Archive for February, 2011

Science Sex Journalism, Lite Edition

February 28, 2011 - 6:14 pm Comments Off

Headline: Wild Sex Cries Aim to Advertise Partner’s Popularity

Actual assertions of researchers: mild and specific in comparison!

Length of article: brief!

Impact overall: minimal!

The cries one calls out during sex can serve as status symbols advertising just how popular your partners are, according to new findings in the sexually promiscuous chimpanzees known as bonobos.

Automatic application of findings in other primate species to humans: obligatory!

For reference, bonobos, chimpanzees, and humans are the three descendants of a common ancestor some millions of years back from all three of us; neither chimps nor bonobos are our “ancestors”, we’re three extremely different derivatives from that unknown common. Bonobos and chimps look enough alike and occupy a similar enough ecological niche to have not been identified as a different species until relatively recently, but their behavior- especially their mating systems- are extremely different. It should not be necessary to point out that humans are physically, socially, and sexually very different from both, but sadly it often is.

“Despite being our closest living relatives, bonobos are still one of the least understood of the great apes, whom we still know very little about,” said researcher Zanna Clay, a primatologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “This study sheds light on one of the most neglected aspects of their behavior, their vocal communication.”

I’m really only quoting this to point out that the researchers themselves know exactly who their results may apply to and exactly how significant this is, i.e. to bonobos only and not very. Any and all stupidity in this article can be sourced to the reporter, who sadly is probably doing exactly what Live Science and other pop-sci newswires tell them to.

And she’s right, bonobos are tragically understudied outside of their “hippie ape” image.

During sex, female bonobos cry out loudly. Females in many primate species give out “copulation calls” that are typically seen as ways of showing off how successful they are at sex, perhaps to attract more mates and improve their chances of having offspring.

However, female bonobos give out these calls even when having sex with other females, whom they cannot have offspring with. Now scientists are finding that just as bonobos often copulate for reasons having nothing to do with reproduction — much as humans do — so too can these calls serve a broader social role beyond just breeding.

This is mostly just here for folks who don’t want to bother clicking through and read the actual article, but this was a great species to study something like this in; bonobos are the poster children for “sex being more social than reproductive in a wild animal”. There are other animals that could probably qualify seen in the right light, but researchers are less resistant to ascribing a clear primary social purpose for sex to primates than they are in, say, birds.

After a year of study, Clay and her colleagues found that during same-sex mating, the lower-ranking partner always made the copulation calls. At the same time, among these lower-ranking individuals, the chances of crying out generally increased with the partner’s social rank, regardless of whether that partner was male or female. In this way, the apes are advertising they might be “in” with Mr. or Ms. Popular.

Also mostly here to fill in the blanks. This is also a really interesting result, especially as, noted earlier in the article, couples go off and hide out of view to have sex.

“Female bonobos achieve power by forming coalitions with other females as well as males, so getting powerful female friends, and advertising it, matters,” Clay told LiveScience. “Like humans, sex among bonobos is not only used for reproduction, it is also important in other ways, such as friendship and bonding, and keeping close to powerful others.”

This is a very important note to make, as bonobos are quite unusual among apes for having this social pattern. In most apes that live in large groups, males disperse from their birth troop and form coalitions with other males for social power in their new group, while females stay in their birth troops and are essentially born into their social order. Exceptions are more common among monkeys than apes, but it’s still the rarer pattern. (Judging by “what actually happens”, rather than “intuitive supposition based on home culture of supposer”, humans will do either or neither.)

If we were to apply this result to, say, north American humans, the logical conclusion would therefore be that the shy math nerd boy getting it from the star quarterback would be biologically inclined to holler about it as loudly as possible mid-act.

Future research can analyze whether these calls are indeed meaningful to listeners.

The most important note of all: the hypothesis is merely that until they’ve confirmed whether it means a damn thing to the listeners. The finding regarding social status is very interesting, but not entirely conclusive; the sample size is still fairly small, and it could be that the explanation is as simple as “all primates are intensely vocal animals and inclined to yell about it when experiencing any strong emotion, and getting with the popular dude/chick is exciting if you’re not as popular”.

Could this interpretation- advertising that you’re getting awesomely laid, uncoupled from any reproductive advertisement- apply at all, in any light, to humans? My experiences with dorm and apartment life say yes… but definitely not because of this study.

Friday Scattershot

February 25, 2011 - 5:44 pm Comments Off

- Hijinks Ensue. It’s basically Penny Arcade with worse art and fewer game references and as I keep trawling through the archives I’m growing a suspicion that the author is kind of a dick, but I can’t. stop. clicking. through. Definitely by geek, for geek.

– Lots of people have commented on this story about breast milk ice cream. I’ve got limited comment- for one, human milk is higher in fat and MUCH higher in milk sugar than cow milk, so this is likely to be a very rich, sweet ice cream, and for two, I don’t get why it’s not disgusting to give a baby but apparently is terrible to give anyone else. What really gets me about this is the fascination factor of what Metro UK spits out on the sidebar as “related items”. Apparently ice cream and breast milk are the best keywords ever if you want interesting news in the UK. My favorites are the banned ice cream ad with the gay priests and the rapper with the ice cream cone tattoed on his face, though the winner of the day overall is how to make breast milk taste like a banana milkshake.

– Every once in awhile we rewatch the 2001 schlocky sci-fi comedy Evolution. It’s a gigantic festering ball of bullshit with a paper-thin plot and one of my most-hated romantic tropes, the love interest who basically falls on the hero’s dick despite having no reason to and many reasons not to want to. Every single plot device is made of pure refined Stupidium and everyone spends the story passing the idiot ball like the Harlem Globetrotters. And yet it’s hilarious. Stingray and I spend the whole movie each time giggling and then randomly twitching like shocked lab monkeys and crying “bullshit!” on one of the many, many flaws. It’s a conundrum why we keep doing this to ourselves. Contrast Galaxy Quest, which we rewatch about as often and yet only love more each and every time.

– It is my ambition that I may someday have something to say about this other than “COOL!”

Cheap, Easy, Good

February 24, 2011 - 5:50 pm Comments Off

In the absence of anything else good to post, I’ll share a recipe:

Bacon and Egg Risotto

You will need: arborio rice (about $6 for a tub of the stuff), some good bacon- faux will not work here- an onion, butter, garlic, green onions, Parmesan cheese (not the canned abomination), eggs, about 20-30 minutes, and a basic understanding of how risotto is produced, which the linked post should adequately describe. The hardest part is separating the yolks and keeping them set aside for later.

You will get: a one-pot, one-dish filling and extremely tasty meal that may change your view of the role of eggs in cooking. The hot risotto itself will gently cook the egg yolk and turn it into a sauce, which once stirred into the risotto tastes not so much of egg yolk as it does of yum. Honestly if I’d been given a bowl with the yolk prestirred I would have probably guessed that ther was egg in there somewhere, but not that it was the sauce.

This is now standard in our rotation of Raid Night Chow.

Mom Will Like This

February 24, 2011 - 4:04 pm Comments Off

Twice today I’ve started out with the intent to give an idea or person a merry savaging, then upon reading further to bolster my argument, developed too much sympathy to want to pick on the relevant people even though I still disagreed.

I can’t tell if this is writer’s block, a sign I’m becoming a better human being, or a sign I’m losing my edge.

Leave Dorothy Alone!

February 23, 2011 - 5:34 pm Comments Off

Seems New Hampshire Republicans want to use their newfound legislative muscle to repeal gay marriage, because obviously that can be the only reason voters were suddenly inclined to give them a supermajority. Meanwhile, the Obama justice department has suddenly decided that now is the correct time to stop defending DOMA.

Option A: the national zeitgeist and voter unrest is all about gay marriage.

Option B: both parties are trying to remind their dwindling supply of allies that they’re supposed to be buddies by ringing Pavlov’s bell for red meat.

Not only do I lean toward Option B, I think the bell has probably lost its clapper at this point.

The Ice Cream Machine Is Broken

February 22, 2011 - 5:19 pm Comments Off

Mea Culpa. I just didn’t have it in me to write much of anything yesterday, and I just spent about forty-five minutes writing something that sounded promising but I had more and more problems with as I went along. It still has potential as a post concept, but its analogies were blowing up and it’s just generally not ready for primetime yet.

Lately I’ve had many thoughts, all of which refuse to gel into anything I can put a structural backbone on. It’s getting very, very frustrating.

Fluffy Friday Filler Without Laser Nipples

February 18, 2011 - 4:00 pm Comments Off

So the last two days have been filled with posts dealing with heavy and SRS BZNS. The comments have been about what you’d expect, more or less, and Mel Gibson’s Laser Nipples will be debuting their first album any day now. So now rather than hammer on with more gloom and llama, you get something light for Friday. Yes, I know it’s a chatlog, but Old NFO said it was funny enough to crosspost from where it originally went up at the Gunblogger Conspiracy page, and given all the letters following his name on his business card, I’m not about to argue with him lest I be vaporized. The scene: A massive netsplit on the slashnet servers. A list of fifty-some users suddenly dropped to about a dozen, leaving my buddy Sal and I as pretty much the only people not just idling. Below the fold is what happens when you get two people very dedicated to wasting time together with plenty of time to waste, with the odd minor edit for context/clarity/chaff removal.
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You Mean It's Not A Polyp?

February 17, 2011 - 6:27 pm Comments Off

Apparently continuing in the vein of third rails, let’s talk about abortion!

No, not the moral debate, and not so much the biology either, which I am not ready to do now if ever. Specifically the issue of the odd practice of legislating making women look at sonograms of the fetus before allowing her to abort, up to the point of playing the fetal heartbeat. The ostensible point of this is pretty fucking condescending on its face, which is making REALLY REALLY sure the woman knows it’s a developing fetus she’ll be aborting and not, I don’t know, a chest-burster. I generally see the theoretical point of this, as paternalistic and ham-handed as it is; it’s a serious issue and you want to make sure people are taking it seriously. I don’t even faintly agree with it, but I can see the point.

Turns out it doesn’t even have a point, going along with my original gut reaction. In terms of actual data collected rather than emotional testimony, seeing a sonogram doesn’t change anyone’s mind.

No shit. What really gets me seeing red about this family of laws is the way it assumes women are impulsive and emotional children that either can’t face what they’re really doing, don’t understand that’s a fetus that could become a PERSON someday, or otherwise just need to see it to believe it. I may think the world is full of idiots and assholes, women included, but no matter how you slice it that’s an autonomous organism taking root inside your own body, and more than that we’re all profoundly steeped in the abortion debate unless we’re deaf, dumb, and blind. Nobody decides to run by the local chop shop for a quick cup of abortion, unless something better’s on TV or someone reminds them that babies are cute. Even for someone that really did regard the fetus as a parasite rather than a potential person, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly- having a doctor rummaging around in your vagina is pretty awful just for a pap smear, let alone slicing out a substantial chunk of uterine lining. It’s frightening, it’s painful, and that’s even if you have somehow managed to entirely remove all moral and emotional qualms.

So let’s add a dose of mandatory humiliation and condescension onto there, in case she JUST DIDN’T THINK ABOUT IT. (As one doctor who specializes in cases of pregnancies in which the fetus dies in the womb or has some catastrophic mutation points out, not all abortions are elective and not all sonograms are cute, either.) Only a legislator could not only come up with this crap, but continue to defend it.

I have enough respect and sympathy for the pro-life position that I can agree with the idea of wanting to reduce abortions. But if you’re going to try and make a law to reduce abortions, don’t do it by treating women like idiot children, and don’t arbitrarily punish and harass adults for doing something that remains, in fact, legal.

Scaring the Horses

February 16, 2011 - 3:17 pm Comments Off

Friend Breda comments briefly and pungently on the adventures of a couple of open carry activists carrying in the library to make a point. One went in with a pistol, the other fellow with a shotgun strapped to his shoulder. Comment wars have predictably ensued. Stingray is of the opinion that the title of Breda’s post said all that needed to be said, and I predictably have to use more words than are necessary.

Just because you have the right, and are in the right as you do something don’t make that thing the right thing to do. In the case of the long-gun toter, I agree he was within the letter of the law and the library was in defiance of it, and it should indeed be his right to go anywhere he pleases armed for bear without anyone saying boo about it unless he uses that weapon to actually kill somebody that didn’t very clearly need killing. I would make no attempt to restrict that right legally.

This is because things that fall within the scope of rights but are not necessarily the right thing to do are best addressed with social disapproval, of the “thanks a lot, you fucking dumbass!” variety.

Whatever the massive and clanging degree of logical and ethical in-the-rightness any given person possesses, we still live in a society of humans, and a largely democratic one at that. Other people don’t always agree with in our logic or our ethics, and not only do they have every right themselves to do so, we live in a largely democratic republic in which their scope of disagreement has a great deal of power to alter the law of the land.

Gun owners in general and carry advocates in particular tend to see themselves as something of a persecuted minority. To a real extent this is, in fact, true. What we see as our natural human right both to do as we please without harming anyone and to be capable of convincing self-defense are routinely violated on scales large and small by local and federal authorities, and we are the targets of some really quite hair-raising bigotry, especially by people who consider bigotry in general to be an obviously terrible thing but don’t consider bashing on gun owners to be bigotry because obviously gun nuts are just crazy and dangerous and saying so is not bigoted.

What this tempts us to do is borrow the language of other persecuted minorities and civil rights movements of the past, and compare carry protests such as the young fellows in question to things like the lunch-counter protests and bus riders of the black civil rights movement. As to such comparisons, I have a number of points to raise.

1. Mayhap have you noticed that black people went around for hundreds of years being abused on every level, including actually being held captive and forced to labor, despite having every logical and ethical right to autonomy and equal treatment before the law? And yet, it took a war and a lot of slow social change before even the worst of these offenses began to be redressed and their status as lesser citizens even stopped being enshrined in the legal structure of the nation itself. People had to agree with their point of view of themselves as unjustly abused and discriminated against, and the largest reason Martin Luther King’s nonviolent civil disobedience model worked as well as it did was because it highlighted their opponents as more unreasonable and more violent and threatening than the protesters were. With the nature of the bigotry in place fully exposed, public sentiment changed, and the law along with it.

2. JESUS CHRIST ARE YOU PEOPLE FUCKIN’ HIGH? If even a substantial portion of gun owners and carriers cocks their head at this analogy as being kind of off-kilter, do you have ANY IDEA how it comes off to people who aren’t already very inclined to be sympathetic? I can and will point out right fucking now that there is a pretty fucking substantial difference between a discriminatory policy that prevents you from ever entering a place without very convincing theater makeup and one that forces you to unstrap and put your gun in your goddamn glove compartment, or even to just go concealed and hope you’re as good at it as you think you are. I AM very sympathetic- I believe this is in fact discrimination of law-abiding citizens that just want a goddamn hamburger without having to partially undress and render themselves more relatively helpless than they would be should someone less law-abiding come mincing along- and I still think these comparisons are outrageously entitled as well as incredibly tone-deaf. Make some faltering attempt to imagine how they sound to someone who doesn’t believe carrying a gun in public is a natural human right, doesn’t see the mere presence of a gun as emotionally neutral, regards all guns as having the whiff of violence, and greatly admires the non-violent nature of that civil rights movement.

Oh, but you’re in the right? Well, that will make a protest designed to sway public sympathy and point out a violation of the law that much more fucking effective, won’t it?

3. Speaking of the perception of threat, public fear of black men going around getting goofy on the reefer and laying waste to the good white folk of the world was indeed used to reinforce support for segregation- but the actual primary argument was “seperate but equal”, and the idea that preventing mixing prevented conflict. The non-violent civil rights movement worked as well as it did because it shifted perception of who was the threat to the people enforcing the policies with dogs and fire hoses- it was effective because it orchestrated predictable violence by others. The later, more muscular Black Panther style movements didn’t so much shift public perception as prove that public perception had shifted, in that there was relatively little backlash to a much more openly threatening group. (Which mostly specialized in threatening insufficiently ideological black people, but that’s another discussion.)

Perception of threat is what I keep coming back around to. It may not actually be a threat to be openly carrying a weapon, and public fear of it may be completely irrational, but however irrational fearing an individual just because they have a weapon is, it does not negate the existence of people who are carrying a weapon in public because they’re about to gain everlasting fame and glory for ventilating as much of the public in immediate range as can be.

Speaking of those of us sympathetic, for those what do go around carrying, whether away from the public’s eye or no, what would your immediate first thought be upon sighting in a densely populated public place that wasn’t a range or a hunting ground, a young man who looked like he was nerving himself up for something, with an uncased shotgun slung over his shoulder? “Solidarity, brother”, or the thought that you might actually have to use your own weapon? If you’re hesitating at all on “solidarity, of course!”… that should tell you something.

I do agree “you shouldn’t exercise a right because it might alarm somebody” is a shitty argument with all sorts of slippery slopes, but there’s a difference between going about one’s dailies quietly exercising your rights and a protest organized and designed to get your point across. Namely, the entire reason to do the latter is to make your cause known and hopefully sway public opinion more favorably in its direction, not to make yourself feel righteous.

The point of discretion between “exercising your rights, move along good citizen” and “doing an unnecessary dumbass stunt that needlessly scares a lot of people” is always going to vary a lot, and because of that “technically in the right” thing will also have a great deal of overlap. Many fair-minded and good folk will disagree with me about where that point is… but I still think Shotgun Lad was well over into “unnecessary dumbass” territory.

This’ll likely generate a lovely comment war, so Stingray pointed out a little added clarity over our usual policies- linked on the nuts and bolts tab, visible enough- may be hepful.

Rule one: Don’t be a dick.
Rule two: If your justification for why you’re not being a dick includes rules-lawyering invoking technicalities of dickitude, you’re being a dick.

We also invite you to ponder the applications of both these rules to the original incident in question.

Go Look There

February 15, 2011 - 5:47 pm Comments Off

Sorry about the light content. Got things to do and monsters to kill tonight, and spent much of today in a frustration loop. Not having seen the same doctor more than once in a row in over a year- because they keep quitting- builds up all sorts of interesting consequences for various things in the long term, including stuff that should be stupid simple like birth control.

In lieu of me have anything to say, go check out Smartdogs, who much to my delight is back and writing again. Play, its structure, and the way learning works have been much in my thoughts lately, it’s just not produced anything I can write about. So far.