Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Good and Bad Habits of Smart People

A friend of mine once told me he was no Einstein. I remarked that not even Einstein thought he was an Einstein. In fact Einstein was a late bloomer, and in his middle age was stuck in a dead end job like the rest of us. I concluded by saying, "You're probably not going to be as good as Einstein at theoretical Physics, but everyone one is good at something: gardening, cooking, listing unmanned drones in reverse alphabetical order, whatever-- I'm sure their are many things that Einstien never conceived of being able to do well. You should go and be good at that.

"Oh, but maybe not violin playing," I concluded, "Einstein probably has you beat at that as well."

According to the researchers at,  despite varying fields of interest, there are many things that smart people have in common. Displayed elegantly (and a little hysterically) in an infographic "The Good and Bad Habits of Smart People," show how smart people tend to be avid readers, like to write down their goals and show those goals to their friends, have a tendency to binge drink (see "Cleverest Women Drink You Under The Table because I'm sure the ladies are skewing this statistic), and disdain sleep in lieu of a nice, comfy anxiety disorder, such as depression, smoking, and/or neuroticism.

 The Habits of Smart People

Monday, November 25, 2013

Relationships are weird...really weird

My newest epiphany is that most fights between lovers/life partners are remarkably similar in their weirdness. In other words, fights are reflections of our own strange inadequacies, rather than indications of deep-seated soul-crushing non-compatibility. That kind of relationship-ending garbage doesn't hide in between fights. It permeates interactions, good and bad. But even the worst fights are still weird reflections of yourself and your peculiar connection to another human being, colored by whatever context/item/other human being is closest. Think skating park, Instagram, your cousin's wounded turtle, or a piece of fruit.

This is what the twitter feed @wefoughtabout captures so perfectly.
Alan and Claire have taken to the Internet to document the source of their quotidian conflicts, and it is like a couples counseling session that you never had to pay for. No, it's more remarkable than that. Each twitter post is an acknowledgement of the origin of the fight (in and of itself, an admirable feat), without sentimentality or horseshit psychology jargon, and with much humor. They touch on all facets of modern romance.



Inappropriate musical accompaniment:

Read, laugh, and learn from the wonderful, revealing weirdness of their relationship.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Because of the Wonderful Things it Does

via Hello Literacy
Hot on the heels of Google's rebranding of 'literally', another word has burst from its cocoon of standard usage to blossom into something new.  Behold 'because'!  Why because?  Because, bloggers?  Because, irony?  Because SCIENCE?

Because, as we remember from Schoolhouse Rock, is a conjunction, hookin' up words and phrases and clauses.  In its newly evolved iteration of 'because noun', it becomes a preposition that allows a user to convey meaning, opinion, scorn, approval, or absolute assertion all in the span of two words.  Why do I  love Tom Hiddleston?  Because velociraptor.  Why can't we have nice things?  Because Republicans.  Why is using because in this way so much fun?  Because reasons.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Girl Called Jack

Thanks to Josh Spero for highlighting the Guardian piece, "Jack Monroe: the face of modern poverty," covering the food blog A Girl Called Jack. 

Jack Monroe is an unemployed, 24-year old, single mother in Southend who has drawn national attention in the UK for her blog. Why? Because not only is it a biting, realistic account of modern poverty, but because of the clear, vividly photographed, detailed and precisely budgeted recipes she has included.

From The Guardian article:
"Filled with humour and almost real-time practical advice about the weekly price movements of supermarket food, it is a plain-speaking, practical austerity cookery guide – quite literally how to feed yourself and your toddler on £10 a week, in ways that are healthy, tasty and, importantly (to relieve the tedium of baked beans), varied."

After the events of 2010, I was very lucky. I sold most of my belongings, bought a plane ticket before I could be deported by my (soon to be ex-) husband, and then spent every drop of my savings paying lawyers. I slept on my dad's couch for a year, and was very grateful to have had a couch to sleep on (and his free booze to drink).

The next Fall, I moved out of my Dad's and found myself in a place I hadn't seen in twenty years. Abject poverty. My friends told me no-one could survive on $20 every two weeks for groceries, but I knew they were wrong. And I knew it because I'd started reading cookbooks back-to-front when I was nine. I had refused to sell off even one of the 147 books in my cookery collection. And I had brought over the entirety of my robust spice cabinet (dried Amarillo chiles anyone?) from overseas.

In addition to my self-taught food education and gleanings from Julia Child, the Frugal Gourmet, Yan Can Cook and the Cajun Chef (which all came on PBS directly after Mr. Roger's in the '80s), I also know that the butchers in DC's Eastern Market is less expensive than the grocery store if you know how to identify cheaper cuts and off-cuts, although these can be more complicated to prepare. I also knew that a bag of salad vegetables from a Latin American abuela on a street corner or from a tiny local 'farmers street market' only open on saturday or sunday can be one-fourth the price of the same veg in the supermarket. 

"Cooking can be done cheaply," Monroe says in the Guardian article, but she acknowledges that the problem is more complicated. Monroe had been passionate about cooking ever since a food technology course at school and therefore had the skills and confidence to experiment with her own dishes.

However, food waste and food ignorance is a problem not confined to the poor. I've seen appalling food waste and lack of education among every economic stratification. Mushroom stems, carrot tops, parsley stalks, citrus and onion skins and stale bread have never been destined for the rubbish bin in my home, not only when every scrap saved meant I'd eat better tomorrow, but also because those scraps meant chicken stock, jellied terrines and panzella (a delicious Italian bread salad).

PS I'm copying this post over to YankeeBooze, a food blog I'm having a lovely time experimenting with. Thanks to M for the name.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bruno Latour wins Holberg prize

Who cares? Right? I mean I've never heard of the Holberg prize, either. Well, the Holberg International Memorial Prize is awarded annually for research in the arts and humanities, social sciences, law and theology. Kind of like a Nobel Prize for the Social Sciences. Hey, okay. I guess even the social sciences deserve recognition.

And what about this Latour guy? Latour's studies have been described as a "strange mixture of sociology, anthropology and philosophy". He dabbles in research in science and technology, anthropology and metaphysics, too. What's not to love? Latour is also intrigued by the modern necessity of humans to quickly renew their own technological fabric in order to absorb the meaningfulness of their changing society. A renewal which can be confusing and fraught with woes as society judges you on just how you are renewing your technological make-up. Twitter or Facebook? E-mail or Text? Hotmail or gmail? Blogger or Wordpress. Iphone or Android or (the dreaded) Blackberry. These choices say something about you as a person and how society expects you to interact.

This is alongside a human movement to integrate more fully with the natural world. Eat vegan. Buy local. Source jobs at home. Garden organically. Teach your children yourself. And much like driving a hybrid car or using more efficient solar panels to heat your home it can be difficult to judge how much innovation it will take to go natural!

Early in his career, Latour also challenged scientific orthodoxy and the idea that scientific laboratory work was an unbiased search for truth. After studying neuroendocrinology research at the Salk Institute (in where?) he determined that typical individual experiments were produced inconclusive data and that science training largely consisted of learning to make subjective decisions about which data to keep and which to throw out. These subjective decisions were rooted in the scientists' social constructions.

What the--what? Well, I wrote this post for The Mary Sue on a study called "Men are from Earth/Women are from Earth?". The researchers of that paper pointed out that other studies regarding male/female differences did not even raise the question of whether or not men and women were psychologically different, because scientists already believed a difference existed. And scientists were looking for differences in a scientific way even though there was no scientific basis for such differences, only a social one based on the scientists' system of beliefs, oral traditions and personal cultural.

So you can thank Latour for pointing out that even science is not a purely scientific construction. It’s partly a social one. Plus he looks kind of like John Cleese. Am I right?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dude, where's my solar panel?

Like most of the population of the greater DC area I watched President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night. I watched it in a bar, because that’s what we do here, politics are a sport in this town. And because the bar I watched it in wasn’t in Georgetown it was a pretty pro-Obama crowd.

We made fun of the Republicans (especially John Boehner, how drunk was he?). We professed our love of Michelle Obama. We cheered Elizabeth Warren (at least I did). We cheered John Kerry. We cried at the fact that Gabrielle Giffords can no longer clap her hands. We hissed at Paul Ryan. We had a good time. But we also booed some things. Yelled rebuttals and made pessimistic comments to our friends. Because, let’s face it, Barack Obama is no progressive (and I and my friends are…mostly).

For me, the most bi-polar moments of the speech was when he was talking about climate change.It was refreshing to hear whole paragraphs devoted to the subject, but at just over 10% (741 words out of 6,867) of the speech, I still feel it wasn’t enough. This is a global issue. It’s going to change the way life on Earth exists. It will potentially completely change entire countries. Some South Pacific Island nations are already planning mass migrations off of their islands. And, as we are beginning to definitively see, it will intensify and increase the chaotic effects of weather patterns (look at the pictures of the recent snow storm in the Northeast, that was a hurricane...with snow).

So, let’s take a look at what Obama did say in the limited amount of space he used to address the issue.

“Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy. After years of talking about it, we're finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.”

He starts off sorta ok. This is almost entirely an energy problem, so, good to point that out. But then,  face/palm. Ugh, we are not going to be able to drill our way out of this. Also I’m not sure how producing more oil than we have in 15 years is much of a boost. We were producing a drop in the pocket before. We couldn’t have ramped up production enough to really make a difference.

“We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas”

We have? A 1908 Ford Model gets 13-21 mpg, a 2013 Ford Taurus gets 19-29 mpg. I know, I know, apples, oranges, blah, blah, but 2013 CAFE standards (that’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy)
 are 37 or 28.5 mpg for cars (split into small or large) and 31 or 22.5 mpg for trucks (again, small or large). I guess you could say we’ve doubled gas mileage for small cars over 100 years ago. Woo-hoo.

“…and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar, with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it.”

Ok, I like that. Renewable energy = American jobs, that’s good, we need that. But, I don’t know, doubling some very small number isn’t going to do much to wean us off fossil fuels. We need more, massively more.

“We produce more natural gas than ever before, and nearly everyone's energy bill is lower because of it.”

Oh, FFS, producing more natural gas or, as it should be called, geologic methane, is nothing to brag about. It’s still fossil fuel and extracting it and processing it and burning it is as bad  as coal or petroleum. Yes, it may burn a bit cleaner than coal, but the extraction method for geologic methane is just as bad. Instead of cutting off the tops of mountains and letting the toxic processing chemicals flow into our streams and rivers as we do with coal, geologic methane extraction involves forcing toxic chemicals underground to break up the underlying bedrock and then leaving the chemicals in place to go wherever they like. Dirty.

“And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.”

Really? Ok, yay us. I will need to see the numbers on that.

“Now, it's true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it's too late.”

BAM! And he brings the hammer…well, not so much a hammer as a really disdainful look of “you can be ignorant and think that all this evidence that we can see is a coincidence or you can come to a logical conclusion.” The logical conclusion being that science is right, climate change is occurring and we are making it happen.

“Now, the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.”

Ugh, market-based solution. The “market” is not going to do anything on its own, at least not anything that requires it to change or take what it perceives as a risk or that will cost it money. But I think corporations are beginning to see that the light at the end of the tunnel is not the exit or even another train but a mirror reflecting their own self-created demise…unless they change. So, maybe, maybe, the market could be motivated to help itself, but I’m very skeptical that it will actually create a solution without some pushing.

“But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct...”

Oh, yeah, and if you are expecting anything substantial to come from the bumblefuck-brahs, McCain and Lieberman, you’re up excrement flowing body of water without an adequate means of propulsion.

“I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Ok, this is fine. Reduce pollution, sure. Prepare communities for disasters, ok, well and good. Speed up the transition to other energy sources, yup. It would be nice if there was at least a hint as to how each of these things would be done.

“Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we've begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let's generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let's drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.”

Yes. And what would be even better is if we actually WENT all-in. How is your administration going to do that? Let's hear about energy industry incentives, let's hear about more R&D money, let's hear about alternative energy subsidies to match the fossil fuel subsidies, let's hear about feed-in tariffs like those in Germany which produces 5 times the energy from solar than the U.S. despite having Alaska levels of sunshine.

“Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.”

No, no, no! We need to discourage that. The idea is that natural gas is a bridge energy source between coal/petroleum to renewables. But encouraging it is going to lead to it supplanting coal/petroleum at the expense of developing renewables. Bad Barack.

“That's why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

AHHHH! F you! This is like giving candy to a kid when they act out. It's encouraging behavior we want to stop. Not only that, but the red tape they are cutting is directed toward making it easier to do this dirty, extractive process on our public lands. I guess the argument for doing this is that it is being done for the public good but my take is that this ruins or, at least, degrades these lands for other uses. Again, bad Barack.

“That's got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water. In fact, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together.”

Son of a... Yeah, we own it together and you're saying you get to decide how it's used. How is my voice being heard? I don't think this is in OUR best interest. And “all-of-the-above” is code for more fossil fuels. It's code for more fossil fuels. Sheesh.

“So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we.”  

Energy Security Trust, I'd like to hear more about that. Would the oil/gas/methane companies contribute to that? Or would the money come entirely from the lease fees you are probably going to reduce? Who would the money go to? The car companies? What would be the demonstrable goals? And, I'm sorry (not really sorry at all) but a coalition of CEOs and retired generals/admirals is not at the top of my list for whose advice I would want to follow on this subject. Where are the environmentalists, climate scientists, economists, social justice advocates, engineers, alternative energy businesses?

“Let's take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we've put up with for far too long.”

Um, gas prices don't really have anything to do with what you're talking about? Regardless of how much gasoline we produce locally it's not going to be enough to affect prices at the pump. Even if it was, does anyone think companies like BP would actually reduce the price? It's a lovely bridge, do you want to buy it, it goes nowhere.
“I'm also issuing a new goal for America: Let's cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years. We'll work with the states to do it. Those states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen. America's energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they'd rather locate and hire, a country with deteriorating roads and bridges or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self- healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America -- a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina -- has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they'll bring even more jobs. And that's the attitude of a lot of companies all around the world.”

Crap, man, lead with this! It's a job producer and directly addresses the issue! D'oh!

“And I know you want these job-creating projects in your district; I've seen all those ribbon- cuttings.”

I think this was the only bi-partisan laugh line of the speech. Ah, yes, let's laugh at the fact that all of our legislative incentive is to bring money to our districts so we can get re-elected. But that's a rant for another time.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Women, humor, property, and taboo

Women are funny. Despite Christopher Hitchens yawning article about the evolutionary biology of female funniness, women are actually very funny, and even, on their own terms.  Cultural norms dictate a large part of what we humans claim is natural, normal, right, pure, heavenly, factual, and so on. Watch any television commercial with humans, I dare you. All of advertising is a play on our cultural expectations, usually the worst of it: women are sex objects, idiots, irritating, very very tidy, and either slightly mousy or female models; men are sex-starved, smart, arrogant, messy, and either slightly pudgy or male models. And clearly, women are only funny if we make fun of them.

Not true. Humans come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of irritating-ness, regardless of gender. Also, anyone can be funny, regardless of gender. But there are trade-offs involved in bucking those pesky cultural norms.  Phyllis Diller, a very curvaceous, sexy woman (ask Playboy editors from the 1960s), hid herself in tablecloths and costume makeup on stage, because clearly, no one would have been able to concentrate on her jokes if she was remotely attractive. Breasts! This is all anyone would have been thinking.

Joan Rivers explains candidly how cultural expectations defined her career, or more specifically, the male chauvinism of a very powerful Johnny Carson. She was passed over for years, asked to do the same work as men but not acknowledged as such, and then slandered for daring to pursue her own career.  She characterizes the mentality as “I found you, and you’re my property,” which makes my skin crawl and blood boil, and other Shakespearean shenanigans. Thankfully, I think we’ve moved past that stage, as a society. The waters are still murky though, and filled with opinion-operating-as-fact, and sadly, few stories about the adoring male groupies of female stand-up comedians.

But that is not why women go into stand-up comedy. Just like men, they love being on stage. They feel at ease, natural, happiest, when they are making people laugh, even if being on the road can be excruciating and lonely. And they produce some of the most profound comedy that I’ve ever seen: raunchy, taboo, honest, and transformative. This includes Tig Notaro, who took a diagnosis of cancer with her on stage and invited the audience to process its gravity with her, and made them laugh, cry, and wonder at her courage. I’ve never heard anything like it, and neither has one of the best comedic minds of our time, Louis C.K. Very powerful, and very funny. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The S Files: asking for it?

So. Stubenville, eh? A town that cares more about high school football than justice or women's rights. A town that conspired in the drugging, kidnapping, gang rape, sodomisation and urination upon a female minor because she had the gall to dump the team's quarterback. A town that fosters the kind of misogyny that not only allows this sort of thing to happen, but also affectionately calls its perpetrators the Rape Crew – high school students who are given so much privilege that they can take an unconscious rape victim to not one but two coach's homes and still not be charged. (For a full report, see the ongoing report at LocalLeaks, driven by Anonymous cell KnightSec. A trigger warning probably goes without saying, but it might also make you lose faith in humanity.)

But as one of the coaches told the New York Times, the rape was just an "excuse", because "what else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it." Exactly. This high school football team and its 19 coaches conspired to drug, kidnap, and gang rape a girl because she dumped one of the players and now, gawd! People are expecting this institutionalised criminality not only to stop but also to pay for what it's done? There is just no justice! Don't we know who these high school athletes are?! Well, we do now.

The key issue here has to do with the entitlement the perpetrators felt they had. Putting aside whether she was inebriated, it does not change the fact that these guys still raped her, and thought it was a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Knight Sec managed to obtain a 12-minute video of one of the Rape Crew discussing the incident. As reported by LocalLeaks:
The video was shot so soon after the attack, that one person present becomes disgusted and actually leaves to go check on the condition of the victim. It is important to also note that despite this strong evidence, [he] has yet to be arrested or charged in this brutal attack.
(Incidentally, if you feel that someone who admits to at least being an accessory to these crimes – and finds them hysterical, no less – shouldn't receive an athletic scholarship to the university whose t-shirt he is wearing while being so bloody offensive, why not sign this petition? You know what's gonna be "dead", dude? Your professional football career.)

It is sobering that despite all the people aware of what was happening – including a 'friend' of the victim, who was the catalyst for the evening's atrocities, and two authority figures – no one really stood up to say "this is not okay. What you are doing is not funny, it is not just, it is a crime and a violation". Maybe the town of Stubenville, its bumbling sheriff and its prosecuting attorney (the mother of one of the rapists and whose home the crime took place in, no less) can rally together to delete images from cell phones, scare the victim into not pressing charges, and even sue a local blogger for defamation, but shouldn't they instead be teaching their sons that hey, when a girl breaks up with you, you don't exact revenge by orchestrating a 12-hour gang rape, videoing it and posting it to the internet?  And no, this isn't about just not sharing it on social media because you might get caught, it's about NOT DOING IT AT ALL. You get dumped, go get a thing of Chunky Monkey and watch some John Hughes films like everyone else. You want a taste of vigilante justice? Well, Anonymous heard you. 

The coaches can say whatever they want about how the victim had it coming or what did she expect, but what they are not doing is denying that she was raped. They are instead implicitly saying that it is right that she was raped. That it's okay the high school football team gang-raped and sodomised a fellow student, because she was drunk. This is the logic. If a girl gets drunk, she should be raped. That's what happens when girls drink. She had it coming. And so it goes with rape culture: the responsibility lies only with women. To teach women to Not Get Raped is to not only presume all men are rapists, but to give them permission to be rapists.

A woman's body is not public property. No one is entitled to it. It doesn't matter how she chooses to dress, how she behaves, what she says: if she is raped, she did not have it coming. No one has a rape coming. Not even the rape crew.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rosey Morris

These sweet little paintings my Rosey Morris on Etsy made my die just a little inside. The gold and silver edged landscape, portraits and nature scenes have a child-like unfinished quality as if they were details stolen from a mural. The moon and clouds round is just like looking up through an open observatory dome. Also, rooster.

Who said good art can't be affordable?

(I didn't. I did not say that)

via Bijou and Boheme

Friday, November 23, 2012

An Important PSA about Fake Geek Girls

I've been a fan of "A Distant Soil" ever since the fated day in 2001 I stumbled upon one of Colleen Doran's collections because it was sitting too close to an Elfquest anniversary edition at Big Planet Comics. I haven't even read all of her exquisitely drawn issues.

Doran has posted a PSA on her website accompanied by a discussion about what she called, "The Emotional Economics of Scarcity".  This is about bullying folks, the sexism prevalent in geek (and may I add gaming) culture, about the subsistence of mean girls even within subculture cliques and, I think, a study about how women have been trained to interact to tear each other down in dominantly patriarchal constructs.

Yes, watch the hysterical, 40's style propaganda film. (While you are at it, enjoy "Women, know your limits!" from Henry Enfield of the BBC immediately afterward).

There is no contradiction between being a frock-sporting, lipstick-wearing, fake-eyelash fluttering female and being a blathering, fandom-obsessed, subculture-worshiping geek.  There is no dichotomy.  Geek culture, science fiction and in fact science, math and technology are not inherently male.  And they will keep telling you that they are.  They are not.  Einstein's brain might have been different than normal people's brains, but the normal male brain is no different than yours.  There is nothing about aggression that inherently indicates leadership.  It only indicates that you are a dude since it is biological linked to a production of testerone.  All of those ideas are constructs.  Perhaps becasue the 1%-ers are 99.998% male, and they are terrified that any change in the status quo represents a loss of control. It doesn't.  Without change there is only stagnation.

More importantly, there is no diminishing of yourself when others succeed.  To think anything otherwise is straight up narcissism and you should probably get that checked out.  With a therapist. Change is made by groups sticking together and pursuing similar ideals side-by-side.

Now go listen to "As Cool As I Am," by Dar Williams.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

When You Wish Upon a Star Wars

Disney buys LucasFilm for Four Billion; Episode VII anticipated for 2015.

Just sit with that for a moment. It's a little scary.  Disney is the corporate behemoth equivalent of the Empire, amirite?  But then I read this part of the official press release, and I got really, really excited:

"For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next,” said George Lucas, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lucasfilm. “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers." 
A new generation of filmmakers. This is a good thing. The last time George Lucas turned over the reins to someone else, we got The Empire Strikes Back.  Director Irvin Kershner delivered a dark, complex, emotionally resonant story that built on the Saturday matinee adventure of Episode IV and fully exploited the richness of the hero's journey trope.

Granted, there's a lot that could go wrong.   If it does, it will probably involve Jar Jar. Return of the Jedi could be reissued with all the Ewoks digitally replaced by Fozzie Bears (which honestly, would be kind of awesome).  But in the best case scenario, Disney utilizes the staggering amount of creativity already at its disposal - Pixar, the Muppets, and Marvel - and applies it to telling a new generation of stories set in the Star Wars 'verse.

If you're still not sold, I'll leave you with this:

Joss Whedon might get a crack and writing and directing a Star Wars movie. 

You just got light headed didn't you?  It's alright. You just go lie down and I'll bring you a glass of blue milk and a damp cloth for your forehead.  Then we can get to the serious business of fantasy casting the upcoming films. I think we all know who should play Han and Leia's son.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Magic Binder Full of Women

During university, a particularly awe-inspiring upperclasswoman who lived down the hall from me had fine-tuned a feminist, tri-colored Magic the Gathering deck by Wizards of the Coast. All of the cards, whether creature or enchantments, featured powerful female images.

Jiminy Christmas did I want one just like it.

However, my geek-lust for that deck has nothing on the Magic Binder Full of Women's, selection of politically charged cards, which has sprung up in response to the birth of the "Binders full of Women" meme following Romney's quickly quipped gaffe in the second presidential debate.

You can bulk out your deck with choices like:
  • Nancy Reagan (artifact) - All of your undead units creatures in play gain the text "regeneration".
  • Michell Obama (angel) - Flying, Vigilance. Target creature gain flying until end of turn.
  • Jan Brewer (legendary harpy) - Return target creature to owner's hand. 

Now some of you may be complaining that Internet memes detract from the real issues, in what is, essentially, a deadly serious political contest. But in my opinion, memes actually draw attention to the issues. While I didn't have access to live television coverage for the second presidential debate while I'm in London, I knew exactly what I'd missed first thing in the morning during my daily in-bed Facebook/Twitter scan. And it was impossible not to notice that equal pay for equal work and women's rights were at the heart of this meme.

Also, it sticks because it is damn funny.

You can submit your own ideas for the cards here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Let’s get our Organize on: Taxonomy vs Folksonomy

Image courtesy of Pop Chart Lab (available as a poster!)
Organization is my dirty little secret. Dirty, because it never seems to trickle down to my own desk, rendering me a professional pig pen. Secret, because I hungrily digest research on sophisticated ways to relate, arrange, and organize information, terrified that I would be pilloried if anyone saw what I was reading.  But “little” is a misnomer. When I am presented with inefficient, ineffective methods of knowledge management that both waste my time and confuse me, I can rage. Like a wild-eyed wildebeest raised solely on Google algorithms, I can rage. And so begins a bender into the world of taxonomies and their much maligned cousins, folksonomies, better known as social tagging.

Rather than cause me innumerable suffering, taxonomies are supposed to help make sense of the world. (Who could live without a taxonomy of beer? Beer.) Taxonomies work behind the scenes, allowing us to fit our product quickly into the right space, so that it can be retrieved by someone else at a later time. They are not just family trees of animal classifications that branch off into the ether, although hierarchies are the form in which they most often appear. Ideally, taxonomies are comprised of three major components: schemes that classify and group items, controlled vocabularies that serve to explain and relate terms, and knowledge maps that clearly demonstrate relationships.

Image courtesy of Green Chameleon

The key word is relationship. It’s very hard work, as we all know. Taxonomies are living creatures; they must not only be established, but tested, and maintained regularly.  There is no one correct way to structure a taxonomy, demonstrated by challenges to these suggested types of science in science fiction.  Do we all agree on how this is organized? I doubt it. (I bet a minor war might break out between CandyBuffet and FreshSnaps if we ever dared to discuss it.) And just think of how much effort has to go into keeping this up-to-date. It's an ever-expanding universe of information! Most fields are, except for Latin and Star Wars. We all like certainty and structure in our relationships, but with the pace of knowledge generation and dissemination, how can practical taxonomies keep up? Like the good cynic I am, I argue that they cannot possibly do so. Enter folksonomies, stage right.

Image courtesy of Little Red Crayon
Wikipedia has an excellent entry on folksonomies, with a nicely articulated definition: “A folksonomy is a system of classification derived from the practice and method of collaboratively creating and managing tags to annotate and categorize content.” Contrary to popular belief and Bill Murray, it is not mass chaos. Organization does emerge, categories can be identified, especially at higher levels, and among groups of individuals working in similar fields. Complex adaptive systems, made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point (though he never uses the term), run rampant in our society, including our knowledge management systems. They forsake top-down, centrally managed systems for user-generated classifications. Patterns shift as knowledge is generated, used, and modified, which is incredibly fast. It shouldn't be that surprising: people are good at classifying their own stuff, and the stuff that they're interested in. Perhaps a tenuous relationship can emerge, where folksonomies help to craft taxonomies and maintain their relevance. And then maybe we all can find organizational happiness in the balance. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

A war on two fronts

Usually I leave the politics stuff to FreshSnaps, AletheaKairos and Catty, but this smacks of a fundamental misunderstanding of word usage and by gum, I will defend the rights of semantics everywhere.

Rebecca Solnit, has a nice article on Salon, "Must men be patronizing?" about why some men feel compelled to hold court and explain things to women. Now Solnit is incredibly succinct and is a lover of facts by profession, but I'm going to state first that not all men are enamored with the sound of their own voices and that women can succumb to this kind of smugness and entitlement as well. (Phew, that's out of the way), but "the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is", according to Solnit, "gendered".

"Self-doubt is a good tool for correcting, understanding, listening, and progressing," suggests Solnit, "though too much is paralyzing and total self-confidence produces arrogant idiots." She goes on to say, "This syndrome is a war that nearly every woman faces every day, a war within herself too, a belief in her superfluity, an invitation to silence, one from which a fairly nice career as a writer (with a lot of research and facts correctly deployed) has not entirely freed me."
"On two occasions ... I objected to the behavior of a man, only to be told that the incidents hadn’t happened at all as I said, that I was subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest — in a nutshell, female ... Billions of women must be out there on this 6-billion-person planet being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever. This goes way beyond Men Explaining Things, but it’s part of the same archipelago of arrogance."
Why am I going on about this? Because I agree with Solnit that "at the heart of the struggle of feminism to give rape, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, and workplace sexual harassment legal standing as crimes has been the necessity of making women credible and audible."

Yes, that's right, this is a post about Todd Akin and the use of language when discussing rape (Thanks to the NYTimes for the the link).

Kelly Whitman's has some excellent things to say about talking about and acknowledging rape in her "Using the Right Words About Rape" post at her Mocha Momma blog. As a young mom and a teacher, she tries to speak naturally and organically with her children about their bodies and how to discern abuse. Why can't we do the same thing as a nation with our laws and with the adults we have elected to Congress?

"Most women fight wars on two fronts," Solnit tells us, "one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. Things have certainly gotten better, but this war won’t end in my lifetime."

And thanks to bors blog for the "The Avenging Uterus Vs. Todd Akin" Strip!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Olympic Comedy and Tragedy

I knew something was up with Olympic coverage when I couldn't find a live showing of the opening ceremonies. The Washington Post TV guide had a '(L)' next to the prime time scheduled event, which I had to patiently explain to my father couldn't be live (No Dad, it'll be 2 AM there. Trust me no one is going to the stadium when the tube won't even be running).

Thank goodness for streaming BBC One's (excellent) commercial free coverage. I didn't even have to sign up for a $100 a month subscription to a cable-TV service of their choice (Neither of my parents have cable btw NBC. And they likely never will).  Heidi Moore has a great piece on NBC insistence that we "huddle around the radio" to receive our Olympic news in "NBC fail shows network's commitment to 'the last great buggy-whip Olympics'".

I'll continue to show my displeasure by making use of the trending #nbcfail twitter hashtag (Women's soccer gold match game anyone? Oh, never mind.  You need a cable subscription for that too. I braved Lucky Bar by myself on a Thursday for this?). I also highly recommend following NBCDelayed on Twitter to feel vindicated.

Tip of the Hat to the Guardian for their London 2012 Viral Video Chart: the 10 best videos from the Games, which showcases the viral video highlights of the Olympics thus far. Cry all over again with South Korea's Shin A-lam's mind-boggling defeat with (literally) a brick-by-brick recreation of the women's fencing semi-final. Then watch Funny or Die's video of Sir Patrick Stewart swindling yanks as an Olympic ticket scalper to make the pain go away.  (sigh. wishes were a knight or a dame or whatever.) You get Simon Pegg, Ryan Lochte's patriotic grille and that girl who plays Arya on Game of Thrones.