Showing posts with label science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science. Show all posts

In the News

Here is some stuff in the news today...

Today is the Scottish independence vote, and it's really coming down to the wire. The Guardian has live coverage here. I've been chatting with my Scottish cousin about it this morning, and it's very exciting! What a nail-biter!

[Content Note: Misogyny] And the pendulum swings back: First, Hillary was supposed to go away. Then she was supposed to run for president or be accused of ruining the Democrats' chances and destroying the entire country and possibly the planet. And now it's back to go away again: "Left blasts Clinton in secret emails." Of course.

Wow: "The proportion of privately insured U.S. women who paid zero dollars out of pocket for oral contraceptive pills increased sharply, from 15% to 67%, between the fall of 2012 (before the ACA's contraceptive coverage requirement took effect for most women) and the spring of 2014, according to a new Guttmacher study published in the journal Contraception." That is remarkable.

In less good news: "Despite an Overall Decline in the Poverty Rate, the Number of Women in Poverty Hasn't Changed in a Year." Fuck.

[CN: Harassment; sexual assault; misogynistic slur] A NYC bartender wrote an open letter to the reprehensible shitbird who grabbed her ass and propositioned her. And he responded by saying he's grabbed lots of asses but never hers, then calling her a "fucking cunt" and vowing: "I will make sure she doesn't get another job in New York City. I know everybody. The bar owners, the club owners—that's a terrible thing to write about somebody." Well, you've convinced me of your moral superiority, sir!

[CN: Wildfires] California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency "in response to a raging wildfire that has threatened thousands of homes in what is being called the state's worst-ever fire season. Brown has put all state resources at the disposal of his Office of Emergency Services in response to the so-called King fire, the largest of 11 major wildfires raging across the drought-ridden state, and another powerful blaze farther north, he said."

[CN: Class warfare] I really think we're going to have to start calling it something other than the justice system, unless we all agree it's ironic: "Innocent People in New York Who Can't Afford a Lawyer Are Pretty Much Doomed."

Neato: "Astronomers from the University of Utah recently found a supermassive black hole in a very small dwarf galaxy, M60-UCD1, one of the smallest galaxies currently known. This discovery could mean that other similar dwarf galaxies, which are dense, could also have large black holes, meaning that black holes, in general, are more common than originally thought. Astronomers also now believe that these galaxies were once part of other larger galaxies that separated after collisions with yet other galaxies."

Lifetime is making a Grumpy Cat Christmas movie, because of course it is, and they just announced that the voice of Grumpy Cat will be Audrey Plaza. OBVIOUSLY. WHO ELSE COULD IT POSSIBLY BE? NO ONE!!!

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Get Ready to Have Your Mind Blown

Or not! Depending on your individual circumstances and interest in science and other things!


"Radical New Theory Could Kill the Multiverse Hypothesis," by Natalie Wolchover.


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In the News

Here is some stuff in the news today...

[Content Note: War; terrorism] Goddamn: "Internal administration deliberations over a response to Isis continue, and US officials predicted that there would be little departure from the strategy of limited airstrikes launched since 8 August. One said the military plan 'may ultimately evolve'. ...Army general Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told reporters in a Pentagon briefing that while Isis would eventually have to be defeated, the US should concentrate on building allies in the region to oppose the group that murdered an American journalist, James Foley. 'It is possible to contain them,' Dempsey said, in a Pentagon press conference alongside the defence secretary, Chuck Hagel. 'They can be contained, but not in perpetuity. This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.'" I know it's the height of gauche to say this, but fuck George W. Bush and his entire administration and the architects of the Iraq War, which created the chaos in which this is happening.

[CN: Racism] Republican Iowa Representative Steve King continues to be a reprehensible shitlord, calling Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton "race hustlers," accusing the Congressional Black Caucus of " always looking to play the race card," and saying, without a trace of irony, "our culture and civilization was built on a number of things but it was certainly built on reason and our ability to reason," in order to call what's happening in Ferguson "irrational."

[CN: Natural disaster] Major landslides caused by the collapse of mountainsides on the outskirts of Hiroshima, Japan, have necessitated the evacuation of more than 4,000 people from their homes. "The confirmed death toll on Friday stood at 39 but the number of missing was raised to 52, having risen steadily over the last two days from initial single figures." Fuck.

[CN: Misogyny] Of course: Men who request flexible work schedules for childcare are more likely to get it than women. "Whereas men are rewarded at work for trying to help out at home, women continue to be penalized. The reason? Entrenched gender stereotypes. People continue to believe that men will meet their obligations at work—because they are men. In other words, according to Dr. Munsch, 'We think, What a great guy.'"

[CN: Transphobia] Despite promises to support Pfc. Chelsea Manning in her transition, the military is failing to deliver. "For example, in my daily life, I am reminded of this when I look at the name on my badge, the first initial sewed into my clothing, the hair and grooming standards that I adhere to, and the titles and courtesies used by the staff. Ultimately, I just want to be able to live my life as the person that I am, and to be able to feel comfortable in my own skin."

[CN: Misogyny] Fark says it's going to stop tolerating misogyny in its forums. Well, I hope they're serious about it, and I am already annoyed by the cookies they're getting for doing what should be considered a basic bit of decency.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Arizona State University have discovered "the genetic 'recipe' for lizard tail regeneration," which may aid in the development of "ways to stimulate the regeneration of limbs in humans" as well as "new therapeutic approaches to spinal cord injuries, repairing birth defects, and treating diseases such as arthritis." Neat!

A team of scientists from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan have detected traces of one the universe's first stars. Wow.

And finally! Hank Aaron meets Hank the Dog: "Hank the Dog was a stray when the Brewers found him at their training camp in Arizona this past February. The team then adopted him as their new mascot—complete with a jersey bearing his own special number, 'K9'—and gave him a new home with the team's general counsel Marti Wronski. The Brewers also donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Hank-related merchandise to the Wisconsin Humane Society, and they have held other events with him to promote rescue-pet adoption. And of course, right from the moment he first arrived at the Brewers camp, the staff and players there named him in honor of Milwaukee's greatest sports legend."

screen cap of a tweet authored by the Tap Milwaukee reading: 'Cute Alert: Hank Aaron meets Hank the Brewers dog for the first time' and accompanied by a picture of Hank Aaron, an older black man, with Hank the Dog, a small fluffy white dog

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Photo of the Day

black and white image of the rocky, uneven surface of a comet
The craggy landscape of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko,
photographed by Rosetta's OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on August 3.

Rosetta is a spacecraft which is now traveling at 34,000mph alongside the comet, 60 miles distant, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, about 250 million miles from Earth—and the story of how it got there is pretty incredible:
Rosetta has flown a long way to get to this moment. It blasted off from Earth in March of 2004, and has followed a convoluted and looping path through the solar system before finally meeting up with the comet 10 years later. Along the way, it picked up three gravity assists from the Earth, one from Mars, and passed through the asteroid belt twice. All told, the spacecraft has flown 4 billion miles so far. And yet, in some ways, its work has just begun.

Other spacecraft have made comet flybys in the past, but a mere flyby is not what Rosetta is after. The ambitious mission first concocted in the 1970s and approved in 1993, entails not only escorting the comet along part of its orbit, but actually landing on it as well. To that end, Rosetta is carrying a lander called Philae that the ESA hopes to send down to the comet's surface in November.

"Arriving at the comet is really only just the beginning of an even bigger adventure, with greater challenges still to come as we learn how to operate in this unchartered environment, start to orbit and, eventually, land," said Sylvain Lodiot, ESA's Rosetta spacecraft operations manager in a statement.
The above photograph—about which Holger Sierks of the Max Planck Institute in Germany says, "We have never seen anything like this before in such detail."—is only the start of a mission that Sierks estimates will "revolutionize cometary science." Cool.

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Photo of the Day

image of a science-centered Lego set, with three female figurines
The new Research Institute playset from Lego, featuring three female scientists.

The new set, which Lego commissioned to be created with input from geophysicist Ellen Kooijman after 7-year-old Charlotte Benjamin wrote to the company complaining about the gender disparity in their playsets, is now available for purchase and costs $20.

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The Problem With Science

[Content Note: Transphobia; misogyny; objectification; dehumanization of sex workers; exploitation.]

The current issue of Science features a special section on Australia's successful* approach to combating the spread of HIV/AIDS. To highlight the topic, Science plastered the cover with a photo of the disembodied legs of several women of color. When several people took to Twitter to complain about the dehumanizing photo, Jim Austin, the editor of Science Careers replied:

screen cap of tweet authored by Prosanta Chakrabarty reading: 'When we said we wanted more women in Science this is not what we meant.' followed by a reply from Jim Austin reading: 'You realize they are transgender? Does it matter? That at least colors things, no?'

Okay, sure. In response to an observation about the male gaze, the same editor opined:

screen cap of tweet authored by Jacquelyn Gill reading: 'I'm not sure how you get that, at all. To me it's just another dehumanizing male gazey image.' followed by a reply from Jim Austin reading: 'Interesting to consider how those gazey males will feel when they find out.'

Eventually followed by:

screen cap of tweet authored by Jim Austin reading: 'Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring?' followed by a response from Janet D. Stemwedel reading: 'Are you sure you're not confusing moral indignation w/sensitivity to a problem that you didn't notice on your own?'

So, the editors of one of the world's leading scientific journals used a dehumanizing picture** of trans sex workers of color to advertise a special section on HIV/AIDS, and the editor of its careers journal—whose mission "supports the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) commitment to furthering careers in science and technology, with an emphasis on fostering greater diversity among the scientific community"—made a joke about how dudes would feel after learning they lusted after trans women.


I have thoughts on this. I'm probably going to come across as bitter, so first let me give some background.

My so-called career

I had no problems getting into academic science. As an undergraduate, I got a full scholarship to a major research university. When I applied to graduate programs, I snagged yet a prestigious National Science Foundation graduate fellowship. During this whole time, I was in the closet about being trans.

A year or two into graduate school, I found myself in a serious relationship, and began really seriously confronting my lifelong struggle to present to society as a man. In 2005, the fourth year of my graduate program, I finally came out.

By an unhappy coincidence, this was also about the time that I went on the job market. I’m not going to dish too much about my graduate career or my job search (although I do have a book chapter out on the latter), but:

I endured painfully awkward job interviews.
I dealt with the bizarrely abrupt termination of at least one proposed collaboration.
I certainly felt like I had a much, much harder time finding work than any of my colleagues.

I had tons of great colleagues (and even a few genuinely enjoyable job interviews). I'm not going to make anyone specific feel uncomfortable with my praise or criticism (after all, this is about s/Science). But I will say this: If you haven't been a PhD student or come out as trans, they're both pretty impossible when tackled on their own. And I did both at the same time.

While I don't want call out individuals or institutions, there is one exception. The administration of my school (the University of Wisconsin-Madison) offered me very little support. At the time, the LGBT center had no resources (I understand they've improved). Despite having the largest, most prestigious medical school in the state, all UW-Madison could offer me was the assistance (for a fee) of one (awesome!) speech pathology graduate student.

In addition to weekly electrolysis appointments in Madison, I had a weekly therapy appointment in Milwaukee. I found doctors in Chicago, and made regular 150 mile (each way) weekday trips to the city. All of this was at my expense (while, I might add, on a graduate student's salary). This meant that in addition to all of the time I spent researching for and traveling to my medical appointments, I took a second job to pay my medical bills. It didn't take long for my employer to fire me. I don't have conclusive evidence that he let me go because he didn't like the idea of a queer interacting with his customers, but that's most definitely what I think happened.

Still, I managed to complete my thesis. There were plenty of things I would have done differently if I hadn't spent two years curled up on a futon in my apartment, but it was pretty fucking decent, regardless of the circumstances,

I eventually landed a tenure track job. It wasn't necessarily what I was looking for, but it was what was available. And while I worked with some rock star colleagues (and administrators), it was quickly pretty obvious that I wasn't "a good fit" for the institution. I started looking for a new job by the end of my first year. It took me close to two years to receive a job offer in the private sector (I had zero job interviews within the academy during that time, despite primarily applying for academic jobs).

This was also the time that I finished a particularly scarring review process. It was clear to me that if I wanted to keep my job, I'd need to fight for it. This was also the the time that the faculty recommended a (cis male) colleague for tenure on a voice vote without being asked a single question. (He did a ton of paperwork, but it was actually me who had to deal with tough questions from the senior faculty). I took the job offer.

Am I bitter? Absolutely. I am so. fucking. bitter.

I miss teaching, but I've realized that it's not a profession that's valued (neither in K-12 nor in the academy).

I miss research, but I also realize that there's no real support for the kind of research I'm interested in (theories of evolution that question the primacy of heterosexuality, among other things). I realize there are people who studies those things, but there's no way I could build a career on such studies. I'd be biased.

There are really great things about no longer being in the academy (although most of these are grounded in not having to deal with the academy). I get to spend time with my kid, for example. Actually, after my kid was born, I spent a lot of my time in grad school with hir—my university didn't provide affordable child care. I used to do this thing where I'd drive hir to my speech therapy appointments, then nestle hir in the car, crank the heat all the way up, and drive around campus until ze was asleep. That way ze napped in the projection room for the duration of my class. Then I went home to work.

It's entirely possible that part of the reason my career sputtered was that I was missing all of the awesome networking opportunities at my school while I was busily working overtime to make up for UW's lack of support. Maybe those opportunities just didn't exist for people like me. I don't know. It doesn't matter—certainly not now.

Am I bitter? Yes, we've covered that.

Do I think that my career would have gone better had I waited until tenure to come out? Absolutely, if I would have survived, I could have probably had a career of some sort.

If I had it to do over again, would I have done things differently? Probably not.

But really, what's my point?

My point is that trans women have good reasons to be suspicious of colleagues

If you're not acting as my ally, my vocal ally, I have nothing to gain by trusting you. My experience just doesn't bear that out. I'm sure you're probably a good person and that you have great intentions, but that doesn't do me a bit of good.

Are you going to fight for my ability to take care of myself to the point that I can focus on doing my job?

Are you going to make it clear that I'm welcome, or are you going to make bigoted jokes?

Are you going to "play it safe" by staying silent and assuring yourself that nothing was meant by so-and-so's off the cuff remark?

Are you going to base your science on hackneyed, sexist, heterosexist, and cissexist stereotypes and then get defensive when folks question your assumptions?

It's a serious wonder that there's anybody in the academy who isn't a cis white guy. I know plenty of white cis women in the academy, and as far as I can tell, a lot of them spend second unpaid careers just navigating the structural bullshit that generations of good people have put into place to keep them from having careers in the first place. I know a lot fewer people of color in the academy. (Imagine that.) Trans women? There are a few. I think I can name one who got tenure despite being openly trans. She must be the most exhausted person on the planet. I think her publications should count double (she's also not a scientist, but still: her publications count double, assholes).

That Science cover isn't ambiguous. As soon as I saw it, I thought "wow, somebody definitely wants me to think that these are exotic sluts." When I saw that the special issue was about HIV/AIDS, I thought it was a pretty good guess that they were trans women in the sex trade.

If I were interested in talking about the very serious issue of HIV/AIDS among trans sex workers of color, I might actually bother to get a picture that included the women's faces. There are trans women who do sex work and know about HIV/AIDS. There are activists, even. I probably would have talked to them. Oh, and I definitely would have listened to them. It's possible that members of the population with one of the highest rates of HIV infection would even be able to teach scientists a thing or two. (It's not inconceivable to be a scientist and sex worker at the same time, BTW.) But what do I know? I'm not an academic.

What I do know is that more than one person reviews a cover before it goes to press. It's not like some guy really fucked up and decided to run with this picture while everybody else was on the can. Nobody realized there might have been a problem with that cover, hmmm?

This doesn't speak well of one of the industry's leading publications. It also doesn't inspire a lot of confidence (which, as I've already explained, I'm short on) that the folks making or breaking careers by deciding which papers are "sexy" enough to publish are going to have the professionalism to ground their decisions in something other than a creepy desire to excite their presumed readership of straight white cis guys.

And for the record, I don't give a fuck what some cis dude might think when he finds out the woman he's ogling is trans. I'm more concerned about what he might do to the trans woman. I'm also more than a little concerned that the editor of one of the world's preeminent journals on how to build a career in science thinks that jokes about trans women are, well… that he thinks about these jokes at all.

I'm not saying that transphobia forced me out of the academia or that I deserved a specific job or any job at all, to be quite blunt. However, I will say, and I'll say it until it doesn't need saying: I don't regret leaving. I regret feeling the need to make that decision, but I simply don't think academy is a safe place for people like me. It certainly isn't a respectful place (if you're wondering on what I'm using as a baseline, I work in IT these days), and there isn't a week that goes by that I'm not reminded how hard folks are fighting just do be able to do the jobs that they're more than qualified to fucking do.

I remember the exact moment when I decided to go into biology (and not some other scientific discipline). I was fourteen, and I was sitting in my parents' living room reading the Washington Post weekly edition when I read that there were far more women in biology than in fields like chemistry and physics. I knew what that meant for my future. At fourteen, I was used to paying attention and making calculated decisions about my future. After all, it's a survival strategy.

People are watching you, science. They're not just keeping track of who's doing the dehumanizing shit, but also who (and it's a lot of you) is sitting on their hands while it goes down. Remember this the next time some administrator wonders aloud about why efforts to summon diversity out of thin air just aren't working.

If science (and the academy writ large) is serious about improving the quality and diversity of research, teaching, service, and faculty (and I have no real reason to believe this is the case), folks have got to dismantle the systems that allow this shit to keep happening. It's not just one publication or one guy with a Twitter account. Hostility to the bulk of society is endemic in the academy, and irrespective of whether or not the place is filled with nice people, I need to see consistent evidence of progress before I'll believe it.


*Supposedly. Due to issues with the Science website, I haven't actually been able to read the findings.

**I'm not reposting the cover here because it's not clear to me that the women consented to being photographed, but it's easy enough to find.

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Scientist Explains Why He Bothered to Prove Humans Don't Like Sitting Alone for 15 Minutes Doing Nothing.

I like sitting alone doing nothing, for about 10-20 minutes, and just letting my mind wander. It's not exactly meditating, but it has a similarly relaxing quality for me.

Waiting rooms in doctor's offices or at the DMV or the auto shop or wherever are places I tend to want to just sit and stare off into space, making myself "alone" with my thoughts, as opposed to reading a magazine or paying attention to whatever daytime travesty is on the TV.

But I tend to absentmindedly flip through a magazine or look at my phone instead, because just sitting and minding your own business is often met with some confused and often unhappy looks, lol.

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In the News

Here is some stuff in the news today...

[Content Note: Police brutality] Welp, looks like everything's going great the World Cup already.

[CN: War on agency] Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation yesterday "that is expected to close four of the state’s five abortion clinics. The new law is directly modeled on similar clinic restrictions in Texas that are already wreaking havoc on women's access to abortion services in the Lone Star State. Jindal also signed a measure that will ban Planned Parenthood employees from providing any material about sexual health in public schools. After approving the two pieces of legislation in a Baptist church, the governor released a statement saying he's 'proud to sign these bills because they will help us continue to protect women and the life of the unborn in our state.'" Protect women. Fuck off.

[CN: Food insecurity] This is very good news: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the deadline for applying for community eligibility in the National School Lunch and breakfast programs to Aug. 31, the agency said in a letter to state nutrition program directors this week. ...The USDA estimates that more than 22,000 schools are eligible for the program. 'CEP has the potential to offer more than 8 million low-income children free meals each school day,' Cynthia Long, a deputy administrator for child nutrition programs, wrote in the letter."

Speaking of public schools, this was passed on to me by a friend of mine who is an excellent teacher but left the classroom at the end of this year, and I'm guessing it will resonate with a lot of you in public education: "A teacher's tough decision to leave the classroom."

RIP Ruby Dee, "one of the most enduring actresses of theater and film, whose public profile and activist passions made her, along with her husband, Ossie Davis, a leading advocate for civil rights both in show business and in the wider world." What an amazing person she was. A great actress, a great activist, a great woman.

This is a pretty remarkable discovery: "After decades of searching, scientists have discovered that a vast reservoir of water, enough to fill the Earth's oceans three times over, may be trapped hundreds of miles beneath the surface, potentially transforming our understanding of how the planet was formed." Yowza.

[CN: Misogyny; abuse] Tobey Maguire sounds like a real d-bag: "Tobey went on to humiliate Bloom in front of the [other high-stakes poker] players, loudly offering her a thousand-dollar chip if she did 'something to earn these thousand dollars. ...Bark like a seal who wants a fish.' Bloom writes that she tried to laugh it off, but Tobey continued: 'I'm not kidding. What's wrong? You're too rich now? You won't bark for a thousand dollars? must be really rich. ...C'mon,' he said, holding the chip above my head. 'BARK.' 'No,' I said quietly. 'No?' he asked. 'Tobey,' I said, 'I'm not going to bark like a seal. Keep your chip.'"

Aidy Bryant, one of the writers (and stars) of one of my favorite SNL digital shorts of all time, "(Do It on My) Twin Bed," about getting in on in your childhood bedroom while you're home for the holidays, made her first late-night chat show appearance earlier this week on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and she was fucking hilarious. [CN for two instances of use of "insane" in its increasingly common colloquial use as an emphatic modifier.] Part One; Part Two. I love her. Please put her in all the movies. Thank you.

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In Other Cool Science News...

Solar! Freaking! Roadways!

Yes! Take my money! By which I mean: Please use my tax dollars for this. Thank you.

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Quote of the Day

"This technology brings something that was the price of a car down to the price of a latte."—Jason Hundley, president and CEO of Zero Point Frontiers, a space engineering company in Huntsville, Alabama, where engineers designed and then successfully used their 3-D printer to produce a prosthetic hand for 2-year-old Kate Berkholtz, who was born without fingers on her left hand.

Prosthetic limbs are an option for children as young as Kate, but they run anywhere from about $10,000 to $50,000, and insurance companies typically don't cover the cost because young patients will outgrow the devices so quickly. Kate's family's insurance would have paid the bulk of the fee, her mother says, leaving the family to come up with the remainder — $3,000 to $5,000 — but the "expense was still a little ridiculous," Jessica Berkholtz says.

...Hundley plans to make a variety of attachments for Kate's hand — a separate one for bike riding, for swimming, for holding the bow of a violin. While adult prosthetics are designed to accomplish a broad range of functions and to last for many years...Hundley says that the low cost of producing each of the 3-D-printed devices — about $5 for the hand, mostly to cover the cost of the straps and wires, and $1 for each attachment — means that you can make as many as you want and keep swapping them out as the child grows.
Amazing. AMAZING.

[H/T to Shaker Erin M.]

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In the News

Here is some stuff in the news today...

[Content Note: Abduction; misogyny; terrorism; abuse] As the search for the Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram continues, the United States "has deployed 80 troops to Chad to augment efforts to find the [girls], the White House announced Wednesday, a significant escalation of Washington's contribution to a crisis that has created global consternation. The force, made up largely of Air Force personnel, will conduct surveillance flights and operate drone aircraft but will not participate in ground searches, according to US military officials." I have such fervent hopes that the girls will be found, and yet I know they are suffering mightily in the interim, and the words of Boko Haram analyst Jacob Zenn always hang in my memory: "Any effort to rescue them will have to be done in a very piecemeal fashion and might take over a decade."

[CN: Torture] US District Judge Gladys Kessler has ordered that Guantánamo Bay officials "must hand over dozens of secret force-feeding videos" as she hears arguments regarding the force-feeding of hunger striker Abu Wa'el Dhiab. "Kessler ultimately ordered the government to hand over approximately 34 secret videos, which show Dhiab, a Syrian who has been held without charge since 2002, being forcibly extracted from his prison cell and then force-fed with tubes through his nostrils. ...The Obama administration has said force-feeding hunger strikers, although decried by various human rights activists, is the most humane way of keeping detainees alive as they protest their indefinite detention." I guess not indefinitely detaining people is just too radical.

[CN: Abduction; sexual violence; emotional abuse] A woman who was taken hostage by her mother's then-boyfriend a decade ago has escaped. "After the victim contacted a sister through Facebook she found the courage to contact police." Amazing strength. I hope she has access to all the resources she needs to process the trauma she has survived. I hope she finds justice and peace.

[CN: Worker exploitation] Fast food employees continue to make noise in pursuit of a liveable wage: "More than 100 McDonald's employees and some labor and clergy members were arrested after protesting for increased wages near the fast-food chain's headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. The event, the latest in a series of demonstrations by workers demanding $15-an-hour pay and the right to form a union, began at 1 p.m. local time yesterday, on the eve of McDonald's Corp.'s shareholder meeting."

Congratulations to Judge Diane Humetewa, the first Native American woman ever confirmed by the US Senate as a federal judge! "Humetewa was confirmed 96-0 to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. She is a former US attorney in Arizona and a member of the Hopi tribe. She is now the first active member of a Native American tribe to serve on the federal bench and only the third Native American in history to do so."

[CN: Racism; slavery; abuse] Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the case for reparations.

[CN: Racism; Native American slur] Fifty United States Senators have now "called for a change to change the name of the Washington Redskins in a letter to National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell." This protracted "debate," such as it is, is so fucking stupid and cruel. JUST CHANGE THE NAME ALREADY. JESUS FUCKING JONES.

[CN: Fat hatred; body policing] "In 2014, The Classical World Still Can't Stop Fat-Shaming Women." A piece about how male critics can't get past a woman's not-thin body, irrespective of her immense talent.

Minnesota Just Became the First State to Ban Anti-Bacterial Soap: "The Minnesota ban, which doesn't actually go into effect until January 1, 2017, applies to pretty much any retail consumer hygiene products that includes triclosan as an active ingredient—including about 75 percent of anti-bacterial soaps. The FDA claims there's no evidence that triclosan soap is any more effective at washing away germs than non-antibacterial soap and water. What's more, according to recent studies, triclosan can 'disrupt hormones critical for reproduction and development, at least in lab animals, and contribute to the development of resistant bacteria.' So not only is this chemical not doing you any real good, it could actually be harming you, too."

Neat: "Newly developed observational capabilities now enable us to study exploding stars in ways we could only dream of before. We are moving towards real-time studies of supernovae," says Avishay Gal-Yam, an astrophysicist in the Weizmann Institute's Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics.

And finally! Life as a loved dogT, amirite?

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In the News

Here is some stuff in the news today...

[Content Note: Abduction; terrorism; misogyny; abuse] Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was scheduled today to make his first visit to the northeastern village of Chibok, from which Boko Haram abducted more than 300 schoolgirls a month ago, but has canceled his trip citing security concerns: "Instead of heading to the northeastern village of Chibok, Jonathan will instead fly directly from the capital Abuja to Paris for a summit that is expected to include representatives from its neighbors, including Chad, Cameroon and Niger as well as officials from the U.S., Britain and the European Union, to discuss the Boko Haram insurgency and wider insecurity in the region. The father of one of the missing girls told Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh that families had started gathering at the school in anticipation of a meeting but were very disappointed and frustrated to hear news of the cancellation. However, another person told Al Jazeera that Jonathan's decision not to visit was not so surprising because, the villager said, the government has 'long abandoned us.'"

I frankly have no idea what the right thing was to do, if security was a legitimate concern. I just continue to feel so sad and so angry for the parents of the missing girls.

[CN: Religious violence] Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Narendra Modi has emerged as the winner in India's elections and will be the nation's next prime minister. I don't know a hell of a lot about Modi, although his position on the 2002 Gujarat riots, which happened on his watch are deeply concerning, despite his having been officially cleared of allegations that he incited violence against the Muslim minority. Especially given that he reportedly told a journalist his biggest regret about the incident was his failure to better manage the media. Oof.

[CN: Violence; war] Yikes: "Ukraine civil war fears mount as volunteer units take up arms."

[CN: War; hunger; genocide] Meanwhile, in South Sudan: "The crisis engulfing South Sudan is greater than those endured by Darfur or the Central African Republic, according to a senior UN diplomat who says the world urgently needs to donate at least another $500m (£298m) if the country's slide into humanitarian disaster and famine is to be halted. Thousands of people have been slaughtered, more than a million displaced and almost five million are in dire need of humanitarian assistance as a result of ethnic violence in the world's youngest nation. Aid and development agencies are warning of a possible future famine in three violence-ridden states. Toby Lanzer, the deputy special representative of the UN secretary general in South Sudan, said the situation was the most desperate he had seen. 'What we are facing is a crisis or an emergency far bigger than I have ever had to deal with—and I used to work in Darfur and the Central African Republic,' he said. 'It is simply no exaggeration to say that we are currently facing one of the most severe tests that the international aid community has ever faced.'"

Serious question: How much is anyone hearing about the crisis in South Sudan in their regular news reading, outside of this space?

[CN: Misogyny] Jill Abramson and the Pervasive Risks of Demanding Equal Pay. Can we at long last put to bed all the bullshit about how women just need to be confident, be better negotiators, ask for raises, blah blah fart? Because yeahno.

[CN: Cancer] This is a very preliminary finding but also a very exciting prospect for cancer research: "Cancer Beaten with 10 Million Doses-Worth of Measles Vaccine by Mayo Clinic."

Are you excited for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One? Then you will probably like this post!

If you're a mega Halo-head like some husbands I could mention, then you might be interested in the news that Microsoft has announced a fall 2015 release date for Halo 5: Guardians.

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In the News

Here is some stuff in the news today...

[Content Note: Abduction; terrorism; misogyny; abuse] More than a month after nearly 300 girls were kidnapped from their school, an international military operation has been launched in Nigeria in an attempt to recover the missing girls. "Canada became the latest country to disclose that it has sent special forces to Nigeria, joining teams from the US, UK, France and Israel. ...'The operations are being carried out in conjunction with Nigerian troops,' Mike Omeri, coordinator of the national information centre, told a press conference. 'Surveillance? Yes. Intelligence? Yes. And knowledge and experience sharing will be applied,' he added."

[CN: Disaster; death; injury; violence] After protests erupted following a fire at a coal mine in Soma, Turkey, which killed at least 238 workers and left 120 more trapped or missing, Turkish police used tear gas to disperse protestors, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed accusations of lax safety by calling the fire "part of the nature of the business," and video of an aide to Erdogan kicking a protester surfaced, which sent demonstrators "to the streets of major cities including Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir today as labor unions went on strike."

[CN: Class warfare] Meanwhile, in the States, fast food workers are striking in dozens of cities across the nation in pursuit of a livable wage. "Currently, the median pay for fast-food workers across the country is just over $9 an hour, or about $18,500 a year. That's roughly $4,500 lower than the Census Bureau's poverty threshold level of $23,000 for a family of four. The 'Fight for $15' campaign started in New York in November 2012, with 200 fast-food workers walking off their jobs demanding $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation."

[CN: Fire] Crews continue to battle wildfires in Southern California: "Fire crews in Southern California battled nine wildfires ravaging San Diego County for a second day on Thursday after flames whipped by dry winds and intense heat scorched more than 9,000 acres and forced at least 21,000 people from their homes. ...Officials are still tallying the damage to homes, while schools across San Diego County remain closed for a second day. 'I've never seen anything like this in 20 years,' said Bill Horn, the county supervisor."

[CN: Disaster; death] Fifteen crew members of the South Korean ferry that sank last month, leaving more than 300 people dead or missing, have been indicted in the incident, four of them on homicide charges: "Prosecutors said they brought homicide charges against the ship's captain and three other crew members because they failed to carry out their duties to protect passengers in need, which led to their deaths. ...Eleven others were indicted for alleged negligence and abandoning passengers in need when the ship sank on April 16, according to prosecutors. ...The 15 crew members, all involved in the ship's navigation, were the first group of people rescued when the Sewol was badly listing that day."

[CN: Domestic violence] Jessica Lenahan, who lost her three daughters in a domestic violence incident 15 years ago and has been fighting for justice ever since, was honored with a formal tribute by the Colorado legislature. The ACLU rightly notes: "While the legislature's recognition was certainly earned, what Jessica deserves is truth and justice. That's why the ACLU of Colorado is calling for a renewed commitment from the state to provide the answers it failed to seek in 1999. It is critical for society to have confidence in law enforcement to conduct thorough and proper investigations, each and every time the need arises."

[CN: Misogyny] This is good news: "Beginning Oct. 1 this year, researchers seeking grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) must report their plans for balancing male and female cells and animals in preclinical studies, with only 'rigorously defined exceptions,' the NIH announced Wednesday. The NIH also plans to train grant recipients and its own staff in designing studies without sex bias."

[CN: Animal attack; image of injury] And finally! CHECK OUT THIS HERO CAT WHO DON'T TAKE SHIT FROM NO DOG!

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Add another seat at the periodic table!

The periodic table has been extended, with the announcement of the confirmation of the yet to be named element 117.

In 2010 a US Russian collaboration announced they had produced atoms of an element with 117 protons, filling a gap that appeared when 118 was made four years earlier. However, International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) insists on corroboration by two independent teams before it allows new elements to be added to the Periodic Table, although a temporary name of Ununseptium is in use until confirmation has been made. It has taken four years, but this appears to have finally arrived.

"Making element 117 is at the absolute boundary of what is possible right now," says Professor David Hinde of the Australian National University, one of the authors of a paper published today in Physics Review Letters. "That's why it's a triumph to create and identify even a few of these atoms."

Hinde was part of a team at the GSI laboratory in Germany who fused calcium 48 and berkelium 249. This is not easy, because berkelium 249 is both hard to produce in substantial quantities and has a half life of 320 days...

In general large atoms have shorter half lives, that is decay more quickly through radiation, as their masses become greater. However, what are know as islands of stability exist, and the authors believe the one hour half life of 270Db "marks an important step towards the observation of even more long-lived nuclei of superheavy elements located on an 'island of stability.'"

...Element 117 is the most recent of six elements first announced by the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia. Of these 113, 115, and 118 remain unconfirmed, although claims have been made for the first two.
Element 117 has been produced in such small quantities that it's not easy to study, and it's certainly not about to change the world with widespread use. Still, this is pretty damn cool.

[Via Misty.]

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Here Is Just a Great Video of President Obama Getting Creeped Out by a Soccer-Playing Robot

President Obama is on an official state visit to Japan, where he visited the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Toyko. There, he was treated to a demonstration of ASIMO, Honda's humanoid robot, who said hello and kicked a soccer ball. Afterward, the President said: "I have to say that the robots were a little scary; they were too lifelike. They were amazing." I can't say I blame him. Traveling through the Uncanny Valley to the Singularity was probably not on his travel itinerary.

President Obama walks into the museum, and shakes hands with and says hello to a Japanese man and a Japanese woman who are waiting to greet him.

Cut to video of the small white robot running quickly across the demonstration floor. Offscreen, President Obama can be heard exclaiming, "Oh! Wow! He's movin'!"

Cut to video of the President smiling while the robot tells him, "I can kick a soccer ball, too."

"Okay, come on," says the President. The robot aligns itself with a grey soccer ball in the middle of the demonstration floor. "Watch carefully, please," says one of the President's male Japanese chaperones, offscreen.

"Yeah, I'm watching," says the President.

"Real, real fast," says the chaperone.

"It's gonna be pretty hard, huh?" says the President, as the robot backs up and prepares to kick the ball. "If it hits me, it'll be terrible!" says the President, to laughter. "Okay, come on, I'm ready."

"Here I go," says the robot, then runs toward the ball and kicks it toward the President, who quickly blocks it.

"Hey, good job!" says the President. "Excellent!"

Cut to footage of the robot jumping up and down, then hopping on one foot. President Obama watches and gives a little laugh. The robot says, "I'm in training every day, so that someday in the future I can help people..." The video ends.

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Um, Okay


In a new national poll [by GfK Public Affairs & Corporate Communications] on America's scientific acumen, more than half of respondents said they were "not too confident" or "not at all confident" that "the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang."

...Scientists were apparently dismayed by this news, which arrives only a few weeks after astrophysicists located the first hard evidence of cosmic inflation.

...Other polls on America's scientific beliefs have arrived at similar findings. The "Science and Engineering Indicators" survey -- which the National Science Foundation has conducted every year since the early 1980s -- has consistently found only about a third of Americans believe that "the universe began with a huge explosion."

In 2010, the NSF poll rephrased the question, asking whether the following statement was true: "According to astronomers, the universe began with a big explosion." When reworded, more Americans agreed, suggesting more respondents are aware of the science than originally suggested -- they just don't believe the science.

Naturally, the go-to explanation is always religious belief, but there lots of religious people, across religions, who also believe that the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang (based on what current science can tell us at the moment, with the caveat that new science and technologies may result in adjustments to the theory). There's a lot more going on than that.

There's no single universal answer, either, because individual people have individual (and sometimes overlapping) reasons for disbelieving science of the universe.

And, frankly, I wouldn't even care what people believed, except that disbelief in science of the universe is so inextricably intertwined with the garbage beliefs that are used to legislate oppression.

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Earth Cousin

Maude, I love this stuff:

It is a bit bigger and somewhat colder, but a planet circling a star 500 light-years away is otherwise the closest match of our home world yet discovered, astronomers announced on Thursday.

The planet, known as Kepler 186f, named after NASA's Kepler planet-finding misison, which found it, has a diameter of 8,700 miles, 10 percent wider than Earth, and its orbit lies within the "Goldilocks zone" of its star, Kepler 186 — not too hot, not too cold, where temperatures could allow for liquid water to flow at the surface, making it potentially hospitable for life.

"It's Earth size," said Elisa V. Quintana of the SETI Institute and NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. "It's in the habitable zone. So we now know these planets do exist."

...With its smaller size, Kepler 186f is more likely to have an Earth-like rocky surface, another step in astronomers' quest for what might be called Earth 2.0.

"It's a progression," said another member of the discovery team, Thomas S. Barclay of the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute. "This is a very, very exciting milestone discovery. It has a much higher probability of being habitable. This planet really reminds us of Earth."

The researchers speculate that it is made of the same stuff as Earth. "It probably has a composition made up of iron and rock and ice and some water, as Earth does," Dr. Barclay said, though he added that "the relative combination of those things could be very different."

The gravity on Kepler 186f, too, would be roughly the same as Earth's. "You could far more easily imagine someone being able to go there and walk around on the surface," said Stephen Kane, an astronomer at San Francisco State and another member of the research team.

Kepler 186f is not a perfect replica, however. It is closer to its star — a dwarf star that is smaller and cooler than the sun — than the Earth is, and its year, the time to complete one orbit, is 130 days, not 365. It is also at the outer edge of the habitable zone, receiving less warmth, so perhaps more of its surface would freeze.

On the other hand, the researchers said that with its greater mass, Kepler 186f could conceivably have a thicker, insulating atmosphere to compensate.

"Perhaps it's more of an Earth cousin than an Earth twin," Dr. Barclay said.
Yay! Now we can totally go there once we've ruined this planet! It turns out the nefarious alien aggressors from the movies who travel the universe invading and exploiting like-planets after destroying their own are us!

Just kidding! We'll definitely destroy Earth before we figure out how to leave it! You're safe, inhabitants of Kepler 186f!

(In all seriousness: Neat!)

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TV Corner: Cosmos

image of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson standing on the 'cosmic calendar' graphic from an episode of Cosmos

Does anyone want to talk about the new Cosmos series hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson? Because I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH!

I know haters gotta hate—and boy oh boy have they been a-hating!—but I don't care that it's not perfect, because there are so many things that I love about it.

I was and am a huge fan of Carl Sagan's original version, and it doesn't demean or diminish his version at all to value and enjoy this one. In fact, Neil deGrasse Tyson's story about meeting with Sagan, and how Sagan inspired and encouraged him, and OMG NOW HE IS HOSTING COSMOS, was one of my favorite scenes in the series so far, among many terrific scenes. I don't know how that scene didn't warm even the darkest and coldest of dark, cold hearts!

Frankly, I can only imagine the wonder with which Sagan would have viewed this new series, given the CGI that's possible today. One of the things that makes this version really wonderful in its own way is that it's just beautiful to watch.

The end of the episode in which the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies collide? Breathtaking. Spectacular. Lovely.

Iain and I look forward to the show every week, and there's always something in each episode that sparks an interesting conversation which tumbles across time and space and subjects.

I am also a major fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson's snark, lol.

Honestly, the only thing I don't like about the show is that it makes me sad I don't have a gyroscopic spaceship of my own.

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Quote of the Day

[Content Note: Animal testing.]

"One of the key goals in regenerative medicine is harnessing the body's own repair mechanisms and manipulating these in a controlled way to treat disease. This interesting study suggests that organ regeneration in a mammal can be directed by manipulation of a single protein, which is likely to have broad implications for other areas of regenerative biology."—Dr. Rob Buckle, head of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where a team of scientists "has succeeded in regenerating a living organ for the first time. The team rebuilt the thymus—an organ in the body located next to the heart that produces important immune cells" inside very old mice.

Clare Blackburn, Professor of Tissue Stem Cell Biology at the MRC Centre cautions: "Our results suggest that targeting the same pathway in humans may improve thymus function and therefore boost immunity in elderly patients, or those with a suppressed immune system. However, before we test this in humans we need to carry out more work to make sure the process can be tightly controlled."

Still: This is a major breakthrough. Very exciting stuff.

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In the News

Here is some stuff in the news today...

Susannah Bartlow, Stephanie Gilmore, and Duchess Harris have launched a new intersectional feminist forum at The Feminist Wire called "Beyond Critique." The introduction to the series is here, and click through to the main page to find individual entries.

[Content Note: Terrorism; guns; explosives; Islamophobia] Late last month, the FBI "arrested a man who allegedly was plotting to use C-4 explosives and weapons to kill police officers, rob banks and armored cars, and blow up government buildings and mosques. ...After setting up a Facebook page called American Insurgent Movement (AIM), Talbot allegedly sought to recruit five or six like-minded people who wanted 'to restore America Pre-Constitutionally and look forward to stopping the Regime with action by bloodshed.'" Somehow, this story has not gotten widespread mainstream media coverage. I'm sure it has nothing (everything) to do with the fact that Talbot is a white conservative.

[CN: Misogyny] Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden says that the "Senate intelligence committee's landmark report on torture and coercive interrogations was not objective because [committee chair Dianne] Feinstein, a California Democrat, was too 'emotional.'" Well, you know how those ladies are.

[CN: Disaster; death] There are now 34 confirmed deaths from the Washington landslide. The search and rescue/recovery continues, as there are still unaccounted-for people from the area.

An absolutely amazing experiment done by a team of researchers at the University of Louisville and the University of California-Los Angeles, with the participation of four paralyzed patients, has resulted in all four of those patients having some of their mobility restored: "By coursing an electrical current through the four men's spines, the research team, which included scientists from the Pavlov Institute of Physiology in Russia, appears to have 'dialed up' signals between the brain and legs that were believed to have been completely lost. All four men, after being paralyzed for two to four years, can lift their legs, flex their ankles, and support their own weight while standing, though only when the device embedded under their skin is turned on. In a response that shocked researchers, all four have regained bladder and bowel control, sexual function, and the ability to regulate their blood pressure and body temperature—even when the epidural stimulation device is not running." Extraordinary. Further research will be done, and it will be quite a long while before this treatment could become widely available. Right now, it's the promise that's exciting.

Sheryl Sandberg wants to ban the word "bossy," because of course she does. And even though she "has learned to talk fluently about race and class: 'women of colour' is now part of her lexicon" (OMG), she apparently hasn't gotten the memo that "bossy" does not mean the same thing to all women.

[CN: Guns; violence] Oscar Pistorius broke down on the stand while testifying about killing Reeva Steenkamp. Reading his account, I just cannot relate to this guy's thinking at all. Like, the first time he considered it might be her in the bathroom was after he'd fired four shots into there? Even if that's true, it's incomprehensible to me to not do everything in your power to establish it isn't your partner before you start shooting. This fucking guy.

[CN: Transphobia; trans* appropriation; ciscentrism] Eleven writes a great piece on cis actors playing trans* roles: "Cis people are represented in every facet of media and culture and society, while trans people are erased from most conversations. So when the opportunity arises to depict a trans person, it's important that we showcase that trans people are real, that trans people are living, breathing human beings and not just exotic novelties that only exist in the imagination. I want people to see beyond a cinematically constructed entity to a real person behind that character."

[CN: Drones; killing] The international rights group Reprieve has placed in a Pakistani field a large portrait of a girl reportedly killed by a drone strike "as part of an effort to communicate directly with Predator drone operators and humanize innocent victims of American strikes, activists say. The picture laid out in a field in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region 10 days ago is of a girl who activists say lost her parents in a drone strike. It is part of a campaign entitled #NotABugSplat, which draws its name from the slang term 'bug splats,' which Predator drone operators sometimes use to denote direct kills."

[CN: Fat bias] Today in Blame the Fat Parents: "A child born to an obese father has nearly double the risk for a condition within the autism spectrum." Wow, that does sound terrible! "Overall, a child born to an obese father had a .27 percent risk of developing ASD, while a child born to a normal-weight father had a .15 percent risk." Um. "[Dr. Pål Surén, lead researcher and professor of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo] told that it's possible that the fathers' obesity has some direct effect—by altering sperm quality, for instance. But for now, that's all speculation." FAT SPERM! Sounds good. Let's irresponsibly publicly speculate about it A LOT!

Microsoft will stop providing support for XP, so, if you're still using XP, it's about to get even shittier.

Here is a video of a French bulldog puppy arguing about bedtime. Oh em gee.

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