Sunday, June 28, 2015

Safe for work

I regularly read the comic oglaf.  It provides many laughs and much amusement, though I am sure that a great portion of the population finds it terribly offensive.  It is extremely not safe for work as it contains lots of nudity and sex.  The writer provides links in my feed reader that make it clear if clicking through to the comic is work safe or not on any particular day.  

The thing that really ticks me off is comics like today's, which are safe for work despite depicting an arrow blasting through a person's head as well as a number of other unpleasant ways to die.  (Being eaten alive by a giant eagle can't be fun!)  In our culture grisly carnage and murder are considered fine things to have people see.  You won't offend anyone that way!  But breasts?  Shocking and inappropriate!  Penises or vaginas?  Right out!

I could understand the distinction if it was specifically rape or murder that were divided this way but it is true regardless of the context in which sex organs appear.  

There is a quote from George RR Martin that illustrates this same point:

“I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a penis entering a vagina, and I get letters about it and people swearing off. To my mind this is kind of frustrating, it’s madness. Ultimately, in the history of [the] world, penises entering vaginas have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure; axes entering skulls, well, not so much.”

Not that I think we should suddenly start banning all violent material - I just think we should stop leading with the assumption that depictions of the human body are inherently offensive, dangerous, or rude.  It bothers me to no end and causes plenty of trouble to boot.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


I have a long and difficult history with waiting in lines.  Lines are very much like commuting to my mind - suffering that must be endured for many types of enjoyment.  It is a way of weeding out those who aren't really dedicated to the activity in question, of getting people who will only ride the roller coaster non stop to just stay home so the hardcore folks can do it.  Many people would happily move to the suburbs if they could only get to work in five minutes, just as I would love to get flipped upside down and zoom around if I could avoid standing on concrete pads bordered by metal rails for hours on end.

This weekend I went to Centre Island with my parents and Elli.  It was a perfect day for it, around 20 degrees and sunny.  Warm enough to wear shorts and tshirts but cool enough that nobody was sweating and suffering.  Couldn't ask for more... except that those same conditions led lots of other people to show up and clog everything up for us.  We spent about twenty minutes on the rides in total and about two hours in lines of various types waiting to get tickets and waiting for the rides themselves.

My instinctive reaction is to curse and swear and refuse to be involved in such madness.  Can any ride be amazing enough to warrant such indignities?  I could be killing monsters on the internet after all and that is fun all the time, no lines required!

There are mitigating circumstances of course.  While my mom was waiting in line with Elli I got to talk to my dad and vice versa which is actually the point of the thing.  Varied conversations with shifting groups of people is a good way to pass the time, and catching up is really the thing I want to do.  The main complaint should be that I am doing so while standing in a line in a crowd instead of happily ensconced in my chair at home.  Of course Elli was more than eager to stand in outrageous lines to have her three minutes of thrills but that is at least in part because she still isn't aware of just how much the rides *cost*.

Someday she will want to go to theme parks herself I imagine and then I look forward to watching her try to figure out the cost for herself.  Is it really worth eight hours of flipping burgers at McDonalds to stand around for a couple hours and get a few minutes of thrills?  Those sorts of calculations are the thing that excites me as a parent.  I want to see what she does, find out how much she emulates me, discover what she is really like when she begins to come out from under my shadow.  Plus I look forward to being able to impart nuggets of wisdom!  Which, I can only assume, she will largely ignore.  She will learn by screwing up and dealing with the blowback like all of us.

Until she is that independent though I suspect I will be stuck waiting in lines.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Why Sci?

There are really good reasons to teach young folks a bit of science.  Obviously it can be useful in careers and such, but it can also be an inoculation against some of the more ludicrous nonsense out there in the world.  Recently I found out about The Food Babe, an internet celebrity who doles out advice on all kinds of health and food issues.  She has some real difficulties with facts and definitions, particularly when it comes to air travel.  Hint:  She thinks that breathing nitrogen is dangerous, even though nitrogen makes up the majority of the atmosphere on Earth.

One of her most common and most dangerous messages is that people need to avoid having chemicals in their food.  This is such a problem because so many people don't know that the word chemicals is almost meaningless because it can refer to pretty near anything.  Dihydrogen oxide is a chemical after all, and it is in nearly everything, even the air around us!  Hint:  Water = H2O.

The Food Babe is especially egregious in her use of sciency terms to try to sell people on her brand and on products she endorses but obviously she isn't alone.  Her success relies in large part on the profound ignorance many people have surrounding scientific terms and methods.  When the population doesn't know that 'chemicals' isn't a thing, when they think that 'quantum' is pretty much science code for 'magic', and when they believe that scientists are some kind of monolithic group out to keep the truth away from ordinary people we are in serious trouble and charlatans like The Food Babe can make a fortune by making up complete garbage and convincing others to swallow it.

GMOs are one of the things she talks about in particular and in so doing she illustrates another common fallacy - the idea of 'natural'.  There are problems with GMOs but they are almost universally problems of ownership and corruption rather than health problems.  The thing is, if you think that GMO foods are somehow inherently dangerous and natural foods are not because you have an image of a crazed mad scientist mixing up poisons in a lab vs. a big smiling Gaia making delicious treats for people you are being completely fooled.

Evolution did not create plants explicitly to be safe for humans to eat.  On the contrary, many plants are cleverly evolved to become extremely dangerous to consume.  Natural and highly dangerous foods include poison ivy, apple seeds, and tomato stems.  Don't eat those!  Whereas labs are trying deliberately to make food that is safe to eat and efficient to produce.  That doesn't mean that all GMOs are bad, or that they are good, just that the argument that they aren't 'natural' is worthless and meaningless.

I would like very much to vaccinate children against pseudoscience garbage like what The Food Babe peddles.  Not least because I really want them to vaccinate themselves against things like polio, and while that vaccine is not 'natural' it sure does work.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

It is that simple

Recently there was a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.  A young white man walked into a church attended by primarily black people and killed nine of them.  The perpetrator is now in custody.  As usual I will not include his name nor picture as I think that doing so helps to encourage people to seek infamy through such means.  He is just FUD, the same moniker I give to anyone who does such a horrible thing.

Investigation into FUD's life has made it abundantly clear that he was a white supremacist who was savagely and unapologetically racist.  He attacked this particular church because he wanted to kill black people, and because he felt doing so would start a race war that he felt white people would win.  FUD did this because of racism.

A lot of people are talking about the issue and making a total muddle of it, trying to bring in all kinds of elements that are completely secondary to the central issue here.  This isn't an issue of gun control.  FUD wasn't using super duper military grade gear.  He was using a simple handgun that he could buy easily and legally.  He could have done the same thing with a hunting rifle if he had wanted to.  While the gun was necessary to perform the act, virtually every gun control law proposed would do nothing to stop him.  It might inconvenience him, but probably not even that.

This also has nothing to do with mental illness.  We have no reason to think FUD was diagnosed with a mental illness, being treated for a mental illness, or that any sort of change in how we deal with mental illness could have accomplished anything.  Last time I checked being evil and racist wasn't a medical diagnosis.  Our society has challenges dealing with mental illness and there are a lot of cultural issues in that regard but it has no bearing on this case.  Bringing it up only indicates that people are unwilling to face the reality that racism is the problem here, and the fact that mental illness is so often used when *white* people commit terrible crimes like this is racist in and of itself.

The problem here is hatred and scapegoating of black people.  That is what we need to address, that is what helped foment this tragedy, and that needs to be where our focus is if we want to prevent such acts in future.  Trying to limit guns or change our mental health policies will make a tiny difference at most because what we need (specifically in this case, what America needs) is a cultural shift.  Laws will have at most a small effect compared to the enormous effect that a change in attitude will.  That is what anyone talking about this situation ought to be focusing on - how terrible racism is and how we all need to do our part in ending it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A great loss, but not the one you think

Tim Hunt (a Nobel winning chemist) is in the news a lot lately.  He already had a reputation for being a chauvinist (which he admitted openly) and recently he gave a speech where he talked about how labs should be gender segregated.  His reasons were that women were distracting, that them being there was likely to cause them to fall in love with men, that the men would fall in love with them, and that women have a tendency to cry when criticized.

This, to nobody's surprise, generated a massive backlash and Hunt resigned his position after receiving immense pressure.  Prior to actually stepping down though there was an apology that wasn't an apology, as is often the case with these things.  It turns out though that people can tell the difference between "I was wrong" and "I wish you weren't offended."

Most people seem pretty much on board with the idea that Hunt is a sexist jackass who really deserved all the negative attention he got but as always there are those who disagree.  One of the common themes in these disagreements is that Hunt is a Nobel prize winner and thus presumably a brilliant scientist.  There are people out there saying that he shouldn't have been forced out because of the contributions he might still bring.  I think that attitude is a giant load and it is such a problem because it is so often trotted out to defend a singular person in a position of power instead of a huge number of people who are not.

Just because you can't name the women who Hunt pushed out of science by his awful treatment or note the experiments that never happened as a result does not mean they don't exist.  They didn't receive Nobel prizes at least in part because men like Hunt prevented them from doing so.  Those people exist and even though we don't know their names we do know that their contributions were negated by his bigotry.

The reasons for Hunt to exit permanently aren't limited to those women he affected directly. Comments like his are a big contributing factor to other people maintaining the status quo in science, and certainly there are plenty of people who never made it in to science because of that.  Sexist attitudes stop plenty of talented people before they get in the door at all.

Even if somehow Hunt's talents would be more valuable than all the talents of all the women he pushed away it wouldn't matter.  He should be fired or "forced to resign" in any case.  However, we know very well the cost of keeping someone like him around and it is significant.  There is no moral justification for his behaviour and there isn't even any practical reason for him to stay.  What he did in the past is immaterial to the discussion - right now he is a millstone around the neck of science and until he changes drastically there is no place for him.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A critter again

A year and a half ago our cat Ashes died.  At the time I was sad about Ashes in particular but glad to not have a pet in general because I had really had enough of being bitten in the middle of the night and being ignored the rest of the time.  However, I don't get to make all the decisions in my household and Wendy and Elli voted to get a new cat.  It wasn't a rush though, and we mostly just sat around waiting for serendipity to drop a cat into our laps.

It has done so.

This critter here is called Louis.  He is in most respects a normal cat, with one notable exception:  He is mostly blind.  When we were told about a friend of a friend who needed to find a new home for her cat we figured it was time to accept the hand fate had dealt us but we were concerned that him being blind would be an issue.  We weren't sure what sort of extra accommodations we would need to make for him.   It is hard enough for cats to get used to new spaces normally, but being unable to see would surely make that ten times worse... or so we thought.

It turns out he settled in better than I would expect for any cat.  He is a gentle, sedate sort of creature and wandered about the place sizing everything up carefully.  Also Louis is so friendly he was rubbing up against us and asking for petting and snuggles virtually immediately.  He bonked into a few things in the process but he has a careful, deliberate way of walking that lets him stop when his whiskers touch something in his way.  Most of the time, anyhow.

I was impressed with how quickly he managed to move about the room so I decided to test the limits of his vision.  It turns out he absolutely can't see most normal things - I aimed a kick ten centimetres from his head and he didn't even twitch.  However, when I turned on a flashlight he was able to follow the light visually so it is clear he can see bright lights to some extent.  Although this is much less useful than full sight it must help a great deal as he can navigate about the place using our lamps as signposts and presumably can tell the difference between the balcony windows and the other walls during the day.

So we ended up with a cat who is slow and gentle, who likes cuddling and petting, but who sometimes sleeps in places he really shouldn't (like in front of doors, which he can't see).  Sounds like pretty much the ideal pet to me.  There will be a bit of extra training to make sure Elli doesn't whack him with a door by accident but other than that Louis is going to fit in as easy as anything.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tell me lies

Elli spent four days in the hospital this past week.  It was a difficult time as even though sitting in a hospital room for 12 hours at a stretch isn't physically challenging it is stressful as you oscillate back and forth between nervous boredom and desperate concern.  Elli is fine now though, thanks to antibiotics being veritable miracles.  When people talk about how all we need to be healthy is to get back to nature and use natural medicine it gets me riled up in a hurry - you see things differently when modern medicine has literally saved your child's life half a dozen times.

This was extra challenging because it happened while we had guests from out of town who were expecting to stay with us over the weekend.  There was a big cottage trip planned and we had to desperately juggle the possibility of salvaging that trip as Elli's discharge date shuffled back and forth.  Not that the cottage trip is really a big deal when my child is so sick, but trying to constantly shift plans about with a bunch of people I don't get to see more than once a year (or once a decade) added to the strain considerably.

One thing that really ratcheted up the struggle was our communication with the nurses.  First we were told that Elli needed to be fever free for 24 hours before we could go home... so we made tentative plans for that.  The next day we were told the rule was 48 hours, so we made plans for that.  The day after that we were told 36 hours, but ended up leaving at the 30 hour mark anyway.  It drove me crazy that we were getting completely different stories from different people and had no idea which was right.

It would have been difficult but completely fine if we were told that it would be 1 to 4 days depending on her symptoms.  Not a very useful timeframe for sure but at least we wouldn't have the feeling that our caregivers were just making it up as they went along.

I am sure it is challenging from the other end too; I don't want to belittle the challenge the medical staff face in trying to give parents estimates.  They want to say *something*, but they don't want to give false hopes.  I can't really say if the best way to go is to try to be accurate or overestimate the time needed but I feel like underestimating it is probably a terrible thing.

In any case I can't say if it was the doctors changing their minds based on test results, terrible communication, nurses giving answers without really knowing what was going on, or something else entirely.

I certainly won't fault Sick Kids Hospital in general - they were fantastic in nearly every regard and they got Elli back up and going as quickly as could be hoped for.  Heck, Elli even loved the food and wants to go there to eat just for fun.  But.  I sure do wish that I could have avoided the sinking feeling that the nurses were random or incompetent and the sense that I couldn't take anything they said at face value.  That is a hard place to be at the best of times, and these times were far from the best.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Unintended consequences

Sometimes I am a bit of a curmudgeon.  When people try to get me excited about a new thing I often hold back, vaguely suspicious of overly joyous reviews.  Once I get into a thing I am happy to leap in with reckless abandon but my friends saying "Oooh, you have to see this thing!" just doesn't pack a lot of punch.

On the other hand there are a few groups out there who can get me investigate a thing effortlessly.  All they have to do is start a protest against it and I am all about seeing whatever it is that they hate.  Case in point:  One Million Moms is protesting a show called Lucifer.  One Million Moms is a group that uses "Support One Million Moms Help Fight Indecency" as their tagline so I can't help but assume that anything they are against I am completely for.

Rah rah more indecency!  

In particular a show about the devil, running a nightclub, who is too much of a nice guy for religious nuts to tolerate?  Sign me up!

Not that I will necessarily recommend it of course - it might be complete rubbish.  That said, I definitely have to give it a go and find out for myself because anything that those folks find so abhorrent is probably really fun.

I wonder if these protests actually accomplish their goal at all.  I don't think that the people signing the petition would watch anyway, and they draw the attention of people like me to things I otherwise would never see.  Publicity of any sort is generally good, especially when most people will laugh at the concerns of those trying to act as censors.  I am not alone in my desire to watch whatever it is that has people all in a huff!  The Streisand Effect is a dangerous beast and not to be trifled with.

Picture from

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Boring as watermelon

When I talk about polyamory I struggle a bit with getting across the feel of it to other people.  One of the greatest difficulties I have is getting people to understand just how boring polyamory is once you are doing it and are comfortable.  I read an article written by someone who grew up with polyamorous parents and he talked about how his mother's lover lived with them for many years, and how he was quite aware of his parents' various relationships because they all interacted with him just as a set of family or friends would.  One thing he does communicate well is the fact that for him, in the middle of a poly web, it just wasn't particularly interesting or weird.  The rest of the things in his life like his school and peers were infinitely more important than whether or not his mom or dad had occasional sexytimes with other people he knew.  He grew up quite happy and healthy, surrounded by lots of people who cared for him.

This challenge is increased to some extent by people who take the role of poly evangelists.  They wax eloquent about how wonderful polyamory is and how it makes everyone happy and free.  Those poetic statements about how you can have wonderful times with everyone lead to people getting confused and overly optimistic if they can get past the very justified doubt they experience.  Recently Ferrett wrote a piece about how people get really destructive ideas from poly idealists and talked about how the 'endless party' mindset causes a lot of trouble.  Rather than painting polyamory as an nonstop vacation or a solution to all the world's ills I would prefer to paint it as quite uninteresting.  That is, almost exactly as interesting as monogamous relationships.

I see it this way because I don't think there is anything to be gained by convincing everyone to be polyamorous - some people don't like it.  Which is fine!  My goal in this case is somewhat analogous to my goal in going about barefoot and talking about it - I have no intention of convincing everyone to do the same, in fact I don't care at all if they do.  All I want is for everyone to consider my way of life quite boring and not worth fussing over.  Whether or not you wear shoes or have multiple relationships just isn't something I care about.  I just want you to extend the same level of indifference to me in return.

Achieving indifference is actually quite the problem, strange as it may seem.  When you see homophobes making speeches they often make it clear they are worried about gay recruitment - as if that was a thing.  Talking about polyamory is similar in that people get worried that you are judging their lifestyle and that you are going to try to get them to swap sides.  I prefer to avoid that sort of talk at all costs precisely because that isn't what it is about.  It isn't about conversion, or recruiting, or winning, or any of that nonsense.  It is just about people treating polyamory like a thing they could do, or not, and either way is fine.  It is quite a challenge though because some people have an incredible sense of tribal belonging and they aggressively recruit to increase the strength of their group.  I guess it is hard for these people to grasp that just because they believe in conversion and consolidation of power that others do not.

In this sense polyamory is like watermelon.  It is good that there is watermelon because some people really love it.  I want polyamory to be more like watermelon in that people might look at me eating watermelon and think "I want some of that!" or "Watermelon, not for me." but don't ever think "Watermelon!  What a bizarre and possibly deranged person.  His child will be scarred by such eating!"

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

I don't even know

Quite some time ago I linked a short video which was a fake movie trailer for a movie called Kung Fury.  The people behind it got a bunch of money together via crowdfunding and made a 30 minute movie out of it.  I watched it for the first time a few days ago and spent most of that 30 minutes giggling like a lunatic at the absurdity of it all.  Everyone must view this thing, I thought.  The world must know of the genius of Kung Fury!

Then I showed it to people and they hated it.  The reaction was somewhere between revulsion and confusion, disgust and dislike.

I tried to explain that Kung Fury isn't meant to be a good movie on its own - it is satire of hilarious tropes found in 80s action movies.  These scenes aren't just bad... they just the right amount of bad to be awesome instead!  The scene where the protagonist establishes that he fights evil, but on his own terms!  The scene where the innocent person is hamfistedly attached to the hero and then brutally murdered to give the hero a reason to be bitter!  The scene where we are shown just how dystopic a world the hero lives in!  It's all there!

Nobody bought it.

Now I have to know - am I just crazy and Kung Fury is just an awful collection of badly animated, gory action scenes?  Is it just crap?  Or is it perfectly terrible instead?  I need you to tell me which it is!  If you aren't up for the full 30 minutes just watch the first 5 instead.  You won't miss much as the movie definitely trails off in the second half as the director struggles with trying to actually finish the plot while still doing nothing but making fun of iconic scenes in old movies.  It is a difficult line to walk and he does it reasonably but imperfectly.

Then I recommend replying in comments to let me know.  My sense of my own skill at evaluating cheap videos on youtube is at stake!