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04 Sep 10:12

What’s the big deal about mocking someone’s accent?

by Hannah

As a society, we’re getting better at not being dicks to each other. It’s a slow progression, but some hurdles have been royally leapt: women can vote, homosexual couples can adopt, and ethnic minorities legally have access to the same goods and services as everybody else. Of course, we still deal with individual douche-canoes mouthing off at people because of their sexuality, gender identity, race, ability, age, body shape or a million other things; institutionalised prejudice hasn’t been eradicated; and prejudice is still enacted on a micro-level, often not from a malicious footing, but as the product of a society still breaking free of intolerant belief systems (that blasted patriarchy!). I’ve painted a cheery picture there, haven’t I? … but in general, while things are by no stretch of the imagination fixed, in most ways they’re getting better, and we’re a lot sounder to each other than we used to be.

Not, I would argue, when it comes to class. Class is something of a dirty word these days – we’re either too embarrassed to talk about it (“How gauche! To talk about money and social positions!”), or we believe we’ve superseded it (“We’re all middle class now”, came the cry from the New Labour camp upon election in 1997). I’m afraid that’s bollocks. While we still have caricatures of ‘chavs’ on television; while the richest 1% of people in the UK have as much wealth as 60% of the rest of the population combined[1]; while we still have benefit recipients universally derided as ‘scroungers’ in the mainstream press (and in opinion polls), we still have a class system in place, whether we’re talking about it or not. While I don’t think there should be a class system in place, ignoring that we have one isn’t going to make it go away.

There are many ways in which class judgements can be articulated, the majority of which I am not in any way well versed enough to write on[2] – but one of the ones I might be is language policing. That chavs don’t talk proper, innit. As with the majority of my blog posts, this one comes complete with OPINIONS and FEELINGS – you’ve been warned.

I reckon language and accent mockery and judgement is one of the last bastions of acceptable, overt prejudice. People mock each other’s accents all the time, in conversation, on television, and in print. Comments about people’s accents are often just a euphemism for class-based prejudices it would be improper to state more bluntly. “That woman sounds like she’s poor and ill-educated” – no. “She’s got a common, chav accent/Scouse is a horrible accent/she’s not even speaking English” – these are the kind of things you hear quite frequently. Mocking someone’s language is a helpful euphemism – a linguistic fig leaf, if you will – allowing shitty judgements and belief systems to go relatively unchallenged.

However, highlighting someone’s linguistic prejudice is often greeted with accusations of being oversensitive, and talk of “accent prejudice” followed by scoffs and eyerolls.  I can understand it – it doesn’t seem as severe as other douchebaggery, and in a real sense it’s probably not. But it does matter.

I hear the same excuses over and over:

1. “But it’s only an accent!” Accents are far, FAR more important than you might think when it comes to Getting On. Yes, we live in an age where BBC newsreaders aren’t restricted to a certain type of accent, and public figures like Professor Brian Cox, Paddy McGuiness and John Bishop (sporters of Mancunian, Lancashire and Liverpudlian accents respectively) are frequently featured on primetime. But if we’re more accepting of regional and multicultural accents, why are elocution lessons still on the rise? Although many carry a positive connotation (hence the choice to house many call-centres in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the accent being widely considered to be a friendly and approachable one), non-standard accents still carry an awful lot of stigma.

A damaging amount, actually. Even the most recent of studies – which led to ITV dedicating a Tonight programme to the issue – show that people still judge regional accents, with 28% of respondents feeling discriminated against because of their accent, and 80% of employers surveyed admitting to discriminating on the grounds of accent[3]. Previous studies have seen a person considered to be “significantly more guilty” of a crime having given evidence in a Brummie accent, compared to giving the same evidence with a Southern accent [4]. Likewise in the States, one researcher placed calls to landlords in white, African American and Latin American English accents, finding the latter two invited far more discrimination in finding housing[5]. This isn’t fiddle-faddle – people honestly think, in a simulated court of law, that a person is more likely to have committed a crime if they speak in a Birmingham accent – not based on the content of their speech, but how it’s pronounced. That’s not only bonkers, it’s a bit scary. Accent judgement has a real, tangible effect on people’s lives.

2. “But it’s just my opinion!” Yes, it’s your opinion, but it sucks. Other prejudices can’t be absolved by people just adding “…in my opinion” to the end. When some terrible homophobic member of congress says that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry because they are a threat to children and it will result in homosexuality being taught in schools (before drunkenly crashing his boat into a bunch of kids [6]), he’s stating his opinion. And he’s also being horrible. How do you think it makes someone feel when you express disgust about the way they speak, something they can’t easily change, are born into, and are often proud of, it being an emblem of their upbringing? Yes, it’s your opinion, but it’s also mean. And perpetuating negative stereotypes about people based on their accent leads to more general poor treatment, as seen above.

3. “But they’re not talking properly!” What is “talking properly”? Most people would agree, including the people who write dictionaries, that the right way of pronouncing a word in British English generally matches the way a South-East English speaker would[7]. The standard accent is something akin to Received Pronunciation – though modernised – whose speakers are thought of as saying things correctly. An accent like Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen’s, for example. Everything else is deviant.

But who do you think invented this idea of a “standard” way of speaking (and writing)? DING DING DING, that’s right – a very small group of rich, powerful, Southern white dudes! It’s a common adage that history is written by the winners, and the same is true of linguistic history. Upon the arrival of the printing press in England in 1476, it was soon decided that the wildly disparate English spelling system needed reining in, and decades of grammar books, dictionaries and pronunciation guides followed. The people who wrote these tended to be the most powerful, in positions of higher education, often males (but not exclusively), who lived in the South. As such, they wrote down their own way of speaking as the “right” way, thus abandoning all others to the realm of non-standard. Their version wasn’t inherently better at communicating or more correct, it was just in the right place at the right time, and was therefore eternally considered to be so. People in the north, for example, haven’t been speaking “incorrectly” for centuries, it was just decided at an arbitrary point that they were Doing Talking Wrong.

4. “But I can’t understand them!” Ooh, this one riles me up. To put it briefly: if you can correct them, you can understand them. Consider the following exchange:

#1 – “I’m goin’ shop”
#2 – “You mean you’re going to the shop – I can’t understand what you mean if you say that!”

The whole response is entirely paradoxical; how can you ‘correct’ someone’s grammar, inserting words they’ve omitted, and follow that by saying that you didn’t understand what they meant? I put it to you, either you’re not trying hard enough, or you’re just saying that to belittle someone. “In many cases…breakdown of communication is due not so much to accent as it is to negative social evaluation of the accent in question, and a rejection of the communicative burden” – Rosina Lippi-Green[8]. Which leads me on to my next point…

One of the things that gets my goat is when people do this:

kelly 2  kelly 3(Image source and a video link of the scene, with more examples here)

This is Kelly, from the TV show Misfits. She’s portrayed as a working class delinquent, completing a community service order, with a potty-mouth and a violent streak. As you’ve probably noticed, Kelly’s accent is written out phonetically in the transcripts above. But why? She’s saying the same words as you and I are, but hers are spelt out orthographically in a non-standard way. Robert Sheehan – the guy with the curly hair in the right gif – speaks with an Irish English accent, but his isn’t spelt out any differently. In fact, by this measure, all accents should be spelt out phonetically, as they’re all giving particular pronunciations of words.

But they’re not. Only certain accents are chosen to be spelt out like this – more often than not, accents like Kelly’s. This suggests that Kelly is not talking properly, that she’s somehow incorrect. By doing so, the way Kelly speaks (incidentally, with a broad urban Derbyshire accent) is portrayed as abnormal.

socha tweet 1
Lauren Socha – the actress who plays Kelly – responds.

The idea that non-standard varieties of English are inarticulate is long-standing.  Tony Crowley, in his book Standard English and Politics of Language, discusses early 20th Century division of people into ‘the articulate and the barbarians’[9], the latter being incomprehensible to the former. Non-standard speakers’ contributions are reduced from language to mere noise, and are therefore to be ignored; this allowed people to discredit the content of their speech based on its structure, considering it not worthy of time or consideration. When non-standard accents like Kelly’s are ‘translated’ to and from English, it reinforces this idea that their speech is defective, and therefore, if the speaker can’t even articulate themselves correctly, they can’t possibly have anything to contribute that’s worth listening to.

Some have said to me that it’s done from a place of affection, of celebration, and this could be true of things like dialect books and dictionaries, where local pronunciations are written out phonetically. But it’s tied up in and contributes to a bigger picture, one where regional and international accents of English are mocked and derided; one where speakers can be less likely to get certain jobs because of their accent (regardless of their intelligence or suitability); one where people with these accents feel the need to change them, and have internalised the stigma about their own accents to the point where they hate the way they speak. And that sucks.

Yes, having a standard is often useful, and allows for relatively easy communication on a global scale. However, variation shouldn’t be belittled, patronised and wiped out. You’ve probably seen the recent news stories about schools in Middlesborough and South London, whose teachers decided that they were going to try and quash regional pronunciation and vocabulary items; or stylised dictionaries of ‘chavspeak’ which have a dig at the kind of multicultural Englishes we see popping up in London and Manchester[10].

Non-standard accent and dialect features are interesting, valid, and often have a long regional history, not to mention being incredibly important to the speakers using them – and nobody should be made to feel bad for the way they speak. Someone’s accent is an integral part of who they are, and criticising it is kind of a dick move, wrapped up in long-standing classism. So don’t! Judge people on what they say, not how they say it.

[1] From a helpful and informative video here:
[2] If you’re interested, I’d start with Owen Jones or Danny Dorling if I were you.
[4] Dixon, John, Mahoney, Berenice & Cocks Roger (2002) Accents of guilt? Effects of regional accent, ‘race’ and crime type on attributions of guilt. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 21:2, pp. 162-168.
[5] Purnell, Thomas, Idsardi, William & Baugh, John (1999) Perceptual and phonetic experiments on American English dialect identification. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 18:1, pp. 10-30.
[6] Yeah, that happened.
[7] Though, of course, there are those who fervently state that a localised version is the “correct” way! [EDIT: This originally read “South-West” because Hannah is a numpty]
[8] If you get a chance to read any of English With an Accent, Lippi-Green’s book, PLEASE do. It’s ace, and covers with more knowledge than I am able discrimination of people with non-native English accents, which is incredibly important.
[9] Crowley, Tony. (1989) Standard English and the Politics of Language. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 180.
[10] See the work of Paul Kerswill and Rob Drummond for details.

22 Nov 09:37


by Ed Yong

A brief tribute to a great and influential scientist. I’ll explain later.

[Update: Okay, let me explain. That is a DNA sequence. Every set of three letters codes for an amino acid, and each amino acid is denoted by a letter. So CGC encodes arginine, which is denoted by an R. If you read along the sequence and translate it in this way, it spells out "RIP FRED SANGER". Fred Sanger was an incredible scientist who developed ways of sequencing DNA and proteins (which are strings of amino acids). He revolutionised biology and medicine, won two Nobel prizes, and died earlier this week. This was the most fitting tribute I could think of.]

22 Nov 09:20

Loneliest Human

by xkcd

Loneliest Human

What is the furthest one human being has ever been from every other living person? Were they lonely?

Bryan J. McCarter

It's hard to know for sure!

The most likely suspects are the six Apollo command module pilots who stayed in lunar orbit during a Moon landing: Mike Collins, Dick Gordon, Stu Roosa, Al Worden, Ken Mattingly, and Ron Evans.

Each of these astronauts stayed alone in the command module while two other astronauts landed on the Moon. At the highest point in their orbit, they were about 3,585 kilometers from their fellow astronauts.

You'd think astronauts would have a lock on this category, but it's not so cut-and-dry. There are a few other candidates who come pretty close!


It's hard to get 3,585 kilometers[1]Because of the curve of the Earth, you actually have to go 3,619 kilometers across the surface to qualify. from a permanently inhabited place. The Polynesians, who were the first humans to spread across the Pacific, might have managed it, but this would have required a lone sailor to travel awfully far ahead of everyone else. It may have happened—perhaps by accident, when someone was carried far from their group by a storm—but we're unlikely to ever know for sure.

Once the Pacific was colonized, it got a lot harder to find regions of the Earth's surface where someone could achieve 3,585 kilometer isolation. Now that the Antarctic continent has a permanent population of researchers, it's almost certainly impossible.

Antarctic explorers

During the period of Antarctic exploration, a few people have come close to beating the astronauts, and it's possible one of them actually holds the record. One person who came very close was Robert Scott.

Robert Falcon Scott was a British explorer who met a tragic end. Scott's expedition reached the South Pole in 1911, only to discover that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten him there by several months. The dejected Scott and his companions began their trek back to the coast, but they all died while crossing the Ross Ice Shelf.

The last surviving expedition member would have been, briefly, one of the most isolated people on Earth.[2]Amundsen's expedition had left the continent by then. However, he (whoever he was) was still within 3,585 kilometers of a number of humans, including some other Antarctic explorer outposts as well as the Māori on Rakiura (Stewart Island) in New Zealand.

There are plenty of other candidates. Pierre François Péron, a French sailor, says he was marooned on Île Amsterdam in the southern Indian Ocean. If so, he came close to beating the astronauts, but he wasn't quite far enough from Mauritius, southwestern Australia, or the edge of Madagascar to qualify.

We'll probably never know for sure. It's possible that some shipwrecked 18th-century sailor drifting in a lifeboat in the Southern Ocean holds the title of most isolated human. However, until some clear piece of historic evidence pops up, I think the six Apollo astronauts have a pretty good claim.

Which brings us to the second part of Bryan's question: Were they lonely?


After returning to Earth, Apollo 11 command module pilot Mike Collins said he did not feel at all lonely. He wrote about the experience in his book Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys:

Far from feeling lonely or abandoned, I feel very much a part of what is taking place on the lunar surface ... I don't mean to deny a feeling of solitude. It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with the Earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the moon.
I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.

Al Worden, the Apollo 15 command module pilot, even enjoyed the experience:[3]BBC Future interview with Al Wolden (April 2, 2013)

There's a thing about being alone and there's a thing about being lonely, and they're two different things. I was alone but I was not lonely. My background was as a fighter pilot in the air force, then as a test pilot–and that was mostly in fighter airplanes–so I was very used to being by myself. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn't have to talk to Dave and Jim any more ... On the backside of the Moon, I didn't even have to talk to Houston and that was the best part of the flight.

Introverts understand; the loneliest human in history was just happy to have a few minutes of peace and quiet.

22 Nov 08:57

Kid Flash The Super Creep: The Problem With ‘Funny Harassment’

by Annalee

Content Warning: this post discusses sexual harassment, stalking, and sexual assault.

Kid Flash

Kid Flash

I’ve recently been introduced to Young Justice, a superhero cartoon featuring beloved sidekicks of the Justice League. It started in 2010 and wrapped up earlier this year. I’m a big fan of superhero cartoons, having grown up on the DC Animated Universe. So Young Justice is right up my alley.

But if Kid Flash doesn’t have a drastic character adjustment pretty soon, I’m giving up on the show.

Kid Flash, AKA Wally West, is one of the founding members of the Justice League’s covert junior team. As soon as he meets teammate Miss Martian, he starts hitting on her. She brushes him off.

And so begins a campaign of sexual harassment that, seven episodes in, shows no sign of ending soon. It’s annoying enough to watch as a viewer, because harassment isn’t funny, but what it says about this world and the morals of these alleged ‘heroes’ is pretty gross.

Aside from Robin making fun of Kid Flash with no apparent concern for Miss Martian’s personhood, no one has called him out. Neither Robin nor team leader Aqualad has pulled him aside and said “Bro. She’s not interested. Quit being a creep.” The adult members of the Justice League don’t seem concerned, either–though given how the adult Flash behaves, it’d not hard to work out where young Wally picked up his views on women.

So Miss Martian has to put up with not just killer robots and evil monsters, but also with an incessant campaign of sexual harassment. On top of that, she has to rely on a team that clearly doesn’t have her back. They’d rather laugh about Kid Flash’s behavior than tell him to knock it off.

As far as the show is concerned, this situation is funny. We’re meant to laugh at Wally and his pathetic antics, rather than empathize with how awkward and uncomfortable his harassment makes things for Miss Martian.

If it were just this one obnoxious character on one show, it’d be an ignorant joke in terrible taste. But Kid Flash is part of a larger pattern[1] of pop culture heroes portraying sexual harassment as funny or endearing.

Miss Martian

Miss Martian

This stuff matters–not just because it’s an annoying trope that alienates harassment and assault survivors, but because it leads to real people getting harassed and assaulted in the real world. It perpetuates the idea that harassment is normal courting behavior, and that “no” actually means “keep asking me until I change my fickle girly mind and fall madly in love with you.” Some folks who’ve been raised on a steady diet of this trope have it so bad that they take anger and contempt as signs that their victim secretly likes them back.

A guy who assaulted me went on to subject me to this kind of ‘funny’ harassment. He was a friend of my brother’s and a member of a social club I was very heavily involved in, so I had no good way to avoid him.

Among other obnoxious behavior, he was constantly calling me ‘babe.’ Every single time he did it, I told him to knock it off. I tried patiently explaining that I found it demeaning. I tried yelling. I tried getting up and leaving the room. I tried flipping him off and calling him sexist.

He kept right on doing it.

One day he told me he did it because the main character in his favorite book did it.

I bet the romantic interest in that book told the main character to quit calling her ‘babe,’ too. I’ll bet she was a Strong Female Character who Didn’t Put Up With Nonsense.

And I’ll bet by the end of the book, his campaign of harassment had changed her fickle, girly mind and she’d fallen madly in love with him, thus completing his hero narrative of the good guy getting the girl.

They guy who assaulted me? His campaign of harassment didn’t end that way.

It ended with him assaulting me a second time.

Since I grew up watching cartoons, I’m used to superheroes telling me about seat-belts, recycling, stranger danger, staying away from guns, and not trying superheroics at home. Would it have killed Young Justice to have a member of the Justice League take young Wally aside and tell him that heroes treat women with respect?

Or, better yet, they could have just not included ‘funny harassment’ at all, because harassment isn’t funny, and Miss Martian is supposed to be there to fight bad guys, not to teach socially-awkward boy geniuses like Wally how to behave around women.

[1] TV Tropes has several pages full of examples, including:

  1. [CW: Harassment, stalking] “The Dogged Nice Guy”
  2. [CW: Harassment, stalking, misogyny]: “Defrosting the Ice Queen”
  3. [CW: harassment, stalking]: “Belligerent Sexual Tension”
  4. [CW: Stalking]: “Stalking is love”
21 Nov 23:19

What David Cameron can learn from schoolgirls and soccer moms

by The Heresiarch
David Cameron comes in for a lot of criticism from libertarian and sex-positive types for his morally conservative attitude to internet porn, as shown in his determination to force IP companies to introduce opt-in smut filters. But perhaps he just doesn't have either the time or the inclination to do his own research, and is reliant on what campaigners tell him, or what he reads in the Daily Mail. If so, then he can scarcely be blamed for assuming that the entirety of "mainstream porn" is violent and misogynistic, encourages adolescent boys to hate women and abuse their girlfriends and irreperably corrupts the minds of young children who innocently go looking for pictures of kittens.

After all, it's common knowledge that in the age of the internet porn is pretty grim stuff. Even self-declared feminist pornographers proclaim as much, even while selling their own dream of a sex-positive, eco-friendly, non-exploitative alternative. Indeed, the essential violence and misogyny of the "mainstream" is as much an item of faith among "alternative" pornographers as it is for anti-porn campaigners such as Gail Dines, who has described online erotica as "a never-ending universe of ravaged anuses, distended vaginas and semen-smeared faces".

Not only does the alternative producers' business model depend upon the existence of an unspeakable mainstream (rather as the censors' does also) so does their self-identity - now buttressed by a global network of arty porn festivals and feminist award ceremonies. The existence of easy-access, free and often pirated porn is the common enemy of both professional porn producers and moralists, it must be said, so the confluence of interest in damning "mainstream porn" isn't surprising.

It's also common knowledge that only boys and men want to watch porn anyway. Even in households without children, Our Dave promises, "husbands will have to have a difficult conversation with their wives about accessing porn at home". Because all women everywhere are horrified by the very idea of sexually explicit material - and men, meanwhile, are so ashamed by it they will acquiesce in default filters that in the way of things will end up blocking a great many sites that aren't remotely pornographic anyway. So that's OK then.

Is there any actual research, as opposed to anecdote, about what "mainstream porn" really looks like? It's not difficult to do, after all - at least, not until the Cameron Cordon arrives some time next year. Here's some, conducted by three women at New Brunswick University in Canada, led by graduate student Sarah Vannier and her supervisor Professor Lucia O’Sullivan. Recently unveiled by Vannier at a science and sexuality conference in San Diego, it has a catchy title - Schoolgirls and Soccer Moms: A Content Analysis of Free "Teen" and "MILF" Online Pornography. Ironically, the content of this content analysis is not free, but if the abstract is accurate it does what it says on the tin.

Vannier's research interests include oral sex among teenagers and sexual compliance in committed relationships ("I’m pretty sure I picked one of the most interesting careers out there", she says.) She has also written a sex advice column for her student newspaper - in which she notes that "although watching porn for research sounds like a ton of fun, it does get boring after a while". Concentrating on free sites not only makes for low research costs (though was the research possible on the university's own computers, I wonder?) it's also the most useful place to start, given that they account for the vast majority of porn consumption.

And as the abstract says in somewhat self-contradictory terms, "viewing free online pornographic videos has increasingly become a common behavior among young people, although little is known about the content of these videos." Presumably the content of the videos is not little known to the many who view them. But you get the point - little is known officially and publicly (or in academic journals) about the content of the videos.

And perhaps (though perhaps not) little is known to the politicians making decisions about internet filtering about the content of these videos. It's an area where admitting ignorance is a positive asset to a politician or a pundit, where claiming to know what you're talking about might be held against you. "I've never seen the stuff myself, but I've heard it's revolting" is the safest line to take publicly. I suspect that several politicians who may find themselves having "difficult conversations" at home next year know more than they will ever say. But since coming out in opposition to the porn filter is as much as admission of guilt, that will have to remain in the realm of conjecture.

So short of informing yourself by actually visiting these sites, which no-one in their right mind would ever do, you'll have to rely on Sarah Vannier's research. And so, without further ado:

The current study analyzed the content of two popular female-age-based types of free, online pornography (teen and MILF) and examined nuances in the portrayal of gender and access to power in relation to the age of the female actor. A total of 100 videos were selected from 10 popular Web sites, and their content was coded using independent raters.

The focus of the research, then, was not only on the content of the videos but on the underlying socio-political message. Were these "popular" genres characterised principally by violence and perversion? Were the women involved portrayed as the degraded playthings of insatiable male lust? Not entirely:

Vaginal intercourse and fellatio were the most frequently depicted sexual acts. The use of sex toys, paraphilias, cuddling, and condom use were rare, as were depictions of coercion.

Control of the pace and direction of sexual activity was typically shared by the male and female actors. Moreover, there were no gender differences in initiation of sexual activity, use of persuasion, portrayals of sexual experience, or in professional status. However, female actors in MILF videos were portrayed as more agentic and were more likely to initiate sexual activity, control the pace of sexual activity, and have a higher professional status.

(My italics)

So there you have it. Older female performers were "more likely to initiate sexual activity" but even in "teen" videos the women aren't entirely or even predominantly passive. There were "no gender differences". This is of course strikingly at variance with the almost universal assumptions about the content of mainstream porn, even those articulated by alternative and feminist pornographers. So contrary are these findings to the accepted wisdom I'd be amazed if they were taken seriously or used to inform the public debate. Nevertheless, I suspect the research will come as little surprise to the majority of people who actually watch the stuff.

Truly, online porn exists in a parallel universe

© 2013 Heresy Corner, all rights reserved.
21 Nov 22:58

Over Half of All Anti-LGBT Homicide Victims in 2012 Were Transgender Women

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

"According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 53.8 percent of anti-LGBT homicide victims in 2012 were transgender women, the majority of whom were people of color. In 2011, the percentage of transgender women in this statistic was substantially lower: 40 percent. For transgender women, it doesn’t get better, apparently. We experience most of the violence with none of the visibility. We are the dead and we are the forgotten. In the face of a world that erases us, remembering this violence is more than just an obligation—it is an act of resistance." [Jacobin]

21 Nov 22:57

Some Important Star Stuff

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

From ThisIsColossal, "If you were to look up in the sky and locate the constellation Pegasus, this entire cluster of stars is located inside of it." NASA's photo blog, probably my favorite website, adds some space poetry: "Stars, like bees, swarm around the center of bright globular cluster M15." This photo was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and spans about 120 light years, and in the center of the picture, there is a "rare type of black hole"!

Then, over at the Atlantic, we've got a number for the total stars in the observable universe: a septillion. "That's 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars." Only about 5,000 of those are visible from Earth, which means that only about 2,500 are visible from any one fixed position under ideal circumstances, which means it's Magic School Bus time.

Image via NASA.

21 Nov 22:44

Dame of what?

by Shaun Usher

Novelist Doris Lessing passed away yesterday, aged 94, following an impressive career during which she wrote, most notably, The Golden Notebook, won numerous awards for her work, and never minced her words. In 2007, when informed by reporters outside her home that she had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, she famously reacted with an endearing indifference that has since been replayed by thousands. Indeed, she later called winning the award a "bloody disaster." 15 years before that, in 1992, she was offered the chance to become a Dame—an opportunity Lessing, who was brought up in Southern Rhodesia, rejected with the letter below, sent to then-Prime Minister John Major's Principal Private Secretary, Alex Allan.

(Source: University of East Anglia; Image: Doris Lessing, via.)

24th November, 1992

Dear Alex Allan,

I am sorry I did not reply earlier, but I was in the States.

Thank you for offering me this honour: I am very pleased. But for some time now I have been wondering, "But where is this British Empire?" Surely, there isn't one. And now I see that I am not the only one saying the same.

There is something ruritannical about honours given in the name of a non-existent Empire.

And there is another thing. When young I did my best to undo that bit of the British Empire I found myself in: that is, old Southern Rhodesia.

And surely there is something unlikeable about a person, when old, accepting honours from a institution she attacked when young?

And pleasant to be a dame! I would adore it. Dame of what?

Dame of Britain? Dame of the British Islands? Dame of the British Commonwealth? Dame of ....? Never mind.

Please forgive my churlishness. I am sorry, I really am.

Yours sincerely,

Doris Lessing

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21 Nov 22:21

Get These White Boys Out My Children's Books

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

At the Huffington Post, Soraya Chemaly asks:

How many people would never consider buying Anne of Green Gables or Island of the Blue Dolphins for their 10-year old boy, but don't pause before giving a daughter Treasure Island or Enders Game? Books featuring girls are, for the most part, understood to be books for girls. Which is interesting as well because, in addition to there not being enough, books featuring girls as protagonists are disproportionately among the most frequently banned children's books. In a recent Buzzfeed list of 15 commonly banned books for kids, almost half were about girls. Girls who do things apparently scare a lot of people.

Over the last 100 years, this is how the numbers shake out:

  • 57% of children's books published each year have male protagonists, versus 31% female.
  • In popular children's books featuring animated animals, 100% of them have male characters, but only 33% have female characters.
  • The average number of books featuring male characters in the title of the book is 36.5% versus 17.5% for female characters.

Also, the diversity problem is significantly worse when it comes to ethnicity:

Of an estimated 5,000 books released in 2012, only 3.3% featured African-Americans; 2.1% featured Asian-Americans or Pacific Islanders; 1.5% featured Latinos; and only 0.6% featured Native Americans. God forbid you have the audacity to be a girl of color and expect to see yourself as cherished by our culture.

Shout out to all the "girls of color" out there who, like me, just walked around being like "CHERISH ME, NERDS." [HuffPo]

21 Nov 21:18


by (Jen)
Remember when Labour decided 5 more years of kids growing up under section 28 was worth it for a slightly easier ride from the Daily Mail?

It's not the story Labour-leaning groups are giving us on the tenth anniversary of the abolition of Section 28, but the infamous clause has at its inception and abolition two of the moments that kept me from being a member of the Labour party even at the height of Labour popularity in the mid to late 90s.

Section 28 made homosexuality a thought crime, a terrible but brilliant move that it would be nice to think was only possible off the back of HIV hysteria. A splendidly vague law that could be argued to prevent anything homophobes in positions of power wanted to stop happening, it was used to block information for schoolkids and bar newspapers appearing in libraries.  In those pre-interweb days, it helped isolate a generation of queers just as homophobic myth and hate was at a crescendo.

In the late 80s when the Conservatives unveiled Section 28, Labour's instinct was to tack with the popular mood and support its introduction.  In those early days of the bill, only the Lib Dems opposed it - at a time when the party was in such a mess it couldn't even agree on its own name. Much credit to those people inside the Labour party who managed to turn that around over time, but the kneejerk response of the reds went the wrong way. Popularity or all people equal before the law? Labour jumped one way, the SocialLiberalDemocraticExpialidocious party the other.

Come 1997, the country was in the mood for change and deep down we all knew this time the Tories were on their way out. The Lib Dem manifesto included repeal of Clause 28 among other equality commitments. Remember, back then you could be fired from your job or turned down for employment for being bi or gay. We had a discriminatory age of consent to keep gay men in their place and tell bi men that their mixed-sex relationships were more legitimate. Adoption, fostering, partnership recognition, so many things that are 'normal' now were a world away.

Labour didn't include repeal of Section 28 in their manifesto.  In the great tension of "what is right to do" versus "what will upset the Sun and the Daily Mail", they decided that keeping the tabloids on side was more important than the impact on isolated queers, including lots of LGBT and cishetero children growing up in schools that wouldn't give them the support they needed when they had questions about their sexual orientation or were being bullied because they were perceived as gay.

So when Blair got his landslide, Section 28 wasn't in the Labour manifesto. That meant repeal had to wait until the 2001-2005 parliament because the House of Lords, packed with prejudiced peers angry at their imminent removal from the House under Lords reform, unsurprisingly blocked repeal.

As Labour shadow ministers trumpet the great repeal of the Tories' Section 28 today, remember: their party actively chose to keep it in place for another parliamentary term, chose to keep it damaging schoolkids for another four or five years, for the sake of a couple of cheap headlines.

My crudest Anglo-Saxon lacks adequate words.
21 Nov 20:44

Renisha McBride's Shooter Charged With Second-Degree Murder

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

After intense local agitation and a national media outcry, 54-year-old Ted Wafer has finally been charged for shooting Renisha McBride. From Michigan Radio:

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced today that the man who shot 19-year-old Renisha McBride on his front porch in the early morning hours of November 2nd will be charged with murder in the second degree, manslaughter, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Second degree murder is non-premeditated murder. It can carry a sentence in Michigan of up to life in prison.

Details of the night are still being withheld, but a few things seem to be clear. Renisha McBride got into a car accident shortly before 1 AM, when a 911 call reported a vehicle hitting a parked car, and a woman leaving on foot. She appeared, accurately, to be intoxicated, a fact which is now grossly taking precedence in some headlines.

McBride returned to her car before 1:30, then left before 1:40, when a police cruiser arrived on the scene to find the car abandoned. The accident took place approximately six blocks from Ted Wafer's house. Early reports pinpoint the time of her shooting around 2:30. Her autopsy pins her death at around 2:45. Police initially told McBride's family that her body was "dumped" elsewhere. Apparently, police are now stating that McBride was killed around 4 and found on Wafer's porch.

There was no evidence of forced entry. According to Worthy's statement, McBride, an unarmed 19-year-old girl, was shot through a locked door. Wafer states that his shotgun went off "accidentally," but he definitely shot her in the face. Below is the post-4 AM 911 call between a dispatcher and a police officer, in which they report a man calling in to say that he shot someone on his porch, and then hanging up. They have to call Wafer back in order to find out the details.

It's encouraging news that prosecutor Worthy has charged Wafer, as Michigan is a Stand Your Ground state and the current attorney general is a Republican who many suspect would sit on the case. Within this context, it seems especially important that police turn over more information than they seem to be willing to; three years ago, Worthy backed away from a similar case because of lack of information.

Talking to Democracy Now, local activist Dawud Walid explains. "We had a Michigan imam who was killed about three years ago by the FBI. He was shot 20 times, African American by the name of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah. Kym Worthy, she refused to go forward and investigate that case, because the FBI refused to turn over certain information that Prosecutor Worthy wanted, which then it got kicked up—the case got kicked up to the Michigan attorney general at the time, former one, Mike Cox, who’s a Republican, who acquitted and found no wrongdoing by the FBI."

At the Nation, Michal Denzel Smith writes, "We have been here before. Our history becomes our present so often it becomes difficult to distinguish the two. Politicians and cable news hosts and the naïvely colorblind ask us to forget, most of the country obliges, and black people, again, are left to piece together the fragments of history, suffering, rage, and pain so that we may have hope for something better."

21 Nov 20:39

Wearable science! Made thanks to popular demand, our third...

Wearable science! Made thanks to popular demand, our third t-shirt is on sale until Sunday for just $14! That’s a $6 discount on knowledge.

21 Nov 20:38

RIP to This Old Clam

by Emma Carmichael
by Emma Carmichael

"And what killed Ming the clam? Scientists trying to work out how old he was, that's what. They found out by killing him."

-A moment of silence today for Ming, the 507-year-old clam killed by science six years ago. Who knows the things that old clam saw?

21 Nov 20:04

Naming the problem

by stavvers

Content note: This post discusses transphobia, transmisogyny with particular focus on a known perpetrator.

I suppose in the past I’ve avoided, for the most part, discussing specific perpetrators of transphobia and transmisogyny. My reasoning for this has been that this shit is structural: one perpetrator does not a system make, and bringing the fucker down won’t heal anything without deep change. I prefer to discuss things more broadly, as a nod to the systemic nature of these problems.

So let’s talk about the problem named Cathy Brennan. I doubt I need to introduce her to you. The first Google hit for her name gives a precis on what she’s like. For more, it’s really worth looking at the work the trans community has done on collating the abuse she has perpetrated and the heartbreaking personal accounts of what she’s done.

Brennan is one of the most virulent of the TERfs. This is perhaps due to her class privilege: Brennan works as a lawyer for payday lenders and is fucking raking it in. Despite this, she has a hell of a lot of time on her hands. This time, she uses to harass and abuse trans women. She researches their dead names, finds pictures, and then puts them on her websites next to pictures of rapists. If she can, she contacts employers. These are trans women, simply existing as trans women, smeared and outed because Brennan doesn’t think they should exist.

Brennan uses her lesbian feminism as a veil for this behaviour. It is nothing more than that: a veil. Brennan will gladly side with homophobic organisations if they will get her what she wants–that is, making life more dangerous for trans women.

And this is not a petty intellectual difference. What Cathy Brennan does endangers the lives of women. Outing trans women can starve them out of a job, it can socially isolate them, it can put them at risk of acts of violence–the very male violence that Brennan pretends to oppose. Furthermore, her rhetoric trivialises rape and abuse: morally equating the existence of trans women with these horrors does nobody any favours except the bigots.

As feminists, we must stand against this. We must reject Brennan entirely. We need to stand against these repeated incitements to violence, and back up our trans sisters who are victims of her work.

Yet cis feminism does too little. We stay quiet in the face of this, because the perpetrator is a cis woman and the excuse of sisterhood keeps us quiet. Brennan has a small but loyal army of enablers who police any criticism, who cry division and silencing whenever anyone dares to point out that putting women in danger is hardly a feminist act. The whole thing creates a climate wherein it is hard to speak out.

My own reasoning for refraining from writing about Cathy Brennan specifically rings hollow in my ears. On reflection, that’s been rather a double standard on my part: I’ll gladly write reams about perpetrators like Julian Assange. Even I, Attacker Of Women, have perhaps gone somewhat easy on a perpetrator, because even I, Attacker Of Women, have internalised some of the cisterhood bollocks which shuts down and silences these discussions.

It has taken me this long to fully nail my colours to the mast. Fuck Cathy Brennan. I hope that every time she cooks pasta, it comes out slightly overdone or slightly underdone. I hope she steps on upturned plugs every morning. I wish stale biscuits and unripe bananas on her.

Calling out this one person will not fix a broken system, but it is vital that we do so. It is vital that we draw attention to the abuse she perpetrates, and reject her brand of feminism entirely. It is vital that we support her victims. It is vital that we question her enablers. We need to unite against hate and violence within feminism, and Cathy Brennan is one of the best places to start. As cis feminists, she is our mess, and we need to help clean it up.

It is not enough to say that Cathy Brennan isn’t a feminist, because she wears that label. We need to actively challenge her, to make it known that we see what she does and we reject it entirely.

Further reading:
#dearcisfeminism- A very enlightening hashtag, unfortunately marred by a few TERf attempts at detrailing
You Can’t Ignore the Bug (GenderTerror)
Abuse is still abuse (Sam Ambreen)
Transphobia has no place in feminism (me)
Time to pick a side (also me; both of these pieces kind of talked around the issue without naming the problem explicitly)

18 Nov 19:29

Jerry Seinfeld And Louis C.K. Talk About The Gettysburg Address

We'll listen to them talk about anything.
18 Nov 19:20

Today’s Picture, 11/12/13

by John Scalzi

Jellyfish at the Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, November 2013.

18 Nov 19:12

"Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak": Happy Birthday, Kurt Vonnegut

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

Kurt Vonnegut, author of one of my favorite short story collections and patron saint of senior quotes, was born today in 1922. Famously, Vonnegut was also a veteran, and a survivor of the bombing at Dresden: I've been rereading his Paris Review interview, a composite of four separate interviews that Vonnegut edited until it became a self-dialogue, and it begins with a discussion of his military service.

INTERVIEWER: You are a veteran of the Second World War?

VONNEGUT: Yes. I want a military funeral when I die—the bugler, the flag on the casket, the ceremonial firing squad, the hallowed ground.


VONNEGUT: It will be a way of achieving what I’ve always wanted more than anything—something I could have had, if only I’d managed to get myself killed in the war.


VONNEGUT: The unqualified approval of my community.

INTERVIEWER: You don’t feel that you have that now?

VONNEGUT: My relatives say that they are glad I’m rich, but that they simply cannot read me.


INTERVIEWER: What happened when you reached the front?

VONNEGUT: I imitated various war movies I’d seen.

In this interview, Vonnegut drops one of the only axioms I buy about fiction—"I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far. Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak"—and talks about his aversion to love stories: "If a lover in a story wins his true love, that’s the end of the tale, even if World War III is about to begin, and the sky is black with flying saucers." When asked (by himself) if he'll ever write a real love story, he says:

Maybe. I lead a loving life. I really do. Even when I’m leading that loving life, though, and it’s going so well, I sometimes find myself thinking, “My goodness, couldn’t we talk about something else for just a little while?”

The Paris Review also did an author roundtable about Vonnegut earlier this year.

[Paris Review]

18 Nov 19:11

Afros in Art History

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

Via Complex, here's a Tumblr dedicated to spotting Afros, curls, and natural hair in works of art from 2600 BC to more recently. Big fan of this shy little Adam and Eve, this crazy wig, and this blue lady whose creator paid special attention to what we at the Hairpin like to call the "front bottom."

18 Nov 19:07

A Mesmerizing GIF Of A Perfect Game Of Snake - Business Insider

by sebastianram
18 Nov 19:05

I am not That (One Thing): Celebrity, Creativity, and Shaun White

by Sarah Clark

(Author’s note: I want to particularly thank the inimitable Amy Gravino for her feedback on and reassurance about this essay. Her example as both a superfan and an advocate for Asperger’s Syndrome gave me the nerve to share this facet of my unique fandom lens, and reassured me that I wasn’t just (over)sharing for the sake of sharing. She is a talented writer, a hilarious lady, a sensitive mentor, and one of the most awesome people I have met since returning yet one more time to the Monkees fandom. I’m honored to call her a friend.)


Nez Tour ArtSo, I’m on a study break from my qualifying exam the other day, puttering around a few corners if the net I’ve neglected the past few weeks while preparing for the Take-home test of DOOM. In one conversation related to the current solo tour, someone made a passing comment about Michael “Nez” Nesmith’s decision to only sign one Monkee-related item per guest at his post-show Conversation Receptions—specifically:

Ya think maybe he’s still not at peace with the whole Monkee thing? Or at least extremely frustrated at the huge shadow it continues to cast over everything else he’s ever done. I guess I would be too.

Now that hypothesis is nothing we Monkeemaniacs and Nezheads haven’t thought or read or even said a million times. But my gut’s told me the “not at peace” line is a simplistic hypothesis that’s easy to toss off in a blog post (I’m guilty of it, in my defense we’d just had a Very Big Day), but that hides a deeper truth. So I began writing a long-winded reply. And then I started getting really passionate. And then I stopped, and asked myself why I was so certain of the inner motivations of a fairly complicated guy whom I’ve never met (Well, I’m meeting him in 13 days. Oh, shit. *takes cleansing breaths*).

Seriously, why do I keep ranting over and over about the evils of entitled fans, in all fandoms? Yeah, it all started with a momentary screaming fit in my car over a tour that came 3 months late to fulfill a lifelong dream of one of my best friends, but I started wondering if there was more than that to the story. And then “the Flying Tomato” did a “Double McTwist 1260″ in my mind’s eye, and I facepalmed. It was time to write the post I’ve been dreading ever since Gazpacho, Grief, & Gratitude went Monkees!Viral and I knew that I was not going to be able to extract my positionality and personality from the story I’ve told here of using pop culture to make sense of my life, and vice versa.

Uncropped SelfieThere’s no non-melodramatic way to say this, so I’ll just say it flat-out (with the help of a zipper-tastic selfie). I, like 1 percent of the population, live with a congenital heart defect, or CHD (three actually, though the latter two were quite handy). My plumbing issues are roughly comparable but a bit worse than fellow CHDer Shaun White’s, but thankfully nothing near so life-impacting as Becca’s (Happy 21st!) or irrationally adorable Pokemon Obsessive Liam. Like Liam, I’m Palliated but not “Cured”, though according to longitudinal studies my cardiac kludge seems to stand the test of time reasonably well, and there is an improved “fix” available to kids born with my issues these days (though really, few if any defects are ever 100% “cured”). Tl; Dr, I walk 5K races, but can’t (yet…) run them, and I take exactly one pill a day. All in all, a pretty good life. So what the hell does my backwards-plumbed circulatory system have to do with autograph policies, snowboarding, or even celebrity/fan culture in general?

Wow, his scar’s subtle. Either he’s had work done or I REALLY should brush up my Photoshop…

I’m not really a sports fan, but I do follow the Olympics—winter and summer. I honestly can’t remember where I learned about Shaun’s defect—I want to say it was some website profile before the 2010 winter games. I’d watched his antics in 2006 so was already mildly familiar with him, and was pleasantly surprised to discover somebody “like me” was a competitive athlete. A couple weeks later, Shaun was interviewed during the Olympics, and they asked him about the matter. Watching that interview very closely, I could almost feel Shaun struggling not to squirm. He said something very straightforward, along the lines of “overcoming my heart defect made me more competitive”, and then he smoothly changed the subject to his new skateboard line or whatever. I was impressed with his PR chops. He kept the interviewer on topic, and defined himself on his own terms. That wasn’t the time or place to be plugging charitable causes, so I simply filed away his deflection for my own personal future use (though I don’t ever plan to have a skateboard line).

Then came the Hobbit. I was mostly busy gazing at the glory that is Martin Freeman, but was also gnawing on this commercial for St. Jude’s that played before the show.

As this point, I’ll turn over the mike to Amanda, Liam’s mom. She says it better than I could here and here, though she has a rather different perspective on the matter than I do. I really want you to read her thoughts (and the rest of the blog, and then buy her book), but in a nushell: Amanda was kind of confused as to why Shaun devoted charitable energy to a cause better funded by several orders of magnitude than the one that has touched his own life.  (note: the link to Amanda’s book is an affiliate link, but if anyone buys I’ll split 100% of my commission into equal donations to the charities linked below)

Now, If we look at Shaun’s charitable PSA choices though Amanda’s lens as a warrior, she’s 150% right. In a perfect world, Shaun would not be playing it safe by using Saint Jude’s to contribute to the Charitable-Industrial complex—he’d be out there banging the drum for the Adult Congenital Heart Association, Mended Little Hearts, et al. But you know what? I understand Shaun’s choice. I only did the Poster Child gig once, but that was enough to learn how he would likely be infantilized and used if he didn’t construct and control his public image the way that he does. No broadly-grinning tomato-haired hipster soaring over metal music in total control over his performance, but rather soft-focus childhood photos, sad cellos interspersed with heart monitor sound effects, tears from mom, stock footage of hospital beds all building to a triumphal finale with some uplifting tune from Copeland or something. In other words, something like how those badass kids were disempowered and fetishized in that sappy-ass, manipulative St. Jude’s commercial. Gag. (And if you think I have issues about St. Jude’s marketing strategy, don’t EVER get me started on Susan G. Komen or Jerry Lewis…)

That narrative is the last thing I ever wanted attached to me as a competitive (in a nerdy way) sort of person, and the closest thing I ever achieved to sports success was when I was 13 and the softball coach regaled everyone at the end-of-season picnic with my medical history before handing me my “you tried!” participation trophy (pro tip: don’t do that). I was somewhat contented with the fact that if you squint, you can maybe just barely see the top of Shaun’s midline scar peeking above the top of his tee shirt in the St. Jude’s commercial if you know what you’re looking for. And even if he wasn’t helping “our tribe” directly, he was at least using his celebrity to help sick kids rather than flogging yellow wristbands while shooting up with performance enhancers. *ahem*

Luckily, I’m much more familiar with Shaun’s struggles than Amanda’s. At 16 I had the world’s most frightening Perils of Pregnancy talk from my cardiologist upon proudly announcing the utter miracle of landing myself a serious boyfriend. If I’d been Catholic I might have considered becoming a nun, but contented myself with sobbing on said boyfriend’s shoulder (If you ever bump into this, Eddie, thanks again). I’ve heard more optimistic assessments since, and I know of women with my anatomy who’ve had kids, but I chose against of bearing children then and there, because if shit can go wrong medically in my family, it does. In my 30s after some honest marital talks, I opted for a doctorate instead of adoption. Yes, I know some can get advanced degrees while raising children and working full time. I’m not one of them.

Long story short, I will never know what it feels like to be a mom of anyone—much less anyone critically ill. But I do know what it feels like to walk into the Doctor’s office every 6-12 months, knowing intellectually you’re as normal(ish) as ever but wondering if you were just in denial, if that bit of indigestion you had last weekend after that ill-advised Lengua taco at the new truck downtown was really a horrible pernicious arrythmia. If this is the visit where the good luck ends and you’re gonna start dying. Hasn’t happened yet, knock wood it very might well never happen, but you’d better believe that growing up with something like that is a powerful incentive to live life on your own terms and fuck what others say.

And I realized…I don’t keep ranting about this entitled fan crap for the reason I thought I did all this time. I rant about it because I decided long ago I needed to be more than my defect, more than my manufactured image.


Sweet Neffie on a Harley I’m getting this signed in 13 days…*takes more centering breaths*

And on that note of realization, back to autograph policies. Obviously I can’t speak for Nez, but for me, at least, It’s not a matter of being “at peace” or “not at peace” with something. It’s a matter of being able to stand up and say THIS is the totality of who I am, and to have my complete voice be heard. I am more than That One Thing. It’s a difficult thought process to understand unless you have a That One Thing in your life. That difficulty is why I kept That One Thing to myself over the past year and a half. But my old friends Jenny and Anissa (who died when I was 4 and 35 respectively) are gently telling me it’s time to put on my Big Girl Jimmy Choos and own this part of my story. My heart was probably irrelevant to the events of the past year and a half, but it was also suspiciously convenient not to go there. After all, something drove me to allude to Jenny in the very first post I made here–even if I was too chicken to tell you we met in our parents’ support group.

Sometimes it’s easier just to hide That One Thing. However, unless we become hermits (an ultimately self-destructive act–I know because I tried it during puberty), we all have to live in a world that may perceive what “matters” about us differently than we do. Doing that dance is tricky enough for me, and it was only about 2 1/2 years ago that I began coming out of the closet with my defect to more than my nearest and dearest. I can only imagine it’s murder when you’ve got a herd of fans and/or activists breathing down your neck to be a role model, or assuming that because your self-definition differs from their assumptions, that you haven’t “made peace” with That One Thing, whatever it’s a unique circulatory system or a stint in America’s first manufactured boy band. Maybe for the celebrity who you’re judging, That One Thing’s not that big a deal. Or maybe his attitude toward That One Thing is none of your damn business.

But all that said, Amanda has an extremely valid point. Now, Shaun doesn’t owe the CHD community anything. But having walked a mile in a version of his snowboots, I would cautiously argue that in our unique situation there are things my 1% owes ourselves, not to mention the very literal children, research animals, etc, who died that we might live. Maybe everyone owes something like this to themselves and the universe, but I can only know my perspective on this issue.  In any case, Shaun and I (and the rest of the 1 percent) owe those ghosts (and ourselves) a fully lived life of whatever length, full of joy and friendship and dreams attained and generally improving the world in the ways we can. And an aspect of my journey, right now at least, is to find openings where I can be honest about the ways in which my That One Thing does and does NOT matter. I’m a decent writer and educator, and my words might smooth the way for someone else. If I broaden someone’s horizon, or even better, help one struggling young person with a heart defect who was drawn to some of the dorkier byways of pop culture, then this post was worth it. (If that’s you, email me. No matter your health issues, I SWEAR it gets better emotionally and socially.)

As for the slowly emerging novel/series I mentioned in passing a few posts back? It’s the story of an unlikely friendship between a heart surgeon and pediatric cardiologist, and the lives their 30 year partnership saves (and doesn’t save) along the way. Think the Master and Commander series with EKG machines. I spent 36 years trying NOT to write about That One Thing. But now I will. I have to. The larger world NEEDS to understand this world, and it if my medicine will go down more effectively with the safe sugar coating of fiction and a generous dollop of dry humor, then so be it. Most importantly, I am exploring this story alongside my dissertation work because nothing else creative will come out till I do, and because I may be the only person who has both the nearness and the distance to tell this story. Most importantly, I needed to learn the lessons of The Year of Our WTF before I could explore That One Thing in a non-Mary Sue manner.

Solo choosBut this story will be told on my terms. If I do manage to write this, and sell it, and it hits big, you better BET I’ll be on talk shows in a tastefully low neckline promoting charitable organizations and urging other adults with heart defects to get follow-up care (You all need it, at least once. I don’t care what your cardiologist told you when you were a teenager about being “fixed”. Pop open a tab NOW and find a specialist. if you’re scared about it email me.)  But I can only conceive of doing that (or writing this post) because I’ve defined the rules of engagement. It’s my personal equivalent of the line between wearing sparkly Reunion Choos on the solo tour but only signing one Monkees item per person. My defect helped make me who I am, and unconsciously influences every word of fiction, analysis, or scholarship I’ve ever written. It also may explain a great deal about who I am a fan of, and how I make sense of celebrities, fans, and Fandom. That said, I am NOT my circulatory system. Never have been, never will be. So if I ever do get on National TV to plug my bestseller, I’ll happily answer a question or two to bust myths. But if Oprah or Rachael wants to spend all 10 minutes of my precious book-promoting airtime reducing me to my “miraculous” plumbing, then, well, in the words of another person far too often simplified down to his That One Thing…I’d really rather not. ;-)

(fast forward to 4:00 if it doesn’t automatically–or don’t, as it’s preceded by another favorite. :-) )

And speak of that sparkly-shod devil, next up is likely going to be my review of the Nez concert and *gulp* conversation reception. I decided against bringing my Vinyl Headquarters to go along with TLSHONZ and Tropical Campfires…but after an embarrassing amount of deliberation and waffling I’m wearing a cute new cashmere V-neck I just spotted. Kevin likes me in low-cut stuff and Nez can hopefully cope with some mild B-cup cleavage. ;-)  Besides—you only live once, right?

18 Nov 18:57

Updates: Temperature Conversion Table

Temperature Conversion Table

  • Since we posted this in 2010, we’ve been measuring our temperatures in Kelvin (not the Kelvin scale, but a guy named Kevin whose name we misspell around the lab).
  • Bees, they still exist. Don’t be unprepared.
  • Having trouble talking about weather with strangers? Browse our collected science and make new friends (who you only talk about the weather with).
17 Nov 10:27

Same-sex marriage 'only serves assimilationists' is piffle

by (Jen)

We've had an enormous amount of discussion of marriage in LGBT+ activism circles over the last couple of years. One of the semi-legitimate complaints is that the focus on this has passed over other issues affecting LGBT people (why I'm not persuaded of that is a tangent for another post). Another I've run into many times is that this change only serves the 'assimilationist gays'.

I'm not persuaded, and here's why.  My quick and dirty chart above considers the division of marriage up until legislative reform.  On the left of the black line, people who if they are to marry one person pick someone the law considers to be of the opposite sex; on the right, those who choose someone deemed of the same sex. (The law, at least in the countries I have lived in, remains a stickler for this binary thing).

But not everyone wants to marry. For whatever individual reason, all the people below the red line don't want to marry.

But we live in a culture of homophobia, and so people in the bottom left are pressured into marrying or else coming on the receiving end of homophobia through guilt-by-association: still not married, at your age? There must be something wrong and we all know what people who don't marry have wrong with them. Cue a variety of social ostracisation and for some financial penalties too.  Some will be assumed to be gay, others will marry for social acceptance.

Meanwhile on the right of the black line, at the top there are people who want to marry but are denied it, and at the bottom, people who don't want to marry (and may come to imagine a correlation between their distaste for marriage and their sexual preferences).

Now we redefine marriage as for any couple who want to marry.

This means the dividing line in marriage is not by sexual orientation but by choice.  No longer the black line but the red.

Those in the top right box are given the freedom over their own lives to choose to marry if they (and their prospective spouse) so wish.

Those in the bottom left box have the "it must be because you are secretly gay" assumption lifted. You could marry if you wanted; if you're not marrying it is because you choose not to, or the right person said no, or suchlike.

So I don't see same-sex marriage laws as 'just' liberation politics, and I don't see it as just for LGBT. It allows both those who wish to marry and those who do not to do the thing that feels right for them, without giving either the bully power to force their personal choice onto others.
16 Nov 14:07

The Mystery Of Moon Dust

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin returned from the moon, their cargo included nearly fifty pounds of rock and soil, which were packed in an aluminum box with seals designed to maintain the lunar surface’s low-pressure environment. But back at Johnson Space Center, in Houston, scientists discovered that the seals had been destroyed—by moon dust.
15 Nov 18:56

Dick Hole Mind Control, 1918 Version

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

The Week has collected some century-old wedding night tips, and some, as you might expect, are batshit ("Absence [of shame] is a proof of dullness and coarseness," "The young matron should shape her life to the probable and desired contingency of conception and maternity. Otherwise she has no right or title to wifehood").

Others actually hold up quite well: "Every intelligent physician knows that conjugal life is the salvation of many women."

Most notable, however, is the early signaling of the power of Dick Hole Mind Control:

In sexual intimacies, there is a discharge of this creative fluid from the body of the man, but where there is a full response on the part of the wife, there seems to be an exchange of magnetism or energy1 which makes up for the loss. If, however, his desire alone is active and she is simply fulfilling a supposed wifely duty, she gives nothing to him, and he, therefore, suffers a definite loss in vitality.

1"Half a cup of fluid flowing down a guy’s pee-hole and nesting in his balls."

[The Week]

10 Nov 23:36

No One Is Having Sex On Their Wedding Night Anymore


I was just telling the other day the story of how I played Apples to Apples with all my friends who were staying at my parents as there are no hotels in the middle of nowhere, until some of them suddenly had to be driven to the airport (a couple hours away) on short notice, after which my new husband and I got to retire to the fold-out sofa in my parents' basement.

In our collective imagination, every bride and groom is leaving the reception in a limo and arriving at a rose strewn hotel suite where they will do unspeakable things on the hotel’s high-thread-count sheets. Wrong!
10 Nov 23:25

Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #352

by Caron Lindsay

Welcome to the Golden Dozen, and our 352nd weekly round-up from the Lib Dem blogosphere … Featuring the seven most popular stories beyond Lib Dem Voice according to click-throughs from the Aggregator (3-9 November, 2013), together with a hand-picked quintet, normally courtesy of LibDig, you might otherwise have missed.

Don’t forget: you can sign up to receive the Golden Dozen direct to your email inbox — just click here — ensuring you never miss out on the best of Lib Dem blogging.

As ever, let’s start with the most popular post, and work our way down:

1. Censored @libdemvoice comment by Andrew Hickey on Sci-ence! Justice Leak!.
Just as a point of clarification, Andrew has not been banned from the site.

2. By-election Night 13  by Dan Falchikov on Living on Words Alone.
Dan’s weekly preview of local government by-elections around the country.

3. Labour liked my amendment so much they decided to vote against it by Jonathan Wallace on Jonathan Wallace
If it’s not proposed by them, it’s not happening. A tale of control and power in Gateshead.

4. Will there be a by-election in Sutton Coldfield? by Jonathan Calder on Liberal England
Could Andrew Mitchell be Brussels bound?

5. Labour can win in 2015, a disaster beckons in 2020 by Matthew Green on A Thinking Liberal.
A Labour government will make things worse and then what?

6. Party of protest or party of government – it’s the wrong question by Mark Pack on Mark Pack’s blog.
If we don’t protest about anything, try to make it more liberal, we’re a party of the status quo, says Mark.

7. And so, to Caddington by Alan D Winter on My Life.
Alan announces his candidacy for the Caddington ward in Bedfordshire.

And now to the five blog-posts that come highly recommended, regardless of the number of Aggregator click-throughs they attracted. These are normally chosen using the LibDig bookmarking website for party members, the site where you can highlight blog-posts you want to share with your fellow Lib Dems. Remember, though, you’re still more than welcome to nominate for the Golden Dozen a Lib Dem blog article published in the past seven days – your own, or someone else’s – using the steam-powered method of e-mail … all you have to do is drop a line to

8. Come of it, Met Police, you are having a laugh by Paul Walter on Liberal Burblings.
Paul isn’t buying the Met’s reason for stopping David Miranda. (Submitted by Paul via email)

9. Why the Lib Dem campaign for body confidence is important  by Jennie Rigg on Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.
We need to be more positive about others’ appearance because there are enough negative influences. (Submitted by Andrew via Twitter.)

10. Body confidence: or Debi finally gets angry enough to blog  by Debi Linton on Thagomizer.
Debi tackles those who criticised the size 16 mannequins launched by Jo Swinson this week. (Submitted by Andrew via Twitter.)

11. Hello Lib Dem HQ, Northern Ireland is over here by Michael Carchrie Campbell on Lib Dems in Northern Ireland.
Oops. Look west, Lib Dem graphics designers, look left (Submitted by Stephen via LibDig.)

12. Liberator says something nice about Nick Clegg – honest  by Mark Smulian  on Liberator’s Blog.
How come the Universe hasn’t imploded? Seriously, Liberator like his EU speech.

And that’s it for another week. Happy blogging ‘n’ reading ‘n’ nominating.

Featured? Add this to your blog post!
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
<a href=""><img src="" width="200" height="57" alt="Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice" title="Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice" /></a>

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

10 Nov 23:17

"The Logic of Stupid Poor People," Or, the Only Thing Worth Reading About the Barneys "Shopping While Black" Arrests

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

Recently, police at Barneys New York have been catching well-deserved heat for detaining and arresting black shoppers buying luxury items; also catching heat are the shoppers, particularly the nursing student Kayla Phillips, who bought her Celine purse with her tax refund and took the subway back to Canarsie and, according to some people, has no business buying a $2,500 purse anyway.

Tressie McMillan Cottom takes this issue on hard and perfectly: why "we hates us some poor people," because "first, they insist on being poor when it is so easy to not be poor. They do things like buy expensive designer belts and $2500 luxury handbags." Why might "they" do this? Tressie gets into it.

I learned, watching my mother, that there was a price we had to pay to signal to gatekeepers that we were worthy of engaging. It meant dressing well and speaking well. It might not work. It likely wouldn‘t work but on the off chance that it would, you had to try. [...] How do you put a price on the double-take of a clerk at the welfare office who decides you might not be like those other trifling women in the waiting room and provides an extra bit of information about completing a form that you would not have known to ask about? What is the retail value of a school principal who defers a bit more to your child because your mother’s presentation of self signals that she might unleash the bureaucratic savvy of middle class parents to advocate for her child?

[...] You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor. And not intermittently poor or formerly not-poor, but born poor, expected to be poor and treated by bureaucracies, gatekeepers and well-meaning respectability authorities as inherently poor. Then, and only then, will you understand the relative value of a ridiculous status symbol to someone who intuits that they cannot afford to not have it.


10 Nov 11:02

Sunset over Stockport

by Paul Magrs

10 Nov 10:58

On the Death of Renisha McBride

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

Renisha McBride was a 19-year-old girl who'd just graduated from Southfield High School and gotten a job at the Ford Motor Company. Late last Friday night, she got into a car accident, alone. With her phone dead, she left her white Ford Taurus on foot to seek help. An hour or so later, she reached Dearborn Heights, a city west of and adjacent to Detroit, and knocked on a stranger's front door. He shot her point-blank in the face with a shotgun and she died.

Her family was not notified of their daughter's death until Monday. The police initially told the family that McBride's body was "dumped" at a nearby intersection; they are now stating that the young woman died on the stranger's porch. Her death has officially been ruled a homicide, but because Michigan is a Stand Your Ground state, prosecutors have not yet charged McBride's killer, a 54-year-old man whose name and race and background are still unknown.

Her killer's attorney has stated, “I’m confident when the evidence comes it will show that my client was justified and acted as a reasonable person would who was in fear for his life." Dearborn Heights Police Lieutenant James Serwatowski said, "She was in a car accident, but I don't know if she was trying to get help or what she was doing." No matter what she was doing, scared doesn't mean a finger on the trigger and a shotgun in her face.

Stand Your Ground allows for the use of deadly force when a person “honestly and reasonably believes” such use is necessary to prevent "imminent death, great bodily harm, sexual assault" or to protect against the “imminent unlawful use of force by another individual.” Renisha McBride was unarmed and her killer shot her in the mouth.

Dearborn Heights is 86% white. Detroit is 82% black. Gun ownership correlates positively with racism. Police Captain Jeffrey Seipenko said, "As far as I am concerned we don’t have a [problem]. Dearborn is a very mixed community, you know – white, black, Arab – for years, it’s been that way. So I am a little confused as to where that is coming from.” McBride's family told police reporters that they don't understand how anyone could have been afraid of their 19-year-old girl.

Renisha McBride's funeral took place today in Detroit, a city that's seen this over and over, most shockingly in the 2010 death of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones in her own house during a police raid engineered to give A&E a better reality show. There was a protest calling for justice yesterday; another protest is scheduled for 6 PM tonight. I teach in Ann Arbor, which is a 45-minute drive from Detroit. Yesterday I asked my mostly-white class of freshmen if they'd heard of either Renisha McBride or Aiyana Stanley-Jones; they said no. They stared at me blankly when I brought up stop-and-frisk.

At Salon, Roxane Gay writes: "Increasingly, we are faced with a horrifying truth. The environment in the United States is toxic for black people. There are exceptions, certainly, but Aiyana Stanley-Jones was murdered in her own home, by law enforcement. Trayvon Martin was murdered while walking home from a convenience store. Renisha McBride thought, like any reasonable person, that she could ask a stranger for help."

A toxic environment for black people, and yet a very friendly environment for gun owners, gun users and gun mis-users associated with whiteness in any way. Renisha McBride was shot in the face while looking for help after a car accident, and Fox News used this headline: "Self-Defense Mistake?"

10 Nov 10:54

tsarbucks: amroyounes: The Strongest Anti-Racism Ads Of The...



The Strongest Anti-Racism Ads Of The Last 20 Years

  1. 1996 Benetton
  2. 1996 UK
  3. 1999 campaign via the UK by the Commission for Racial Equality
  4. 2001 For the National Congress Of American Indians
  5. 2002 Via the UK for the National Assembly Against Racism
  6. 2002 Via the UK
  7. 2002 National Union of Students
  8. 2003 Red Cross of Finland
  9. 2004 campaign via the UK
  10. 2007 A More Perfect Union via the USA