Archive for June, 2011

Blah blah blah fire blah blah blah

June 29, 2011 - 9:42 am Comments Off

Thanks, all, for the well wishes. This morning reports that we’re up to 3% containment, which beats the hell out of 0. Our place has not burned, and currently looks rather unlikely to. We’re getting bored with looting, so hopefully we’ll be able to get back to bitching about poorly done science articles and giving politicians more specific instructions regarding where they may stand in order to die in a fire as they so need to*.

Fire doesn’t seem to have gotten closer than about 4-5 miles as the crow flies from our place, and the fire chief has good things to say about the fuel levels between current fire location and same. Unless Murphy decides we need some extra pounding, there’s a decent chance we’ll be home by the weekend, especially if that containment number goes up significantly in the next day, day and a half. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell it’d be fully contained by then, but maybe y’all will get your news reports of me on the roof with a bottle of whisky and a garden hose after all.

*Dear elected officials: I know you must be seen to be Doing Something. However, when you go rushing up to be On Scene, unless you are in the executive branch and have some authorization to mobilize assets, the only Thing you are Doing is Being In The Way. Get the fuck off our mountain, Congressman douchebubbleLujan, or if you won’t do that, do us some real good, drink a lot of water, and just ask the nearest person in the funny jacket to point you towards the heat.

Update: Latest reports indicate that the 3% containment is a containment line between the fire and our part of town. Heading home soon.

Fire Update Two Flaming Boogaloo

June 28, 2011 - 9:33 am Comments Off

We’ve landed safely in $landingzone, but we’ve discovered that a) super whizbang awesome time happy yay communications tool purchased to alleviate the bad phone situation has less signal than my damn kindle, and b) there is no internet at the place we’re staying. This is both frustrating and a welcome relief, though internet is available through the home of the friend who arranged $landingzone (and did so in literally four minutes. NFO, I think you’ve been challenged.)

Latest intel suggests house and home will be fine and standing when we return, but that they’re still sitting on 0% containment as of this morning means that’s not a statement of enduring fact.

And just for that little dose of biblical style irony, after not seeing a single raindrop or snowflake since, oh, February, we encountered torrential downpours on the drive here. I swear, if I get back and find locusts in my hops vines it’s gonna make the evening news.

Fire Update

June 27, 2011 - 11:41 am Comments Off

We aten’t dead.

Immediate danger has not passed, but has been mitigated. Latest report says the crews got a good backburn in between the fire and the town that seems to be holding, and that the main danger is on the west side of the burn, which is the side not containing us. It’s by no means a sure thing, but the fire chief seemed reasonably optimistic, with the caveat that the wind can still kick us in the nuts.

Bugout lines have been drawn, and we’re packed to within a 20 minute launch capability, and we’ve got a target to land at with all critters and vitals.

Reports that I intend to deal with this situation by climbing on the roof with a bottle of whiskey, a garden hose, and hurling profanity at the fire until it goes away are mildly exaggerated, but not ruled out as a plan.

Update: Evac on. Play nice while we’re gone.

…and end without.

June 26, 2011 - 4:53 pm Comments Off



12 mi. SW, high winds, dry, hot. Status info. Content may be light.

Start Your Day With A Smile

June 26, 2011 - 1:01 pm Comments Off

Step 1: Get a speeding ticket for about 40 over.
Step 2: Realize it’s a dream.
Step 3: Fuck yea.

But Cancer IS Kinda Metal!

June 25, 2011 - 10:54 am Comments Off

Today on the way back from my weekly pilgrimage to Chili Works, I had the windows down to allow me to flip off any recent escapees from the set of Tron, and as one does, the metal station playing on the satellite radio. A break came between bursts of angry growling and cats-in-a-blender guitars, and the DJ began her patter.

This was fairly normal stuff. Hey, it’s a nice day. Go to the beach, drink some beer, smoke a little weed, throw the horns, perform various awesome lewd acts on one or more genders of your choice, and keep the music loud. And be sure and use plenty of sunscreen! Seriously, you’ll get burned, and get cancer.

One of these things is not like the other, but hey, at least Facebones finally got that agenda item run through and on the air. Up next, a PSA from William Murderface about not moshing for at least 30 minutes after you eat. Just remain calm and be sure to ring your Deathbell.

Friday Linkage

June 24, 2011 - 8:37 pm Comments Off

- James May vs. Gordon Ramsay, for my fellow BBC America fans. The only way this whole encounter could possibly be made better is if we recut the video to add “Falcon PUNCH!” sound effects at strategic moments.

- Between the bus tour thing and the e-mail thing, either Sarah Palin is the most brilliant troll in the history of the country or the media is really, really in no relative position to call her stupid.

- Screech from Saved By The Bell: from adorable little geek to fantastically bitter insane man-child. Or apparently having begun and ended in that latter state, off-camera. I don’t know why I find this so fascinating- I didn’t like that show when I WAS the target audience, and there is absolutely nothing unique about this child-star trajectory- but I did.

Harmony Between Misandry And Misogyny

June 23, 2011 - 4:21 pm Comments Off

So Scott Adams did in fact say something stupid on the internet, and in his usual inimitable fashion went on to claim that everyone had misunderstood him and his series of remarkably stupid statements and lines of reasoning were in fact evidence of his overwhelming brilliance and the inability of other people to read words when put into sequence*. The original subject of his controversy manufacture, should you not wish to go read it or others taking it down, is the idea that society is ordered around unfairly suppressing the natural desires of men and this is why there’s so much rape and divorce. (Did you know? Hugh Hefner not getting married after spending sixty years of his life setting the bar for female desirability and bedding hundreds if of young nubile women is evidence of our society’s misandry. Really!)

I had planned to leave it at letting other people comment on Scott- which at this point could be done with a form letter and would make a fairly amusing Mad Libs book- when someone sent me a link to this, which is a checklist for how to tell if a man is a rape supporter, and this highly vitriolic (and amusing**) response. The “rape supporter” list is a good Poe’s Law case, because the only time I had ever seen opinions this extreme on what makes a man a rapist or in favor of rape is when men’s rights activists are telling me what “feminism” is like. (Abridged: a man is a rape supporter if he is heterosexual, apparently, and also possibly if he is homosexual.)

What struck me about seeing both on the same day, however, is some of the central premises that are completely shared by both authors. Adams lumps rape in with marital infidelity and off-color jokes as natural extensions of normal male behavior, which are only restrained- and produce unhappiness due the stifling- by women and society at large:

Powerful men have been behaving badly, e.g. tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive to just about everyone in the entire world. The current view of such things is that the men are to blame for their own bad behavior. That seems right. Obviously we shouldn’t blame the victims. I think we all agree on that point. Blame and shame are society’s tools for keeping things under control.

The part that interests me is that society is organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal while the natural instincts of women are mostly legal and acceptable. In other words, men are born as round pegs in a society full of square holes. Whose fault is that? Do you blame the baby who didn’t ask to be born male? Or do you blame the society that brought him into the world, all round-pegged and turgid, and said, “Here’s your square hole”?

The pro-rape checklist, among rather less controversial points, list these as equally damning:

He defends the current legal definition of rape and/or opposes making consent a defense…. He has gone to a strip club…. He is anti-abortion… He is pro-”choice” because he believes abortion access will make women more sexually available… He frames discussions of pornography in terms of “freedom of speech.”.. He watches pornography in which women are depicted…. He watches any pornography in which sexual acts are depicted as a struggle for power or domination, regardless of whether women are present… He supports sexual “liberation” and claims women would have more sex with (more) men if society did not “inhibit” them.

In other words, she thinks that the only thing standing between what most of us would define as a fairly normal heterosexual man and rape is his fear of punishment/shame, and that the interests of women definitionally do not include recreational sex with men, and Adams agrees with that completely. Their worldview is identical, the only meaningful difference between them is which sex they think this is most unfair to.

The rest of us, I like to think, can recognize that there is in fact an important and meaningful difference between desire for something someone else can do for you or share with you, whether in the abstract or the particular, and a will to take it by force if they don’t volunteer to do so. Consent isn’t a footnote, it’s the most important element in any interaction (and not every interaction is a transaction) between two people there is- and NORMAL PEOPLE DON’T HAVE TO BE TOLD THIS.

*I’m not linking to Scott Adams directly. It feels like giving booze to a wino on the sidewalk that keeps pissing into your mailbox.

**I do disagree with the author that this piece necessarily represents “feminism”, any more than I think the guy I ran across yesterday arguing that women never mature beyond a mental age of nine and must therefore be sexually controlled by a responsible male from birth to death represents men.

Beyond Better Genes

June 22, 2011 - 4:35 pm Comments Off

Evolution is a game of reproduction, as (nearly) everyone is aware. “Fitness” isn’t about being “more fit” as we usually think of it when considering whether someone is faster, or stronger, or smarter; it’s strictly about contributing the most genetically to the next generation, and the generation after that. Someone who has more children is more fit than another who doesn’t; someone who has more grandchildren, fitter still, since those children have to become reproductive themselves in order for the genetic contribution to be relevant.

The most basic way to do this, and the way in which we are most comfortable thinking intuitively about evolution, is simply to have as many offspring as possible. Produce lots and lots and lots of gametes, arrange big mating events so that as many possible gametes wind up fertilized, do it again as often as possible- most of them will be lost, but some will survive to reproduce themselves, and the lineage will continue. This is the route that most plants and insects, as well as some fish and amphibians, take; all energy goes into volume. It’s not sophisticated but it works.

The next innovation from this is the idea of investing more in offspring so that there isn’t as much energy to have so many, but each one is more likely to survive and become reproductive itself. This is what fruiting plants do- it’s expensive to create structures full of sugar and other goodies, but doing so around a seed is a good way to get animals to plant seeds packaged in fertilizer somewhere relatively far from the parent plants, which give each seed far better odds than simply relying on wind and rain to plant a few seeds somewhere viable.

For animals, the first step down this path is giving eggs more than just the gamete and some rudimentary environmental protection; package each egg with a yolk, a bolus of rich nutrition that the offspring can use to grow to a larger and sturdier, and more developed, state before emerging and risking itself in the world. Yolks and other investments in the egg* are expensive relative to the more basic model, so clutches are smaller, but a greater percentage of offspring survive and so the investment gives a return.

If being able to lay an egg that is not so fragile and is pre-loaded with good nutrition is a decent investment in an offspring’s chances, a step above that is to actually protect and develop your offspring within your own body, with a direct line to nutrition- a step that all mammals and a few fish, reptiles, and amphibians take**.

Mammals, specialized in livebearing, continue the idea of protecting and investing in offspring by giving them milk: even after the offspring emerge, they continue to protect and nourish them until they are further developed. The more a creature can extend the period of protected and nursed development, the larger and more complex it can afford to become- the advantage of later development before independence can be turned into long developments to support bigger and more complicated brains and bodies. A larval stage can only be so much of a shortcut.

The next step in investment is parenting; not all organisms that parent are livebearers, but all of them put enormous amounts of time and energy into protecting a smaller number of offspring relative to simply reproducing. Parenting can range from simply protecting the offspring during a lengthy period of necessary development outside an egg or its parent’s body***, to feeding and educating it for years before it leaves for adult independence. In social animals, “independence” may not even be the correct term as normal adulthood involves a community arranged around mutual benefit.

As so often happens in evolution, over time something that was merely an advantage, if it is a sufficient advantage, may become a structurally integral necessity: for many organisms, especially the larger and brighter ones, parenting has become extremely involved and not remotely optional for successful reproduction. A baby songbird, horse, wolf, or child doesn’t just need its parents’ food and protection, it requires extensive education in how to survive and reproduce as a member of its species in order to have any chance at all of functioning as an adult. Complex behaviors give their owners greater adaptability, but they also can’t be simply bred in; parenting organisms gave each of their offspring major advantage individually, but they also transferred the bulk of their own investment from having sex and producing gametes to raising the results.

Humans are perhaps the most extreme example on the planet: human mothers spend nine months incubating an offspring as long as it’s still possible to pass through the pelvic opening, then give birth to an infant that’s extremely underdeveloped compared to even other mammals at the time of birth, which will spend more than a decade with its parents before even being physically capable of reproduction, during which it will continue to develop. They require extraordinary care on every level, and will never develop many key features necessary to becoming a normal member of their species- such as language- without care and interaction from adults.

An absolute hard minimum of 12-13 years is a long time to spend on investment in a single offspring, if one is alone, but under normal conditions humans never are. (Nor are many other social species with offspring with high parenting requirements, for that matter.) Parents aren’t the only ones contributing- their relatives and friends do, as well as the oldest among the children, so that more children than just the one can be fit into the same period. It requires major investment on the part of everyone involved, but everyone benefits at least somewhat, either through the most obvious direct genetic fitness payoff or in the form of reciprocity for their own offspring.

Humans are also long-lived, and women in particular live for decades beyond their own reproductive capacity. Why this is so remained a puzzling mystery for a long time- why would it benefit any animal to stop reproducing long before its actual life was over? In the most direct intuitive logic of fitness, why wouldn’t it be more fit to spend as much of your life possible reproducing?

The logic of investment responds: because with an animal this dependent on parenting, investment in offspring is neither restricted to your actual direct offspring, or to your physical capacity to impregnate or give birth. Long lifespans put an individual’s ability to influence its own fitness directly into reach, and across generational lines. The “grandmother hypothesis” is the idea that our long childhoods produced an equally long adulthood- with so much of a young human’s success influenced by direct care, with care by the actual parent not being a necessary part of the equation, a human’s reproductive investment need not end with their actual physical capacity to reproduce****.

More than that, a long-lived animal that lives in social groups has another advantage: having individuals within the group that are capable of productively reacting to infrequent but regular events. For a population living on a coast, supporting older, nonreproductive, and less physically capable individuals can have a very high fitness payoff indeed if some of them know what it means when the tide goes all the way out. Nor is such advantage absent from other long-lived social species.

Inclusive fitness: not just for bees. And sometimes your fitness relative to someone else’s has a lot less to do with how fantastic your genes are than it does with how much family you have that likes you.

*There are other reasons to lay complicated expensive eggs, like “being terrestrial”, but fish have a huge diversity of reproductive strategies even without this- the range of volume-versus-investment is present even without the necessity of eggs being able to survive out of water.

**A step that seems to have emerged completely independently for these latter three groups multiple times over, accomplished in varying ways.

***Notice I didn’t say “mother”. A male seahorse is using the same strategy, just taking a different way around the barn.

****Whether menopause happens because childbirth gets increasingly risky for the mother the older she gets, and therefore her fitness interests tip from having more children to looking after the existing ones, or because female great apes are only born with so many eggs and it’s simply living longer than our eggs last that’s the innovation, is open to debate.

Fish In Blue Water

June 20, 2011 - 3:02 pm Comments Off

A short but mildly interesting article at the Daily Caller about Jon Stewart going on Fox News and explaining what he thinks is the difference between Fox’s agenda-driven reporting and the other networks, as well as what he thinks makes Fox worse than the others. Here’s the meat of it:

I think there is, probably a liberal bias that exists within the media because of the medium in which it exists,” Stewart said. “I think that the majority of people working in it probably hold liberal viewpoints, but I don’t think they are as relentlessly activist as the conservative movement that has risen up over the last 40 years and that movement has decided that they have been victims of a witch hunt. And to some extent they’re right. People on the right are called racists and they’re called things with an ease that I am uncomfortable with and homophobic and all those other things. I think that that is absolutely something that they have a real right to be angry about and to feel that they have been vilified for those things. And I’ve been guilty of some of those things myself.

I don’t dislike Stewart. I do get irritated with his comedy-on comedy-off schtick when he wants to comment on or participate in serious political dialogue and criticism, then hide behind his status as a comedian when he takes the level of heat commensurate for it, but I also think he’s a fairly honest and self-aware man who just happens to have a very different point of view than I do. I also think he’s not exactly wrong here, though that same status as a liberal fish in a liberal pond blinds him a bit to the degree to which what he’s describing shows to people who don’t live in the same pond.

The point I think he’s missed, however, in criticizing Fox news’s brand of agenda-driven reporting as uniquely special and bad above the other major outlets (though credit to him for calling MSNBC on how bad they’ve gotten, earlier in the article), is that conservative outlets tend to be more visibly activist than liberal media outlets because majorities don’t need to be activist. They ARE the majority: their viewpoint is accepted as the default because it IS the default in that setting. Stewart manages to touch around this in acknowledging that almost everybody in the mainstream media comes from a liberal viewpoint and set of values. He thinks the fact that they’re not as actively bent on pressing their values and goals demonstrates that they aren’t agenda-driven; I would argue it goes without saying that this is true- and he agrees it is- they don’t need to let agenda be their driver because their viewpoint, and all the assumptions they make and questions they think to ask or never would, does the driving in mainstream media already.

It’s not a conspiracy, deliberate, or really an “agenda” as Stewart is defining it, it’s just what happens when nearly everybody within a world shares a culture and set of assumptions. Most people who go into journalism in the first place come from big cities, and are interested in journalism, because they have a sensibility that at least somewhat resembles and resonates with the people who are doing journalism already- unless they’re attracted to it specifically in order to counter what they see as a hive-mind, in which case they’re activists by default. This group is well to the left on the larger American bell curve, but they’re exactly median within the world they actually live and work in; they are normal and there’s just a whole lot of right-wingers out there ready to lap up what Fox serves.

The problem isn’t that the “liberal media” is doing agenda-driven reporting or lack of reporting, which conservative media must correct, but that their culture has become so uniform that anyone noticeably to the right of Stewart is unusually right-wing within it- and have a choice between conservative activism, life as the pet conservative on someone else’s show, or a new career.

Media bias, or agenda in reporting, isn’t inherently a bad thing. No one is free of bias, and I like it just fine when people put their biases right into their branding. What’s bad is not that liberal-leaning outlets have an agenda, the problem is that they believe so completely that they are just normal- that leaves them without the chance to find out what their biases even are, absent confrontations with genuinely agenda-driven conservatives.