Yes, This Is About…

As the news rolls in from Orlando, with 50 people reported dead and that many more reported injured, the disavowals are flying. Everyone wants to tell us what didn’t cause all this death and trauma. But, well, yeah, it did.

Yes, this is about religion.

Religion is what it takes to give us the authority to look at another person’s consensual pleasure and decide that gives us jurisdiction over their life and death. Nothing else gives us that permission. Nothing else puts us above someone else this way but the borrowed mantle of a god’s judgment. Secular arguments fail spectacularly to do so, which is why LGB rights are a staple of secular activism.

Not only are religious arguments the only one that can give us this permission, they routinely do. It isn’t possible to actively participate in U.S. culture–to view our media, to pay attention to our current events, to educate one’s self in preparation for voting–without being inundated with religious arguments that same-sex attraction and sexual behavior are wrong and harming our society. Nor is this confined to any one religion, making it all the more potent as an idea. Someone raised in a homophobic religious tradition will not have their ideas challenged simply by looking outside their home or community.

Religion planted this idea, makes it pervasive, and gives it power.

Yes, this is about homophobia and transphobia. Continue reading “Yes, This Is About…”

Yes, This Is About…

The Pretty Problem

I guess I’m a problem. Also a girl.

Text meme. Text in the body of the post.
I am so pro-selfie.

There are so many bigger problems in the world than girls who think they’re pretty.

One of those problems is girls who don’t think they are pretty. #takeaselfie

This was being passed around on Facebook. My initial reaction was “Seriously? I’m a problem because I’m aware I’m not pretty? Take all the selfies you want, but fuck all the way off.” I still think that’s valid.

It’s not, however, particularly accessible. And since this was being passed around by thoughtful people, making my thoughts on this more accessible is probably a good thing. Continue reading “The Pretty Problem”

The Pretty Problem

There Is No Pure in Politics

A few days ago, I posted a two-part guest post from Kelly McCullough about the necessity of voting. The first part was practical, laying out some political truths about why this country has found itself where it is today. The second part was far more direct, talking about the people voting most affects. As a nominally fertile woman, I happen to be one of those people.

Apparently, Kelly’s post wasn’t blunt enough, as I have two people who usually display relatively normal reading comprehension skills going off the rails in the comments. One of them is bragging about how he does nothing to protect my rights while telling me I’m on a “high horse” and accusing me of calling him names. The other has a list of issues I must solve for him before he’ll do anything about my rights and is saying, oh, it doesn’t matter anyway, because systemic collapse must be on its way.

So, Kelly’s post was not blunt enough. I can fix that.

You really want a name from me? Fine. Let’s go with “complicit”. Continue reading “There Is No Pure in Politics”

There Is No Pure in Politics

Not Yours, Not Ever

I want to bury my head in work today, to let myself grieve last night’s murders in Charleston at my own slow pace. I can’t, though. Why? Because the homicidal white supremacist whose name should be forgotten in favor of those of his victims tried to pass off some of the responsibility for his act onto me.

Sylvia Johnson, who is said to be a relative of Pinckney, said that she spoke with one of the female survivors.

“She said that he had reloaded five different times, and he just said ‘I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,'” Johnson told WIS News.

No. You don’t get to do this. Continue reading “Not Yours, Not Ever”

Not Yours, Not Ever

For the Record

Apropos of this bizarre post, I should let you all know that I…

  • …don’t follow Ben Radford on Twitter.
  • …have not been contacted by Ben Radford with this statement.
  • …have not been contacted by Karen Stollznow with this statement.
  • …do not expect to be contacted by Karen Stollznow about this statement as all she seems to currently have the energy to do is post new baby pics and recover from her C-section.
  • …have not been contacted by anyone else with this statement to suggest I should update readers.
  • …was not contacted by Hemant before he posted this.

Continue reading “For the Record”

For the Record

Hell If I Know, Facebook, or Care

Dear Facebook:

You’re behaving ridiculously. Stop it.

Stop asking me whether I know someone outside of Facebook when I accept a friend request. I am never going to answer that question. And damned well stop asking everyone else as well unless and until you make it absolutely obvious that you’re going to use that information to punish people if their new friends say, “No.” Continue reading “Hell If I Know, Facebook, or Care”

Hell If I Know, Facebook, or Care

Black and White

I was going to write something nice and reasonable answering a set of those stupid questions that keep coming up about those scary, scary anti-harassment policies, but then I ran into the very last “both sides” skeptic that I could handle right now. So I wrote this instead.

This is not about “divisiveness”. If the movement has to be torn in two to cut out the people who think women have no right to not be harassed, where is the value in sticking together?

And where the hell were you when D.J. was being “divisive” by suggesting the people working to get harassment policies in place were driving women away from TAM? Where was your skepticism when he pinned the decrease in the percentage of female attendees on week-old blog posts?

If you’re already angry at some people, fine, but try to figure out some priorities here.

Then I got this. Continue reading “Black and White”

Black and White

Why Should I Pay for Your Health Insurance?

A friend of mine from high school asked on Facebook a few days ago, “Why should I pay for your health insurance?” Because we have a certain amount of history together, I’m going to answer that question seriously instead of hiding or unfriending this person, which would be my normal inclination with anyone who has managed to reach our age without figuring this out.

So why should you pay for my health insurance? Lots of reasons.

Maybe because I pay for yours and your family’s, and I do it willingly. More than that, I insist on it. Who do you think has been churning the economic engine while you’ve had your career in the military? Who do you think has raised a stink when your benefits haven’t been funded, your institutions have been allowed to rot, your fellow service members’ coverages haven’t kept up with the dangers of the modern military age? I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t anyone leaning “kinda libertarian on this one.”

Pat yourself on the back all you want for the planning or whatever that got you into a position where you don’t think you need to worry about paying for your own health care. But remember, I was there. I know just how much planning didn’t go into those choices. You lucked into this one, and you’re going to have to count on luck to keep what you’ve been promised.

To your fellow “Why should I” libertarians, you’re a slogan at best. There’s nothing special about you or the military that will keep them from cutting your benefits so they can keep more of “their” taxes. The only thing putting you one major illness away from bankruptcy, just like the vast majority of the rest of us, is that there are people out there who answer, “Why should I,” with, “Because to do anything else would be indecent.”

If that isn’t enough for you, maybe you should pay for my health care because you already do. You pay more taxes because my insurance is untaxed. You pay more for products because my salary and benefits have to be enough to cover my costs. You pay the unemployed because I or others like me work enough hours to pay for everything, which keeps jobs from opening up. (It’s cheaper, after all, to pay overtime than to pay health benefits for another employee.) You pay for disability if the incentive structure of my private insurance is set up to prevent short-term problems over the life of my one-year contract instead of over my much longer lifetime.

Only right now, you’re paying way too much for my health care. You’re paying for the most inefficient health care and insurance industry in the world. Free market health care maximizes profit, not efficiency.

Or maybe you should pay because you want to protect your own health. Can you come up with a better breeding ground for epidemics than crowded emergency rooms full of infants, seniors, people with open wounds, and the immune-compromised? Can you come up with a better way to push people to those emergency rooms with serious illness than to make them unable to afford a trip to their doctor early in their disease? And how long were those people wandering around, ill and contagious but unable to afford care, before they were forced to seek treatment?

Or maybe you should pay because you think the U.S. should be a land of innovation and enterprise again. Because you understand that large companies are mostly buying small companies these days in order to add products and services, not innovating on their own, having slashed their research and development budgets and staffs over the last couple of decades. (If you don’t know that, I’m sure you have enough friends in R&D to find out what’s happened to their departments.) Small companies are currently driving innovation, if they haven’t throughout our history, but small companies pay more for health insurance and have the smallest of margins. People smart enough to change the world are smart enough to know what they risk by starting a company to pursue their ideas.

Or maybe, just maybe, you should understand that caring for one another, creating a better world for all, is what humans do. You should know that the point of this incredibly long adolescence of ours is socialization, becoming fit to take our places among the larger complex group, understanding both the advantages and responsbilities that this gives us. You should understand that claiming only the advantages while sniffing at the responsibilities is claiming the perpetual status of adolescent, which is why the grown-ups around you look so disappointed or angry when you say these things.

In other words, for as far as you’ve come and as much as you’ve accomplished, maybe it’s time to finish growing up.

Why Should I Pay for Your Health Insurance?

With Friends Like These

Times Higher Education has just posted a rather amusing defense of evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa. If you managed to miss the poorly analyzed Psychology Today blog post he wrote that put him in a defensive position, I recommend you catch up here before reading the letter.

All set now? Good.

We believe the recent criticisms of Satoshi Kanazawa’s work cannot be justified (“Damage limitation: evolutionary psychologists turn on controversial peer”, 2 June). Contrary to the assertion that Kanazawa does poor work, he has published 70 articles in peer-reviewed journals in the fields of psychology, sociology, political science, biology and medicine. These are listed on his London School of Economics web page and many of them have been published in top high-impact journals.

I’ll let someone from Retraction Watch weigh in on how well peer review guarantees that poor work is never published.

Kanazawa’s publications are listed here. I note that whatever “top high-impact journals” Kanazawa has published in, he’s also published in Intelligence, which still (unironically) prints papers treating IQ testing as a valid measure for cross-cultural intelligence comparisons. Someone for whom impact factor is a big deal will have to do the research on whether the letter writers are correct, but I would love to see the results.

Why? Because there are a number of fairly staid topics and treatments among Kanazawa’s publications. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d seen that kind of work used to put someone’s name in the “right” places while the iffy political pieces went elsewhere. In fact, Pharyngula had a post up yesterday documenting that kind of behavior in a geologist. If anyone matches articles to impact factor, please let me know.

The critics assert that many of these papers are “bad science” and have been published only as a result of a faulty peer-review process. This cannot be accepted. The editors of journals send the papers submitted to them to reviewers with expertise in the fields in question and publish only those that are deemed to be sound. Thus, all of Kanazawa’s papers have been judged as sound by competent reviewers. Others may disagree, and in the case of innovative papers of the kind Kanazawa writes, frequently do. Time eventually tells whether the authors or their detractors are right.

This is just silly. Bad science gets through peer review, even when one’s peers don’t have the same political bent you do. On the day this letter appeared, Times Higher Education also ran an article about a mathematics journal withdrawing a paper written by a proponent of intelligent design that claimed to disprove the second law of thermodynamics. The editor apologized for even considering it, but the article had passed peer review.

The critics complain that when Kanazawa has a paper rejected by one journal, he sends it to another and publishes it there. Who among the academy’s members has not done that? Reviewers frequently misjudge a paper and editors accept their recommendations. The author then sends it elsewhere and it is accepted. If there were anything wrong with this practice, then, as the first online comment under “Damage limitation” puts it: “A few Nobel prizes will have to be returned.”

The detractors assert that Kanazawa rarely responds to brickbats. On the contrary, we believe that while he sometimes does not respond immediately, he frequently deals with criticisms in his subsequent work.

Actually, the objection was not that Kanazawa submitted papers after they were rejected. The section in question:

The peer review process is not perfect and appears to have failed when dealing with Kanazawa’s poor quality work. Those of us who have reviewed his papers have had experiences where we have rejected papers of his for certain journals on scientific grounds, only to see the papers appear virtually unaltered in print in other journals, despite the detailed critiques of the papers given to Kanazawa by the reviewers and editors of the journals that rejected his papers.

Thus, not only is Kanazawa’s work an example of poor science on theoretical and methodological grounds in our view, but we also believe it violates the central purpose of scientific discourse, because he rarely engages with his scientific critics. He rarely considers the criticisms of his work that have been published as well as those given to him during the peer review process: to our knowledge he has published counter-responses on only two occasions to critiques of his work (separate responses to two critiques of a paper published in 2001; and a response to one critique of a paper published in 2002). Since then, he has not published a full length response in the academic literature to any of the numerous critiques which have been published against his work, nor has he published corrections to the papers for which doubt has been cast on the conclusions.

There are legitimate discussions to be had on the role of peer-review feedback in shaping the final published product. However, having that discussion and recasting a complaint about Kanazawa’s resistance to incorporating feedback are two very different things. Also, given what the criticism of Kanazawa actually was (that he doesn’t interact with feedback prior to publication) it seems a little odd to note that he incorporates feedback into later work. If the criticism is important enough to be dealt with, wouldn’t he produce stronger papers by dealing with it up front?

But back to the letter. There are a few short paragraphs providing information about two times Kanazawa later responded to criticism, followed by this closing:

Finally, we believe that the proper place to make criticisms of academic papers is in the journals in which they were published, not in letters to the press where they cannot be adequately answered.

This–this!–is what makes this letter so entertaining. Even forgetting that Kanazawa brought himself and his work into the general public eye by writing a blog post about his “findings,” this is the richest vein of irony I’ve mined in some time. You see, while the idea that scientific ideas and their validity should be hashed out in journals is relatively common among scientists, it’s pretty rare among the signatories to this letter.

With the exception of Lynn, who cowrote the book with Vanhanen, that’s just one example per signatory for those who were easy to find in a very quick Google search. If there is one thing this group is not, that would be in favor of keeping science discussions contained in journals. The fact that they want everything contained and compartmentalized in this case makes a far stronger argument than anything in Kanazawa’s CV that, at least in this field or subfield, there may be some serious problems with peer review.

But it was terribly sweet of them to write a letter and make it obvious.

With Friends Like These

The Coupling Rant

I love my fandom, and my fandom drives me insane.

By “my fandom,” I mean the people who interact with science fiction and fantasy in a critical capacity with an eye to getting things right. They want the science to not be silly (or at least not any sillier than it has to be for the purposes of the story). They want magic systems to make sense, granted the fact of magic in the first place. They want events to unfold in ways that flow from the world and the characters.

More importantly, what sets apart “my fandom” is that they want the people to be right. They want populations to reflect the diversity of a realistic world. They want characters to reflect the personalities and experiences of the people who read science fiction and fantasy–and those who would read if they could find themselves in the stories.

All that is an excellent thing. It does, however, come with its own set of problems and biases. The biggest problem I tend to find in a group that values getting things right is a tendency to confuse things they don’t like with things that are wrong, and by wrong I don’t just mean factually inaccurate.

(Note: One of these days I’ll stick my hand in the blender that is the tendency of my fandom to apply the simplistic label of “fail” to large-scale, multiple-issue, multiple-party disagreements. Today isn’t that day, mostly because the topic deserves careful, nuanced analysis and I’m grumpy.)

The most recent thing driving me insane has to do with Doctor Who. More specifically, it has to do with people’s reactions to Steven Moffat taking over showrunning from Russell T. Davies. Even more specifically, it has to do with the fact that the relationship between Amy and Rory doesn’t appeal to a lot of people.

Frankly, it doesn’t entirely appeal to me either. As pretty as Rory is, I really like being in a grown-up relationship. I don’t want to be that young and unsure of what I want and what I’m being offered. I don’t want to treat anyone the way Amy does or the way Rory does or even the way the Doctor does. Not. for. me.

On the other hand, you’re never going to hear me say, “Have you ever seen Coupling? The problem is that Steven Moffat can’t write a strong woman who isn’t a bitch.” I don’t remember who said it in that version, but the sentiment is fairly common.

Here’s the thing about Coupling. It was developed when Friends became a big international hit. The biggest difference, aside from the size of the apartments involved and the presence of a pub instead of a coffee shop, is that the characters in Friends were dealing with their various lives at the same time they were hooking up and breaking up with each other: jobs, families, old school friends, etc. and on. Any gender and sexual politics happened in the course of one grand soap opera. Mostly, they didn’t happen.

Coupling, as the name signifies, was about sex. It was also about gender roles in relationships. As in Friends, there were three men and three women, but here they came in paired types. Sally and Patrick were the shallow, looks-obsessed traditionalists who ran their relationships by the rules. When they dated each other, some of those rules meshed and some clashed. Jane and Jeff were bound by no rules. They were impulsive, and you never knew what would come out of their mouths.

Then there were Susan and Steve, the proxies for the audience. Each was horrified by how Sally and Patrick treated their partners. Each was a little envious of Jane and Jeff in their freedoms, but neither wanted to deal with the consequences Jane and Jeff faced. They were pretty well perfect for each other, but they still had to figure out how to make things work. They started with nudity, ended with birth, and ran a lot of odd places in the middle.

Coupling was hilarious because of this awkwardness, this tension between the old rules that mostly tell people they can’t do what they want with respect to sex and the new rules that require us to negotiate everything without any training in how it’s done. Every new freedom came with the embarrassing need to, ahem, you know, talk about it. Every new opportunity came with a need to have an opinion, even if everyone, all your life, has been telling you what the one right opinion is…and it isn’t yours.

Susan got cranky about this sometimes. Exasperated. Yep. So did Steve. One of the funniest speeches in the show involves him getting fed up enough to not care about the consequences of explaining the appeal of lesbian porn. It is every bit as bitchy as anything any of the women in the show say to each other in the entire run.

But Susan is the bitch and Moffat can’t write any better. Because someone doesn’t like what being strong without being perfect in the middle of these pressures looks like. Because her journey and Steve’s are uncomfortable to see, particularly if we’ve managed our own with just a little bit more grace. Or maybe because we haven’t. I don’t know.

I do know that wanting things to be right is a very good thing, but I’m never going to understand the kind of thinking that takes my opinions and preferences and decides that anything that doesn’t match them is wrong.

The Coupling Rant