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21 Jul 23:28

Organ and tissue donation saves lives

by Fred Clark

Nothing I have to say today is as important as this, from Blue Girl, “On Science.”

This is an excerpt, go read the whole thing.

Let me tell you a little secret you probably suspected about medicine. … Most of it is icky.

We stick needles in you to withdraw fluids.

We cut you open, prod around, rearrange, add and remove parts.

BlueGirl… Some of the really icky stuff takes place in the lab. That is where tissue is analyzed and biopsied and research is done.

That is where cancerous breasts that have been removed in a mastectomy come to determine the stage and spread of cancer, and are biopsied and cross-sectioned and stained and studied. Oh … this is what first got your husband to look at you? Now we’re doing clinical tests on it he wants no part of.

The morgue is downstairs, connected by tube and elevator.

So we do the autopsies.

Sometimes, that autopsy is on a stillbirth, and sometimes it’s on a neonate that was born alive but didn’t survive.

Those are the really quiet ones.

We have in front of us a perfectly healthy full-term infant. Except it’s dead.

The pathologist and the technologist have been known to clasp hands over the body, even cross themselves or say a silent prayer before the first incision is made, especially if both have children.

I have stood at that table and searched for the elusive cause of death to give a family grieving the greatest loss imaginable an answer to the question they must have an answer to. “Why me? Why my baby? Why???”

Sometimes it’s apparent – it’s an aortic aneurysm that dissected and ruptured and there was nothing to be done,

Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s a minor defect in the development of the kidneys that could have been fixed by fetal surgery at 30 weeks if it had been detected.

The causes of fetal demise are varied, but that doesn’t matter to the family going through the loss. To them, no one has ever hurt this bad, felt this much pain, been this mad at God. …

And that is what pisses me off so bad about the latest attack video on Planned Parenthood.

The so-called pro-life activists playing “gotcha” with a doctor who thinks and speaks in clinical terms essentially wants more people like me to clasp hands with a pathologist before they start to cut on a dead baby to find out why it is in front of them instead of in the nursery.

I’m sure it won’t be the last time I have to say it, but damn I’m getting tired of saying it. …When a fetus is aborted by the D & X procedure, it’s a wanted child but the pregnancy has gone wrong — horribly, horribly wrong. Sometimes the fetus has fatal or quality-of-life defects and the parents decide the humane thing is termination. There are other instances where the mother’s life, health or future fertility are at risk.

And guess what, pro-lifers? If you get the fuck out of the way and stop playing “gotcha” and setting up front groups with no other purpose than to entrap a Planned Parenthood (only 3 percent of their work is abortions) official discussing a topic that is inherently unpleasant on hidden camera so they can heavily edit the footage, research can happen and less wanted children will die.


22 Jul 12:05


by Mark Liberman

Emily Landau, "Why Person-First Language Doesn’t Always Put the Person First", Think Inclusive 7/20/2015:

There are two main types of language used to refer disability: person-first language and what is known as identity-first language (IFL). PFL as a concept originated among people who wanted to fight back against stigma. In a society that perceived disability as dehumanizing, advocates wanted those around them to remember that having a disability does not, in fact, lessen your personhood. As such, the PFL movement encouraged the use of phrases like “person with disability,” “girl with autism” or “boy who is deaf.” In speaking this way and putting the person first, it was considered a show of respect.  

PFL was adopted as a general linguistic rule, moving from use by the people who initiated the movement towards heavy use by those in professional spheres. It essentially became the law of the land. Teachers, doctors, nurses, social service professionals, government officials… everyone was told that they should use only PFL. Using a term such as “disabled person?” A cardinal sin.  

However, as with almost any major activism movement, PFL sparked a countermovement, known as identity-first. IFL is a linguistic concept embraced and actually preferred by countless people within the disability community. In the ideology of identity-first, “disabled” is a perfectly acceptable way for a person to identify. Instead of going out of your way to say “person with a disability,” when using IFL you would instead say “disabled person.” This is how I personally choose to identify myself. I am a disabled person.

See also Lorcan Kenny et al., "Which terms should be used to describe autism? Perspectives from the UK autism community", Autism, Published online before print July 1, 2015:

Recent public discussions suggest that there is much disagreement about the way autism is and should be described. This study sought to elicit the views and preferences of UK autism community members – autistic people, parents and their broader support network – about the terms they use to describe autism. In all, 3470 UK residents responded to an online survey on their preferred ways of describing autism and their rationale for such preferences. The results clearly show that people use many terms to describe autism. The most highly endorsed terms were ‘autism’ and ‘on the autism spectrum’, and to a lesser extent, ‘autism spectrum disorder’, for which there was consensus across community groups. The groups disagreed, however, on the use of several terms. The term ‘autistic’ was endorsed by a large percentage of autistic adults, family members/friends and parents but by considerably fewer professionals; ‘person with autism’ was endorsed by almost half of professionals but by fewer autistic adults and parents. Qualitative analysis of an openended question revealed the reasons underlying respondents’ preferences. These findings demonstrate that there is no single way of describing autism that is universally accepted and preferred by the UK’s autism community and that some disagreements appear deeply entrenched.


22 Jul 16:02

Conspiracy theory

by Mo
25 Jul 10:39

Learning 100 characters at age 100

by Victor Mair

Xinhua / New China informs us:

After attending a 10-day literacy course, Zhao Shunjin, who had never learned to read or write, mastered over 100 Chinese characters at the age of 100.

Zhao, a former vegetable vendor from Hangzhou City in east China's Zhejiang Province, had never been to school and knew no characters except her own name before taking the course, part of a government-funded program.

Most people who applied for the community literacy classes were aged 70 to 80.


A census in 2010 found China's illiteracy rate was 4.88 percent, compared with 80 percent after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, thanks to a campaign that began in the 1950s.

"Across China: Centenarian learns to read and write" (7/21/15)

It's nice that Zhao Shunjin has learned 100 Chinese characters at the age of 100, but we need to put this accomplishment in perspective.

First of all, mastering 100 Chinese characters doesn't make a person literate.  She needs to learn at least ten times that many to attain basic literacy.

Secondly, to say that China had achieved an illiteracy rate of 4.88 percent in 2010 is scarcely credible.  As Anne Stevenson-Yang, the astute and highly respected China economy watcher, says:

People are crazy if they believe any [Chinese] government statistics, which, of course, are largely fabricated. In China, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of physics holds sway, whereby the mere observation of economic numbers changes their behavior.

From "Why Beijing’s Troubles Could Get a Lot Worse", an interview by Jonathan R. Laing originally published in Barron's Online on December 6, 2014.  N.B.:  For decades, Stevenson-Yang (who incidentally is married to a former PLA intelligence officer!) was a China enthusiast / believer, but gradually the disconnect between rhetoric (propaganda) and reality became so great that she changed her tune radically.  If you do a Google search on Anne Stevenson-Yang and read about ten pages of entries that it calls up, you'll see what I mean.

Last month, China was transfixed by the tragic case of the suicide of four young children (the oldest was 13) who committed suicide after suffering from extreme poverty and hunger when both their parents left them to go work in urban areas.  Here is the heart-rending statement by the mother, Ren Xifen (age 32), after returning to the village of Bijie in the remote southwestern province of Guizhou where the children died to view their bodies:

"I am illiterate and cannot even write my own name. I wanted them to perform well in school, unlike me, living a hard life," she said.

"Tearful mother returns to China '[four] suicide children': Xinhua" (6/14/15) (emhpasis added)

For Zhao Shunjin to be illiterate at age 100 or Ren Xifen to be illiterate at age 32 is not the least bit atypical for women of all ages in rural areas of China.  I observed it myself in my wife's ancestral village, which is about 50 miles from the large eastern city of Qingdao (where Tsingtao beer comes from), and in many other villages across the length and breadth of China.

Since women make up roughly half of the population of China (48.17% in 2013), and since the rural population of China is just under 50% (World Bank figures), it is highly unlikely that illiteracy could be as low as 4.88%, especially when we consider that many men in rural areas are also functionally illiterate.  I have met them in numerous far-flung villages across China and my wife made trips to such villages to teach crash courses on pinyin to help illiterate peasants gain a much quicker and far easier kind of literacy than is possible with Chinese characters.

We have often addressed the issue of literacy rates on Language Log.  See, for example:

"The cost of illiteracy in China" (3.31/12)

"Mair on Washington Post on illiteracy in China" (5/1/07)

The very real problem of people who cannot read and write in China will not be solved by a few feel-good stories of elderly folk learning a small number of characters, nor will it be solved by publishing unbelievably low government figures for illiteracy.  What needs to be done is to give a long, hard, honest look at the causes of illiteracy, and then take practical steps to alleviate them through effective social and educational measures.

22 Jul 17:00

The Metaphor That I Think About Probably Every Day

by Haley Mlotek

Well, here goes:

My very first gynecologist told me, “the vagina is a self-cleaning oven.”

I have never stopped thinking about this. I mean, I know what she was saying—that it takes care of itself and that’s why you shouldn’t fuck around with douches or whatever—but.

I find this metaphor to be entirely disgusting.


If the vagina is a self-cleaning oven.

Then what.

Is supposed.

To be.




22 Jul 18:00

Genres I Will Invent When I Turn 60 and Become a Ponytailed Novelist

by Matt Lubchansky

Fiction! Nobody likes it. It’s time to disrupt the whole damn thing with some NEW GENRES and you know it.

Read more Genres I Will Invent When I Turn 60 and Become a Ponytailed Novelist at The Toast.

23 Jul 10:00

Stop Trying To Be Creative

by Christie Aschwanden

I recently finished a story I’d spent several months obsessing over. When I pitched the piece to my editor, I knew that I’d found a worthy subject, but I couldn’t quite articulate what the story was about. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the words — it’s that I didn’t have an answer yet. All I knew was that I had something interesting that I couldn’t help pursuing, even if I had no clue what it would become.

After months of dissecting research papers, interviewing experts, stumbling down “dabbit holes” (as we call them here at FiveThirtyEight6) and not writing a single draft, my editor gave me a non-negotiable deadline, and I spiraled into a well of despair. I had a desk cluttered with scientific papers, a hard drive stuffed with gigabytes of research and three chalkboards covered in illegible notes, yet still no tangible form for my obsession. Only in the final hours, with the deadline closing in, did something resembling a story emerge. The first draft that I puked out was no masterpiece, but it was finally something. All those scribbles and stacks of paper were necessary steps, but only in retrospect can I see where they were pointing me.

When I told this story to University of Central Florida computer scientist Kenneth Stanley, he nodded in recognition. I met Stanley, a mild-mannered artificial intelligence researcher, without intending to. We were at the Santa Fe Institute, where he was spending a sabbatical and I was in residence as a journalism fellow. Stanley had stumbled upon an algorithmic principle that pointed the way to creativity in science, art, culture and life, a principle he outlines in a new book, “Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective.” He told me that a computer algorithm he’d created suggested that my chaotic, unstructured writing process was the ideal way to produce creative work.

The story of how he discovered this concept, Stanley told me, is an example of the idea itself. He invented an algorithm called NeuroEvolution of Augmenting Topologies (NEAT) with the purpose of evolving artificial neural networks. Soon, other programmers were building computer apps that used NEAT to evolve pictures. “I was fascinated,” Stanley said. Although he’d invented the algorithm, it had never occurred to him that it could be used to make art. He was hooked, and he and some colleagues created a website called Picbreeder where anybody could use NEAT to breed pictures the way you might breed a dog or cat.

In Picbreeder’s nine years of operation, its users have evolved nearly 10,000 images. It works by first showing the user a grid of 15 images like the one below.

creativity 1

Stanley calls these “blobs.” You select a blob — the one in the center, say — and then the algorithm takes it and produces children.

creativity 2

You pick one of the children, which then has its own children, and so on. The starting blobs have random topologies and don’t look like real objects. But as users kept selecting the new, spin-off blobs, something larger emerged. The images below were created via Picbreeder’s evolutionary process — users evolved color along with everything else. “These are not artist renderings or anything like that,” Stanley said, “and yet they look like things from nature.” Furthermore, this wasn’t just one fluke result. Users were regularly evolving complex pictures that looked like real things. Stanley started wondering, why are people so consistently finding interesting things?


He found an answer by playing Picbreeder. Out of the blue one day, Stanley created a car. “I wasn’t looking for a car,” he told me, and when he discovered it, his immediate reaction was, “What just happened? How did I just do that?”

CreativityfrogeyesStanley had started with an image that had two circles inside of an oval. “I thought it looked like an alien face, sort of like E.T.,” he said. He picked the alien face thinking that he’d evolve some more E.T.s. But it didn’t happen that way. As the images evolved, the eyes of the alien started to descend, and at some point they began looking like wheels. “In hindsight, you can see the eyes turning into the wheels, but looking forward, you’d never be able to predict something like that,” he said. Most people wouldn’t look at the first picture and say, yeah, I’m going to turn that face into a car, yet that’s exactly what happened.

creativity 5

Stanley could have assumed that he’d won the Picbreeder lottery with a lucky event. But when he looked back at the path that users had taken to get butterflies and skulls and teapots and sunsets, he found that it was always the same story. None of the precursors looked like the final products. No one got a butterfly by selecting the blob that looked most butterfly-like. In fact, Stanley says, if you pick the picture in each round that looks most like the butterfly, you never get the butterfly.

The same sort of blind process happened in another series of experiments where Stanley and Joel Lehman instructed robots to work toward defined objectives. In one experiment a bipedal robot programmed to walk farther and farther actually ended up walking less far than one that simply was programmed to do something novel again and again, Stanley writes. Falling on the ground and flailing your legs doesn’t look much like walking, but it’s a good way to learn to oscillate, and oscillation is the most effective motion for walking. If you lock your objectives strictly on walking, you won’t hit that oscillation stepping stone. Stanley calls this the “objective paradox” — as soon as you create an objective, you ruin your ability to reach it.

It would be easy to dismiss these results as some weird quirk of Picbreeder or robots, but research by psychologists such as Dean Keith Simonton at the University of California, Davis, has shown that the kind of blind searching that Stanley observed in his experiments is at the root of many creative innovations. Most creative geniuses don’t start with a specific goal and follow it through with deliberate practice, said Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. Instead, they maintain an openness to discovering whatever arises.

Although this openness to new ideas might sound like just waiting around for serendipity to strike, it’s a more deliberate process. For instance, Picbreeder users don’t select pictures completely at random — they pick ones that have some intrinsic potential. They don’t know that a particular blob will lead to a butterfly, Stanley said, “but they understand that this is a path that’s worth going down for nonrandom reasons.” Simonton’s research has similarly shown that the best predictor of creative achievement is an openness to experience and cognitive exploration.

None of this means that goals don’t have a place, but they’re not a great driver of creativity. Rather than beginning with a specific goal, most creative people “start out with with a hazy intuition or vision,” Kaufman told me. “After a lot of trial and error they get closer and closer to discovering what their idea is and then they become really, really gritty to flesh it out.”

Objectives are fine when you have a modest goal and the path to get there is clear. “I would sound like a kook if I was like, no one ever should have an objective ever again,” Stanley said. “If I want some lunch, I’m not going to just wander around until I stumble upon a sandwich.” But if you’re trying to create something new, an objective can stand in your way.

Seeking novelty instead of objectives is risky — not every interesting thread will pay off — but just like with stocks, the potential payoffs are higher. (It’s no coincidence that Stanley and I were having our conversation at the Santa Fe Institute, where patron writer Cormac McCarthy has written failure into the institute’s mission statement and offices are shared among researchers from different fields, because you never know what they’ll learn from each other.)

When I’m mired in a pile of overwhelming reportage, sudden insights arrive when my frustration is at its peak. It’s the point where, like that robot flailing its legs, I’m forced to try something completely different because I’ve depleted the most obvious options. After reading Stanley’s book, I’ve started to think of those moments of frustration as prerequisites to creativity instead. I’ve also gained a little more faith in my messy methods. When I give myself space to let ideas percolate, good things happen naturally.

23 Jul 14:00

Slave Families’ Desperate Efforts to Reunite During Reconstruction

by Lisa Wade, PhD

“It is fair to say,” writes historian Heather Williams about the Antebellum period in America, “that most white people had been so acculturated to view black people as different from them that they… barely noticed the pain that they experienced.”

She describes, for example, a white woman who, while wrenching enslaved people from their families to found a distant plantation, describes them as “cheerful,” in “high spirits,” and “play[ful] like children.” It simply never occurred to her or many other white people that black people had the same emotions they did, as the reigning belief among whites was that they were incapable of any complex or deep feeling at all.

It must have created such cognitive dissonance, then — such confusion on the part of the white population — when after the end of slavery, black people tried desperately to reunite with their parents, cousins, aunties and uncles, nieces and nephews, spouses, lovers, children, and friends.

And try they did. For decades newly freed black people sought out their loved ones. One strategy was to put ads in the paper. The “Lost Friends” column was one such resource. It ran in the Southwestern Christian Advocate from 1879 until the early 1900s and a collection of those ads — more than 330 from just one year — has been released by the Historic New Orleans Collection. Here is an example:


The ads would have been a serious investment. They cost 50 cents which, at the time, would have been more than a day’s income for most recently freed people.

Williams reports that reunions were rare. She excerpted this success story from the Southwestern in her book, Help Me To Find My People, about enslaved families torn asunder, their desperate search for one another, and the rare stories of reunification.


In the SOUTHWESTERN of March 1st, we published in this column a letter from Charity Thompson, of Hawkins, Texas, making inquiry about her family. She last heard of them in Alabama years ago. The letter, as printed in the paper was read in the First church Houston, and as the reading proceeded a well-known member of the church — Mrs. Dibble — burst into tears and cried out “That is my sister and I have not seen her for thirty three years.” The mother is still living and in a few days the happy family will once more re-united.

I worry that white America still does not see black people as their emotional equals. Psychologists continue to document what is now called a racial empathy gap, both blacks and whites show lesser empathy when they see darker-skinned people experiencing physical or emotional pain. When white people are reminded that black people are disproportionately imprisoned, for example, it increases their support for tougher policing and harsher sentencing. Black prisoners receive presidential pardons at much lower rates than whites. And we think that black people have a higher physical pain threshold than whites.

How many of us tolerate the systematic deprivation and oppression of black people in America today — a people whose families are being torn asunder by death and imprisonment — by simply failing to notice the depths of their pain?

Cross-posted at A Nerd’s Guide to New Orleans.

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

(View original at

23 Jul 18:00

Nobody Knows What Old Newspapers Were Going On About

by Jaya Saxena

"Corn is good" is not news.

Read more Nobody Knows What Old Newspapers Were Going On About at The Toast.

23 Jul 18:00

Just Never Get Married

by Alexandra Molotkow


In 2003, Winnipeg judge Lori Douglas, then a lawyer, found out that her husband, Jack King, also a lawyer, had posted private and very explicit pictures of her on a website. Much worse, he had shown some of them to a client, allegedly to entice him to sleep with her. Douglas and King have both denied her involvement, the matter was initially settled out of court, and Douglas went on to become a judge. But the matter resurfaced, and in 2011, a Canadian Judicial Council panel was convened to determine, among other things, whether the photos “undermined confidence in the justice system and her ability to act as a judge.” (She has since agreed to retire.)

King’s behavior was, in his own words, “bizarre, ridiculous, stupid, self-indulgent, grotesque”—just for starters. But if Douglas had nothing to do with it, and it appears she didn’t, she was a victim, and evidence of her private sex life has nothing to do with her job performance. I think most Hairpin readers would agree. But it doesn’t really matter what our values are; we’re part of a society, and society has its peeves and its momentum. Just by talking about Douglas (sorry, Lori), even sympathetically, you are serving as a cog in the machine.

The Ashley Madison hack, and the shame implied in being outed as a cheater, is a different thing, in the sense that most of us agree that cheating is a moral wrong (whether it’s one of those bad wrongs is another thing) while posing for sex pics within a trusting relationship is not. But in both cases you have public shame for private activities.

I think most of us with liberal minds put a lot of faith in our “sin” classification systems, as if they matter. Using racial slurs is a bad, everybody’s-business sin, while cheating on your spouse is a maybe-bad, nobody’s-business sin, and appearing naked in pictures is a not-actually-bad, nobody’s-business sin. All of this is well and good from a theoretical point of view, it’s important to know your own values, but that’s just not how it works. The suggestion of “a bad thing” is enough to damn someone, even if it’s not bad at all, once it’s slathered all over the Internet.

Another article of faith: the private/public distinction, as it relates to morality. Years ago you could be a horrible person but a good citizen and get off scot-free, but now everything comes to light eventually in the social panopticon. Not to be too heavy-handed, but: we are basically living in a religious dystopia! ha haaa. Which probably has some positive side effects—the easiest way to keep your ass clean is to just be decent in all your affairs—but it’s also full-stop terrifying.

When I first read about the Lori Douglas matter, I had some very naive hopes that shamings that egregious might change attitudes and maybe encourage more compassion for the outed, especially now that we’re all public. And that’s not not the case, but compassion only goes so far; the damning is done and it sticks, regardless of how right-thinking individuals feel about it. Sometimes, the public unites against the outing institution, or a “scandalized” person shows exceptional grace under pressure and the whole affair becomes proof of character. But most of the time it doesn’t go that way, perhaps because most people are public without having trained for it, and the whole thing is just a friendly reminder that we’re all part of a giant blobby mass against which any individual has very limited power.

24 Jul 00:08

‘Why is it men who commit mass shootings?’

by Fred Clark

Why is it men who commit mass shootings?

That’s an academic discussion by Tristan Bridges and Tara Leigh Tober, and it explores academic theories for this pattern — such as that “when an identity someone cares about is called into question, they are likely to react by over-demonstrating qualities associated with that identity.” Many mass shooters seem to be responding to a sense of “masculinity threats,” and Bridges and Tober examine research that shows such threats often prompt men immersed in American notions of masculinity to respond by becoming: “more supportive of violence, less likely to identify sexual coercion, [and] more likely to support statements about the inherent superiority of males.”

All of which seems to suggest that the prevailing idea of masculinity in our culture is deeply, deeply effed up.*

But the stark obviousness of the pattern is something that should be noticed and discussed by everyone, including those of us who aren’t academic sociologists. The overwhelming majority of mass shootings are committed by men. That fact is so obvious that it goes without saying — and thus without exploring.

When we first hear news of the latest horrific spree of lethal violence we all know that the subsequent narrative of the story will be shaped and altered to fit the usual tropes determined by the race, ethnicity and ideology of the shooter. This grimly funny graphic that circulated on Twitter summarizes that depressing ritual:



If the killer is a white man, he will later be described as an aberrant, mentally disturbed exception to whiteness. If the killer turns out to be a black man, he will later be portrayed as an example of the inherent menace of blackness. If the killer turns out to be a Muslim, or to have a foreign-sounding name, then he will be portrayed as evidence of the terrorist menace that we’re all supposed to support by being sufficiently terrified. We all know that drill and much has been written, properly, about the flagrant, stupid, evil racism at work in that post-violence ritual.

But far less has been said about the larger pattern — the masculinity of such violence. We all see this and know this. We hear of the latest spree-killing and we anxiously wait to learn the race/ethnicity/ideology of the shooter and thus to learn which of the stale, inevitable, politicized narratives we’ll be forced to relive in the coming days, which of the exhausted arguments we’ll be forced to review and repeat.

Yet we never bother to wonder if the eventual suspect/shooter to be identified will turn out to be a woman. We know it won’t. This is a thing that men do.

Yes, yes, there are exceptions. We remember Sylvia Seegrist (who attended my alma mater) and the school shooting from “I Don’t Like Mondays.” But those exceptions are exceptional — extremely so and extremely rare as Bridges and Tober discuss:

Our map charts mass shootings with three or more victims over roughly five decades, since 1966. The dataset takes us through the Chattanooga, Tennessee shooting, which brought 2015 to 42 mass shootings (as of July). The dataset is composed of 216 separate incidents only five of which were committed by lone woman shooters.

This is a thing that men do.

The pattern is so utterly clear that we could almost expect Franklin Graham to start shrieking about banning male immigration and hinting that we need internment camps for men:

Four innocent [Americans] killed and three others wounded … yesterday … all by a radical [male] whose family was allowed to immigrate to this country from [a patriarchal country]. We are under attack by [males] at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of [men] to the U.S. until this threat with [masculinity] has been settled. Every [man] that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized. … During World War 2, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing [men] now? Do you agree? Let your Congressman know that we’ve got to put a stop to this and close the flood gates.

Graham’s nonsense wouldn’t make any more sense applied to men than it does applied to Muslims. His hysteria and incontinent bigotry — or his cynical attempt to fund-raise by appealing to such base fears — is patently unjust and brutishly stupid. But Graham’s hateful brain-fart was his attempt to participate in a larger, sometimes sensible, ongoing conversation about religious violence that highlights the utter lack of any such parallel conversation about masculine violence.

Many would agree that something has gone horribly wrong in the forms of religion that have curdled into support for Islamic terrorism — or for Christian terrorism (the Klan has killed more Americans than al-Qaida and Daesh combined). Some, like Graham or Pamela Geller, agree with the claims of the terrorists themselves — that such violence is intrinsic to their religion and represents the purest, truest form of their faith. But that claim is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the overwhelming majority of adherents of those faiths reject this violence.**

Likewise, it’s also true that the overwhelming majority of men do not become mass shooters. #NotAllMen is the first refuge of scoundrels desperate to change the subject. But while it is usually a beside-the-point attempt to squirm away from whatever uncomfortable truth is being discussed, and it almost never means what those trumpeting it seem to think it means, it’s still basically true. What that suggests, I think, is that some forms of masculinity are toxic and violent, but maleness does not have to take such forms.

Bridges and Tober seem to agree with this hope, interpreting male violence as, partly, an expression of “aggrieved entitlement,” or — in less academic language — “being pissed off about an inability to cash in on privileges previous generations of men received without question”:

Mass shootings can be understood as an extremely violent example of a more general issue regarding changes in relations between men and women and historical transformations in gender, race, and class inequality.

Thus their conclusion, which is food for thought:

Mass shootings are a pressing issue in the United States. And gun control is an important part of this problem. But, when we focus only on the guns, we sometimes gloss over an important fact: mass shootings are also enactments of masculinity. And they will continue to occur when this fact is combined with a sense among some men that male privilege is a birthright – and one that many feel unjustly denied.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* For an extravagant, explicit illustration of this dynamic of “when an identity someone cares about is called into question, they are likely to react by over-demonstrating qualities associated with that identity,” watch the dash-cam video of the Texas police officer arresting Sandra Bland. This is a white man desperately feeling a need to over-demonstrate the qualities he associates with whiteness and maleness. Those qualities turn out to be brutish, nasty, ignorant and violent.

My question here is whether his association of those qualities with those identities was accurate or necessary. My sense is, bleakly and bluntly, that this association was descriptively accurate. But I also believe, or at least hope, that such an association of those qualities with those identities is not necessarily normative. Just think of someone white and male who demonstrates a wholly different set of qualities — like, for example, Atticus Finch. Wait … bad example …

** The parallels between the violence of deformed religion and the violence of deformed masculinity are not comprehensive. One major difference is this: The majority of the victims of Islamic religious violence are Muslims, just as the majority of victims of the Christian terrorism of the Klan and of the Crusades were Christians. But the majority of victims of masculine violence are not other men. See, for example, today’s edition of your local paper, in the crime pages of the B section of Local News.

24 Jul 16:30

Gun “Enthusiasts” So Angry With BuzzFeed Right Now

by Choire Sicha

Don't pray. Push for gun control.

— Rachel Zarrell (@rachelzarrell) July 24, 2015

Real America is very angry with BuzzFeed’s Rachel Zarrell. When will she be punished for this tweet, Real America wants to know?

Will @rachelzarrell be disciplined for violating this> The BuzzFeed Editorial Standards And Ethics Guide via @shani_o

— Mary Evans (@granmary7235) July 24, 2015

She has violated the policies of The BuzzFeed Manual. It’s true!

This is from Buzzfeed's ethics guide @BuzzFeedBen. Care to comment?

— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) July 24, 2015

Here are some suggested punishments for Rachel.

• 24 Hours Banned From Twitter

• 48 Hours Banned From Twitter

• 72 Hours Banned From Twitter

• Sent home early today to just chill and hang out. Maybe a free lunch.

• A Week Banned From Twitter

• Maybe longer time with no Twitter? That will teach her a lesson.

19 Jul 23:00

The Evil of Banality

by Paul Bareham

The writer, theorist and academic Mark Fisher recently set up a Facebook page called ‘Boring Dystopia’, and invited the submission of photographs of Britain in the 21st century to illustrate the concept. I’ve already uploaded a few snaps, as manifestations of dullness and decay have long been an interest of mine, particularly the places where the banal and the broken intersect, and the true, terrible, tedious horror of modern life is revealed.

We’ve all read ‘1984’ and seen the implications of totalitarianism: the endless war, constant surveillance, the relentless propaganda machine, the purges, the torture, the executions, the mind boggling twists and turns in ideology, in language, in life under the heel of the system. But this is a very different dystopia that lacks even the charm of the police state: there are hardly any police for a start (the phalanx of coppers in the picture below dates from 2012, and the procession of the Olympic Torch).

This dystopia is held in place by neglect, by apathy, by a lack of resources, by a lack of interest. Everything is falling apart, but we lack the money and energy to make it right. Newly built things look half-dead even as they are unveiled, MDF where wood used to be, bricks made out of old bricks, slates and glass made out of plastic, all covered with a single coat of watery pastel paint.

New housing is prohibitively expensive and resembles a series of bird boxes split into quarters, sixths, eighths depending on how many newly weds are expected to cram into them. The pity of the boring dystopia is that these poorly and hastily constructed pens are sought after. It has come to this: we are so desperate to live somewhere that we will settle for a Lego house with a tiny consolatory patch of polyurethane lawn. There are some townhouses near to where I work. Each of them has one large window has a tiny balcony attached to it, like a fancy fringe on the bottom of a sofa. You cannot stand on it, sit on it, or even dangle a child over it. In any event, it just looks out onto a dirty, busy road.  

Local authorities and other central civil organisations are not instrumental in the boring dystopia, they are subsumed by it, just like everybody else. Lacking money, resources and motivation, their interventions are confined to putting up signs, or erecting fences and barriers to keep members of the public away from areas that they already have no interest in.

Old and empty buildings are no longer demolished, as that costs too much money, and the boring dystopia has put too many rules in place about blowing things up or setting fire to them. Instead these buildings ossify with pigeon droppings, and stalactites form like spindly toxic fingers. After a while the buildings become invisible.

Yet, despite the underpopulated office blocks, in spite of the abandoned buildings, we keep on building because we are not able to stop, perhaps because we want to fulfil the life trajectory we expected when our world was not so dystopic, not so boring. Or perhaps it’s to see out the job that our distant ancestors started several centuries ago: to carve up and chop down this land until every inch of it has the brand of civilisation upon it, until there is no corner or parcel of space that does not have a foot print or a unit or a trampoline upon it.   
There CCTV cameras everywhere, but they simply provide a continuous flow of unmonitored images. They flicker through the night in unmanned offices. If something happens, someone will review the footage, in exactly the same way that a store detective might rewind the day’s surveillance tape to check out a shoplifting incident – in 1990. We’ve spent billions on replicating a process that already existed. We’ve lost the whirring noise and gained blurred footage of Michael McIntire shopping.     

Who runs the boring dystopia? The answer is no-one. There is no-one driving. The government are too busy to bother with little things like the administration of the country now. They are like burglars who have meticulously planned a precision raid on a gold warehouse, only to get there and find all the doors open and the alarms switched off. They wander around, taking what they want, not quite believing their luck. After a while, they take their masks off. They know no-one will stop them, and they no longer care who sees them.

We can obey a dictator, respect an ideologue, fear a tyrant. These individuals lead by bending parts of the world to their will, and, whether we go along or fight against, we live or die in the shadow of their monstrous ego. But this dystopia is boring, and it is run by boring people, with boring motives, except for Ian Duncan Smith, the previously underestimated 'quiet man' who is apparently a sociopathic maniac.

So, yes, thanks to Mark Fisher, the Boring Dystopia has a name now, and Facebook users can participate in its cataloguing. It is unlikely to spark a revolution, or challenge the parameters of this society that we have created. We are too tired and disengaged to throw a brick, so we press a button to ‘like’ a picture of something that, actually, represents our cultural penury and societal subjugation, like condemned men unknowingly shaking the hand of their executioner, who uses the contact to estimate the length of the drop. We should be ashamed, really, mortally ashamed, but this dystopia has made us all boring, and we are too stupefied to do a fucking thing about it.   

POSTSCRIPT: I have now left the group. It was boring.
14 Jul 14:34

Tumblr Threatened My Life: The Problem with Non-Diverse Workforces

by Lisa Wade, PhD

SocImages has a Tumblr where all of the posts that pop up here (and more) get re-posted and go all over the internet. And a few days ago it gave me this post.

While I was working on the page, I saw a really interesting example of the kind of thoughtlessness that happens when designers aren’t thinking about all their potential users. Here’s a screenshot of what I encountered; it’s a timeline of all the things that had happened on the page in reverse chronological order, except the very top line, which is the interesting part. It reads:

SCREAM: You’ll never see it coming. TONIGHT.

Here’s a screenshot:5

As a female and, more importantly a woman-on-the-internet, my first gut reaction was that I was going to have to forward it to the FBI. You see, it’s an ad for something on MTV — and I realized that in the 2nd second — but, in the 1st second, I thought it was someone threatening to kill me.

I don’t mean to be overly dramatic about this. Even in the 1st second, my reaction was more well, hell than omg I’m gonna die, but I do wonder whether the ad managers at Tumblr or MTV ever considered the possibility that this way of advertising might be genuinely scary to someone, even if just for a second. I wonder if the managing team has anyone on it who is also a woman-on-the-internet. Or anyone who’s job it is to specifically think about the diversity of their users and how different strategies might affect them differently.

One doesn’t have to be routinely subject to threatening comments and messages to have the reaction I did. I could be someone who just left an abusive partner, someone who’s been attacked before, a witness in a criminal trial, a doctor who performs abortions or, christ, a black preacher in the South. Or maybe just someone who doesn’t appreciate an advertisement that, through an intended double meaning, implies that I, personally, am about to be attacked. That’s not funny, or fun, to everyone.

This kind of thing seems to happen all the time. Another example might be the Nikon camera feature, designed to warn you if someone blinked, that thinks Asian people have their eyes closed; the HP face-tracking webcam that can’t see black people; the obsessive health-tracking app that can’t be deleted off your iphone, even if you have an eating disorder; or the fact that it seems to track everything except menstrual cycles, making female-bodied people invisible.

This is one of the arguments for why businesses need diverse staff. Greater diversity — especially if everyone is explicitly given permission to raise issues like these — would make it far more likely that companies could avoid these gaffes and make products better for everyone.

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

(View original at

14 Jul 15:00

The Good Indian Friend: A Manual

by Neha Margosa

The good Indian friend is always up for “curry”.

She will take you to a faraway Indian restaurant in East London for “curry”, even though she wanted dosas. She is a veritable mine of recommendations for the best Indian restaurants in Brick Lane, or Chapel Market, or indeed, wherever one happens to be.

The good Indian friend ignores, on such occasions, her own cravings for grocery-store hummus.

The good Indian friend knows all about the perfect way to make “chai tea”. The redundancy keeps her up at night. But the good Indian friend refrains from informing you that the term makes no sense.

She is as affable to the stranger who asks her about cricket immediately upon discovering she’s from India as she is to the writer who will discuss only Salman Rushdie with her, and to the women who drag her along to a Bollywood Karaoke place.

If, one day, the good Indian friend is informed how “calm” she is, and asked: is it because Indians have this “deep, meditative air to them?” Even if the good Indian friend is a refugee from a home filled with meditation and saffron-coloured memoirs by Swamis, she will nod thoughtfully, appreciatively.

Read more The Good Indian Friend: A Manual at The Toast.

16 Jul 13:10

Freedom of speech (a true story)

by Fred Clark

News item: “Man calls cops on Connecticut flea market over Nazi and Confederate items.”

A Connecticut man suffered physical revulsion when he spotted Nazi and Confederate merchandise last week at a flea market near his home.

The man, who declined to use his name in media reports, said he saw a vendor selling the items at Redwood Flea Market in Wallingford and contacted police, reported the Record Journal.

“I was shaking and almost vomiting,” the man said, adding that he was Jewish and the grandson of a concentration camp survivor. “I had to run. My grandmother had numbers (tattooed on her body by Nazis).”

The man said the shop owner told him he had been selling so many Confederate weapons and flags that he could barely keep them in stock since the shooting of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist in South Carolina.

Police investigated the man’s complaint but said the merchant had not broken any laws, and Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he looked into the matter after the man contacted his office.

This man did what he could and what he needed to do. The merchandise in question was a direct attack on him, personally, and on people like him and he needed to get out of there. So please don’t take the story that follows as, in any way, a criticism of this man’s actions, or as a recommendation that everyone should do what I did, or as suggesting that everyone is in a position to do so.

The context of my situation was very different when, during one of the many summer street fairs back in Everybody’s Home Town, I came across a tent right there on the trolley tracks in front of the theater, where the vendor was selling Confederate Flag merchandise and “White Power” T-shirts. This merchandise wasn’t a direct attack on me, personally, but rather a direct attempt to appeal to me, personally. I wasn’t the one being attacked — just someone being invited to participate in an attack on others. I had the privilege, and the empowerment that comes with privilege, to safely take a different approach. So I did.

I approached the vendor and, with a strained politeness, suggested that these materials were not appropriate for our community and requested that he set them aside. I did not raise my voice and I did my best to project an air of respectful cordiality.

This is where this happened.

The vendor’s tent was right here. He hasn’t been back.

He responded by raising his voice and informing me that he had f–king paid for this space and that he had the f–king freedom of speech to sell whatever he f–king wanted to sell in his own f–king tent because this is f–king America. (He probably actually said “fuck” a bunch more times than that, but that was the gist of it.)

“You’re right,” I said. But since this is America, I reminded him, I also had the freedom of speech to say whatever I wanted to say out on the public street.

And so I began helping this man sell his Confederate flag decals and White Power T-shirts by standing just outside of his tent and loudly recruiting customers for him like a beer vendor at the ballpark.

Rrrrray-cist T-shirts! Get your racist T-shirts! … Show the world that you’re a proud racist by wearing one of our fine racist T-shirts, available for white people of all sizes. … You, sir! You look like a fine, decent, intelligent person and a patriotic American … So move along, then! There’s nothing for you here, we’re selling racist T-shirts. Racist T-shirts here! Rrrrray-cist T-shirts!

It went on like that. And on and on.

Fifteen minutes may not sound like a long time, but I was starting to get hoarse, and after quoting as much of the Declaration of Independence and 1 John as I could from memory — urging would-be customers to wear one of our fine racist T-shirts to proudly demonstrate they don’t believe any of that nonsense – I was starting to worry about running out of material.

Fortunately, that’s when the police arrived. The vendor called them. I was still barking at the top of my voice as the vendor spoke to the police officer behind me, so I didn’t hear their conversation and wasn’t sure what to expect when the officer put his hand on my shoulder. He steered me away, saying, “I need you to come with me, sir,” and walked me over to the sidewalk under the theater marquee.

Once we were out of ear-shot, the officer told me that the vendor was very upset but that he could “get this guy to play along” if it seemed like he was giving me a stern talking-to. He said the vendor had agreed to put away those T-shirts and all the Confederate stuff just as long as I agreed to go away and leave him alone.

So I did, and the vendor did, and that was that.

I lived there in the borough for another 10 years and went to every street fair I could because the food is always amazing. But I never saw that vendor, or his T-shirts, again.

(The moral of this story, if it’s not already clear, is that if you’re ever anywhere near Media, Pennsylvania, on a Sunday afternoon in the summertime, then you really need to go to one of the town’s street fairs. Don’t miss the booth for Margaret Kuo’s. Or Nooddi or Fellini’s or … heck, it’s all delicious.)


17 Jul 01:00

The best of Ant-Man on Texts From Superheroes.Facebook | Twitter | Patreon




The best of Ant-Man on Texts From Superheroes.

Facebook | Twitter | Patreon

18 Jul 19:29

Less than 1% of Women Regret Their Decision to Have an Abortion

by Lisa Wade, PhD

A new article reports the findings from a longitudinal study that followed 667 women who had early- and later-term abortions for three years after their procedure. Dr. Corinne Rocca and her colleagues asked women if they felt that the abortion was the “right decision” at one week and approximately every six months thereafter.

This is your image of the week:


Percent of women reporting that abortion was the right decision over three years:


Over 99% of the women said that the abortion was the right decision at every time point. The line that looks like the upper barrier of the graph? That’s the data.

Overall, measures of negative emotions were relatively low — an average score of under 4 on a 16-point scale at one week and declining to about 2 at three years — and were higher for women who had a more difficult time deciding whether to get an abortion or who subsequently had planned pregnancies. Whether the abortion occurred in the first trimester or near the legal limit did not correlate with emotional response.

In contrast, women reported twice as many positive emotions at one week. Over time, positive feelings about the abortion declined along with negative ones, suggesting that the experience became less emotionally charged overall with distance from the procedure.

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

(View original at

07 Jul 16:00

Should I Give Father John Misty A Chance?

by Alexandra Molotkow


– Just look at this fucker

– People seem to like him.

– People fawn over him for just being fine

– Yeah but he makes them happy and has some catchy songs. Also, that’s their issue, not his.

– I dunno, you need to have a ton of character to pull off super plain music and I just don’t think he has it

– Oooh everyone look interesting, the character police are here

– I don’t want to die, but the headline “Father John Misty Discusses His Cover of Arcade Fire’s ‘The Suburbs’” makes me think that maybe dying would be the right thing to do

– The Arcade Fire are a good band, get over it.

– What sort of name is “Father John Misty” for this guy

– He was raised evangelical or something, is that “authentic” enough for you, little baby?

– His posture and tone here remind me of Homer Simpson The Chosen One when Lisa warns him to beware the Ides of March and besides he just seems like a shitty dude

– Literally no male rock singer has ever not been a pompous, entitled dickwad and you like lots of them anyway. Also you sound really bitter.

– He sounds like stuff people did 50 years ago and 40 years ago and 30 years ago and 20 years ago and 10 years ago and

– Why does something have to be “innovative” to be good. People like established sounds for a reason and it brings them joy to see them riffed on well.

– Why don’t they listen to the Byrds instead

– Because are you 80.

– No

– You know it’s funny, you go on about how in with the new and let the old die but in spirit you are six centuries old and the Care Line on your Care Graph drops off way before most of the people you know were even born. How does it feel to be irrelevant by nature?

– Whatever

– I dunno, I just feel like we don’t need any more rock music and definitely no more rock music by people like Father John Misty

– Yeah but is that a reason he shouldn’t make it.

– No but it’s a reason I don’t have to listen

– If you’re not going to listen then maybe you don’t have a right to an opinion.

– What if I like my opinion better than I would like the music

– I hate that we are the same person.

07 Jul 20:30

Hillary Clinton’s Secret and Very Mundane Emails

by Choire Sicha

“Reading the correspondence and private writings of famous people is not new. We read the collected letters of Thomas Jefferson and C.S. Lewis and Edith Wharton, the private diaries of John Quincy Adams, Harry Truman, and Virginia Woolf. And politicians’ email archives are, in some ways, not unlike these tomes, at least insofar as the messages offer readers a similarly intimate glimpse of their authors’ daily lives, their petty concerns and recurring anxieties, friendships and jokes, fears and frustrations—who they are and how they act when they think no one is watching. Thomas Jefferson, too, was concerned with fruit.

11 Jul 19:51

“And Half the Seed of Europa”

by Blake Stacey

In the previous post, I looked at one way to take the theme of geek-culture wish fulfillment and run sideways with it. Another tempting possibility is a more Evangelion variation: play all the genre conventions absolutely straight, and show just how psychologically damaged every character would be.

Say you’re one of those gamer prodigies who’s whisked off to fight a glorious war in which your mad skills are the key to Saving the World. What happens when the war is over? What happens when you get shipped home with a headful of PTSD? Everything you enjoyed in your old life now reminds you of ordering good men to their deaths.

When you were a child on Earth, you fled all your troubles by escaping into games of war. Then the war found you.

What do you do when you can’t escape any longer?

(Title based on Wilfred Owen.)

06 Jul 14:45

Teens Only Laughing At 9/11 Until About Labor Day

by Choire Sicha

Hmm, teens think 9/11 is only going to be funny for a little while longer now:

The modern 9/11 joke takes aim at the truthers, the conspiracy theorists who ruled the Internet fringe in the early aughts. Constructing the joke is often as simple as fishing a conspiratorial slogan out from the Internet’s past and releasing it on the modern Web. The most popular catchphrase of the moment is “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams,” a riff on the truther mantra that fires sparked by planes couldn’t have burned hot enough to tumble the towers, so government bombs probably helped them out. More than 10 years after the attacks, jokesters co-opted the line, and after an incubation period in weird Twitter, it graduated to teen phenomenon last year and confirmed meme this spring. Now, Sept. 11 conspiracy humor is everywhere.

As quickly as teens are amused, however, teens move on.

08 Jul 09:51

Un justified

by Mark Liberman

Deborah Cameron, "Just don't do it", language: a feminist guide 7/5/2015:

This week everyone’s been talking about an article in the Economist explaining how men’s use of language undermines their authority. According to the author, a senior manager at Microsoft, men have a bad habit of punctuating everything they say with sentence adverbs like ‘actually’, ‘obviously’, ‘seriously’ and ‘frankly’. This verbal tic makes them sound like pompous bullshitters, so that people switch off and stop listening to what they’re saying. If they want to be successful, this is something men need to address.

OK, people haven’t been talking about that article—mainly because I made it up. No one writes articles telling men how they’re damaging their career prospects by using the wrong words. With women, on the other hand, it’s a regular occurrence. This post was inspired by a case in point: a piece published last month in Business Insider, in which a former Google executive named Ellen Petry Leanse claimed that women overuse the word ‘just’.

Prof. Cameron makes an interesting analogy:

This endless policing of women’s language—their voices, their intonation patterns, the words they use, their syntax—is uncomfortably similar to the way our culture polices women’s bodily appearance. Just as the media and the beauty industry continually invent new reasons for women to be self-conscious about their bodies, so magazine articles and radio programmes like the ones I’ve mentioned encourage a similar self-consciousness about our speech. The effect on our behaviour is also similar. Instead of focusing on what we’re saying, we’re distracted by anxieties about the way we sound to others. ‘Am I being too apologetic?’ and ‘Is my voice too high?’ are linguistic analogues of ‘is my nail polish chipped?’ and ‘do I look fat in this?’ […]

It bothers me that even feminists don’t seem to see the force of this analogy. When feminists encounter articles with headlines like ‘Are you eating too much fruit?’ or ‘Why implants are the new Botox’, they know they are in the presence of Beauty Myth bullshit, whose purpose is to make women feel bad about themselves. Feminists do not share those articles approvingly on Facebook. Yet a high proportion of my feminist acquaintance did share Leanse’s ‘just’ piece, and some of them shared the Jezebel commentary which appeared under the headline ‘Women, stop saying “just” so much, it makes you sound like children’. An article headed ‘Women, stop eating so much fruit, it makes you put on weight’ would immediately have raised their hackles.

This point is complementary to the question of whether the linguistic generalizations are even valid. In many cases, the assertions about usage, gender, and interpretation are empirically false. Certainly the claims about just are questionable at best (see "Just riffing", 6/29/2015; Kieran Snyder, "It’s just what you thought (except when it isn’t)", Jenga one week at a time, 7/1/2015).

The weak empirical foundation of such usage advice underlines the fact that its content is mostly ideological. It doesn't matter very much whether it's true, as long as it's felt to be morally instructive.


08 Jul 14:00

Men Starting Unnecessary Conversations In Western Art History

by Mallory Ortberg


no I'll definitely read it
okay but let me just give it to you now and then you can read it right away
and we can talk about the next time I see you
ahh thank you
you actually didn't take it though
I don't have anywhere to put it right now, sorry!!
okay I'll just come over to your room and bring it by later
and I can watch you read it then


no, it's um, actually
it's actually a zither
not a flute
that's a super common mistake but actually there are a lot of differences between zithers and flutes and I can tell you them 

Read more Men Starting Unnecessary Conversations In Western Art History at The Toast.

08 Jul 20:20

Armpit Hair Like U Just Don’t Care

by Alexandra Molotkow


Today, Hairpin pal Isabel Slone published a piece on armpit hair, 2015’s hottest fashion accessory! Miley is doing it and Madonna is doing it and oh oh oh, Sanam, from BBHMM, yes, yes.

FASHION magazine editor Randi Bergman wrote recently on how this “trend” aligns with her longstanding grooming habits: “Shaving my armpits has become reserved for those particularly lazy days during which bathing is the main event. And if a couple weekends pass without one? Them pits are getting dark. Flaunting my armpits never felt particularly punk until I saw Miley Cyrus doing the same on Instagram earlier this week.”

Isabel sums it up thusly:

We don’t need to applaud women for going au naturel — what we need is to change the social norms where women can feel comfortable doing whatever they please. Ultimately, the decision to shave or not should be a minor one: more akin to what breakfast cereal you want, rather than whether or not to detonate the neutron bomb.

For armpit hair to be functionally feminist, and not just a feminist statement, it has to be NBD.

I grew out my pits in high school. At the time I was part of a Radical Cheerleading troupe (oh yes I was) and one of our cheers went, if memory serves:

Throw your hands in the air
Let me see that armpit hair!
We don’t shave or use that Nair
Sleek or chic, we do not care
We’re hairy! Got hairy legs
We’re hairy! Got hairy pits
We’re hairy! Got hairy cunts
And we pick our noses too.

I was officially “unapologetic” about my pits, but inside, I was sort of sorry. The hair was very much a statement, but it’s a statement you can’t stop making. You make a statement when you give a high five. You make a statement when you know the answer. The point was to not care, but it was 2002, and I was a virgin with hairy armpits. Of course I cared. Male approval wasn’t nothing, either. My first boyfriend was crazy about my hair; a few years later, a guy I dated encouraged me to grow them to “an eighth of an inch,” but hairy pits felt like de facto monogamy.

The problem with the Radical Cheerleader view of armpit hair is that we’re all in society and it’s really hard to flaunt something society doesn’t like. It can be exhausting; it uses effort better reserved for, I dunno, many things that are way more important. The other problem is that it’s just not sexy. We pick our noses too? Come on. Maybe armpit hair is more meaningful as an aesthetic than an act of defiance.

Not just an aesthetic, either. As Monica Heisey wrote here, the hottest thing about the Fifty Shades of Grey movie, with its stilted, campy repartee and politely attractive leads, is Anastasia’s bush, plus her downy thighs. The hair connotes her innocence, obviously—no man has gotten close enough for it to matter—but it’s also just grimy. I mean, actual sex is disgusting! You have to work up to a state where all that peatiness becomes amazing. Armpit hair—even more than, say, a choker—is an intrusion of nasty actual sex into polite suggestions thereof, and that’s hot as fuck.

Also because Anastasia’s pubes were a choice. You can do anything to your body, anything lovely, anything hideous, anything neither lovely nor hideous, as long as it makes sense. Pit hair works for Gaby Hoffmann, it works for Miley Cyrus, it works for Sanam, the way an absence of pit hair works for Rihanna. It works in the context of your overall thing. (Obviously, floor-length pit hair would also work for Rihanna.)

You just have to make a decision. Is your bush full and rich or does it feel like a sponge jammed in your pants? Does your upper lip hair work with your eyebrows? Lately I’ve been letting my armpit hair grow because I like it. It feels good to me and it smells good to me and when others like it, I like them better. My hair is not the gossamer puffball kind, but I’ve been grooming a bit—I get rid of the excess above and below, and trim before it resembles stalactites. I’m happy.

Last year, Jon-Jon Goulian wrote a piece for Vice in praise of hairy women. He’d sent his friend on a date with a total babe who happened to have a mustache. His friend was angry, and they argued. Jon-Jon accused his friend of holding women to unreasonable expectations, and his friend accused him of fetishizing body hair, which is its own unreasonable expectation. What if she just doesn’t want to?

Jon-Jon counters with—and I think this is the best possible rebuttal:

In their defense, and in mine, I submit that a woman’s body hair is neither disgusting nor sexually irrelevant. It is not something to be passed over casually on the way to more obvious sources of pleasure. It is, rather, a sexual organ in itself, to be sniffed and licked and rubbed, pulled and tugged and braided, brushed and chewed and tasted. A woman’s thick happy trail is only disgusting or irrelevant if you don’t understand how the excitement of anticipation, for both man and woman, is enhanced by the slow and gentle struggle of the tip of the tongue as it makes its way down the shrubby path. Long hairs running around the circumference of a woman’s areolas are only disgusting or irrelevant if you don’t understand that the hairs are extensions, in a sense, of the nipple and areola itself, and that the feeling of the hairs in your mouth makes the nipple seem all the larger and riper and plumper. A tuft of hair on a woman’s lower back, just above the butt crack, is only disgusting or irrelevant if you’ve never fucked it.

And with hair, of course, comes sweat, and with sweat comes pungency, and pungent hair is suggestive of what? The vagina. A woman with a hairy body has essentially four vaginas—two armpits, the asshole, and the vagina itself. How could this be a problem for a man who calls himself a heterosexual, and who, suspiciously, claims I might be gay without really knowing it? Put yourself in my place, Kevin, in the following scenario: a phenomenally hairy woman is on top of you, fucking you vigorously. One of her armpits, dark and dense and moist, is pressed over your nose. One of your hands is buried in the other hairy armpit, massaging the wet sweaty hair in your fingers, while your other hand is fingering her asshole and occasionally bringing the tip of your middle finger to your nose to take a good deep whiff. It is at this point that your mind wrenches free from your body, no? You are no longer present on this planet. You are floating in an ether of pure vaginal splendor. A warm vaporous bath of sweat and hair and funk and pungency. I don’t know how else to put it. I can’t make a better case. If I haven’t convinced you, you’re hopeless.

What else is there to say?

09 Jul 11:25


by Mark Liberman

Sasha Harris-Lovett, "Meet Wendiceratops, a horned dinosaur unlike any other", LA Times 7/8/2015:

Move over Indominus Rex – scientists have discovered a previously unknown dinosaur in Canada that's cooler than any “Jurassic World” creation. And it’s real.

The creature, a member of the family of horned dinosaurs, was an older cousin of Triceratops that lived about 79 million years ago. Like Triceratops, it had horns emanating from its face and head, along with a bony beak that it used to shred plants before eating them. […]

The story begins with professional fossil hunter Wendy Sloboda, who spotted something that appeared to be a dinosaur bone sticking out of a steep hill in southern Alberta, Canada, in 2010.

And yes, Wendiceratops is named after her:

The Canadian researchers named the new species Wendiceratops pinhornensis, in honor of Sloboda and the Pinhorn Provincial Grazing Reserve, where the fossils were found.  

“Wendy Sloboda is probably the best fossil finder in the world,” said Ryan, who took her on an expedition to Greenland to help him find dinosaurs there. (She did.) “We’ve always known that we wanted to name a dinosaur after her, but we wanted it to be a really great dinosaur.”

For the scientific details, see David Evans and Michael Ryan, "Cranial Anatomy of Wendiceratops pinhornensis gen. et sp. nov., a Centrosaurine Ceratopsid (Dinosauria: Ornithischia) from the Oldman Formation (Campanian), Alberta, Canada, and the Evolution of Ceratopsid Nasal Ornamentation", PLoS ONE 7/8/2015.

Ms. Sloboda didn't get co-authorship credit, but she did get a tattoo out of the deal:

I don't know a lot about evolving species-naming fashions, but are there many other species-names created out of someone's first name and a couple of science-Greek morphemes? [Should be "genus-names" — sorry…]

There's an ironic resonance in the other direction: the cast of characters in the children's cartoon series Land Before Time includes a peach-colored triceratops named "Cera" (pronounced "Sara"):

10 Jul 13:48

Ski Jumping’s Weight “Problem”

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Flashback Friday.

The common sense assumption about success in sport often involves the belief that success is a result of innate talent and intensive practice. The more of both you have, the better you are. However, who is good at a particular sport is also the result of how that sport is organized. Sports have rules and those rules are made by the people who have the power to enforce their own ideas about what the rules should be over and against less powerful people with other ideas.

Long distance ski jumpers benefit from maximizing their surface area while simultaneously decreasing their weight. The less they weigh and the more drag they can produce, the farther they go. Their bodies are the primary source of weight and, as a result, there is incredible pressure for competing ski jumpers to be as thin as possible.

After criticism that the sport was creating an incentive for disordered eating, the International Ski Federation began penalizing jumpers who had a body mass index below 20. These skiers were required to jump with shorter skis, the primary source of drag. The hope was that the shorter skis would balance out the incentive for thinness, allowing jumpers to be competitive without starving themselves.

So, who wins isn’t only related to talent and practice. It is also a consequence of rules that no longer make the ability to train while starving oneself an advantage. This is a great example of the way that we write rules that shape the context for success in a sport.


In light of this, it’s really interesting to consider the fact that ski jumping was the last Olympic event that excluded women. Women were given their first ski jumping event in 2014, though they still have one and the men have three.

The International Olympics Committee and the International Ski Federation listed a myriad of reasons for this, ranging from claims that the sport is not yet developed enough, to the idea that adding women would crowd an already overwhelmed Olympic schedule, to the assertion that the sport is not “…appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”

The rationales seem transparently thin, leading to the suggestion that the real reason that women weren’t allowed to compete — and still aren’t on parity with men — is because they might kick ass. If being lighter is an advantage, then women might beat men at the sport. In fact, during the time women’s future in Olympic ski jumping was being debated, the world record holder on the ski jump track at that year’s Olympics was held by a woman: Lindsey Van.

Sociologists recognize sport as a terrain on which social claims about gender are demonstrated. Not letting women play is one way that the mythology of men’s physical dominance has been maintained. Football is an excellent example. Women aren’t allowed to play football, it is asserted, because they are not big enough and would get hurt. Of course, rules that make size so critical to success in football also exclude the majority of men (who aren’t big enough to play either). If we organized football by weight classes, instead of gender, women could play football, and so could all of the men who are excluded as well. But, if we organized football by weight classes, we couldn’t claim that women were too small, weak, and fragile to play it.

It will be interesting to see how the future of women’s ski jumping plays out.

Originally posted in 2010.

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

(View original at

10 Jul 15:30

The 8 Shadiest Descriptions of How Harper Lee’s New Novel Was Found

by Choire Sicha

When Harper Lee’s lawyer and close friend, Tonja Carter, went combing through the secure archive near the author’s Alabama home last fall, she only intended to check on the condition of the original manuscript of Lee’s beloved best-seller, To Kill a Mockingbird. What she found was something else entirely: a complete second book, believed to have been lost for more than 50 years.

The Atlantic

But another narrative has emerged that suggests the discovery may have happened years earlier, in October 2011, when Justin Caldwell, a rare books expert from Sotheby’s auction house, flew to Alabama to meet with Ms. Carter and Samuel Pinkus, then Ms. Lee’s literary agent, to appraise a “Mockingbird” manuscript for insurance and other purposes.

Ms. Lee’s novel “Go Set a Watchman” was initially said to have been found in August.

The discrepancy between the two accounts raises questions about whether the book was lost and accidentally recovered, and about why Ms. Lee would not have sought to publish it earlier.

The Times

“Harper Lee’s lawyer and friend, Tonja Carter, discovered it, sort of picked up the manuscript and flipped through it and then saw that some of the scenes and characters in the book had no relation to Mockingbird and realized it was actually two different books. This was the first time the manuscript had been found since heaven-knows-when. Harper Lee lost track of it in the ’60s.”

Harper Collins publisher Jonathan Burnham

Last week two senior publishing executives made a special visit to meet Harper Lee in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.

Susan Sandon, managing director of a division of Penguin Random House, and Jason Arthur from publisher William Heinemann, presented the 89-year old novelist with a finished copy of what is only her second novel.

“She’s looking forward to publication and was pleased to see the publishing team again,” says Charlotte Bush, of parent company Penguin Random House, and one of a handful of people to have read the book ahead of its official release.


Berman: What condition was the manuscript found in? Was it completely finished or was there anything that needed to be done by her or anyone else to get it ready for publication?

Burnham: It is completely finished. It needs virtually no editing. The only editing I think it needs is perhaps a light copy edit. It looks to me like a book that’s been worked on and polished, and is very much a finished thing. So it’s not going to go through any extensive editorial process.

Harper Collins publisher Jonathan Burnham

Intrigue around how it came to HarperCollins has added to the buzz. A lawyer for Ms. Lee said she discovered the decades-old manuscript for “Watchman” in 2014, igniting concerns about Ms. Lee’s desire to have it published and her well-being. An Alabama state investigation concluded Ms. Lee was not a victim of elder abuse.

Wall Street Journal

Fans gave up long ago on the hope that it would be followed by a second book, and Lee herself reportedly told friends she could never complete another novel. When the lost manuscript, the precursor to Mockingbird, was found, anticipation reached a fever pitch — as did concern over the author’s true wishes…. Harper Collins announced that a new book had been discovered. Lee had moved back to Monroeville after suffering a stroke and was in an assisted living facility.


Asked to comment through an intermediary, Harper Lee said, in essence, “Not just no, but hell no!”

Vanity Fair.



04 Jul 03:00

Happy Independence Day from Texts From Superheroes.Facebook |...

Happy Independence Day from Texts From Superheroes.

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04 Jul 05:44

Those Who Aspire to Solaria

by Blake Stacey

A certain mindset sees the movie Aliens and thinks it would be awesome to be a Space Marine. Because it’s like being a Marine, but in space.

A certain mindset skims a bit of cyberpunk fiction and thinks the future will be amazing, because Ruby-coding skills will clearly translate to proficiency with katanas. You know, katanas.

A certain mindset learns a little about the Victorian era and is instantly off in a fantasy of brass-goggled Gentlemen Aviators, at once dapper and wind-swept, tending the Tesla apparatus on their rigid airship. All art in the genre carries the tacit disclaimer in its caption, “(Not pictured: cholera.)” In the designation steampunk, the -punk has nothing to do with anarchy (in the UK or elsewhere), the suffix having been conventionalized into a mere signifier of anachronism. A steampunk condo development promises units for the reasonable price of 2 to 7.5 million dollars apiece.

[To be fair, Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine (1990), which is in some part responsible for the whole wibbly-wobbly steamery-punkery, did spend some of its time with the run-down and the passed-over. It also, I’m guessing unintentionally, underscored the incoherence of the premise, when in its final pages, Ada Lovelace describes a fanciful notion of the late Charles Babbage, whose fictional version dreamed of doing computation with electricity. The fictional Babbage’s never-implemented plan relied on such hypothetical devices as resistors and capacitors. The book’s plot begins in 1855; the Leyden jar was invented 110 years earlier. Carl Friedrich Gauss built a working telegraph years before the historical Babbage even designed his Analytical Engine. But our aesthetic can’t allow that, of course.]

It is against this background that we should read “Silicon Valley is a Science Fictional Utopia,” a recent piece in Model View Culture. I have enjoyed and appreciated MVC quite a bit in the past few months, which is why I was rather flummoxed to find a statement in that essay that just refused to parse. The overall thesis sounds roughly right to me, but not all the examples seem to fit as written. Here’s the part that jumped out at me:

Awesome things, and great ideas. This is what SF is all about.

This is also the drive behind Silicon Valley culture. It’s about a better future through human industry, like the Cyberpunks.

It’s a better future through ingenuity, risk-taking, and a rock-solid belief that technology is humanity’s best chance at a better future.

Cyberpunk—cyberpunk!—is “about a better future through human industry”?

Cyberpunk, the genre in which multinationals own everything and humans have to fight over what’s left; cyberpunk, which saw the Campbellian heroes of the Golden Age, staring at the stars with wonder and ambition, and said, “Fuck you, you get rain.” A cyberpunk future is a prosthetic heel grinding into a human face, if not forever, at least until the owner of the heel gets bored. The idea that success flows to the privileged was wired into the genre from the beginning. Technology can be incorporated into our bodies, but never trusted. “Progress” in the Sprawl means moving a little hot RAM. The Los Angeles of the Tyrell Corporation is no Utopia, and it never pretended to be.

But after a couple decades of the genre being reduced to ZOMG trenchcoats and mirrorshades, perhaps it’s not so surprising that looking back at the stories themselves can be a bit of a shock. It’s so easy to geek out over the superficial trappings, and so much harder to see ourselves complicit in the systems that the stories railed against.

In Blade Runner, Captain Bryant tells Deckard, “If you’re not cop, you’re little people.” Escaping into a story about being the cop has a much more obvious appeal than escaping into one about being the little people. As a friend of mine once noted, nobody reads Atlas Shrugged and says, “Why, I must be one of the unproductive slobs who are everything that is wrong with humanity.”

To say that cyberpunk fiction was “about a better future through human industry” is absurd; to say that of the aesthetic, of “cyberpunk” recoined by back-formation from “steampunk,” is rather less so.

Among the other SF stories mentioned in the MVC piece is one that I’ve thought a fair bit about: Asimov’s The Naked Sun (1957). This novel is, in spirit, an Agatha Christie yarn in space. A man is bludgeoned to death at his isolated country estate. His wife discovers the body. The murder weapon is missing. A detective comes from the big city to investigate, and everyone the detective meets had a motive to kill the victim. At the climax, the detective gathers all the principals to listen as he solves the crime.

Asimov greatly admired Christie and the “cozy mystery” genre, and I don’t doubt that this structure was intentional. The unintended consequence has to do with another novel published in 1957: in building the setting for his perfect murder, Asimov created Galt’s Gulch—with the crucial difference that Asimov’s version has the robot labor force necessary to keep everyone from dying in a couple weeks.

The planet Solaria was settled by wealthy people who wished to avoid the regulations of their home planet. Personal autonomy is sacrosanct. On Solaria, everyone is either the best or the only practitioner of a trade.

And, incidentally, their society is stagnant and moribund. Once something goes wrong, they have to call a cop from New York to fix it. At the end, the detective spells out what he has learned:

Baley said, “The Solarians have given up something mankind has had for a million years; something worth more than atomic power, cities, agriculture, tools, fire, everything; because it’s something that made everything else possible.”

“I don’t want to guess, Baley. What is it?”

“The tribe, sir. Cooperation between individuals. Solaria has given it up entirely. It is a world of isolated individuals and the planet’s only sociologist is delighted that this is so. That sociologist, by the way, never heard of sociomathematics, because he is inventing his own science. There is no one to teach him, no one to help him, no one to think of something that he himself might miss. The only science that really flourishes on Solaria is robotics and there are only a handful of men involved in that, and when it came to an analysis of the interaction of robots and men, they had to call in an Earthman to help. […] Without the interplay of human against human, the chief interest in life is gone; most of the intellectual values are gone; most of the reason for living is gone. […]”

The final message is that Earth and Solaria are both stagnating, in mirror-image ways. But more to the point is that vintage male-as-default language: “a handful of men,” “robots and men,” “call in an Earthman.” Aren’t we glad that casual sexism is a thing of the past? There’s more that one could dissect in that scene, including some talk of the evils of “ectogenesis,” a suggestion that gestating fetuses anywhere other than women’s bodies is dehumanizing. One really ought to unpack that at greater length, but for now, let’s step back and consider the novel more broadly. The “accusing parlor” scene, in which Baley presents the solution to the mystery, contains two women and five men, along with one robot, who is coded male in both the social and technological senses of the word. Three other male characters appear at various points, not counting the murder victim and assorted robots, all of whom are treated as male. Two women out of eleven characters—for this writer and that era, that’s practically Madoka Magica!

Earlier, we touched on how self-congratulation can enter the act of reading science fiction. There’s another angle to that: When one grows up reading books full of robots, it’s easy to say, “I’m willing to bestow my empathy upon artificial intelligences. I can think of these robot characters as human, in the ways that matter. Surely, then, from my enlightened perspective, the petty differences among flesh-and-blood humans must shrink to insignificance!” With this kind of thinking, it is simple to convince oneself of one’s own freedom from bias. Even though the books which inculcated this enlightened philosophy are replete with biases themselves!

Likewise: The Federation in Star Trek is largely a meritocracy. For the most part, promotions in Starfleet seem to happen on the basis of professional competence. I like that. Civilization triumphing, day by day, over its own worse elements—that’s a good story. But there’s a flipside. “I grew up watching Star Trek, where progress is based on merit,” I say to myself, “and so I learned to judge people fairly. Therefore, when I evaluate a person’s potential as a scientist or as a programmer, I will do so on their merit alone. Any suggestion that I might not is an insult against my character, made by someone who doesn’t understand people like me.” Psychology is probably seldom as straight a line as that, but at the very least, it’s a mental trap we should look out for. The more admirable our fiction makes our ideals sound, and the more we identify ourselves as devotees of that fiction, the harder it is to admit when we fail to live up to those standards.