Sunday, September 4, 2016

[FCS] "Letting Go of the Shore"

Letting Go of the Shore

Our Scripture reading this morning comes from the Gospel according to Luke.

Luke’s is one of 4 different reports of the life and ministry of Jesus, and is often referred to as the one most favorable toward those on the margins -- women and the poor.

In Luke’s gospel, the birth of Jesus is announced first to poor shepherds working the night shift out in the dirty fields with smelly sheep. Some of the parables unique to Luke’s Gospel are the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal.

Our reading today comes about 2/3 of the way through the book -- Jesus has already begun turning toward Jerusalem, warning the disciples that the Child of Humanity will suffer, be killed, and rise again.

Listen now for what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

25Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and Jesus turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate parent, spouse, children, siblings, yes, and even life itself, is not able to be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me is not able to be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether you have enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when you have laid a foundation and are not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule you, 30saying, ‘This person began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what ruler, going out to wage war against another ruler, will not sit down first and consider whether they are able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against them with twenty thousand? 32If they cannot, then, while the other is still far away, they send a delegation and ask for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you is able to become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Luke 14:25-33 (NRSV, alt.)

(In the beginning was the Word. / And the Word was with God.)

Church, will you pray with me?

God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, keep us along the journey to Jerusalem, to the tomb, and into the Resurrection life. Amen.

The Luke passage assigned for today is arguably even more divisive than the one Henry preached on a few weeks ago -- today Jesus says, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate parent, spouse, children, siblings, yes, and even life itself, is not able to be my disciple. [...] therefore, none of you is able to become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

I think we often get stuck on the "give up all your possessions" bit -- Matthew and Mark each have a whole story about a law-abiding rich young ruler who goes away from Jesus sad because "sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor" is too big of an ask for someone who has managed to obey all the Commandments. But this whole "hate your entire family and even your very life" is pretty intense.

Now, I don't think that Jesus wants us to literally hate our family members -- earlier in Luke, Jesus proclaimed:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. [...] If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:27-28 & 32, NRSV)
And Jesus certainly doesn’t want us to hate our own life -- I think Jesus weeps at suicidality, just as Jesus weeps at anything that makes people believe they would be better off dead.

On the passage that Henry preached on ("Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!"), black gay Episcopalian Broderick Greer Tweeted, "When good news is being announced and enacted at the margins, it often sounds bad news to the powers that be."

I think the message in this morning’s gospel passage is similar. Various commentators1 have noted that in context, the Hebrew word translated “hate” means more like detachment, a choosing of one over the other -- like when Jesus later says that you cannot serve two masters, for surely you will love one and hate the other (Luke 16:13). Here, Jesus is saying, “This is a big deal. I am bringing about radical transformation of everything, and you have to be more committed to the transformed life than you are to any of even your closest interpersonal relationships or the life you currently have -- otherwise this literally just won’t work. You cannot learn to swim if you never let go of the shore.”

This weekend we celebrate Labor Day -- though many of us are used to celebrating it with barbecues and department store sales, rather than reflecting on the history of labor in the US.

According to a Jacobin article last year, “Although previous Septembers had seen small workers celebrations in many states observing the end of summer, the first federally protected Labor Day was marked in 1894 with an AFL [American Federation of Labor]-supported parade.”

So that sounds really good, right? Over a century ago, President Grover Cleveland declared a federal holiday recognizing the labor movement. Except that earlier that same year, Cleveland had brought in the US Army to suppress the Pullman Strike, and he made Labor Day a federal holiday to curry favor from workers who were understandably pissed about that.

I wonder if this is the kind of trying to have it both ways that Jesus rejects.

At the same time as President Cleveland was making Labor Day a federal holiday, many groups had been pushing for May 1st -- May Day -- to be an International Workers' Day, commemorating Chicago's 1886 Haymarket affair.

In May of 1886, folks were rallying in Haymarket Square in Chicago to support workers striking for an eight-hour work day and to protest the recent killings of workers by police. Sounds similar to contemporary #FightFor15 and #BlackLivesMatter protests. The police ordered folks to disperse and someone threw a homemade bomb in front of the police as they advanced on the protestors. Many were killed and wounded in the ensuing violence and, shockingly, accounts vary about whether protestors fired first, about whether police fired on folks who were fleeing, etc.

There was a harsh anti-union (and anti-immigrant) backlash after this incident (and a huge outpouring of support, including financial support, for the police). Lots of people only peripherally involved in the rally were arrested. Media stoked public opinion against anarchists for their violent tactics. This all may also sound familiar.

This is the kind of history we could recall on Labor Day. A reminder that we’re not in control of what will happen after -- whether someone will throw a pipe bomb in front of us, whether the police will shoot at us, whether our homes will be raided or public opinion will turn against us -- but we can control how we react, what choices we make.

And those choices are not always easy.

Would you have marched in Grover Cleveland’s Labor Day parade in 1894? Would you have refused, still bitter from his response to the Pullman strike earlier in the year? Would you have waited until an eight-hour workday was the norm, something that still hadn’t happened 8 years after the Haymarket protests?

I’m not here to tell you how a hypothetical you should have behaved over a century ago, but the various texts assigned for this Sunday all converge around this theme of the choices we make.

In the reading from the prophet Jeremiah, God talks about being like a potter, and while that’s lovely and all, Jeremiah speaks of a vision of God-the-potter with a clay vessel that was spoiled, and which God reworks into an entirely new vessel. God literally says (paraphrased), “house of Israel, you are like this clay in the potter’s hand, I can break down and destroy kingdoms, and I can plant and build up kingdoms” (Jeremiah 18:5-9). This is not a comfort but a threat -- “you think we have this special relationship, but I could destroy you and make a new Chosen People.”

The Republican nominee for President this year has been using the phrase "Make America Great Again," and the Democratic nominee has countered with "America Is Already Great" -- which, while politically understandable, is a response I'm uncomfortable with on account of how it elides the MANY MANY ways in which America is deeply flawed. Now, I don’t think God is about to smush us into a ball of clay and build up a new nation on this land -- but I also don’t think it’s the worst thing God could do, especially since we white folk already played God on this land, nearly destroying the nations who were already here (the Wampanoag locally, and I’m not even going to attempt to list the currently 566 federally recognized Indian Nations in what is now the US).

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a biracial man, recently got blasted by certain parts of White America for not standing during the national anthem before a football game.

In an interview with NFL Media, he said: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus opens public ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah “The Spirit of God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the jubilee year” (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2) and declaring “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” -- and then the hometown crowd tries to throw Jesus off a cliff. Now, one can certainly read the story as the people reacting to Jesus saying, “This thing that God promised to do? You have seen that promise fulfilled here and now in me” -- reacting to the equation of this peasant kid with God -- and certainly between the Scripture reading and the attempted murder, Jesus gives a little “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” speech which seems aimed at pissing off the crowd. But I wonder if part of it was that they didn’t actually want that Scripture fulfilled -- because to do so would involve a radical re-ordering of the structure of their lives, their communities, their institutions, and they were not interested in that.

What if when Jesus said, “I have come to proclaim release to the captives,” Jesus meant, “That’s cool and all that you’ve started the slow process of shutting down the 13 federal private prisons, and you’ve declared that poor folks can’t be held in jail just because they can’t afford bail, but I am coming to abolish this whole system. I’m here to abolish Immigrant Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Homeland Security, and the whole prison industrial complex.”

I can imagine many people hearing a call to dismantle our toxic policing system as an assertion that, “If you do not hate your parent, spouse, children, or siblings who are police officers, then you are not able to be my disciple.”

Later in Luke, Jesus will say, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it” (Luke 17:33). Those who tie their identity to the structures of a fallen world will not be able to enter into the new life that is growing up all around us, but those who are able to empty their hands of all the preconceived notions we carry with us about how the world works will be able to receive new and unexpected gifts. You cannot learn to swim if you never let go of the shore.

In the text for today, Jesus uses the analogy of preparing for going to war -- cautioning that you not set yourself up for failure and embarrassment by getting into a war you can’t win. I don’t think Jesus supported war in the traditional military sense, but many in Jesus’ community expected the Messiah to be a Davidic king who would overthrow the occupying government. And I wonder if Jesus is saying in part, “You think we’re going to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house?3 Do you think you really have what it takes to defeat the Powers that are oppressing us, or are you going to find yourself outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned?”4

The Roman Empire was a powerful oppressor -- a military power that would literally leave people nailed up on crosses along the roadside dying slowly and painfully as a warning to anyone else who might try to oppose them. The Empire not only had vast amounts of military resources, but it also knew how to play games of intimidation and appeasement -- because the most effective way to police people is to get them to police themselves.

Jesus’ counter-intuitive way to win against the Powers is to not play their game. Jesus says, “If you do not give up all your possessions, you will not be able to become my disciple.” Your comfortable suburban home where all your neighbors look and vote like you. Your assurance that if you call the police, they will not shoot you or someone you love. Your comfort giving money to yet another film that casts a cisgender man as a transgender woman. Your insistence that people in pain from yet another microaggression be calm and gracious unpaid educators.

There are so many, many ways we shield ourselves from really entering into the pain experienced by marginalized people at the hands of the death-dealing Powers.

Theologian Laurel Schneider talks about “promiscuous incarnation,” asserting that “the narratives of Jesus of Nazareth suggest that the divinity which his flesh reveals is radically open to consorting with anyone. It follows no rules of respectability or governing morality in its pursuit of connection with others, many others, serially and synchronically, passionately and openly.”5

Earlier I used the analogy of needing to let go of the shore in order to be able to swim.

Letting go of the shore enables you to go on adventures, enables you to go deep. You can’t explore all the riches of the water from the shoreline. There is a whole world that is literally unavailable to you, that you literally cannot enter into.

In the reading for today from Deuteronomy, God says, "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity." (30:15) God says (paraphrased), “Love me, stay close to me, obey my commandments, that you and your descendants may have life.” God wants so much for each and every one of us to be able to enjoy the fullest possible life. And that just isn’t possible while we’re cutting ourselves off from each other, shielding ourselves from necessary discomfort, continuing to be complicit in systemic oppression. It’s not that God wants us to be miserable, it’s that God knows transformation is hard.

Theologian Kathy Rudy asserts that in our culture’s emphasis on monogamy, “We are told that on the deepest level our allegiance and commitment belong not to our larger community but to our partner or nuclear family.”6

Is this perhaps what Jesus meant by saying we must hate our family to become Christ’s disciples?

We are called to open ourselves up to broader and deeper ways of being in relationship -- community conflict resolution that doesn’t call on the police or the carceral system, stories for our children about their futures that don’t presume their gender or sexuality, facing our history honestly and building new futures.

We do this by being vulnerable with each other and taking seriously people’s accounts of their lived experiences -- seeking out the words of autistic people, people with disabilities, people living with mental illness, currently and formerly incarcerated folks, indigenous folks and people of color... And I do mean people’s own lived experiences -- not people who have studied or worked with these populations; not tourists who tried out the experience of wearing hijab in public, asking for spare change on street corners, being a woman on the Internet, or whatever -- actual people’s own lived experiences in the world inhabiting their own identities.

This kind of relationship-building, this work of stretching our comfort and expanding our knowledge, doesn’t require waiting for a leader, it’s work we can do now, and must always keep doing as we continue growing into the Kindom.


References (besides the ones already hyperlinked in the text)

1. On "hate" in this text:

2. In addition to the Jacobin article cited, I also skimmed the Wikiedia articles on Labor Day, May Day, the Haymarket affair, and the eight-hour workday; as well as an IWW piece on the origins of May Day, a Slate article on Labor Day, and a CNN opinion piece on Labor Day.

3. Shout out to Audre Lorde.

4. I said I wasn't going to reference Hamilton ... and then it happened anyway.

5. Schneider, Laurel C. "Promiscuous Incarnation." Chapter 14 in The Embrace of Eros: Bodies, Desires, and Sexuality in Christianity (Margaret D. Kamitsuka, ed.), 2010. Page 244.

6. Rudy, Kathy. "'Where Two or More Are Gathered': Using Gay Communities as a Model for Christian Sexual Ethics." Chapter 15 in Our Families, Our Values: Snapshots of Queer Kinship (Robert E. Goss & Amy Adams Squire Strongheart, eds.), 1997. Page 201.

Friday, June 24, 2016

picturebooks rec list (round 1)

In the 6+ months since my brother and sister-in-law announced they were expecting a baby, I've read approximately 150 picturebooks -- ranging from board books to books for elementary schoolers.

I remain a very text-oriented person, but I'm trying to be more more attentive to the art and the ways the art and text interact.

Things I have learned:

  1. Most picture books don't indicate reading level. (1a) The books I've been reading I think have tended toward older kids, but without explicit indicators on the book itself it's really hard for me (who doesn't have very much experience with kids) to guess at what age a kid would probably be reading this book.
  2. I like books that are not About The [X] Experience -- I prefer books that are clearly rooted in a particular culture/experience but are not About being X (this has made it difficult to find picturebooks with disabled protagonists that I even want to read).
  3. I want books to be written by people for whom that culture is native to them/they share that experience. (This is not so much a thing I have learned as a stance I already had and have been really reaffirmed in. Not only am I very much on a break from books by/about white dudes, but I don't want books by white people about chromatic culture/experience -- yes, I want fewer stories about white people, but I want to lift up the voices of actual people of color ... if I'm going to read a book about PoCs, I want to be reading a PoC's voice. Yes, there are some really excellent books by white people, but I would rather be spending my time hearing the stories of actual PoCs.)
Partly for my own reference, and partly because other people have expressed interest, here's my rec list so far. These are listed in approximately the order in which I read them.


I have quibbles with just about everything, but other books that would probably make my rec list are: Second tier: I also did specific dives into particular topics --



Sunday, May 29, 2016

[QHC] We are the Body of Christ

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (NRSV)

Content notes: mention of (no dwelling, no details) suicidality, self-harm, eating disorders, getting kicked out by your family, sexual assault

Now, will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable to you oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

You've probably heard this list of spiritual gifts many times before, but I want to focus on this verse near the end, verse 27 -- "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."

YOU are the Body of Christ.

The 16th-century Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila wrote:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
She is asserting that we are the means by which Christ's ministry of good work in the world continues:
Yours are the eyes with which [Christ] looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which [Christ] walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which [Christ] blesses all the world.
All the work that Jesus did -- siting at table with people, healing people, blessing people -- we are called to continue that work.

Paul is clear that we all have different gifts -- prophecy, teaching, healing, assisting, leading...

But I think that two of the gifts that Teresa of Avila highlights -- looking compassion on the world and blessing the world -- are gifts that we can ALL cultivate.

In her book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor asserts that, “a blessing does not confer holiness. The holiness is already there” (p. 203).

Can we look with compassion on all that is around us and recognize the holiness therein? Can we recognize that holiness in ourselves? She suggests practicing by blessing everyone and everyTHING that you come across -- it doesn't have to hear you, the important part is cultivating a practice in yourself of acknowledging the holy.

"Notice what happens inside you," she writes, "as the blessing goes out of you, toward something that does not deserve it, that may even repel it. If you can bless a stinking dump, surely someone can bless you. (p. 203)

Of course, the Beatitudes we are all so familiar with -- "Blessed are the meek," etc. -- do not merely say, "The meek are holy," they contain promises -- "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Taylor writes, "To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God's own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is to share God's own audacity." (p. 206)

These promises are glimpses of Kindom life, of what the fully redeemed Creation we are all working toward will look like.

Blessed are the sex workers, for they shall know pleasure without obligation.

Blessed are the queer kids kicked out of their homes, for they shall know the deep love of found family.

Blessed are the trans women of color, for they shall know bodies in which they are truly safe and at home.

In the long farewell discourse in the Gospel of John, Jesus is reported to have said, "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these" (12:14).

It's easy to explain this as meaning that the later generations would convert even greater numbers of people or something like that, but I don't think that Jesus was so limited about what great works would entail.

I think that Jesus meant that we who came after would go even farther into radically transforming the world into one of God's delight, one where each and every one of God's children grows up in a community of care, with emotional support and health care and joyful play and meaningful work, with enough resources to comfortably sustain ourselves and those we love.

And we are all, together, the Body of Christ, reaching out our calloused hands and nursing breasts and singing voices, bringing the Kindom of God, little by little, closer to reality here on earth.

And even though we or others might say that we are not really part of the Body, because we are not like other parts of the Body -- we don't look like them, we don't act like them, we don't have their gifts -- Paul asserts:

If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. (vv. 15-16)
If someone says: Because you are not heterosexual, you do not belong to the Body...

If you say, Because I am suicidal, I do not belong to the Body...

If someone says: Because you have sex in exchange for drugs, you do not belong to the Body...

If you say, Because I cut and starve myself, I do not belong to the body...

Paul is there to say, no, you have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and you are a new Creation in Christ Jesus. You are God's beloved.

And Paul even goes so far as to point out here that "the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect" (vv. 22-23).

It is precisely those the world seeks to dismiss that God says are most precious.

If we are the Body of Christ, then that means that our bodies are the body of Christ. Our queer, female, Black, brown, disabled, trans, bodies.

Jesus walked the earth as a particular Palestinian Jew read by the culture as male, but the Body of Christ is our body.

Jesus brought something of that consciousness -- of what it is to live our particular embodied experience, our sexuality, our chronic pain, our gender, our sexual assault, our trauma -- to Jesus' time on earth two thousand years ago. In the way that only God can do, Jesus carried the experiences of billions of humans in one body. And in the way that humans are limited, Jesus didn't necessarily always get it right -- we can talk another time about how I'm not in love with Jesus -- but still, however so slightly, something of each of us informed the Jesus we read about in the Gospels.

Paul says in Romans, "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another." (12:4-5)

We are members of one another. We belong to one another. We are responsible to and for one another.

This may mean blessing silently from a distance, this may mean offering the work and kindness of our hands, but whatever it is, it is always embodied, for we are embodied. And Paul's use of the image of the human body to describe the church universal, to describe our union with Christ, reminds us that our bodies are precious gifts from God, deeply beloved by God, and reflected in Jesus Christ. In this broken world, our bodies often fail or frustrate us, but let no one tell you that your body, or what you do with your body, makes you any less precious to the God who created, redeemed, and sustains us.


Friday, March 11, 2016

[TITW] who gets credit, #OscarsSoWhite, A Modest Proposal, nihilism + Taylor Swift; evictions and housing for the poor, Heather Maloney; do plants feel pain?

who gets credit
Now new evidence suggests that the underrepresentation of women reflects a systemic bias in that marketplace: a failure to give women full credit for collaborative work done with men. -"When Teamwork Doesn’t Work for Women" by Justin Wolfers (Jan. 8, 2016; NYT)
Insert joke about Justin Wolfers (male) getting a NYT piece out of Heather Sarsons’ (female) working paper. (Yes, I know Justin’s a full professor and Heather’s finishing her PhD, so there are a lot more dynamics at play…)
When Princeton professor Angus Deaton co-authored a buzzed-about report this month on dying middle-aged whites, many journalists munged the order of the names. They mentioned Deaton first, as if it were mainly his paper, and not an equal collaboration with his wife.

There we go again.

Her name is Anne Case, and her name came first on the study. She’s a widely-respected professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton. But apparently, Case’s sterling credentials are no match for our unconscious biases.

The press might be forgiven for fixating on Angus Deaton, who won a Nobel Prize last month. But, as economist Justin Wolfers pointed out on Wednesday, the media has a nasty habit of treating female economists like second-class citizens. He noted several recent examples of journalists leaving women’s names as an afterthought.

Academics can be very sensitive about who receives credit for joint papers. In economics, there’s a convention that names on a paper go alphabetically, and collaborators contribute roughly the same amount of work. So, “Anne Case and Angus Deaton,” not the other way around. To switch the names would be unusual; it would imply that Deaton did the lion’s share of the work.

-"Why men get all the credit when they work with women" by Jeff Guo (November 13, 2015; WaPo)


(It's Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson who are not-married for tax reasons -- not Jesse Shapiro and Emily Oster.)


"6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism"

  • "Born in Northern Ireland in 1943, Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars in 1967 while still a graduate student in radio astronomy at Cambridge University in England."
  • "Born in 1922 in the Bronx, Esther Lederberg would grow up to lay the groundwork for future discoveries on genetic inheritance in bacteria, gene regulation, and genetic recombination."
  • "Born in Liu Ho, China, in 1912, Chien-Shiung Wu overturned a law of physics [the law of parity] and participated in the development of the atom bomb."
  • "Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1878, Lise Meitner's work in nuclear physics led to the discovery of nuclear fission—the fact that atomic nuclei can split in two. That finding laid the groundwork for the atomic bomb."
  • "Born in 1920 in London, Rosalind Franklin used x-rays to take a picture of DNA that would change biology."
  • "Born in 1861 in Vermont, Nettie Stevens performed studies crucial in determining that an organism's sex was dictated by its chromosomes rather than environmental or other factors."

"Markets for Scientific Attribution" by Joshua S. Gans & Fiona Murray says that you should assign authorship after the paper has been written if you want the best end product



"What This Year’s Oscars Say About America" (by Stephanie Zacharek, TIME, Feb. 11, 2016)


A Modest Proposal (Jonathan Swift)

full text or, annotated version: annotated version

My former pastor Molly Baskette back in the summer of 2012 preached on The Hunger Games and the story from 2 Kings (the story of parents eating children during a famine -- see here for a list of all instances of cannibalism in the Bible).


nihilism + Taylor Swift (McSweeney's)


NYT article on evictions and housing for the poor

"A Harvard Sociologist on Watching Families Lose Their Homes"


Heather Maloney

Has her solo stuff on Spotify (as well as her work with Darlingside).

I think it's Time and Pocket Change (2011) and her 2013 self-titled album that I own.


do plants feel pain?

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast, often a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is sold commercially as a food product. It is sold in the form of flakes or as a yellow powder and can be found in the bulk aisle of most natural food stores. It is popular with vegans and vegetarians and may be used as an ingredient in recipes or as a condiment.[1]

While it contains trace amounts of several vitamins and minerals, it is only a significant source of some B-complex vitamins. Sometimes nutritional yeast is fortified with vitamin B12.

Nutritional yeast has a strong flavor that is described as nutty, cheesy, or creamy, which makes it popular as an ingredient in cheese substitutes. It is often used by vegans in place of cheese.[2] It can be used in many recipes in place of cheese, such as in mashed and fried potatoes, and atop scrambled tofu. Another popular use is as a topping for popcorn.[3]

In Australia, it is sometimes sold as "savoury yeast flakes." In New Zealand, it has long been known as Brufax. In the United States it is sometimes referred to as "nooch" (also spelled nüch), or "yeshi," an Ethiopian name meaning "for a thousand". Though "nutritional yeast" usually refers to commercial products, inadequately fed prisoners of war have used "home-grown" yeast to prevent vitamin deficiency.[4] Nutritional yeast is different from yeast extract, which has a very strong flavour and comes in the form of a dark brown paste.



Life Alive smoothies are all vegan -- some are made with homemade almond milk, some with rice milk, some with soy milk, some with coconut milk non-dairy ice cream, and their "Vibrance Alive" doesn't have any dairy-like base.


A raw food diet is apparently about not processing (e.g. cooking) your food, so it's kinda like Paleo (though you can do a vegan or vegetarian raw food diet).


"Fruitarian" is closer to the idea of only eating foods that have fallen naturally --

Some fruitarians will eat only what falls (or would fall) naturally from a plant: that is, foods that can be harvested without killing or harming the plant.[2][3][4] These foods consist primarily of culinary fruits, nuts, and seeds.[5] According to author Adam Gollner, some fruitarians eat only fallen fruit.[6][unreliable source?] Some do not eat grains, believing it is unnatural to do so,[7] and some fruitarians feel that it is improper for humans to eat seeds[8] as they contain future plants,[6] or nuts and seeds,[9] or any foods besides juicy fruits.[10] Others believe they should eat only plants that spread seeds when the plant is eaten.[11] Others eat seeds and some cooked foods.[12] Some fruitarians use the botanical definitions of fruits and consume pulses, such as beans, peas, or other legumes. Other fruitarians' diets include raw fruits, dried fruits, nuts, honey and olive oil,[13]or fruits, nuts, beans and chocolate.[14]



There's apparently a bunch of research about plants having memory, etc. (the field is misnomered "plant neurobiology")

This Public Radio International article summarizes and links to a Michael Pollan New Yorker piece.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

[TILW] HBS cases, Easter, paneer, regional accents, Machiavelli, Tom's Diner, manpain, the Illuminati, Elements & Animaniacs, tiny houses, etc.

HBS cases

There are HBS cases on Deflategate ("The purpose of the case is to teach a basic introduction to analytics and statistical analysis using a topical example.") and Beyoncé’s December 2013 unannounced album drop.


Ash Wednesday is so early this year

Easter, the day Christians commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is observed on the first Sunday after the “Pascal Full Moon” (the first full moon of spring) following the spring equinox. That day always occurs on March 21, according to a decree by the early Christian Church at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. and the Gregorian calendar introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582.

Therefore Easter can fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25.



in which paneer shows up in a "Middle East" buffet

Paneer is a fresh cheese common in South Asia, especially in Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi cuisines [...] The word "paneer" is of Persian origin.[1] The Turkish> word peynir, the Persian word panir, the Azerbaijani word panir, and the Armenian word panir (պանիր), all derived from "paneer", refers to any type of cheese. The origin of paneer itself is debated. Vedic Indian, Afghan-Iranian and Portuguese-Bengali origins have been proposed for paneer.[2][3]



how we (can) talk to our technology

“Most people have what we would call a telephone voice, so they actually change away from their local family accent when they’re speaking on the telephone to somebody they don’t know,” said Alan Black, a Scottish computer scientist who is a professor at the Language Technologies Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

They also have a “machine voice”, he said. “People speak to machines differently than how they speak to people. They move into a different register. If you’re standing next to somebody in an airport or at a bus stop or something, you can typically tell when they’re talking to a machine rather than talking to a person.”

Black speculated that “one of the reasons they designed Siri to be fundamentally a polite, helpful agent who isn’t your friend but works for you, is to encourage people to be somewhat polite and explicit to her, rather than being very colloquial. Because speech recognition is always hard when you drop into colloquialisms.”

With speech recognition ever more widespread and efficient, our younger generation will grow believing chats with Siri and the new Amazon Echo are routine and genuinely useful; a far cry from when calls to utility companies became stilted shouting matches with machines that had trouble understanding “yes” and “no”, never mind “put me through to a real person, for God’s sake”.

But aside from Siri, proud Texans should worry about something else.

Long before machines who could understand you, cultural and demographic shifts were already moving people towards standardized English. In fact, mass media and migration are slowly killing the Texas twang.

“The way young people in Dallas or Houston speak nowadays is a lot closer to a regional common denominator accent than to what it was 50 years ago,” said Hinrichs, who is originally from Germany and directs the Texas English Project. “I never hear any of my students sound ‘Texan’ in class any more; but they can when they go home. The accent modularizes because people are more mobile and connected with the world.”

In effect, Texans are using the “telephone voice” in everyday life, partly thanks to the effects of TV and social media and partly because the influx of arrivals from around the country and overseas, so that everyone can understand each other. It is called “accent levelling”.

“Vocabulary is the first thing to go. Then syntax and pronunciation,” he said. Double modals such as “might could” and “oughta should”, and quirky regional expressions such as “doggone it”, “shucks” and “drat it” are dying out, replaced with more mainstream dialect and an accent often described as “midwestern”.


Black thinks that in coming years, programs such as Siri will go from being aloof in style to more familiar, understanding your language patterns as if they were a close friend rather than a casual acquaintance.

“Dialogue systems at the moment work pretty well, speech recognition has got substantially better,” he said. “I think what’s probably going to happen is a much more long-term rapport. It will know more about you. It will be able to answer the question sort of before you ask it – this is one of the things that Google Now’s aim is, answer the question before you actually ask. You’ll find that you can be less specific when you’re talking because it will know the sort of things that will be relevant. If you ask the time, the machine might say something like, ‘it’s OK you’ve still got three minutes before your meeting’, because it knows that you ask the time when you’re worried about the meeting, that’s what you always do.”

In other words, the future holds less southern charm, but fewer problems getting to the rodeo.

-"Y'all have a Texas accent? Siri (and the world) might be slowly killing it" (The Guardian)


"OK Google" was considered along with “pew pew pew” for ways to activate Google apps & Google Glass


Massachusetts town names outsiders don't know how to pronounce

The name Scituate is derived from satuit, the Wampanoag term for cold brook, which refers to a brook that runs to the inner harbor of the town.
Worcester Name Meaning
English: habitational name from the city of Worcester, named from Old English ceaster ‘Roman fort or walled city’ (Latin castra ‘legionary camp’) + a British tribal name of uncertain origin.
Source: Dictionary of American Family Names ©2013, Oxford University Press


"Better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both."

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails. Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred [...]

Returning to the question of being feared or loved, I come to the conclusion that, men loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavour only to avoid hatred, as is noted.

-from The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli, CHAPTER XVII: Concerning Cruelty And Clemency, And Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared


"that Britney Spears diner song"

Suzanne Vega wrote her wordy a cappella tune "Tom’s Diner" in 1981 during a visit to a diner in her neighborhood, the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The place itself is actually called Tom’s Restaurant and would become even more famous as the exterior of the diner frequented by the characters on Seinfeld. The song appeared as the opening track on Vega’s second album, Solitude Standing, in 1987, but her label passed it over as a single in the States, going instead for “Luka,” a beautifully melodic downer about an abused child. ("Luka" reached No. 3 on Billboard’s chart, so it wasn’t a bad decision.) But “Tom’s Diner” ended up with a much longer, more interesting life full of revivals, remakes, and other shots at immortality, including a prominent sampling in Fall Out Boy’s hit “Centuries” last year and a recent, well-received cover sung by Britney Spears on the Giorgio Moroder album Déjà Vu. Some of the other highlights of “Tom’s” enduring life:



There have been many versions and samplings since DNA’s release, including an entire 1991 record called Tom’s Album that collected nine versions by other artists along with several Vega versions. It included a track by an act called Bingo Hand Job, which was the nom de plume R.E.M. used for a couple of secret London shows with English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg. Other “Tom’s” riffs explored accidental pregnancy (Nikki D’s “Daddy’s Little Girl”), the Gulf War (Beth Watson’s “Waiting at the Border”), and TV’s I Dream of Jeannie (Marylin E. Whitelaw and Mark Davis’ “Jeannie’s Diner”).

-"Facts About 'Tom's Diner' While You're Waiting for Your Coffee" (Mental Floss)

We started thinking about "Tom’s Diner" again earlier this year when electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder and iconic pop cyborg Britney Spears covered the song on Moroder's new album, Déjà Vu. It’s a world removed from Vega’s original — the same diner, perhaps, but festooned with gaudy disco fabrics and staffed entirely by robots — but it somehow taps into the song’s essential solitude. Britney stands in the eye of the storm as Moroder's production rages around her, observing both the diner’s patrons and his garish arrangement. Like Vega before her, she understands that "Tom’s Diner" isn’t a lonely song, nor is it sad. It just asks you to watch, digest, and react.

-"Tracing the long, strange history of 'Tom's Diner': A 30-year journey from café curio to 2015 chart-topper" (The Verge)



Urban Dictionary defines it as: "When a grown man has the emotional life of an angsty teenager he is said to be experiencing manpain, especially if he tries to compensate with macho behavior."

It came out of fandom, and Fanlore says:

mimesere is anecdotally credited with either being the originator or a very early adopter of the term, which she memorably describes from the character's point of view as being, "I'm a dude, this is my pain, this is the REASON FOR ALL MY DOUCHITUDE, BEHOLD MY EPICNESS AND DESPAIR," adding, "sometimes it leads to sitting in the dark, brooding."[1] This adoption and popularization may have come through frequent conversations between mimesere and Jennifer_Oksana. Before its widespread adoption by slash fans, it was used by members of the OBSSE mailing list to refer to Mulder for typical manpain behavior and because of a script note by Chris Carter that refers directly to "the pain of being a man".
(The citations date it to 2009.)

linaerys has a smart Tumblr post "Why is manpain so annoying?" (using the second Captain America movie -- The Winter Soldier -- as its main frame, but still comprehensible regardless)

TVTropes calls it "Mangst" (man+angst)


Bonus: A sample of the rage about the Ant-Man movie.

Bonus 2: "Are women undermining themselves by using words like 'sorry' in their communications? The truth ... is complicated. Here's what the soundbites miss" (LinkedIn Pulse)

Question #4: Why aren’t we telling men to make the same changes?

This question has come up in many of the media pieces on the topic. Some people have said that these speech changes aren’t being suggested to men simply because men would never care to worry about such things. Others have argued that the advice is directed at women because this is just one more way we are telling women that they are doing something wrong.

Yet there’s solid research showing that these speech habits aren’t interpreted the same way when they are used by men as they are when they are used by women. One study found that the use of qualifying phases only had an adverse effect on the speakers perceived level of authority when the speaker was a woman.

Think about the meetings or conversations you’re part of. If a very senior man uses tentative language around his point, the people in the room might hear it as him thinking aloud. If he apologizes a lot or expresses doubts about his points, he might be seen as collaborative or humble. Yet if that very same language came from a woman in the company, in many instances it would be read differently. The stereotypes we hold – gender, racial and others – impact how we interpret the language that others use.



The Mystery of Separation
Mark Bischel

The painting is my interpretation of the poetic center from the Book of Job. The subject finds himself separated from everything that he knows: his family, health and property. Now he finds himself further separated from his friends who insist on attaching their rational explanation for his suffering. As things get bleaker, the figure of Job fades away into the dark, almost ceasing to exist in his world. Beyond the surface of the narrative the driving force for the painting is the divine darkness revealed in the book. Although this story is from a battered and spliced text leaving the reader with many unanswered questions, there is no doubt something profound has taken place by the end of the story. While the starting point of the painting is the literal suffering of Job, my main concern is the sense I get of the unknowable, a world of quiet mystery that I am left with after reading such a tumultuous text.
-Mark Bischel


Colbert on Denver Airport


learning songs (Elements & Animaniacs)

"The Elements" is a song by musical humorist and lecturer Tom Lehrer, which recites the names of all the chemical elements known at the time of writing, up to number 102, nobelium. It was written in 1959 and can be found on his albums Tom Lehrer in Concert, More of Tom Lehrer and An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer. The song is sung to the tune of the Major-General's Song from The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan.[1]
A nice video of the song

Or, sung by a 3-year-old

A 2013 article "12 Elements Discovered Since Tom Lehrer Set the Periodic Table to Music in 1959" -- the gallery has a short blurb about each element

A 2016 NPR article ("4 New Elements Are Added To The Periodic Table," January 4, 2016) says:

The elements' temporary names stem from their spot on the periodic table — for instance, ununseptium has 117 protons. Each of the discovering teams have now been asked to submit names for the new elements.

With the additions, the bottom of the periodic table now looks like a bit like a completed crossword puzzle — and that led us to get in touch with [Paul] Karol[, chair of the IUPAC's Joint Working Party,] to ask about the next row, the eighth period.

"There are a couple of laboratories that have already taken shots at making elements 119 and 120 but with no evidence yet of success," he said in an email. "The eighth period should be very interesting because relativistic effects on electrons become significant and difficult to pinpoint. It is in the electron behavior, perhaps better called electron psychology, that the chemical behavior is embodied."

Karol says that researchers will continue seeking "the alleged but highly probable 'island of stability' at or near element 120 or perhaps 126," where elements might be found to exist long enough to study their chemistry.

International guidelines for choosing a name say that new elements "can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist," according to the IUPAC.

From "Meet The Woman Who Discovered 3 Of The 4 New Elements":
There is no element named after her (yet), but Dawn Shaughnessy—a relatively young chemist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory—is one of the more prolific researchers in the small world of scientists who seek to create entirely new entries to the periodic table that most of us learned about in grade school.

The team she leads, the Heavy Element Group, was part of the discovery of three out of the four new elements announced last week in collaboration with researchers in Russia and Tennessee. In total, she’s helped discover 6 of the 26 new elements added since 1940 (one, Livermorium, was named after her lab).

Uranium (atomic number 92) is the heaviest element stable enough to be found in nature. The new elements discovered recently were much heavier and unstable (numbers 115, 117, 118—the heaviest to date), which means they exist for only the smallest fraction of a second before breaking down into smaller parts. Typically, her experiments produce maybe 1 to 3 highly-unstable new atoms, if they are successful. They are made by formulating "target" atom and then smashing it with a beam of other atoms so that there’s a very small chance they combine to form a new element.

"It is getting more difficult to go up in atomic number because of the probability of these nuclei holding together for long enough to for us to detect them is getting smaller and smaller," she says. "We also need to look into alternate reactions for creating them, such as new beam and target materials. So we are still pushing for new discoveries, but there is research to be done in how to accomplish them."

Though others are already looking to push to create elements 119 and 120, her main focus for now is actually trying to create the tools so they can study the chemical properties of some of the lighter "superheavy" elements that have been created. The problem is that there are no instruments in existence that can operate as quickly as one-second time scales needed to measure the new elements.

As for why anyone would care to produce elements that aren’t very useful, exist only for a few seconds, and can’t even be studied, she speaks about the broader quest to understand the world around us.

"The interest in discovering new elements is to refine our theories about the existence of matter and how the nucleus is formed," she writes. "Every time we push the boundary of finding a new element, it helps to refine these models and our basic understanding of the extreme limits of matter."

Bonus: the Animaniacs state capitols song ("Wakko's America") – to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw"
Extra bonus: the nations of the world ("Yakko's World") as of 1993


tiny houses

"This Couple Built a Tiny House, But Now They Have to Live in It" (The Reductress -- a satire site)

tv shows: Tiny House Hunters (and Buying Hawaii)

"The Family That Lives in a School Bus" (Yahoo)

"Teeny house, big lie: Why so many proponents of the tiny-house movement have decided to upsize" (The Globe and Mail)



"Thieves are plucking unattended Canada Goose jackets at BU" (

South Shore Curling Club in Bridgewater offers lessons

New research suggests that it may be possible not just to change certain types of emotional memories, but even to erase them. We’ve learned that memories are uniquely vulnerable to alteration at two points: when we first lay them down, and later, when we retrieve them.

-"A Drug to Cure Fear" (NYT)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

[TITW] SNL and The Onion, AK-47s, The Illuminati

comedy news and politics +++

AK-47s (in Florida)

Kalashnikov USA of Tullytown, Pa., was importing rifles made by Kalashnikov Concern, the original AK-47 manufacturer in Moscow, until 2014 when President Obama imposed sanctions against Russia following its annexation of Crimea. At that point, Kalashnikov USA severed all ties with the Russian company.

The company started making the guns in Pennsylvania last year, but is shifting manufacturing to Florida. Kalashnikov hasn't said why they are moving or how big the Pompano Beach operation will be.


The Kalashnikov brand dates back to the Stalin era of the Soviet Union. Based in Moscow, Kalashnikov Concern makes the AK-47 assault rifle, named after its designer, Mikhail Kalashnikov, and the year it went into production, 1947.

AK knock-offs are widespread, produced in many countries including China, former Soviet countries and also the U.S. But the true Kalashnikov brand is seen as something special by American collectors, and prices for the weapon have spiked since Obama's sanctions on Russia halted imports.

-"Kalashnikov cranking up AK-47 factory in Florida" (CNNMoney -- January 27, 2016)

Kalashnikov designed his first machine gun in 1942 after suffering injuries as a tank commander for the Soviet Union's Red Army during World War II, but it wasn't until 1947 -- after years of tweaks -- that the AK-47 was introduced for Soviet military service.

The weapon, recognizable by its banana-shaped ammunition magazine, became known for its simple effectiveness. It was easy to use and maintain, and it was reliable in extreme conditions, be they hot, cold, wet or sandy.

From the early 1950s, it became the standard weapon for Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries, according to IHS Jane's. The gun also proved popular with paramilitary groups: It was so successful in Mozambique's successful rebel movement of the 1960s and 1970s that its image appears in the national flag.


The Guinness World Records book recognized the AK-47 -- AK being a Russian acronym for "Kalashnikov's machine gun" and 47 standing for its debut year -- as the world's most common machine gun.

-"Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of AK-47, dies at 94" (CNN -- December 23, 2013)


Is [redacted] the only woman in the Illuminati, and do you need to kill a man in order to get summa at Harvard?

"Denver, Colorado is an evil place"

"Hugo Chavez has been difficult to work with in the past."

-"This Man Claims He Was in The ILLUMINATI…Now He is Telling All" (Conspiracy Club -- Feb 24, 2015)

Illuminati “researcher” Professor Griff from hip hop group Public Enemy believes that Jay Z, Nicki Minaj and other celebrities all had to sacrifice someone close to them in order to be able to join the Illuminati and achieve success. Kanye West chose fame over his own mother while basketball legend Michael Jordan had to give up his father.

-"How to Join the Illuminati" (Illuminati Rex -- "Illuminati Rex is fictional and for entertainment only. Illuminati Rex is based on numerous conspiracy theories, some are probable while others are completely made up.")

According to The 66 Laws of the Illuminati, women are goddesses and should be treated as such. Nice, right? But if you're thinking of joining, you better step up your game. Only women of the "highest quality" are welcome in this super-secretive organization.

-"Even the Illuminati is all about gender equality — here's proof" (SheKnows -- Sep 25, 2014)

Alas, Harvard does not own The 66 Laws of the Illuminati. Though it does have:
American hysteria : the untold story of mass political extremism in the United States / Andrew Burt.

Scope and content : "The American story of blacklists, scapegoating, conspiracies, and cover-ups that have taken over national politics throughout our history when the mainstream has adopted extremist fear that secret networks--from the Illuminati and Freemasons to Communists and Muslim terrorists--have infiltrated society and threatened destruction from within"--Provided by publisher.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

[TITW] Massachusetts politics; suicide (and homicide); conformity, space, Native Americans voting in the USA

Massachusetts covers approximately 7,800 square miles, with 65% of state's landmass classified as rural (Census Bureau). The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Massachusetts' 2012 population at 6,646,144 people – over 700,000 of which live in rural areas.
-Rural Commission Services Report August 2013 - Mass.Gov
(That's approximately 10% of the population in "rural" areas.)

We don't elect ONLY Republican governors, but we do elect a lot. Deval Patrick, 2007-2015, was the first Democrat since Michael Dukakis, 1983-1991. And since our first Republican governor in 1858, we've had 103 years of Republican governors and 54 years of Democrat governors -- basically a 2:1 ratio.

You can get a sense of how it plays out by e.g. maps of the 2014 election results.

Re: (Republican, and only female, governor) Jane Swift, Wikipedia says:

Swift went on to serve as an executive with the Massachusetts Port Authority, and was later appointed by Governor Weld as Massachusetts' consumer affairs secretary in 1997. She served in that post until she won election as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in 1998, in a campaign that was notable not only for her relative youth but also for the fact that she was pregnant with her first child, whom she gave birth to just a few weeks before election day.

During her time as Lieutenant Governor, Swift faced a lot of scrutiny of her choices as a high-profile working mother.[9] She was especially criticized for using staff members to watch her daughter, and for her Massachusetts State Police detail's use of a helicopter to avoid Thanksgiving traffic en route to her home in The Berkshires when her baby was sick. In an ethics ruling that Swift herself requested, she was found to be in violation of state guidelines for the babysitting and she paid a fine of $1250, but she was cleared of wrongdoing on the question of the use of the helicopter and on allegations that staffers helped her move from one Boston-area apartment to another. [2]


suicides (and homicides) (male/female, Germany/US)

While suicide by firearms is far less prevalent in European countries than in the USA, men still have a far higher rate of completed suicide than women due -- largely driven by using more lethal means (e.g. hanging vs. self-poisoning).

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a lot of stats about suicide in the USA, taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Data & Statistics Fatal Injury Report for 2014.

"For many years, the suicide rate has been about 4 times higher among men than among women (Figure 4). In 2014, men had a suicide rate of 20.7, and women had a rate of 5.8. Of those who died by suicide in 2014, 77.4% were male and 22.6% were female."

(The accompanying chart shows that suicide rates have been fairly constant from 2005-2014, with male suicide rates going up slightly over that time period.)

While Germany has a lower suicide rate than the USA (WHO, the World Health Organization, in 2012 lists Germany a suicide rate of 9.2 per 100,000 and the USA 12.2), the gendered differences are similar -- 14.5 male versus 4.1 female in Germany (about 3.5 times as many men as women) and 19.4 male vs. 5.2 female in the USA (about 3.7 times as many men as women ... consistent with the 2014 CDC data above).

If you want to learn more about the drivers behind these gendered differences, the Wikipedia article actually gives a good overview, with links to lots of scholarly research. For example, if you're interested in suicide methods in Europe (where firearms are less prevalent than in the USA) you can check out

Varnik, A; et al. "Suicide methods in Europe: a gender-specific analysis of countries participating in the European Alliance Against Depression". Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health 62 (6): 545–551. doi:10.1136/jech.2007.065391.

The World Bank lists "intentional homicide" rate in per 100,000 people in 2013 as 4 in the USA and 1 in Germany.

The UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) has gender breakdowns:

Percentage of male and female homicide victims, latest year (Excel sheet) says: Germany (2011) 52.7% victims are male and 47.3% victims are female (so almost no difference). USA (2012) 77.8% victims are male and 22.2% victims are female (huge difference -- 3.5 times as many men as women).

Percentage of male and female homicide victims, time series 2000-2012 (also an Excel sheet) confirms the intuition that the data are consistent across time. In Germany, men are a little over 50% every year from 2004-2011 except in 2010 the ratio flips, and in the USA from 2002-2012 the male:female ratio is about 3:1. The 2012 USA stats are exactly the same as the 2011 USA stats, so the Germany-USA comparison data from the above paragraph can in fact be used for a within-year comparison.


The Stanford Prison Experiment

Asch, Milgram, and Zimbardo all did influential work on conformity in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

There have been a number of films about the Stanford prison experiment, including:

  • Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Experiment (1992), is a documentary about the experiment, made available via the Stanford Prison Experiment website. The documentary was written by Zimbardo and directed and produced by Ken Musen.[32]
  • [...]
  • The Experiment (2010), is a film released by Inferno Distribution which is an English-language remake of the 2001 film Das Experiment.
  • [...]
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment (released July 17, 2015) is another film based on the experiment.[33]


space (and Hamilton)

This post is the most recent thing I saw about casting in The Martian.

I can't find any more info about why Ridley Scott didn't want Matt Damon to lose so much weight (though one can intuit e.g. yo-yo dieting is terrible for your body). This Newsweek article seems to be the original interview.

(Oh hey, remember how Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings movie had all white people?)

I couldn't find anything on Racialicious about The Martian casting, but I did find this post about Hamilton.

Official website of the Hamilton musical

compendium of #Ham4Hams (#Ham4Ham roughly = "hamming it up for Hamilton)

You can listen to the whole Original Broadway Cast Recording (OBCR) on YouTube here, and you can follow along with the annotated lyrics here.


Last year was pretty incredible for space exploration, with (among many other notable achievements) NASA announcing its plans to land humans on Mars in the 2030s, and then breaking the Internet when they put a call out for people to sign up.

But what you might not know is that the latest class of NASA astronauts, recruited in 2013 and already in training, will also be candidates for the first trip to Mars, and for the first time in NASA history, 50 percent of them are female.

It's well established by now that women make kick-ass astronauts (hello Sally Ride and Valentina Tereshkova), so that statistic shouldn't be particularly exciting or notable.

But given the fact that, as of 2011, females still only hold 24 percent of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics jobs in the US, it's a pretty huge deal, and it makes us even more hopeful about the future of Solar System exploration.


The class of is made up of eight recruits in total - Josh Cassada, Victor Glover, Tyler Hague, Christina Hammock, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir, and Andrew Morgan - selected from a pool of around 6,100 applicants. That's a fierce 0.0013 percent success rate.

The application process alone took 18 months of rigorous medical and psychological testing, and the recruits are now going through two years of training before they'll officially join NASA's 46 currently active astronauts.

But what's really cool is that they're the first class to be candidates for the mission to Mars. "If we go to Mars, we'll be representing our entire species in a place we've never been before. To me it's the highest thing a human being can achieve," McClain told Ginny Graves in an exclusive interview for Glamour magazine at the end of last year.

That training, as you can imagine, is pretty intense, with the candidates learning how to fly T-38 supersonic jets, practicing walking around underwater in spacesuit that weigh 181 kg (400 pounds), and surviving what's called the vomit comet, which simulates weightlessness through freefall.

They're also being taught a whole bunch of general survival skills that might help them cope with the myriad things that could go wrong on the Red Planet, where the average temperature is –55 degrees Celsius (–67 F), there are giant dust storms, and astronauts will constantly be bombarded with cancer-causing ionising radiation.

-Science Alert


On the subject of the "cancer-causing ionising radiation"....

Nuclear weapons and accidents commonly release actinides, a group of radioactive elements at the bottom of the periodic table. Actinides such as plutonium, uranium and curium easily lock into our bones and organs, where they can emit radiation into our bodies for decades. Chemist Rebecca Abergel and colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in California, have created molecules that bind to actinides to form large, stable complexes that are easier for the body to expel.


The Three-Body Problem

The book and the physics/classical mechanics problem.

The Wikipedia entry on the physics problem links to stuff like this Science article about solutions to the problem -- which includes helpful summary/overview:

The three-body problem dates back to the 1680s. Isaac Newton had already shown that his new law of gravity could always predict the orbit of two bodies held together by gravity—such as a star and a planet—with complete accuracy. The orbit is basically always an ellipse. However, Newton couldn't come up with a similar solution for the case of three bodies orbiting one another. For 2 centuries, scientists tried different tacks until the German mathematician Heinrich Bruns pointed out that the search for a general solution for the three-body problem was futile, and that only specific solutions—one-offs that work under particular conditions—were possible. Generally, the motion of three bodies is now known to be nonrepeating.

Specific repeating solutions have been hard to come by, however. The famed mathematicians Joseph-Louis Lagrange and Leonhard Euler had come up with some in the 18th century, but it wasn't until the 1970s, with a little help from modern computing, that U.S. mathematician Roger Broucke and French astronomer Michel Hénon discovered more. Until now, specific solutions could be sorted into just three families: the Lagrange-Euler family, the Broucke-Hénon family, and the figure-eight family, the last of which was discovered in 1993 by physicist Cristopher Moore at the Santa Fe Institute.

The figure-eight family is so called because it describes three objects chasing one another in a figure eight shape. The Lagrange-Euler solutions are simpler, with the equally spaced bodies going around in a circle like horses on a merry-go-round. The Broucke-Hénon solutions are the most complex: Two objects dash back and forth on the inside, while the third object orbits around the outside.

The discovery of 13 new families, made by physicists Milovan Šuvakov and Veljko Dmitrašinović at the Institute of Physics Belgrade, brings the new total to 16. "The results are beautiful, and beautifully presented," says Richard Montgomery, a mathematician at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who was not involved with the discovery.

Finding any solution is a daunting prospect. Three objects in space can be set off in infinite ways. Somehow, initial conditions—starting points, velocities, and so on—must be found that bring the objects back to those conditions so the whole dance can start over again.

The sci-fi novel draws heavily on the actual physics -- the below excerpt is a representative sample of how the Translator’s Notes cite actual published research.
Some years ago, Richard Montgomery of UCSC and Alain Chenciner of Université Paris Diderot discovered another stable, periodic solution to the three-body problem.30 Under appropriate initial conditions, the three bodies will chase each other around a fixed figure-eight curve. After that, everyone was keen to find such stable configurations, and every discovery was greeted with joy. Only three or four such configurations have been found so far.

But my evolutionary algorithm has already discovered more than a hundred stable configurations. Drawings of their orbits would fill a gallery with postmodern art, but that's not my goal. The real solution to the three-body problem is to build a mathematical model so that, given any initial configuration with known vectors, the model can predict all subsequent motion of the three-body system.

30. Translator's Note: For details, please see Alain Chenciner and Richard Montgomery, "A remarkable periodic solution of the three-body problem in the case of equal masses." Annals of Mathematics, 152 (2000), 881-901.

-p. 199


Native Americans voting in the USA

Because Native Americans are citizens of their tribal nations as well as the United States, and those tribal nations are characterized under U.S. law as "domestic dependent nations", a special relationship exists which creates a particular tension between rights granted via tribal sovereignty and rights that individual Natives retain as U.S. citizens. This status creates tension today, but was far more extreme before Native people were uniformly granted U.S. citizenship in 1924. Assorted laws and policies of the United States government, some tracing to the pre-Revolutionary colonial period, denied basic human rights—particularly in the areas of cultural expression and travel—to indigenous people.[1]
the Indian Citizenship Act which was created on June 24, 1924. This act showed progress in that Natives would not have to give up being a Native to be a citizen of the United States. This included being an enrolled member of a tribe, living on a federally recognized reservation, or practicing his or her culture.[51] However, this did not create the right to vote automatically.

Friday, January 8, 2016

[TITW] female surgeon generals, racist Oregon, "unmarked" American accents, Charles River bridges

(female) surgeon generals

There have been four female Surgeon Generals of the USA -- Antonia Novello (March 9, 1990 – June 30, 1993; under Bush+Clinton), Joycelyn Elders (September 8, 1993 – December 31, 1994; under Clinton), Audrey F. Manley (acting Surgeon General, 1 January 1995 – 1 July 1997; under Clinton), and Regina Benjamin (November 3, 2009 – July 16, 2013; under Obama) -- one Puerto Rican and the next three African-American from the Southeastern continental USA.

I still can't figure out exactly if you have to have been in armed services before you can be Surgeon General. Wiki says (among other things):

The Surgeon General is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and by law holds the rank of vice admiral.[2] Officers of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps are classified as non-combatants, but can be subjected to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the Geneva Conventions when designated by the Commander-in-Chief as a military force or if they are detailed or assigned to work with the armed forces. Officer members of these services wear uniforms that are similar to those worn by the United States Navy, except that the commissioning devices, buttons, and insignia are unique. Officers in the U.S. Public Health Service wear unique devices that are similar to U.S. Navy, Staff Corps Officers (e.g., Navy Medical Service Corps, Supply Corps, etc.).

The only Surgeon General to actually hold the rank of a four-star admiral was David Satcher (born 1941, served 1998–2002). This was because he served simultaneously in the positions of Surgeon General (three-star) and Assistant Secretary for Health (which is a four-star office).[11] John Maynard Woodworth, (1837-1879, served 1871–1879), the first holder of the office as "Supervising Surgeon", is the only Surgeon General to not hold a rank.


"Oregon was founded as a racist utopia"

When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. Oregon’s founding is part of the forgotten history of racism in the American west.
-the opening paragraph of Matt Novak's "Oregon Was Founded As a Racist Utopia," 21 January 2015, Gizmodo
In 2002, a ballot measure passed which removed the language of racial exclusion from the constitution, and other racial references as well. You might imagine this would be a slam-dunk, nearly unanimous vote - but 29% voted against it
-Daniel Donner, "Oregon's not-so-pretty racist past is not yet history," 23 January 2015, Daily Kos
“Six percent of this city is black, but about a third of those shot by the police are African American,” he [Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform chair, Reverend LeRoy Haynes] said.
-Chris McGreal, "Portland police's problem with race: 'This city is not as liberal as it thinks it is'," 20 September 2014, The Guardian

"unmarked" American accents

Natalie Baker-Shirer, an accent coach and acting teacher at Carngie Mellon University explains:
"Standard Speech" is spoken nowhere in America, as such. It is based on RP (British Received Pronunciation) which was adopted with American alterations in the early 20th century by linguist William Tilly. These alterations, this authentic "American" sound was loosely based on the speech of North Eastern population of the US. It was spoken by the cultured, well educated, well traveled people of the time. Listen to old movies to hear it.
Despite the common perception of there being a mainstream American accent that is free of any regional features or regional influence, the General American sound system does, in fact, have traceable regional origins: namely, the Northern speech patterns of the non-coastal Eastern United States,[24] including interior Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and the adjacent Midwestern region, prior to the Northern Cities Vowel Shift of the mid-20th century.[1][25]

The fact that a rural, broadly Midwestern dialect became the basis of what is General American English is often attributed to the mass migration of Midwestern farmers to California and the Pacific Northwest from where it spread,[citation needed] since California speech itself became prevalent in nationally syndicated films and media via the Hollywood film industry.

However, the English of the Midwest's Great Lakes region (as well as the region to its immediate west), since at least the middle of the 20th century, has begun deviating noticeably away from General American sounds, especially since that era's regionally unique Northern Cities Vowel Shift (NCVS). The regionality of one's accent often gets more distinct the farther north one goes within the Midwest, and the Midwest is even home now to at least two major dialects that definitively use pronunciations divergent from "General American": the Inland North dialect (often associated with the Great Lakes urban centers, including Chicago) and the North Central dialect (often associated with Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas). The notion that Midwesterners generally speak a "more correct and more pleasant" or otherwise "accentless variety" of American English is a matter of perception and stereotype rather than truth.[26]

Particularly important in setting standards was John Kenyon, the pronunciation editor of the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary, who is claimed to have based his dictionary's pronunciation standard on his native Midwestern (specifically, Ohio) pronunciation.[27]



Charles River bridges

Anderson Memorial Bridge is the technical name of the JFK/North Harvard Street Bridge (the one with the never-ending construction...).

The current project completion date is June 17, 2016. The proposed full beneficial use date is February 15, 2016. This will include the new traffic configuration of a total of 3 lanes of traffic (2 northbound and one southbound) as well as one bicycle lane. MassDOT’s contractor will still be installing precast elements once the bridge has been reopened to full traffic. At times, temporary traffic restrictions will be necessary during the precast stone work.
-Mass DoT
Construction started on May 30, 2012, so only approximately 4 years of construction...

And apparently the "Mass Ave." Bridge is the Harvard Bridge (named for the same John Harvard that the School is named for).

Wikipedia has a List of crossings of the Charles River, though most of them are just named for the actual street.