My big fat feminist Christmas?!?

Jessica Valenti wrote  a column in the Guardian about how Christmas is fraught with “gendered expectations”:

We all know that women do the majority of domestic work like child care, housework and cooking. But the holidays bring on a whole new set of gendered expectations that make the season less about simply enjoying fun and family and more about enduring consumerism, chores and resentment so that everyone else can enjoy rockin’ around the Christmas tree. (I bet even Mrs Claus gets upset that Santa works one night a year but she’s dealing with hungry elves 24/7. That would be almost enough to make you want to over-indulge in eggnog and hurl yourself in front of a reindeer-pulled sleigh.)

The rest of the column continues in the same vein, with an occasional reference to how her husband doesn’t create his share of Christmas joy.

The latter is interesting, as Valenti and her husband, Andrew Golis, loudly proclaim that he is a feminist.  It’s a free country, so they can so proclaim all the want, but saying it doesn’t make it so.  My boyfriend, sometimes nicknamed “Mr. Moderate” because he’s politically dead centre, has arranged for about half of my Christmas presents for my family to be shipped to my doorstep.  He has Amazon Prime; I don’t.  I pick out presents on Amazon, add them to my Wish List; he ships them; I pay him back.  He also shipped me an ignition coil for my car so that I could install it the very next day.

We don’t do that because we’re trying to have a big fat feminist Christmas; we do that for the same reason that I’ve used some of my vacation time to clean his condo.  We care about each other and want to try to use whatever assets we have available (e.g. free time, a tool set, Amazon Prime) to make the other person happier.

Jessica, your problem isn’t “gendered expectations;” it’s a husband who will let you become a stressed-out mess before acting like a freakin ADULT and pitching in.


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Ten minutes and thirty-three seconds later

I fixed an engine problem in my Volvo.  Sort of.

To clarify: the problem is completely fixed.  Last week, , for as I was turning into my driveway, my car started shaking and vibrating.  I pulled into the driveway, and, instead of taking the Volvo straight to the mechanic like a normal young woman, used this as an excuse to purchase a Bluetooth OBD II reader.  (The one I chose is a BAFX Elm, $23.99; it was called a “magical impulse buy” by a car magazine.) Anyway, the check engine light (CEL) was not on, but my car didn’t have any stored codes, either. I took a wild guess that the spark plugs needed changing (and were, cough, about fifty thousand miles overdue for this).

Mr. Velociraptor helped out with this project.  After three hours of peering under my hood, scratching our heads, and making two separate trips to the hardware store (for a 10 mm socket wrench and a torque wrench), we got exactly one cylinder fixed.  We also had to gap the “pre-gapped” spark plugs, because when you buy cheap spark plugs, they are properly gapped, but the nice platinum ones that last for a hundred thousand miles don’t come pre-gapped. (They also require a different tool to gap them.) The second cylinder was faster, but by that time, it was dark and cold.  We threw in the towel, then continued the project yesterday.

After all five spark plugs were changed, I turned on my car and, amidst the rumbling, voila! the check engine light came on.  Let me tell you, I’ve never been so happy to see “Check Engine” lit up in orange. My nifty BAFX told me that the problem was a misfire in cylinder 1. Thanks to the wonders of and their new “garage” feature (which enables you to store your vehicle so that it can automatically check parts for compatibility), I got an ignition coil overnight shipped to me.

This afternoon, I installed it in ten minutes and thirty-three seconds flat.   My car now works properly!

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Cruel to be Kind

An eight-month psychological experiment revealed that people who are “nice” and conscientious are more likely to engage in cruel behaviour on the orders of an authority figure; the more nasty types are more likely to stand up for themselves and others.  (Link.)

The theory is that people who are slightly contrarian are more likely to defy authority, while “nice” people are more concerned about people-pleasing – or at least pleasing the person whose wrath they are most likely to incur.  (I wouldn’t call it “people pleasing” to administer electric shocks to other human beings.)  Sometimes, we simply do not have the option of being kind to everyone around us, particularly when one person is trying to hurt another person.  Our choice is about who we will offend or hurt, not whether or not we can escape it.

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BAMF, Senior Citizen Edition

An elderly North Carolina gentleman, Joseph Sapienza, heard two robbers trying to pry open his door.  He put his gun in the holster on his walker, moseyed to the front door, threw it open, and yelled out that he was armed.  The two robbers fled.  (Story.)

The sheer awesomeness of having a holster on a walker aside, this serves as a reminder that the Second Amendment protects the elderly, the weak, and the frail far more than it protects big burly men (who are protected by the fact that they are big, burly men). As the saying goes, God made young men and old men, but Smith & Wesson made them equal.

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Turning lemons into lemonade

Internet sensation Grumpy Cat, a feline with a genetic defect that causes him to look especially stern, has earned over $100,000,000 in two years.  Yes, that is over one hundred million dollars, just for looking like a grumpy cat:

Grumpy Cat’s newly-rich owner, Tabatha Bundeson called the feline (whose real name is Tardar Sauce) “unstoppable… what she’s achieved in such a short time is unimaginable and absolutely mind-blowing.” Feline dwarfism and an underbite caused the cat’s permanent glower, which has been plastered over books, merchandise and even a Lifetime film.

I just asked my cat if he would consider contributing to the household expenses a bit – not necessarily to the tune of one hundred million dollars, but enough to cover his cat toys and salmon.  He looked sad and pathetic at the thought of being put to work.

Anyone want to help me with a “sad kitty” franchise?


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There’s not just altitude sickness; there’s altitude mental illness

Utah is both the happiest state and the state with the highest suicide rate.  It’s a place with the shortest workweek, a lot of church goers, and gorgeous scenery.  However, the altitude may be responsible for the depression that many people in the “suicide belt,” i.e. the Rocky Mountains, feel:

But there’s another side to Utah that isn’t shown in surveys. Despite ranking as America’s happiest state, Utah has disproportionately high rates of suicide and associated mood disorders compared to the rest of the country. In fact, it’s the No. 1 state for antidepressant use. These polarized feelings of despondency and delight underlie a confusing phenomenon that Perry Renshaw, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah investigating the strange juxtaposition, calls the “Utah paradox.”

High altitude results in lower oxygen in the bloodstream, which reduces serotonin levels and increases dopamine levels.  Renshaw theorises that people with preexisting problems will feel worse at high altitudes, and those with more normal brain chemistry will feel happier. The correlation between altitude and suicide rate is striking:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 2.17.58 PM

I wonder if psychologists and psychiatrists in the Rockies would ever counsel their clients to consider moving to a lower elevation.

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College: the best seven years of your life

According to a new study by Complete College America, only 19% of students at public universities, and 36% of students at state flagship universities, earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. (Hat tip.) Only 10% of students who receive remedial education graduate on time.

Complete College America proposes a highly structured course track that guides students to on-time graduation.  My engineering school did something very similar: it outlined exactly when our required courses needed to be completed so that we could finish the sequence on time. It didn’t hurt that we had to declare a major at the end of freshman year (students in the liberal arts college were given until the end of sophomore year) and had an adviser walk us through the process.  Although my alma mater is a private school, the idea of guided, structured tracks is a good one that can be easily and inexpensively used in public universities.

That said, there is plenty of blame to go around for the sorry state of affairs.  Perhaps many students who are at university really shouldn’t be there, either due to lack of preparation, drive, or ability to focus on school work and not partying. “Guided Pathways to Success” won’t help students who aren’t able to register for the courses they need; many students at public universities have found that required courses are full before they even have a chance to register.  Universities lack an incentive to change this: they collect more tuition money from students who remain on campus for a longer time and can always throw out the canard about “declining state funding” if they are ever publicly called out for their behaviour. (It is well within the powers of a university to cancel some arcane course on Sanskrit Feminist Theory and divert those saved resources to a section of intro psychology.)

Complete College America also suggests dumbing down the college curriculum.  Okay, they didn’t put it exactly that way, but they did suggest that college requirements for Algebra II be done away with and replaced with statistics.  Now, I love stats and think that it should be required for almost any major, but am baffled as to why colleges are admitting enough students who can’t do Algebra II that eliminating the requirement has a measurable effect on graduation rates.

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Thoughts on #ShirtStorm

This blog post should have been about the amazing human achievement of landing a space probe on a comet that moves at 40,000 mph and is located hundreds of millions of mils away from earth. Instead, it is about a nasty woman named Rose Eveleth, a woman who got her panties in a wad when Matt Taylor, an astrophysicist who was part of the team that landed Philae on the comet, wore a T-shirt that was made by one of his friends.

In a nutshell: a brilliant scientist wore a T-shirt made by his friend (a woman, for the record) when he was taped on the biggest night of his life.  It’s a Hawaiian-themed shirt with ’50s-style cartoons of women in bustiers who are shooting guns.  It’s fun and lighthearted, although not exactly professional.  But hey, when you land a rocket on a comet, you can wear whatever you damn well please.

Not all see it this way.  Science journalist Rose Eveleth tweeted out comments about how the T-shirt makes women unwelcome in STEM and “ruined the comet landing” for her, thus turning the EDS achievement into a Rose-Eveleth pity party. Matt Taylor was forced to make a tearful, blubbering apology, which wrecked the greatest week of his life. (It is worth noting that Eveleth is a science writer precisely because she sucks at doing actual science.  In an interview with Scientific American, she said, “It really wasn’t until college when I was studying abroad and doing research that I realized I’m just not a very good scientist. I didn’t really care as much about the data as I did about the stories I could tell about it. “) Feminism doesn’t have to be this way, kids.

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Debunking the “Republicans Gerrymandered their 2014 Win!” meme

As we all know, the Republicans won big last week, taking over 240 House seats and flipping control of the Senate. This has lead to some predictable hand-wringing from the Left, who are all loathe to admit that maybe, just maybe, Americans haven’t been thrilled with their performance.

One meme claims that Democrats actually won the elections on Tuesday, but lost because “gerrymandered” districts pack Democrats into dense urban areas and give Republicans a slight advantage in other districts.  Thus, Democrats received 54,301,095 votes for their Congressional candidates, Republicans only received 53,822,442 votes, and the victorious Democrats lost.  (See article by Ezra Klein.)

The claim to gerrymandering isn’t supported by actual evidence in an actual state of actual districts that have been gerrymandered to Republican advantage.  The claim rests solely upon a straight-up comparison of number of votes received to number of seats won; here is one example of this sloppy thinking.

Let’s start a mathematical debunking of this nonsense.

First point: there are a lot of ways to gerrymander a district, but they don’t involve crossing state lines.

The people who are wailing and gnashing their teeth about Congress have precious little to say about the absolute destruction that was wrecked upon Democrat candidates in the Senate, but focus only on the House.  If the analysis of “more votes but fewer wins because of gerrymandering” were correct, we would expect that the Democrats would have held their own in the Senate.  Senate candidates run statewide, in lines determined decades or centuries ago, while Congressmen run in districts that were redrawn after the 2010 Census.  No such argument was made.  Nor was any argument made that winning states like Wyoming or Montana, which have exactly one ungerrymandable Congressional district, is somehow not fair.

Likewise, the Republican dominance in gubernatorial and statewide elections indicates that the issue is not one of gerrymandered districts so much as electoral disgust with Democrats.  What is Ezra Klein’s argument: we gerrymandered the entire state of Illinois? Maryland? Massachusetts?

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Potatoes: the tubers of death

I’ve always been a dark chocolate person: the darker and richer, the better.  Some ten years ago, science vindicated me: dark chocolate was found to have all sorts of health benefits, ranging from improving memory to lowering blood pressure.  Same thing with red wine – I’m a red drinker, not a white drinker, and the red stuff is what is good for you.

As a lifelong hater of all things potato (I used to flush the things down the toilet when my parents tried to force me to eat them), I’m gratified to learn that potatoes contain carcinogens. (Hat tip.)   The undeniable grossness of the potato is nature’s way of telling us to leave the blasted things in the ground and eat real food instead.


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