Friday, July 30, 2010

The Word Without Us

A very nice science book, though a little old by now, is The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.  It is a complete thought experiment with no bearing on any real situation saving perhaps The Second Coming If You Wanna Believe That (I don't), asking what would happen to the rest of the planet if human beings just dissapeared?  Not massively died, leaving our bodies to contribute carbon and nitrogen, not blew each other up, leaving nuclear fallout or just blasted landscapes...just went away.  Poof.  Of course that's not going to happen (see my above note about second coming), the book is interesting to me anyway becasue of its rich reseach into ecology and evolutionary biology.  It does a nice little story about how we got here and to be the way we are, and how our effects have changed things, thus how things might go on changing based on what we know if we weren't here to contribute to it.

There is an important environmental message in this book, which, thankfully, is not "oh humans are so terrible look at how we've destroyed the planet wouldn't it be better off if we just left/went back to our primitive non-technological ways."

The book reminds us that we are nature, we are a species that evolved, lived, and adapted to the predators and prey who existed with us, that developed a successful set of traits for overcoming the evolutionary checks put on us by our predators and our prey, spread out of the land of our birth, and adapted ourselves to occupy pretty much the entire world.  In short, a species doing what species do.  We possess a damn successful set of traits allowing us to vary our diet and our tolerance of climate to encompass pretty much the whole planet--and the forces of evolution shaped us into what we are just as much as it shaped all the other species that exist with us right now.  And all the environmental destruction, all of the simple change we have caused from plastic pellets in the ocean and mass extinction of other mega-fauna to our cities and towns and agricultural systems, are a product of our nature, and we are a product of nature in it's larger form.  If it hadn't been us that had outsmarted the predatory checks and perfected our ability to prey on animals and learned how to manipulate the life cycle of plants to our will--maybe it would have been a different species, using whatever adaptations it had to succeed in spite of competition, and succeed on whatever terms those adaptations let it succeed.  Humans are NOT the only species who, when unchecked, create environmental destruction.   Since nature is very much full of inter-species competition, what we have done is not evil and callous and just as on so terrible violation of the natural world.  It's not against nature at all!

In fact, what we have done has allowed us to occupy a unique position on this planet:  able to recognize and contemplate our effects on other species.  Recognize that we both compete directly with other species for space and right to live, but also depend on what other species to do make our lives have quality.  With our needs met (this is arguable when considering all 9 billion of us), we can contemplate the needs of others, and how those needs correspond with our own, and even, sometimes, how they don't but that us living still affects them.  We can make the choice to preserve endangered species that benefit us, or, more powerfully, to preserve the ones that don't really do a damn thing for us but we still have this idea that it is the right thing to do.  Ideas about right and wrong come from our history as a social species, but that doesn't mean that the meaning of right and wrong do not exist just because they are of our own construction.  We are in a way overcoming our nature, transcending it, to extend compassion for the sake of it to places where nature did not expressly place it to begin with.  We had to follow nature to get here.  But now that we are here, we have the ability to do something about it.

To me, that's environmentalism.  First, protecting the things that protect you, like air, waterways, and topsoil, like species that are useful because of biological adaptations that we don't have but benefit from:  latex trees, rumen stomachs, working forests that take dirt out of air and water through natural filtration and protect against soil erosion besides.  But also, philosophically, because we have transformed our world to suit our needs and so now have the ability to afford to be ethical:  because we recognize that our actions have consequences for others, others being not necessarily members of the human species.  Caring enough to maybe try to redefine needs as wants, and try to do a little less harm.  We are damn special because we can care about harm, because the nature of surviving usually doesn't allow it.

And that's bleeding-heart liberalism if anything ever was.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pronouns Are Not Neutral

On the whole gender-neutral third-person-singular pronoun thing:  "they" and "their" when used such as in "looks like somebody lost their wallet, they can re-claim it at lost and found," are grammatically incorrect, although unfortunately quite widespread.  Is the widespread nature of this grammatical foax pas due to a failure of Our Educational System to impart or even value correct language use, an artifact of our egalitarian values and/or the rise of feminism, or just because humans are grammatically lazy? 

Variety in language is driven by humans leaving off sounds and words here and there, omissions are transmitted through the generations until the omission becomes the norm, and room for another lazy change can begin and eventually multiple mutually incomprehensible languages result.  Now that we have written language this phenomenon has been greatly retarded, so that our English resembles, more or less, the English of three hundred years ago mines thee speelling--but lazy options still exist to be exploited and eventually made into mainstream.  Language will still change, eventually.  Thus, although sloppy, although irritating to Those of Us Who Care, "they" and "their" as singular pronouns are certainly here to stay.  If you use 'em, you won't be alone

Although on the subject of gender-neutral pronouns, and the use of the "new" correct grammatical form: "looks like somebody lost his or her wallet, he or she can re-claim it...", as opposed to the "old" correct grammatical form: "somebody lost his wallet, he can re-claim it..." (no matter if the wallet-loser was a he or a she, when we don't know), I have this series of things to say:

Yes, you could disparage gender-neutrality in speech or written text as mushy over-the-top-political-correctness, pronouns being just words.  You could assert that we're all Adults (of Both Genders) in this world, we can use our considerable powers of intellect and observation to realize that the general "he", "Man" and "mankind" actually imply both genders--so stop getting your panties into a twist over it.  ("Get your panties in a twist"--gender irony in that statement, much, that I just used with wild abandon?)

Personally I take a middle-of-the-road view of the subject (and I do try to use "he or she", or else rephrase third-person-generalities to be plural, or dispense with pronouns and just refer to the subject directly).  It is true that my life is not destroyed or invalidated by reading "he", "his", "mankind" all day long.  I am quite able to extend a mere sonoral and symbolic representation of an idea to encompass both sub-categories of human and can remind others that they ought to be doing so as well.  Furthermore, I do not need the approval of the authors nor explicit symbolic acknowledgement by them* in order to be a living, thinking, reading, participating member of the human race or otherwise affected by whatever subject matter this symbolic-of-both-genders "he" is involved in--not that most of these authors are consciously trying to deny my status thereof by failing to write "he or she" for whatever reason they fail to do so.

So I agree that it does not matter what pronoun one uses, not substantially.  Especially not with all the other gender issues in our culture that are extremely whacked: the frigid/slut dichotomy (and the particularly chauvinistic notion that those who fall into the "slut" category deserve no respect and have no boundaries at all including personal safety), men who act like Mel Gibson, that whole unattainable beauty norm thing, and not when we have for across-the-ocean neighbors people who drop acid on schoolgirls.  To name a just few, and only things related to being female.  In that sense, who cares about some pronouns in the English language?

It doesn't matter, in comparison to a lot of other things that DO matter, but it does make a difference.  Words and word choice are not and will never be meaningless.  Human interaction is about meaning, and words--especially in non-face-to-face interactions like news, books, articles, the 'net--are how meaning is relayed from one person to another.  The collective experience of someone who encounters pronouns that are sometimes used to differentiate one sub-category of human from her category and must recognize the instances in which that pronoun should be taken to instead include her sub-category as well is a different experience than that of someone who reads things about humanity and doesn't have to constantly do slight, subtle mental gymnastics to feel included.  The difference isn't hard to recognize, but the issue is not about how hard it is to make that mental correction, it is about the subtle but real social implications of not being explicitly included.  It is no difficulty, relatively, no terrible hardship--but it is a real difference, and one that doesn't take a whole lot of effort to alleviate.

So when I read, say, a physics book, or any kind of science or philosophical writing that describes "humans" instead of "man", that describes the experience of a physics student and sometimes refers to that student as a "she" makes a difference to me.  I don't have to remind myself that the author most likely meant me too and if he didn't then screw him I don't need his damn approval to contemplate a physics problem or human development--with some inclusive pronouns every once in a while I don't even have to go thereThen I know I am not an afterthought, not that exception to the rule that says people (and especially physicists) are male unless otherwise differentiated.  I'm just someone who is involved.

Inclusion is vitally important to a species as intensely social as Homo sapiens, and when inclusion is explicit rather than merely implied, that is a difference.  Furthermore, inclusion in something as weighty as our evolutionary or cultural history (where "man" "man" "man" is prevalent) or our understanding of the physical world is, you know, a Big Deal.  Those things affect and are affected by both genders and were so even before we started remembering to include the female when we wrote about them.  It is thus not out of political correctness because now we value that sort of thing that we adopt gender neutral speech, rather we are being true to exactly whom has always been involved. Even in physics.

So when an author makes that extra step, when he or she makes sure the hypothetical humans in question are not Default Male or not only Default Male...(by using he or she, since good authors aren't going to make the mistake of using "they", oh no) it makes my day that might lighter, that much better.  I think "you know what, thanks."

*Them, they, their/s, are third-person plural pronouns, in this sentence the subject being replaced with a pronoun, "the authors", is plural, and so it is gramatically fine and dandy to use the third-person plural pronouns in this case.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Saturday I didn't post because I worked all day at the high ropes course.  One of the possible jobs that entails, that I ended up doing on Saturday, is hooking people in to our hydrolic-breaking zipline and sending 'em off into free space (coaching the scared ones through the usual repertoie of 'it's fun, it's safe, it's not that bad all you have to do is take one leap, there's no other way down so you'd better get going cause others are waiting, think how you'll feel if you don't do it, etc.), then catching the zip pulley when the guy on the ground attaches a rope to it and slings the rope back up to you.

As particpants will ask, one asked "haven't you ever  been hit in the face by that thing?" since the zip pulley, steel carabiner and rope that you're trying to grab do go flying across the metal wire back toward the zipline staff member at about face-level.

"No," I replied, "and I don't know of anyone else who has either, although I suppose it is a legitimate occupational hazard."

His reaction to that was rather unexpected and over the top, in my opinion.  That whole morning I could hear him loudly telling all the other participants and staff that "that zip line lady sure does use a lot of big words!  Did you hear her?"

That just goes to show you that no matter how often and how intensely or critically we perceive others, others' perceptions of us are just not something we can easily predict, influence, or even know.  A little depressing in the context of the job interview scene, because I have no idea how my attempt at controlling for figiting, not saying "like", making varied eye contact, not trailing off or staring down when finished answering each question, not sweating my frikkin armpits off in a noticeable way, and answering questions with honesty, specific examples and enthusiasm really succeeds in affecting how I'm going to come off, especially when I didn't even realize that the type of words that come out of my mouth would also be taken as utterly alien by a random stranger.  Probably a job interviewer has more tolerace for phrases like " legitimate occupational hazard" than your average Joe, but I never even considered that those three words strung together would be hard for somebody to decipher or might make someone think I was pretentous and condescending for using them.

So if you can't control it or even be aware of it unless someone freaks out, then why bother trying to put off a perception that pleases others?

Cause you can get social advantage if you can control it, and we're human and care so fundamentally about our social mores that we've just got to try.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Nature Affects Nurture Politics

As he is so good at doing with his thoughtful posts and wide-range of links, Richard from Alleged Wisdom has timesucked me into pouring over social science articles in order to try to make sense of them.  Instead of, you know, doing the "quantum astrophysics" I would otherwise be required to do by my contract of employment as a physical science dataslave research assistant.  Darn that liberal arts college for making me take things like economics and history, instead of letting me just bury myself in pages and pages of integrals as if I I wouldn't actually hate not to ponder everything else and take an extra semester to graduate.

Note: I have kept this as a draft for a long time, trying to make it intelligent and coherent and Not Wrong as much as possible.  I probably failed at all three points to some degree, but it was sure worth the try.

The idea:  Studies show that political inclinations have a hereditary component.  Hereditary, like, someone determined by the biology you inherent, not just preferring the opinions of your parents 'cause that's how mama raised you.  I must stress that this is the  "gut feeling", "it's just SO!" aspect of political inclination, not any sort of broad statement about your entire thought processes being ruled what genes you inheret, nor is it any kind of statement about the superiority or inferiority of one side or the other.  Actually, it belies many attempts to argue the superiorioty of one side or the other by noting that positions may well be influenced by an essentially random component.

This idea has rocked my world over the past few days because I am inclined (genetically or otherwise) to be skeptical of a) proposed genetic explanations for something as complex as emergent human behavior, b) the potential distortion to which any "genetic" links to human behavior can be put by clumsy science reporters and/or scientists with an agenda. ( You think scientists don't sometimes have an agenda?  Do you then think they ain't as human as the rest of us?)

Richard's link was not to the study but to a commentary at Overcoming Bias, which (as usual) has a decidedly philosophical take:   unless you are convinced you have sufficient experience or evidence that makes you better informed than others who might take a position on a political issue, you should consider shifting your views toward the average because it might be that genes, thus, natural bias, rather than rationality, is guiding your inclination.  Overcoming Bias is, as it sounds, a space for exercising rationality to recognize and surpass bias in search of objective truth, so recognizing "genetically"-induced biases is critically important--if that pursuit is what trips your trigger.  Call me Carol Gilligan, but myself I'm not convinced of the uselessness nor the irradicability of subjective truth (this perhaps being a female trait), but that is a subject for another time and not the thesis of this post.  I do applaud effort to find and remove bias from intellectual discourse, which, sadly, political discourse often is not. 

Though always worthwhile at that blog, to save you the timesuck of reading the comments as well, I can sum them up in three main points:  a) Some protest the numerical description of a political position and the ability to simply adjust it at will.  How, they say, could you just shift your position on some issue from, say, 90 on a 1 to 100 scale to an 81, just because?  How do you numerical-ize political positions anyway, and why is shifting just because useful?  (The answer is to be more likely to have the true opinion, if genetic political bias is a source of misguidance toward less truth)

b) Some are confused or downright skeptical that political inclination could be hereditary at all, and how these scientists actually pinned down "percent caused by heredity" of a whole slue of issues.  Me too, so more on this later.

Some commenters, reflecting the not-entirely-undeserved undertone of intellectual arrogance that nonetheless often irks me about Overcoming Bias, assert that they do not want to adjust their opinions to the average because the average is, by definition of average, influenced by the far-less-intelligent among us, and they don't want their intellectual opinions to be brought down by those of stupider people.

 I admit to feeling that way myself sometimes.

Yet I have observed very intelligent people present on both the right and the left, (and, I hope, the left-center, where I claim to reside) and I have observed some appallingly stupid, or at least, not-too-prone-to-critical-thinking people on both sides.   So clearly, there is more to do with it than IQ.  I would naively posit that that extra factor is experience, so that an intelligent climate scientists is more likely to be in the correct opinion about global warming than an intelligent social scientist, but not as likely to be correct as that same social scientist is about the efficacy of government poverty prevention programs, for example.   However, clever Mr. Hansen covers the experience question with his assertion that yes, if you have reason to suspect you have more experience with something than someone else, than your position is more likely to be correct, but still there is more to the story and that may well be your genetics.  I would then posit with equal naiveté that the non-rational, gut-feeling part of politics, rather than genetics, comes from your moral foundations which in turn come from your upbringing and perhaps even your biology only so much as your moral foundations do.  We know that nature influences you and nurture influences you, a more nuanced view being that nature influences how and to what degree you are influenced by nurture.  It gets complicated so quickly--now he's got me all curious!

So I read the older study mentioned (not having Mr. Hansen's access to pay-service social science journals in order to get the new one), because I did want to know how exactly a quantification of the hereditary nature of each political question had come about.  Being a physical scientist not a social scientist and not particularly schooled in statistical analysis to boot, I don't know if I've been able to grasp the true subtleties of the methodology, but I will do my best.

The study uses twins, both the "egg" kind in which a fertilized egg splits into two copies with identical genetic information*, and the "fraternal" kind in which two distinct eggs were hanging around to get fertilized instead of one.  In the case of egg twins, genetic material is 100% the same, because the zygote copied itself.  In the case of fraternal twins genetic material is just like normal siblings:  50% from the mother, 50% from the father but the what-from-each is randomized, still equaling 50% shared material overall.  Whatever influence the uterine environment has on development, fraternal twins get to share that--but their different genetic material might mean they respond differently to it.

Yet fraternal twins make better comparison for genetic differences than siblings because their environment, while still very different due to ever-present subtle socialization, parental preference, experience differences starting from when you are physically able to occupy spaces other than the mother's womb, etc, is still more the same than it is for non like-aged siblings.  Or, if you want to control for environment, then you can look at raised-apart fraternal or egg twins.  To really say something you really ought to get a large sample size comprised of both.

The researchers looked at 30,000 twins and some of their close relatives in Virginia.  They gave them a political survey designed to assess conservatism or lack thereof by providing words and phrases like "disarmament", "socialism", "patriotism" and asking for gut reactions either positive, negative, or don't know/neutral.  They looked for correlation** in these surveys between egg twins, between fraternal twins, and also between a twin and another non-twin family member like a parent or sibling for comparison.  If I'm reading it right, the idea is this:  since egg twins have 100% identical genetic material, then an overall correlation of 1 between egg twin pairs would indicate a completely genetic-driven result.  Since fraternal twins have only 50% shared genetic material, then an overall correlation of .5 between fraternal twin pairs would indicate something genetic-driven.  Of course you don't get results that are 1 or .5, because politics is NOT purely a result of genetics.  But you can differentiate genetic and environmental influences on twins giving similar answers using the following math:

To find the genetic component, subtract fraternal twin numbers from egg twin number and multiply by two.  So if purely hereditary, a 1.0 for egg twins minus a 0.5 for fraternal will yeild 1.0-0.5=0.5*2 =1.0, or 100% genetic.   To find the non-genetic, thus environmental, component, double the fraternal twin correlation then subtract the egg twin correlation, so that in a purely genetics-caused situation, 0.5 for fraternal twins *2 = 1.0-1.0=0.  Thus you're scaling your result to reflect level of genetic or environmental influence on a scale of 0 to 1 for each, and you can, as they did, report results on genetic scale and on environment scale for a variety of political issues.

Since I'm reminded of the cliche "correlation does not equal causation"** and don't have a solid grip on the operative definition of either of those words as social scientists use them, I do worry that I'm missing something, because it seems to me that they are missing something.  How can we be gauranteed that a correlation of 1 between egg twins and 0.5 between fraternal twins is necessarily a result of shared genetics?  It does match the percentage of shared genetic material...but is it that simple?  

Regardless, because of the survey itself, it is imposable to take culture completely out of it.  Ideas such as "Republicans" (remember, respondents responded positively, negatively, or neutrally in each case), "Women's Liberation", "Modern Art" are very much culturally defined.   The way to interpret these results thus is not "my genetics make me prone to having such and such gut feeling related to such and such political opinion."  Rather, genetic variability is the underlying wildcard paired with cultural variability, perhaps determining how or to what extent we react to the cultural variable we are dealt.  It is then more accurate to say that "my genetics make me more prone to reacting in such and such way in response to such and such cultural stimulus which translates into such and such gut feeling."  The end result is the same:  we sometimes have strong opinions based on non-rational components of our psyche.  The fact that genetics can be pinpointed is both interesting and yet does not add anything particularly new to one's quest to overcome innate biases.  The study is not providing a roadmap which takes one from particular alleles to particular tendencies for responding to particular environmental factors in particular ways that lead to particular political gut feelings, thus "genetics" may not even be a good word to use.  Such a study may not be possible, and this one established fraction influenced by heritability of specific political inclinations.  The hereditary fraction was never 1, the average heritability of all issues was 0.32 in the old study.  Toward the quest to Overcome Bias: consciously avoiding decisions based on gut feelings as opposed to reasoning and experience should be an obvious course of action, no matter the source of the gut feelings.  Is that harder to do if "genetics" is your enemy, as opposed to straight acculturation?

We physcists love to doubt and disdain the difficulty of social sciences, it's true.  But we physicsts like to take situation and simplify them into models and Do Math on those models--and how can you create any simplified model of the human brain? 

*I'm talking the part of our genome that makes us humans and individually expressed humans at that.  Yes, we share 99% of our total genome with pretty much everything else on this planet.

*The authors note that "correlation" is technically "polychoric correlation analysis", which is standardly used on self-repsonse surveys where things are rated on a scale. I do not know any more about it than that, and since I'm supposed to be doing a very physical-science-y "cross-correlation" of spectra, I haven't got the time teach myself another barrage of statistical methods.  Sorry.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Politics and Bike Racing

I've got a draft of some interesting content coming, just have to find the time to stare at the journal article I'm using without it making my eyes hurt first, and before I even think about that I have to put in some serious astrophysics hours--which I'm not at the moment doing, because I'm watching the Tour De France solely for the eye candy.  Well, not solely, because bike shorts and jerseys, yellow or otherwise, are not that attractive...but damn those bikes are sexy.  I lust to own a sexy road bike like that:  sleek, light, pretty colors, made of frikkin carbon fiber or titanium...
Young (my age! my age!) Mr. Schleck is quite the eye candy too.  And that Luxembourger accent!  Hey, if men can flip through magazines full of half-naked and unnaturally proportioned women, I can watch sporting events (don't even get me started on tennis) in appreciation of the male participants.

But enough of that.   Since I got stung by a mere yellow jacket while running last night and am now flooded with histamine with the all-over-hives to prove it (though I'll leave the anaphylaxis, thank you very much) and don't want to my contemplate the inevitable eppi-pen-bearing part of my running future, I think I feel entitled to do some bitchin'.

So here it goes:

Yo Democrats:  Stop with the low-blow appeal-to-family whining about the unemployment benefits.   If I hear a self-righteous "The Republicans are turning their backs on american families!" (usually the Republican line, that one) one more time, I'm gonna...I dunno.  Turn le Tour up louder.

Yo Republicans:  Endure the stupidity of your comrades and help 'em figure out where to cut the budget, stop being contrary for the hell of it.  And by the way, what the heck are you hoping to gain by frikkin apologizing to BP for making 'em shell out the big bucks for screwing up?  That's why we have environmental regulation.  So when environmental disasters happen the taxpayers don't have to foot all of the bill.  So that, you know, the deficit doesn't grow and we can consider things like unemployment benefits.  In Big Boy world, individual actions have consequences that might have to be repaired, and hey, now corporations are individuals.   Oh, I forget, you occupy a dream world whereby the environment is capable of magically fixing itself or just isn't really bothered by things like tar balls to begin with.  Dilution is the solution!

Yo Democrats and Republicans:  The Republicans are not trying to destroy American working families, they are legitimately concerned about keeping our debt issues not on the scale of those in Greece.   The Democrats are not trying to turn us into a socialist utopia per se, they just think that in a recession extra govn't spending can keep people's desperation from spiraling so far out of control that we can't get out of said recession and thus fix our deficit problems with the help of actual economic growth. The job-creating kind, for once.

You have a difference of opinion.  Well, no shit.  But all this posturing and turning to your consitituency to make useless statements like "Republicans hate families" and "well the Democrats just won't listen to us so waah" is insulting our intelligence on what the actual difference of opinion is, which isn't families verses not, fixing defecit spending verses not, but a question of how to prioritize both.  Why not listen, instead of talking at each other?

Finally, Yo Blago'vitch:  I don't know which one is worse, you prending that you're an out-of-touch, captivated-by-your-own publicity fool who honestly doesnt' think that what you did was wrong, or you actually being an out-of-touch fool who honestly doesn't think that what you did was wrong.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Top 10 Reasons Why I'm Not Really A Hippie

This is an oldie but a goodie from my old blog, resurrected and updated because I've been doing a lot of random and non-committal political and social science reading.  The original entry was inspired, as today as been, by my frustration at some of the people in This Lovely Town.

1. I don't smoke. Anything.

2. It doesn't seem okay with me to ask to borrow large sums of money from mere acquaintances.

3. I recognize that people I don't know, don't necessarily want to talk to me about my thoughts on existence while frequenting public areas, and in fact are in public areas for reasons completely independent of the fact that I might also be there, and so can recognize that their potential annoyance if I bother them with these things anyway would stem from reasons other than their being brainwashed conformist sheep.

4. I require structure: not only does too much "chill" irritate me, people who aspire to a certain degree of "chill", irritate me.

5. Nature is cool, and important, and should be protected, but it's not a shining example of peace and happiness and getting along.  It's pretty much about resource competition.  If humans weren't the ones taking over the landspace for our own uses, some other species might have evolved to fill in that same void.

6. I differentiate between being thoughtful and generous with time and money, and sharing.

7. I especially do not want to share my genitals.

8. I may not like some (or many) government decisions, but I'm glad we have a government.  Notice how if you go far enough right or far enough left, the result is essentially "no government."  I'm particularly annoyed at the left-side no-government folks these days, a good friend of mine being caught up in a seemingly-normal protest that turned into a wholesale down-with-the-government smash-fest.  The arrested smashers then demanded public defenders.  The additional irony in the case of my soft-spoken, politically left-but-not-that-far, certainly-not-a-smasher friend is that she trusts the system to not lock her up for being a stupid system-hater just because she ended up in the company of stupid system-haters.

I wish I did.

9.I often contemplate gun ownership--in the sense that I consider gun ownership for myself.  (The God-Damn-It My Way or the High-Way attitude of many of the outspoken gun owners would put me off from wanting to affiliate with them, however)

10. I don't stand in a public place and pretend to be a tree.

Twitter is Not News

I have a lot of half-formed content floating around in my head, but research and job search (and curtain making) have picked up again,  and Hooray For That, so I haven't had much time to flesh 'em out.  A lot of them are social commentary kind of stuff, some even blatantly political.  I find it valuable to analyze political issues to figure out what the hell my political view actually is, but I'm not sure if all that is relevant to a Science blog without Science backing of some kind.  So I've got to do my social science homework a bit.

For now, here's a somewhat outdated rant of mine.

Obviously, I'm one of those old fogies (while not being very old) who Just Don't Get It Re: Certain Social Media, but I'm really sick of NPR reporting on things you can do with twitter as if it were real news.

The most recent I heard was a story about book reviews with twitter.  One-hundred-twenty characters to get across the essense of the classics, or a new read, or what have you.

I'm sorry, but when I listen to the supposedly left-leaning National Public Radio for company in my lonely house and the occasional newsworthy tidbit, I just don't care to hear about what you can do with twitter.  Admittely not a twitter user (I have an account, but I only joined to try to win some contest a writer friend was putting on...which I didn't win), I just don't understand what makes twitter's-recent-novelty-use newsworthy.  Despite what people may think, I highly doubt that the world of book-reviewing, or book-reading for that matter, is going to twitterize, and it's insulting to the human intellectual attention span to think so.

I can see the fun challenge in trying to sum your review up in one hundred twenty characters.  Snark and wit can still apply.  But that's a little fun on the internet--like, and you don't see NPR reporting on internet tetris.

Okay, so twitter book reviewing or the related story of theirs, cd reviewing, is more intellectual than playing tetris, and that is something to be midly praised.  There is fun to be had with twitter to be sure, such websites as tweeting too hard---okay that is the only one I can think of.  Furthermore, authors must have the skill of pitching their complicated project in one sentence that makes theirs stand out from countless other one-senteces pitches, so maybe your friends can read your manuscript and tweet your sentence for you.  So maybe it's a challenge, maybe there's an intellectual component--but it's also still just a novelty.  Something to do for fun, for humor, etc. 

 My larger problem may be that I am an old-fashioned, long-winded blogger, and I just don't get what is interesting or enough about 120 characters of your life, your friend's lives, your opinion of a new book, following random cross-linking from a blog post to someone's twitter sentence to someone else's midly related twitter sentence to some other random thing, to Kevin Bacon.  There's no room for explanation, for argument, for clarification or subtlety or in short, substance.*   Obviously twitter is taking up loads of users, and maybe that is NPR worthy news.   But they reported on that already.   Book reviews, movie reviews, cd reviews?  Whatever.

*Admittedly, some one-hundred-twenty character sentences have more substance than pages and pages of words.  One hopes this blog is not such an example.

If you want to explain what I obviously just don't get about twitter to me in the comments, please do enlighten me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Not a Vacuum

In the now, nearly eight months since I graduated and ten since I started looking for a "real" job, I've actually done quite a bit.  It is helpful to remember this.

I have:

  • -worked part-time on an astronomy research project, developing from an absolute novice to a beginning-competent programmer no matter that I have no intention of pursing any future in computer programming, and coming to understand more deeply both astrophysics and the mentality of a research scientist who asks a question and gets an answer that doesn't make sense, thus must find new questions without the bias of what we want the results to be, no matter that I have no interest in pursuing a career in astronomy
  • -attended an intensive class about solar energy, took and passed a professional (although joke, according to the solar industry workers I spoke to) test on it--added this to my resume and got renewed interest at least
  •   -gone to a physicist conference as a science reporter, where I interviewed a climate scientists and a famous astronomer, and was published
  • -started a science writing blog that I maintain in little bursts (though this entry isn't about science, now is it?)
  • -in my Infinite Free Time, went from rock climber to beginning lead-climber
  • -volunteered for a poweful girls mentoring program, culminating my experience in dealing with troubled youth and teaching me much about the power of positive intervention
  • -learned from participating in over ten job interviews, networked with the Asheville interviewers who seemed to at least be impressed, improved networking skills generally even though my inclination is sometimes to be an off-by-myself loner
  • -expanded my knowledge of wilderness navigation by volunteering with the wilderness trail maintenance crew, helped keep my overworked dad from going crazy
  • -spent a month learning what it would be like to be a professional writer, made progress on both a novel and the ability to generate and hone ideas even despite "writers block" and work on a creative pursuit under a self-imposed deadline
  • -learned that external motivation such as expectations of being at work, deadlines imposed by others, and accountability to others makes self-motivation a heck of a lot easier, although self-motivation is still possible otherwise though intense effort of will
  • -worked at and then was laid-off from a low-paying, high-employee-turnover non-profit hospitality industry site (an experience in itself), which I enjoyed some and expanded my technical high ropes skills and exposure to different kinds of large groups of children. 
  •  -presented about solar energy
  • -made a heck of a lot of curtains, so that my new living establishment is adorned with not-very-expensive curtains.
  • -played and failed at performing an above-my-level song on the piano
  • -learned how to cook better

But enough already about me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Review: The Fresco, by Sheri S. Tepper

I picked up this aliens-make-First-Contact-on-Earth gem by randomly browsing the shelves at the library.  I'm not quite finished yet, but I don't want to risk giving away the ending, so I'll write about it anyway.

It's pretty good, I'll be checking out more by this author. 

I like it because of its, hmm, irony?  Part of it is clearly a place for the author to vent her solutions, were anything possible, to various social problems.   The solutions are humorous, and clearly an interesting mix of left and libertarian, unabashedly so, considering the Bad Guys are socially conservative Republicans.  Socially conservative Republicans may not be amused--but they may not be all that inclined to read science fiction anyway, I don't know.

 Anyway, the interest in the book is in its multi-layered analysis of good and bad especially through the lens of modern political ideas like libertarianism and liberalism.  The protagonist; forty-something, Hispanic Benita Alvarez, is approached by the seemingly stereotypical benevolent aliens with a message of goodwill that she has been chosen to deliver to the authorities.  They give her money in exchange--and and reason to finally leave her drunk, abusive husband after nineteen years of capitulating and making excuses for him.   In typical star trek fashion, it turns out that the aliens have observed one of our deep-space probes (time-line: circa 2000, with a made-up Democrat president struggling to reclaim the party name after The Sex Scandal of his predecessor) and want to extend an invitation for us to join some intergalactic confederation, if we but make some minor changes to better achieve the prime requirement for entry:  Neighborliness.  Yet rather than interact directly with the leaders, they choose to keep Benita as their envoy, chosen, Benita suspects, because she was a poor, unknown minority woman, with no personal ax to grind, no reason to lie, and every reason to wish that the aliens would correct a lot of the world's social problems.

And correct problems, the aliens begin to do, no matter what we humans have to say about it.   The surprise in this book, the reason why I ended up muttering "oh shit, oh my god" at the end of each chapter, is the lengths and creativity the Pistach undergo to make sure humans can be considered Neighborly.  Civil liberties?  What if it works?  How do we decide when it goes too far?  (In my opinion, there is one, particularly disturbing part where it DOES go way too far.  The author however, has multi-layered things to say about this, just like everything else, and I suspect Going Too Far is the Point.)  Turns out Neighborliness should be vitally important to humans, because worlds rejected by the Confederation become fair game for the predator species out there.   (SciFi geek alert:  I have a theory as to why, if there really were intelligent aliens out there, they probably wouldn't be predatory, but that's for another time.)

I'll give you one, tantalizing example of one of the author's 'solutions':  the genderless Pistach are most perplexed by the treatment of women in the middle east.  They are perplexed that such treatment exists (the burquas, the sequestering, the stoning of to death women who accidentally allow their veils to slip), and they are perplexed that nations like the United States don't do anything about it.  When challenged about what it is they can do to Earth people, the Pistach use their seemingly-limitless technology to make all of the women in Afghanistan hideous and yet un-harmable by physical violence.  If the men of Afghanistan are so worried about preserving the modesty of their women, the aliens proclaim, then surely if the women are repulsive then they will have no need to worry.  The women can then go to markets and schools without fear of engendering lusty thoughts in the minds of others.

Ms. Tripper is certainly NOT worried about offending people.  If you don't think you're easy to offend, then you might enjoy it too.

Added after reading the end: Actually, I was kind of dissapointed.  The Oh Shit moments didn't resolve themselves into exploration of the ideas presented.  The personal situation of the protagonists ended with some illogical and out-of-left-field twists that I didn't like because they didn't make sense.  Not terrible, just, not as good as I'd hoped, or maybe just not my personal taste.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

90-Pound-Weakling This

This morning, I went on a measly short run, after hitting the job search hard.

I've already got some calls back, so hitting the job search hard is going well again, for the moment.

I am a pretty terrible runner.  But I'm great and swimming, and not bad at biking.

So I've decided to do a triathlon!  The Hickory Nut Gorge sprint triathlon (meaning, short) in fact.

That's right folks, I'm giving myself until August 28th to shape up.  I'm not really out of shape--because I bike 16 miles to and from work every couple of days and swim like, 2 miles once a week.   I'll need to improve on my ability to run without feeling like I'm gonna vomit.  And I'm not really excited about the sprint nature of this nor sprinting--being someone who withers rather than flourishes under direct athletic competition.

But next time somebody looks at me and assumes a 90 pound weakling, I can tell them that for their information I lead climb, bike 8 miles to work, and do triathlons.

So I'd better go on another run, then.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

This Week's Adventures

This week I went backpacking with my uncle and sixteen-year-old wonder-cousin.  She'd read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, and wanted to see what it was about, pre-cursor to her new dream of hiking the Appalachain Trail.  After she gets back from her junior year in Germany, and before she sets off to her ivy league college.

Yeah, I'm related to her.

My uncle, recalling backpacking of the old days, had a heavy and large external frame pack.  He brought a lot of cotton clothes, a lot of heavy, older gear.  I recall those days myself:  why buy all this newfangled technology when the way I've been doing it is just fine, thank you?  In that case you have to learn for yourself, and decide for yourself if the lesson is worth giving up what you are used to.

We set off on a wilderness trail--meaning unmarked and only minimally maintained--that I hadn't been on before.  That wasn't the smartest decision I've ever made, it's true, and not because I'm not a great wilderness navigator, because I am.  But the trails are rougher, and my uncle with his huge pack had to duck under short rhododendrons constantly and ended up slipping on an area of eroded traction and rolling his ankle.

Backpacking important fact:  Your feet are hugely important.

I ended up sort of guiding our group (because that's the kind of leader that I am, a guider, not a dictator, as I've told tons of people in job interviews) to the notion of re-routing.  Getting out of the wilderness and into the regular national forest, where we'd take a trail that was relatively close to the road the whole time.  In a moment of not-so-great forest navigation on my part, I underestimated the length of this new route, so we didn't make it to our revised destination either.  I ended up calling my dad covertly when I randomly found cell service and asking him to pick us up on our third day at a new location, pretty darn far from the car we were supposed to loop back to in that time.  Not sure how my companions felt about that, but, like I said, feet are a big deal, and hiking with an injured foot, especially in nationally designated wilderness, just isn't cool.  They were relieved to not have to spend extra days out to loop back around, compounding the injury all the while.

I think it was a good trip, though it goes to teach my wonder-cousin that in backpacking, the best-laid, and especially, over-ambitously-laid plans of mice and men are fairly often necessary to re-evaluate.  And in my mind, in the face of a foot injury, that's fine.  That's man and nature for you.  The forest terrain is what it is, and yet, we've got that useful pre-frontal cortex to help make the best of it.


We ended up, on my new route, passing through a very nice waterfall/swimming hole area, which used to be a little-known secret.  Since it's only a short distance from a main road, it was destined to not be a secret for long, but still, I was surprised, on a Wednesday afternoon, how quickly a nice little swimming spot (if you like 58 degree water) filled up with boy scouts and their lifeguards, young couples and their dogs, gaggles of middle-aged folks, smokers, and wailing (once they felt the water) two-year-olds.

This is a perfect lead-in for my waterfall rant.

People die every year, all over this area, by falling off of the top of waterfalls.   Hanging around at the top of a waterfall is a ridiculously dangerous thing to do, and warning signs and informational pamphlets to that effect are posted all over the national forest.  (In the wilderness, You're On Your Own Jack, and don't think they're going to send the helicopter in after you).   Yet at all the waterfall swimming holes I've visited--which, absent a real job, I've done a lot of this summer--there are people climbing up next to and near the top of waterfalls.   Children, you ask?  Well, some.  But mostly it's adults.  And the adults with the kids doing it are certainly not protesting.

Have you every heard of Sliding Rock?  Family fun for all, right?  Also known as Bloodbath For The Ridiculously Stupid. 

The state's respose to so many people dying annually in their forestland is to consider a blanket ban on waterfall swimming.

Like that is going to work.

But it would make doing so more aduous for the rest of us, (now having to avoid the enforcement) the ones who know how to be safe about it: to swim only at the bottom, and not to just go jumping in to water whose depth one cannot determine.   And from the perspective of someone who understands and follows these guidelines, being penalized for the stupidity of some people is highly outrageous. 

Yes, I can appreciate the position the state it in.  It is unfortunate but true that in my experience as an outdoor guide and high ropes facilitator, I have observed that adults especially are ridiculously terrible at following safety rules.

But I say, if people want to be stupid even after being warned, that is their business.  If it taxes the state then the ones making the stupid choices can foot the wilderness rescue bill.

Friday, July 9, 2010

"The Lost Generation"

Man, but being a now-not-so-recent graduate, trying idealistically to find a green collar job in a tourist town in the middle of a recession, because the job you have is temporary, the other job you have doesn't have the budget to give their staff more than a few hours a week, and the restaurants won't even look twice at you because you don't have any table-waiting experience--is tough.

So you turn to a year of service, only so does everybody else your age who is vaguely idealistic, wants to live where you already live, and can't find work any other way.   And you can't quite compete there either--or maybe you can, because half of the problem is evaporating funding.  And with all the advice you read about not wasting employers' time--it is hard not to get, well, frustrated, about that.

Performance in school is not the same thing as performance in the real world.  I think there's a demographic of people, who take school seriously because we like to take the endeavors we do seriously, and school for the past 16 years has been our most serious of endeavors.  In school, your evaluation of performance, your A, if you will, is yours, if you earn it.  It's not somebody else's that you are taking away from them.   And I definitely think grade standards have fallen in many places so that As are pretty easy to come by.  Then you get an inflated sense of your ability, your talent, your potential.

Or maybe it's just a recession.

There are two ways to look at constant rejection.  One is to take it as a marker of your real, post-school self worth.  To lower ego, make you realize that you're not that great, and that you now need to re-evaluate your dreams and goals with a real idea of your potential and capabilities, which aren't very much.  There's some kind of self-depreciating egoism in feeling that way.  It's addictive, even. 

The other is to take each rejection as a personal challenge to improve, to succeed despite all those people who "don't feel you fall into the pool of extremely qualified applicants" (you being merely a good one).  Know it's not personal except in that it motivates you to remain personally dedicated to making yourself as awesome as you can be, to pull out all the stops, network like crazy, figure out what you can provide to them.   And buddy, I want to be the best I can be, I know how to evaluate and correct my performance, and I know how to articulate what I have to offer.   I not only can succeed, I will, and I will bring benefit to my employer. 

The whole point of this is that I don't want to go to graduate school just because.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Maximum Ride: Adrenaline Reading for Science Kids

In a stroke of true, teenage-throwback escapism, I've been reading the Maximum Ride science fiction series for, yes, young adults, by James Patterson.

One of my all-time favorite SciFi young adult series--all-time favorite series at all, really--is the Animorphs series, which I devoured for several years.  Aliens, group dynamics, secret powers, saving the world, hard choices and moral I loved the whole occasionally-hokey ride.  A lot more than any other of the staple YA series of the time:  Babysitters Club (most ardently NOT SciFi), which I never even tried to read, and Goosebumps (not really SciFi either), which was okay but didn't ultimately do much for me.

Anyway, the premise of Maximum Ride was extremely Animorph-ish, what with the science and the quest to save the world and the animal-like superhuman powers, so I picked it up as a 23-year-old because I've been pretty upset lately and I thirsted for my Animorph-loving escapist past.

There are so far six books, of which I've read five (the sixth is still checked out), averaging about 1.5 hours per book.  I like them, and because cliffhanging suspense is apparently Mr. Patteron's thing, they are hard to put down until I've finished.

They don't have the depth nor the satisfaction of the Animorphs series though, at least not yet.

I am very taken by the characters:  six part human, part avian "genetic experiments" (or, kids with wings!) who were broken out of their life in dog-crates by a sympathetic (or was he?) mad scientist who raised them and taught them things like self-defense and having a conscious, must now run from the scientists who created them and along the way discover how they are supposed to save the world.  Fourteen-year-old Maximum Ride, "Max" to her friends, is a kick-ass and no-nonsense heroine, yet has sympathetic and captivating vulnerabilities.  I love the rawness, the passion, the courage of her point of view.  Watching her grow up, make choices, face hardship, defend her flock and navigate teenage emotions is inspiring, especially so if I were still a fourteen-year-old girl myself.   Fang (lacking parents, the kids named themselves) is every girl's dream of a strong and silent hero/sidekick, the other kids are quirky and funny, and the premise of six-year-old Angel--possessing both a six-year-old's lack of judgement or impulse control and the scary ability to both read and control minds--is truly interesting.   And of course, who doesn't want to read about kids who can fly, and dream of such an amazing ability for herself?

Because of such rich characterization, I had high hopes for the character-driven nature of the story, and while it does have it's character-driven moments, in truth the majority of the plot is a lot of the same:  bird kids running away from some evil figure or other, assisted by their kick-ass fighting skills and superhuman powers, with myterious "hey Max remember to save the world" admonishments thrown in from various sources.  It is an action series after all.    Enough real story, as opposed to kids going from one fight scene to another to another, is there that I keep reading, but in a sense the frustrating sparseness of it is why I keep reading.  I want to follow that glimmer of "story" as opposed to "action scene" to see if it gets anywhere.  And it does, but not as satisfactorily as I would like.

In a writing class I took once I learned about the difference between "sustained narrative" and "cheating narrative."  In sustained narrative, interesting, unexpected, and mysterious events happen, and those keep the reader reading.  And eventually, all of those things link together, bring the story forward in a logical yet powerful way, and are explained to sasisfaction.  Example:  the Harry Potter series.  Hidden things are mentioned, and eventually they end up being important.  We always come to understand how and why all events are related and important, and for that "everthing fits together" aspect, we the reader feel very satisfied.

In cheating narrative, by contrast, interesting, unexpected and mysterious events also happen, and also keep the reader reading, so he can figure out what the heck that was about.  And then those interesting, unexpected and mysterious things are not brought up again, or are not well explained, or turn out to not really fit very well or not really have much function in the rest of the story.  The mystery worked as a cliffhanger:  you read on because you want to know.  But then you never really find out, because the story goes somewhere else instead.  The mystery was then like a cheap trick just to keep you going.  The reader is not very satisfied.

A good bit of what goes on in the Maximum Ride books feels like cheating narrative.    Example: the person who rescues Max and her flock from the science lab, raises them, and then dissappears turns out to have been working for the Evil Scientists all along.  He shows up fairly often in the chase, tells them cryptic and contradictory things, sometimes helps them and sometimes hurts them, and you're left really confused. Rest of Paragraph Spoiler Alert!: In a later book he turns out to have been helping them all along but wanting them to pass "tests", to make sure they really are good enough to "save the world."  It seems he's a good guy again, but his whole convuluted involvement is explained only in a few "he said he did it for a little of this and little of this and some of this" expository sentences that do little to expose his inner feelings and motivation, and do little justice to the fairly large part he played in the first half of the series.  The second half doesn't seem to have much to do with him at all.

The whole "Max you have to save the world" thread feels a little bit that way to me too.  There's a lot of hype about how she has to save the world.  She even has a Voice in her head telling her cryptic messages to that affect.  It seems like a big deal and you wonder what she has to save it from.  But it ends up being something different every time.  A little fight with some Seriously Evil Mad Scientists.  A little anti-global-warming activism.  Yet all those cryptic message made it sound like there Was Some Big Conspiracy and Unifying Purpose for which she was created.  (The cover blurbs further this notion: "If she lives, the world lives. It's that simple." Yet I don't yet see any evidence of the world's fate being sigunarly tied to hers, even though she takes out some bad people with the help of her friends.) Maybe we'll find out what that is later (the series isn't done after all), but so far it is either cheating narrative or just not-very-well-put-together continued hints, which feels like cheating narrative even if it isn't intended to be.

In general, for a man who pumps out the novels (look at the "upcoming releases" section of his website: five books coming out in a space of two months) I think he gets a little sloppy with his work.  Five stories is a lot to keep track of at once.  In the first half of the series Max is described as blond, yet in later books she's suddenly brown-headed.  For example.  The general not-tied-together-as-nicely-as-suspensful-plot-devices-promise might be a symptom of that as well.  I don't think it's cheating narrative on purpose, and it isn't always cheating narrative.  Just enough to get on my nerves.

My final peeve of the series is a lack of beleivability in the bad guys.  First you have the Evil Mad Scientists, who created Max and flock by grafting bird DNA onto test tube babies and/or children given to science for money by poor parents.  They treat the kids like science experience, referring to them as "its" even when the kids smart off, refusing to treat them as humans even though they can talk to them, etc.  That just isn't beleivable to me.  I don't think there's enough people who would treat something that clearly feels pain and emotional hurt very much like a human child, as something not worthy of even the barest of empathy.  One or two, maybe, but a whole multinational corporation...he just didn't make that believable for me.  Especially becasue what this Itex wants remains a little bit of a mystery until later in the series.  (It turns out to be world domination, but the how, the why, etc, is still not very clear.)  Then post-Itex you have some other random genetically or robotically enhanced (but by whom?) bad guys whose past and motivations, beyond just being jerks, also aren't all that clear.

In short, Maximum Ride is a fun, witty, wild science-fiction ride, but it leaves me feeling unsure if James Patterson is really trying or really succeeding at going somewhere.  If I were a young adult, I'd really like it, and I'd reccomend it to young adults, because of the science, the strong heroine with strong values, the self-reliance think-for-yourself aspects.  It's possible that it really will go somewhere, and the seemingly random threads really will be resolved.  Judging from what I've seen so far I don't think they'll be resloved particularly masterfully, but even so it'll be an interesting and fun read.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Carbon Emissions: The Big Speculative Hoop-la

Got this link from Jeff a while ago:  Walking to the shops 'damages planet more than going by car.'

The idea is that, assuming one re-consumes the calories one burns while disdaining a car in order to walk to a destination, the carbon emissions coming from the raising, slaughtering, and transporting your caloric food source actually outstrip the carbon emissions from burning the small amount of gasoline you would have burned to drive instead.  The big greenwashed news: everything you thought about being a "green" citizen was a lie! Just drive baby, drive!

This article is extremely silly, either because the author didn't sum the book (How to Live a Low-Carbon Life) it draws from correctly, the author of the book (Chris Goodall) didn't have his thinking together, or both.  The title is  rigged and oversimplified merely to create sensationalism.  Although meat consumption is extremely heavy on the greenhouse gases; what with the landspace required in raising the animals and the food for 'em, the CO2 in slaughtering packing and transporting, and the methane, 20 times more potent a GG than CO2, that cows...err, emit with regularity--there are still several, hummer-sized holes in the argument.

First is the simplicity of the one data point which drives the whole statement:

“If you walked [3 km] instead [of driving], it would use about 180 calories. You’d need about 100g of beef to replace those calories, resulting in 3.6kg of emissions, or four times as much as driving."

When people need between 1500 and 3500 calories per day, 180 is hardly noteworthy, whether you eat beef or anything else.  With obesity and/or weight-obsession being what it is, many people could stand to or would love to just not replace those 180.

Certainly it's not entirely helpful for me to say that calories burned by being more active should not be replaced, but this argument is negated by its oversimplification in another way as well.  Pardon me for being one of those pushy holier-than-thou vegetarians, but is 100g of beef really the only way to replace 180 calories?  The article was written for a British audience, a country for which a majority of most foods both animal and vegetable are shipped long distances--but beef was specifically chosen as the data point that arrived at the four-times-as-much touchpoint.  I know some people do see meat-as-whole-meal, but they may often not be the people who are walking 3km instead of driving to begin with.  The reality of the matter is that people do eat too much meat to curb our carbon emissions, but the one-to-one beef-for-calories argument is way too oversimplified.  I want to see the carbon comparison for something besides carnivory. 

Granted, on the isolated and rainy Great Island Monarch, many food choices make carbon emissions.  The article is saying that life-cycle consideration are important.  So important, in fact, that the failure of the author to include life-cycle costs in the thing he is comparing--the life-cycle cost of drilling for, refining, and shipping that gasoline, or the materials for your automobile, for that matter--is as glaring error in logic.

I haven't researched them, so I don't know what those life-cycle costs are  directly, thus I can't say how they compare to the CO2 and methane of 100g of beef.  Perhaps the author of the book, if not the article, has looked into them.  However, they are not mentioned, and some critical thinking suggests that such an omission is hardly trivial.  Drilling uses fossil fuels, and certainly removes any trees and greenery--natural carbon sinks--from the land in question.  Refining the stuff is going to use some energy, to say the least.  And fossil fuel isn't exactly Britain's great natural resource, either, so just as you're boating and flying and trucking in the meat and out-of-season fruits and vegetables, so are you flying and boating and trucking in the oil.   Car parts are also mined, forged, assembled, and shipped all over the world.

Perhaps the carbon emissions from beef are still worse.  But you can't make conclusive statements until you consider all of the evidence, especially when the whole premise of your argument is based on considering hidden factors.

So the article may have some food for thought in it (pardon the pun), but it's not actually saying anything particularly profound.  In fact, considering what it has left out, it may not be saying anything new at all.   If you want to save the environment, you're better off reducing your meat consumption AND walking 3 kilometers.

Friday, July 2, 2010

It's Just Adrenaline

So, in this entry I get a little bit gushy.  This is not uncharacteristic of me at all, but it's something I've been trying, relatively, to stay away from here.  Be warned.

Yesterday I went on a very spectacular rock climbing trip.

I'm an old hat at rock climbing--which is not the same thing at saying I'm good at it, because I'm really, staunchly, mediocre--so I can differentiate a spectacular climbing day from a not-so-spectacular one.

My completely awesome, competent, confident, intelligent, extroverted and slightly adrenaline-junkie friend (do I seem jealous?), also severely underemployed, has been climbing with me a lot lately.  You may have heard about her in my last entry about climbing and car accidents.  Since, as severely underemployed and getting over the loss of college-inflated self-importance people are not short on time if we are on money, there are ample opportunities for this.  More specifically, we've been getting into *lead* climbing, which, if you've done it, you'll know is a whole 'nother world from normal rock climbing.  More so to people like me than said competent, confident, intelligent yadda yadda friend, who has so far taken it in stride.

Unlike me, who sweats and hyperventilates and shakes hysterically and swears (but haven't teared up yet) my way through it.

Well.  We had found a nice moderate route to lead, and we were both going to do it.  I was in a state that can best be described as morosely immature, because I'd just been rejected for yet again another job in the same sentence that I was reassured that I really had been such an excellent candidate (yet again on the excellent candidate part of the rejection, too).  So even though knowing better (I'm a Challenge By Choice professional, after all, even if only barely employed as such), even though knowing myself, I looked at the route and let her go first.

She did okay.  There was a spot where she slipped, grabbed the rock, and had to breath hard for a few minutes, which is probably on the level of a nervous-break-down for most other people.  She succeeded of course, without falling,  and then it was my turn to climb the thing.  I had to follow her first, to take out the gear she'd put in.

I learned that that was a mistake, because I went from feeling reasonably pumped about doing it lead, to vehemently proclaiming that I would *not* lead it once I'd gotten to the top.  I should have just had her take her own gear down and be do with without realizing what I was getting into.

It wasn't a hard route, but it was slabby face (like, rock face) climbing.  Imagine an almost vertical wall, with minuscule finger holds and little ripples that your feet may or may not stick to.   That fear-factor, that lizard-brain, was kicking into overtime, even though, like I said, I'm a old hat at climbing.  It's the kind of climbing where you can't stop and think, you can't really plan, you just hold on and move by god before you lose the grip and delicate balance that you have.  And deal with the adrenaline.

I'm actually really good at that kind of climbing relative to other kinds, and I find it very satisfying.

But I am a hesitater, and that's why my stomach dropped at the notion of leading the route.  I can handle a lead fall.  Okay, the concept is still scary, but I've taken moderate falls, and I trust the equipment.  Taking a lead fall would probably be damn good for me, because then I wouldn't be afraid of it.  I always feel better after falling and feeling the safety device--the rope--catch me.  A lead fall just involves a longer interval before that happens.

But that feeling.  Of hanging by very little, and of not being able to take time to *think* about it, of just having to act, and like I said, you can't fool your lizard-brain with a silly safety rope.  It's only adrenaline...but I am not an adrenaline junkie.   I have such performance anxiety issues.  I can't take risks, I want to stop and analyze and make sure I'm not *wrong*.  If I'd lead that, there would be no time for right or wrong.  Just action.

I don't want to give up my love of hesistation.

Of course, this can become a metaphor for grander things.  I do hard work in my job search, but I do hesitate before I make phone calls.  I do plan conversations meticulously.  I do hate to look the fool, sound the fool, perform poorly in front of others.  I take actions to avoid having to perform at something...and fail publicly.

Who's afraid of failure?  Who is, consequently, treating this latest rejection with what moping woe-is-me histrionics, considering it a failure even though it really is nothing personal and may in fact just be that they didn't consider their budget well enough?  Who is taking this "failure" as an indication of doom into repeated, future failure, just a little bit?

Who always has to frikkin hesistate before speaking up, sharing, asking questions, taking risks?


And loads of other human beings.

Don't worry, I am going to go back and lead climb that thing soon.  I hope I do fall, because that will be the best lesson.

I did and do really want that job though, not some other one.  I guess that is their loss.