The “Truth”

August 29, 2007 at 1:10 am (feminism, rants)

Some time last year, the city I live in was blessed with a new radio station, a right-wing crazy talk radio station called “The Truth”.  There are some key differences between “The Truth” and say, NPR.  (1) “The Truth” is a commercial station and (2) You actually become stupider while listening to it.  Just today, I think Algebra II just melted straight away.  To me, its kind of an audio equivalent of a train-wreck.  Its just too horrible to turn away from.  So time to time when there’s nothing good on NPR, I’ll turn on this tripe for a good laugh.  Obviously I’m a liberal, but I like to give most conservatives that benefit of the doubt and say I may not agree with their politics, religion or ideology, but at least I don’t assume they are idiotic.  Today’s listen to “The Truth” may change those assumptions.  I will give two examples of why this is, from the only 2 times I listened to the station today.

1.  Business Babes:   I believe it was on the Laura Ingram show this morning that they were discussing the recent phenomena of, gasp, women that are experts on business and the economy.  They referred specifically to Erin Burnett who apparently has the nickname “Business Babe”.  Another example is Maria Bartiromo, aka “the Money Honey”.  This is disgusting on so many levels.  First of all, the radio retards acted simply amazed that someone with boobs and a uterus would know something about stocks and bonds.  These are women that have worked their way to the positions they are in by having the expertise and charisma to have earned their jobs as correspondents to major news channels.  Sure they are attractive, and that no doubt played a key part in how they got their positions on TV.  Like it or not, they don’t generally put ugly people on TV (James Carvill being a major exception).  Why is it assumed that women know nothing about money?  This whole conversation was infuriating to say the least.

2.  Swallowing Glass:  This next exchange was maddening simply because these two morons actually have a radio show, even though they clearly have the combined IQ of a shot glass.  Here’s the gist of the exchange, and I swear I’m not making up any of the parts that make them sound like total dumb-fucks.  I couldn’t make this up.

  • Lead Moron (LM):   Due to natural erosion the beaches in Ft. Lauderdale are disappearing and they have to dredge or truck new sand in to create usable beaches.
  • Backup Moron (BM):  Duh, really??
  • LM:  Yea, and they’re actually talking about using recycled, crushed up glass to replace the sand instead of scraping more off of the bottom of the ocean.
  • BM:  Broken glass?  Oh my god!!!  Well, I guess sand is made of silicon isn’t it?
  • LM:  Uh, I guess.
  • BM:  So they’re going to be putting glass shards on the beach?
  • LM:  Yea, this means that (and he yelled this part) your little kids are going to be playing in the ocean, then come back to the beach and put their little wet fingers in the broken glass, and then eat it.  Your kids are going to have BROKEN GLASS SHARDS IN THEIR DIGESTIVE TRACTS!

It was at this point that I had to turn it off because I was yelling at the radio and my friends were looking at me like I had gone off the deep end.  If only these guys knew that they make polar-fleece out of recycled plastic bottles.  That would absolutely blow their minds.

Why do these assholes have to be not only stupid, but stupid in an incendiary way that alarms their equally moronic listener base?  That was certainly enough of “The Truth” for one day.  One year more like it, although it does give me fantastic ranting material!!

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And on a lighter note…

August 28, 2007 at 4:07 am (fun, grad school)

I felt I was being too serious lately, because I’m really not a very serious person.  So I have been thinking about getting a new laptop.  Of course at the mere mention of this, G was on it like flies on shit.  He lives for this kind of “project”.  So he found a laptop in my range with the features I wanted – plus its PINK!!!!  My questions about this are as follows:

  1. Would I get laughed out of my own dissertation defense if I came in with this bitchin’ flamingo pink laptop?
  2. Will this undermine all of my feminist ideals?
  3. Can I possibly be taken seriously at post-doc job interviews if I whip this out for presentations?
  4. Would it look even more awesome with some kick-ass pro-feminism decal stickers on it?

I may decide to throw caution to the wind because I just like this thing SO MUCH.

And another completely un-serious thing.  If you’re a TV watcher, you must watch “How I Met Your Mother”, it is possibly the funniest sit-com since Seinfeld.  Seriously.

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Research Funding – a personal issue

August 28, 2007 at 2:53 am (grad school, politics, science)

With this post is about something near and dear to my heart, but I have discovered that too few people know about this issue (and to all my scientist friends that read this, sorry to rehash the same rant, but not everyone is in the trenches with us!).  I wanted to talk about the political issue that directly impacts my life:  federal research funding.  Wow, doesn’t that just grab you and make you want to keep reading?  I know it sounds a little dull, and it certainly doesn’t have the pizazz that topics like gay marriage and abortion do, but it is an issue that is critical to the well-being of our society and our nation, and people need to know what’s going on.

A little bit of background about myself, I am a grad student in a lab which does colon cancer research.  Oh yes, its just as glamorous as it sounds.  We are literally “curing cancer”- to some degree anyway.  People are awfully impressed when they hear this, although to me its just a job like any other.  What many people don’t realize is that federal funding for research like mine and research in general has been absolutely in the toilet for the last few years.  This coincides with, ummmmm, oh yea, that money black-hole on the other side of the world.  I won’t even say it.  Now I realize that “defending our country” (if that’s what you want to call it) is important, but if you really want to play the numbers game, lets look at how many people die of cancer, heart disease and diabetes (just to name 3) compared to how many people die in terrorist attacks.  Not to say that any one loss is less tragic than the other, but I think we’ve gotten our priorities massively screwed up here.

Ask any researcher and they will tell you that the situation is dire.  NIH supported grants have become so competitive that only around 10% of submitted grants are even funded.  That means that 9 out of 10 grants are rejected.  9 out of 10 researchers have to desperately find other means to keep their labs afloat during these dark times.  9 out of 10 potentially life-saving or scientific-advancing projects are not being carried out.  And when the grants are funded (as one of ours thankfully was recently) the amount awarded to the lab is often drastically below the amount promised or requested.  As my adviser always tells us, funding situations like this are cyclical, he rode out a similar one in the late 1980’s.  Hmm, would that mean that whenever a Bush is in the White House we’re going to have to pinch research pennies?

Now I could make my point all day long in the context of how this hurts cancer patients and families of loved ones suffering from diabetes or heart disease, but I will make another argument.  If the United States wants to stay in the forefront of scientific research, this situation needs to change, and fast.  Starting with our severely declining educational standing in the world, we are well on our way to losing our reputation for being at the leading edge of research and discovery.  The top scientific minds will start to look elsewhere, as they already do if stem-cell research is their area of study.

Research can never be put on the back burner.  As diseases and the bacteria and viruses that cause disease evolve, so must our knowledge on how to treat them.  Its a daunting task to keep up with the ever elusive cancer cell on a good day, but take away our labor force and supply money?  Good luck.  I say this now because it will be another key issue to examine when looking at which political candidates to support.  I’m sure a lot of these issues will be moot point whenever the money-sucking black-hole goes away.  We can hope anyway.

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Vile in any Color

August 25, 2007 at 6:08 pm (Current Events, opinions, rants)

I had to put my two cents in about this Michael Vick thing because its just making me sick. And its not even the horrifying aspect of animal abuse that has me so upset this particular morning. Listening to NPR this morning I heard some “expert” or another talking about how Vick is being persecuted more harshly due to his race. However, when pressed by the NPR interviewer, the “expert” admitted that if that dog-abuser had been white, he’d probably receive the same legal and social ramifications. So I’m confused. Which is it, fair or racist? I certainly have my opinion on the topic and I hesitate to even start in on the racial issue. So before I say anything else, I have to acknowledge that I am very aware that harsh racial inequality is alive and kicking every minute of every day in our society, not only against Blacks, but against Middle-Easterners, Asians, Latinos, and many more groups. However, I very much dislike when the tactic of accusing the media or the public of racism is used to defend someone as vile and despicable as this.

One of the main arguments I have heard in defense of Vick is that dog fighting is part of the black culture and highly prevalent in the inner cities. This is quite a slippery-slope argument, because it could be used at one time or another to defend gang violence in the inner cities, white supremacy in the South, or even Antisemitism in the Middle East. Just because it is prevalent and part of the culture does not make it right.

Actor Jamie Foxx had this to say, although I truly have no idea why anyone gives a crap about his opinion:

“It’s a cultural thing, I think,” Jamie said. “Most brothers didn’t know that, you know. I used to see dogs fighting in the neighborhood all the time. I didn’t know that was Fed time. So, Mike probably just didn’t read his handbook on what not to do as a black star.” While he has a way of lightening even the most sensitive of subjects, Jamie is sincere in his belief that the quarterback is not being given a fair shake.
“I know that cruelty to animals is bad, but sometimes people shoot people and kill people and don’t get time,” Jamie continued. “I think in this situation, he really didn’t know the extent of it, so I always give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Apparent Vick also hasn’t read his handbook on being a decent human being either. I know that the issue of cruelty to animals is fraught with hypocrisy since we eat animals, test drugs on them, wear them, etc. But there is a distinct difference between consuming animals for survival/nutrition or using them for the betterment of human health (although a debate on those topics could fill an entire blog) and causing them harm for our entertainment and pleasure. And its not even the dogs vs. chickens debate. I recognize that it is a cultural construct that we value the lives of dogs and cats more than pigs or chickens. I know that in certain Asian cultures, the consumption of animals that we consider “pets” is a common practice. However, countries like China also have a long history or massive starvation and famine. I would never fault someone for consuming a dog or a cat if the alternative was death or surviving on tree bark and dirt (which many people did). But I would go out on a limb and say that I doubt that the Chinese would torture dogs before killing them for consumption. Humane treatment and sacrifice of animals should always be a priority.

That being said, I was literally nauseated when I heard about these charges, and in truth I avoided reading/hearing about them for about a week because I absolutely can’t stomach cruelty towards animals. And not being much of a sports fan myself, I had no idea that Vick was even black when the story first broke. It sickened me nonetheless. There are many things in our society which are illegal and vial no matter what color you are, and the ruthless torture and killing of animals is probably near the top of that list.

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Highly Sensitive People

August 23, 2007 at 3:17 am (books, evolution)

I have been to busy this week to even think.  Between the onset of classes, squeezing in last minute experiments and getting a big presentation ready I have been completely fried.  I feel like my brain has melted, not unlikely in the desert heat.

I did read something while I was scarfing down lunch today that I found kind of interesting.  I am currently reading “Evolution for Everyone” by David Sloane Wilson.  I thought it’d be good preparation for dealing with snarky undergrads questioning evolution in the class I’m TA’ing.  Anyway, the chapter I was reading dealt with the evolution of personality, something which is certainly not limited to humans, but was first demonstrated in a diverse range of animals.  Wilson discussed the the personality type “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP) – basically a person who is, as the name implies, very sensitive to stimuli.  As I was reading the description of the HSP characteristics, it was like a mental checklist:  that’s me, uh huh, that sounds about right, oh yea I do that, that’s not normal???  Things like being extra sensitive to bright light, loud noise, pain, clothing texture as well as drugs and caffeine.  It also includes people who are easily overwhelmed by to many things to do or by change.  Also, people who are easily startled and very emotional about art and music.  Wilson provides a link to a self-test.  I scored 22/27 – that’s high in case anyone was wondering.  Apparently 15-20% of the population falls into this group, so it is by no means abnormal.

I was often made fun of as a child because I would come downstairs after I had gone to bed to tell whoever was downstairs watching TV to turn it down, even if it was just at normal volume.  I am completely incapable of tuning out noise or light, which is why I pretty much have to have pitch dark silence to sleep.  I have never understood people who could read or study with the radio on – I wish I could do that!

So great, every little thing bugs me, how is that a personality trait that would have evolved?  Well, it turns out HSPs are very sensitive to their surroundings and have been historically better equipped to be aware of things (predators, food, weather, etc) which might affect their health and livelihood.  This is obvious when you think about it.  I mean who’s going to survive to pass on their genes – me, who wakes up with the first drop of rain, or my brother, who would sleep through a tornado?  Isn’t evolution wonderful?!

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Something Else That Makes Me Feel Old

August 21, 2007 at 1:12 am (grad school, opinions)

I had another one of those moments today when I caught myself thinking, “man, those kids today”, which lead me to feel old and gray haired (which I am, gray haired, not old).  A new young woman joined my work-place today (and by young I mean probably 21, not that much younger than me) and it got me thinking, do young people not even try to make a professional first impression anymore?  This woman was wearing extremely casual cargo-capris with a ribbed very tight, very tiny tank-top, under which her bra was clearly visible.  Am I being a total fuddy-duddy or is this not work-place appropriate?  I’ll be the first to admit that I dress casually, I’m a grad-student for god’s sake, but it seems to me that women in college are taking the “casual” dressing to quite the extreme.  Teeny-teeny shorts, miniscule skirts and tank-tops are everyday apparel.  Granted most guys wouldn’t put up a fight to change this, but does anyone really give these women the respect and credit they probably deserve when they’re dressed like this?  And this applies to not only students, but teachers as well.  I had a professor a couple years back who wore clothing that I wouldn’t even go to the grocery store in while she lectured.  Her paint-stained t-shirts complimented her torn socks and Crocs quite nicely.  Now how am I supposed to show her the respect she deserves when she clearly put no effort into presenting herself in a professional manner?  I firmly believe in the rule that you will be treated according to how you present and project yourself, for better or worse.

It may be shallow of me to judge someone by a first impression, but it is also naive of others to believe that they won’t be judged by how they look.

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Default Settings

August 20, 2007 at 1:17 am (feminism, random thoughts)

Something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately are my personal default settings.  By this I mean, what does my mind automatically think of when I read something, hear something, etc.  I think that everyone has defaults, and a lot of them are common among individuals in a society.  For example, when I pick up a book to read, unless explicitly told or indicated otherwise by the author, the characters default to Caucasian.  Its something that I have pondered before, but I was reminded of it when I read this post on a blog that analyzes female characters in fiction/film/TV.  It was pretty eye opening that some animated films failed the simple test of whether 2 female characters conversed about something other than a male character.  Man that’s sad.  That’s what I mean by default:  main characters in these films are always male, while the female characters are relegated to side-kick, mother or love-interest.  It would certainly be a novelty, something the film would be marketed for, if the main character were female.

These defaults apply to race, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious beliefs among other things.  I don’t believe that they are quite the same at stereotypes, because they don’t necessarily deal with characteristics of a certain group of people or idea, but its similar I guess.  What I have personally noticed most are the patriarchal-based defaults.  Men are the head of the family, the churches, the government.  Americans (myself included) can barely wrap their heads around the idea of a women being president.  When you picture a CEO, a surgeon, a scientist, isn’t it usually a man?  And those aren’t even the stereotypical “male” jobs like police and firefighters (or policemen and firemen).  When couples go to buy houses and cars, who does the salesman (oops, I mean sales person) address regarding the financial nitty-gritties of it?  People definitely default to men as the person in charge.

One of the funnier defaults is one my fiance has:  all cats are girls and dogs are boys.  Is this because cats are seen as feminine (think the crazy cat lady) and dogs are more masculine?

I think its very interesting to go through your day being aware of what defaults your mind is going to, and maybe trying to switch them up.  I’d also be interested in what defaults other people can think of.

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Sorry, Unavailable

August 15, 2007 at 12:45 am (rants)

While at the gym this afternoon, I was reminded of one of my top 5 pet-peeves:  people that talk on their cell phones while they are working out.  And I use the term “working out” loosely because when people are on their phones, they are either half-assing some cardio or occupying a weight machine, keeping it from use by people who actually there to work up a sweat.  I was next to a woman the other day on the elliptical machine and she was on her cell phone the whole time she was on there.  She was barely moving fast enough to keep the machine from re-setting itself.  I later saw her doing sit-ups, you guessed it, holding her phone to her ear.  I’ve even been in a step-aerobics class where a woman was talking on the phone while stepping.  Not only is this obnoxious because she was talking over the instructor, but its also dangerous.  Why even bother coming to the gym if that’s what you’re going to do?  I don’t know why I let this bother me so much, but I do.

I think more than the annoyance of them taking up space at the gym I am bothered by the self-importance of it.  The fact that they are talking during their work-out says to me “I’m too important to be unavailable for even the hour that I’m at the gym”.  Doesn’t anyone want to be unavailable anymore?  I certainly do!  Between stress in the lab, running errands, cooking, cleaning, all the obligatory crap we endure throughout our days, I think an hour at the gym with just my thoughts and my music is the least I can do for myself.  It reminds me of those ridiculous news stories that came out a while back about people going to hotels or resorts that would take their cell phone or blackberry away from them and lock it up in a vault for the duration of their trip.  People laughed about it, but I thought it was pathetic.  How sad that people have to pay other people to keep them from using their cell phone?  I hate that in our society, we are expected to be available 24/7.  People say, “why didn’t you have your phone on?” – well, maybe I wanted a few hours to myself, that’s why.

I realize that I am teetering on the brink of being a complete loner.  I fit into all those stereotypes about scientists being bookish and anti-social.  I am bookish, I only reserve smiles for people I actually like, and I find small-talk nearly unbearable.  I like going to movies and restaurants by myself or just reading quietly at home.  And although I’m clearly on one extreme of the spectrum, I think more people could do with a little less yapping about complete nonsense with each other, and a little more times with their own thoughts, even if there aren’t an abundance of them.

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Swimming Upstream

August 11, 2007 at 8:49 pm (feminism, opinions, religion)

On my way into work this afternoon I was listening to a story on NPR about the ordination of female priests in the Roman Catholic church. Of course I always listen to stories about the Catholic church with a cynical and very critical ear, so my bias is obvious. I tried to find a link to the story on NPR.org but couldn’t, but it has been well established that only men can be officially ordained as Roman Catholic priests because of some rule about preserving the unbroken lineage from priests to bishops back to the original 12 apostles, blah blah blah. But the woman they were interviewing is a member of a group that advocates the rights of women to be ordained into the priesthood. Now I am of course all for equality and it seems absolutely absurd to me that an orginization as widespread and powerful as the Catholic church still gets away with this discrimination. My real question is, why would women want to become ordained priests if they are told that it is illegal within the church, and that they will be essentially kicked out of the church if they choose to become ordained?

It completely boggles my mind that women would be supportive of an orginization which is so fundamentally patriarchical and anti-female. And not only be supportive of it, but they would also want to dedicate their lives to preaching its ways and spreading its message to the world. I’m sure it would take days to discuss all of the ways in which the Catholic church spits in the face of everything feminine. That’s not really what I wanted to get into here, and we all know those things anyway. These women have pretty much had to say to themselves – “hmm, I know the church views me as a second class citizen. I accept that women historically in my religion are viewed as temptresses and sinners. I shouldn’t be allowed to say when and by what means I can plan my pregnancies. I shouldn’t be able to reach the highest level of power within this orginization. But darn it, this is what I want to dedicate my life to!”

I have the same line of questioning when it comes to the so called “log cabin republicans“. Now these people are self-loathing to the point of being politically in favor of everything that will keep down. I can’t think of a single republican stand on an issue that is pro-gay rights. Marriage? Adoption? Military Service? Not so much. I can understand being fiscally conservative, which is probably the driving force behind their motivations (I would hope anyway). But wouldn’t the fact that republicans are patently against your life style, rights, and very exsitance override your stance on economic issues? Apparently the answer is no.

Its not only an uphill battle, its like going uphill with people throwing boulders at you. You are not wanted at the top. You are not meant to be there. And there must be some seriously delusional thinking going on to keep you fighting that losing battle.

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The Homogenization of Politics

August 10, 2007 at 9:42 pm (politics, presidental race, rants)

The latest in a series of uneventful and uninformative presidential debates went down last night, this time focusing on issues concerning gay rights.  All of the top contenders (Clinton, Obama, Edwards) displayed their disappointingly predictable non-commital support to the GLBT (gay lesbian bisexual and transgendered) crowd.  Only two of the candidates, most notable Dennis Kucinich, actually had the guts to come out in full support for completely equal gay marriage and all other rights.  And in a shocking display of ignorance, Gov. Bill Richardson appeared to have no idea what the question of whether being gay is a choice or not meant.  He said he thought it was a choice (a major insult to the crowd).  This bone-headed answer left his staff scrambling to release a statement to the contrary immediately following the debate. 

What I personally find most infuriating about the entire political issue of gay marriage is why people (politicians and citizens alike) can’t realize that it is completely inevitable, and that we need to just let it happen.  I am absolutely sure that in 50 years, gays and lesbians will be able to marry whomever they choose, and that future generations are going to look back on us the same way we look back on past generations that didn’t allow inter-racial marriage.  Barrack Obama even alluded to this by bringing up the fact that his own parents’ inter-racial marriage would have been banned in most states when they were wed, so he has personal experience with this type of discrimination.  So why in the world couldn’t he use his own background as the basis to come out in support of gay marriage instead of his lame seperate but equal civil unions bullshit?  One would think that, being a person of color, Obama would also have something to say about the policy of seperate but equal.  These candidates need a little historical perspective to realize that gay is the new black.  And by that I mean, gays are pretty much discriminated against in the same manner that blacks were discriminated against 50 years ago.  Why can’t we just learn from our mistakes rather than making an entire generation of GLBT citizens suffer from ignorance and bigotry?

Unfortunately, the issue of gay marriage is just another entry on the long list of issues that politicians have all become cowardly and homogenous about (Dems and GOP alike).  I am so tired of politicians who are afraid to take a real stand on an issue.  They are so obviously being coached as to what exactly they need to say to appeal to the widest range of voters.  And I know that this homogenization is inevitable if they want to get elected, but just maybe, if someone came out with some real opinions, they’d find that voters liked it.  I guess Dennis Kucinich is a testament to the fact that that isn’t very likely since he has already had unsuccessful bids for the presidancy.  By the time we are down to two contenders, they are so alike that you almost have to refer to the color of their ties to remember what party they’re associated with. 

And it seems to be a scary trend that all candidates have to lean towards the right to grab the most voters.  Republican candidates can say that they are starkly against gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, etc…but Democratic candidates will rarely come out in full support of those issues.  They have to qualify their support of gay marriage by calling it civil unions.  They curb their support for stem cell research by saying – only use previously established cell lines, or something like that.  Democrats and Republicans alike have to put their religiosity on display (or should I just say their Christianity).  God forbid we ever have an atheist or Buddhist or Muslim president, that nearly seems illegal.

Politics has become so carefully scripted and acted that is seems more like a fictional play than real life.  We can rarely believe what our elected officials tell us, and those who are trying to get elected will tell us anything they think we want to hear.  Unfortunately, because politicians are so consumed with appealing to everyone, we all end up losing in the end because no real changes are ever made.

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