Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's All About Multitasking

I've been talking about some quasi-feminist issues quite a lot recently, but I want to address just one more before I move on to some other things. I admit, this is going to be a short little rant, I was planning a much more complicated post but I am up to my ass in work at the moment so I have very little time to do this right now. I promise I will be more attentive very soon.

I wanted to talk about people who get outraged at men who undress women with their eyes, and men responding by saying "well don't dress so provocatively then!" I have some very mixed feelings about the whole discussion that I wanted to put out there.

First of all guys, be honest, if a woman is attractive it really doesn't matter what she's wearing, if she's not reeking from a week without showering and doesn't have dried egg and blood on her raggedy grey sweatshirt, you're going to undress her in your mind anyway. You're a red-blooded male and your mind just goes there. However when you're called on it you get extremely defensive, saying it's not you're fault that hussy has the nerve to wear a push-up bra, and anyway why do you feminazis want castrated men coasting through the halls anyway!!! Here's the thing, women think about sex too. A lot.

Relating to the fact that I am particularly busy these days, I was in my fifth meeting/seminar of the day with two more still to go, so of course my mind started to wander. The man talking was, lets face it, kinda cute, and I began undressing him in my mind. Oh how horribly sexist of me! While he was going on about scientific research I was pondering the various things I might do to him on that lovely desk. Pure fantasy of course, I'm happily in love with a perfectly wonderful man and would never dream of approaching this guy in real life. Even if I was single it still would never happen, he's not actually my type at all, but when you're mind wanders it just goes there. It says "I'm bored, I want to think about sex. Hmm he'll do for my mind fantasy!" For shame for shame for shame.

So now that the secret's out it looks even worse for us. Well fuck it if you do it too then WHY THE HELL are you busting our balls for doing the same to you women?!! See, SEE you're the sexist ones! You want unequal treatment I knew it!!! I'll tell you what the difference is, my darlings. The inherent difference is in the ability to multitask. Why do you think us women are able to keep it on the down-low?

When I'm fantasizing about the lovely man who happens to be giving the talk at the time, I can still listen to what he is saying. I'm not blankly staring at him with an obvious dog-face of arousal. I don't blankly fixate on his ass or crotch the way you guys go for the boobs. I still follow what he's talking about, take notes, while all the time wondering if he's a boxers or briefs man. Most importantly, his appearance doesn't influence my perception of him as a scientist or a professional. I don't think that his deserving of my taking him seriously is inveresly correlated with his attractiveness. The two things are completely seperate, and therein you fellas need to take a lesson.

Learn to oggle a woman minus the oggling part. Respect her as much as she is deserving of respect, no more because she wears glasses or no less because she has blond hair and nice boobs. Learn to still hear what she's saying and evaluate her worth as a professional regardless of what she may look like naked, and no one will give a shit what goes on in your head. Don't think that (most rational) women are going to try to become the thought police, it's just that we so often have to deal with our work being judged based on our appearance that we might come off as being prudes, but we're not. Just separate the two and you'll never get called on it again, because no one will ever know what's going on in your head if it doesn't show on your face.

Word to the wise ;)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Word To The Wise: When No Means No And When It Means Try Harder

This was something that I felt needed a little clarification for all of the guys out there still scratching their heads over the complexity of female desires. It was originally brought back to the forefront of my mind by a post on Greta Christina's blog about an article, written by a woman no less, saying that just once in her life a woman should be wildly and passionately pursued by a man. Of course this prompted a slew of stalking story responses from females detailing how horrible it can be to be, myself included.

Now I already know that this has quite a few men wondering what the hell they're supposed to do. On the one hand no one wants to be a creepy stalker. On the other hand, many women love romance and play hard to get. All the rom coms show men going to the end of the Earth, stopping planes from taking off or traveling half across the globe to gallantly declare their undying love to their beautiful soulmate, and all the women in the theater alongside them are crying and moaning that they would kill to have such a demonstration of love. So what the hell do these women want?! We all know that no is supposed to mean no, but what about when it doesn't? How are these poor men supposed to tell the difference?

On one hand I do kind of get them, although this is partially their fault, or rather the patriarchal society that we live in. While the number of confident feminists is on the rise in many places, there are still the vast majority of women that can't afford to get a "bad reputation". You can't immediately say yes to a guy that shows some interest in you, what if he thinks you're a total slut? What if all he wants you for is a roll in the hay, while promising you so much more? What often results is a careful game during which the woman will assess just how seriously she is wanted by this man. If he's not particularly interested he'll wander off and not call back. If he is he'll persist, and at the same time respect her more for not being so easy. But what if she's not interested at all, or she definitely wants to break off the relationship? How is the man supposed to know which is which?

Well we think we're being pretty obvious, but since some men seem to need a little help I figured I'd come forward and explain a few straightforward signals to you in order to be able to distinguish the two.When approaching the woman in question, does she

1. Look up and away when turning down your date, or look you straight in the eye and say no?
2. Laugh and slap you on the arm when you tease her, or flinch when you touch her arm?
3. Answer the phone regularly when you call, or let it go to voicemail often?
4. Have plans with her friends often, or get short tempered when you ask her out?
5. Never answer you directly when turning you down, or say please when asking you to stop?
6. Say "maybe" and "I don't know" a lot, or tell you to move on?
7. Is quite giggly, or impatient?

If she tends to say the first part of these scenarios, get nicer and try again. If it tends to be the second, forget it and leave her the hell alone. Honest women will be direct when they're not interested, don't try to pressure her in to changing her mind.

This will seem ridiculously obvious to many men out there, but personal experience has taught me never to take men knowing these things for granted. \There is not a single woman I know well that has not had a man in her life that didn't know how to take no for an answer. I hope these little tips will help those of you out there who need a little guidance with what women want.

And to the girls out there, are there any signals that I've missed?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What Is An Atheist?

Yesterday I was speaking to one of my students about religion and atheism as it influences our society, and he told me that when he was in China his guide proudly stated that China is 85% atheist. This made me scratch my head for a moment. I was pretty sure the number is not actually that high. The reason for this statistic is because in China they only consider people that are members of an organized religion to be religious. All of those people that give offerings to Buddhist temples or pray to their ancestors are counted as atheist.

But wait a minute, I thought. Just because these people are praying to great-great grandma instead of Yahweh they're still practicing a religion aren't they? It's still superstition. They still pray and give offerings and thank a supernatural entity that they believe directly influences their lives. They're not atheist the way, say, Denmark is atheist. My student responded by saying that the reason the Chinese don't count ancestor worship as religion is because it does not bring any rules to society. There's no religious holidays associated with it, no dietary rules and no influence on the lawmaking of divorce or stem cell research or any of that.

**Quick aside** when Chinese people get divorced, who is the child tied to? Since they have the one child rule and all that, if a married couple with a kid get divorced and remarried, which of the two is not allowed to have another child? If you know do tell me

My response to that was that even though there are no religious holidays tied to ancestor worship there are still some cultural rules that are so deeply ingrained they might not even see that they are tied to this practice. The most obvious one is the taboo of going against your parent's wishes and "bringing shame on the family". The role of the elders in your family is so hyped up in ancestor worship that to do something to shame them is the absolute worst thing you can do, which puts enormous pressure on young Chinese people.

While he sort of agreed with me on that point and we moved on to other things it still made me wonder, how do you define atheism exactly? As the root of the word comes to absence-of-theism, it is difficult to pinpoint what does and does not apply. I wish it could be as simple as "people who don't believe in silly things without evidence". If that was the case holocaust deniers, anti-vaxers, 9/11 truthers and children who believe in Santa are all excluded from being atheists. I think it's going to have to be more subtle than that.

Let's look at a couple of dictionary definitions. weighs in like this:

a·the·ism: noun

1.the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
2.disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.

How about the Cambridge University Press:

someone who believes that God or gods do not exist

A few more different dictionaries all give pretty much the same definition. While they do not talk about the presence or absence of an organized religion with a distinct set of rules, they all mention the lack of belief in God or gods. So now the question becomes this, do the ancestors that are prayed to qualify as gods?
Now when looking up the word "god" we get many more definitions, however I think the first two are the most telling. Let's take the Oxford dictionary as an example:

  • 1 (in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.
  • 2 (god)(in certain other religions) a superhuman being or spirit worshiped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity:
 While the ancestors prayed to in China do not of course fit the first definition, I do find that they fit the second one perfectly. In light of the slippery nature of the word "god", I think the definition of atheism needs to be extended a little bit:

The disbelief in the existence of a supernatural or superhuman being that has power over nature or human fortunes.
This new definition would also include the god of the Bible, the Qu'ran etc, while also encompassing other "softer" religions like some forms of Buddhism.
Also, If you also want to exclude the believers in all that other silly stuff that doesn't have to do with religion, you can thank Thunderf00t for this little gem of a word:

 A person who bases their views on Physical Evidence and Reasoned Logic

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tough Questions: Why Can't Men Hit Women?

As a continuation of yesterday's topic, I figured while I was at it to bring up an old argument that I used to hear in high school (where I was typically called a "feminist" as an insult) all the time. If you really believe that women and men should be treated equally, and that you shouldn't make any judgement on someone based on their gender, then why is it not as acceptable for a man to hit a woman as it is to hit a man? You can't have it both ways.

OK so let's put aside the argument "It's not OK to hit anyone". It's a silly excuse to avoid the real issue: it is absolutely true that it is socially acceptable for a woman to slap a man if he seriously insults her, but if a man slaps a woman when she's mouthing off it is atrocious, even for the majority of women that advocate equality. Is that wrong? Why or why not?

I had to think about this long and hard, the reason being that I did in fact occasionally get into physical altercations with the opposite sex. It began in elementary school when I put the smack down on the class bully who was actively choking my friend at the time for telling him to piss off. Since then my elementary school years were often spent pulling a bully off my friends' younger siblings and giving them a little taste of their own medicine. The bullies in the school were either my age or older, so my teachers never reprimanded me nor did they ever inform my mother, seeing as I was doing what they all wished they could. By the time I went to middle school, however, they had stopped physically bullying and the only kind of harassment that was thrown around was verbal, so the fights stopped. In high school I was still very much considered one of the guys and it was obvious that I was not afraid to throw down if the need ever came up. I defended a couple of my friends from harassment (both sexual and physical) on the streets and I was still the go-to-girl for this kind of vigilante justice. I suppose the fact that I was considered "between genders" in my teenage years made me the ideal person to ask this question, and it really made me think.

As I thoght about it, I came to two important realizations. First of all I realized that the more I was growing up, the more this taboo of hitting girls(/women) was growing, even in my own mind. The second realization was that while I wouldn't have minded if one of the aforementioned boys tried to smack me, because I would have made them regret it for the rest of their lives, I would have been morally outraged if they did the same thing to one of my "girlier" friends, and I would have made them regret it for the rest of their lives. With this second one, the reason for this disparity clicked in my mind.

As I was growing up, the physical disparity between the sexes started becoming more apparent. While girls and boys aged 7-11 are reasonably equally matched physically, they begin to diverge after puberty. This seems like the most obvious statement in the world, but it's at the heart of the whole issue.

The moral outrage doesn't come (at least doesn't from me) from a person with a penis hitting a person with boobs. It's about hitting a person that is not physically matched to defend themselves. I would be just as outraged to see a fully grown man hitting a young scrawny boy. It is the intent behind that slap that makes it. When a woman slaps a man for being rude, she is saying "I will not tolerate you degrading me like this. You are completely out of line and I want to shock you so you remember it". When a man hits a woman (or by extention, a scrawny teenage boy) for the same reason, that slap says "Know your place. You forget I am stronger than you, I can dominate you if  and whenever I choose. I have this power over you, so don't you think of saying something to set me off". The power dynamic is completely different.

I am a woman who has no qualms defending herself with her fists if need be. If a man who is physically matched with me raises his hands with the same intent that he would raise them with another man, that moral outrage disappears for me. If, on the other hand, I see a man raising his hands against a woman who is significantly weaker than him, or one that has been conditioned by society to not defend herself physically, and therefore if the intent behind that slap is the second one I have described, I'll go fucking nuts.

So, can men hit women? The answer is yes only if the intent behind bringing the confrontation to violence is the same as it would be if she were a man, if she has a good chance of defending herself and if she has just as much intention of escalating to that same level. In other words, the same morally justifiable rules that apply for physically engaging another man.

Not such an unequal concept after all is it?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sorry To Break It To You, But It's Really Not That Hard

A few days ago, Dave Futrelle posted a review of an upcoming horror movie "The Woman" on his blog (love him btw. Love the name, love the content, love it all). I've finally decided I will go see it when it comes out on my side of the pond and I might even review it myself when I do.

Apparently the plot has some fairly obvious feminist undertones, which is relatively rare in horror movies. It deals with a "feral" woman captured by a seemingly ordinary family man and chained in his basement in the hope of "civilizing her". I assume at some point she escapes and kills a few people, which prompted this comment from some misogynist on the internet:

I feel sorry for you and any other woman who truly believes that they can physically overpower a man.
You know, if women are just as physically capable as men, I’d love to start my own inter-gender boxing league. Sign me up, baby! Equality at its finest. :)

I feel I need to respond, only because it seems that every time this comes up there is a big pink elephant in the room that no one is willing to discuss, and one that HISHE parodies excellently. Gentlemen, I'm sorry to break it to you, but you can be pretty much physically overpowered by any woman out there.

Cue to the sound of MGTOW heads exploding everywhere

See gents, you were born with some little dangly bits in between your legs. While you pay enormous attention to those bits on other occasions, you seem to fail to notice that they make you exceedingly vulnerable. One good tap there (I am told that an upwards tap can be even worse than an outright blow on some occasions, but a hard kick will suffice I'm sure) will put any man out of commission long enough for you to run for it and out of harms way. While I am not suggesting this to be an appropriate course of action if you are just having a discussion with someone, I am saying that it is more than appropriate to get yourself out of a life-or-death situation.

"Fine then", I can already hear them say, "If that's so, Miss Uppity Feminazi Kow-It-All, then why are there so many women that get attacked by men? HA checkmate bitch!" Well, Mr. Hypothetical Loser erm I mean MGTOW, there are many reasons why that happens:

1. Blitz Attack If someone sneaks up on you from behind and smacks you over the head, you don't even see them coming and the damage is done before you have time to react

2. Fear If the attacker is holding a knife or a gun, many people will fear being killed and go along with whatever the attacker wants in the hopes of escaping with their lives. Weapons even the playing field

3. Panic Some people react under panic, others freeze. The person may have ample opportunity to go for the proverbial jewels, but the thought never crosses their minds at the time

4. Multiple Attackers If someone is holding you down while the other attacks the odds are incredibly stacked against you

5. Love Especially in the case of female rape victims, the vast majority of cases the woman knows her rapist. If it is someone they actually like or love they may subconsciously not want to hurt them, despite how much they are being hurt (e.g. Battered Wife's Syndrome)

6. Huge Physical Difference I say most people can put most men out of commission, but of course if you pin a tiny 95 pound woman against a 6foot 200pound man with fighting experience, chances are he's not going to let her get close to those balls. However, the number of cases that fit this description are very limited.

My point is that all of these reasons are not limited to women. If a man is blitz attacked, is held at gun point or is tiny compared to his attacker he also has the same diminished chances as a woman. It's not about the presence of a Y chromosome, it's about the circumstances you find yourself in.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Of Course You Think That; You're A Liberal

To which my initial gut reaction would be to reply "OF COURSE I'm a liberal, I'm not ignorant!!" But that's not completely fair. So let's explore:

I've been called a "liberal" in the form of an insult many times before, always of course by my American friends, seeing as it's not a dirty word outside the US. However a recent post from The Crommunist Manifesto made me think about this again when discussing the opening of an "Afrocentric" school in Toronto. The part that particularly brought this discussion back to my mind was this:

Liberal-minded folks across the province were left scratching their heads, caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, helping black students get a quality education is good. On the other hand, segregation is bad, and if we put all the black kids in one school, how will they learn to hold hands under a rainbow with the white kids? To be less snarky about it, isn’t segregation bad because it isolates students? Didn’t we fight against segregation of black students just a few decades ago?

Therein the characterization of liberal minded people lies. The idea that liberals are just as baboon-y in their liberalism as right-wingers are in their conservativism (that's not a word is it. Oh well, it is now). That's not to say that there aren't liberals that are like that, the kind that just hop on the bandwagon because it has a key liberal word in it without considering the issue. All I am saying is that I am not one of them.

I have not decided whether or not I'm for this Afrocentric school idea. It doesn't really matter to anyone but myself whether I agree or not since I don't live in Toronto. However, the reason I haven't made up my mind isn't because the idea has the two conflicting ideas of "help black community" and "segregation". It's because I don't know enough about it.

I think out my positions to death on every issue I have an opinion on, following my train of logic right along to a conclusion based on the information that I have. I can fully lay out that logical thought process for anyone in order to explain my conclusion, which is part of the reason that I started this blog. Also my conclusion is always subject to change if new information comes out, but it is not if the available information remains the same. I don't claim to have an opinion until I am firmly confident with my logical assessment of the information I have.

This little logical train of thought I have tends to lead to positions that coincide with the ones that liberals hold, therefore I define myself as a liberal. It's the same discussion as deciding which food group to place a food in. If I'm a steak I ma contain vitamin B-12 and some fat, but I'm mostly protein, so I call myself a protein. So I guess the question becomes why do I tend to come to liberal conclusions?

1. I have no religious preference. This means that what certain people preach about certain issues doesn't affect my thought process in the slightest

2. I don't hold on to cultural history. Just because something was done in the good ol' days doesn't make it right in my mind

3. I don't project what I want for myself on to what others should want for themselves. Just because I have no interest in gay sex or gay marriage doesn't mean I want to begrudge others the right to partake

4. I am aware that general consensus doesn't influence truth. Just because 600 years ago 100% of people thought the Earth was flat that didn't make it any more true then than it does now

5. And I think most importantly, I have to have a reason to think what I think about something. There's no such thing for me as having an opinion "because it feels wrong" or "because it's weird". That's not a conclusion. WHY does it feel wrong? If it's because of one of the aforementioned reasons then I reject the feeling and move on. If it's not then maybe there's something to it and I pursue it. But I can't just stop at "just cause", call it a day and claim it as my opinion, or worse vote for legislation supporting that opinion that may be completely unfounded.

I don't think things because I'm a liberal. This is not a chicken-and-egg complex. I think things first. Then I claim to be a liberal as a direct result of the things that I think. If you take a statement about an issue, worded the exact same way, and have a right-winger say it or a liberal I am one of those people that will agree or disagree with them equally, regardless of what they call themselves.

Where does your logic take you?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is It Just Me, Or Is It A Slow News Day?

Shocking shocking shocking. Today I just didn't know what to talk about. Here is where each and every blogger starts reeling off their excuses for such pitiless behaviour, but I swear I have some pretty good ones:

1. My PhD progess report is next week and I need to start my presentation
2. My boyfriend has injured himself at work so the entire cooking and cleaning load has fallen on my shoulders
3. I have a second job AND a gym membership
4. I have been asked to collaborate on a second project in tandem with my own so I need to learn everything about it before one of the Professors corners me and asks me something about it
5. I need to start reading papers to see where to bring my project from here since I am coming to the end of my current experiments

Put all that together and you get a big fat ARGH why am I tired all the freaking time??!!

So I decided to take a gander at to see if there was anything of interest to grab my attention that I might waffle about. It seems as though CNN is having the same problems that I am today.

I open the US page, and this is the headline story: a 61-year old grandfather becomes the oldest man to ever score in a college football game. Aww, that's sweet, but really? The leading story? OK, let's head over to the Europe page:

Hugh Grant blasts British media over the phone hacking scandal. Little late to the party there aren't we Hugh? Got caught up in the backseat of a limo again? Seriously though, who gives a shit what Hugh Grant thinks about something, especially something that pretty much everyone agrees was "cowardly and shocking". Really not much of a debate to be weighing in on. Fine then, lets travel to Asia:

2 people are killed in a football stampede in Indonesia. Slightly more of a story, but hardly headline worthy. It might make the front page in an Indonesian paper, but of ALL OF THE THINGS happening in Asia this is the best most interesting thing you got? Ok fine. How about Latin America?

Chevron was fined $28M for an oil spill off the coast of Brazil. AAhh finally we're getting somewhere. This I am happy to hear. Sure it's chump change to Chevron, but let's hope they take it further and that finally some company has some accountability for their actions. Much better CNN.

Anyway, looks like we all need a little snooze today. I hope to get mine in between boxing and reading my predecessor's PhD thesis. What joy :)

And as for a lab update, the Professor was reminded of his promise of cake and champagne last Friday, after which he immediately agreed that it was a gross lapse on his part and that they will both ensure shortly. Still no cake and champagne though. We'll see what happens with this one...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Procession for Superstition in Venice

Today, the 21st of November is a sacred day in Venice, where thousands will be marching in the streets holding candles to celebrate the Festa Della Salute, or the Holiday of Health.

From 1630 to 1631 Venice was hit with a terrible plague that was decimating the town. Such a thing was certainly not uncommon in those times, particularly in an area relatively isolated from the mainland and thus with lower genetic variation. Once a plague hit, it hit good. So the people of Venice prayed to the Virgin Mary to help the city survive this terrible plague. While initially their prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears, the people subsequently voted to erect a huge temple dedicated to Mary. Only after this show of opulence did the Virgin Mary give in (you know the ladies, they can't say no to expensive shiny things) and the plague miraculously stopped. To this day, a candlelit procession occurs every year to commemorate this glorious sparing of the Venetian people.

Now I'm all for a day off school and work, regardless of what the reason that holiday may have sprung up. However, something that I found strange when visiting Venice yesterday was the lack of information regarding the subject. And by that I mean factual information.

Nowhere, on any of the signs, do they explain what actually happened with the plague during that time. What was the bubonic plague? How did it get there? What really caused it and what really stopped it? When you read about these sorts of things happening in Roman times this is the kind of information you expect to be included, even if the information can only be based on an educated guess given the lack of evidence. But that is because the Romans believed in other gods, so no one will be so silly as to suggest that their supposition that "Jupiter did it" would be true.

In this case, however, the information available all seem to indicate that it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that it was a miracle bestowed upon the Venetian people by the Virgin Mary. While I am in no way opposed to having a holiday, I felt it to be extremely lacking. While some people will undoubtedly choose to believe in the miraculous nature of the plague's lifting, I don't see that as a reason to ignore the fact that the plague was not caused by human sin, nor all of the cool and interesting sciency stuff that was discovered since then about it's transmission and nature. A missed educational opportunity, particularly for the children who participate.

What do you think? Am I reading too much in to this, or am I being too soft on them? Indoctrination of the children into believing in miracles at face value, or just a procession that really isn't important at all?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

To Those Who Whine About Affirmative Action

When I was in high school I had a very strange, ignorant and slightly imbalanced French teacher (I'm not just saying that, the man threw a chair across the room and then calmly stated it was blocking the door so he had just saved all our lives if there was a fire). He had just discovered that there was such a thing as affirmative action in colleges in the US. He was outraged, and made us all copy down in French "In France all types of discrimination are against the law, even positive discrimination". I tried to explain to him how pigheaded that statement was, but I was 15 and couldn't speak french so I failed. Now I wish I could show him this video.

I wonder if he can give a similar talk on sexism too!

PZ posted this a while ago but I only just got a chance to watch it, since I usually read blogs (as well as write this one) on my lunch break at work where I can't turn the speakers on.

I find a lot of the arguments I make with people reflected in his talk, but two instances in particular popped back in to my mind while I was listening to this talk, both of which happened while I was living in Ireland.
I am not trying to insinuate that the Irish are a particularly racist people. As Tim Wise says, most people are perfectly well meaning, they just sometimes miss the point.

1. I came home one day to find my roommate in a bit of a huff, and his girlfriend gritting her teeth over his recent rant about what happened. I managed to find out that he had gotten in to a bit of a fight with a Bangladeshi employee at our corner supermarket, to whom my roommate finally shouted "WTF mate?! You don't see me coming to your country and trying to screw people! I don't have to stand for that shit in my own country! Fuck OFF!" I promptly adopted the same I-just-stubbed-my-toe expression his girlfriend was wearing. He got a little annoyed at me and said "well what?! I can't get mad at someone who isn't Irish for fear of being called a racist?! I didn't mean it in a racist way, I don't hate all Bangladeshis, but that guy was being a dick, he deserved it!" This warped rationalization seemed to also win his girlfriend over, since she felt his rant was a racist one though she couldn't pinpoint what part of it was the failure. I shook my head at both of them. You've missed the point entirely. "It was racist", I said, "because you went there. So he was being a dick, fine. What does the fact that he's from Bangladesh have to do with anything? A foreign person has no more or less of a right to be a dick than anyone else that lives here." This idea that each person outside of their own country (or, as it is in the US, outside of the racial majority) is representative of the country (or race) as a whole is ridiculous. If someone doesn't like me it would be ludicrous to assume that they would start distrusting or condemning all green-eyed people on the planet.

2.Another common grievance people had was with those damn foreigners coming to steal our jobs, particularly since the economy started to go down the toilet. However there is a law in Ireland which states that if you have two equally qualified people applying for the job, you have to hire the Irish person. Only if the foreigner is better qualified do they get the job. So what's the problem?
The problem is that in Ireland the minimum wage is very high, so many places liked to higher foreigners who were willing to work for less than that. That same roommate of mine worked in a hotel where he told me that Irish CVs were automatically thrown in the garbage because they would have to be paid the full minimum wage. It is no wonder then, he said, that the Irish are frustrated with these foreigners that are getting hired over them when they don't even speak English. If they'd just stop being let in the Irish would have more jobs. Another fail in logic.
I said to him, why are you getting pissed at the people that are just trying to make a better life for themselves? The people that are hiring them at below minimum wage are breaking the law. They're not supposed to pay foreigners any differently, they are taking advantage of them. Why aren't you directing your anger at the assholes that are breaking the law and not hiring Irish people, instead of getting pissed at the guy that just wants to make a little money to send home to his family?

Anyway, in conclusion, great talk. I get it, it extends beyond the US and highlights some global issues that need to be addressed. However just talking about them, putting them out there is already a huge step forward. After I demonstrated the flaws in his logic my roommate never made those arguments again. He was never a racist, he just never thought of it that way. Presenting things in a different light can make a huge difference to public opinion.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Perfect Example of That Italian Pessimism

Well, of course Italian students have gotten quite the taste for protesting, and have already started protesting Mario Monti's government.

Look, I am all for the indignatos and occupy movements, which have kind of fused together in Italy to create what you see now. I get it, things are shit and you don't trust people in power not to screw you over when they try to patch the holes in the dam with your money instead of tearing it down and rebuilding the thing. However people please, take a load off for once,

The new government hasn't even done anything yet!!!

Let me break it down for you a little bit. Mario Monti: who is he? Well, he's an economist, an ex European Comissioner, he's a lot of things. But one thing that he is not: a politician

The new Italian "emergency government" is made up of college professors, experts in their relative fields, but not people who have ever been part of a political party.
Am I the only one that thinks that was brilliant? Not only are you not giving the power to a bunch of corrupt bums (I'm not just making a pessimist comment here, Italy actually has a huge government corruption problem), but it also puts aside all the partisan bullshit that we really don't need right now in order to fix this crisis.

Maybe the US Super Committee should have been made up of professors and economists instead of congressmen..... just saying

Anyway, not only that, but Mario Monti has already spoken about what he's planning to do. He's actually brought up the issue of social disparity, organized crime involvement, tax evasion of the wealthy and growth stimulation, he's not just proposing sweeping austerity measures as if cutting social services is the answer to all economic problems.

I know they're just words right now and I'm not so naive as to think that he's bound by what he says, or that just being in the presence of politicians can't corrupt the crap out of him, but words are all we have to judge him on right now. And based on his words I don't get why anyone is protesting. OK so you don't believe he's going to stick to it and you want to let him know that you wont be having any funny business. Great. Message received, now can we actually see what happens before huffing about him already?

Also remember, this temporary emergency government can be dissolved at any time before the elections in 2013, he is not protected by the fact that he was voted in by the people and has a term to serve out, so he has to deliver. I don't actually know almost anything about him, but I'm allowing myself to be curious to see how it plays out before declaring that I KNOW nothing is going to change and that no difference will ever be made. 

Stay tuned for more from our struggling country

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Little Lesson: Vegetables

This post was once again inspired my a morning video brought to me by TheYoungTurks which just offended the scientist in me

Now of course the Republicans in this case don't actually think that pizza counts as a vegetable and they're just doing it for the money, that's old news and standard Republican behavior 101. This post is not meant to attack the idiocy of such a position as if I thought it was one they actually would have ever come up with or supported if there was no money involved. I bring it up because it was reminiscent of an old fight that I used to have with people in Ireland.

I've mentioned before that I lived in Ireland for five years before moving back to Italy for my PhD. One of the things that struck me most was how badly people ate without thinking twice about it or feeling sick in any way. Admittedly I was pretty spolied, in Italy we have a particularly good diet, but mostly we tend to be a quite delicate people when it comes to food that ravages the liver, so very few Italians would even be capable of eating what the average Irish student eats without feeling sick and having nightmares as a direct result. However the lack of nutritional knowledge of the average Irish person, even Irish biology students, was what struck me in this instance.

I was briefly employed by a marketing agency that had me going door to door to convince people to give to a charity for animals. After hours the whole gang headed over to the pub to grab something to eat before doing our evening round and then heading home. I was on a diet at the time, but I was starving so I began scouring the menu for something that wasn't deep fried in butter to order alongside my tea. I landed on mixed plate of vegetables. That sounds fantastic! I'll have that. What I got was two little pieces of broccoli, a scoop of mached potatoes, some boiled baby potatoes, some fries and a few rings of boiled carrots. I was disappointed but I laughed out loud all the same. Do you realize how fitting this is with the Irish stereotype? I asked. I can't believe that they're advertising a plate of potatoes as vegetables! ahahaha. To which all heads turned at the table. What are you talking about? Potatoes are vegetables! No amount of explanation would convince them otherwise. When I went back to college and told the story to my fellow biology majors, I was met with the same outrage at my suggestion that potatoes are not vegetables. All conversations went something like this:

Me: Potatoes are not vegetables
Irish: Of course they are!
Me: No, they're a starch
Irish: They grow in the ground, they're a vegetable
Me: By that rationale wheat is a vegetable too. It's not. It's a starch, just like corn
Irish: pfft well now I know you're crazy if you think corn isn't even a vegetable you're off you're head goodbye
End of conversation

So now I thought I'd give a little explanation of what is and is not a vegetable

1. Tomatoes: Fruit. Not vegetable. So there goes your entire argument Republicans

After that it gets a little trickier. In this case we are looking at the "food group" definition of a vegetable, not the kind of scientific one. Vegetable is not a scientific word, but loosely it can be defined as an edible plant or part of a plant other than a sweet fruit or seed. However this would include grains, which we all can agree doesn't constitute a vegetable in the "food group" sense.

The food groups are based on the main kinds of compounds that we need as omnivorous animals. These include:

1. Carbohydrates- main source of energy. Foods that are included in this category are rich in carbohydrates, such as grains or cereals potatoes and legumes
2. Protein - needed for building muscle and to assimilate the amino acids that our body cannot make for itself. Included here is of course meat and other animal products. Legumes also contain some of the amino acids that we need to eat, while corn contains the amino acid that legumes lack, so if you're a vegetarian you need to make sure you eat an adeguate amount of both.
3. Fruit and Vegetables- needed for the essential vitamins and many minerals that our bodies need, as well as to facilitate digestion. The difference between a fruit and a vegetable is a scientific one. A fruit is produced by a plant as one of the ways to spread its fertilized seeds. The other parts of the plant that are edible are vegetables.
4. Fats - needed for fatty acids and an extra source of energy

Obivously there is no one food that fits exclusively in any one of these categories. As seen legumes have a foot in "starch" and one in "protein". Meat contains fat and vitamins and minerals that we need to survive. Fuit contains sugar, which is basically a carbohydrate molecule cut up in to pieces. However, the category the food is placed in largely is based on which one it fits best. A steak is mostly protein, so that's where it goes. Lard is an animal product but it's mostly fat, so it goes in the fats group.
So in conclusion, here are the four non-vegetables most commonly confused with vegetables:

1. Tomatoes
2. Potatoes
3. Corn
4. Beans

I know, but they're so delicious! Too bad, you're going to have to eat some real vegetables too!

One last thing about them before I leave this rant. Of the very few veggies I saw eaten when I was in Ireland, all of the were boiled to death, or boiled to death and smothered in cheese. No wonder everyone hated eating their veggies. Boiling them causes all of those vitamins and minerals you need to leech out into the water, so there's no point eating them at all, unless you're just on a diet and are trying to fill your stomach with useless cellulose. If you actually want to eat your vitamins, try making a soup. By boiling and then blending the veggies you're drinking the water that the nutrients leeched in to, so you're getting them in your body all the same.

If you just want to make them delicious, forget the fake cheese. Steam them to keep as much good stuff in as possible, then make them the italian way: get some olive oil, garlic and a little chilli in a pan. Then ripassare in padella: get you're steamed veggies in there and flavor them up in the hot garlicy oil and salt. Very few extra calories added and a much better veggie experience :)

Wow that went on for way too long, but I needed to get that one off my chest!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wait A Minute... I Know That Song!

I heard this song this morning on the radio and almost choked on my tea (yes, that's right, I drink tea, I know I know I'm a traitor to my country). Let's have a little fun for once, I thought I'd post it here

Recognize it yet?


That's right ladies and gents, it's an Italian remake of Total Eclipse of the Heart!

So you tell me, what do you think? Is it
A. Just as cheesy
B. Even cheesier cause it's European-y
C. Suddenly super cool and sexy cause the words are in sultry Italian
D. What are you talking about that song was always awesome DON'T MAKE FUN OF BONNIE TYLER!

You decide :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Who is Eugene Delgaudio and Why Does He Keep Emailing Me?

These emails have somehow managed to weasel their way around my spam filter, and upon actually opening one I found a little dose of comedy that I was not expecting. Upon further investigation, I discovered that I had received no fewer than fifteen emails from this creep. Who the HELL is Eugene Delgaudio?! I figured I'd post a few snippets of this golden material for you to point and laugh at:

But our nation has not defended them from the filth of Homosexual perversion.
Yes, I’m talking about the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
The U.S. Military has sacrificed so much for us, and our government repaid them with disgrace. Now radical homosexuals are not only allowed to serve openly in uniform, but celebrated for their perversion. The current president is encouraging them to go as far as they can to homosexualize the armed forces.

 Ooooh what about Obama's secret plan!!!
Apparently Obama is secretly planning to saturate the federal government with radical homosexuals, by bowing to the demands of the Homosexual Lobby and appointing the transgender Amanda Simpson to the Department of Commerce.

This is hardly Obama’s first indication of his desire to payback the Homosexual Lobby, such as the hiring and subsequent refusal to fire the radical homosexual “Safe Schools Czar” Kevin Jennings.
But it serves as a reminder of the real threat out there. . . 
Barney Frank’s Gay Bill of Special Rights.

Daycares, churches, private schools, businesses, etc…. none would be exempt from forced hiring of radical homosexuals if the Gay Bill of Special Rights passes.

That's right! tick the box if you're a radical homosexual.... no? Well sorry, we have to meet our radical homosexual quota by law! Send in the drag queens!
But wait, it gets so much weirder

I see well-known agents of the radical Homosexual Lobby everywhere.  They are huddled in dark corners scheming and plotting.  They met secretly with newly elected members of Congress in hopes of tempting them to advance their perverse agenda with campaign cash and the promise of votes.

BUAHAHAHAHAHA!! scheming and plotting in dark corners my friends! Evilly cackling along with the Joker and the Riddler! Hey I always thought that suit was a little too tight.....
Oh go on just a few more

Even elementary school children will be forced to learn new "lessons" in favor of homosexuality -- all the way down to kindergarten.
Children that age should never be exposed to these disgusting sex acts.  They will be permanently scarred!
And as horrible as this all is, it gets worse.
Not only will students be subjected to Homosexual Education, but they will have to undergo "training."
In fact, parents, teachers and students are all going to be "trained" by the school district to buy into radical homosexual ideology!

That's right! Gay porn in all classrooms people! Who's with me! No one? Strawman, how about you?

But of course, no internet bigot rant would be complete without a plea for monies

In the past, the radical homosexuals have attempted to kill me, even threatening and stalking my family.  However, all that did was make me more determined than ever to fight them. But now they want to take supporters like you out of the fight. That’s why I’m desperate for you to send a contribution of $50 or even $100 today.  I need your help right away, so I ask you to send whatever you can afford today.

Everyone, point at laugh at the sad little man and his pathetic little conspiracies. I would feel sorry for him and wish him some therapy if what he was saying wasn't so full of hate and if he wasn't doing his very best to make the world so miserable for millions of innocent people.

This last one I recognized from a Pharyngula post, and a little more digging made me realize that we were all automatically signed up for Mr. Delgaudio's internet spluge by taking a family values survey. Thanks PZ!
Anyway I think I've managed to stop the email flow by unsubscribing. If that doesn't work either, maybe this post will have a Part II shortly.

Until then, lets look at the only sliver of a silver lining in all of this: the tiny bit of comedy brought to us from somewhere unexpected.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Berlusconi Has to Have the Last Word

Wow. What an asshat.
After finally leaving office on Saturday, November 12th at 9:53pm, Berlusconi issued a video statement explaining..... I'm not sure what exactly. It makes me have a similar reaction to when I watch people like Bill O'Reilly, you dont really believe this shit do you? I mean, are you just an idiot, are you so delusional that you've convinced yourself of what you're saying, or are you flat out baldfaced lying?! Also I just want to punch your face.
OK, so let's break it down
It's in italian of course, so I'll translate wherever I need to.

He starts by saying that Italy has to be united to face the problems that are ahead. And that the first and last thing that I agree with him on.

He then says "solo mettendo da parte l'invidia". which means "only putting aside jealosy".... what the fuck does jealosy have to do with anything?! You think that you got kicked out of office because people are jealous of you? I was unaware that Berlusconi was a fifteen year old girl.

After reminding us all that his last act in office was to pass a law containing 50% of the reform measures the EU asked of Italy, he explains why he then immediately resigned:

L'ho fatto per senso di responsabilità. Per senso dello Stato. L'ho fatto per evitare all'Italia un nuovo attacco dalla speculazione finanziaria. L'ho fatto senza essere mai stato sfiduciato dal Parlamento. Anzi, avendo ottenuto più volte della Camera e del Senato dove possiamo contate tutt'ora sulla maggioranza assoluta. E' stato, consentito dirlo, triste, vedere che un gesto responsabile, e se permettete generoso, come le dimissioni, sia stato accolto con fischi e con insulti.

Translation: I did it for the sense of responsability. For a sense of the State. I did it to avoid a new attack from financial speculation for Italy. I did it without ever losing support from Parliment. On the contrary, having obtained in multiple times from the House and the Senate, where we can still count on the absolute majority. It was, if I may say, sad, to see that a responsible gesture, and if I may a generous one, like a resignation, was met with whistles (the italian version of booing) and with insults.

Oh. My. God. The nerve of this man. The outright lies.

First of all, it's bullshit that he has the confidence and the support of Parliament. He has been hammered in the polls, and the people are fed up with his shit, politicians included. It is so reminiscent of his friend Ghaddafi: Revolution? What revolution? What are you talking about? My people love me!
Secondly, where the HELL does he get off saying that it was a generous act? Silvio, what was generous was that all you got was whistles and insults, or are you unaware of what happened to our last dictator?
But oh, he continues:

Ringrazio comunque gli Italiani. Grazie per l'affetto, per la forza che ci avete trasmesso e che ci hanno permesso di raggiungere molti degli obbiettivi che ci erano prefissi fin dal 1994 nel giorno in cui annunciai la mia discesa in campo. Quel giorno ha cambiato la storia dell'Italia. Al credo politico che pronunciai allora non sono mai mai venuto meno. Fu, rimane, una dichiarazione d'amore per l'Italia. Dissi l'Italia e' un paese che amo (...) Non cambio una virgola di quelle parole.

Translation: Anyway I thank the Italians. Thank you for your affection, for the strength that you have emitted that has permitted us to reach many of the goals that were put in place since 1994 the day I announced my candidacy. That day Italy's history changes. At the oath I took then I have never, never come up short. It was and it remains a declaration of love for Italy. I said :Italy is a country I love" (...) I don't change a comma of those words.

Real translation: thank you for allowing me to amass more money and power than any other politician in Europe, which is exactly what I set out to do in the first place. As for loving Italy, you're really going to say that to us with a straight face after you were caught red handed saying you thought this country is a piece of shit?

He then goes on to talk about how important the majority is and a united Parliament will help solve our problems etc. But then he has the gall to say this:

Dobbiamo uniti far fronte a una crisi che non e' nata in Italia, che non e' nata sul nostro debito, che non e' nata sulle nostre banche, che non e' nata neppure in Europa, e' una crisi che e' diventata una crisi della nostra moneta comune dell'euro che non ha il sostegno che ogni deve avere.

Translation: We must united confront a crisis that was not born in Italy, was not born on our debt. that was not born in our banks, that was not even born in Europe, it's a crisis that has become a crisis of our common currency the euro that does not have the support that each (currency) should have.

Sure. Blame it on the States and the euro. That isn't to say that the economic crisis in the US didn't precipitate this mess, but why has Italy been hit so hard and why is it going to be so hard, if at all possible, to bounce back? Because Berlusconi destroyed this country and has left the people to pick up the pieces.

 He then goes on to say that he wants "redouble his efforts to fix this country" as if he has any power left. The big problem is that Berlusconi owns this country, he can financially ruin a politician who does not do what he wants them to, but let's hope his shaming will give more people the courage to stand up to this slimy bully. It would be as if a Koch brother got elected President of the US, disaster.

And an update from the lab: no one mentioned that he's gone. I think everyone is in a slight state of shock so they reverted to the good old fashioned pessimism: until they see something actually change, they wont believe it.

In the meantime, let's hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and do what we can to push change is the right direction.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Champagne Anyone?

As of 9.53pm tonight, Berlusconi has finally resigned as PM with his tail between his legs, fleeing from a back exit for fear of being attacked by the hoards of people cheering, dancing and toasting with champagne on the streets.

Italy has a long way to go before it can be whole again. However, I can't help but feel a glimmer of hope from this wonderful news. We have some incredibly tough times ahead, but this is a small step firmly in the right direction, for the first time in fifteen years.

As a side note, I will be very interested to see what the reaction in the lab will be like on Monday. The professor there (a die-hard liberal) has inadvertently made a promise to throw a huge party if Berlusconi, a.k.a. Mr. Bunga Bunga ever got kicked out of office, mostly because (thanks to that famous Italian optimism I have previously described) no one really believed it would ever really happen. Well, let's see, will he
A) Bring cake, streamers and champagne for everyone, or
B) Grumble that it doesn't make any difference that he's gone since nothing is going to change anyway?

I'll be taking bets until Monday and let you know then ;)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Explaining Probabilities To The Mathematically Impaired

OK here it goes, going to talk about something related to FEMINISM inspired by new twitter hashtag #MenCallMeThings. I don't have a twitter account (and I refuse to get one) so I'm not going to be posting my little contribution, but I figured I'd write a post about a common anti-feminist argument I hear quite often.

OK now it's very difficult for me to talk about feminism alone without bleeding into racism, homophobia etc. I have previously explained why I feel that it is all the same nonsense: having a prejudice or even downright hatred of someone simply because of how they were born, regardless of what that characteristic they were born with is. I also don't feel any more strongly about one than any other, which leads me to interconnect them quite frequently, so please forgive me for doing so.

OK so this is the feminist argument: There is sexual discrimination in the workplace. Evidence? A very small percentage of women hold managerial positions/high-ranking positions compared to men, whereas if there was no discrimination the number we would expect is 50/50 thanks to the law of prbability.

The (polite version of) the counter-argument: So what, NOW we're supposed to hire people BECAUSE they're women? Isnt that blatant discrimination against men?! But feminists don't care about that kind of discrimination do they! So we're supposed to give a woman a job even if she doesnt deserve it as much as a man does, or we'll be labeled as sexist? MAYBE the female applicants are less qualified, or more men applied than women for the jobs cause the women want to have time off to have babies, there are loads of reasons why men might deserve those jobs more!

Of course you can substitute the word "women" with "blacks, minorities, gays, etc." and still have the same exact argument.

OK, let me explain it to you then. True, there are other factors that could influence a skewed percentage that does not involve prejudice or bigotry. So what is the reason? Let's try something called an experiment to find out.

Coincidentally, this kind of experiement has been conducted in the US to see if there was discrimination (whether subconscious or not) against African Amreicans. What did they do to investigate this?

1. Put up two adds on eBay for a product, which were identical in every way except that in the picture of the product there was either a white hand or a black hand holding it. People bid significantly lower amounts on the product held by the black hand.

2. Sent out CVs that were identical except some had a white-sounding name while the others had a black-sounding name. CVs with the black-sounding name were rejected more often than the white-sounding ones.

See, this is evidence that the skewed percentages of employees has something to do with racial discrimination. I don't know if they tried #2 with male and female names, but I would be astounded if such a study would not yield similar results. They should also combine the two, my prediction is the following classification of number of CVs accepted:

1. White man names
2. Black man names
3. White woman names
4. Black woman names

At least, that's what US history in civil rights issues leads me to believe. I would be extremely interested in seeing the results.

Anyway I guess my point is this: enough with the straw men you bunch of baby whiners. No one is trying to diminish the meritocracy. Gender and racial equality does NOT advocate for reverse discrimitation. It advocates for exactly what it says: equality. We want the person that truly deserves the position the most to get the job, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. Is that really so terrible an idea? Are there really people who are not in favor of that? I know that there are a bunch of bigots out there who will pretend to call bullshit and say this is really just a big conspiracy to put down the straight white man, the real minority, and all that noise. Even if you really believe that, still answer this question: supposing that the only thing that the [insert discrimination-victim group here] activists want is what I have just stated, would you be against that?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is It OK To Hit Your Children? A Follow-Up

Although I was going to write about something entirely different today, I was floored by this article today, which essentially describes the difference in laws regarding parenting between Sweden and the US.

The 1979 ban was decades in the making, from the first description of children's human rights in the 1920s, to a ban on smacking in schools in 1958, to the removal of legal language that allowed parents to hit children in 1966. Public attitudes continued to shift in the 1970s after a few high profile cases of discipline gone too far, and in 1977, Swedish Parliament created a committee to examine children's rights. Before the new policy was official, they explained the ban in pamphlets translated into several languages and printed information about it on milk cartons.
The result was Chapter 6, Section 1 of the Swedish Children and Parents Code: "Children are entitled to care, security and a good upbringing. Children are to be treated with respect for their person and individuality and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or any other humiliating treatment." It passed almost unanimously.
"The police are not going to say, 'This parent should be charged,'" said Durrant, who has studied the effects of Sweden's ban for decades. "The police will say, 'What you did is not OK, I understand why it happened, but you need to know that's against the law, and here are the supports available to you.'"
Those supports might be access to parenting groups, child development information, children's health care or nurses that help childproof homes or offer advice.

Good for Sweden. I'm all for it, and I see that they're doing it right, not throwing a bunch of parents in jail for patting their child on the butt a little too hard. Of course I don't think the US is anywhere near ready for this sort of legislation, considering how they started expelling kids for bringing nail clippers to school or pointing a chicken finger at a teacher and saying "bang" as a completely irrational response to school shootings. The US needs to learn to be reasonable first.

However, despite this, there were two little nuggets of information that absolutely floored me
1. It is legal for teachers to hit children in school in 19 states
2. The US and Somalia are the only two contries to not ratify the UN convention on the rights of the child

USA, shame on you.
Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, shame on you even more.
I understand that the United States has some very backward laws, but this takes the cake. This isn't even about homosexuals or criminals, it's KIDS for Xs sake! What ever happened to no child left behind? I am flabbergasted.

If you are going to share your thoughts about this, please check your "I was hit as a child and I turned out just fine" arguments at the door. There are people who have been molested as children and turned out just fine too, but it's a piss poor argument for saying that it's OK to do so.

Other than that, I'd love to hear your thoughts

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Another Horrific Story of Child Abuse

Reading this story about the Penn State scandal (doesn't it seem to diminish it by calling it that? Like Anthony Weiner's cock pics were a "scadal", this is a horror story) made me feel physically sick and stuck with me for a few days later. I still don't really know what to say about it. 

A Penn State graduate assistant coach shows up at the football locker room unexpectedly, and hears slapping noises from the shower. Here’s what the report said:
“As the graduate assistant put the sneakers in his locker, he looked into the shower. He saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky.”
The assistant fled in fear and confusion. Much the same way a janitor fled after allegedly witnessing Sandusky engaged in a sexual act in the showers with a “young boy” — Victim 8, later described in the report as being “between the ages of 11 and 13.”
 Although this may seem to be the worst part, what's much worse in my mind is the following handling of the situation

If the report is right, Paterno, leader of men for the past half century, simply called his athletic director and passed on the information of the rape his graduate assistant described to him; like telling your boss on a co-worker who is stealing staples from the supply closet.
No, Paterno, and the other school officials, did nothing to help the boys, or to help any other boys in the future.
They actually told Sandusky that he couldn’t keep bringing boys from his charity onto the Penn State campus, into the football facilities, according to the grand jury findings.
Not that they told him to stop doing to those boys what is alleged.
Just stop doing it here.

Superficially, it may seem that someone who actually witnessed the attack is more culpable in this case, seeing as he was confronted with the shocking truth, while the bureocrat simply did what bureocrats do, pass the buck without fully acknowledging what it was that happened. I could not disagree more.

I am going to be completely honest here. If I had been the person in that locker room and witnessed such a horrific scene, I think the shock would have made me flee too, shortly followed by me throwing up. However, upon clearing my head in such a way, I would be so overwhelmed with guilt at such a cowardly escape on my part, when that little boy had no such means of escape, that I would have cast about for something heavy to hit that bastard over the head with and take that child straight to the hospital. If I had not made it back in time to stop what was happening I never would have forgiven myself.

You never know how your body will react to shock. Some people spring to action without thinking, others freeze up. I know I freeze up initially, because as a child I was a "punch first ask questions later" sort of bully-protection patrol kid (which is why my mother was never informed by my teachers of my frequent fights at school). However this also lead to my intervening in situations that I had misjudged, gotten yelled at by the kids I thought I was protecting, which lead to my doubting myself. I thus developed a new rule that I had to be asked to intervene before I would let myself go like that again. Years of this restraint became a freeze-response, which can only be unblocked by my mind overcoming the shock and looking at things clearly and rationally.

I know this about myself, but many people don't, couldn't possibly know, until they are confronted with something that shocks them to their core. This is why I cannot blame anyone's impulsive reaction to anything that they witness. However, once the dust has settled in your mind, you have absolutely no excuse.

I blame the people that did not call the police after the fact. I blame the administrators that shrugged their shoulders, and somehow figured this to be acceptable collateral damage in protecting this man's name, fame and charity. I can't call them outright evil, because that would almost be too easy. I don't think their intent was malicious, but rather the adult version of plugging their ears and hiding under the covers so that the monster in the closet, which they deep down don't believe exists anyway, will just disappear and leave them alone. It is the complete and utter incapability of relating to the pain and horror that this monster caused others. I am aware that I have a particularly overdeveloped sense of empathy, but the complete lack of it in these people upsets me more than I can describe.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Where Do We Draw The Line: Free Speech vs. Bullying

I have talked about something similar to this before, but this is slightly different and came back to mind when I saw a video by ProfMTH on the subject this morning (wonderful youtuber btw, highly recommended)
Basically, there is some new legislation that has recently passed in Michigan that tries to address the problem of bullying in schools. The question put to ProfMTH is whether or not the fact that a clause has been added to the bill, protecting people holding a strong religious belief to voice said belief without repercussions for doing so, was unconstitutional or not.

While I am sure that ProfMTH knows better than I do when he says that the clause does not, I have to disagree with him regarding the notion that this clause protects free speech. It is a very fine line to draw, but I find it to be necessary: when does free speech become bullying?

The clause is very awkwardly worded:

ProfMTH points out that the clause does not say that the student is allowed to bully based on his or her religious belief, only that they are allowed to state what their belief is, and that this is protected speech. OK, but really? The clause also does not contain a very important HOWEVER if you bully for whatever reason you're screwed, which I believe is the legal term. Why do I think this is important?

If this bill is even needed, it means that the addressing of bullying in schools is severely lacking. Do we really believe that when interpreting this hazily written clause administrators are going to err on the side of being tougher on the bullies, or err on the side of letting them go? Especially if the administrator him/herself holds the same "religious" (translation: anti-gay, possibly anti-muslim) beliefs? My second question is, why is there even a need for such a clause to exist? The first amendmant is there for everyone. If something someone says qualifies as free speech they are protected by it, there is no need to restate people's constitutional rights in every piece of legislation. Why even specify someone's religious beliefs at all? Isn't a student equally allowed to voice their political ideology with the same fervor and still be protected without being accused of bullying someone with an opposing view? What is really needed is a clear definition of when free speech stops being free speech and becomes bullying.

Admittedly I have not read the bill, this next part comes from my own head. I'm sure that the bill must contain some form of a definition of bullying. If it does not, it's an even worse bill than I originally thought. If it does, then it reiterates my point that the clause regarding the protection of someone's religious beliefs is utterly useless, because if what someone says does not qualify as bullying then it doesnt matter what the nature of their statement is, religious or otherwise. Anyway, personally, I think the line can be drawn at a personal attack.

If someone generally states "I think gays go to Hell" that is a general statement. An extremely ignorant one, a stupid one, but a general statement nonetheless and one that is protected speech. If, however, someone repeatedly verbally harasses a person or a few people, says "I think YOU are going to Hell, YOU are a sinner, YOU should just kill yourself" over and over, and you direct that hateful speech at someone you know, repeatedly, that is bullying. At least, that is what I think bullying (verbal bullying of course, physical violence is much easier to define since there is no protection of assault in the constitution) should be defined as.

Where do you draw the line? Where does the law draw the line? Share your thoughts

Friday, November 4, 2011

Boring in Life, Fascinating In Death

This is going to be a rather brief observation as I am currently sharing the lunch break I usually dedicate to this blog with my preparation of a presentation I need to give in a few hours.

I think about this every time I see the morbid fascination that surrounds a celebrity when they die, and now that it has come to my attention that the top selling book in the US at the moment is a biography of Steve Jobs, the age-old question comes back again: why, why WHY do we become so fascinated with people when they die? Why should our opinion of them change depending on whether or not they are alive?

Despite the title of this post I am not trying to insinuate that Steve Jobs was a boring person. His biography may well be quite interesting. However I don't pretend for a moment that it would be this discussed or widely purchased if it had not been released right after his untimely (though not unexpected) death. Is it weird that I don't suddenly find someone more interesting after they have died? Sure if someone dies completely unexpectedly, like Amy Winehouse or Brittney Murphy or Heath Ledger I might wind up thinking about them for a bit a couple days later and muse over what a shame it is, but it doesn't make me any more interested in buying a book about them or a movie they starred in.

A perfect example of this is when Michael Jackson died. After he dies all of a sudden everyone, even people who never liked him, started saying "oh well I never thought he was a pedophile anyway". What?? I'm sorry, although no one but the victims will ever be sure of what happened, my personal thoughts on the matter did not get knocked off course with the last beat of MJ's heart. That is ridiculous. I still think that he was guilty of what he was accused of, because I am not a hypocrite. I came to my conclusions based on what I knew of the case and what I heard from someone I knew who worked for him, not because I thought he was a freak or because I felt bad for him after he died unexpectedly. No new information regarding the case came out right before or after he died, and yet public opinion regarding his guilt suddenly shifted dramatically simply because he stopped breathing. Why?

I suppose I'll never fully understand it, although I do think that it can be done quite unconsciously by people and can change if they are made aware of it. Quite the same way some people let race unconsciously affect their judgement of people, which changes when they are made aware of it, I think many people don't notice how their opinions change about someone after their death. Compound that with an old cultural undertone of having "respect for the dead", this phenomenon has become easily exploitable from a marketing perspective.

Do you ever find yourself falling into this line of thinking?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tough Questions: Is it OK To Hit Your Children?

This morning I watched one of the most disturbing videos I have ever seen, of a judge beating his disabled daughter for having installed a video game on her computer. Watching it almost brought tears to my eyes, but I really had to think about it for a while to really fully appreciate everything about it that made me feel the way I did.

Of course this brings up the question: is it OK to hit your children? There are people who might look at that video clinically and say sorry, it's not that bad. He doesn't punch her, he hits her with a belt, but not with the buckle so it's still legal. It's brutal, but she's not bleeding, nor does he hit her face, there are much much worse cases of child abuse out there and this does not qualify. To which my gut response is, BUT IT'S NOT OK TO HIT YOUR KIDS!

Here's the problem with that initial reaction: It goes completely against the gut reaction that I get when watching videos like this, which is "OHMYGOD if that was my child I'd smack him/her so hard they wouldn't know which way was up!"

So wait a minute, is it OK to hit your kids or not?

I'm going to go with no.

It might happen that once, in the middle of a passionate fight with your teenager you might slap them once across the face, which you might regret and apologize for later when the heat of the argument has died down. But relying your parenting on corporeal punishment can, in my opinion, range from being merely lazy to being the single most damaging experience of your child's growth and life.

Judging what this man did to his daughter goes far far beyond the physical damage he inflicted on her. True, she was not left bleeding or concussed. However I later realized that it is disturbing for reasons far beyond what was physically done to her. It was the fact that her screams and her crying invoked not the slightest bit of pity or fatherly love. If anything, her screams made him more angry and want to beat her more violently. It was the fact that her mother had not a single word of restraint for her husband, and nonchalantly changes the subject in the background while her daughter cowers in fear in a corner. It was the fact that he was visibly containing himself, and the feeling that later on he will be congratulating himself for not having given in to the urge to take it further, instead of feeling guilty for having taken it way way too far. It was the way he cursed at her to lay face down on the bed, and the palpable humiliation she must have felt while trying to find the courage to resist his demands.

I was very lucky in my childhood to not have ever been beaten, outside the occasional slap given in the heat of an argument. However I was an extremely rebellious child, and I can say for certain that beating me would have been entirely useless. One thing I remember vividly however, was the threat of a spanking from my uncle at the age of 10, whom I saw only once every couple of years. I cannot remember what I had done or said to deserve this warning, but I remember him calmly informing me that, although I was not his daughter he was still my uncle, which meant that he was perfectly within his right to spank me if he determined it necessary. He said this in a non-threatening, perfectly placid way. Despite this I remember the humiliation and disgust that boiled in me at the thought of him taking such a road. I said nothing and left because I knew, for a fact, that if he decided to spank me I would have fought him tooth and nail to prevent it, as hard and as viciously as I would have fought someone who was trying to rape me, and perhaps cause a family split because of it.

Now contrast that with the beatings I used to get from the son of a family friend. There was a woman whom I considered to be something of a second mother to me, but sometimes when she was not around her older son would wail on me, despite the fact that I was a child from 7-12 and he was in his 20s. I defended myself like a vicious little cat, kicking and biting, going for the balls, the eyes, anything I could to even the playing field, and usually I got away with little harm done. Yet this to me was not nearly as traumatic as a "spanking" from my uncle would have been. I did not come away from these encounters feeling like a victim, if anything I felt empowered by the fact that I could find a way to defend myself despite the fact that he was so much bigger and stronger than me. I was under no obligation to bow my head and take it. I forgave him for these encounters even long before I discovered that he was a drug addict at the time, I guess because I always sensed that there was something altering his behavior and that he wasn't an inherently bad person. Even though objectively this seems like a much worse case of "abuse" than anything that my uncle would have done to me, I came away from it in much the same way a young brother comes away from a tussle with an older sibling. Those of you who count the bruises when judging a child abuse case, you're missing the most important factor.

Beating you child is not just about the physical scars, it is about the humiliation and hatred you inspire in them. You cannot expect to build a loving relationship with someone you put down in such a way, no matter how much you may think they deserved your punishment. I'm sure my uncle would not have hurt me if he decided to spank me, I probably wouldn't have even felt the pain a few hours later, but I also know that I never would have forgiven him for it, and for the rest of my life it would hang there between us. What is even more sad is that he would have no idea it was there, influencing our relationship in unseen ways, because he has no idea what kind of damage his behavior might have caused.

Am I completely out of touch, because I do not have personal experience with this kind of physical abuse? Is the humiliation factor very different for a young girl being beaten by a man from a young boy being beaten by a woman? Let me know

And a brief message to the girl in the video: you did the right thing. Exposing your father in this way took enormous courage and I applaud and support you.
However, if he does not go to prison, or at least lose his parental rights because of it thanks to his buddies in the judicial system, and he comes back to take out his revenge on you, go for the knees. Do not hesitate, two good strong kicks with your heel directly to the kneecap will take him out and he will not be able to stand back up. Get up, and Run.