included “Health”, an app that – among many other things – contains a weight tracker and a calorie counter.
And can’t be deleted.
Okay, so why is this a big deal? Pretty much all “health” apps include those features. I have one (third-party). A lot of people have one. They can be very useful. Apple sticking non-removable apps into its OS is annoying, but why would it be something worth getting up in arms over? This is where it becomes a bit difficult to explain, and where you’re likely to encounter two kinds of people (somewhat oversimplified, but go with me here). One group will react with mild bafflement. The other will immediately understand what’s at stake.
The Health app is literally dangerous, specifically to people dealing with/in recovery from eating disorders and related obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Obsessive weight tracking and calorie counting are classic symptoms. These disorders literally kill people. A lot of people. Apple’s Health app is an enabler of this behavior, a temptation to fall back into self-destructive habits. The fact that it can’t be deleted makes it worse by orders of magnitude.
So why can’t people just not use it? Why not just hide it? That’s not how obsessive-compulsive behavior works. One of the nastiest things about OCD symptoms – and one of the most difficult to understand for people who haven’t experienced them – is the fact that a brain with this kind of chemical imbalance can and will make you do things you don’t want to do. That’s what “compulsive” means. Things you know you shouldn’t do, that will hurt you. When it’s at its worst it’s almost impossible to fight, and it’s painful and frightening. I don’t deal with disordered eating, but my messed-up neurochemistry has forced me to do things I desperately didn’t want to do, things that damaged me. The very presence of this app on a device is a very real threat (from post linked above):
Whilst of course the app cannot force you to use it, it cannot be deleted, so will be present within your apps and can be a source of feelings of temptation to record numbers and of guilt and judgement for not using the app.
Apple doesn’t hate people with eating disorders. They probably weren’t thinking about people with eating disorders at all. That’s the problem.
Then this weekend another post caught my attention: The Health app doesn’t include the ability to track menstrual cycles, something that’s actually kind of important for the health of people who menstruate. Again: so? Apple thinks a number of other forms of incredibly specific tracking were important enough to include:
In case you’re wondering whether Health is only concerned with a few basics: Apple has predicted the need to input data about blood oxygen saturation, your daily molybdenum or pathogenic acid intake, cycling distance, number of times fallen and your electrodermal activity, but nothing to do with recording information about your menstrual cycle.
Again: Apple almost certainly doesn’t actively hate cisgender women, or anyone else who menstruates. They didn’t consider including a cycle tracker and then went “PFFT SCREW WOMEN.” They probably weren’t thinking about women at all.
During the design phase of this OS, half the world’s population was probably invisible. The specific needs of this half of the population were folded into an unspecified default. Which doesn’t – generally – menstruate.
I should note that – of course – third-party menstrual cycle tracking apps exist. But people have problems with these (problems I share), and it would have been nice if Apple had provided an escape from them:
There are already many apps designed for tracking periods, although many of my survey respondents mentioned that they’re too gendered (there were many complaints about colour schemes, needless ornamentation and twee language), difficult to use, too focused on conceiving, or not taking into account things that the respondents wanted to track.
Both of these problems are part of a larger design issue, and it’s one we’ve talked about before, more than once. The design of things – pretty much all things – reflects assumptions about what kind of people are going to be using the things, and how those people are going to use them. That means that design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power and domination both subtle and not. Apple didn’t consider what people with eating disorders might be dealing with; that’s ableism. Apple didn’t consider what menstruating women might need to do with a health app; that’s sexism.
The fact that the app cannot be removed is a further problem. For all intents and purposes, updating to a new OS is almost mandatory for users of Apple devices, at least eventually. Apple already has a kind of control over a device that’s a bit worrying, blurring the line between owner and user and threatening to replace one with the other. The Health app is a glimpse of a kind of well-meaning but ultimately harmful paternalist approach to design: We know what you need, what you want; we know what’s best. We don’t need to give you control over this. We know what we’re doing.
This isn’t just about failure of the imagination. This is about social power. And it’s troubling.
Sarah Wanenchak is a PhD student at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her current research focuses on contentious politics and communications technology in a global context, particularly the role of emotion mediated by technology as a mobilizing force. She blogs at Cyborgology, where this post originally appeared, and you can follow her at @dynamicsymmetry.
Reason 1: Dogs are always dogs, even when they're models, which is great, because dogs are perfect.
“We went to Stetson’s New York headquarters, and they had John B. Stetson’s vintage rug on the floor…” says Kim. “It was this really beautiful old oriental rug,” Fung adds, “and as soon as we go in, he starts drizzling. I was like, ‘This is the most unprofessional thing ever.’” To Bodhi, though, it was no big deal. "He’s always been kind of a dick," laughs Fung.
Reason 2: Sometimes dogs can make you a fortune just by being cute.
Between the photo contracts, guest appearances, and sponsored posts on Tumblr and Instagram, a good month for Menswear Dog earns the couple somewhere in the ballpark of $15,000. When I asked what a bad month looks like, Fung and Kim say they haven’t seen less than $10,000 in "quite some time."
Reason 3: Dogs have probably gotten to the end of Zoolander without falling asleep, something you cannot say for yourself, and they get all the jokes.
“When we first dressed him up for fun [in spring 2013], he started posing for us, and doing like Blue Steel and Magnum,” says Fung, 29, a graphic designer naming modeling poses from Zoolander. “We originally posted his photo to Facebook as a gag.”
So you're doing "Ebola" for your halloween costume this year. You've found a topical novelty outfit online, or maybe you've just purchased some cheap and readily available medical clothing, knowing that your peers will have no problem guessing what it's supposed to represent.
But "Ebola" is going to be a very popular costume this year. You're not the only person who heard about this epidemic on the news! If you want to stand out—if you want to be the star of the party, by evoking Ebola hemorrhagic fever—you need to study up. Here are some helpful facts that you can recite to your friends in order to give your Ebola costume that extra dimension of authenticity.
• Ebola kills quickly and painfully. There is no known cure, or vaccine, and the best available treatment in most cases, according to the CDC, is "providing intravenous fluids (IV) and balancing electrolytes (body salts)."
• Ebola is characterized, early on, by fever, weakness, headache and diarrhea. This is followed by hemorrhaging and near-total loss of responsiveness.
• Direct contact with infected patients is the primary mode of transmission for Ebola. Therefore, this disease is most dangerous to the people who choose to provide treatment to the afflicted. Many, many medical professionals have died trying to give care and slow the spread of this terrifying disease.
• Ebola has spread most profoundly in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where a paucity of medical and emergency infrastructure has allowed the disease to spiral out of control. (Don't worry: These places are all at least 4,000 miles away from the nearest American Halloween parties.) Facilities that do exist have been largely overwhelmed, creating hellish scenes of suffering.
• Many of the people fighting this disease do not have access to the equipment and clothing required to protected themselves, such as the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that you will be wearing to a sports bar or fraternity party on October 31st. (Careful: The CDC says that proper PPE "significantly reduces the body’s normal way of getting rid of heat by sweating," increasing the risk of dehydration and heat-related illnesses.)
• Speaking of October 31st: That a date by which the WHO estimates that well over 20,000 people will have been infected with the disease:
As of September 14, the doubling time of the epidemic was 15.7 days in Guinea, 23.6 days in Liberia, and 30.2 days in Sierra Leone. We estimate that, at the current rate of increase, assuming no changes in control efforts, the cumulative number of confirmed and probable cases by November 2 (the end of week 44 of the epidemic) will be 5740 in Guinea, 9890 in Liberia, and 5000 in Sierra Leone, exceeding 20,000 cases in total. The true case load, including suspected cases and undetected cases, will be higher still.
• To provide more visual context to other partygoers, you can show them this image. That's you in the suit. You have been superimposed over the WHO's projection for Ebola infections in Liberia at Halloween-time, approximately.
• Ebola has killed 4493 people as of writing. But by the time it's time to dress up for Halloween, that number will be out of date. Don't give the other partygoers the wrong info: Before suiting up, check again. (Current estimates suggest that the number of deaths will have doubled.)
• Use anecdotes to really drive home your costume concept. Here, a photojournalist describes what the epidemic looks like on the ground:
In one of the most emotional encounters I faced in Liberia, I photographed a family that accompanied a sick woman who seemed near death as they sought treatment. She was bleeding from the mouth and her breathing was shallow; she was not ambulatory. As the husband, a sister, a brother and a friend descended from the van, each wore large plastic bags around their hands, feet and bodies, trying to protect themselves from infection with makeshift coverings. They knew it was the only way to get their very ill relative to the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment unit. Waiting outside the gates was a given, but to the anxious family, I am sure one hour seemed far too long as the patient worsened.
An alternative plan: For supreme costume authenticity, quarantine yourself in your home for 24 hours starting on Halloween morning.0 Comments
With his permission, I’m reposting this blog comment from Marco Rogers, in a reply to an anti-feminist comment on a blog post about women in tech that he wrote 2 1/2 years ago. Although the post is that old, the comment is from a few days ago, because even years later, anti-feminist trolls are stumbling across Marco’s blog post and feeling the need to express their displeasure with it.
I’m reposting Marco’s comment because I think it’s a good example about how to respond to a troll. I would love to see more men let their anti-feminist peers know that uninformed anti-feminist wankery is a waste of time. And I would love to do that more often myself, rather than engaging with it.
Hi [REDACTED]. I thought a long time about whether to let this comment stand or delete it. I do listen to input from different perspectives. I read this entire thing. And I’m sorry to say it was a waste of my time.
I’m afraid this reply won’t be very constructive. I had to chose whether to waste further time dismantling your false logic, and I had to take into account whether it would make any difference to you or anyone reading. I don’t think it will. In my experience, it’s very difficult to educate men who think like you do.
I’ll admit it also annoys me that you would come and write a small novel in my blog comments but not say anything new or original. Men have been making this argument that their long history of sexism is somehow the natural order of things since the beginning of time. It’s not revelatory, it’s not some profound wisdom that people haven’t heard, it’s boring. The feminist/womanist movement grew in direct opposition to all the nonsense you spouted above. There is a ton of literature that debunks and rejects every single point you are poorly trying to make. The least you can do is educate yourself on the system you’re up against, so you can sound more cogent and have an actual chance of convincing anyone.
The question remains of whether I let your comment stay up. I think I will. Not because I feel compelled to represent multiple viewpoints here. This is my blog and I choose what goes here. But I’ll leave it because I’m no longer afraid of letting people read tripe like this. You’re losing. We WILL create a world where the mentality of men like you is a minority and women get to exist as themselves without fear. You can’t stop it. Stay mad bro. Thanks for dropping by.
Previously: Dirtbag Zeus.
APOLLO: so do you come here to this river a lot
DAPHNE: i'm so sorry
have we met?
APOLLO: we havent met
but you know me
APOLLO: ever seen THE SUN
APOLLO: youre welcome
hey let me touch your skin for a while
DAPHNE: i have to
[DAPHNE turns into a tree to escape him]
APOLLO: so do you
turn into trees a lot
“By science, do you mean spending countless hours collecting data and studying dense research articles? Or do you just think space is pretty?”
OK. Let’s unpack the wrongness of this. (It’s been a while since a webcomic has prompted such a grrr-rrr-rrrr response from me.) The cartoon conflates scientist-as-job with science-as-body-of-knowledge, which is a serious category error. Then it gets wrong what it means to love a job, or any other time- and effort-intensive activity.
“You don’t love skiing unless you love getting boots fitted and waiting in lift lines.”
“You don’t love cooking unless you love scrubbing out your pots.”
“You don’t love being married to your spouse unless you love filing joint income taxes. Oh, the smell of warm paper!”
On top of that, it elides all the times when the professional routines of science are enriching, rewarding—even, dare I say it, fun. Ratcheting up accomplishments in collaboration with smart, creative people who share your passions? I gotta be honest: when it works, it’s pretty great.
This kind of cheap, lazy elitism ticks me off. It says nothing about why science is hard to understand, and it doesn’t even get the frustrations of the job right. I mean, “collecting data”? “Dense research articles”? Neither of those necessarily implies tedium or drudgery. Shockingly, not everything which requires patience and concentration is unpleasant.
I can’t find my copy of The God Delusion. It wandered off to join the fairies in the Boston Public Garden, or something. This is only a problem when I’d like to look something up in it, to point to a passage and say, “Ah! If we’d read more carefully, we could have guessed that Dawkins was that terrible all along. It should have been obvious, even before he discovered Twitter!”
I could say more on this, and perhaps if the book turns up, and I have important work to procrastinate on but no Columbo episodes to watch, I might write at greater length. For now, I’ll just comment on a little thing which I don’t recall anyone pointing out before. The epigraph of the book is the Douglas Adams quotation to which I alluded, the one to the effect that the beauty of a garden should be satisfaction enough, without having to imagine “fairies at the bottom of it” in addition. This quotation comes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where it is part of Ford Prefect’s inner monologue. Ford is rejecting Zaphod Beeblebrox’s claim that their stolen spaceship is currently orbiting the lost planet of Magrathea. To Ford, Magrathea is “a myth, a fairy story, it’s what parents tell their kids about at night if they want them to grow up to become economists”.
As Ford gazed at the spectacle of light before them excitement burned inside him, but only the excitement of seeing a strange new planet; it was enough for him to see it as it was. It faintly irritated him that Zaphod had to impose some ludicrous fantasy onto the scene to make it work for him. All this Magrathea nonsense seemed juvenile. Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?
But, of course, the planet is Magrathea, the legendary, but not wholly mythical, home of custom planet-builders.
And that’s the epigraph to the book, mind you.
Meanwhile, down by the foxgloves, a pair of iridescent wings catches the morning sun.
Is that not just perfect? Could we have asked for a better encapsulation of that Dawkinsian self-absorption, that imperious satisfaction, that willingness to stop with the most superficial notion and consider it in isolation—that indifference not just to quidquams and filioques and theological arcana, but to deeply consequential matters of lived human experience?
Did the America Landings really happen? Did Christopher Columbus really sail all the way across the Atlantic ocean using nothing but boats and things in boats? Or is this just another bizarre conspiracy, much like the Kennedy assassination, Liechtenstein, and cheese? Let’s look at some of the inconvenient facts history books don’t want you to know about.
1. Every person who claims to have seen these events first-hand is either dead or widely presumed dead. None of them have performed an interview with Sheepleawake.tumbr.com, the only reliable news source. In fact, every human being or animal alive at that time is also dead, many of them under suspicious circumstances. Coincidence… or not?
2. Many of the supplies and equipment supposedly carried by Columbus were clearly heavier than water. Yet they supposedly floated on the ocean, which is made of water, for days at a time. Sorry, but that just won’t hold water.
Four years ago, twenty-three economists (mostly conservative) signed a letter to Ben Bernanke warning that the Fed’s quantitative easing policy – adding billions of dollars to the economy – would be disastrous. It would “debase the currency,” create high inflation, distort financial markets, and do nothing to reduce unemployment.
Four years later, it’s clear that they were wrong (as Paul Krugman never tires of reminding us). Have they changed their beliefs?
Of course not.
I don’t know why I assume that high-level economists would be more likely than some ordinary people to change their ideas to adjust for new facts. Fifty years ago, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn showed that even in areas like chemistry and physics, scientists cling to their paradigms even in the face of accumulated anomalous facts. Why should big-shot economists be any different? It also occurs to me that it’s the most eminent in a profession who will be more resistant to change. After all, it’s the people at the top who have the greatest amount invested in their ideas – publications, reputations, consultantships, and of course ego. Economists call these “sunk costs.”
So how do they maintain their beliefs?
Most of the 23 declined to comment; a few could not be reached (including Ronald McKinnon, who died the previous day). Of those who responded, only one, Peter Wallison at the American Enterprise Institute, came close to saying, “My prediciton was wrong.”
“All of us, I think, who signed the letter have never seen anything like what’s happened here.”
Most of the others preferred denial:
“The letter was correct as stated.” (David Malpass. He worked in Treasury under Reagan and Bush I)
“The letter mentioned several things… and all have happened.” (John Taylor, Stanford)
“I think there’s plenty of inflation — not at the checkout counter, necessarily, but on Wall Street.” (Jim Grant of “Grant’s Interest Rate Observer.” Kinda makes you wonder how closely he’s been observing interest rates.)
Then there was equivocation. After Thursday night’s debacle – Giants 8, Pirates 0, knocking Pittsburgh out of the playoffs– someone reminded me, “Hey, didn’t you tell me that the Pirates would win the World Series?”
“Yes, but I didn’t say when.”
Some of the letter-signers used this same tactic, and just about as convincingly.
“Note that word ‘risk.’ And note the absence of a date.” (Niall Ferguson, Harvard)
“Inflation could come…” (Amity Shlaes, Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation)
The 1954 sociology classic When Prophecy Fails describes group built around a prediction that the world would soon be destroyed and that they, the believers, would be saved by flying saucers from outer space. When it didn’t happen, they too faced the problem of cognitive dissonance – dissonance between belief and fact. But because they had been very specific about what would happen and when it would happen, they could not very well use the denial and equivocation favored by the economists. Instead, they first by claimed that what had averted the disaster was their own faith. By meeting and planning and believing so strongly in their extraterrestrial rescuers, they had literally saved the world. The economists, by contrast, could not claim that their warnings saved us from inflation, for their warning – their predictions and prescriptions – had been ignored by Fed. So instead they argue that there actually is, or will be, serious inflation.
The other tactic that the millenarian group seized on was to start proselytizing – trying to convert others and to bring new members into the fold. For the conservative economists, this tactic is practically a given, but it is not necessarily a change. They had already been spreading their faith, as professors and as advisors (to policy makers, political candidates, wealthy investors, et al.). They haven’t necessarily redoubled their efforts, but the evidence has not given them pause. They continue to publish their unreconstructed views to as wide an audience as possible.
That’s the curious thing about cognitive dissonance. The goal is to reduce the dissonance, and it really doesn’t matter how. Of course, you could change your ideas, but letting go of long and deeply held ideas when the facts no longer co-operate is difficult. Apparently it’s easier to change the facts (by denial, equivocation, etc.). Or, equally effective in reducing the dissonance, you can convince others that you are right. That validation is just as effective as a friendly set of facts, especially if it comes from powerful and important people and comes with rewards both social and financial.Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.
These are BRILLIANT.
"My own recommendation to people is that they should avoid using the redundant patterns they object to. That way at least they are reducing the overall frequency of redundancies."
I think the generalized version of this rule (for it applies to a lot more than usage of redundancies) is not only elegant and appealing to my liberalism, it's also more likely to work than the method commonly employed, of trying to get other people to care about your own pet peeves.
Haters of redundancy, get ready to bristle at this email announcement I received today:
Please note that the 7th floor common room in the Dugald Stewart Building will be closed today from 10:30am until 1pm due to an event taking place.
An event taking place? But isn't taking place the only thing that events can do? Isn't taking place their whole thing, the only property they have in common? We have a redundancy here!
Some people actually get worked up about this sort of thing. One commenter over at Lingua Franca, for example, hates to see "The reason is because…" — the double reference to reasons strikes him as objectionable (he wants everyone to write "The reason is that…"). A responding commenter points out that redundancy doesn't entail ungrammaticality, but I doubt that this correct observation will have any effect on the deeply held personal peeve in question.
My own recommendation to people is that they should avoid using the redundant patterns they object to. That way at least they are reducing the overall frequency of redundancies. Whereas nagging at people to change their usage will probably have the same effect as trying to teach a pig to sing. (Why should you not try to teach a pig to sing? The reason is because it not only wastes your time, it also annoys the pig.)
So I won't be writing any memo to the 7th floor people to get "due to an event taking place" changed to "due to an event". Nor to get "due to" changed to "owing to" or "because of" (though the use of due to in this kind of nonpredicative context was once widely judged ungrammatical by prescriptivists — I remember being warned against it in high school).
The idea is that I will concentrate on my own usage rather than other people's. As far as their writing is concerned, I plan to simply let events take place.
While cleaning up my hard drive recently, I found a folder of papers I wrote in grad school. Some of them aren’t total shit, but the titles are. So I’ve renamed them to reflect my post-academic hopes: that somebody besides me might ever want to read them.
I swear to God, the original titles are real. Feel free to make fun.
Original Title: The Usefulness of Unease in Jacobean Tragedy
New Title: SO, UHH, INCEST. YEP. WELL.
IT SOMETIMES WORKS AS A NARRATIVE DEVICE . NOPE.
Original Title: The Essay is the Genre that Encloses All Others: Shifting & Collapsing Aldous Huxley’s Magnetic Poles
New Title: IMAGONNA CALL A BUNCH OF ESSAYS THAT AREN’T ESSAYS “ESSAYS” #becausephd
1.) Practice saying your new name. Say it aloud to friends, family, and police officers. Ask yourself these questions: Can I pronounce it? Can I spell it? Can I remember it?
2.) If you are changing your name as part of getting married, proceed to step 2b.) If not, skip to step 3.
2b.) Go online and print out an application for your marriage license. On the application, there will be a question asking what you want your new name to be, followed by a large blank space. Whatever you write here will be your new name! Congratulations! Mazel tov!
2c.) The application will most likely have some rules attached stating that you can only change your surname during the marriage process, but apparently this is bullshit. If say, you are going from Kathleen Hale to Kathleen Rich, but want to change your middle name from Erin to Hale (sorry Ireland) you should do it here. Otherwise you will find yourself going through the usual name change channels at the courthouse, which, as you can see by the length of this guide, is a total nightmare. Not to mention: once you have gone through weeks of bureaucratic bullshit, and endured a lot of snark from government employees, you will find yourself face to face with a particularly snarky government employee, who will tell you, "haha, you could have just done this when you got your marriage license—yeah it says not to, but they have to honor whenever you put down" and you will understand in that moment why he is talking to you from behind bullet proof glass. If you were stupid enough to take these bullshit rules at face value, proceed to step 3.
3.) Your only option is to Google "how to change your name in [insert your city, state, country here]." There will be application forms available through a government website. Fill one out. Press print.
4.) The printed application will include a list of things to bring with you to the courthouse in order to change your name. Some of these things are hard to find and scary to lose (birth certificate, etc.) Also, the courthouse might not accept copies, depending on where you live, so put everything in a special folder.
4b) Duct tape shut the folder.
4c.) Wrap it in chains.
4d.) Padlock the chains around your waist.
5.) Proceed to the courthouse.
6.) Take a number.
7.) Wait for the rest of your life.
7b.) You are surrounded by women holding screaming babies. Many are frustrated, pleading with the government employees that their husbands left them and they just want to change their name back to the one before. "It's not like I'm The Talented Mr. Ripley or some shit," one of the women yells. The man who is supposed to be helping her is talking loudly to another employee about Lebron James.
7c.) "This place SUCKS," you mutter.
7d.) "It does," says the woman sitting next to you. The look in her eyes says she has been here a thousand years.
8.) Your number is called. You find yourself face-to-face with the Lebron hater. He says you brought all the wrong forms. "But I brought the ones it said to bring on the application," you say. "We get to ask for whatever forms we want," he screams. He is screaming! You want to scream back but you also want to change your name. "Okay," you say quietly. "So what do I do?" (If you want to change your name because you got divorced, and want your old name back, proceed to 8b. Otherwise, skip to 9.)
8b.) One of the things that you need, if you’re changing your name because of a divorce, is a note from your ex-husband granting permission to change your name! This isn't legally necessary, but the judge is allowed to dismiss your petition on these grounds. A lady standing next to me was apparently turned away because she didn't have a permission slip like this, or a form of her ex husband's ID. "But he won't talk to me," she yells. "I can't find him!" The people who might help her keep talking sports. Your heart aches for her.
8c.) CURSE THE PATRIARCHY!
9.) Exit the courthouse. Go to your bank to get a notarized proof of residency and a cashiers check for $65.
9b.) Look at your watch. Five hours of your life are missing.
10.) Return to the courthouse. Return to the man who hates Lebron and apparently everyone else. "You took too long," he says. "We're about to have our government lunch break." He shakes his head, stamping your forms so slowly that you wonder if he is taking quick naps in between. He passes the forms back to you and sends you downstairs to pay, and then upstairs to see the judge. He makes it sound like the judge is the last step. "But you'll never make it," he says.
11.) Pay a man. This is what your cashier check was for. Race to the elevator, cursing how slow it is. You want to go home!
12.) Run from the elevator to the courtroom just as the court officer is locking the door. "THIS IS OUR LUNCH HOUR," she screams, her face a mix of rage and terror, as if you might steal her lunch hour, as if everyone everywhere is always stealing her hours. She keeps screaming and part of you wants to scream back but you also want to change your name. "Okay," you say, putting up your hands. "When should I come back?"
12b.) ONE AND A HALF HOURS???? OUR TAXES COVER A ONE AND A HALF HOUR LUNCH BREAK???? HOW DO YOU EVEN MAKE A SANDWICH LAST THAT LONG—okay stay calm. These people have hard lives. Eat something. You could probably use a lunch break too.
12c.) Try to make this lunch last 1.5 hours. You can't. It's impossible. Reach for the book you forgot to bring.
12d.) Wonder how people with day jobs run these kinds of errands.
13.) Return to the courthouse 30 minutes early and wait for 60 minutes for the court officer to unlock the door. The lunch break can take up to two hours.
13b.) Sit on the wooden bench, stare at the empty judge's seat, wonder if this is where you live now. Reach for your phone. Maybe there's something fun on Twitter—
13c.) "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?" The court officer asks. "NO PHONES IN THE COURTROOM!"
13d.) Put away your phone. Go to a place in your head. Go to your castle on a cloud.
13e.) "STOP SINGING!" The officer shouts.
13f.) You are singing songs from Les Miserables.
14.) The judge approved your petition!!!!!!!! DAMN THE MAN BUT PRAISE THE EMPIRE!!
15.) Shit. You have to go back to that Lebron guy. You find out his name is Torres. "Hi, Mr. Torres," you say when he calls your number. You hope that being polite and respectful and using his human name will change his tone. "How do you know my name?" He snaps. He doesn't recognize you, but he does make a big performance about how creepy you are to his coworkers.
15b.) Torres stops sneering at you long enough to give you the certified name change thing and a list of local newspapers. He tells you that you have to get the name change published.
16.) Walk to the office of the nearest newspaper. Most neighborhoods have ones you've never heard of. Tell them you need to publish your name change. They will know what this means. They will be nicer than Torres but will charge you another forty dollars, and only accept cash or check.
17.) Wait two weeks for the paper to publish the name change. Receive a clipping from them in the mail.
18.) Grit your teeth and return to the courthouse. Torres will need to file this, the fucker.
18a.) Wait for your number to be called.
18b.) Get yelled at by Torres.
18c.) Find out the paper published the name change under the wrong five digit number.
19.) Return to the newspaper. Scoop handfuls of stale hard candy from the secretary's desk while explaining to her in a choked voice that they made a slight mistake. She will apologize so profusely that you will feel bad about how you're probably giving her dead bitch face. But when her back is turned you will steal more candy.
20.) Wait two more weeks for the paper to reprint the name change with the proper number.
21.) Return to Torres. Wait for him to call your number. Wait for him to stop talking about sports for a few minutes after he has called your number. Give him the published name change. "You have to send a copy of the name change to all these places," he says, pointing to a list of like, eight places, including the US prison system. You're pretty sure you can skip that one but you decide against discussing that with Torres, who seems particularly snippy today. "So…just to confirm," you say, "this isn't over?" He gives you a look that says it will never be over. He sends you to the basement for certified copies, 12 dollars each, and tells you that the name change won't be complete until you bring him certified mail receipts, which also cost extra, for each thing you mail out.
22.) Go to the basement. Meet a depressed-looking elderly man who seems to have been working there since the Great Depression. Hand him your official name change thing. Consult your list of places to mail to (the social security administration, the DMV, etc), and ask for six copies.
22b.) This will take the man 45 minutes to accomplish. Try to be patient with him because he is a million years old. Pay him $72 for the special copies.
23.) Mail off the copies. Tell the employee at the post office you need a certified mail receipt. He has you fill something out and says the receipts will arrive in a few weeks.
24b.) Receive the receipts.
24c.) Cry because this means facing Torres.
24d.) Hang your head.
24e.) Lift dat chin.
25.) Return to the courthouse. Wait for your number to be called.
26.) after yelling at a non-English speaker to "learn the language," and imitating "the Chinglish" for his coworkers, Torres waves you over. You hand him the receipts, hoping to get out of here without speaking. "These aren't the right ones," he says, sliding them back to you. "Looks like you messed up. Go back and get me the right ones."
"But I already got confirmation from the social security administration, and the DMV,” you explain, trying to control your mounting rage, “and the passport agency – can't I just show you those since it's all basically done as far as they are concerned?"
26b.) Torres laughs in your face. He needs the right receipts, he says. You will have to send new certified copies to every place you've already sent them, even though those places have already done your paperwork, simply so that the courthouse can have the receipt they like.
27.) Return to the basement man.
27b.) Pay him $72 again.
28.) Go to the post office. Show them a photo on your phone of the receipt you need. Mail the forms. Again.
29.) Wait a day. Regroup. You have been doing this for two months at this point and you need to meditate or eat some fried food or find a drug dealer with Valium before you can face Torres.
30.) Return to the courthouse, out of your mind on French fries and Valium, with some nice lady telling you nice stuff about chakras through your earbuds. Wait for your number to be called.
31.) It's not Torres!!!!!! It's some lady!!!!! PRAISE BE!
32.) Hand her the receipts.
33.) They have lost your file.
34.) "But it's somewhere," she says, waving her mouse around its pad. She is consulting your digital copy. Thank god they have digital copies, you think, you wouldn't have pegged them for people who do that sort of thing.
35.) She is making a face at her computer screen. "Says here that you were all set with your name change once the judge said so," she says. "So I don't know why you thought you had to do the mailings. That's just for certain folks. WHOA!" She's staring at you. "What's wrong with your face? Are you crying?!"
36.) Slink away to the elevators. Jab the buttons. When it finally arrives, it is empty except for one man.
37.) "Torres," you hiss, joining him inside the elevator.
38.) "How did you know my name?" He says.
39.) “We’ve spent a million years together,” you say.
40) “Who are you?” he says.
41) Look at him with defiance. “I was Kathleen Hale. But now I’m Kathleen Fucking Rich. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Kathleen Hale is the author of two novels, No One Else Can Have You and Nothing Bad is Going to Happen (the latter will be published by HarperTeen in 2015). Her essays and reporting have appeared in Vice, Elle, and Hazlitt, among other places.10 Comments