The Problem With This Situation Is It Needs A Grindstone For My Axe

November 15, 2014 - 4:40 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
33 Comments

So we threw a really advanced lawn dart at a comet (which we have already discovered interesting space things about, though the coolest bit is apparently the thing growls like an alien space monster), nailed it, and the guy primarily responsible for this marvel of human techhnological achievement wore a shirt with some cheesecakey pinups with chicks holding rayguns on it.

Naturally someone zeroed in on the most important detail of this story: dat SHIRT. Disclosure: I’m linking this particular article because I have intense regret at not having written this summation of the situation*:

Mr. Taylor then made the bad situation worse. Instead of telling these progressive puritans to go pound silicon dioxide, he issued a sobbing public confession straight out of a Maoist show trial. This guy just dropped a dishwasher on an ice cube 300 million miles from home and he’s groveling to a coven of D-list bloggers?

I would have a quibble with the man if I showed up for a job interview and he was wearing that. Would feel a little squicky if that was the message sent right then, though I’d probably just shrug and see how the interview went. I really kinda dig the shirt and I’d be asking if he was a fan of Coop too. Looks great with the tats and his overall look.

More importantly, this is probably the highlight of his professional career, and if he’d shown up in nothing but whipped cream with cherries on his nipples and a complete banana split sundae on his crotch (HE HAS THE TECHNOLOGY TO MAKE THIS WORK) I’d have cheered him on. You go, nerdboy, you ROCK THAT. That was his moment and anyone who would piss on his parade, let alone over something so fucking petty, should go live in a cactus patch so they can achieve self-actualization and become one with the sensation of being constantly needled by the world.

Even if I were to put on my feminist goggles and view this strictly through the lens of women in STEM fields I wouldn’t see a fucking problem, because the first thing I’d see was how many women were on that project, and not in a “getting coffee” role either. Monica Grady’s brief account from inside Mission Control was all part of the excitement. Hell, one of the comet’s discoverers is a woman. Go, women in STEM! Can anyone tell them where they may go pick up their rayguns?

Meanwhile, predictably the reaction to the reaction is somehow every inch as fucking stupid. So far I’ve heard the exactly two women that reacted that way described as a “FEMINIST LYNCH MOB”, and a “GIANT STEP BACKWARD FOR WOMANKIND”, and “FEMINISM IS OVER”, inevitably with a whole bunch of misogynist stereotypes packed in because, y’know, those two ladies said something retarded so free pass!** Anyone who thinks this constitutes a lynch mob of any description or in fact any sort at all of unified Feminist Rage needs to go roll around in the same fucking cactus patch for at least a few hours until they gain some sense of motherfucking perspective.

Actually I think this needs to be a thing. The Cactus Patch of Perspective. We can stock it with teddy bear cholla and some of these.

carl1

*Of course I have a gripe with the writer too, which is that he can’t resist throwing a barb of his own over the guy’s tats and overall style because he doesn’t fit in with conservative aesthetic preferences either. Seriously, dude?

**Instapundit has a reaction roundup if you want to go see some of this stuff. I don’t think that’s the purpose he made the roundup for, but hey, it works well.

My Tribe, Right or Wrong

October 31, 2014 - 2:54 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
46 Comments

So, after what feels like years and has actually been about two and a half months, I’m finally going to talk about Gamergate. I’ve been neck deep in this shit since the first Reddit post went up since it hits gaming, feminism, and has now somehow invaded my gunnie and libertarian circles as well, which means basically every fucking social circle I’m in either directly or tangentially save roller derby is freaking the fuck out about it and I can’t really go anywhere to get away from it without total social isolation. And I only get to skate twice a week right now. So I’m finally irritated enough to Say My Piece. And therefore jump in with both feet. Which means I’m going to be engaging in the Comment Wars for what I consider the stupidest cultural conflict since Chickfildammerung. Yes I am self-aware about this personal flaw.

First off- I agree with pretty much everything Ken said. Therefore I’m not necessarily going to address every point I actually agree with, nor exhaustively source everything as he’s already done most of it and I’m busy as fuck this weekend and can’t spend all day on this. I realize asking you to Read The Whole Thing is unreasonable, but before you launch a broadside at me about uncritically supporting “Social Justice Warriors” or accepting every claim made about threats and doxxing with automatic acceptance rather than sourcing, I’d appreciate it if you’d save us both the trouble of me calling you a lazy dumbass and check to see if the answer’s already there first. Hi Ken. I’m a fangirl.

So, going to go with the Arguments I Have Seen That Make Me Facepalm. If you haven’t made this argument? It ain’t about you. And frankly, most of my objections are political rather than feministy, given my biggest source of incredulity is seeing this from libertarian circles.

1. “Actually it’s about ethics in gaming journalism”

Sorry Cholly but no it ain’t, or at least “Gamergate” isn’t. The whole ridiculous mess started when Zoe Quinn’s angry ex made a post on Reddit about how she was crazy and cheated on him and, this is the important bit, slept with a Kotaku reviewer to get a good review for her indie game Depression Quest. Except this claim is trivially easy to verify as total fabrication, because no one at Kotaku ever reviewed the damn game. This takes about ten seconds on Google to figure out.

Gaming journalism is a fucking joke and could use some ethics. But you know what? This has been true for the entire history of its EXISTENCE. I’ve been seeing banner ads on sites with positive reviews of a game advertising the freaking game, with the ad ON THE REVIEW, for as long as there have been online gaming journalism and banner ads. Every gamer who hasn’t been living in an actual cave knows reviews from any “game journalist” who isn’t completely independent and getting paid nothing are bought and sold, mostly by major gaming companies.

So I think I’m pretty justified in regarding “it’s really about ethics” in a “scandal” that started with a completely bogus claim about a game developer whose game has been free to play since its inception who happens to be female, involves wide-scale doxxing, harassment, and rape/death threats, and not with any element of the actual long-standing problem, as raw steaming bullshit. Sure, some of the people making this claim may be totally sincere. But with respect, y’all have picked the wrong tag and moment in history to attach your outrage to. In theory this maybe shouldn’t matter because the validity of an argument shouldn’t be affected by those things; in practice yes it fucking does. None of us are impressed when an anti-gun advocate chooses the night of a mass shooting, done by a shooter with stolen or illegally possessed guns who was a known nutjob, to rant about legal CCW. And we aren’t wrong to level the blood-dancing charge then.

2. “I haven’t been following anything about this until just now, and I’m not a gamer and don’t play video games, but this is obviously just another case of SJWs picking something to manufacture outrage about”

Hey, thanks for admitting right up front that you have no fucking idea what you’re talking about, then. I’m glad you weighed in to register your literally ignorant opinion! “It must all be stupid bullshit because I think these people are whiny SJWs and some SJWs were mean to me/my friend once” is the definition of reflexive tribalism. Which I loathe.

3. “Women and gay people/minorities should expect this kind of reaction when they invade gaming”

Fuck you. We didn’t “invade”. I’ve got thick calluses on both thumbs, need to replace both of my PS3 controllers because I’ve worn them out and they’re starting to get flaky, spend a lot of time PC gaming too, and I’ve been playing video games since 1988. When I started games were aimed at kids, not young men specifically, and certainly not “straight white dudes”. Somewhere in the mid nineties the gaming industry made the decision that since they comprised their biggest market share so far as they could tell, it was a waste of time to develop and market for anyone else. (You can actually read about the specific market study that they latched onto for this if you Google for a bit.) We’re not newcomers; the gaming industry left us. But we didn’t leave; we just didn’t have much of a voice. Then since that entire generation that grew up gaming with the first home consoles is now old enough to have jobs in gaming and writing about games, we do. The guys that felt gaming was theirs just aren’t able to go through life thinking we don’t exist anymore.

Most gamers are in their 30s (coincidentally born around that early eighties time!) and nearly half are female. You can sputter all you want about female gamers not playing “real games” (which seem to be exclusively defined by these people as games targeted very narrowly at straight white young men), but we’re just as much the consumers of games as these guys are. We pays our money: we’re the market too. This is how markets WORK- or at least it’s how free markets do.

4. “Getting harassed is just what happens in games, guys do it to each other too, it’s happened to me, harden up”

“Women get disproportionately harassed” != “men never get harassed”. Most female gamers- and for that matter internet pundits- have experience with what happens when they go under an identifiably female identity and what happens when they go under a male or gender-neutral one. (Which, in gaming, is always assumed to be male.) When I’m playing online I don’t go around saying “I’M A WOMAN” or “I’M A DUDE” unless it becomes relevant to some discussion, but I do favor roles and classes that are always assumed to be male. (I play tanks and heavy-armor melee.) There IS a difference, a big one, in how I get treated when I don’t have that “must be a guy” assumption operating. I still get shit-talked and trolled (which I cheerfully hand right back), but it’s not nearly as intense, as personal, or as flat-out mean. All the female gamers I know have had pretty much the same experience, if their experience in gaming and internetting is at all extensive. Because you, the guy, at whom this stuff isn’t directed, have one experience, doesn’t mean yours is at all applicable to someone else, let alone overrides it. (And before it comes out, yes I am aware men have experiences women simply don’t too.)

Can we please acknowledge that though rape and death threats happen to everyone, it’s pretty disproportionately men to women and not the other way around? I’ve never actually seen an SJW do this to a gamergater, but I’ve seen LOTS the other way around. And please call me when there’s a mass shooting of men by a woman outraged about men rather than a man outraged about women and “feminists” shooting women. (Marc Lepine, George Sodini, Eliot Rodgers.)

5. “SJWs are trying to drive men out of the industry/out of gaming and must be opposed at every turn!”

Orly? Show me. I’m quite serious here. I’ve never seen an anti-gamergater suggest that straight white men, or all men, be driven out, let alone advocated for government force of law to step in and help them do it.

Oh, but they’ve called for boycotts, and said some really mean things about those gamers, and stereotyped, and attacked a lot of aspects of the gaming industry as it is? THIS IS HOW FREE SPEECH AND THE FREE MARKET FUCKING WORK! This is my huge political objection, right here. Free speech doesn’t mean freedom from criticism, it certainly doesn’t mean freedom from pointed criticism, it doesn’t mean freedom from mockery, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean protection from social consequences for speech, whether it’s deserved or not. Yes, this applies to the SJWs too.

What it DOESN’T apply to is threats, of organized harassment explicitly aimed at driving devs out of the industry altogether (which as Ken points out has happened repeatedly), and while still well within the bounds of that free speech, pressuring advertisers into pulling out of anyplace that criticizes you kinda skeezy too as a response to criticism. (AGAIN: this applies to the SJWs too.)

And when the people running under your flag are doing this repeatedly, claiming victimhood while they do EXACTLY what they’re (falsely) accusing their opponents of doing in the name of pre-emptive self-defense, and you’re standing by going “well it’s unfair to paint a movement by its extremists” while they’re getting real-world traction enough to drive people out of their jobs or out of their homes and get the FBI involved, twice- sorry but I’m not going to take you seriously. Is this the hill you’re really going to die on? There are no other trenches in your culture war to set up in that don’t contain people fighting a war against women in general in what they think is their domain? When Islamists do this shit we call it terrorism, not trolling.

When female game developers and programmers aren’t a single-digit percentage of the industry anymore, maybe then I might begin taking seriously the notion that they’re “taking over”. Or better yet? Over 50%. You know, reflective of our actual population. (Before I hear about it: NO I am not fucking advocating any sort of intervention to make this happen, I’m just horselaughing at the notion that there’s an actual takeover or persecution campaign against men of any sort.)

I point out: even 4chan has banned gamergate discussions. Why? Because those threads have extensive doxxing and coordinated harassment planning in them. Which is one of those few things 4chan doesn’t permit. When fucking 4chan has disavowed you because of your shitty tactics, it’s time to re-evaluate your life choices and choice of allies in particular.

6. “SJWs have attacked us on x front so we must fight them here too regardless of how it started”

Combined with the above especially, I’m not necessarily going to call you a misogynist unless you otherwise show me that you are, but I am going to call you a hypocrite. As well as point out that this is the “Billy hit me first” school of argument that really we all should have outgrown in middle school.

And as my last salvo: before you pull out “judging by a few extremists”, please direct me to the gamergaters who are taking all of the above seriously and speaking strongly against them. And I really don’t mean Bendilin Spurr, the guy who claimed gamergate was against harassment and also produced the “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” interactive web game.

To recap: it’s a movement with a completely incoherent argument started by an obvious lie, infested by doxxers and people doing something we normally define as terrorism when it’s people we don’t identify with in some way, championed by libertarians who apparently don’t see a problem with the fact that the actual “fight” is against people using speech and the free market to advance their interests. For the crime of disrespecting a self-described identity group, whose reaction is incidentally proving that much of what they say about misogyny in the gaming culture is completely correct.

Beautiful. I’ll even hand you a flag to plant on that hill. Defend it to your last breath.

Santa Fe Comic Con 2014

October 26, 2014 - 12:19 pm
Irradiated by Stingray
6 Comments

Santa Fe took a look around and noticed that every two-bit one-horse town in the nation was holding comic conventions and was raking in mad bank from a bunch of nerds with disposable income, and decided to hop on the bandwagon. The inaugural SF Comic Con was held at the Buffalo Thunder casino….in Pojoque, which is about 15 minutes away from Nerd Ranch, so you’re damn skippy we went. It was pretty small, which was to be expected for a first run in a fairly low-density part of the state/nation, but it was a lot of fun. There were a few teething issues that’ll likely be resolved for next year, but the crowd had a great energy, and everybody was incredibly friendly. And that’s coming from someone who hates crowds. I even got into the spirit of things.
If you want blood.... we got it!

I’ve got a hard time being objective about it since I know where every tiny flaw and compromise is, but overall I’m fairly pleased with how it turned out. Didn’t win anything, but didn’t expect to either. And the costumes that won, I didn’t lose, I got beat fair and square.

The costume was definitely a hit with the crowd; I think easily a couple hundred people asked to take my picture (and if anybody sees any across the web, or happens to have been one of the people there who took one, throw the link in comments!). I terrified a couple of toddlers (Note: HUGE SUCCESS), and got a ton of compliments ranging from the calm to the wildly enthusiastic (one, explaining to a friend: “This badass is the fucker WHO RIPS THE SKIN OFF PEOPLE!”) LabRat is convinced I was a close 2nd on the popular vote contest.

I think I’m going to make a few minor tweaks based on how yesterday went and probably trot it back out for the bigger Albuquerque con in January.

KTKC Beer Update

September 19, 2014 - 6:53 pm
Irradiated by Stingray
1 Comment

The Emergency Medical Bock for the Kilted to Kick Cancer prize package went into the secondary fermenter today. Sneaked a little out while it was siphoning over, and by sheer luck discovered that there was one (1) bottle of the original mix left in the very back of the fridge. Well conditioned by now, I’m sure.

I gotta say, even un-carbonated, and before the second ferment and bottling, I think the new stuff is slightly better. Ironically I’m not really so much a fan of my own beers, but I’ll give the new stuff the nod here. LabRat says that if they carried this at the local brewpub, she would punch people if they ran out (I knew I married her for a reason).

So, if you missed that it’s entirely possible I’ll be doing a kilted greased pig chase, on video, along with courting frostbite, you’ve still got time to chip in to Kelly’s team.

And since, as MattG puts it, I have no brakes on my dare-car, y’all know what’s coming.

Get Kelly to an even thou, or KTKC overall to 15 kilobucks, and I’ll do the kilted greased pig chase while channeling one of my spirit animals. I mean, that almost looks like a kilt, right?

Click the link, pick team Ambulance Driver, and donate.
Get kilted. Get checked.

Kilted to Kick Cancer 2014

September 8, 2014 - 4:45 pm
Irradiated by Stingray
4 Comments

Well, it’s September and the silence here has probably been noticed. I’ll get the bad news out of the way first. I’m sorry, folks, but the situation here right now is such that I don’t have the gas in the tank to do the drive justice this year, so I’m mostly sitting out. Mostly.

Now the good news. KTKC is officially a 501(c)3 charity. Formal. Legit. The whole shebang. Congratulations to Kelly, Happy Medic, Mrs. Happy Medic, and Motorcop, and my personal thanks for all the hard work fighting with the IRS that had to go into this conversion. The momentum this project has gained amazes me and simultaneously pains me since I’m mostly sitting out.

Now for that one little word. Mostly. First off, I’ve got a batch of Emergency Medical Bock about halfway fermented as I type this. Kelly will happily shank people for this stuff, but it could just be he burned out all his tastebuds with spicy gumbo or something. A case is going into the prize pot for the year. And if the IRS or ATF have a beef with giving away booze, I may find myself a new best friend at the end of the month, wink wink nudge nudge, subtle as a brick and all that. You want it? Sign up instructions and complete listings of the prizes are here. Get kilted and get to work.

Now for those of you who don’t like shitty beer, I’ll up things a little more for good measure. Kelly is already making promises for this year for his fund raising efforts. As the song goes, my friend, anything you can do I can do better. #dunkyourjunk? I’ll *salt* my ice water to get it colder than Kelly’s, and I’ll stay in longer. The audio for my waxening from KTKC past is still over in the sidebar, too.

One in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. My dad was one of those, but thankfully not the one in thirty six who will die from it. I’ve got a personal stake here, so Kelly? Here’s a gauntlet for you to throw where ever you like. I’m already in for the ice water, but on top of that, you cook up the stunt and the fund raising goal, and I’ll make it happen. Just, uh, keep in mind Labrat will be unhappy if anything is rendered permanently unusable. I think you can imagine how that’d go if she gets upset. Personally I’d like to see you stomp a mudhole in JayG and walk it dry just to de-throne the bastard, but do with this questionable gift as you will.

Get kilted. Get checked. Get this thing licked. Wait, phrasing. Beat. Get this thing beat.

New Marvel Title: Dat Ass

August 21, 2014 - 12:04 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
19 Comments

Cross-posted, because anything that inspires me to spit out six hundred words before I’ve finished my coffee probably shouldn’t be wasted at an away game, as Tam says.

“Female Comic Fans Upset Over Spider-Woman’s Ass”

Ufffff.

Erotic comic art, cheesecake, and beefcake (please!) has a right to exist, joyously. I’ve got two not-cheap books of it myself by two of my favorites, Bruce Timm and Frank Cho. I do love a gorgeous drawing, and I’m a fan of a good appreciation of anatomy, clothed or unclothed, erotically inviting or not.

But this isn’t a cheesecake portfolio. It’s the front cover of a mass-market book. I wouldn’t feel entirely scornful if a religious group were protesting this as wholly inappropriate for a such a cover, which while much more aimed at adult audiences these days are still also marketed to children, and superhero books always appear front and center on the racks. (I know I’ve spent a lot of time in comic shops, and there’s always kids there.)

1) That’s not a pose of a powerful character with spider-powers stalking the city. That is, as Bricken pointed out, most reminiscent of an animal in heat “presenting”.

2) To those admiring the anatomy, um, stop. Frank Cho draws beautiful women with beautiful anatomy. This guy drew a back and butt and damn near photoshopped some arms and a head on there. True that he’s a hell of a lot better than Liefeld, but the anatomy isn’t there so much as it is randomly assembled to make that ass display possible while still showing her face. At least he didn’t go full cubist to get her tits in there too.

3) It’s not about her being “too beautiful” or even an unrealistic body. Most superhero bodies are in fact unrealistic, and frankly no one looks good in spandex except professional dancers. It’s about the bit where the last time I saw something displayed like that, it was one of the roasts I was contemplating on my last trip to the butcher counter. Even a bitch in heat has more dignity. “Here’s your monthly Spider-Woman title, her own book about her adventures and hero career with full focus on her character! This month it’s about DAT ASS. I MEAN DAAAAAMN. We won’t mind if you go get some tissue and hand lotion before you read the rest.”

4) Milo Manara’s main focus as an artist is pinup and erotic art. He’s not so much a regular artist for ordinary comics and animation the way Timm and Cho are. Yes, he does some gorgeous work. Yes, he deserves his own art books. Was it appropriate to hire him as the guest artist for the front cover of, again, a mainstream monthly book? UM. I’m not actually criticizing Manara here, except for his grasp of anatomically correct poses- I’m criticizing Marvel and whoever the fuck at Marvel decided this was a great idea. And if you don’t think this sends a message about what Marvel thinks about its fans and its characters, you’re either legally blind or fucking high.

Marvel does in fact have a right to do this. It’s their book and their house, and while it certainly sashays right up to pornography, it’s not quite. Likewise the fans who drive Marvel’s industry, male, female, feminist, and not, have an equal right to be alienated and to voice that alienation. Loudly as they want. They just don’t have the right to demand any other entity censor Marvel. Do they have a right to imply or outright say, loudly, that Marvel should self-censor? Of course they fucking do. Self-censorship is something every one of us does every day. It’s called “trying not to be an asshole”. They don’t have a right to tell an artist what to art, but they’re *not*. Manara was a guest artist, and no one has suggested he shouldn’t draw whatever the fuck he wants in the already healthy career he’s in. They’re criticizing Marvel’s decision to have him do this in particular, and the comic industry in general’s attitude to their female fans. (Which in Marvel’s case is really, really schizophrenic- which actually beats hell out of “uniform contempt”.) Demanding enforcement of “political correctness” can be kind of assholish, but when they have several *really good points*- and are in fact consisting of a huge chunk of people who pay money for Marvel’s content- it’s really not.

< /rant>

Are You Pondering What I’m Pondering

July 30, 2014 - 8:18 pm
Irradiated by Stingray
7 Comments

This clip is the greatest goddamn thing I have seen in ages. I honestly don’t remember the last time I had tears streaming down my face from laughing this hard. Go, watch now. It’s NSFW, but you knew that when you came to this site.

New Ground Rule

July 17, 2014 - 12:44 pm
Irradiated by Stingray
17 Comments

Ok, hippies, that’s quite enough of this bullshit. New rule: If you can’t explain at least one of three of a) what gluten is, b) how it is formed, or c) the specific set of requirements under which avoiding it actually makes sense, you are not allowed to spin your shit up about it.

This gluten-free “bread” I just ate? That’s called sawdust, you trendwhore fucks. It doesn’t taste any better, and I’d bet the cost of lunch any day of the week that the latest dietary scourge is actually not in any way a problem for 95% or more of the people demanding shitty food in service of avoiding the g-word.

God damn it, the one thing hipsterish localvore organic free trade sustainable cruelty free birkenstock clad fixie-bike riding food is supposed to have going for it is that it’s supposed to taste better. When the fucking egg salad sandwich from the national chain grocery store is not only cheaper (half the price of the pretenchou version), tastier (Bread with gluten actually acts like bread! WHO FUCKING KNEW.), bigger, AND COMES ACTUALLY ASSEMBLED AS A GODDAMN SANDWICH INSTEAD OF A FUCKING BOX OF COMPONENTS, you have failed so goddamn hard you should be put on a starvation ration of oxygen so you quit wasting it for the rest of us.

Guest Post: Herd Immunity

June 28, 2014 - 3:28 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
13 Comments

This is a guest post from my friend Indy, currently working on her master’s in public health after her first in biostatistics and genetics. Who is also rather fed up with seeing the concept of herd immunity abused, usually in service of justifying Why My Kid Doesn’t Need To Be Vaccinated. She’ll be around in comments to answer questions, too. Take it away, Indy.

As most of you have probably noticed, there’s been a lot of coverage in the last decade and a half about what’s politely termed “vaccine non-compliance.” What you might have missed, however, is that the tone of that coverage has started to change rather dramatically in the last few years. Media coverage in the 2000’s focused on isolated cases, the uncertainty about adverse events, vaccine schedule spacing, the theoretical link (and the disproving of said link) between vaccines and autism, and, in some cases, what the future might look like if vaccination rates continued to drop. The coverage in the past few years has been about that future – we are now living in an era of major communicable disease outbreaks. Measles, mumps, rubella, polio, and whooping cough are all making a comeback in a big, flashy way; Google any one and you’ll find at least several cities with major outbreaks going on at the moment. The World Health Organization (WHO) just declared an international state of polio emergency. These outbreaks have become international in scale and are impacting every other continent (save Antarctica) in addition to the US. (If you’d like to explore this further, check out the map here: interactive vaccine map. Start out in 2008 and then jump forward in time to 2011 and beyond. Or just look at the contrast between “all” and 2008.)

In addition to billions of dollars in health care costs, they’re taking lives; in the US, this number is currently just shy of 1400 for deaths between June 3, 2007 and June 14, 2014.1 This may not seem like many, but consider that it’s about half the number of deaths from the World Trade Center bombings. This is also approximately double the number of unintentional firearm deaths in children (ages 1-14) between 1999 and 2010, and there are massive public policy campaigns currently going on to reduce that number.1 Furthermore, this number is isolated to the US. I’m a US scientist and I work with US data sources, so I’m pretty dependent on the CDC; some countries in Europe have death tracking systems similar to those we have in the US, others don’t, and in Africa, we have to rely predominantly on WHO data. In short: given infrastructure constraints, there are decent ways of estimating how big outbreaks are in other world regions, but not great ways of carefully tracking the number of vaccine preventable deaths on a global scale. But we can conclusively say that got a very, very big problem on our hands.

This brings us to the multi-billion dollar question that’s really the point of this post: why are we suddenly seeing such massive outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases when, in most places, the majority of parents are still vaccinating their kids? The answer, in a nutshell, is herd immunity. You’ve probably heard this term before, and many people have a general idea of what it means, although sometimes the colloquial definition is just flatly wrong. Herd immunity, in a very broad sense, is the protection granted to a few individuals without immunity when the majority of the population has immunity. In order to talk more specifically about it, though, we’re going to have to use some nitty-gritty disease science.

There are two concepts that are central to the workings of herd immunity. The first is an R0 value (pronounced “R-nought” in the world of biology and disease) and the second is an SIR model (pronounced as an acronym (S-I-R), although epidemiologists might have more fun if we’d called it “sir”). These provide two similar but slightly different ways of understanding herd immunity. Let’s start with the SIR model. SIR stands for susceptible-infected-recovered – in short, the three categories a person can fall into. You can either lack immunity to a disease, be infected with a disease, or be recovered from a disease (and thereby have immunity to it). If a disease has never been introduced to a population, everyone sits in the susceptible class. If we’re looking at what scientists call a “metapopulation” (a large population made up of small populations) a disease might have moved through some small populations but not others, so some people might be recovered, some people might be immune, some people might be susceptible. The general idea behind an SIR model of an outbreak is that eventually, every susceptible person will contract the disease, move into the infected category, and then either move into the recovered category or die. Once a disease has swept its way through a population, there’s simply nowhere else for it to go in human hosts and it dies out in that particular population. So why do we see diseases persisting over time? Firstly, because of that whole “metapopulation” thing – a disease might have burned its way through one population, but it’s probably still working its way through another, and secondly because of this pesky tendency humans have toward reproduction. When humans have babies, they’re effectively putting people directly back into the susceptible population. When that number climbs high enough, the disease is able to gain a stronghold in the population again, and you see another epidemic. This is why infections in populations tend to have a cyclic nature; time elapses and the susceptible category rebuilds itself. If you’re interested in a real world example, San Juan Pueblo in New Mexico can provide one.3 (Full disclosure: this example and the citation are from a human biology course I took a few years ago.) Smallpox first broke out in San Juan Pueblo in late 1700s (around 1780). Another major epidemic occurred about 35 years later – enough time for the susceptible population to have built up again. So what does all this have to do with vaccination? Vaccination performs a neat trick – it moves people in the susceptible class directly to the recovered class, completely skipping the infected stage. In this way, we can move babies and children directly from susceptible to “recovered” (or immune) and the susceptible population never moves above a certain level. The majority of our population is immune, the susceptible population is too small for diseases to move in, and we’re safe. Phew. But why does the size of the susceptible population matter? Here’s where we get to R0’s.

An R0 value is the basic reproductive number of a virus or bacterium – it’s the number of people an infected person will infect provided that no one around them has immunity. It’s a shortcut for understanding how rapidly a disease can spread through a population. There are a lot of parameters that go into this value, depending on things like population density and disease dynamics, but the long and short of it is that some diseases have higher R0 values than others. Most of the “big bad” diseases that are vaccine preventable have really high R0 values; measles can be as high as 18, mumps can reach 14, rubella’s high is 16, and pertussis’ (whooping cough) is 18. The 1918 flu (as bad as it was) had a maximum R0 somewhere around 3, so even diseases with relatively low R0 values can be major problems if the majority of the population is susceptible.2 It’s worth noting that similar data aren’t widely available for many common domestic animal diseases, but rabies has an R0 of around 2 (not surprising given that its method of transmission is the rare act of biting). Scrapie (a sheep disease which involves, well, the delightful case of sheep eating other sheep bits) has an R0 around 4.5 It’s reasonable to assume based on human diseases that spread in similar ways that respiratory viruses such as distemper and viruses that are spread via surface contact (such as canine parvovirus and feline panleukopenia) have higher R0 values than these; these types of diseases are referred to as “highly contagious” across veterinary literature. A Swedish study in the 1980s on canine parvovirus infection found that epidemics of parvo could continue as long as there was a concentration of 6 unvaccinated dogs per square kilometer.6 Given this, it’s starting to seem obvious how big outbreaks can start. One person infects 18 others? That’s a fast moving disease. So what do you do with a disease like measles? How do you stop an R0 of 18? (How do you solve a problem like rubella?) In short: you make sure every person the infected case has contact with can’t catch the disease. This is herd immunity. If a person with measles would infect 18 people, but all 18 of the people who might become infected are immune, the chain of infection stops with that individual. No one else gets measles, and there is no outbreak. This is a great thing from a public health perspective, but it’s a really crappy thing from a vaccine compliance perspective. In order to achieve herd immunity for diseases like measles, mumps, and polio, vaccine rates have to be above 90%. (Sometimes it’s more in the neighborhood of 95% – diseases with high R0 values are incredibly hard to stop in their tracks.4) (As an aside, this number is the “critical proportion”, “pc”, or the minimal immunization coverage needed in a population to eliminate infection. It’s found as the simple equation [MATH] 1-1/R0. [/MATH] Sorry for the equation.) As vaccination rates have dipped, diseases are able to gain a foothold. We have a two-fold problem on our hands: the susceptible population is too high, and we have diseases with really high reproductive numbers that can infect very large numbers of people. Diseases jump back into populations, find a big, thriving susceptible population, and start infecting away. Voila: you have yourself an outbreak.

So why is herd immunity such a hot topic, given all of this crazy disease math? It’s because most people have very mistaken ideas about susceptible population sizes, R0 values (if they know what they are at all), and needed vaccination rates. Most people think that if we vaccinate the majority of people (oh, say, 50-60 percent) then their kids (or themselves, or their dogs, or their pink flamingo lawn furniture) will be protected by the nebulous “herd immunity.” (This, by the way, is why when Amanda Peet called parents who didn’t vaccinate “social parasites,” I agreed with her. Sure, it was a rude way to phrase it, but it’s exactly what’s going on – people are relying on others in the community to keep themselves safe and to derive benefit.) But sadly for them and even more sadly for everyone else, that’s just not how it works. When we need vaccine compliance rates of 95%, everyone has to vaccinate to keep the susceptible population low enough. But, but, but, someone out there is starting to say, there’s still 5%! Can’t I be in that 5%? Firstly, everyone thinks they can be in that 5%, then we end up with really low vaccination rates and the same problem to begin with. And secondly, the medical community needs that 5% buffer because not everyone can be vaccinated. People with compromised immune systems. (See: children with leukemia.) People who are actually allergic to vaccines. People who have chronic infections. Cancer patients. Some AIDS patients. That buffer is being used, and it’s being used by people with a significant need to avoid vaccination. So in short: herd immunity is not going to provide protection, and lack of vaccination has lead to its failure over the last decade or so.

There are a lot of reasons to vaccinate your kids, self, dog, and pink lawn flamingo. Some of them are medical. (You don’t want polio.) Some of them are logical. (There is no link between autism and vaccines, and vaccine side effects are exceedingly rare – the likelihood of having an adverse event is much lower than your likelihood of getting measles if you don’t vaccinate.) Some of them are ethical. (You don’t want to give measles to a childhood cancer patient.) Some of them are social. (Most public health professionals, myself included, believe that we have an ethical obligation to the communities that we live in to vaccinate.) But this one is, simply put, mathematical. We have to keep the susceptible population low enough to prevent outbreaks, and we’re not doing it. It’s putting people in very real danger for no real benefit. So vaccinate your kids, yourself, and your pets. (And now that you understand all this epidemiology math, explain it to people on airplanes. You’ll be doing the world a favor, and they’ll leave you alone with your book.)

1a. There are a couple of sources for vaccine mortality data. I’m using anti-vaccine body count, which is calculated from CDC’s weekly morbidity and mortality reports, but CDC Wonder’s Mortality database would provide the same data. And would be named after a slightly less inflammatory celebrity.

1b. Gun death statistics are from CDC Wonder.

2. Data here are predominantly from our friend the CDC again, with the exception of the 1918 flu number which is from Fraser et al. 2009. “Transmissibility of 1918 pandemic influenza”. Nature 432 (7019): 904–6.

3. Aberle SD, et al. 1940. “The vital history of San Juan Pueblo.” Hum Biol 12: 141-87.

4. http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~daw/teaching/c79-s13/slides/0319-diseases.pdf

5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1689932/pdf/10380685.pdf

6. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0167587783900326

Handegg Meets Politics

June 26, 2014 - 1:40 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
22 Comments

So this is, again, late, but this took awhile to finish distilling through the mental filters.

There’s this football team that plays in the Washington D.C. area. They’re called the Washington Redskins, their uniforms are a dark maroon shade, their logo is a profile of a Native American* man, and their mascot looks like this: how inspiring

A lot of people, particularly Native Americans, feel the name and additionally the logo and mascot are offensive. The Redskins are of the view that this has been their name and their color scheme and their logo for a long damn time, there’s a whole army of Redskins fans out there, and changing any of it because a minority finds it offensive is entirely unreasonable. They also feel that it’s an admiring and respectful use, given football teams don’t name themselves after anything that is wimpy and pathetic, they name themselves after strong, aggressive images.

Recently the U.S. patent office ruled that as the moniker and logo are “derogatory to an ethnic group”, the Redskins trademarks are invalid. This doesn’t mean, by the way, that people can actually go out and bootleg Redskins merch left and right now- at least not yet- though Harry Reid seems very confused on this point himself. (Harry Reid, litigator, has no clue about the law; film at eleven.)

I have Views on all of this. As follow:

The patent office thing is a total bullshit bureaucratic move, a rather craven roundabout way to try and strongarm the team into doing the thing that the government would prefer politically. It’s a rather classic case of “technically correct, blunderingly wrong in actual fact”. It’s stupid and a thing the federal anything should not be doing, an entirely righteous generator of outrage from a libertarian perspective. I do not approve in the least.

That said, sorry, but the Redskins name, logo, and mascot actually ARE pretty goddamn offensive and in my opinion the team should have done this of their own free will long ago. Why? Well, it’s my damn blog, so I’ll tell you, at length.

1. The historical usage of the term “redskin” ain’t all that nice. There’s a lot of linguistic argument that the origin of the term and most of its usage weren’t, much of which is justified, but at the time the team was named and for the bulk of RECENT history, yeah it was. In the middle of the twentieth century it was usually used about like “negro”- if a common phrase in a genre of movies had been “THE NEGROES ARE ATTACKING” or reflections on the noble savagery of the negro. I’m sorry, but it’s just not a polite term. The context in living memory has been a lot more “racist” than neutral or “admiring”. To claim otherwise is the revisionism. Go watch a few weekends’ worth of Westerns from the thirties through the sixties and seventies and then come back and tell me that “redskins” usually meant “our awesome neighbors”.

2. Using a group of people as a mascot is pretty fucking sketchy in and of itself. The NFL has 32 teams. 15 are named after animals (Bears, Lions, Panthers, Rams, etc). 4 are named after jobs identified with the region or city their team hails from (Packers, Steelers, Cowboys, 49ers, the former Oilers as a bonus). 3 more are named after some combination of job and group identity, again associated with the dominant population of the region their team hails from and in one case a highly admired identity throughout (foundational to) America’s history (Vikings, Buccanneers, Patriots). There are a handful more named after more esoteric or generic things (Browns, Saints, Jets, etc), and 2 named after mythological humanoids (Titans, Giants). And then there’s two named after an extant, resident ethnic group in the United States, the one at issue having by far the more derogatory name and mascot. Not coincidentally, the same group. (And no, the Vikings aren’t just the same thing. For one, there’s a huge Scandinavian population in Minnesota. For two, in order to compare to “Redskins” it would have to be “Ignorant Thuggish Norsemen”, for which there isn’t a derogatory term in common American parlance for reasons that should be obvious if you ponder the matter.)

3. Arguing that the history of the Redskins franchise has always been totally respectful and it’s just modern overweening sensitivity targeting a convenient target with the “racism” charge is, like arguing that “redskin” is a neutral or respectful term, bullshit. The Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate and allow black players on their roster- in 1961. And not of their own decision, either- the .gov told them they could either integrate or they could GTFO Washington D.C. and the stadium they were using, seeing as how it was all federal property.** The Redskins as a franchise have had to be shoved, struggling and protesting, toward any sort of respect for people who aren’t parts of the NFL. Or ones that are but aren’t white enough.

4. Speaking of D.C. and federal land, does it seriously strike nobody but me that naming the D.C. football team a derogatory term for the only ethnic group the American government fought an actual official war of extermination against is incredibly fucking cringeworthy? Really? Just me? Okay.

5. I’ve heard complaints that the Redskins shouldn’t change their long-held name because of the complaints of “a tiny minority”. Okay. A) Native Americans themselves are kind of a tiny minority in the US, just under 1% of the population, b) There are Natives that don’t care, though suspiciously every single one I’ve met personally finds the “Redskins” thing ridiculously offensive whether or not they think it should be a political priority, c) Dismissing Natives as a minority so tiny that they shouldn’t really have significant political sway is pretty goddamn tasteless given the people brushing them off and the city the Redskins are based out of are pretty much the reason they aren’t the ethnic majority in the first place.

6. Speaking of political sway, it matters in just how grating and how big of a problem something is. I’d be pretty irked with a team called the “Bitches” that featured a furious-looking woman with her teeth bared as their mascot, but it stings a lot less given that women have the political power to put a hell of a lot of pressure on to have it changed. Likewise I hate being described as “flyover country”, or any variant of hick or rural rube or redneck by snotty liberals from blue urban enclaves with the implication my opinions should be dismissed out of hand, but much to the frustration of these individuals me and mine have the political power to blow off THEIRS at least half the time and more often at our own local level. Shrugging off group-based insults is a hell of a lot easier when your group actually has the power to hit back hard over more serious abuses. Native Americans, for the most part, don’t.

7. And still speaking of relative power and minorities: “Washington Redskins” is about as offensive as a Richmond-based team in a black uniform with a portrait of a brutish-looking black man called the “Bucks” would be. You will note there is no such team. You may also note that the NFL has a pretty high proportion of black players, coaches, and staff. Also that black people represent a much larger minority in the US than Native Americans do. You would probably also be able to draw the conclusion that this is not a coincidence. There are, so far as I can determine, only slightly more actual Native players in the NFL as there are teams using them as a name and logo. You can’t really talk about reclaiming derogatory terms when the actual people they refer to aren’t even remotely represented among the almost entirely white people using them. You can’t actually “reclaim” a term on someone else’s behalf. Especially when they really don’t want you to.

I’ve seen the charge “white liberal guilt” thrown around a lot. On a more personal note? My objection is not in the faintest based on guilt over being white. It was what I was born as, I feel zero guilt for things I did not personally do, the sins of my father’s fathers are not my sins. I was, however, raised by my parents to not be an asshole, and THAT is why I find the “Redskins” thing offensive and why I think they ought to change of their own initiative. Not because it’s more or less popular to do, not because either a minority or a majority thinks it’s good or bad, not because white people ought to slink around whispering apologies for what our ancestors and government have done, because using people as mascots, ignoring the objections of the people they represent in favor of what’s more comfortable for you to do instead, willfully dismissing the history behind it all, and telling those people in the process how they ought to feel about it are asshole things to do.

The Redskins have, and should have, every protected right to go around being assholes. The beauty of freedom is that you can stand up and take your place as a proud Asshole-American and go prancing about in redface with a cartoon warbonnet if you so choose. And given that Native Americans are a tiny population, you’re probably not even going to face any consequences for it at all beyond people like me saying “Jesus, what an asshole”. They have to right to whine about being called assholes if they so choose from their megaphone; they have the right to say “Well fuck you, you’re too puny for me to care about”.

“Have the right” and “right thing to do” are totally different things, however.

*Before “politically correct” starts up: a) “Indian” is already an ethnic group from India and having to verbally distinguish between the two irritates me, b) I don’t see what the hell the harm is in calling a group of people what they actually want to be called, especially when it’s clearer, and c) of all the hyphenated-American ethnic terms, which I have mixed feelings about, “Native American” is the one that is actually accurate rather than redundant as a descriptor. We’re all Americans, but they’re the group that was here in the millions strong on the actual American continent before History Happened. “Politically correct” is a pretty pointless charge when it’s also geographically and anthropologically correct.

**I DON’T disapprove of this on libertarian grounds. “My house, my rules” is an old and respectable principle, and if they had really wanted to stick to their guns they were free to- as long as they found someone else willing to host them, or bought their own stadium.