Summer pop tunes hell

Insufferable things are made significantly more tolerable by mocking them. As previously mentioned, I am currently in a hostage situation with 93Q, and am making the best of it by being sarcastic and bizarre. For instance, a recent Imagine Dragons song “Demons” has these lyrics:

“Don’t get too close / It’s dark inside / It’s where my demons hide / It’s where my demons hide.”

And it just makes me wonder, like man, what did you do to make your demons feel they need to hide like that? My demons hang out on my shoulders. We get get coffee sometimes.

You should really be nicer to the poor guys.

Another fun hobby is this: holding pop songs to the results of their assertions. “Oh, there’s no place you’d rather be so long as you’re with so-and-so? How’s this, I’ll throw you both into a boiling tar pit. How’s it in there? I’m glad the power of love has allowed you to ignore scalding temperatures. Maybe we should get the government researching this.”

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Video game gripes

I bought a new game because Steam had a sale and we all love to see the numbers get crossed off. Not even go down, we just like seeing that it used to be some other price and now it’s a SALE!

At any rate, I am relatively new to gaming, and though you hear about the sexism of the video game industry (cough*Ubisoft*cough*) I hadn’t actually realized how unfortunate it was first hand.

Here’s what I’ve found so far:

1. That an otherwise decent female character (a powerful mage with adequate dialogue) was dressed in a low cut leather vest and miniskirt combo, and only otherwise covered in mesh. Mesh. In a medieval world. In a northern castle. It was not necessary to make this character an object of sexual desire, and, in fact, severely detracted from the experience of playing the game.

2. That when the mage character above was wounded in a fight, that when I stayed to comfort her, my character has sex with her. Consensual, thankfully, but unnecessary, irrelevant to the plot, and completely out of character. It also further sexually objectifies this character.

3. That ninety percent of the female NPCs have very low cut dresses for no explained reason.

4. That the one female NPC who I thought was going to be cool because she had a practical, Robin Hood-like shirt on and some weaponry was wearing a really short dress, again for no reason because she is a hunter. Also because she was the second named female NPC of the game (after at least seven named male ones, with more to come).

5. That the witch I intend to protect offers to sleep with me.

6. That the three plot-relevant women are young and pretty, because naturally only hot chicks are important.

7. That, in light of this blinding dearth of well-written, not-sexually-objectified female characters, the city area is freaking filled with prostitutes. Which, to be clear, in the real world is a completely legitimate professional choice, but, in the context of a game where these are not women but female characters, this is an artistic choice which perpetuates the concept of women as either decorative or functional – which is to say, objects.

 

Update: Ended up uninstalling the game. It wasn’t good enough of a game to look past the blinding crappiness. Instead I installed Skyrim, in which I am a female dark elf who dual wields fire spells, and I have yet to observe any sexist behavior on the part of the game. (I have encountered sexist characters, but the game actively works to point out that they’re wrong. It’s amazing. For instance, a woman asks you, an intimidating adventurer, to talk to a bard who is pursuing her romantically after she’s made it clear that she is uninterested in his advances. The bard talks about how he enjoys chasing women in a display of dominance, but your character puts him in his place by pointing out that she’s not something to be won, and that he needs to stop. And then he agrees to stop, and apologizes for it, and this is treated as a victory. It’s a small thing, but it made me so happy.)

“Women are incomprehensible and occult,” reports local morning show

The Ted and Amy show is a local morning show that plays on the Top 40 station during rush hour. Trapped in a carpool that listens to this and nothing else, my poor auditory cortex is assaulted not only with pop music created exclusively to torture the inmates of Gitmo, but with this inane radio show. The premise is, essentially, two uncritical middle-aged people tell trivial facts, make jokes of nauseating quality, and happily recite overdone tropes as if they were original. Sort of like syndicated cartoons.

In today’s show, though, they mixed it up. By which I mean they did not use the kitschy high-pitched voice to read the third trivia question answer. The overdone, unexamined cultural tropes, though, were right on the money. After a “fun fact” about how the average woman buys seventeen pairs of shoes a year, the male announcer declared [paraphrased],

“I don’t understand why women buy so many shoes! It’s crazy, right? Why do they need so many? Women are so mysterious.”

And I suddenly had to fight the urge to light everything on fire.

First, that observation has been made and remade so many times it’s starting to feel like another Batman reboot. Second, for some reason people think it’s funny to keep making this inane comment without ever thinking about the answer to their own question. It would be one thing if this kind of remark went as far as making a thoughtful criticism of consumerism, but it never does. It’s always, haha, women and their shoes, am I right?

The thing is, this is really a pretty simple question. It’s because women are valued (unconsciously, of course) for their appearance, and receive far stricter social sanctions than men for not looking their best. Laugh all you want about how you as a dude will just buy one pair of sneakers and wear them until they decay off of your feet, but women will get far more flak for doing that same thing than you ever would.

Furthermore, though it would be nice if we were immune to advertising, we’re not even when we think we are. The messages of “you need these new shoes, you need this makeup, you’re old and should hide that because it’s the start of your descent into irrelevance” get ingrained into women no matter how well they fight them. And even if you are magically resistant to the constant deluge of distilled insecurity, not everyone is, and they will be looking at you when you wear those old sneakers and twenty-year-old fleece. (Which I’m not saying is a bad thing to wear if you like it – just that our culture sucks). 

Lastly, an important question is why do we perceive women as frivolous or silly for buying lots of clothes, but when men spend lots of money on traditionally male status symbols – a boat, say, or games, or a sports car, it is almost never remarked upon? Why is enjoying new clothing or putting effort into your appearance considered a female thing, and why is it considered shallow? Clothing is an art form and also a means of expression. We put effort into how we appear in other ways than clothing constantly, from body posture to facial expressions to intonation. Only being concerned with clothing, however, is considered shallow. Is it only coincidence that preoccupation with clothing is seem as typically female?

It’s really not that hard of a question to answer, but it’s not quite as funny, is it? You know what, let’s go back to calling women shallow, and pretending they’re arcane beings that will never be understood. And Amy, let’s cut all ties with women who are like that. Wouldn’t want to be like them.

I get angry sometimes.

As the liberals say, “Religion is great if you don’t shove it down my throat.”

“It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.” –Justice Alito

A primer to controversy in America: No matter how blindingly wrong you are, no matter how unfounded, no matter how regressive, self-serving, or quaintly idiotic your beliefs are, we must respect them. We must all nod our heads and go, “Well, if that’s what you believe, then that’s fine.” Anything else is intolerant, hateful, or, in the case of the Church, sacrilegious.

You never see secular opinions protected in this way. In forums where religion is not invoked, your statement will be challenged, criticized, and questioned. As it should be. If a corporation (which is now a person; didn’t you get the memo?) were to pronounce that they didn’t want to provide contraceptives to women because they just felt really strongly about it, no one would give them the time of day. People would ask for their reasoning. They would be asked why they think that this is immoral, and why they feel they deserve special exemption from the law because they feel like it?  But if your reasoning is “Invisible dude says so”?

The law practically bows to you.

A liberal sentiment I have heard multiple time goes like this: “I have no problem with religion, so long as it’s not shoved down my throat. People can believe whatever they want, as long as it make them happy.” (Occasionally followed by, “Well, you might not be too hung up about vanishing forever when you die, but other people are need the support.” Oh, please. We’re all adults here. It’s time to grow up and smell the metallic scent of the void.)

This is fine. I superficially agree. If religion had literally no bearing on anything in the realm of the secular, I would, for the most part, throw my hands up and tell them to carry on. I would still loudly shout that it’s factually incorrect, but, okay. If you are a compassionate human being, and at least pay lip service to science, philosophy, and ethics, all right. You absolutely have the right to believe what you want, and though I might argue with you (if you want to have that discussion, of course), no one is advocating bringing out the pitchforks under any circumstances.

However, the fact of the matter is, religion doesn’t work like that. Religion is not solely comprised of thoughtful deists, or pagans who like the comfort of rituals. There are fundamentalists and creationists and jihadists, and well-meaning moderates who defend the peddling of scientific inaccuracies in school, or who embrace regressive notions of sexuality, or who just look the other way when these things happen.

Religion has serious and secular impacts on the world, and even in its most toothless forms, it hurts public discourse, legislation (see above), and, as a superset, human rights. You only need to look at the privilege religion gets in discussions of it to see why. A patently wrong idea with a mountain of evidence against it is somehow able to be used as a trump card. “I don’t have a reason, I don’t want to pay for this, I don’t want people to have human rights,” all turn into “It’s part of my religion. You have to respect my beliefs.” Instead of thoughtfully examining the arguments, the chips go straight to the godly.

I am sick of this. Your beliefs do not have to be respected. Your beliefs are ideas, like any secular idea about anything, and they should be afforded no special privileges because they are shiny, happy, or obnoxiously amorphous. While I will respect you as a person, and I will defend your right to practice your religion so long as it does not infringe on the rights and happiness of others, I do not respect your beliefs. Like saying that contraceptives cause abortions and the Tooth Fairy is real, you are wrong, and I should not need to shy away from saying as such.

Maybe then, we will actually be able to talk.

Parental instinct

I am not a very maternal person. Or paternal, for that matter, though few people tend to assume that I might be inclined to such feelings. Which I am not, so excellent guess. Babies are cute from a distance, but once within earshot they quickly are revealed to be squalling, sticky sacks of potatoes with few redeeming qualities apart from big eyes and endearing burbles (a noise usually made before spitting up on something, I’ve observed). Older children are more entertaining, though honestly before age six they tend to be creepy, and from age seven to ten they resemble heavily drugged adults.

I have never much enjoyed being around children, and for obvious reasons have never been particularly good with them. This paradigm as it relates to human children, however, is subverted when it comes to animals.

Okay, not like a lot. I like cats more than kittens and dogs more than puppies, but occasionally, I do find a baby animal that is completely worth making undignified noises over. Recently, I even felt the protective instinct of emotionally bonding with juvenile animals.

Long story short, after about a month of wondering if they were alive or dead, the Chinese mantises I will be using for my research finally hatched, and are adorable. They are each less than a centimeter in length, and they came out of their beige-y egg cases last Thursday sometime. Many of their nestmates were dead and dessicated on the floor of the rearing chamber, but I managed to recover about seventy live ones that hadn’t fallen prey to dehydration or the appetites of their siblings. They each got their own little plastic box with their own little stick to sit on, and I placed a single fruit fly in each of their enclosures.

Within half an hour, most of them had caught their fly and were happily consuming their first prey! (Assuming, of course, that they had not already consumed members of their kin). I even watched one of the little tan-green darlings reach out and snag the unwary fly, which had wandered too close to the grasp of its claws. It proceeded to wrestle the squirming fly into submission and bit it on the neck. Later, I found the fly absent but for a disembodied scarlet eye. Aww.

 

Once they’re mature, the mantises will be about three inches in length and bloody gigantic, for reference. In the meantime, though, I’ll just treasure the days we have together when they will be slightly less monstrous.

[sigh] They grow up so fast.

And then, uh, I’ll actually be dissecting them for scientific purposes. But, at least I don’t have to cut the heads off of fetal mice with scissors like a friend of mine does. Isn’t neuroscience fun?

Corporations are people, but women aren’t.

The Supreme Court ruled that corporations can refuse to give their employees healthcare if they feel really strongly about it. In other news, it turns out that corporations are people, but women are not. I wish I could say that I was shocked that this issue revolves around controlling women’s bodies. Would this even be a question if, instead of Catholics trying to deny women birth control, it were Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to deny people blood transfusions (as Justice Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent)?

It is remarkable to me that a corporation‘s “religious beliefs” manages to trump those of actual people.

My professors were an amusing bunch

A collection of excellent or humorous things my professors have said this semester:

General chemistry: To illustrate chemical concepts, my professor liked to give examples about both prescription and recreational drugs. This would have been amusing all on its own, but her deadpan humor and the fact that she is short and middle-aged just added an extra layer of unexpected excellence.
In one example, she used heroin as an example of… I don’t remember precisely, but it had something to do with enthalpy.
At any rate, she said this: “It’s a real problem, drug dealers putting [some dangerous substance] in heroin, here in New York. I’ve given it up completely.”

Neuroscience: We had a rotating cast of professors for this class; one would come in, do a series of lectures on a subject, and then hand off the stick to someone else. The first lecturer was all right. He insisted on drawing his lectures, despite his inability to operate a pen in a manner such that the result was elucidating and comprehensible, and was a bit of a wise guy. However, in our discussion of the importance of correct potassium and sodium concentrations in, y’know, having neurons work right, he mentioned how potassium chloride, which dissociates to form potassium ions in solution, could severely upset the chemical equilibria and cause convulsions. What was excellent, though, was that he followed it up with: “This is what we use to kill each other.” Referring to lethal injections, of course. (Professors who realize that science is not divorced from ethics and actually expound on it to a degree are some of my favorites.)

Another one from neuro: Later in the semester, we had a lecture on neurological disorders, namely schizophrenia and depression. Before delving into it, our professor prefaced his lecture with a statement on how you should never bully, harass, or laugh at people with debilitating mental diseases, for the same reason you wouldn’t laugh at someone who was born without legs. It’s not their fault and you should be kind, not cruel. With the stigma that does surround mental illness in our culture, I thought this was a wonderful preface.

Genetics: The semester’s lectures were concluded with a lecture on the genetic basis of behavior, and whether or not behavior can be predicted as arising from purely genetic phenomena. Our professor made some asides during this, all of them poignant. The first was that, though there is genetic variation across human populations, 85 to 90% of it is non-geographically distributed. Which is to say, more or less, that the overwhelming majority of genetic variance in humans is unrelated to race or ethnicity. Additionally, in studies between identical twins, only about 0.5 of behavioral variation is heritable.

Toward the end of the lecture, during which he had discussed the genetic basis of behavior and various quantitative ways it has been examined, he took a moment to mention how it is dangerous to assume that behavior can be easily described by genetics (for those of you who have taken high school biology – it is not remotely Mendelian). As an example, he brought up eugenics in the early 20th century, and how the idea that genetics predicts behavior was used to justify horrific acts, such as the forced sterilization of the mentally disabled or other “societally unwanted” people.

The kicker was this: When we discussed how the reason for the inability of genetics to predict behavior was that there were simply too many interacting genes, the professor made an aside to say that he was glad that there were many genes that affected behavior, because it’ll be much harder to use them to underscore arguments about who should be putting whom in jail.