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Hands Off Hamilton
Posted by Ogged on 10.09.15

I'm glad I'm not the only one wondering why the hell we're removing Alexander Hamilton from the currency, and leaving Andrew Fucking Jackson.

Side note: During a lecture in college from an eminent (now sadly deceased) Platonist, the founding fathers came up, and he said, "Hamilton, now there was a mind. Thomas Jefferson groping in the dark [eminent Platonist mimes a slack-jawed Jefferson groping blindly], and Hamilton goes right to it."

Side note: The Hamilton musical mentioned in the article (by recent genius grant winner Lin-Manuel Miranda) looks fabulous. Very catchy soundtrack available on Spotify.

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Good Days, Bad Days
Posted by Ogged on 10.09.15

Many cops are goons. Cleveland officer David Muniz is not a goon.

One of the videos released today shows Theodore Johnson shooting at the officers. One of the rounds struck the chest area of Patrolman David Muniz's ballistic vest. Another video, recorded by Muniz's body camera, shows a despondent Johnson telling officers that he wants to die. "I know you just shot me, but I'm not going to shoot you," Muniz tells Johnson.

But! He also doesn't know the difference between a dead deer and a dead human.

Suicide-by-cop is pretty mysterious to me. Just shoot yourself!

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Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 10.09.15

My student mentioned buying a new calculator because hers had been stolen, and I asked her why. Why not just download an app, or use Wolfram or something? She and the other students said, "We love our calculators!" "I've had mine since 8th grade. It's a part of me!" and that sort of thing.

However, out of a small survey of students who have used both Desmos alongside a Texas Instruments calculator, students overwhelmingly chose the TI. Cathy Yenca, the Texas teacher who gave the survey, chalks it up to the fact that calculators are programmable.
"You can dump a list of numbers to find the mean, median, mode, list, every statistic into the sun," Yenca told Mic. "It's more worth it for kids."
"The learning curve is higher, but the buttons... students love pushing 'em." Plus, she says, her kids love the fact that the calculators are clunky and tactile, an opinion anyone who misses the tactile, QWERTY keyboards of earlier smartphones shares.

Oh well, they've drunk the koolaid. I give TI-83s another 5-10 years to die. It's only offensive because they cost $100+.

My students also said, "When we really need to get something done, we have to put our phones away. It'd be too hard with an app on your phone." That is totally sympathetic.

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Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 10.09.15

1. Friends-of-an-acquaintance are two 18 year old girls, just starting college. A sorority holds a fancy Beyonce party where everyone is supposed to dress up. I'm sure you see where this is going.

Photos of the girls in blackface showed up online, the university came down (appropriately) hard on the girls. As it was told to me, the girls were acting in complete naivete - if they knew of the historical context, it was completely absent from their consideration. (And in their defense, Beyonce in this context is being held up as an aspirational role model, not an object of scorn, and it's likely that's where their heart is.)

Anyway, it's completely plausible to me that 18 year olds can be that ignorant - that kind of detail is just easy to slip through the mostly-shoddy treatment of the the Jim Crow era in schools. But sometimes big consequences are appropriate. (Apparently the girls are struggling a lot with the fall-out - finding it hard to go to class and face the world, that sort of thing. Obviously I hope that doesn't overwhelm them.)

2. At xfit this morning, a few kids turned to their phones to work out 150 divided by 15. In general, I am a vocal defender of people who find algebra hard. Fractions are legitimately confusing and often people were poorly taught. But turning to the calculator for this particular computation sort of stabbed me through the heart.

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Guest Post - "Call him drunken Ira Hayes he won't answer anymore"
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 10.08.15

NickS writes: I just read this article which is good journalism and incredibly depressing. It argues that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, there's no reason to think that Native Americans have any genetic predisposition to alcoholism.

It's a reminder of just how punishingly unfair the world is -- it argues that the high rates of substance abuse among Native Americans are a expression of, "an ongoing multi-generational experience of trauma."

In addition to the headline results the article summarizes a variety of other research into what factors increase addictive behavior (including some interesting work on heroin addiction in rats), so it's worth reading the whole thing.

"No, Native Americans aren't genetically more susceptible to alcoholism"

When Jessica Elm, a citizen of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, was studying for her master's degree in social work, she frequently heard about how genes were responsible for the high risk of alcoholism among American Indians. But her own family's experience -- and the research, she discovered -- tells a very different story.
Addiction is often described as an equal opportunity disease. It isn't: while anyone can become addicted under certain conditions, like most bullies, addiction prefers to hit people who are already hurting. The more trauma and social exclusion a child experiences, the greater the addiction risk. This creates a vicious cycle: addiction itself becomes a reason for even more rejection, prejudice, and maltreatment.
In fact, there's no evidence that Native Americans are more biologically susceptible to substance use disorders than any other group, says Joseph Gone, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. American Indians don't metabolize or react to alcohol differently than whites do, and they don't have higher prevalence of any known risk genes.
Rates of all types of addiction -- not just alcohol -- are elevated in aboriginal peoples around the world, not only in America. It's unlikely that these scattered groups randomly happen to share more vulnerability genes for addiction than any other similarly dispersed people. But what they clearly do have in common is an ongoing multi-generational experience of trauma.

Also interesting, this credit at the end:

This report was supported by the journalism nonprofit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
I should check to see what they're doing, but that sounds like a valuable non-profit.

(Title taken from "The Ballad Of Ira Hayes" one of the great protest songs, and one that always makes me choke up -- Peter LaFarge's hurt and anger is very clear. )

Heebie's take: Sobering. (sorry) Also I'd only known it as a Cash song. Thanks!

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Toilet Is On Fire
Posted by Ogged on 10.08.15

As non-cruel, non-destructive, add-a-chuckle-to-your-day pranks go, these are aces.

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Death Masks
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 10.07.15

Here, have a whole lot of death masks of famous people. The captions explaining the masks are kind of idiotic.

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Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 10.07.15

A theory on men's bodies: I think that if you have a longer torso and shorter legs, you seem like a taller person than someone who has longer legs and a shorter torso but is actually the same height.

I'm not sure if it holds true for women, but a student who I generically think of as "tall" walked in front of me, and I noticed our legs were the same length (ie, his were short, but his torso was very long.) Then it occurred to me that he was actually the same height as some of the male students I perceive as average-to-short height. Also, the average-to-short students were of slight build - I wonder if that contributes to seeming short.

I assume this is because I was all primed to think about height and gender.

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Who's The White Guy?
Posted by Ogged on 10.07.15

A goddamn hero.


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Congratulations, comrade.
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 10.07.15

I had a passing thought about whether any company (bigger than a few people) had ever tried to pay everyone exactly the same wage, and how they fared. Then I googled it, and discovered that when other people have the same passing thought, everyone is super snarky about communism and how lazy everyone would become, and how everyone would race for the lazy secretarial jobs and no one would want to do the shitty executive CEO jobs.

A related thought experiment that I've heard is, "What if the sole determinant of wage was to be inversely proportional to the number of people willing to do the job?" (With some scaling according to how jobs many are needed of a given type.)

The initial thought was that I was feeling undercompensated at work, and then additionally annoyed because all the staffworkers ought to get better compensation before I ever see an extra dime, which sets me back even further.

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Ancillary Bitching
Posted by LizardBreath on 10.07.15

Ann Leckie's latest in her Ancillary trilogy is out this week, Ancillary Mercy. I haven't read it yet, but I read the first two, and generally thought they were great --classic plotty space opera. If you like that kind of thing, I haven't seen better in years.

But if you've heard the books discussed, it was probably because of a particular twist in the setup -- the viewpoint character, Breq, is a member of the military for a colonial empire that doesn't recognize gender at all as a social distinction. There's one set of pronouns (she/her), one set of words for family relationship (mother/daughter/sister), and so on. The various colonized societies where Breq has spent years, or decades, working, all do recognize gender, in differing ways within the range you'd expect for various real world societies. (Note: from the text of the books, the characters appear to be biologically human, or at least Star Wars human -- whatever the history is, you could cast humans in the movie version. The rest of the post is going to assume that's the case, but I'm not sure it's actually established solidly.) And so a constant theme is Breq's first-person inside the head narration about what a hard time she's having being polite and socially functional, because the locals think gender is so crazy important, and she has a hell of time keeping track of it.

It's an interesting idea, and it's gotten a lot of attention. And I think Leckie does a terrible lousy job of it. Detailed bitching about what she does wrong below the fold.

(I think this is pretty much spoiler-free for the first two books (and of course for the third because I haven't read it.) Everything assumes that Breq is a fairly typical member of her culture in this regard (she's wildly atypical in other ways, but she's not flagged as weird about gender for her culture).

1. This isn't a huge thing, but it set the tone for me of something going wrong. In Breq's internal monologue, she thinks about 'gender' as something her people, the Radch, don't do, but the colonized people do. She's got a word for it, not a loan word from another language, and doesn't seem to be thinking of it as a complicated social concept that she needs to explain -- there's no internal circumlocution where she's thinking about what this 'gender' thing is that other cultures care about. To her, it's a real distinction out in the world. One she has trouble making herself, but not a puzzling concept at all. That seems really off to me, for someone raised in a culture who ignores any such distinction.

2. And this harks back to 1. Breq never, but never (I think? someone who's read the books find counterexamples if I'm wrong?) connects gender to reproductive sex. This reads to me like Leckie, as a 21st century American being sophisticated about how gender and reproductive biology aren't the same thing, so why would a naive outsider connect them? And if that's what's going on, it seems completely goofy to me. Sure, gender and reproductive biology aren't exactly the same thing, but there's a pretty strong connection, and anyone from a culture who isn't sophisticated about gender in a precisely 21st century American way (like, say, the colonized peoples who Breq has learned everything she knows about gender from) is going to draw a connection between the two. Again, I'm guessing at what's in Leckie's head, but it looks to me like my point 1, that Breq seems to have a firm understanding of what 'gender' means in a way that's peculiar for a naive outsider, is because we can't see Breq thinking about what it does mean and still completely avoid connecting it to reproductive sex in her head.

3. Actually, reproductive sexual biology is completely absent from the books, in a way that doesn't make any in-world sense to me, and that once again looks to me like Leckie trying to make a point about how completely arbitrary it is that we care at all socially about reproductive sex. Family relationships are terribly important, but only one mother is ever referenced -- relationships to two parents aren't mentioned. And pregnancy/alternative means of childbearing isn't referenced either (again, counterexamples from people who've read the books? I could have missed something.)(And maybe the characters are biologically non-human in a reproductive kind of way -- I don't think so, but I don't think the books absolutely rule this out.) Possibly it's a taboo subject, but we're inside Breq's head, and if it's taboo it's so absolutely taboo that she never even thinks about it being taboo, which is not, in my experience, how taboos work.

4. Breq is so, so bad at figuring out people's gender, in a way that I find thoroughly unbelievable, for a character that's presented as highly intelligent and competent, and who has spent years at a time working in gendered societies. It's a repeated theme -- she's looking at someone, wanting to interact with them in a socially appropriate way, and she has no idea what gender they are. Doesn't even know where to start.

First, back to reproductive sex -- it doesn't line up perfectly, but if you accurately identify someone's reproductive/biological sex, you're going to get their social gender right with much better than 90% accuracy. And for adults, it's really not hard to identify reproductive sex, even for people who are dressed and stripped of other social cues. Size alone gets you pretty far. Add in breasts/body shape generally, and you're much further. And with facial hair/stubble and hairline shape, let alone subtleties of facial structure, most people paying an average amount of attention aren't going to have difficulty guessing the sex of the people they see. Breq, presumably, is going to be worse than you or I at this, because she wasn't brought up caring, but in the vast majority of cases it's a very easy call.

And when you add in social cues, it's much easier. In pretty much every real-world society, even sophisticated modern societies that are all about gender equality, people hang gender signals all over themselves. These are going to be arbitrary and unfamiliar to Breq, but arbitrary social distinctions signaled through dress and behavior are something that people generally manage just fine. You take a bunch of eighteen-year-old Americans and put them in an unfamiliar social setting, it doesn't take them any time at all to figure out that the person with three stripes bent into angles in the middle on their sleeve can order them around, but the person with a little piece of jewelry on his collar in the shape of a bird is vastly more important. People manage fine with unfamiliar arbitrary social distinctions. Given years to learn, though, Breq is still mostly at a complete loss about how to interpret local social signals about what gender someone is. Maybe the idea is that she's resisting learning because she thinks it's stupid, but we're inside her head, and that kind of resistance isn't conscious -- she consciously wants to get people's gender right because it will make her functioning easier. Again, I think we've got Leckie here making a point about how absolutely arbitrary our gender roles, and the social expression of our gender identifications, are, and getting herself completely confused about the difference between arbitrary on the one hand, and hard to learn on the other hand.

I think Leckie could have done something interesting with the same premise -- given us a Breq who navigated local gender norms fine 95% of the time, and still ran off cliffs in ways that a local wouldn't when she ran into a situation where her usual rules of thumb failed (say, where someone's gender expression doesn't match up with their apparent reproductive sex; or where she encounters someone from a different local culture with different norms of gender expression that would be familiar to a local but not to her). Watched Breq get stuck on issues of what gender meant to locals in terms of expected behavior either from people on the basis of gender or towards people on the basis of their gender. But having her get repeatedly stuck on not being able to sort people by gender at all clanged horribly for me.

The books were still great, and I suppose I'd rather have a writer try something interesting and screw it up than not try anything interesting. And I'll be reading the third one. But I did not think they were plausible in the slightest on this issue.

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