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.

Message Drift

June 9, 2014 - 4:49 pm
Irradiated by Stingray
6 Comments

Discovered floating in the tubes:
The Naked Bike Ride In Portland Showed Everyone’s Vulnerabilities

More or less safe for work. I don’t really know where to start. Well, no. That’s not true. Let’s start with this: Pick a fucking message you goddamn hippies! By the time your point is this muddled, you’re not protesting, you’re just a bunch of streakers egging each other on.

Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with being a bunch of streakers egging each other on, but please don’t try to tart it up as some noble crusade. Ok, oil dependence? The bikes make sense. Body image? The naked makes sense. Naked for oil dependence? You lost me. Bikes for body image? Are you saying people should stop being fatties and exercise more? Nice, hypocrites. (Yes, that’s in sarcasm font.) Being naked to show vulnerability on a bike, to the cold mechanical predations of cars? Well, ok, but you all put yourself in that position voluntarily. And what does being squishier than a chevy have to do with oil dependency?

Seriously people, if you’ve got a thorn in your ass over something, be specific! Look at anti-abortion protests. Sure, they suck, but they’re specific and focused and you don’t have to guess what they’re on about. If you have to explain what you’re protesting, you’re not only doing it wrong, but nobody will remember or give a shit five minutes later.

After you get enough groups in the tent, you’re just having a good time with vaguely like-minded people. Again, nothing wrong with that, just don’t expect to be taken seriously.

Who Needs Clean Clothes?

May 22, 2014 - 4:34 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
22 Comments

CEO of Levi’s: Don’t Wash Your Jeans.

The CEO of Levis Strauss, Chip Bergh, has some advice for you: Don’t wash your jeans.
As in don’t wash them … ever. Speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference, Chip said he was sporting a pair that had “yet to see a washing machine” in over a year.

Worried about germs, you germaphobes? No problem, he says. Just stick your jeans in the freezer once a month next to the frozen waffles to kill off the bacteria. Apparently getting them icy will neutralize the sweat, coffee spills and other bodily fluids that might collect in the zipper or “seating” area. He also suggests spot cleaning with a sponge or a toothbrush.

While that could work for the stuff on the outside of your jeans, what about all the stuff your body cooked up that’s on the flip side? Once you get ‘em back up to body temperature, won’t you be warming up those germs again? Yuck.

The CNN reporter seems about as nonplussed as I am, noting that freezing and spot cleaning don’t actually kill bacteria. At best it might stave off the inevitable stench; over the long term, no, and that Chip must not be actually addressing the audience that actually buys the bulk of his jeans, but those who wear them as a fashion accessory and don’t actually wear them more than a handful of times.

Bless her for her incredulous deconstruction of the silly notion, but the part where she seems exclusively worried about the inevitable body odor miasma strikes me as rather telling of her own lifestyle.

If I stopped washing my jeans altogether- and yes they are Levi’s- here is what would happen:

They would smell, yes. But they’d also rapidly become caked with successive layers of mud, spit, dog fur that had bonded in the mud and spit and eventually into the cloth itself, and home to an increasingly treacherous collection of foxtails, goatheads, and the occasional splinter. They would not look “like new”. They’d look like something you’d find on a homeless person who’d been squatting in a barn by pretending to be one of the cows. And I’m not THAT rural, I just have pets and sometimes work outside. There’d be spilled coffee in there too, it’d just be the least of my worries.

Given the origin of Levi’s, I find it more than a little sad that the CEO seems to no longer have the faintest clue what his product was designed for. And is still used for by the majority of its customers.

Draft Thoughts

May 17, 2014 - 2:28 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
13 Comments

Yeah, I know, it’s a week late and it’s more foosball. But it’s content, right?

- Hey Johnny! The good news is, you went in the first round like everyone thought you would! The bad news is you were drafted by the Cleveland Browns. Guess you’re regretting that monkey’s paw NOW, huh?

I’m actually of two minds on Johnny Manziel. On the one hand, he actually IS a good quarterback, and it seems like his teammates liked him a lot, which suggests the grumbling about his attitude might be somewhat overblown. This story also irritated me a lot: Browns owner tells Johnny Manziel to “act like a backup”, “this isn’t Hollywood”.

I mean CHRIST JOHNNY, IT’S NOT LIKE THEY SELECTED YOU IN THE FIRST ROUND OR ANYTHING. Or that the guy you’re backing up ended last season on a severe knee injury. Or that the Browns have been shuffling quarterbacks like cards trying to find one that isn’t a total bust. REIN IT IN, KID, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

On the other hand, he’s pretty much earned a lot of his haters, and he really is kind of a media whore, mostly because the media has had their tongue so far up his ass they’re giving him a prostate massage. So maybe the owner is right to be concerned that that kind of attention is distracting from football, which the whole team needs to concentrate on. I can’t help but think the Browns would be biting themselves in the butt by relegating him to indefinite backup after the preseason, though. They’re good at that.

- Michael Sam MICHAEL SAM MICHAEL SAM OMFG MICHAEL SAM. I do think it was long overdue that the NFL have an openly gay player, and I’ve mostly been optimistic about league reaction- though I do think it’s hilariously ironic that the only person to really say something nasty about it plays for San Francisco and most of the guys that said supportive things are from places like Detroit.

The media circus around him is MORE THAN A LITTLE MUCH, though. I mean seriously, an Oprah documentary? It’s pretty well counter to the message those supportive players and coaches and owners were backing- that as long as someone plays well it shouldn’t matter who they’re with off the field. That said, he mostly strikes me as a genuinely nice, hard-working kid who is very naive in handling this kind of attention, which more than a few rookie players are. I do think he needs a lot of development before he’s going to be anything all that special, but I do get the impression he can and will put his all into it. I still think NFL offensive lines will probably smush him as a DE, though. I think he could do better as an outside linebacker if he can adapt. He’s smart enough to.

I’m actually kind of interested to watch the Rams this season, though I’m not remotely a fan. I love rising underdogs, and they played the draft very intelligently. If they can keep Sam Bradford healthy, which is a big if and I’m not sure essentially marrying the dude was at all a good idea, I think they can better themselves a lot this season.

- Jadevon Clowney is either going to be an incredibly exciting player to watch or the biggest bust since Ryan Leaf. There’s absolutely no denying the dude is a freakishly gifted athlete who’s played awesomely well all his life, but I’m not so sure about his work ethic. It’s not uncommon for guys with this much sunshine stuffed up their ass to figure they’re already awesome and the coaches don’t know shit. Plus the Texans haven’t had the most serendipitous luck with draft picks.

- Speaking of work ethic, I’m looking a lot more forward to watching Teddy Bridgewater than Manziel. I don’t much like the Vikings, but I will be given they’re NFC North. He had a not so awesome pro day, but I tend to think it was just that: a bad DAY. His college career was fairly impressive, and he seems to learn from his mistakes rather than melting down from them. Given he’s a rookie and he’s GOING to fuck up, that’s a valuable trait. I’d rather have seen him go to Jacksonville, since I DO like them (remember what I said about underdogs), but Blake Bortles was hardly a bad choice there either. Hoping he doesn’t spook like a skittish horse the way Gabbert tends to.

- I have mixed feelings about the Lions draft. On the one hand Eric Ebron is a pretty amazing athlete and god knows Stafford needs more weapons than just Johnson, as great as Johnson is, on the other hand tight end was a position they were already pretty deep in whereas they had a LOT of others they really needed to shore up, like their defensive backfield and wideouts. (Although Brandon Pettigrew thinks he’s a lot better than he actually is, so maybe it’s a wiser choice than it initially looks to me.)

I love the Kyle van Noy pick, though. I think he was a bit underrated, and the Lions NEED more good linebackers than just Tulloch. They’ve got an awesome defensive line, but beyond that… not as awesome.

Travis Swanson was an interesting choice. Their offensive line definitely needs help, but a lot more in terms of tackles and another good guard than center. On the one hand, Dominic Raiola is 35, and will need a successor. On the other, he’s also remarkably durable, solid, and looks to have plenty of gas left in the tank. Maybe more a long-term investment than a short-term shoring up.

Nevin Lawson… maybe, maybe not? He’s kinda short, but god knows he can pour on the speed, and he seems to be decent at intercepting anyway. Maybe not as much in the pros, though. I still hope Darius Slay will work out better with more development and think he can, but this is more a third question mark at corner than anything else. Chris Houston is pretty awesome but not Nightcrawler.

Caraun Reid… if there’s one thing the Lions do not lack for, it’s impressive defensive tackles. On the other hand, I cannot help but be ridiculously charmed by this guy. He seems smart as hell, actually finished his college degree and did it in the Ivies, loves singing in church choir, and whips his glasses off like Clark Kent becoming Superman on the field. And his job is basically “Hulk”. Omigawd he’s just adorable. Maybe a hedge against Fairley disappearing up his own ass?

TJ Jones… my reaction was and kinda still is “who?”. They need more depth at WR, and though Golden Tate will help, they need more. I would rather have seen them take a wideout earlier in the draft. It was seeming like they’d trade up in pick order for Sammy Watkins, which would have been awesome, but alas it was not to be. Right now he feels like another “meh, it’s a body” along with Fuller and Broyles.

Nate Freese… this guy might actually have been a late-round steal. The Lions have issues with closing, and an accurate and reliable kicker helps saving busted drives. They have kind of a curse on the position though, so we’ll see.

- Oh Jacksonville. Go home, you’re drunk. Bortles was a good grab given what an epic bust Gabbert turned out to be, though I hear mutterings they’re not going to let him start. (He’d be worse than Henne? Really? I agree Bortles needs development but c’mon!) They somehow let their freaky little power dwarf Maurice Jones-Drew get away from them when he was pretty much the one player on the team who was truly standout in the league. Lee was a great pick and Robinson might turn out to be, but the rest were iffy at best.

- I am very sad Khalil Mack went to the Raiders. I was really looking forward to watching him (MAYBE IN DETROIT??), and the Raiders and their fans are such dicks. He’s truly gone to the dark side. Or at least been press-ganged to it.

It can’t be news to any of you that I’m a huge nerd…

Hugo Your Way, I’ll Go My Way

April 25, 2014 - 5:57 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
56 Comments

So I’ve mostly driven quickly past the various kerfluffles and infighting in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy community because a) I don’t have a dog in the fight, I haven’t read most of the work of the authors involved and those that I AM fans of are often on opposite sides, and b) The idea that I should give a shit about the politics of authors whose writing I like both makes me deeply exhausted and deeply paranoid that I will quickly have nothing left to read that I like. I have John Scalzi and Larry Correia both linked in my blogroll because I really like both of their writing to the point I’ll buy almost anything either writes, and I often enjoy their pontifications, not because I’m particularly on board with either of their politics. (Although depending on the subject du jour, I often am with one, the other, or in twisted ways both at the same time.)

But sometimes it bleeds into my virtual life from all directions, and thus I became unwillingly aware of this post from Larry when it was linked from two separate places I read avidly at the same time.

Let me make one thing crystal clear: I like Larry, though I’ve never met him, and I really, REALLY like Larry’s books. The only things of his I haven’t read are the Dead Six novels, because it’s really not my genre, and the stuff set in the Warmachine universe, because my time to read these days is far more limited than I’d like and trimming out stuff set in universes I’m not remotely familiar with that aren’t original to the author is one way to keep it manageable. (You should see my backlog anyway.) If he wins a Hugo I’ll think he deserved it. I bounce on my toes in anticipation whenever something new in the Monster Hunter or Grimnoir series comes out. Suffice to say I’m a fan, which I can’t say for most of the authors he’s in a furball with.

Larry’s pissed of a lot of the right people, who have mostly reacted to him for the wrong reasons with completely unjustified venom. I often agree with some of the favored causes of the Social Justice folks, but I disagree heavily with what often seem to be their tactics of exaggeration and vilification. I think the best way to handle speech I think is wrongheaded is civil discussion, based at least at first on the premise that the other person has their own premises that might be as well-thought-through as mine are. (Often this proves not to be true, but still, it satisfies my own moral standards to start from that assumption.) Tarring people with shit they did not say and positions they do not hold is wrong. This, notably, does NOT mean I am always willing to give a fair hearing to everyone with every single opinion- when those premises are clearly spelled out as not just wrongheaded but morally repugnant, I’m willing to write that person off as an irredeemable fuckhead without a second thought.

Vox Day is, in my opinion, one such fuckhead, and it must be here that Larry and I part company. Larry:

The reason Vox is so hated is that he is the only person ever kicked out of SFWA. He makes me look cuddly and diplomatic. He was expelled from SFWA because the powers that be decided he was a racist, in fact, it was so obvious that he was racist that it only took a thirty page thesis explaining how stuff he said was actually racist, including the leadership of SFWA searching through the vile cesspool that is Stormfront until they found some nazi skin head who used similar words, and then holding him accountable for things that posters said in his blog comments (us right wing bloggers don’t believe in censorship so we don’t “manage” or “massage” our comments like they do) then they kicked him out for misusing their Twitter account.

Basically, he called Nora Jesmin an “ignorant half-savage” and that pissed everybody off. See, Nora, is a beloved libprog activist and Social Justice Warrior, and all the reports of her victimization at the hands of the villainous Vox usually leave out the parts where she’d been hurling personal insults at him for years. Myself? I thought that comment might be a bit over the line, but then again, Google search my name and see what the SJW’s have been calling me for the last few days. It is way worse that ignorant or savage, and I think I’m darker skinned than K. Tempest Bradford. I’ve yet to see any SJWs condemning those comments about me. Tolerance is a one way street with them.

“Ignorant half-savage” is not quite what he said. Granted it took some digging to extract the actual original quote and context, because people mostly did not link to it. I’m only half doing so myself, not because I want to spare people from his badthink, but because I want to deal with his horde of Morlocks about as much as I want to deal with a termite infestation. So here it is: A Black Female Fantasist Calls For Reconciliation. A much lengthier quote of what he said BEFORE and immediately after “ignorant half-savage”, because I do believe in linking to the source and providing context:

I therefore suggest that their assertions should be taken with at least a small grain of salt rather than credited to me. And it should be obvious that, being a libertarian, I am not actively attempting to take away anyone’s “most basic rights”. Jemisin has it wrong; it is not that I, and others, do not view her as human, (although genetic science presently suggests that we are not equally homo sapiens sapiens), it is that we simply do not view her as being fully civilized for the obvious historical reason that she is not.

She is lying about the laws in Texas and Florida too. The laws are not there to let whites ” just shoot people like me, without consequence, as long as they feel threatened by my presence”, those self-defense laws have been put in place to let whites defend their lives and their property from people, like her, who are half-savages engaged in attacking them.

Jemisin’s disregard for the truth is no different than the average Chicago gangbanger’s disregard for the traditional Western code of civilized conduct. She could, if she wished, claim that privileged white males are responsible for the decline of Detroit, for the declining sales of science fiction, even for the economic and cultural decline of the United States, but that would not make it true. It would not even make it credible. Anyone who is paying sufficient attention will understand who is genuinely responsible for these problems.

Unlike the white males she excoriates, there is no evidence to be found anywhere on the planet that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males. If one considers that it took my English and German ancestors more than one thousand years to become fully civilized after their first contact with advanced Greco-Roman civilization, it should be patently obvious that it is illogical to imagine, let alone insist, that Africans have somehow managed to do the same in less than half the time at a greater geographic distance. These things take time.

Being an educated, but ignorant half-savage, with little more understanding of what it took to build a new literature by “a bunch of beardy old middle-class middle-American guys” than an illiterate Igbotu tribesman has of how to build a jet engine, Jemisin clearly does not understand that her dishonest call for “reconciliation” and even more diversity within SF/F is tantamount to a call for its decline into irrelevance. Nor do the back-patting Samuel Johnsons wiping their eyes and congratulating her for her ever-so-touching speech understand that.

If Vox is a misunderstood opinionated religious right-winger who uses some salty old-fashioned language rather than a real racist, I am Princess Anastasia. I realize there is a school of thought that he is actually a very elaborate troll who enjoys riling leftists and doesn’t really think any of this, but I think this is wishful thinking and even if it’s not he’s still SAID all of it, publically stood behind it, and used the SFWA’s bullhorn to do it. He richly deserved his expulsion, as well as most if not all (I would be willing to go with all) of the contempt for him. I could go on for quite a long time providing the original context for the library of stuff he’s said that additionally convinced me of that “irredeemable fuckhead” status, but given this particular incident that got him booted from SFWA is the subject that Larry mentioned, I’ll stick with it for now. If being kicked out of that organization for your politics is a crying injustice and an example of bias against anyone to the left of Dennis Kucinich, absolutely no one is to blame for it more than Vox himself.

The other thing that bothers me is that tit-for-tat isn’t actually a moral stance, which makes the “they didn’t mention the shit she said about him!” a nonargument. I don’t care if she’s the Wicked Witch of Africa, nothing she could have said would have justified what I just quoted in any way. “She was mean to me!” is a playground argument. (So is the Roman Polanski thing, which while a very good burn is also pretty inaccurate- I keep an eyeball on the SJWs as much as I do the Dark Enlightenment people, and I didn’t see a single one defend Polanski rather than calling for his liver to be served with a nice chianti.)

Larry is a good guy I sometimes- not even that often- disagree with. He doesn’t deserve to be associated with Vox, at all. Which is why I’m so disappointed he’s volunteered for it himself.

ETA postscript: Can’t believe I forgot to include this point before I hit post: None of this means that Vox shouldn’t win a Hugo for his novelette. I regard the idea that the Hugo has recently or ever been primarily a meritocracy instead of a back-scratching popularity contest reflecting current politics hilariously naive, but being a raging asshole doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t win an award for your work unrelated to your asshole-related agendas. However, by exactly the same token he doesn’t deserve to be on anyone’s slate because he makes the right people angry.

Loch Lurker

April 18, 2014 - 10:19 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
6 Comments

Dear world,

The Daily Mail and the Loch Ness Monster Fan Club are not credible reporters of whether an aquatic Rorschach blot is a hundred-foot animal. While large animals previously unknown to Western science CAN still be found (though they are generally not remotely unknown by local populations that don’t give a shit about Western science), they are not found in oligotrophic freshwater lakes with frequent surface traffic in the middle of heavily populated-by-Westerners countries. The idea that Loch Ness is inhabited by a breeding population of marine reptiles or similar animals is only somewhat more likely than the idea that New York City is inhabited by pterosaurs.

Civil Oddities

April 16, 2014 - 2:38 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
5 Comments

So recently, I had to spend my morning and early afternoon at a local government office oriented toward the low-income. (We are fine. I was there to get off a roll I was mistakenly placed on.) I was not, to put it mildly, looking forward to the experience, being acquainted with the motor vehicle departments in Phoenix and New Orleans, and even here in our tiny whitebread little burg. I walked in with low expecations.

So to my immense surprise, the waiting room was quiet and pleasant, all the conversation I heard was in articulate, unaccented English (I was the only white face in the room until another walked in near the end of my visit), many of the waiting room inhabitants were chatting pleasantly with one another, the line was moving efficiently, there were zero tantrums or meltdowns, all the employees were polite and seemingly possessed of a genuine desire to help, and though there were small children present, their parents were keeping them quiet, supervised, and amused. Once it was my turn, my task was completed easily and efficiently, with zero surliness on the part of the fellow behind the counter.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to go re-examine a whole bunch of assumptions.

Modern Musings

April 15, 2014 - 2:37 pm
Irradiated by Stingray
8 Comments

What is it about new tires that’s so deeply, primally satisfying? Is that just me?