December 28, 2009

Trust and Critical Thinking in Science Reporting: A Case Study

If you've been paying attention, you've heard me say before that I'm not a science blogger. However, over the weekend, I authored a guest post that was not merely science blogging but also blogging on a peer-reviewed publication. I wasn't thinking about it at the time, but it was an opportunity to apply some of my thoughts regarding my upcoming session on Trust and Critical Thinking for ScienceOnline, which seeks ideas on how to report science in a way that teaches readers to interact with information skeptically.

Given that, I thought I'd capture what I set out to do in my post. Mind you, all these strategies involve modeling critical thinking. I have no data on how effective modeling may be, but it's the best idea I have right now and it's fairly easy to do as a writer.

Let me know how I did at Quiche Moraine.

December 27, 2009

Reaction Times and IQ Tests

In the ongoing discussion about disparities between racial classifications on IQ tests, Dr. Bryan Pesta requested that we consider his paper, "Black-White differences on IQ and grades: The mediating role of elementary cognitive tasks." Because as he rightly points out, not everyone will have the background to evaluate the paper, I thought it would be helpful to discuss the paper in the context of the cognitive science literature.

Okay, this time I can't say I'm not doing science blogging. In order to take advantage of some of the functions of Research Blogging without the setup time, this one is posted at Greg Laden's Blog.

December 26, 2009

Tired of Christmas Music?

This, most decidedly, is not that.

And more Savage Aural Hotbed. Now with added saws.

December 22, 2009

Gaga, Palmer, Madonna

Amanda Palmer and her ukulele make some interesting points about popular art.

December 21, 2009

Readings in IQ and Intelligence

Apropos of the continuing tendency for white supremacists to show up crowing about IQ, here is some reading that may help people understand the history of IQ testing and its relationship to the complex phenomena that lumped under the term “intelligence.”

Find the list at Quiche Moraine.

December 20, 2009

Paint Me on Velvet

What do you get a very good friend who has almost everything he wants and really only wants for things you have no power to give him? Well, if he's an author with a sense of humor and a bare wall over the mantle that's been begging for art for years, you might get him this.

That's right. You give him a velvet painting of the cover art from his first book--in the "delightfully ostentatious golden ornate frame."

And how do you procure such a thing? You hire an agent to have the painting done in Tijuana, where they take velvet painting far more seriously than you do, and you end up with something frighteningly awesome (seen here just finished, pre-framing and shipping).

But how do you keep said author from discovering that something is afoot during all the arrangements? Well, you don't do what James did and start cackling about evil plans two months before Christmas, or chatter with your co-conspirators with shoulders hunched and heads tilted together. Luckily for us, Kelly is very good at compartmentalization and refused to do much speculation before the unveiling, because if I'd run misdirection, he'd really have known something was up. As he said, "From the way you said, 'Evil,' I suspected I was the victim."

Then you unveil it at a Christmas party with as many of the conspirators present as possible. You play a mariachi version of "La Bamba" to tell the world that the cheese factor is entirely intentional. Someone notes, "It's the first unveiling I've been to that wasn't a tombstone." Your friend is speechless for an hour for the first time since his wedding, and you are entirely satisfied.

Oh, yes, and you don't forget to tell John Scalzi that it's all his fault.

December 19, 2009

Artichoke-Crab Spread

Or, the joys of a well-stocked pantry.

It's holiday party time again. I was planning to bring cupcakes with a cream-cheese-based frosting to a party today, but one of the hosts started talking about all the baking she was doing, including cupcakes. Never "compete" with your host's cooking. So I was stuck for something to bring. I'd just gone grocery shopping, so I didn't want to head back to the store. After looking around, here's what I came up with.

Artichoke-Crab Spread

1 8-oz package of cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
1 can crab meat, drained and liquid given to cat
4 cloves garlic
1-1/2 t. dried thyme
1 t. lemon juice
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Throw the cream cheese and sour cream in a bowl. Use one just a little bit larger than you expect to need. This isn't easy to mix.

Chop the artichoke hearts, chokes more finely than leaves. Add artichokes and crab meat to the bowl.

Mince the garlic. Chop the thyme slightly to break up the leaves. Add.

Drizzle lemon juice over the contents of the bowl. Add a heavy pinch of salt to begin. Go lightly on the pepper. With the thyme in the mix, you won't need as much as you might think.

Mash the ingredients into the cream cheese to break it apart. Once you've achieved a uniform consistency to the mix, taste. Add more salt and pepper if needed, but be aware that the flavors will not have blended yet.

Rest in the refrigerator to rehydrate the thyme and pepper for at least one hour.

Spread on crusty bread and nom.

December 18, 2009

Atheist Holiday Traditions

Yes, the church took Saturnalia and turned it into Christmas, but it's fun to pretend, Charlie Brown.

December 17, 2009

Tell Me a (Political) Story

Terrified Tabetic is getting a bit cynical, it seems. Commenting on PZ Myers' commenting on Making Light's commenting on Boing Boing's commenting on Peter Watts' experience at the U.S.-Canadian border:

I am completely unsurprised that border guards would rough someone up and treat them disrespectfully. I am also unsurprised that another arrogant white dude seems shocked that people are mistreated by law enforcement officials.

The ennui, it burns.

TT, you're not shocked by the treatment Dr. Watts received. I'm not shocked by it. PZ's not shocked by it. Nobody who's paying any attention to the world around them is shocked. Some of us are still outraged, as we've been outraged all along.

Isis, on the other hand, is amused.

Many of us in the blogosphere quietly chuckled because this thing that happened to Watts, horrible and unjustifiable as it is, happens to brown people all the time. And it generates no outrage.

Now, as someone who wrote about Dr. Watts' situation last week, I've got a couple things to say on the situation. First, my reaction to the news was not shock. The only surprise for me in the story was that the U.S. border patrol was stopping people leaving the country.

That didn't stop me from using the story to draw attention to the problem. This is a pervasive problem, not just at the border, not just for white (although I just had to look that up to be sure), Canadian science fiction writers with doctoral degrees in marine mammal biology. In fact, like any pervasive problem, I'm well aware that it's going to have a disproportionate impact on the "invisible" people--ethnic and religious minorities, the poor, the uneducated, people with mental and physical disabilities, people with unpopular political views.

However, because I have close ties to the online science fiction community (and Dr. Watts participated in last year's run-up to ScienceOnline), this was the opportunity that got pushed across my screen. I grabbed it, hoping to push it into another sphere and make people who haven't been paying attention as outraged as I am. And yes, I looked at it and chuckled to myself, "Yeah. Just try to do your oh-they-must-have-been-asking-for-it-cause-they're-somehow-scary dance on this one, jerks. Time to face up to the fact that this problem can bite you too."

I don't like the fact that the vast majority of people are empathy-challenged. I'm doing what I can to change that, to get people to understand that different doesn't equal wrong doesn't equal not entitled to the same basic rights. I want a world in which no one needs, as Isis said, "some white patrons to show them to the majority culture."

That is my goal, but in the meantime, I'm not a purist. If somebody hands me a political sledgehammer for use on one of those pervasive issues, I'm going to use it, because the vast majority of people can't be moved to political action by anything short of that. I'm going to use it even if it exploits something in society that I hate, because it is still a "real injustice" and because, even if the sledgehammer is of the majority culture, that doesn't change the fact that most of the injustice happens to minorities.

Zuska compared PZ's post to the news coverage for a missing white woman, but I don't think that's quite the right analogy. Ryan White was the face of AIDS research. Gay men largely stopped dying from the disease. Minority homeless people benefit from the snow-white appeals for Christmas donations to shelters. Who stands to benefit from the enforcement of due process and a curb on the arbitrary exercise of nonexistent police authority? Everybody who isn't already too powerful to have to worry about it. It's cynical as hell, but it's doing something.

That brings me to my second point. Terrified Tabetic noted that he had a friend, Mohammed, who experienced similar problems. I asked (responding to cynicism with the same, I'm afraid), why this was the first time he was telling me about it. Isis talks about brown injustices being shunted aside, but she doesn't provide any stories.

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying that either TT or Isis isn't walking the talk. They both do. But what they're both doing in this situation is responding to white-guy story with minority-inclusion critique, and critique just isn't as powerful as story.

Dr. Watts is a science fiction writer. That means that unless he's very, very good--in terms of sales, not writing--he's squeaking along moneywise. For a pasty guy, he's not very powerful. There's no good reason for his story to be noticed over any other pasty guy's. In fact, the press was entirely uninterested.

However, Dr. Watts knows Cory Doctorow, otherwise known as Boing Boing (yes, I'm simplifying slightly). Doctorow wrote a short narrative piece on Dr. Watts' ordeal. Boing Boing made sure that plenty of people saw the story, and it stuck and spread. It spread successfully, in part, because the people passing it on were also storytellers and because Dr. Watts' own version of the story is short, bitter and shows why his work is award-nominated.

Story works. Story matters. Story is remembered in a way that arguments and reasoning aren't. Without story, we wouldn't have so damned many teenaged (of whatever chronological age) libertarians running around. Story is what I do all over this blog, whether I'm talking about science or politics or art--even when I'm making a logical argument--and that's what gives this tiny blog an influence entirely disproportional to its small readership (and by the way, I love you guys).

To bring this back to the topic at hand, Isis has a point about repackaging. Some experiences do get repackaged. However, I'm not sure that's a bad thing. I took "Carrie's" parents' Facebook status updates--pure worried experience--and repackaged them and my knowledge that portion of the anti-vaccine movement that isn't motivated by profit into a story about the consequences of non-vaccination. I did the same thing with another friend's outrage on Twitter over not being able to get health insurance for his daughter. These aren't my experiences--I'm not even a parent--but I translated them into stories aimed at particular audiences, and the people whose experience I used thanked me for it. I got them heard.

Dr. Watts is not a brown person repackaged. He's an individual who had an all-too-common experience. If brown people's stories need to be repackaged, from personal conversations or as excerpts from blog posts or whatever, in order to be heard (and yes, they do), the situation isn't that different than that with the political sledgehammer. The need may be distasteful but it still exists. We can do that. It doesn't subtract anything from the original story to add more stories. And those of us privileged enough to be heard by the majority can tell those stories even as we work to eliminate the need for repackaging.

December 16, 2009

Annotation Please

Greg wrote a post yesterday that is academia erotica. No, really, although it's probably not what you think from that description.

It was like they were standing at far end of a room full of books and periodicals, with no walls separating the room from the outside, standing on the edge of an unfinished floor and observing poorly resolved things floating around before them that might or might not be useful data or other constructs. Shapeless forms of possible knowledge floating in the dark and cold unknown. Every now and then the scientist is able (using some tool or another) to grab on to one of these poorly defined forms in an attempt to wrestle it into a place where it could be understood. Sometimes, the thing they would grab would be reformed into books and articles to add to the shelves in their proper place. Sometimes (often) putting the new item on the shelf required tossing what was already there out into the vague abyss at the edge of the room, sometimes the thing they grabbed would wriggle free and escape before sense was made of it. Sometimes it would be thrown back because it was crap.

Definitely worth a read.

Aside from its own merits, it reminded me of a conversation I had with him recently. I don't know how the subject came up, but I do remember telling him how I wanted books to change. It was a recent conversation, so I was probably a bit out of it, but I still agree with what I said then.

Blogs, particularly science blogs, have spoiled me. There are books out there I want to read, weighty little things like Jared Diamond's tomes and 1491 that are broad overviews of topics with which I just don't have enough familiarity. But I'm not reading them. I'm not hesitating because it's too much reading, mind you. Blogs haven't spoiled my attention span. I'm hesitating because the books are wrong.

They have to be. These books cover so much that their authors can't be experts in all the details (where they are experts in any of them). There is information that has gone through at least two rounds of Telephone--simplification and translation to popular or vernacular that will change some of the meaning. There is information that is outdated. I don't want to learn and rely on this stuff only to have to redo all my work later.

I want what I have when I read a science article online and see a trackback, or what I get simply by keeping up with several science blogs. I want a notation that someone else has something to say on the subject. Not unedited, of course, because that extra shaping is part of the point of a book, but I want flags and the option to see when an expert says, "Well, this matter shouldn't be presented as settled," or "Stating this in that way, while not incorrect, is misleading. The more complex truth is...."

When I'm reading for information, even if I'm reading something aimed at the lay audience that I am, I want information, and I'm slowly becoming dissatisfied with anything else.

December 15, 2009

How Unhappy Is Irrational?

I got an interesting response to my post, "Going Emo," by email. It was specifically in response to the last bit of a single bullet point:

Breaking the social conventions isn't worth it. It just makes more work. It requires reassuring all the friends whose lives have just been shaken up. It requires holding your tongue on things like, "No. I don't need to see a professional to have my attitude adjusted. I need to stop being reasonably anxious and in pain for a while. Barring that, I need a fucking hamburger and someone who can moderate their conversation to the right degree of challenging. Not that you asked how you could help."

The bullet point, in turn, was a response to a note from the same person asking why I was being so negative, since "It's not like you at all," accompanied by the question of whether it was time for me to get some professional help with that. Based on my Facebook status updates. Specifically, these status updates:
  • just too damned much trouble, really.
  • ...falls, on the scale of human companionship, somewhere between utterly unrewarding and actively taxing.
For anyone else who was terribly concerned...I had PMS, made significantly worse by an enforced lack of exercise. I mentioned it over here. It happens. It's ugly. It's over in a day or two, but anyone who gets in my way in the meantime might be in for a bit of a surprise and for no good reason. Those two statements are a pretty fair picture of a temporary situation. They might be strongly worded, but one of the cornerstones of training in writing is cutting out wimpy prose.

The next update, by the way, was, "If you need hyperdrive, I can fix that too, but I could never be your wookie." (Explanation, of sorts, here.)

The idea in this new post-emo-post note was to urge me, once again, to seek professional help. "If I'm the only one of your kajillion and a half friends who has made the suggestion of seeing a professional, then I am shocked." You might want to sit down. "I don't know why you might be resistant to seeing a therapist." Then do allow me to explain.

I've been dealing with pain for two months. I've been dealing with enforced inactivity for a fair chunk of that. I've been dealing with uncertainties about my health for a good bit more. But that's just it, I'm dealing with them. I'm making my doctors appointments. I'm being appropriately cautious with my activity, which does include some testing of my limits. I'm taking pain medication when appropriate--mostly.

A note about narcotic pain medications: The reason these things have a high street value is that they fuck with your head. Even looking at the list of milder side effects for Vicodin, we see: drowsiness, nausea, and mood changes. Huh. Sounds a lot like the superficial symptoms of depression, doesn't it? It would be nifty if a chat with a therapist would provide some coping strategies for Vicodin that would make those side effects go away, but that's not about to happen. That leaves me with a choice between side effects (including a loopiness that makes me hesitate a very long time before spilling my guts on the old blog) and pain.

The emotional side effects of pain are something that a therapist can help you deal with. However, the advice is to keep the pain from interfering with your life as much as possible. For reasons having to do mostly with my not wanting to continue bleeding and partly to do with the inability to immobilize the cervix so jiggling around doesn't make the pain worse, this hasn't been entirely possible. I'm very much hoping that tomorrow's doctor appointment will settle that question. I miss exercise.

I miss exercise in part because I miss being able to eat what I want without gaining weight. I can't do that if I don't move around a bunch, so I'm eating very little right now. It's not a shortcut to weight loss, unfortunately, but at least it means I'm not gaining anything. It does, however, look like one of those signs of depression--until you listen to me bitch about wanting a hamburger. Or see me angling for oatmeal raisin cookies. Vicodin makes me hungry when it's not making me motion sick.

Then there's exercise and sleep. Sleep and I have never been very good friends, particularly when sleep means something that's compatible with a corporate work schedule. Exercise helps keep us mostly reconciled. With enough exercise, sleep takes over some time near the time it should if I'm going to get up at a decent time. I still see the wee sma's about once every two weeks, but I mostly maintain something like a pattern.

One thing being immobile has done is make me pay out my sleep debt and put me on a more comfortable schedule. I should, apparently, sleep from midnight to eight or so. Unless I'm sick, in which case, I should sleep always. Sleeping always without actually being sick, along with migraines, is what drove me to the doctor in the first place, which is not exactly evidence of being unwilling to see someone about my problems.

So, yes, if you're looking at me, you're going to see changes in (apparent) appetite and sleep. You'll also see that I'm not consistently doing many of the things I would normally enjoy doing, largely because they require concentration or extended attention, which is also a problem with both pain and narcotics. You'll see that I'm not enjoying many of the things I normally would, because I'm so out of shape (and blood) that getting ready and getting to them leaves me tired out.

Then we come to mood. When was the last time you were sick, injured or in pain for an extended period of time? How did you feel about that? How sad did it make people when you talked about it? How worried did they get? How tired of explaining everything did you get? How long did it take talking about your problems and asking for accommodations that weren't offered to make you feel selfish?

One of the reasons I've been writing about my little health scare is that nobody else was. There was information about the technical aspects of all the procedures I've been through, but nobody was talking about what it felt like. I didn't want other people to have to discover the fear and the pain and the inappropriately funny bits on their own. I didn't want other people to feel alone.

There are a lot of things about the way our society is set up that make being ill isolating if you're at all sensitive to social expectations. Not that make it feel isolating, but that actually isolate you from other people. Social interactions that should express genuine interest in another person are used as greetings in passing, so it's nearly impossible to tell who really wants to know how you're doing. We live long distances from one another so that visits are occasions, not to be met without a shower and some decent clothes. We set up our interactions around participatory events that don't have a lot of room for the passive (ask me to expound on wedding and baby shower games sometime) or require cash even when someone may not be getting paid.

We medicalize unhappiness. Let some isolated soul vent irritation about being isolated, let them be honest about being grumpy, and suddenly they've got one more fucking problem that requires that they go do something to have it fixed. We say, "Go see a therapist." We don't say, "You're right, that sucks." We don't say, "I'd be pretty miserable in your position." We don't say, "Can I bring you a cookie?"

Except we do. Some of us. Many of us. We reach out and hug somebody so they feel less isolated. We make sure they know we really want to know how they're doing, and then we listen. We sympathize, even when sympathy hurts us too. We recognize that being unhappy is, to a certain extent, exactly the most rational response to pain and disability and disappointment. And we ask, instead of tell, our friends what kind of help they need, because being sick doesn't make people children incapable of making those decisions.

That, my friend, is why you're the only person who has suggested I see a therapist, much less done so three times. It's also why I'm resistant, not to seeing a therapist, but to the pronouncement that a therapist is the appropriate response to the things I'm dealing with when you haven't taken the time to find out how I'm dealing with them.

December 14, 2009

Credulity, Skepticism and Cynicism

You've met them. "Oh, those scientists. They get their funding from the government/industry/political think tanks. They're just producing the results needed to keep their money flowing. They'll say anything it takes. Besides, it's not like they don't make mistakes. Even Newton and Einstein had it wrong."

You've met the others, too. "My friend told me about an Oprah show where she talked to a writer who explained how the universe really works. I always knew it was a special place made just for me."

We've got a problem to solve. Stop by Quiche Moraine and add your suggestions.

December 13, 2009

What Detectors?

Apropos of the Peter Watts border-crossing debacle, Will Shetterly has a post up about his experience being arrested at the border. Well, really, it's about what came after.

I was baffled. I briefly wondered if the hashish was mine and my mind was playing tricks on me. There was the evidence, after all: the lie detector had told me, and the world, that I had lied. Fortunately, my parents still trusted me, though modern science told them not to. They continued to spend money on the lawyer.

Wanting to understand what had gone wrong with the polygraph, I decided to hire a private operator to give me a second test. Somewhere in my files, I still have the letter from him. He said that my test showed evidence of an intent to deceive.

At this point, I began to research polygraphs.

It's always worth remembering that what we call a lie detector test detects stress. It relies on the assumption that there are particular appropriate patterns of stress in lying and truth-telling, and it requires that someone subjectively determine which of those an individual's pattern matches. There's a reason the Supreme Court has decided polygraphs don't meet standards of evidence.

Also entertaining is the polygraph apologist who immediately shows up in the comments of Will's post to call everyone else naive and uninformed without adding any data to the discussion. Whee!

December 12, 2009

Going Emo

You were warned.

Some observations from spending far too much time with myself:
  • Competence seems like a pretty cool, objective thing on which to base your self-image...right up to the point where you can't do what you've been doing. Then it all just sort of falls apart. What was the last thing you accomplished? How long ago was it? How good does that next thing need to be to make up for everything undone?
  • Social conventions are basically worthless when things aren't going well. The answer to "How are you doing?" is "Good. And you?" It isn't "Just anemic enough to huff and puff every time I walk up a flight of stairs." It isn't "Too wiped out to figure out how to get to see you but too proud to ask for help if you won't think of it on your own." It isn't "Bored out of my skull from sitting here alone day after day. How would you be doing in my place?"
  • Breaking the social conventions isn't worth it. It just makes more work. It requires reassuring all the friends whose lives have just been shaken up. It requires holding your tongue on things like, "No. I don't need to see a professional to have my attitude adjusted. I need to stop being reasonably anxious and in pain for a while. Barring that, I need a fucking hamburger and someone who can moderate their conversation to the right degree of challenging. Not that you asked how you could help."
  • There are some social conventions you just don't break either way. You don't get sad because someone else's happiness is a contrast to your situation. You don't get angry at people who can't figure out how to say something while you're doing the work to keep up a good front. You don't get envious that someone else is moving ahead with their plans while you're stuck. You don't get jealous that people flock to the social butterflies while you hold yourself back from bringing storm clouds. Not publicly.
  • Being able to read people really well is not an advantage here. Yes, I can tell that my illness scares you. Yes, I can tell that you're fooled by the fact that I gather up all my resources for a public appearance and wonder how sick I can be. Yes, I can tell that your respect for me is based largely on what I accomplish and drops off the same way my self-respect does. Yes, I can tell that you resent the dragging anchor that I've become and that I've stopped taking care of everybody around me. Yes, I can tell you're bored. Yes, I can tell you think I'm whining.
  • Being used to being able to read people well isn't an advantage either, particularly when it comes to ambiguous or incautious statements and very low days. It's hard enough to shake the certainty of depression, harder still when you can't tell yourself that feeling that certain is abnormal.
  • Introverts really hate talking about themselves. Illness brings on a self-preoccupation that gets really damned tedious even to the ill. Combining the two is roughly equivalent to turning into one of those "See no evil..." figures. Blinded, deafened and muzzled.
And that is as much of that as I can stand. You may now return to your regular, interesting programming.

December 11, 2009

Ah, That Great American Freedom

If you're not part of the online SF circle or an obsessive reader of Boing Boing, you probably missed this.

Along some other timeline, I did not get out of the car to ask what was going on. I did not repeat that question when refused an answer and told to get back into the vehicle. In that other timeline I was not punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, shit-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell for three fucking hours, thrown into an even colder jail cell overnight, arraigned, and charged with assaulting a federal officer, all without access to legal representation (although they did try to get me to waive my Miranda rights. Twice.). Nor was I finally dumped across the border in shirtsleeves: computer seized, flash drive confiscated, even my fucking paper notepad withheld until they could find someone among their number literate enough to distinguish between handwritten notes on story ideas and, I suppose, nefarious terrorist plots. I was not left without my jacket in the face of Ontario’s first winter storm, after all buses and intercity shuttles had shut down for the night.

In some other universe I am warm and content and not looking at spending two years in jail for the crime of having been punched in the face.

But that is not this universe.

That's apparently all it takes to get a Canadian science fiction writer assaulted and thrown into jail these days for going home. And yes, before you ask, everybody wants to know why the U.S. Border Patrol was frisky enough to be stopping people returning to Canada. They certainly have that option, but they exercise it rarely enough that most people don't know they can.

Boing Boing has the information on how to contribute to Dr. Watts' legal defense fund. Emma Bull points out that even very small donations add up. She also notes:

In Canada, if the same thing happened, we could have just asked the customs agent, who would likely have told us, "We search all rental cars." We could have done exactly what Watts did, and got nothing worse than an answer.

Don't tell me Watts should have known better. He's a free, law-abiding citizen of a free country, who has a right to believe in the rule of law and reasonable behavior in the nation right next to his. If you tell me he asked for it, he deserved it, what happened to him was justified by his actions, I swear I will ban you from this goddamn journal. Because that could have been any of us.

Everyone involved in this crime who was wearing a uniform should go to jail. They've brought shame on my country and on my justice system.

I'll let Emma speak for me on this one.

More updates on the situation are being compiled as they come at Making Light and Whatever.

December 10, 2009

The Tragedy of Sexting

Or, how to read an article on teenage sexuality.

Thanks to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, this post at Sylvia Has A Problem is getting some small fraction of the attention it deserves. Keep passing it on.

Of course it wasn’t a slut-shaming, woman-hating, sex-hating culture that divides young women into “good” (virginal) and “bad” (fallen) and allowed a 13-year-old girl to believe that she had ruined her life forever by showing a boy her tits.

No, it was her “impetuous move” and somehow also the dangers of the INTERNET (even though the internet was not involved, except in that her internet access, probably one of her major sources of social support, was taken away by her “churchgoing family” as a punishment for an act that they had no goddamn fucking idea what it even was or what technology it used).

This one gets it exactly right.

December 07, 2009

Still Not Dead

To start: I'm fine, or I will be. (Better, Jason?)

To continue: If you ever have to go to the emergency room, don't forget to bring a book. It will distract you from Larry King in the waiting room and all the people he has on to yell at each other about Sarah Palin. It will give you something to do besides worry as you wait in the examination room and feel the blood flow out of you. It will keep you company as you stay awake all through the night waiting for someone who can fix you.

Make it a long book.

Find out why at Quiche Moraine.

December 06, 2009

Carnival of the Elitist Bastards--Here Be Monsters

The ship had been sitting in dock for far too long. It had needed repairs, but shouldn't the repairs be done by now? The admiral sent word, but the replies that came back were vague, with little information available. Finally, the admiral decided to see the state of things for herself.

Things were all too quiet as she approached the H.M.S. Almost Diamonds. She feared that whatever had ravaged the ship had done more damage than anyone had thought. Then she heard it. A faint cheer, coming from on board. She followed the noise to its source and opened the door to the captain's mess.

This wasn't what she'd expected to find. The whole crew was jammed into the tiny room, and all were liberally supplied with grog and rum. The captain sat at the head of her table, a little pale and quiet but obviously enjoying herself. George was in the middle of a story, but he paused when he saw the admiral.

She shook her head, not wanting to interrupt their little carnival. "Ne'er mind me. Go on." But still he waited until she was seated with a cup of her own special reserve tequila.

Then he nodded. "A truly strange hybrid it was. It's lower body was that of a squid or octopus, one of the strong, clean creatures of the sea. It's upper body, however, was that of a holy man. He was crouched and strangely yellow.

"He carried a fruit of the same color, grasped lovingly in one hand. He would speak to it and tell it how beautiful it was, how it fit perfectly everywhere he could think to put it. Then he would make to eat it, only to pull it from his mouth, saying he cared for it no longer. But soon, he would be caressing it again.

"He had a companion, not unlike himself, but hollowed and empty when seen from the back. I asked whether this was his mate, but he said, 'No. The female of my kind has yet to come into existence.'"

Here George dropped his voice. "He tried to give me something. I don't know what it was. Like the tentacles on which he rested, it looked like the clean things of the sea, but it smelled more putrescent than any pile of rotting storm debris. As he reached out to put it in my hand, I understood that he meant it to give him power over me, but I was prepared. 'You are impossible,' I said when he touched me. 'Your body doesn't belong to you, and it knows it.

"Then both monsters fell into two pieces. The parts that looked like men tried to grab the tentacles, but those were quicker and more agile. The last I saw them, the two were dragging themselves in the dirt after their foundations. I suffered no harm from the monster's touch, but the memory is something I shall never erase."

The mess was quiet when he finished, until someone raised a tankard. "To George!" came the cry, and "To George!" came the hearty response.

There was a pause then, as no one wanted to follow George's tale. Finally, Greg stepped forward. "It is an odd thing for a sailor to find himself in the clutches of a monster. It is odder still when something so moist leaves you so high and dry, but it happens to plenty of old tars this time of year. The problem, to my mind, is that we listen too much to the old tales and to our fear of trying something new.

"Still, with a little derring-do, a sharp blade and the judicious application of fire, it is a simple thing to deal with the monster. Such feats will make you the toast of those who see your triumph, but do not be too surprised if others fail to believe you. People will cling to tradition."

Greg started to sit down but stood again. "Oh. One more thing. Take care how you land when you finish your monster. Proper technique will leave you covered in glory. Anything else will simply leave you with lumps."

This applause was more modest, but the admiral could see the crew taking in the advice. Even if they never used Greg's technique when faced with a monster of their own, they would at least be questioning the old advice.

Chris stepped forward then, a gleam in his eye. "There are no such things as sea monsters."

His crew-mates knew him too well to take such easy bait, but they settled back to listen.

"Certainly, there are some creatures of the deep that prey on humankind, but they are merely hungry. Anything that large would have to be.

"They may attack us with tentacle and fang, leave us bloodied and broken, but they only do it to protect themselves. We may be restricted to the surface, and they may have all the deep in which to play, but that may not always be the case. If they let any of us go now, soon we may be swarming below the waves.

"In short, we are the enemy, and all the behemoths do is simply done to protect their weak hides." Chris bowed and sat down, followed to his seat by a rain of biscuits and laughter.

gg didn't throw bread and he didn't laugh. "Chris is right, in a way. Oh, there are truly sea monsters, but it is for their very monstrosity that we love them."

He looked at the rest of the crew. "Is there anything as lovely as the sun shining off the iridescent scales of a sea serpent? Is there not beauty in its twists and its coils? In its strength so overwhelming that it can be as gentle as a child and still crush us?

"Do we not love them because they have seen the depths and promise to take us there with them, even if we can never return as we went?"

All went silent again until Cujo359 hissed, "I've seen those depths. I've seen the dark creatures that come wriggling up into the light. Always beside us. Always traveling the other direction.

"I've heard what they say. They whisper of monsters, as though they weren't monsters themselves. They speak into our nightmares, into our confusion.

"And I've seen what happens when we listen to them. We forget why we sail. We forget where we are going, and we jump overboard, into the water with the monsters. Sometimes...sometimes we even throw each other to them."

Cujo359 shuddered then and drank deeply of the grog. The whole crew followed suit, no one quite looking at anyone else.

Blake cleared his throat. "I was going to talk about George's monster. I've seen it too, although I didn't fare as well. My own fault, though, really, as I went looking for the thing.

"Still, it gave me an idea. What if I were to become a monster myself?" He smiled at the room. "Wouldn't that be something? I could go where I wanted when I wanted, do what I wanted to anyone I felt like doing them to. I think I'd want a tail instead of tentacles--"

He was cut off by another volley of bread. He caught a piece out of the air and bit into the crust. "Oh, well. It was just an idea."

John frowned at Blake, but the corners of his mouth twitched. "We have quite enough monsters around, thank you. Limited number of bodies, of course, possibly because the form has been selected to preserve resources or possibly because having all the heads spitting that weak venom at once is the only form of defense they've evolved."

He sighed. "I must admit, it does make them difficult to kill. Cut off one head, another grows back. Cut off that one, you get another. Cut off the third....

"Of course, this assumes that these are really heads to begin with. They could be a novel form of camouflage, making us think the creatures are facing us, no matter what direction we approach from."

John lapsed into thought. After a moment, the admiral stepped forward. "I rather like monsters, sometimes. As gg notes, there is something appealing in the thought of diving beyond the shallows, even unexpectedly.

"There are dangers in being consumed, of course, but there are rewards as well. The monsters can consume your life, but they allow you to travel to places you could never go on your own, if you hadn't been swallowed whole. There is wisdom to be found in the cold, in the depths and in the heights."

The admiral gestured for more tequila to fill her empty glass. "To sea monsters."

"To sea monsters!" The crew weren't convinced, but they were enthusiastic. And perhaps a little tipsy.

The captain stood then and raised her glass, first to her admiral, then to her crew. "I shan't describe the monster that left our fair ship just now. The admiral's tales have left us with the perfect sense of wonder for ending our carnival on a happy note. I will only tell you how happy and proud I am to sail these seas with a crew such as this. Truly, there is no better place to be."