Monday, February 27, 2006

Octavia Butler: Escape Velocity

I don't usually read the front page of the newspaper and read about the unexpected death of someone I know. Today I did. Octavia Butler was an amazing woman in so many ways, and I feel privileged to have known her in some small degree beyond her deserved fame and popularity. She was shy and private, yet confident. Gentle like a mountain. It isn't right that she is gone.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Good riddance to Larry Summers

Now calm down and let me present my point. It's all about free speech and being able to voice unpopular opinions .... riiiight?

To establish the foundation, let me swear and affirm that
- He had an absolute right to speak his opinion, even if it was unpopular
- Any woman who is too terrified to speak her mind to the guy who upset her but can unburden herself at length (even though feeling nauseous, mind) to the nearest mediahound she can find needs to get a grip, grow up, and get out of the way of the rest of us who have no problem speaking their minds at any time. Like me.
- To solve persistent, troublesome problems we should be able to have open and respectful debate where all rational suggestions are heard and discussed.

Now. Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken quite movingly and with obvious feeling on how a burning cross on a family's lawn isn't just a minor fire hazard. Not when the family is black and the burning cross has been used as a threat symbol by racists for far too many years. And note that Larry Summers didn't suggest that the reason blacks are under-represented in science are that black people may not have an aptitude for it.

Why not? Why would he then say it about women? There are FAR fewer black physicists than female, even when you take relative proportions into account. And "women don't have the aptitude" has been OUR burning cross. It is more than just two sticks on fire. It has been used to keep women from even finding out for ourselves if we had the aptitude. That's why his comment provoked such a strong reaction. It was used as a threat before. We will not permit it to be a threat again. Are there stupid women? Absolutely. Are there men who break out in a cold sweat when they remember their 9th grade algebra class? Definitely. So can we move on to rational discussions? Open-minded discussion does not mean scooping your brains out to show solidarity with the opposition. Otherwise we have to cover all the moon-landing-was-a-hoax stuff too and I have better things to do with my time.
(Parts came in for the Death Ray!)

Addendum: A few more points for clarity. I agree that Harvard is suffering from a severe PC infection. It is ALSO true that Summers is a blithering idiot. Presidents of prestigious institutions of higher learning earn the big bucks for management and diplomacy, and I see little evidence of either. By all means, let's discuss why women are so rare in the upper levels of research -- but wield Occam's razor in slashing strokes to give priority to explanations that take the real world into account. Otherwise why not blame flying saucers carrying off the prime candidates because Mars Needs Women?

The issue has been discussed for many years in science, and Summers should have known that and what the arguments are. For one thing, you can't hire women that aren't there. The pipeline problem starts way, way before Harvard can do anything about it. So throwing money and giving precedence is just going to increase the chance of sub-par candidates being hired ... and increasing the belief that women don't have the ability to succeed in science.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Meme with No Name

Clearly, Barb does not have enough to do. (I worked this weekend. My *real* job. Software release death marches are no fun. And I had to play with Windows 98 ... in Chinese. I expect sympathy.)

Fine. [Miracle Max] Give me a papercut and pour lemon juice on it, why don't you! [/Miracle Max]

1: Black and White or Color; how do you prefer your movies?

Any old how, as long as it is a good movie.

2: What is the one single subject that bores you to near-death?

Social gossip. I don't care about celebrity social lives.

3: MP3s, CDs, Tapes or Records: what is your favorite medium for prerecorded music?

MP3s, because I can make my computer into a ginourmous jukebox!

4: You are handed one first class trip plane ticket to anywhere in the world and ten million dollars cash. All of this is yours provided that you leave and not tell anyone where you are going ... ever. This includes family, friends, everyone. Would you take the money and ticket and run?

Yessss! Erm, I *am* assuming I can run back after I run out of money.

5: Seriously, what do you consider the world's most pressing issue now?

Too many people in decision-making capacities who think good intentions produce desirable results, and everything can be resolved through diplomacy and dialogue. Sometimes bad people need to be smacked, hard.

6: How would you rectify the world's most pressing issue?

Become Evil Overlord and REALLY give them something to complain about. Try your diplomacy against my death ray, you pathetic, snivelling creatures!

7: You are given the chance to go back and change one thing in your life; what would that be?

Find some way to get a decent research position before I left Physics.

8: You are given the chance to go back and change one event in world history, what would that be?

The burning of the Library of Alexandria

9: A night at the opera, or a night at the Grand Ole' Opry --Which do you choose?

Opera, especially Puccini

10: What is the one great unsolved crime of all time you'd like to solve?

Jack the Ripper

11: One famous author can come to dinner with you. Who would that be, and what would you serve for the meal?

Jane Austen, and High Tea: crumpets, lemon tarts, little sammiches -- the works!

12: You discover that John Lennon was right, that there is no hell below us, and above us there is only sky -- what's the first immoral thing you might do to celebrate this fact?

Er, I think this all the time so get a police scanner and find our for yourselves ;-) And strangely enough, I DON'T do immoral acts to celebrate it. Heaven and Hell are imaginary constructs to me but people are real and can be hurt by what I do. So most of my immorality centers around eating too much chocolate ...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

We're different

... and that's a good thing. "We" meaning Americans. The recent ginned-up Islamic Outrage du jour has got some folk worried and saying thing about apocalypses and end of civilization and so on. The situation is serious, but not dire. This is more like a bad case of food poisoning, not Ebola. It's worse in Europe for a number of reasons, and I think the fundamental differences between (many) Europeans and (many) Americans are being obscured by words that don't have the same meaning to everyone. We think they have been translated, but the term "class differences" has a completely different reality in Europe than in America. Europeans wouldn't even SEE our "class differences". Class, status, elitism. Real. They bite. Case in point. Your humble Snarkatron has the right to put some letters in front of her name, signifying an advanced degree. This is something in America which is not (in the profession I gained them in) a big deal. The number of people who know what that advanced degree is is rather small, because I don't haul it out to be admired in every conversation. (It freaks the mundanes.) In Europe, you put it on your bleeping Christmas cards, casual notes to the mailman, EVERYWHERE. It is an official Big Deal. And that created some friction, when a few not-so-quick-on-the-uptake Europeans showed up where I used to work thinking that their degrees would produce instant respect. Americans really, really, REALLY dislike being told what to think. Especially by the gummint, so don't think a few don't-offend-the-Muslims laws will make a damn bit of difference. On the other hand, we take people as individuals -- and if they are worthy of respect, we respect 'em. Even if they are garbage collectors. Ask a European how many of their friends work with their hands.

The other difference is talking about rights and freedom of speech and so on, and living them. Yeah, I know the US newspapers haven't been pulling their weight with the Comics of Doom, but we of the blogosphere have never had a very high opinion of the MSM -- and if you're reading this blog, you have doubtless come across a jillion others that HAVE printed the twelve (authentic! do not accept cheesy fakes!) cartoons. You see? The word gets out.

I have faith in the sheer cussedness of Americans. It will win through in the end.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Maybe they hate everybody

Unless you live under a rock you have probably heard something about the Cartoon War. As far as the raging fanatic crowds are concerned Denmark is the source of all evil. At first you might think your TV is pulling in signals from an alternate universe because the raging crowds are burning Danish flags instead of American ones and they have all sorts of extremely hateful signs (in English or Arabic, but not Danish) promising death, bloodshed, and tears before bedtime. Embassies are in flames.

All this for twelve cartoons. I would like to point out for the Teachable Moonbats (if any exist) that Denmark has been remarkably free of all the sins usually laid at America's door. Not a superpower, never been a hotspot of cowboy activity, and I'm pretty sure they are not imposing their culture on anyone (except for Legos and you can't really call that imposition -- more of a seduction and who minds being seduced?)

My point being (I do have one) is if twelve cartoons can get this much of a violent reaction, maybe all this hate-America stuff ISN'T because of something WE did. I mean, if you scale the reaction and rhetoric and so on, it looks like our real crimes would amount to something like forty cartoons and a couple knock-knock jokes.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

not-so-spontaneous outrage?

Looking at the protest signs carried by all the enraged London Muslims who have to have cartoons explained to them to get the joke, (Power Line and many others) I noticed that the handwriting is identical on all of them. Same marker, too. And then we have the wonderful Sudanese "spontaneous outrage sign" (via Gateway Pundit) in English ... of a sort. "Peack", eh? Makes suspicious people like me think a) sign-writer guy doesn't speak any kind of English at all and b) was given a piece of paper with what to spontaneously and outrageously write and one of the words was smeared. Funny, when *I* want to write a sign to speak my mind I can do it all by myself.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Have a butter cookie!

Or some nice, creamy Havarti cheese. That's what I did, being partial to Havarti even when I don't have an Issue to support, and this was a tremendous sacrifice since I'm watching the caloric intake and all. Sometimes, you just have to Take Steps.

I mean really, folks. They are just cartoons. Follow all the screaming and you find a lot of frothing monomanaical religious fruitcakes who have never ONCE apologized for
- denying the Holocaust ever existed
- think the Protocols of the Elders of Zion isn't fiction
- routinely refer to Jews as (to them) unclean animals
- publishing truly disturbing cartoons (e.g. Sharon eating Palestinian children)
- (et cetera ad nauseum)

So thanks for proving our point, fanatics. You can't be treated like adults. You believe your religion is so fragile something like this can damage it. You don't treat others as you would wish to be treated. I certainly hope every single newspaper in Europe (and America, hint hint) publishes the Danish cartoons in a full-page spread every day and twice on Sunday. Guess what? They were a test. And you failed.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I've been memed!

Must have been a glitch in the cloaking device. This is the first time anybody has successfully tagged me. Damn you, Christine! A squadron of fierce bannanna slugs is headed your way to extract revenge. (They should get to you around August of 2009.)

Oh all right.
4 Jobs I have had:
- junior crawlspace excavator. My father got stuck in our admittedly narrow crawlspace. My little sister (age 6 at the time) rescued him, and then I had to go in and lower the entire thing by a foot. With a hand-trowel. I got paid, so it counts as a real job.
- mad scientist. Physics, experimental, ultra-high vacuum systems and synchrotrons. Nothing blew up on purpose, OK?
- office temp/forger. I was hired to mail-merge letters to applicants that had applied for a research position and not gotten it. There were so many it took me two solid days. What was especially ironic was I had just *left* research because I couldn't get a position. Being on the other side of the process was ... strange. Seeing how qualified these unsuccessful candidates were made me feel a little better about my own failure. Oh, and my boss told me to forge her signature on the letters.
- software tester. I call it being paid to break things. You think it's bad now? I CLEANED IT UP FOR YOU. It was worse before, trust me.

4 Movies to watch over and over:
- Princess Bride
- Ladyhawke
- Iron Giant
- Raiders of the Lost Ark

4 Places I've lived:
- New Orleans, Louisiana. Briefly. Fire ants and mushrooms growing in the carpet.
- Thunder Bay, Ontario. Way, way, WAY too cold. But they have a really nice amythest mine.
- Ft. Washington, Maryland. The fort is still there, too.
- Berkeley, California. I don't know how I sneaked past the border guards. I have no piercings, no tattoos, and I think meat is delicious. Maybe I was the token conservative.

4 TV shows I watch:
I don't watch TV. Really. I'm unilaterally changing this to Books I Read.
- Psmith, P. G. Wodehouse
- Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
- Going Postal, Terry Pratchett
- The Element of Fire, Martha Wells

4 Places I've vacationed:
what is this word, "vacation"?
- Lausanne, Switzerland. I had friends there, OK?
- Toulouse, France. (The friends moved. Really.)
- London, England and points north. (I want Edinborough Castle.)
- Tecate, Mexico

4 websites I visit daily:
- Castle Argghhh! and links adjoining
- The Daily Kitten
- Slashdot (I'm a computer geek. Sue me.)
- NRO's Corner

4 Favorite foods:
- rice. Plain, white rice.
- meat. Large chunks.
- creme brulee'
- artichokes
(NOTE: Chocolate is a sacrament, not a food. Or maybe it's a vitamin. Yeah, a vitamin!)

4 Places you would rather be:
- Beta Centauri
- Wallace Falls
- not at work
- Australia

4 people to tag:
nope, I'll pass. If you *want* me to tag you, give a yell