Saturday, February 28, 2009

Living in the Actual World

Correlation is not causation, I teach my freshman students every fall and every spring.  Also, the world is not a teleology.  I write these fine phrases on the board, and then tell stories, trying to get them to see past the world they have always lived in -- which has always been a teleology, where correlation, sumbitch, is causation (Ya see what happened there?  Ya take that prayer out the schools, test scores shoot right down! Obviously --), trying to get them to move to another sort of a worldview.

Which I know is not so simple.

We've got a desperate need to seek patterns and meaning, humans, and it's hard to shoulder past that and stand in a universe that just is, or, well, I suppose what I mean is, it's hard to shoulder past that and see the universe as it actually is, past the patterns we want to impose.

Here is why I am thinking about this today.  It's an article talking about (mis)readings of Darwin, which, well, that's practically all my students ever get/have gotten, misunderstandings and misreadings of evolution.  

Evolution isn't much taught in Arkansas high schools, certainly not the private Christian ones most of them have attended, and not, usually, the public schools either.  It does get taught in our universities, but by then the students have been inundated for 18-20 years with how evolution is evil-ution and if they listen to a word of it Satan is going to snatch their souls to hell.

This article talks about how even those of us who are interested in and understand (want to understand) evolution keep imposing our own patterns on it -- as we do: trying to make it a teleological system, as the Social Darwinists did, or as certain SF writers did (I've been reading some SF from the 1930-1950, getting ready to teach my SF class this summer, but frankly a deal of the SF being written today by certain ahem less enlightened fellas is not much better), such as the idea that by "allowing" inferior classes to breed, or giving the poor food and medical aid,  we will destroy the human race -- this is the trope we see in that charming movie Idiocracy, for instance. (This belief system is captured neatly in a quotation from Robert Heinlein, wherein he says, "The cure for hemophilia is not to cure the hemophiliacs: it is to let the hemophiliacs bleed to death before they breed."  Elsewhere he applies the same notion to anyone who is poor.  Let the poor starve: obviously if they are unfit to survive or they would not be poor.)

Good Darwinist thinking, I'm sure he believed.

Contrast this with another reading, cited in the above article: "If we...ask Nature: "Who are the fittest: those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another?" we sat one see that those animals which acquire habits of mutual aid are undoubtedly the fittest."

My kid, who has been studying evolution on her own (her school touched briefly on evolution, mainly to mention that it existed, and that the theory of creationism also existed and that "students would have to decide for themselves" which was the right answer, apparently in the abeyance of actual facts, since none were provided): well, not entirely on her own.  I provide books and links and answer questions.  Recently she came to me with one.  "If two separate species," she says to me, "are both best suited for an environment, how does evolution decide which species wins?"

"Ark," I said.  "Urk.  Okay.  First.  Evolution isn't an agent.  It doesn't exist in the sense you're thinking of.  Second.  No teleology.  Nothing to win here.  No aim exists.  We're not evolving toward anything."

She frowned.

"Think of the moths," I reminded.  "When the trees were white birch trees, which moths survive?"

"White moths," she said, impatiently, since this was the first illustration I ever used, teaching her survival of the fit.

"Then the industrial revolution comes along, coal enters the air, the white birch trees get coated with coal dust, which moths survive?"

"Black moths."

"Then the EPA makes people clean up the air, and the trees are white again.  Now what?"

"White moths tend to survive."

"Is it better to be a white moth or a black moth?  Which is a superior sort of moth?  Neither.  It depends on what the environment makes more advantageous at that moment in time.  It's why we need all sorts of genes in our toolkit."

Having heard all this before, the kid is bored.  "Okay, but--"

"Okay, so no species is going to win anything.  We're not evolving toward anything.  Whichever species happens to fit an environment best at that point in time, it will do best in that environment.  If two species do well, whichever has a slightly better fit will outperform the other -- or maybe it won't.  Maybe they'll both do well in that environment, and use it up, and destroy the environment, and die.  Oops.  Turns out they weren't such a great adaptation after all, then.  Fit means you fit, you survive and pass on your genes.  That's all it means.  It has no other meaning."

She frowned, thinking this over.

And that's the thing.  We want to believe in some Agent, some God, some Teleological force that will bless us and keep us and mean that we matter -- but that's not what's at work here.  It's only what is, the world as it is, and if we don't use these fat brains we evolved to get that figured out really soon, well, what use are they?

I cheer myself up, at this point, by adding that it's not like it will actually matter, though, will it?  If the like of Michelle Malkin and Joe the Plumber survive?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On the Other Hand...

So I'm teaching an essay I frequently teach in the first half of freshman comp, which looks at studies that link physical punishment of children with depression and low income levels later in life, an essay that usually, in this area, generates outrage and anger and, especially since I'm still touchy over Tonks' blog post and Zelda's story, I'm expecting more of the same.

Only not so.

Very little outrage from my students, first, though they did point out the problem with the essay (my attempts to get them to read critically are succeeding!) which is that it didn't provide sufficient evidence backing its main points.

But when I asked them why most Americans would be reluctant to believe this thesis, though they could tell me, they did not agree with the position. I asked for lists of reasons why we, as Americans, though it was a good idea to smack kids, and got silence, and then, from one of them, thoughtfully, "There aren't really any good reasons."

And a nineteen year old boy stayed after class to tell me how he worked at Wal-Mart, and he sees parents walloping their kids. "They always act worse after they get hit," he told me. "Always."

So, well: even in Arkansas, times are changing.

Being the Village

Tonks blogs here about a problem many of us have encountered, one I've never found a solution for, not a solution I'm happy with:

My turn to go around the car came just in time to see him jump in, scream in her ear, and backhand her across the face.

Guys hitting women, adults hitting kids, cops very possibly violating civil rights -- you witness it.  What do you do?  I keep looking for the perfect answer.  

Zelda told me and mr. delagar a story the other day about some students in the dining area of our student center: a couple three boys, some girls, and one of the guys was, well, not abusing his woman, but shoving her a little, mocking her every time she spoke, and, when he dropped something and she bent to pick it up for him, putting his hand on her head, holding it down, not letting her straighten up again, laughing jeeringly when she tried.  Zelda said it was obvious the other guys and the women at the table were made uncomfortable by this, as was the woman who was being shoved around; but no one called him on it.  Zelda said she thought about it -- and Zelda usually does by the way, she is fierce and fearless in these matters -- but reckoned the woman would not listen in this case.  (Correct me, Zelda, if I'm getting details wrong!)

And more than once I have seen kids getting yelled at or smacked in Wal-Mart or in public parks -- sometimes I speak up, trying to make it a friendly intervention ("Do you need some help?  Can I hold him for you while you unload the groceries?") -- and sometimes I don't.

As Tonks rightly points out in her post, although calling it in seems like the right thing to do, what happens then?  Often not good things.  

Wish for a better world, maybe.  Spit in one hand and wish with the other, as the saying goes.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Serious Question

I keep reading, like every five or six months, over on those Serious Big Boy Blogs, that grown-ups are supposed to have six months of living expenses saved up, "just in case," in a savings account somewhere, you know, in case they lose their job or whatever.

Every time I read this I get like DEEPLY uneasy.

Does anyone actually do this? (You can guess, I reckon, that I don't have six days of savings.  If either mr. delagar or I lost our job we'd be on the front lines of radio KFKD right away.)

I've been dead flat busted (deep in debt, in fact) ever since I got cancer without insurance at the age of 29 -- but Jaysus, as they say in my hometown, how would anyone ever save up six months of living expenses?  Anyone with kids anyway.

This can't be a serious goal, can it?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Aw, Fuck!

Flea's Steve got fucked by the bosses.  And her kids were sick again, too, but shit.

I guess I don't get to whine this month.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Parenting: The I Suck Edition

Driving Back From Aikido:

Me: So how did it go tonight?

The Kid: Lousy. Didn't you see? I was paired with a pygmy moron.

Me: (laughing helplessly): She was five! Not stupid! Little!

The Kid: She's an idiot.

Me: Where did you learn to talk this way? Good shit!

The Kid: Where do you think? Pygmy moron.

Me: Hey!

The Kid: Sorry, sorry!

Me: Did you just call your mother a pygmy moron? Really?

The Kid: It was an accident! It slipped out!

Me: I'm not even short! I'm 5'7"!

The Kid: I didn't mean it!

So they're all right, folks, all those people who tell you you reap what you sow: raise your kid with snottiness, you get a snotty kid.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Why isn't Berube writing for the New York Times?

This is just brilliant.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day

It's a big debate in the 'sphere, about celebrating it or not, for us feminists.

mr. delagar and I always have, since I was first his surly girlfriend, mainly because I never had. I never did the prom, or girl-things, when I was a young and surly high school student; I used to tell him I wasn't a trained girl. While we were still getting to know each other, I told him once I never got any Valentines as a kid, which wasn't strictly true.  I did get those ones the teachers made us give everyone.  But other than that...

Anyway, on our first Valentine's Day apart, he Fed-Exed me 32 Valentines, all in one big box (I was 32 years old) for all the Valentines I hadn't gotten; along with a box of chocolates; and since then we have celebrated the day, though in various odd ways -- hiking, for instance, or driving to Tulsa to visit the zoo with a small child in tow.

Today, we're taking the kid to the Nature Center(free!), and then going to the bookstore to buy a book each (relatively cheap), and then eating dinner at Chef Lee's (kind of pricey, but oh well).  Then we'll come home and he'll finish making peach cobbler for me.  Oh boy!

So what about y'all?  Valentine's Day plans or not?

Friday, February 13, 2009

My father sent me this, a view inside the space station, which, except for the slight sexist bit (woman astronaut as cargo) is very cool. (Crap. I can't figure out how to add it. Here's the address --
InsidetheSpaceStation.wmv -- but it won't play.)

I have to say the woman as caro bit at the front just annoys me all out of measure. WTF? WTFF? Why can't my heroes, the astronauts, be fucking heroes? Why do they have to be sexists tools? I would love to watch this scrap of video and just enjoy it, just groove on the notion that we've got people, some of them women, too, in space. Instead, I've got to itch with the knowledge that those people think it's funny to treat half the human race like objects -- and can't imagine that anyone would find any reason to object to that. (You feminists, no sense of humor.)

And then this: Day by Day's charming effort for this Friday. Helen Thomas, as you'll recall, is the senior reporter who stood up to George W. and got demoted to the back row of the press conferences; Bush also stopped calling on her. Didn't call on her for three years. When he did call on her again, after three years of refusing to admit she was in the room, this was her question:

"I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraquis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet—your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth—what was your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil—quest for oil, it hasn't been Israel, or anything else. What was it?"

So Chris Muir's response? He mocks her because she's old.

Old women, Mr. Muir believes, apparently have no right to exist. Ugly old things.

Also, good shit: look at this.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Oh noes!

Atrios is down!

I have data-starve!

Update: Yay! Back!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Okay Now

I've got a plan -- my own stimulus plan.

I'm totally going to start writing Right-Wing Porn for all these abstinence-Only tools who are preaching no whacking off, no being gay, no sex bf marriage, yadda yadda.

I mean, I know there's no cash in porn anymore, what with X-Tube and all that (I hear, I mean, I've never actually been on such sites myself, laws no), but since these tools won't touch such sites themselves, see, it's an untapped market, a perfect niche --

Jimmy Xtian goes to my site, looking to learn how not to touch himself, or how not to be gay, and I give him, in great salacious detail, lessons on how to not touch himself, and never touch there, and don't use this kind of oil, and never stand in front of the mirror with the lights at that angle, and don't think about this, and never bring your soccer buddy in to watch, and don't put your finger there--

It'll cost five bucks for a password, see.  I'll make millions!

Bad Economy Blues

This economy is not making me happy.

mr. delagar is still an adjunct, which means this bit of the year is a bitch for us -- his first paycheck doesn't come until the end of February (not that it will be much anyway), and we're still recovering from the holidays, and my shoulder surgery, and the kid's mouth surgery, and the car's heater breaking down.  Anyway, we're stone cold end of the line busted. Living on potato soup busted.  Can't pay the water bill busted.

So these antics of the Republicans, tax cuts for rich people, and how the problems of the economy are Obama's fault, you know, they're not amusing me.

I'm trying to keep a little faith, since Obama has handled shit like this well before.  If he's gone to handle them, shit, though, I wish he fucking well would.  We can only scrape by on the quarters and dimes we're finding under the sofa cushions for so long out here.

Update because this sounds SO whiny: On the other hand, the weather is nice here lately, not too cold or nasty, and I do have like the perfect kid and a fine life, except for not having enough money, and my shoulder is so much better now, I should really not be whining at all.  As Anne Lamott likes to say, any problem that can be solved with money is not a problem.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Kid

I'm chasing the kid off to her bath last night, and she's giving me mouth, as usual, she doesn't want to take her bath now, she doesn't want this, she doesn't want that, she wants a snack first, can't I make her some popcorn?

"Fine, Christ," I snap. "I'll make some popcorn."

I come out into the front room, and she's standing, having already stripped down for her bath, absolutely naked, reading a collection of Pogo comic strips absently.

"You're naked," I say. "You can't eat popcorn naked."

"You can eat anything naked," she informs me. "You just can't go into a bar."

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Still Creating Their Own Reality

You probably heard RNC Chair Michael Steele's claim, but I find I have to post it, in case you didn't: on CNN a few days ago: "Not in the history of mankind," he says, and I know we're already in trouble since that's how all bad sentences start, "has the government ever created a job."

Well, okay then.

Those years when my father was working for NASA -- 1959-1974 -- when, in fact, nearly everyone I knew had parents who were working for NASA -- what were those jobs, then?  Imaginary?

Monday, February 02, 2009

This is Interesting

Over here. (Warning: the title is stupid, and the second half of the article is disturbing.)

I knew the first bit, how straight guys like to watch M/F and F/F -- but this bit is a tiny surprise:

All was different with the women. No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, they showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men. They responded objectively much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man...

Addressing the question of why women are into more sorts of sex than men are, we get this:

Are men simply more inhibited, more constrained by the bounds of culture? Chivers has tried to eliminate this explanation by including male-to-female transsexuals as subjects in one of her series of experiments (one that showed only human sex). These trans women, both those who were heterosexual and those who were homosexual, responded genitally and subjectively in categorical ways. They responded like men.

The researcher adds, though, that we can't eliminate nurture as a cause -- though I don't remember being encouraged to find gay guys hot, frankly.

And this part is disturbing:

Chivers, like a handful of other sexologists, has arrived at an evolutionary hypothesis that stresses the difference between reflexive sexual readiness and desire. Genital lubrication, she writes in her upcoming paper in Archives of Sexual Behavior, is necessary “to reduce discomfort, and the possibility of injury, during vaginal penetration. . . . Ancestral women who did not show an automatic vaginal response to sexual cues may have been more likely to experience injuries during unwanted vaginal penetration that resulted in illness, infertility or even death, and thus would be less likely to have passed on this trait to their offspring.”

Evolution’s legacy, according to this theory, is that women are prone to lubricate, if only protectively, to hints of sex in their surroundings.

That's my bold there, of course. During unwanted vaginal penetration would be evolutionary biologist-speak for rape, I reckon. We're turned on by M/M sex because that way we won't get injured when we're raped. Hmm.

Then the second half of the article is all about how much women want to be raped, that's just....not to mention the woman who's doing the research for that bit is all, "I'm a feminist, but PC is so not sexy," which sure you're feminist. Tool.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


How cool is this?

See, everything is better now that Bush is gone!

(I know, I know, correlation is not causation.  Just still!)