I Love Peter Sagal

Okay, so everyone loves him when he’s being funny. But sometimes I love him better when he’s being serious.

The fact is, when people talk about “the great inaugural addresses” they’re really talking about three at most, and from those three, three phrases:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

“Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

So basically, people are scanning Obama’s speech to see if there are any Immortal Phrases, which here means simplistic notions expressed in a rhetorical antithesis. Big whup.

Seriously people, if you can’t handle a speech made of more than soundbites, you’re part of the problem.

I Love Peter Sagal


The internet is just too big. There’s no other way to account for the fact that I hadn’t heard about PodCastle, Escape Pod and Pseudopod yet (except for the facts that my interests are too broad and I’m too involved in generating content myself, but…uh…hey, look over there!).

Short fiction in the fantasy, science fiction and horror genres respectively, these podcasts are perfect for you if, like my friend James, you believe, “Nobody reads anymore.”

Actually, there are a bunch of short fiction podcasts out there these days, but I’m starting with these. In particular, PodCastle has a short story I haven’t read from Naomi Kritzer (who writes amazing short stories). Then there’s Ellen Klages’ “In The House Of The Seven Librarians,” which I heard the author read when it was a shorter piece. And then…

And then….

Oh, boy. I’m in serious trouble now. See y’all when I come up for air.


Today, I Am Hopeful

There were a couple of things that stood out in my day. The president mentioned–lauded–labor:

…it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.

And there is a new project out there, a blog and a lobby and other things, dedicated to peace. Not the absence of war, but peace.

So, peace activism. Active. Not passive. And not simple.

These are good things.

Today, I Am Hopeful

Whither Allies

I’m back from ScienceOnline09, with an inaccessible laptop hard drive holding all my notes, and I’ve gotten one mostly full night’s sleep in the last four. It would be wiser of me to hold off on blogging contentiously until I’m better rested. In fact, I have a ton of comments I’m dying to respond to. Instead, I’m writing this, and I ask a small amount of indulgence in the reading, because I think it’s important enough to write even under less than ideal conditions.

I had a number of very nice chats with people before the sessions they were moderating about the topic of the session. Not surprising. Most of the moderators were a little overprepared and very invested in the topic, as they should be.

One of these discussions was with Zuska in the hotel bar. We were talking about lurkers and who reads her blog, and I made a comment about the risks allies take in opening their mouths and the inevitability of screwing something up. She agreed and said something about the responsibilities of allies when that happens.

Janet is now saying something very similar at Adventures in Ethics and Science.

You can’t tell just by looking which purported allies have had a crystalizing experience. When people who say they are allies let you down in the crunch (which happens a lot), it’s hard to trust that any ally can be relied upon. Thus, one lesson for allies (beyond the importance of being reliable at crunch-time) is not to be surprised or offended when you’re not immediately recognized as an ally. Saying you are doesn’t count for nearly as much as showing you are.

Let me say something now: You can’t count on me.

Of course, you can’t count on your parents to step up when your uncle is being an ass about your college choices. You can’t count on your best friend to know what you need to hear about your date. You can’t count on your sweetie(s) to know what you want for your birthday. You can’t count on you to do what’s best for you when you’re feeling tired and unmotivated. As comfortable as it would be and as useful as it is sometimes to act as though the opposite were true, you can’t count on people, even the people who are supposed to be on your side.

There are a couple of reasons you can’t count on me. The first one is implicit in the examples I just gave. I don’t know what you need or want at any given moment. The fact that I recognize you as part of a marginalized group tells me that you’re marginalized. That’s all it tells me, because part of being an ally is recognizing that marginalized and stereotyped groups are just as diverse (if not more so) than the mainstream.

The second reason is one I brought up talking to Zuska. I’m an ally, in part, because I don’t deal well with authority. This means that it’s easier for me than for some to look at the reasons given for marginalization and say that they don’t make sense. However, it also means I take a step back any time someone says allies should behave in a particular way.

On top of that, I’m dealing with my own issues of marginalization. Some are relatively small and many are problems of privilege, but they’re still real and part of the reason I understand marginalization. I may not have brought them up because, well, I’ve been listening. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes have to take a step out of your fight to fight my own.

So, no, you can’t count on me. What you can do, though, is tell me what you would like me to do in a given situation, know that I’m likely to say an enthusiastic “yes” if I can (as I did a couple times this weekend), and know that I don’t make promises lightly. Well, you really can’t know those last two, but those are the areas where I want to be called on the carpet if I screw up.

That’s a lot of speaking for myself, I know. But in the end, that’s all I can do. I’m not your ally because I feel sorry for you and think you need caretaking. I’m your ally because I believe you have things to say I want to hear. I’m your ally because I believe in the intrinsic value of diversity and basic human dignity.

I hope that’s enough. It may not be, in which case, you have every right to decide I’m not your ally. That would sadden me, but I understand that trying to change your mind would waste energy we could both put to use better elsewhere, just as trying to change me would be.

We don’t achieve diversity by insisting that we all be alike.


As an aside that’s nothing of the sort, I also want to respond to DrugMonkey‘s comments to Janet’s post. If you follow this blog or DrugMonkey, you’ll know that there was a big to do last month involving a commenter on DrugMonkey who I and some other DrugMonkey regulars felt was a trollish poster child.

Now, I had two purposes in mind in pointing out the trolling. One, I’ve developed an interest (perhaps even an unhealthy fascination) with that kind of thing, and two, I wanted to give people a place away from the fray to react to the manipulation. I thought both worked.

Then I saw this comment from DM:

Some, see Stephanie Z’s post, consider you to be nothing more than an unrelenting disruptive troll. and suggest that I should ban your ass.

I was concerned briefly that DM really thought I was suggesting the troll should be banned, but I didn’t say anything. For one thing, he was delivering an excellent lesson. I didn’t want to interupt. And there are always more chances to talk about trolls and how they should be handled.

[sigh] Always.

But when it keeps coming up, I get more concerned.

Fascinating. And by this may we conclude that those who may have the privilege of ignoring said clueless idiots’ obnoxiousness in case they are redeemable are themselves proving to be bad allies? Is it letting down in the crunch to fail to come to the same conclusions as those with said finite time and energy?

For the record, DM, no.

As I said above, I think it’s silly to expect or even want monolithic behavior from people supporting diversity. Yes, there are times when a massed voice is helpful, but aside from that, well, it’s a lot like my take on science communication. The people we need to reach, in the mainstream or in other marginalized groups, are not monolithic. We need as many ways to reach them as there are people to be reached.

In addition to places for people to sit and rest outside the line of fire, we need both carrots and sticks, and it’s really hard for the same person to provide both at the same time. So as far as I’m concerned, as long as you can handle all the mixed metaphors, I’m happy to apply the pressure and allow you to show someone which way they need to move to get out from under it.

That’s what allies are for.

Whither Allies

Flamer Bingo

Home again. Must crash for a bit before trying to get conference notes off my laptop hard drive. [sigh]

Since y’all like the writing about trolls, maybe this can entertain you until I’m functional again. Teresa at Making Light started a thread about the verbal cues that tell you when someone isn’t looking for real conversation. The comments are packed with trollish goodness (badness?). Note, it’s called bingo because one is not enough to indicate ill intent.

A few of my favorites:

“I expected a group of [insert type of group here] folks to be [enlightened|loving|accepting|welcoming|more evolved]. But you people are a bunch of [unenlightened|hateful|rejecting|cliquish|troglodyte] [insert plural noun for male or female animal or genitalia here].”

God, you all are a bunch of sheep/lemmings/silent Germans in the 30’s/brainless followers.

“You’re typing with one hand, aren’t you?”

“I already told the moderator about you. They’re going to ban you now.”

(Particularly amusing if it’s on my own site and the troll doesn’t realize they just told the site owner she’s going to get banned.)

If it’s so important for [minority group] to have the freedom to live their weird and perverted lifestyle, why don’t I have the freedom to live my normal, regular life and think badly of the weirdoes if I want to?

Reasonable people can disagree on [issues that affect an oppressed group the speaker is not a part of]

*bites his tongue*

[meta] Because if you don’t actually express your objection, but only make reference to your noble self-control in not expressing it, no one can actually refute whatever it is you’re feeling smug about. [/meta]

[Posts rambling screed full of half-truths, non-sequiturs and pure mis-information]

[Gets a dozen responses picking apart the misinformation point-by-point]

“Those were some very interesting replies, but unfortunately, I have a life/job/hobby/ingrown toenail, so it’ll be a while before I can respond to all of you.”

Don’t bother replying to this [abusive commentary], I’m not going to read anything more you write.

“Well, if somehow, somebody found that offensive, I’m sorry.”

what [group of which i am not a part] need to do to [choose 1: improve their credibility… win an election… get my sympathy… deserve public services for which they already pay taxes… purge their ranks of extremists… behave/appear in a manner more resembling myself… i could go on] is…

Many, many more where those came from.

Flamer Bingo

Atheists Talk–Dan Barker

Dan Barker is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), based in Madison, Wisconsin. (FFRF has 14,000 members.) He recently authored “Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists.” It is an update of his previous work “Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist.” Dan has participated in more than 50 atheist-theist debates and is known for his “Friendly Neighborhood Atheism.”

Produced by Minnesota Atheists. Directed by Mike Haubrich and August Berkshire. Hosted by Mike Haubrich. Interview by Grant Steves.

“Atheists Talk” radio program 9 a.m. to 10 a.m, Sunday, January 18. KTNF AM 950 or stream live on-line at am950ktnf.com/listen. Studio call-in number: 952-946-6205 or e-mail questions to [email protected]

Program notes here.

Atheists Talk–Dan Barker

Unshared Social Cues

I was chatting with, oh, let’s call him an old friend of mine the other day. The subject of Asperger’s came up, and he suggested he might have an undiagnosed case. I laughed at him. I told him he was far too adept at picking up social cues for this to be the case.

He said, “With you, I’m perceptive. With everyone else, not so much.”

Aaah, got it. “You grew up in geek culture. Were your parents science fiction fans?”

“Science fiction, no. Geek culture, definitely.”

I pointed him to this piece on the differences between geek/fannish communication behavior and “mundane” behavior.

We also speak in larger word groupings between breaths. This does not necessarily mean that we speak faster; we just pause for a shorter time between words — except where there is punctuation. She pointed out that when Teresa Nielsen Hayden said she came from Mesa, Arizona, Teresa actually pronounced the comma by putting a slightly longer pause there, while most mundanes would simply run the words together. Mundanes slur a lot of consonents that we pronounce individually. We use punctuation in our spoken utterances. Sometimes we even footnote.

What we say in those large word groupings is also different. We tend to use complete sentences, and complex sentence structure. When we pause, or say “uh”, it tends to be towards the beginning of a statement, as we formulate the complete thought. The “idea” or “information” portion of a statement is paramount; emotional reassurance, the little social noises (mm-hmm) are reduced or omitted. We get to the heart of what we want to say — if someone asks us how to do something we tell them, not leading up to it gently with “have you tried doing it this way?”

This leads us to body language. Our body language is also different from mundanes. We tend to not use eye contact nearly as often; when we do, it often signifies that it’s the other person’s turn to speak now. This is opposite of everyone else. In mundania, it’s *breaking* eye contact that signals turn-taking, not *making* eye contact. She demonstrated this on DDB; breaking eye contact and turning slightly away, and he felt insulted. On the other hand, his sudden staring at her eyes made her feel like a professor had just said “justify yourself NOW”. Mutual “rudeness”; mixed signals.

Oh, yeah, he recognized himself.

There’s just one bit from the report that I have to quibble with.

She didn’t get much into why this is all the case (I think she was surprised at the laughter when she suggested diffidently that we might be a bit under socialized. No, really?? ), and turned away questions about possible pathology.

It doesn’t require any kind of pathology or even under-socialization to produce this kind of behavior pattern. Sure, fandom is very accepting of social disorders like Asperger’s and its ranks were once stocked with people who had it.

However, fandom has become its own culture, isolated to a certain extent from the pressures to conform to “normal” society. The label, “mundane,” for people outside of fandom indicates just how isolated it is comfortable being. We’re into a second generation of people who are being raised almost entirely within fandom. Kids are being socialized to this behavior, just as my friend was. This is their normal.

So, given that my friend and others like him are perfectly well socialized to a standard that mundane society says is pathological, what does this mean for diagnosis (lay or formal) of things like Asperger’s?

Unshared Social Cues

That Kind of Weather

This is the kind of weather:

  • Where you walk outside, breathe in and immediately cough, because your lungs are smarter than you are.
  • Where your eyelashes freeze together, or to your scarf if they’re that long.
  • Where you instantly detect the smallest shift in wind direction.
  • Where you get brain freeze–from the outside.
  • Where your cheeks get chafed by the frost on the inside of your scarf.
  • Where your nose doesn’t even run until you get back inside.

For me, this is the kind of weather where I want to get on a plane and go some place warmer for just a few days. Today, right about now, in fact (I hope), that’s what I’m doing.

I’m headed off to North Carolina for ScienceOnline09 and to experience the region’s idea of cold. I hear it will be below freezing at night. I’m positively bouncing with the excitement of meeting everyone, but I’m trying to do it very carefully.

I wouldn’t want to slip on the ice and have to stay home.

That Kind of Weather

Why Vaccinate? Pertussis

Apropos of the sudden influx of self-righteous antivax parents suddenly popping up at Greg’s, it’s time for another of these posts.

Our local paper noted earlier this year that we were possibly in for a peak year of pertussis, or whooping cough cases in the state. Pertussis is one of those lovely diseases where herd immunity counts for a lot.

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes intense and persistent coughing in older children and adults. In infants it can be fatal.

Babies routinely get vaccinated for it at 2, 4 and 6 months, but they are not fully protected until after their third shot. Young children get another dose before entering school.

But the vaccine wears off, and older children can become infected. For most of them the illness can result in weeks of coughing, and they can infect vulnerable infants. Last year in Minnesota 11 infants were hospitalized for pertussis.

Since 2005 doctors and health officials have recommended a new vaccine for adolescents and adults, largely to protect infants. But nationally only about a third of adolescents and teenagers have received it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only a third of the most common vectors for the disease are vaccinated. But hey, keep your infants away from teenagers and they should be fine, right? Of course, you won’t have a babysitter for six months.

Luckily most parents do vaccinate their infants as soon as possible, but when they don’t, what are they potentially letting their children in for?

The baby was 9 months old, his birth weight was 8 lbs 5 ounces. At six months he weighed just shy of 20 pounds. Today he weighed 15 pounds – he was a skeleton and he was dying.

Mom had brought him in after treatment by his naturopath had failed. Constant coughing had made it impossible for him to take in adequate nutrition and starvation, coupled with a raging bacterial pneumonia were conspiring to shortly end his very short life.

We worked feverishly. Intubation, IV boluses, major antibiotics, vasopressors. All futile.

The end of the story is at ERNursey, but do you really have to read it? Just get those kids stuck.

Why Vaccinate? Pertussis