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The Menfolk I’m Not Controlling

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Department FYI In Case you Didn’t Already Know/Suspect,
I Am A Naughty Person

Dateline: last week, out to lunch at a favorite restaurant of mine.  After two large glasses of liquid (water and iced tea)…well, when nature calls, who am I not to answer?  When I enter the women’s restroom I have the place to moiself; a mere thirty seconds later there is a small line – just three women – waiting for the accommodations.  I hold the stall door open for the lucky gal at the front of the line, a woman with friendly, brightly shining eyes peeking above a medical mask she is wearing.  She thanks me, and as I head for the sink she calls out, “Have a good one.”

It was all I could do to stop myself from blurting out, “Thanks – I just did!”   [1]

 

*   *   *

Department Of Would Everybody Please Stop Saying This?

Dateline: Tuesday, circa 6:50 am. Listening to the most recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts, actor and science communication advocate Alan Alda’s Clear and Vivid. This episode features guest Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger, an Austrian Astronomer, professor, and head of Cornell University’s Carl Sagan Institute.

In Clear and Vivid: Lisa Kaltenegger: Looking for Life on Other Earths, host Alda interviews Dr. Kaltenegger about her professional and personal interests, how she got to be doing what she is doing, and her passion for communicating science to others.  Here are some snippets from Kaltenegger’s Cornell website bio:

Lisa Kaltenegger is the Director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell and Associate Professor in Astronomy. Her research focuses on exploring new worlds orbiting other stars…. She is a world-leading expert in modeling potential habitable worlds and their detectable spectral fingerprint….  Kaltenegger serves among others on the National Science Foundation’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC)….

(snip snip) It goes on to list many more committees, awards and prizes, even an asteroid named after Kaltenegger.  Then, this, which caught my attention. Her book title echoed what seems to be the common question or even meme when it comes to searching for life, whether sentient or merely existent, beyond our planet:

Her book Are we alone in the universe?” has been published in…..

Moiself  loved the interview. However, I hate (the phrasing of) that damn question, and was disappointed that Kaltenegger chose it for her book title…and also that she used the phrase at least once more – as did Alda, if I remember correctly – during her interview.

Are We Alone In The Universe? ® is used by people, from professional astronomers to sci fi geeks aficionados, as some kind of guidepost disguised as a question – as if answering that question is a prime directive or reason for why we (humans) might be interested in searching for life beyond our planet. 

Are we alone in the universe?

 

 

No no no no no no.

The question might be relevant – or accurate – if it were posed by a single person, stranded on the proverbial desert island or mountain top after a full-scale nuclear war, multiple asteroid strike, or other catastrophe which could justifiably cause a person to think that they might be the sole survivor on the planet.

But, other than that, the *we* question answers  (well, it refutes) itself.

No: by definition, *we* are not alone.  There are seven billion plus Earthlings – I hardly consider that *alone* on any scale.  But, forget for a moment Earth’s astronomically boggling number of human infestation residents.  All y’all need is one other person to make a me into a *we* (or a y’all).

I know, I know; the question is meant to summon the idea of whether or not we Terrans are the only sentient species in the galaxy/nearby planetary systems), along with the proposition that if we know there is another *we* (“them”?), we will…no, there it goes again – *we* will not feel so lonely?

Just who, I’d like to know, is feeling lonely in the cosmos?  There is plenty of loneliness to go around on Earth – some mental health professionals talk about a loneliness epidemic despite (or because of) our social media/”connected” age.  However, I truly doubt that anyone’s personal or existential loneliness crisis is caused by thinking that they are not, in their lifetime, going to know if the galaxy is populated with not just earthlings but also Martians or Enceladusians  [2]  or Proxima Centaurians….

There are Are. So. Many. Reasons. to be interested in whether or not there are biological life forms outside of our planet – the same reasons for wondering about any natural phenomenon. These reasons – our primal, driving curiosity to learn more about the natural world – are why we have science.  What is this?  How does it “work” and how did it come to be the way it is, and is there more, and…?

Yo, all, you Persons Doing Science ®, whom I admire more than I can say – keep up the good work!  And maybe please kinda wouldya consider dropping the Are We Alone? claptrap?  The search for knowledge needs no hyperbolic, quasi-query justification.

Speaking of important and/or existential questions about the universe, maybe I should take a poll.  Am I the only person bothered by this?

If so, maybe I’ll shut up about it.

 

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Department Of And One More Thing…

At the end of his Clear and Vivid podcasts, Alda asks his guests seven questions that are directly or tangentially related to the topic of communication.  The content of the questions has varied over the years of the podcast, and has included queries such as

* What do you wish you really understood?

* What do you wish other people understood about you?

* How do you stop a compulsive talker?

* How do you tell someone they have their facts wrong?

* What, if anything, would make you end a friendship?

* How do you start a conversation with a stranger sitting next to you at a dinner party?

 There is a new batch of questions this year, but one “old” question made the cut:

* What is the strangest question anyone has ever asked you?

Dr. Kaltenegger said that one of the strangest questions she ever got was,

“So, *really,* YOU are a scientist?
I always expected them to look very differently.”

Kaltenegger and Alda both laughed when she shared that anecdote, then Alda told Kaltenegger “…I hear that too often from women scientists – the stereotype precedes them.”  Kaltenegger she found the incident funny; she had been giving a lunchtime talk in a church in Germany, and the question came from a priest who approached her afterward,:

  “…he meant it completely non-offensive; he was just like super-excited to see somebody who didn’t look like the textbook version,
but he was like, “Are you *suuuure*?’
And I was like, ‘Yup, I’m pretty sure I’m a scientist….’ ”   

What a truly odd question: “Are you sure you REALLY are ___ (whomever/ whatever you are)? “

I keep thinking of someone going to work one day, then suddenly looking around and thinking, “Hey, what am I doing here, in this laboratory, wearing this lab coat?”  Or, “Why am I looking through this telescope – where am I?  Oh, I must be A Scientist ®.”

 

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Department Of Life Is Tough But It’s Even Tougher If You’re Stupid
Chapter 2.789 in a series

This rumination is related to last week’s blog post on Chanel Miller, the writer who was raped by the Stanford student/athlete.  [3]    Specifically, moiself finds my brain coming back to Miller’s profound query/accusation about social mores and attitudes about men and woman and rape and “consent” –

“When a woman is assaulted, one of the first questions people ask is, ‘Did you say no?’ This question assumes the answer was always yes, and that it is her job to revoke the agreement. To defuse the bomb she was given.

But why are they allowed to touch us until we physically fight them off?
Why is the door open until we have to slam it shut?”

Why is the door open until we have to slam it shut?” –  the poster child phrase for the view that women have to be in charge of the “gatekeeping” of both (heterosexual) male and female sexuality.

The “bomb” Miller speaks of is the mere existence of women’s sexuality. Until recently, both boys and girls have grown up with centuries of implications or downright declarations that boys and men are easily swept away by desire when in the presence of attractive females, and are ultimately “unable to control themselves” when it comes to sex. Thus, the burden of guarding and maintaining safe, respectable sexual relationships and conduct falls upon girls and women.

 

 

I remember hearing that festering-turd-of-a-social-norm from a boy, during one of the sex education classes my family’s Lutheran Church held for junior high students.   [4] During a class discussion he championed the when-it-comes-to-sex-guys-just-can’t-control-themselves line.

This immediately frosted my bony 7th grade ass,  [5]  especially when I considered a similar statement made by another boy, which I’d heard earlier in the week, in my social studies class.  The class had somehow got into a discussion re the dearth of women in politics, and Stupid Too-Much-Yardage-Between-His-Goal-Posts  Boy #2 began to blather on about how, well yeah, maybe a Third World country like India can allow Indira Ghandi to be prime minister, but that will never happen in the USA, due to the “fact” that “everybody knows” women cannot or should not be in positions of political control, because “…they aren’t as emotionally strong as men –  women can’t control themselves.

 

 

Ah – patriarchal rationality to the rescue!  Menfolk are in control of themselves…except when they are not.

And self-control, as “everybody knows,” is or should be one of the hallmarks of leadership. If you can’t trust a person not to play grab-ass with the nearest person he finds attractive, you obviously shouldn’t trust him with his finger on the nation’s nuclear button.  Clearly, the logical position should be that men are unfit for any positions of power and should be closely monitored for the sake of civilized society.

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Department of Epicurean Excursion   [6]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:
V Street: 100 Globe-Hopping on the Cutting Edge of Vegetable Cooking,

by Rich Landau & Katy Jacoby

Recipes:

* Scallion Pancakes with Citrus Ponzu
* Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Black Vinegar

My ratings:

For  Scallion Pancakes with Citrus Ponzu

For Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Black Vinegar

 

 

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Recipe Rating Refresher  [7]

*   *   *

May you hold the door open (and keep your smartasss mouth shut) for kind strangers
in public restrooms;
May you be in charge of controlling yourself, and no one else;
May you be sure that you REALLY ARE…whatever it is you are;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Even though I actually didn’t. Poop, that is, which is what was being implied…is this TMI?

[2] A moon of Saturn, which is included by SETI astronomer Seth Shostak on his 6 Most Likely Places for Alien Life in the Solar System due to the presence of frozen water geyers on Enceladus’s  surface

[3] Y’all remember him – the Stanford student who raped an unconscious – practically comatose – woman by a dumpster… but he swims really fast, so, give him a break, folks!

[4] As part of their confirmation curricula, one entire quarter devoted to the subject!  Pretty progressive for 1972 or whenever it was.

[5] And, how shall I say it, an “interesting conversational exchange” ensued.

[6] A recurring feature of this blog, since week 2 of April 2019, wherein moiself decided that moiself would go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook (at least) once recipe from one book.

[7]

* Two Thumbs up:  Liked it
* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it
* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin, a character from The Office who’d eat anything, would like this.
* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.
* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.
* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up.
* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.
* Thumbing my nose: Yeah, I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.

 

The Conundrums I’m Not Scooping

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Department Of If You Want To Make Your Head Spin, Think About This

HAL HERZOG: The New York Times actually wrote an editorial about it (the killing of an amusement park crocodile named “Cookie,” by its owner, after the crocodile drowned a 6 year old boy who had fallen into the croc’s enclosure)… the editorial writer wrote, killing Cookie made no sense intellectually, but it felt right emotionally.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM: And the reason it didn’t make sense intellectually, of course, is the idea that a crocodile would do what a crocodile does is hardly surprising.

HERZOG: (the croc’s) brain is smaller than a walnut. He is a creature, largely, of instinct, particularly when it comes to food. And he was… doing what crocodiles do. He was not a moral agent, you know, which I would argue is one of the biggest differences between humans and other species. We are moral agents.

VEDANTAM: So the interesting thing is that Cookie’s owner, in some ways related to Cookie as if Cookie was a person, that Cookie was a moral agent…which is, you’re assuming that the animal has agency and behaves or thinks or has human-like qualities and that you are therefore obliged or required to treat this other creature as if, in some ways, it had human-like qualities.

HERZOG: …This similarly played out in a bizarre incident that happened in Tennessee, where an elephant named Mary killed its groom while in a circus parade in 1916. And they hung the elephant to death…and to me that was…the ultimate example of where we’ve anthropomorphized animals – that we give it capital punishment in a sense for something that it was clearly not morally culpable.

(From “Pets, Pests And Food: Our Complex, Contradictory Attitudes Toward Animals,” Hidden Brain podcast 6-17-19)

The concept of moral consistency often times leads us astray in our interactions with animals.  This is just one of many take-aways from the most recent episodes of one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain. In this episode, host Shankar Vedantam interviews Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology who has studied human-animal interactions for more than 30 years and the author of the book, “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals.”

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When I began doing my research on the comparative cruelty of cockfighting versus McNuggets…I just – I was absolutely stunned. And I realized…cockfighting should be illegal, but the casual chicken eater is committing a bigger sin in their own way than is the rooster fighter.
(Hal Herzog, Hidden Brain guest)

*   *   *

It has always fascinated me that every person I know or have read about who has chosen to alter their eating and other lifestyle habits in part or primarily due to their concern for animals – e.g., vegans, as well as other animal rights activists who are not exclusively plant-eaters – has pets. Yet one can make a strong argument that keeping animals as pets is presumptuous at best and “species-ist” at worst: you are keeping animals in captivity, away from their natural habitat, without their request or permission.

Moiself’s family of origin had a variety of pets over the years, including hamsters, cats, and dogs, and on a few occasions we attended events that featured animal “entertainment” (e.g., my parents took us to a circus, and to Sea World a couple of times.). MH and I and our two children have always had pets, including cats, snakes, rodents, fish, birds, and a bearded dragon. Our current fauna enslavement count is four felines.   [1]

I will never again go to an animal circus. Nor will I patronize a Gator World or Sea World type facility, which, unlike accredited zoos or wildlife preserves (which nowadays focus on education, conservation and breeding programs for endangered species), keep animals as moneymaking entities and train them to perform for human entertainment. I’ve also a “moral problem” with horseback riding, as much as I’ve enjoyed that activity in the past.

Watch the “Blackfish” documenary, if you don’t understand the Sea World reference.

As per my own moral consistency regarding the pet issue…let’s see how many metaphors I can mix….

IMHO, the barn door has already closed when it comes to removing/returning certain animals from/to their natural habitat.  That ship –  of cats and dogs – has already sailed, particularly with regard to dogs, which have been kept and selectively bred by humans for thousands of years. Domestic cats also have a long relationship with humans but have not been subjected as much genetic tinkering; thus, “homeless” cats can be seen, in our own neighborhoods and on city streets around the world, hunting and otherwise fending for themselves quite well – ’tis why we have a problem with feral “domestic” cats.  It’s hard to imagine dogs, especially those of wheezing, gasping brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds (e.g. pugs; French bulldogs, Boston Terriers) or toy breeds (Yorkies, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas…)  “make a living” without us.

At the time my offspring wanted reptiles as pets I insisted that any herps  [2]  (which eventually consisted of a corn snake, a ball python, and a bearded dragon) they acquired be captive bred.  I no longer think that is a good idea.  Considering their behaviors and interactions with humans, I think reptiles belong “in the wild”  (and as undomesticated as your adolescent child’s bedroom might seem to you, that doesn’t count).

Ditto for rodents, and birds.   [3]  And fish (really, people…keeping fish as “pets”? Just get a terrarium and watch the grass grow, for comparable excitement).

*   *   *

Hidden Brain’s host and guest discussed how humans’ attitudes toward and treatment of animals are shaped by how we anthropomorphize them. For example, the giant panda and the giant salamander are both endangered species native to certain regions of China, but guess which gets the lion’s (panda’s?) share of attention and concern?  You’re not gonna see the World Wildlife Fund put the pictures of endangered invertebrates on their calendars, coffee mugs, tote bags and other fundraising swag.

(more from the Hidden Brain interview, my emphases)

HEZOG: And the panda…in some ways, looks a little bit like a human.
But it’s basically a faker in the sense that it has these giant circles around its eyes, which ethologists call baby releasers. So we look at that panda and it basically logs on to that – jams into that maternal instinct that we have when we see creatures with big eyes and it impose on them that in some ways it reminds us of a human infant. So, for example, researchers have shown that one of the biggest predictors of whether or not people will give money to save animals is the size of the animal’s eyes. And pandas certainly have it when it comes to eye size.

But wait – if it’s round eyes you’re going for, how about the wolf spider, which has eight big fuzzy ones? Oh, never mind.

Am I cuddly, or what?

It – how some animals we “love,” some we consider pests, and some we eat – is a fascinating issue to consider. And if you, like moiself (and the podcast’s psychologist) think that the paradoxes of pet ownership are in some ways unresolvable, just wait until you start thinking about eating animals, or using them in “sports” for our entertainment.

VEDANTAM: So the more we think of animals as sort of members of our family, the more we think of them as being like us, in some ways, this raises a profound moral paradox: if we actually think of these animals as being like us, how in the world can we…in any good conscience, confine them to our homes, confine them to cages, treat them as if they were our captives to do with as we please?

HERZOG: I think that’s a great point… And I’ve really quite seriously been thinking about, is it ethical to keep animals as pets? If we really think of them as autonomous beings, what right do we have to take away all their autonomy by controlling every aspect of their life? – what they eat, where they go, when they go. And increasing, we’re taking control of their genes, which created its own problems.
To me, the logic of pet keeping is not that different than the logic of meat eating. I eat meat. And I know the arguments against it are good and they’re better than my argument for eating meat, which is, basically, I like the way it tastes. Well, I feel the same way about my cat. I love my cat, but she carries with her a moral burden. And it’s my moral burden. It’s not her moral burden. I’m the moral agent. I’m the adult in the room. And I’m the one that has to deal with thinking about this stuff. Although, most people conveniently repress it and don’t think about it.

 

 

Like most Americans, you are probably disgusted by the brutality of cock fighting and support bans on it and other animal “blood sports.”  And, like most Americans, you probably occasionally or regularly eat chicken, when dining out or at home.  Unless you insist on Certified Humane ® products from your restaurants and grocery stores, do you know which animal – the rooster raised for fighting, or the factory farm raised broiler which ends up in your McNuggets and Chicken Tikka Masala – actually has the “better” life (and less horrific death)?

HERZOG: (Gamecocks) live lives that are generally – compared to a broiler chicken – pretty darn amazing. They live, on average, two years. They’re not usually fought until they’re two years old. For a chunk of their life, they live in free range or they have way more room than a broiler chicken.

They’re fed incredibly well – a varied diet. They get plenty of exercise. If they win a couple fights, they will use them as a stud rooster. And what they’ll do is they’ll spend their life chasing the hens around. Not a bad deal.

On the other hand, the life of a broiler chicken is absolutely horrendous. Their life only lasts between six and seven weeks. They’re basically meat machines, which means that they put on weight so fast that their legs can’t really hold up their bodies… They’re jammed into giant broiler houses with 30,000 chicks in a broiler house, where they’ll never see the sun. They’ll never get to play on the grass. They’ll never get to peck at bugs. Their lungs will be burned with ammonia.  [4]   It’s an absolutely horrendous existence. And they will die a pretty lousy death. They’ll be crammed into a series of cages. They’ll be hauled, for miles, in an open truck, jammed into small little cages with their feathers flying down the interstate (to the slaughterhouse/processing plant), where they will be hung upside down by their legs, dipped into an electrified water bath to stun them. And then they’ll go through a carotid artery set of blades that will, hopefully, kill them quickly – although, oftentimes, it does not.

*   *   *

We human animals are inconsistent in how we think, feel, and behave towards non-human animals. No answers for y’all here,  [5]    just lots to think about…unless, like most pet owners and animal flesh eaters, you  prefer not to think about such things and would rather live with the quandaries…because to do otherwise might require sacrifices and lifestyle changes and, hey, you’re a busy person and it’s time to walk the quandary again….

If you do nothing else, please just remember to be a responsible moral agent: take your bag with you and pick up the, uh, conundrums your quandary drops along the way, okay?

*   *   *

Department Of Will Someone Please Do This Man A Favor
And Steer Him Toward Lessons In Basic Pronunciation?

Dateline: Tuesday am, listening to “How Earlonne Woods and Nigel Poor Create One of the World’s Most Fascinating Podcasts,”  a recent episode of the podcast Clear and Vivid. Clear & Vivid is concerned with how people communicate and connect with other people.  In this episode, host Alan Alda interviews two of the creators of Ear Hustle, a podcast produced from San Quentin prison, by prisoners.

Ear Hustle deals with the daily life of prison inmates, which gives cause for (now former) prisoner Earlonne Woods, during the Clear and Vivid interview, to use the term death row several times. “Clear and Vivid”…except that Woods consistently mispronounces death row as deaf row, which is not at all clear but which definitely brings a vivid image to my mind: of someone who, for whatever reasons, makes a group of hearing-impaired folks stand in a lineup.

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Department of Epicurean Excursion   [6]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:

 Chickpea Flour Does It All, by  Lindsey S. Love

Recipe:  Baby Chickpea Quiches with New Potatoes and Chard

My rating:

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Recipe Rating Refresher   [7]

*   *   *

May you consider the quandaries in your life;
May you be brave enough to consider said quandaries before your next meat-based meal;
May you never have to choose between death row and deaf row;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] MH and I have two, and our adult children each have one.

[2] From herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles.

[3] I realize that some kinds of birds, such as members of the parrot family, are more interactive with their human owners, even bonding with a human as they would in the wild with their mates…which presents a whole other set of logistical/care-taking and ethical problems.

[4] From the excretory fumes of their own and the 29,999 other chicken’s waste.

[5] Well of course I do have suggestions, such as adopting a plant-based diet.  If for whatever reasons you do want to eat meat, do your research find some farmers/ranchers who raise their animals humanely – they do exist!

[6] A recurring feature of this blog, since week 2 of April 2019, wherein moiself decided that moiself would go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook (at least) one recipe from one book.

[7]  * Two Thumbs up:  Liked it

* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it

* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin ( a character on The Office, who would eat anything) would like this.  

* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.

* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.

* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up.

* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.

* Thumbing my nose: Yeah, I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.