Notes and Comment Blog

By tram to Kew Gardens

Jul 16th, 2015 1:33 pm | By

I suddenly took it into my head to go to Google images and type in

london transport poster kew

Mine eyes boggled at the result.

I’ve collected a hefty stack of London Transport postcards over the years, but it’s only a fraction of what there are. They did especially fetching ones advertising the joys of Kew Gardens.

Image result for london transport poster kew

Image result for london transport poster kew

Image result for london transport poster kew

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: I don’t remember the motives of the men taking the course being questioned

Jul 16th, 2015 12:39 pm | By

Originally a comment by latsot on Hey, 13% is practically half.

When I studied computer science in the 80s, there were four women on a course with about 80 people who weren’t women. The women were not, in general, treated with a great deal of respect.

There were a lot of conversations about them among the men, including speculation about why they were on the course in the first place, what they would have to do to pass the course (hard work, skill and intelligence were rarely considered as possibilities), and exactly how certain men expected to help them do that regardless – as far as I could tell – of whether they wanted any help.

I don’t remember the motives of the men taking the course being questioned.

I do remember the women being widely criticised for pairing up with each other for group assignments. I wonder why they did that. I also remember that they tended to do their lab work in the library clusters rather than the computer science ones. Again, just about impossible to work out why.

Most of the men on that course seemed to think they were being welcoming to computer science students who were women because they wanted them to be on the course. The fact that they wanted women to be on the course because maybe they’d be able to fuck them didn’t strike those men as being largely unwelcoming and presumably unwelcome.

Decades later, I still work on and off for universities and things are certainly a bit better in computer science departments, at least among faculty (I don’t usually have anything to do with teaching). But when I bring this sort of thing up, the answer is always:

“We’ve got X women in fairly high positions in the faculty, what more do you want?”

There’s all sorts of wrong here but what curdles my piss is that it’s hardly about what *I* want. You’re asking *me* why I think it’s bad that you’re responding to criticisms of having hardly any top faculty members who are women by asking *me* what ratio I’d approve of?

Holy cocksucking Christ.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Welcome to Oklahoma City

Jul 16th, 2015 11:27 am | By

Mother Jones reports:

On Wednesday night, demonstrators on the streets of Oklahoma City waved Confederate flags as President Obama’s motorcade arrived, a stark scene captured by a New York Times photographer.

Sure enough:

The New York Times ‏@nytimes 15 hours ago
The scene as President Obama’s motorcade arrived at his hotel in Oklahoma City tonight. Photo by @dougmillsnyt

Embedded image permalink

What a gruesome, terrible place this country is in so many ways. The Declaration of Independence was written by a slaveowner, a guy who kept his daughters’ half-sister as a slave and impregnated her at least once. We’re all about the human rights and we’re racist as fuck.

The incident comes in the midst of a renewed national push to remove the battle flag from government sites after the massacre inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month. Similar counter rallies embracing the slogan “Confederate Lives Matter” were scheduled in Oklahoma City ahead of the president’s visit.

Following the attack in Charleston, Obama delivered an impassioned eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator and one of the nine people murdered, in which the president called the flag’s enduring presence in the South a “reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.”

Therefore it’s urgent to say “but racism is part of our great history and heritage.”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Not so much what people think they think as how we collectively act

Jul 16th, 2015 11:05 am | By

Originally a comment by AJ Milne on Hey, 13% is practically half.

Having been on the technical side of high tech nearly two decades now, and in some fairly large organizations (you’ve heard of a few of them, certainly), I have to say I find these numbers pretty unsurprising from what I’ve observed.

As to why: I’m no expert, but I think you’ve read it in the news. Suffice to say the environment just isn’t real welcoming for a wide host of reasons, mostly more covert now, as the laws have made overt stuff actionable at HR. Some of my male colleagues especially tend to get their backs up a bit hearing this, but anyone who knows the sociology knows the larger story well enough. And it’s rarely so much about any single person’s attitudes as the collective weight of a lot of things, and not so much what people think they think as how we collectively act.

The sort of odd part about that: looking around at the people I work with immediately, they’re mostly pretty politically progressive. Tends to be the direction in the profession, and if you came out of rural Canada into the urban milieu to take your degree, you’ve had your eyes opened a bit to how far there is to go. I can’t imagine many of them going on about a woman’s place being in the kitchen or the like, and despite being more on the technical side of things and a bit behind on the social sciences, most of them probably wouldn’t be strong subscribers to poorly substantiated ladybrains-are-bad-at-this-stuff notions (though this would, I suspect, come out far more than cruder expressions of sexism)… And yet here we are. Momentum, in part: it gets to be a bit of a locker room atmosphere to some degree just as a matter of who’s present, I could go on. And then the larger industry is so generally hostile, women run an obstacle course to get to the higher ends of the profession especially.

It bugs you, now and then. The company I’m with right now does do some things, maybe more than token, these leadership seminars emphasized for and by women, and I get to thinking sometimes if we didn’t have at least that, how could anyone imagining themselves at all progressive even stay in the profession? I wouldn’t accept an invitation to a whites-only country club, and yet I work for what’s very nearly a men-only one. If you didn’t think now and then this isn’t right, just when do you think at all? It bugs you, and I wonder sometimes if that’s some of what’s behind the misogynist raving on the net: technical people sticking their fingers in their ears, shouting as loudly as they can it’s really the meritocracy they want to believe it is, trying not to notice just what an express lane they’ve been given, even as resentment swirls around them.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Did you see anything, anything at all?

Jul 16th, 2015 10:30 am | By

As a public service, sharing a Northumbria police appeal for witnesses.

Beach towel stolen

Dated: 16 Jul 2015

Police are appealing for witnesses following the theft of a towel from a North Tyneside beach.

It happened on Sunday, July 12 from 4pm to 5pm at Tynemouth Longsands beach. A dark blue towel with ‘DRYROBE’ written on the front in red and white was stolen.

Anyone with information should contact police on 101, extension 69191, quoting reference number 43728L/15 or ring the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Via Kate Smurthwaite

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The Duggars bid us all a fond farewell

Jul 16th, 2015 10:17 am | By

The “Learning” Channel has taken the plunge at last and terminated the Duggar show. The Duggar family (or their PR staff) have issued a “statement” (as if they were public officials). Let’s read their “statement.”

Today, TLC announced that they will not be filming new episodes of 19 Kids and Counting.

Years ago, when we were asked to film our first one hour documentary about the logistics of raising 14 children, we felt that it was an opportunity to share with the world that children are a blessing and a gift from God.

No, not “share with the world that.” They mean “try to convince the world that.”

Children are a good thing (a “blessing”) if you want them. It’s not up to anyone else to decide for you that they are a good thing for you. It’s certainly not up to a pair of religious fanatics in Arkansas to decide that, or to try to convince you to have them.

Children are not a “gift from God.” They’re the product of the fertilization of an egg by sperm. The Duggars don’t know anything about “God”; they only think they do. They think this fictional knowledge that they think they have entitles them to tell everyone else what to do, especially when it comes to sex and marriage and childbearing.

Over the last several years people have said to us, “We love your show!” We have always responded, “It’s not a show, it’s our lives!” Our desire in opening our home to the world is to share Bible principles that are the answers for life’s problems.

No, they are not. Many “Bible principles” are horrific, and the bible is not the only or best (let alone most reliable) source for any principles whatever, good or bad. The bible is just a book, a compilation of stories and poetry and polemic; it’s just one book of many.

It is our prayer that the painful situation our family went through many years ago can point people toward faith in God and help others who also have lived through similar dark situations to find help, hope and healing, as well.

Why would it do that? Why wouldn’t it rather clue people in that the Duggars are just as self-justifying and callous as anyone else, and more so than some?

God’s faithfulness and goodness to us, along with His abundant grace have given us strength and joy even in the most difficult days.

We have committed to Him that in all things—difficulties or success, good times or bad—we will purpose to bring Him honor by staying true to our faith and our family.

Cool justification loop there – if good things happen it’s god’s grace and if bad things happen it’s god’s grace. Nothing can happen that isn’t god’s grace, so god is always graceful, and there is no way out of the loop.

We know Who holds the future and are confident that He will work all things together for good.

Of course you are, because you’ve just said it’s all good and from god, no matter what it is. More high scores for god, who can do no ill.

We love each of you and look forward to unfolding the future with peace and joy.

They love each of us – even me! – despite not knowing us. How godlike, and even ineffable.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Hey, 13% is practically half

Jul 15th, 2015 4:32 pm | By

Hannah Levintova at Mother Jones talks to Tracy Chou, who dug out the stats on gender imbalance in Silicon Valley. The industry has been hiding them for years.

Starting in 2008, news outlets filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Department of Labor, hoping to obtain the workforce diversity data the tech giants refused to release. The companies lawyered up—as of March 2013, most of the top firms (Apple, Google, Microsoft, et al.) had convinced the feds their stats were trade secrets that should remain private.

Their real reason for withholding the data may well have been embarrassment. Although tech employment has grown by 37 percent since 2003, the presence of women on engineering teams has remained flat (at around 13 percent) for more than two decades, and women’s share of what the US Census Bureau calls “computer workers” has actually declined since the early 1990s.

Why? Because it used to be seen as mindless grunt work, suitable for women.

Despite her success, [Chou is] more than passingly familiar with the obstacles the Valley’s sausage fest creates for women—from brogrammer pickup lines to biased hiring and promotion. (Not to mention pay: As of 2011, census data shows, women in technical fields were making about $16,000 less, on average, than men.)

Fed up with the data void, Chou came home from her conference and wrote a Medium post calling for more transparency: “The actual numbers I’ve seen and experienced in industry are far lower than anybody is willing to admit,” she wrote. “So where are the numbers?” With her bosses’ permission, she started the ball rolling: Just 11 of Pinterest’s 89 engineers (12 percent) were women, she revealed. (Today, it’s around 17 percent.)

Her post got attention, and people started collaborating with her.

To keep track of the numbers, she set up a repository on the code-sharing site GitHub and invited all to participate. As word spread, more techies stepped up. Within a week, her repository had stats on more than 50 firms. (It now has more than 200—including GitHub, whose 104 coders include just 14 women—making it the most comprehensive available source of coders’ gender data.)

The numbers were as bad as you might expect: Just 17 of Yelp’s 206 engineers (8 percent) were women, for example. Dropbox was barely better, with 26 out of 275 (9 percent). Nextdoor, a social-media tool for neighborhoods, had 29 engineers—all male., which bills itself as “the world’s platform for change,” had less than 13 percent women engineers; it has since changed for the better, with 20 percent.

Cue the anti-feminists saying this is because women choose to arrange flowers instead.

When she started out studying computer science as a Stanford undergrad, “I felt really out of place,” she told me. “There weren’t many other women.” The coursework was tough, and the guys in her classes talked a big game. “My self-calibration was off,” she explained. “There’s research on how guys are generally inclined to give themselves more credit. So their calibration was ‘I’m awesome; this is super easy,’ when I felt like I was doing poorly.”

Concerned she wasn’t qualified for CS, Chou switched to electrical engineering. But the more she excelled, the more pushback she got. Male classmates would interrupt her or tune out when she spoke. During group projects, guys would reject her proposals and debate alternatives for hours before returning to her idea. “It’s okay to have a girl in the class if she’s not very good,” she said. “But it felt like once I became better than they were, it was not okay anymore.”

And it wasn’t any better in the world beyond school, either. Maybe in another…100 years? 500? In colonies on Pluto?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Charon’s turn

Jul 15th, 2015 4:03 pm | By

Moons have feelings too you know!

NASA gives you, Charon:

Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), taken late on July 13, 2015 from a distance of 289,000 miles  (466,000 kilometers).

A swath of cliffs and troughs stretches about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from left to right, suggesting widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely a result of internal processes. At upper right, along the moon’s curving edge, is a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep.


Mission scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters on Charon. South of the moon’s equator, at the bottom of this image, terrain is lit by the slanting rays of the sun, creating shadows that make it easier to distinguish topography. Even here, however, relatively few craters are visible, indicating a relatively young surface that has been reshaped by geologic activity.

What’s more, this is only the compressed version of the image. They’ll get the uncompressed one later.

The image has been compressed to reduce its file size for transmission to Earth. In high-contrast areas of the image, features as small as 3 miles (5 kilometers) across can be seen. Some lower-contrast detail is obscured by the compression of the image, which may make some areas appear smoother than they really are. The uncompressed version still resides in New Horizons’ computer memory and is scheduled to be transmitted at a later date.

Thanks, NASA.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The mountains of Pluto

Jul 15th, 2015 3:23 pm | By

NASA’s finding out big stuff from the Pluto flyby.

Icy mountains on Pluto and a new, crisp view of its largest moon, Charon, are among the several discoveries announced Wednesday by NASA’s New Horizons team, just one day after the spacecraft’s first ever Pluto flyby.

“Pluto New Horizons is a true mission of exploration showing us why basic scientific research is so important,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The mission has had nine years to build expectations about what we would see during closest approach to Pluto and Charon. Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments, and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations.”

How cool is that? It’s better than they expected.

A new close-up image of an equatorial region near the base of Pluto’s bright heart-shaped feature shows a mountain range with peaks jutting as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.

The mountains on Pluto likely formed no more than 100 million years ago — mere youngsters in a 4.56-billion-year-old solar system. This suggests the close-up region, which covers about one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today.

Mountains on Pluto

Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by gravitational interactions with a much larger planetary body. Some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.

“This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds,” says GGI deputy team leader John Spencer at SwRI.

New knowledge! Rethinking!

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates also will be available on the mission Facebook page.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and all the new images, visit:


Beats a baseball game any day.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Minority Feisty

Jul 15th, 2015 2:53 pm | By

What do we not have enough of? Fantasy movies for kids in which the fantasy characters are all boyz.

To the rescue – Minions!


Reelgirl isn’t best pleased.

So, yes, now I know: the minions are all boys. When I’ve complained in the past about the utter lack of female minions, commenters responded that they’re “genderless.” In kidworld, where everything from robots to cars to planes are assigned a gender, I doubted this was the case, but I watched the new movie carefully just in case I was mistaken, that the minions were an exception to this rule. Guess what? Not only does every minion mentioned have a male name, but they are also repeatedly referred to as boys with lines delivered like: “Growing boy creatures need their strength” or “Good luck in there, boys!” or “Buckle up, boys!” So, please don’t waste your time emailing me that a 6 year old kid won’t notice what gender these creatures are.

But wait, there’s the villain, Scarlet Overkill, and she’s a girl. Surely that makes it all ok.

I, too, had high hopes for Scarlett even though as the only main female character in the movie, I was pretty sure she would be limited by the narrative to a Minority Feisty role.

For those who aren’t familiar with Reel Girl, Minority Feisty is the term I’ve assigned female characters in children’s movies. These females are “strong” and therefore often referred to as “feisty” by reviewers. “Feisty” is a sexist adjective. A reviewer would not label a male character, such as Superman “feisty.” “Feisty” refers to someone who isn’t really strong but plays at being strong. “Feisty” isn’t a real threat to any power structure. The Minority Feisty can refer to one or more female characters in a movie, the point being that though there can be more than one, females are shown as a minority population. The Minority Feisty represents our slow, slow, slow progress from the Smurfette Principle, a term coined by feminist writer Katha Pollitt. The Minority Feisty serves to pacify parents, so we can sigh in relief and say to ourselves: “There’s a strong female or two, this movie is feminist!”

That’s an excellent label for it, almost as good as the Smurfette Principle.

And Scarlet Overkill is a terrible, stereotypical character. Another win for sexism!

I’m appalled and disgusted that movies like “Minions” are allowed to be made in 2015 and shown to little kids, teaching a new generation to expect and accept a world where girls go missing. If you think I’m overreacting, imagine the reverse: A movie about three female characters– Kara, Stella, and Becky, who lead an all female tribe. They defeat the first male super villain ever, while pursued in a world populated by hundreds of female villains, groups of all female police officers, troops of all female guards, and visit English pubs where almost everyone– except for the pink suited king– is also female. Would you notice the sexism? Would your kids? The fact that the lack of females in children’s movies– from protagonists to crowd scenes, from heroes to villains– isn’t glaringly obvious to us and our children shows how sexist the world is. In the fantasy world, anything is possible, even gender equality. If we can’t even imagine it, we can’t create it. Unfortunately, “Minions” teaches kids, one more time, that females don’t matter much at all.

This is what I keep saying. Women barely exist in most movies and tv shows, and most of the few who do get a part are vacuous or evil or both. Most movies star a man and a man and a man and a man. A woman may get fifth billing, or even – gasp – fourth, but then after that there twenty more guys and no more women. It’s as if we don’t exist.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Introducing Nirbashito

Jul 15th, 2015 11:42 am | By

Here’s the trailer for Nirbashito.

It’s pretty powerful.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jul 15th, 2015 11:15 am | By

Finally released in Kolkata and on its way to the Alberta Film Festival is the award-winning Bangladeshi movie Nirbashito, which is based on Taslima. The English title is Banished.

The Times of India last December:

Churni Ganguly’s first directorial venture, Nirbashito, has been adjudged the best film in Delhi International Film Festival.

The script of the film, which is based on the life of banished Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, has Churni playing the role of Tasleema, who, however has no screen name. In the film, the protagonist represents every women, which also tries to explain the tag line that accompanies the title of the film — A woman has no country.

The film, allegorically, tells the story of Nasreen’s difficult journey after being exiled through the story of her separation from pet cat Minu. Interestingly, Minu, too, has a Twitter page and congratulated Churni on winning the coveted award.

Yes, well, Taslima is separated from Minu again, thanks to the murderous bastards who keep wanting to kill her.

“I am extrememly proud. I am overjoyed that the film is doing so well outside Bengal, even though it is yet to release in Kolkata. Recognition certainly helps one believe in oneself. This award has convinced me even more that stories such as these need to be told,” Churni said, after coming back to Kolkata today morning.

Taslima tweeted today that it’s being released in Kolkata now, all these months later.

Congratulatory messages for the Shabdo director and his powerhouse actress wife, now a powerhouse director too, has not stopped pouring in from the moment the news broke.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The shine has come off

Jul 15th, 2015 10:40 am | By

In the NY Times magazine, Parul Sehgal considers the word “privilege.”

In the 1930s, W.E.B. Du Bois had an insight that privilege isn’t only about having money — it’s a state of being. He noted a ‘‘psychological wage’’ of whiteness: Poor whites felt that they outranked poor blacks; they could at least vote and access public schools and parks. In 1988, Peggy McIntosh, a women’s studies scholar at Wellesley, expanded on the idea, publishing a list of 46 benefits of being white (for example: ‘‘I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time’’; ‘‘I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection’’). ‘‘I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage,’’ she wrote, ‘‘but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.’’ For many, this idea of privilege was their introduction to thinking about racism not as ‘‘individual acts of meanness,’’ in McIntosh’s words, but as ‘‘invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance.’’ And for people of color, it was yet another powerful confirmation of their perceptions, their feeling that there were different sets of rules in place. It also made the case that failing to reckon with your privilege meant settling for a partial view of reality — Adichie’s very point.

Invisible systems. It’s a pain trying to talk about them, because they are what it says on the tin – invisible. Once you become aware of them, they make sense of a lot of things, but they’re still not something you can point to the way you can point to the sun.

But the shine has come off this hardy, once-­helpful word. It looks a little worn, a bit blunted, as if it has been taken to too many fights. Instead of clarity, it has sown confusion: ‘‘I’m white, my husband is Latino,’’ one woman commented on a blog post about confronting your privilege. ‘‘We have a Latino last name. Does that mean I lose some of my white privilege?’’ Even those who find it useful in certain contexts say the word swallows too many subtleties and individual variations. ‘‘You need to know that I was privileged,’’ Ta-­Nehisi Coates wrote on his blog for The Atlantic. ‘‘I can run you all kinds of stats on the racial wealth gap and will gladly discuss its origins. But you can’t really buy two parents like I had.’’ My own allegiance to the word is atavistic — growing up, it was one of the few words I had to understand the racism I felt so surrounded and mystified by. But now I find myself wielding the word warily, like the devalued currency it has become — dismissed as jargon or used to hector. The only reliable effect it seems to produce is panic.

It’s the Internet. The shine comes off all words these days, because of the internet. The pooling of conversation that is the Internet (especially the social media branch) means that jargon gets thrown at you 40 million times every day, so it can’t help losing its shine.

‘‘Privilege saturates’’ — and privilege stains. Which might explain why this word pricks and ‘‘opportunity’’ and ‘‘advantage’’ don’t. ‘‘I can choose to not act racist, but I can’t choose to not be privileged,’’ a friend once told me with alarm. Most of us already occupy some kind of visible social identity, but for those who have imagined themselves to be free agents, the notion of possessing privilege calls them back to their bodies in a way that feels new and unpleasant. It conflicts with a number of cherished American ideals of self-­invention and self-­reliance, meritocracy and quick fixes…

I think a better word would be “immunity” – which is slightly more clinical than “privilege,” and more specific. Privilege in the DuBois/McIntosh sense is having immunity to kinds of deprivations or insults that other people are subject to, along with being unaware of that very immunity.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

No women allowed

Jul 15th, 2015 7:26 am | By

Last week, Monday July 6, the Guardian reports

The Garrick Club, one of London’s last remaining gentlemen’s clubs, has voted to continue its policy of not admitting women as members. At the club’s annual general meeting at the Palace theatre on Tottenham Court Road, 50.5% voted in favour of allowing females to join. The club requires a two-thirds majority before rules can be changed.

Oh well, you may be thinking…it’s a private club; freedom of association; people are allowed to choose their friends; there has to be somewhere people can just…just…

The decision to continue to exclude women is significant because the Garrick Club has a place at the heart of the British establishment, with supreme court judges, cabinet ministers, academics, senior civil servants, diplomats and journalists among its members, as well as well-known actors.

See that’s why this is shit. It’s the same way all those “private” decisions to take the clients out for a night with the lads or an afternoon on the golf course with the lads are shit – they shut women out of the places where contacts are made and cemented, deals are done, networks are woven, decisions are discussed, plans are formed. It’s not actually private.

Another member said he had been undecided about how to vote. He asked: “I’m a huge supporter of all things anti-racist, non-gender and anti-ageist but why shouldn’t we have one or two places where chaps can get together?”

Like, oh, say, parliament and the universities. Fair’s fair, eh?

The Garrick is one of a handful of gentlemen’s clubs in London that still refuses to allow women members, along with White’s – where David Cameron was a member until he became leader of the Conservative party – Pratt’s, Boodles, Brooks’s, the Turf Club and the Travellers Club. At various points over the past 30 years, establishments such as the Reform Club, the Athenaeum and the Carlton Club have voted to admit women.

That’s a pretty significant handful.

When the 2010 Equality Act was drafted, there was some discussion by Labour MPs of whether the legislation could be used to make these clubs illegal, but this proved impossible without simultaneously making it illegal to have, for example, women-only swimming clubs. The act banned clubs from excluding people on the basis of colour but allowed them to continue excluding women.

Well actually the act banned clubs from excluding men on the basis of colour – men, not people. (Don’t talk to me about women-only swimming clubs. Those aren’t where the deals are done.)

With a large number of members well past retirement age, many Garrick members protest that the club is no longer a bastion of male influence where crucial networking takes place, preferring to cast it as a gentle backwater, where people go to relax and retreat from their professional lives. Only a few concede that it is still an important place for making informal but useful work-related connections.

Men, dammit. Where men go to relax and retreat from their professional lives. If you say “people” you’re just veiling the exclusion.

But there has been growing antipathy among women in the legal profession towards a club that welcomes so many male QCs and judges, yet excludes women. Baroness Hale, Britain’s most senior female judge, the first and only woman among 12 supreme court judges (several of whom are Garrick club members), has expressed outrage at the club’s continued exclusion of women. “I regard it as quite shocking that so many of my colleagues belong to the Garrick, but they don’t see what all the fuss is about,” she told a law diversity forum. She said judges “should be committed to the principle of equality for all”.

Well she would say that, wouldn’t she – she’s a woman.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

They need a woman – just the one, mind

Jul 14th, 2015 6:26 pm | By

That paper by Fiona Watt

During my time in Cambridge, virtually every invitation I received to join a University committee was prefaced by the disclaimer that “we need a woman”. This had the dual effect of making me feel, on the one hand, obliged to accept and, on the other, less empowered to voice an opinion. In case I, or my colleagues, might forget why I was there, the papers for one senior promotions committee had an ‘f’ next to my name—not ‘F’ for Fiona but ‘f’ for female. When I complained, the person who took the blame was a (female) member of the secretarial staff and not the (male) chair of the committee.

And on the other hand there are the ones who pretend to be unaware of gender altogether.

While I was working in Cambridge I was involved in several rounds of recruitment of junior group leaders, which were notable not only for a lack of female appointments, but also for the lack of perception that this was a problem. When I raised the issue I frequently received—by way of justification—the response “I can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman”.

Oh goody, it’s “I don’t see color” in another form.

Being “gender blind” might be a legitimate aspiration for scientists, but in my experience it was a justification for discriminating against women. And what made the situation so dispiriting was that none of the men present during these discussions ever challenged the situation, or asked the same questions as me.

So, what is to be done? While academic institutions may genuinely aspire to increase the number of female professors, their prospects of success are low unless covert discrimination is discussed openly and tackled.

Are the prospects for that looking good?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

“Just don’t hire a woman”

Jul 14th, 2015 6:16 pm | By

Sexism in STEM fields isn’t as bad as you think. It’s worse than that, according to David Kent.

As many of our readers are aware, I have recently taken up a position as a group leader at the University of Cambridge, and in that transition from postdoctoral fellow, I have become even more acutely aware of the severe problems that still exist when it comes to equality amongst male and female researchers. These are not things that are said in public, but rather they are structural and personality barriers that stay behind closed doors. These actions are sometimes subconscious bias (which is difficult to fix at the best of times), but often they are outright bigotry – all of this at the houses of free thought known as universities.  Professor Fiona Watt – a real juggernaut in stem cell research – wrote a fantastic piece in eLife a couple of years back about her 30 years of experiences and interviews with female researchers. I encourage a read (and a cry).

As part of my new position, I have sought advice from colleagues from across the world and some of the advice received and conversations had have appalled me – and there seems to be very little recourse for how to enact systemic change. For example, I sat with another junior group leader discussing strategies for hiring a postdoctoral scientist. I explained that I only had one position and needed to be very careful about choosing the right person. He agreed, and then shot a knowing look at me and said, “Just don’t hire a woman, if they get pregnant, you’re screwed.”

Because men don’t have children, you see, it’s only women who do that. Stupid bitches. Don’t hire them.

My department’s faculty members (especially the more senior ones) are mostly male – this is not the exception and has had much ink spilled previously. Perhaps this will change with time, but my recent experiences suggest that there are many out there who passively discriminate against early career female scientists.

Just this month, I was at a conference drinks reception speaking with two male colleagues and the topic shifted to a rising star in the clinician-scientist world. This researcher was climbing the ladder quickly, was attracting lots of funding, and she was female. While I grant that her publication record may not have been as stellar as some in her position, the comment out of one colleague’s mouth made my hair stand on end – “she would never be so successful if she wasn’t a woman.” I wonder if this same person could even fathom a male scientist being in a position that he did not deserve relative to others’ achievements? Or perhaps that he only got his position because he was male?

It’s especially hair-raising (or funny, depending on your mood) in tandem with the “don’t hire a woman” remark. Don’t hire a woman because if she gets pregnant you’re screwed, and at the same time, that woman over there got all this extra success because she’s a woman. How did she do that, exactly?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

What it will be like

Jul 14th, 2015 4:23 pm | By

Another version of the upcoming megaquake when the Cascadia subduction zone snaps, written by Bruce Barcott in August 2011.

On the Oregon and Washington coasts, the S-waves turn the landscape into a rolling sea. Tourists struggle to stay on their feet. Older buildings shift off their foundations. In Seaside, the 1924 bridge that carries Broadway across the Necanicum River can’t handle this dance. It twists, buckles, and collapses.

People start checking their watches. Nobody can believe an earthquake could keep going this long. For that they can blame the unique features of the CSZ.

“Because there’s so much sediment on it, the CSZ is very smooth,” says Goldfinger. “Once it gets going, there are no ­irreg­ularities on its surface to stop it. If there’s no reason for it to stop, it’ll just keep going until it dissipates all 300-odd years of elastic strain.”

Japan’s March 11 quake lasted more than five minutes. That’s longer than it takes a pot of coffee to brew. And that’s not good.

“Most modern buildings weren’t designed to withstand three to four minutes of shaking,” says Peter Yanev. One of the leading seismic-engineering con­sul­tants, Yanev has investigated more than a 100 quakes around the world. “Almost none of the buildings in Seattle were designed for a megaquake.”

Most unreinforced-masonry buildings in Portland and Seattle can survive a 45-­second quake, like the magnitude-6.8 Nisqually quake that hit Seattle in 2001. But the longer they’re shaken, the weaker the structures be­come. “The difference between 40 seconds and four minutes is like the difference between a head-on collision at four miles an hour versus 40,” says Yanev.

That 45 second one was bad enough. I don’t look forward to a four minute one.

MINUTE 21:00
People in Seattle and Portland—those who have power and whose cellular networks are still functioning—watch live footage of the tsu­nami on their smartphones, shot by news helicopters. They wonder if it will hit the cities.

It probably won’t. To reach Portland, the tsunami would have to muscle its way up 75 miles of the Columbia River and hang a hard right at the Willamette River. Seattle is similarly protected by the topography of Puget Sound. The tsunami will likely slosh up the sides of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and expend its residual energy on the western shore of rural, sparsely populated Whidbey Island.

There could be a strange mini-tsunami effect in Puget Sound, however. Hydrologists call it a seiche. It’s like what happens when you kick a dog’s water bowl. The water sloshes back and forth in slowly diminishing waves. A handful of people who wander down to shore to watch the arrival of the tsunami will get sucked into the sound.

I can see it from here, thanks, assuming the whole place hasn’t pancaked.

It’s looking very pretty and tranquil right now.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

And a list of demands and charges was born

Jul 14th, 2015 3:48 pm | By

More on the kimono kerfuffle.

Protestors against a kimono try-on event at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston are upping the ante. They have issued an extensive list of demands, following an apology on the museum’s website.

A list of demands? It’s an art museum, not the Filth and Scum Corporation.

The new “list of demands and charges” from the group, which calls itself Stand Against Yellow Face @ the MFA, is nearly 2,000 words in length. They group is offended by everything from the prospect that the MFA planned to curate the photos resulting from the event for its Facebook and Instagram accounts to the fact that the robe, they say, is an uchikake, not a kimono. (An uchikake is a formal variety of kimono, or outer robe, used in wedding ceremonies.)

They demand that the museum apologize not only on its website but via “multiple media outlets and on social media” and that it explain “why this event is unacceptable.”

There’s such a thing as making yourself and your cause look silly. I think this group has passed that border and is well into the territory.

“By choosing a painting of a European woman to highlight and to invite the public to dress in her ‘kimono,'” they write, “the MFA is continuing in this tradition of exoticizing the ‘East’ through the lens of a misogynist White patriarchal West while contributing to the invisibilization and erasure of the AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] experience.”

But is it? Is that what it’s doing? Yes, the kimono is apparently seen as exotic, but that by itself isn’t automatically terrible.

Asian-Americans are not united on whether the event is even culturally insensitive, much less racist.

Japanese-American blogger Keiko K., for her part, has published an epicblog post of her own defending the event. Thoughtful and extensively sourced, it’s nearly 5,000 words, and well worth a read.

She goes on,

I’m not so sure the Japanese take La Japonaise that seriously. San-X produced a dango-wielding La Japonaise Rilakkuma stuffed animal with a duck warrior on the kimono to sell at the museums in Japan where Looking East [a traveling museum show] was exhibited (viaRilakkumaLifestyle). It’s sort of an absurd art mirroring life mirroring art—the French borrowing from the Japanese who have borrowed it back and made it something kawaii.

Bahahahaha so it is.


Take that, Camille Monet, and you too, Claude.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Everyday kimonoism

Jul 14th, 2015 12:40 pm | By

And then there are the kimono wars, which I’ve been ignoring until now.

The BBC tells the story:

Following an uproar of criticism on social media, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) cancelled an event that protesters labelled racist and culturally insensitive.

Museum officials announced that they would cancel “Kimono Wednesdays,” which was originally scheduled to run until 29 July.

Every week, visitors were encouraged to “channel your inner Camille Monet” by posing in front of Claude Monet’s “La Japonaise” while trying on a replica of the kimono Monet’s wife, Camille, wears in the painting.

Protesters quickly labelled this event as racist, saying it propagated racial stereotypes and encouraged cultural appropriation.

The MFA posted this image on its Facebook page, though I don’t see it there now:


I don’t know. I can sort of see finding it dubious, dressing up in the clothes of distant others…but at the same time, can’t it also be seen as interest in and admiration of the clothes and cultures of distant others? And is that a 100% bad thing?

The passion for all things Japanese was a big deal in late 19th century Paris, and I have a hard time believing that passions of that kind should just be stamped out. Yes they’re probably under-informed and full of naughty exoticism and so on, but…

…but get real, kimonos are incredibly beautiful, and it’s not insulting Japan to say so.

What about the manga fad right now? Are the protesters protesting that?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Seeds of satan

Jul 14th, 2015 11:12 am | By

David Robert Grimes takes on five myths about GM foods.

One is that GM is untested. Wrong, he says; it’s tested.

Another is that Monsanto is the devil.

Another frequent claim is that Monsanto specialises in “terminator seeds” that are sterile and cannot reproduce, making farmers dependent on the firm. This persistent myth is also false. It is technically feasible to make sterile seeds, but Monsanto does not sell them (and in 1999 pledged never to explore that avenue).

Does anyone sell them?

Another claim is that it’s all big biz – i.e., I assume, all profit-driven. He cites golden rice as one example of academic and humanitarian as opposed to profit-driven research.

Sadly, it has been doggedly opposed by organisations such as Greenpeace, on ideological rather than pragmatic grounds. This ideological pig-headedness is even more puzzling when one considers that GM advances could not only save millions of lives but also spare our environment the ravages of intensive farming and pesticides. This is often ignored by people who are ostensibly most concerned for the environment. Three years ago, in England, hundreds of protesters tried to destroy a field where genetically modified wheat was being tested by Rothamsted Research, an independent, nonprofit agricultural institution. Publicly funded researchers there had been working to produce a wheat with a naturally occurring plant pheromone that repelled aphids. Were it successful, farmers would no longer have to use potentially hazardous insecticides, substantially reducing our agricultural footprint. This would be an enormous boon to the developing world, where crop failure often means widespread death and suffering. In spite of the potential, protesters vowed to destroy the experiment, just as they have vowed to destroy many other research crops.

And then there’s the “it’s unnatural” complaint, which is just fatuous. Putting a splint on a broken arm is “unnatural” too; so what.

Updating to add: posts about that planned protest at Rothamsted in 2012:

Note for anyone thinking of going to Rothamsted tomorrow (guest post by Bernard Hurley)

From Sile Lane, about Rothamsted this Sunday

A message of thanks from Rothamstead Research

The Take the Flour Back group did not have enough support

“Take the Flour Back” has started the vandalism, intends more

Have a pie chart

Come on, kids, let’s destroy the crops!

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)