A Most Beguiling Sound

A Most Beguiling Sound

 

I’ve been neglecting my blog again, and that’s bad, mmkay?

To make up for it, let me show you a piece of heaven, courtesy of a wikipedia commons file – the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, as performed by  Kimiko Douglass-Ishizak. It’s a lilting, peaceful, graceful piece. It’s the musical equivalent of a lightsaber – an elegant weapon for a more… civilized age.

 

I hope you enjoy this gorgeous background for whatever you’re doing, be it a nine-course French fusion dining experience,

good_food_always_comes_in_small_doses-_4006884559
Elegant food for the elegant soul

working on your novella set in the rennaisance,

francisco_de_goya_y_lucientes_-_gaspar_melchor_de_jovellanos
The worst part is writing it in spanish

or… or obliterating Kerbals.

Yeah, pretty sure it’s for Kerbals.

2013-04-21_00006
Oh my, Gregford, surely we were pointed the other direction only a moment ago…

Anyway, whatever you’re up to, you’ll feel just a bit classier doing it with this in the background. Enjoy!

Goldberg Variations BWV 988, no. 01 Aria

On Sexism in Gaming

Many articles have been written by feminists and feminist sympathizers on how video games are sexist, and perpetuate tropes that modern culture would find abhorrent if they were espoused in real life: things like rape culture, the damsel in distress, and so on (ad infinitum). What all of these articles fail to mention is that they aren’t the only group of people being left out. Far from it.

Okay, granted, horribly objectified and sexualized. Also at least PRESENT. Also badass.
Okay, granted, horribly objectified and sexualized. Also at least PRESENT. Also badass.

There are almost no main characters in video games who are lesbian, gay, transgender, or anything besides the stereotyped cliche straight male or busty romantic interest – with a side helping of busty heroine (metroid comes to mind, but I can mention a handful or two).

When there's a top ten list, you know there's a few to choose from.
When there’s a top ten list, you know there’s a few to choose from.

Of course, there are a few rare games that allow one to choose to have (unrealistic, awfully acted and poorly thought out) homosexual relationships, but they barely deserve a mention for the parenthetical reasons listed here. There is no story arc involving homosexual, bisexual, or transgender characters that is poignant, well made, or even on par with the worse examples of heteronormative relationships.

wait, who said I was butch?
Not pictured: how alternative sexuality stuff works.

Women get realistic, well-portrayed, (yes, sexuallized and perhaps derogatory) heroines like Lara Croft. Alternative sexualities collectively get an option on the dialogue menu – and even that is limited to basically playing bizarro-world straight.

but... but... I wanted to be bi!
but… but… I wanted to be bi!
Not pictured: accurate.
Not pictured: accurate.

Perhaps before complaining that the characters you get are unrealistic and sexist, you might look at those who don’t have ANY characters representing them, and understand that you are not the center of the universe. You are, however, fifty to fifty-one percent of the population. Maybe stop hogging the spotlight and let some of the real minorities accomplish some change before you start moaning again about princess peach?

Assholes.

Menstruation: What is the evolutionary or biological purpose of having periods? Why can’t women just get pregnant without the menstrual cycle?

This is a copy of a discussion on question/answer site Quora, which I heartily recommend that my followers go browse in – you’ll rapidly find yourself falling down a rabbit hole of time-sink, all contributed to by the fact that most answers are made by people who are actually experts in the stuff they’re talking about. In particular this is one person’s answer to the titular question (that means it’s the one in the title ^^). The answer was so thorough, and so thoroughly interesting, that I felt compelled to share it with the rest of the world. The following is not edited in any way except for correcting formatting errors due to transfer of media.

One quick note – the author of the comment is the first person mentioned with a link, Dr. Suzanne Sadedin (PhD Zoology). follow the link to see her other comments. Other names listed in the preamble are people of note who upvoted her comment on Quora.

 

Suzanne SadedinPhD in Zoology from Monash University.
Votes by Edgar A. Duenez-Guzman (3.5 years of Postdoc experience in Evolutionary…)Ray Duncan (MD, FAAP. Graduated from UCLA Medical School 19…)David Chan (MD from UCLA, Stanford Oncology Fellowship)Sandeep Venkataram (PhD Candidate in Evolutionary Biology at Stanford)Frank James Wilson (Retired Pulmonologist, Critical Care Physician,…), and 1970 more.
I’m so glad you asked. Seriously. The answer to this question is one of the most illuminating and disturbing stories in human evolutionary biology, and almost nobody knows about it. And so, O my friends, gather close, and hear the extraordinary tale of:
HOW THE WOMAN GOT HER PERIOD
Contrary to popular belief, most mammals do not menstruate. In fact, it’s a feature exclusive to the higher primates, certain bats, and elephant shrews (dogs undergo vaginal bleeding, but do not menstruate). What’s more, modern women menstruate vastly more than any other animal. And it’s bloody stupid (sorry). A shameful waste of nutrients, disabling, and a dead giveaway to any nearby predators. To understand why we do it, you must first understand that you have been lied to, throughout your life, about the most intimate relationship you will ever experience: the mother-fetus bond.Isn’t pregnancy beautiful? Look at any book about it. There’s the future mother, one hand resting gently on her belly. Her eyes misty with love and wonder. You sense she will do anything to nurture and protect this baby. And when you flip open the book, you read about more about this glorious symbiosis, the absolute altruism of female physiology designing a perfect environment for the growth of her child.If you’ve actually been pregnant, you might know that the real story has some wrinkles. Those moments of sheer unadulterated altruism exist, but they’re interspersed with weeks or months of overwhelming nausea, exhaustion, crippling backache, incontinence, blood pressure issues and anxiety that you’ll be among the 15% of women who experience life-threatening complications.From the perspective of most mammals, this is just crazy. Most mammals sail through pregnancy quite cheerfully, dodging predators and catching prey, even if they’re delivering litters of 12. So what makes us so special? The answer lies in our bizarre placenta. In most mammals, the placenta, which is part of the fetus, just interfaces with the surface of the mother’s blood vessels, allowing nutrients to cross to the little darling. Marsupials don’t even let their fetuses get to the blood: they merely secrete a sort of milk through the uterine wall. Only a few mammalian groups, including primates and mice, have evolved what is known as a “hemochorial” placenta, and ours is possibly the nastiest of all.Inside the uterus we have a thick layer of endometrial tissue, which contains only tiny blood vessels. The endometrium seals off our main blood supply from the newly implanted embryo. The growing placenta literally burrows through this layer, rips into arterial walls and re-wires them to channel blood straight to the hungry embryo. It delves deep into the surrounding tissues, razes them and pumps the arteries full of hormones so they expand into the space created. It paralyzes these arteries so the mother cannot even constrict them.What this means is that the growing fetus now has direct, unrestricted access to its mother’s blood supply. It can manufacture hormones and use them to manipulate her. It can, for instance, increase her blood sugar, dilate her arteries, and inflate her blood pressure to provide itself with more nutrients. And it does. Some fetal cells find their way through the placenta and into the mother’s bloodstream. They will grow in her blood and organs, and even in her brain, for the rest of her life, making her a genetic chimera.

This might seem rather disrespectful. In fact, it’s sibling rivalry at its evolutionary best. You see, mother and fetus have quite distinct evolutionary interests. The mother ‘wants’ to dedicate approximately equal resources to all her surviving children, including possible future children, and none to those who will die. The fetus ‘wants’ to survive, and take as much as it can get. (The quotes are to indicate that this isn’t about what they consciously want, but about what evolution tends to optimize.)

There’s also a third player here – the father, whose interests align still less with the mother’s because her other offspring may not be his. Through a process called genomic imprinting, certain fetal genes inherited from the father can activate in the placenta. These genes ruthlessly promote the welfare of the offspring at the mother’s expense.

How did we come to acquire this ravenous hemochorial placenta which gives our fetuses and their fathers such unusual power? Whilst we can see some trend toward increasingly invasive placentae within primates, the full answer is lost in the mists of time. Uteri do not fossilize well.

The consequences, however, are clear. Normal mammalian pregnancy is a well-ordered affair because the mother is a despot. Her offspring live or die at her will; she controls their nutrient supply, and she can expel or reabsorb them any time. Human pregnancy, on the other hand, is run by committee – and not just any committee, but one whose members often have very different, competing interests and share only partial information. It’s a tug-of-war that not infrequently deteriorates to a tussle and, occasionally, to outright warfare. Many potentially lethal disorders, such as ectopic pregnancy, gestational diabetes, and pre-eclampsia can be traced to mis-steps in this intimate game.

What does all this have to do with menstruation? We’re getting there.

From a female perspective, pregnancy is always a huge investment. Even more so if her species has a hemochorial placenta. Once that placenta is in place, she not only loses full control of her own hormones, she also risks hemorrhage when it comes out. So it makes sense that females want to screen embryos very, very carefully. Going through pregnancy with a weak, inviable or even sub-par fetus isn’t worth it.

That’s where the endometrium comes in. You’ve probably read about how the endometrium is this snuggly, welcoming environment just waiting to enfold the delicate young embryo in its nurturing embrace. In fact, it’s quite the reverse. Researchers, bless their curious little hearts, have tried to implant embryos all over the bodies of mice. The single most difficult place for them to grow was – the endometrium.

Far from offering a nurturing embrace, the endometrium is a lethal testing-ground which only the toughest embryos survive. The longer the female can delay that placenta reaching her bloodstream, the longer she has to decide if she wants to dispose of this embryo without significant cost. The embryo, in contrast, wants to implant its placenta as quickly as possible, both to obtain access to its mother’s rich blood, and to increase her stake in its survival. For this reason, the endometrium got thicker and tougher – and the fetal placenta got correspondingly more aggressive.

But this development posed a further problem: what to do when the embryo died or was stuck half-alive in the uterus? The blood supply to the endometrial surface must be restricted, or the embryo would simply attach the placenta there. But restricting the blood supply makes the tissue weakly responsive to hormonal signals from the mother – and potentially more responsive to signals from nearby embryos, who naturally would like to persuade the endometrium to be more friendly. In addition, this makes it vulnerable to infection, especially when it already contains dead and dying tissues.

The solution, for higher primates, was to slough off the whole superficial endometrium – dying embryos and all – after every ovulation that didn’t result in a healthy pregnancy. It’s not exactly brilliant, but it works, and most importantly, it’s easily achieved by making some alterations to a chemical pathway normally used by the fetus during pregnancy. In other words, it’s just the kind of effect natural selection is renowned for: odd, hackish solutions that work to solve proximate problems. It’s not quite as bad as it seems, because in nature, women would experience periods quite rarely – perhaps as little as 7-10 times in their lives between lactational amenorrhea and pregnancies.

We don’t really know how our hyper-aggressive placenta is linked to the other traits that combine to make humanity unique. But these traits did emerge together somehow, and that means in some sense the ancients were perhaps right. When we metaphorically ‘ate the fruit of knowledge’ – when we began our journey toward science and technology that would separate us from innocent animals and also lead to our peculiar sense of sexual morality – perhaps that was the same time the unique suffering of menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth was inflicted on women. All thanks to the evolution of the hemochorial placenta.

Links:
The evolution of menstruation: A new model for genetic assimilation
Genetic conflicts in human pregnancy.
Menstruation: a nonadaptive consequence of uterin… [Q Rev Biol. 1998]
Natural Selection of Human Embryos: Decidualizing Endometrial Stromal Cells Serve as Sensors of Embryo Quality upon Implantation

Credits: During my pregnancy I was privileged to audit a class at Harvard University by the eminent Professor David Haig, whose insight underlies much of this research. Thanks also to Edgar A. Duenez-Guzman, who reminded me of crucial details. All errors are mine alone.”

I thought you might like that. As previously mentioned, this is ALL the work of an amazing doctor of Zoology and quora answerer, and she should get as many hits as all the humans can give for her amazing insights into the human reproductive process as it affects women.

Police groups get knickers in twist over marijuana… because of course.

Eric Holder (AG, US DOJ) recently sent an open letter saying that the federal government would respect the decision of states like Colorado and Washington (my home state) to legalize marijuana for personal use.

This guy, in spite of appearances, is apparently pretty cool.
This guy, in spite of appearances, is apparently pretty cool.

This is a good thing, since (not to get sidetracked) the states have often been litmus tests for change on the federal level, especially when that change is deeply controversial. Now, the federal government DOES have the right to enforce federal law in states that don’t recognize it, via their own law enforcement agencies and via punitive measures directed at the out of line legislatures of the offending states. This is (partially) how the civil rights movement got equal rights for citizens of differing nationalities and such in all fifty states.

Including the right to vote and hold public office for guys like him. Huh. Who'da thunk it.
Including the right to vote and hold public office for guys like him. Huh. Who’d a thunk it? WOOT

However, when there is a populist movement to change or eradicate a law, the states often provide a good way to experiment with that change, and see if the results are more as predicted by the side requesting change, or the side asking for preservation of the status quo. In a nation as large as ours, a state can be the equivalent of an experimental group in a study. So I fully agree with and endorse Mr. Holder’s letter. I think that most people, if they approached the subject in that manner, would do the same. Even those against marijuana legalization might pause for thought when confronted with the fact that if legalization has more negative than positive outcomes in the states that have legalized it, that might very well lead to firmer strictures on drug possession and sales throughout the fifty states.

It's okay, Washington, we'd be freaked too if our gigantic balls were being cupped by a fed in green gloves.
It’s okay, Washington, we’d be freaked too if our gigantic balls were being cupped by a fed in green gloves.

After all, the war on drugs has engendered massive amounts of pain over the years, not to mention casualties – I’ll give one example.

That example is Isaac Singletary. Isaac, an eighty year old man who was acting as caretaker for his sister and mother, saw undercover police, who were posing as dealers, attempting to make drug deals on his front lawn. Isaac first came out and yelled at them to leave. Of course they didn’t. So he went back inside, and returned with a gun in his hand, telling them to leave again. Without identifying themselves as police or in any way attempting to de-escalate the situation peaceably, one of the police officers opened fire, wounding Isaac.

I’ll say that again: A cop shot an innocent civilian; an eighty year old man who believed he was acting to protect his neighborhood from drug dealers.

Isaac tried to get away into his backyard, but the cops chased him down and shot him – again – this time in the back, killing him.

Five witnesses at the scene testified that the officers never identified themselves.

This is the inevitable result of the enforcement of laws making marijuana illegal. It’s horrific, unjust, and creates a well-deserved image of the policeman as a killer and a bully mad on power.

This is the person the police shot. This is Isaac SIngletary. Jesus. (Click for link to source article.)
This is the person the police shot and killed. This is Isaac Singletary. Jesus. (Click for link to source article.)

So the logical, informed people in the USA want to see if maybe legalization might result in less death and mayhem than the current state of affairs. Of course they would. And trial states like Washington and Colorado are perfect to find that out. Not everyone approaches things from a detached, impersonal, and clinical perspective, though. Not everyone is rational. And not everyone stops to think before they open their mouths and insert their collective feet.

And what a list of foot-breathers it is. Read more after the jump.

Continue reading “Police groups get knickers in twist over marijuana… because of course.”

On Tactics Re: Oppression

Okidokey. Look, I know I’m a cis-gendered white male, so I get that I have privilege issues, and I need to acknowledge that up front. If you don’t feel like listening to what I have to say, that’s your right.

So at least I'm not guily of this one (at the moment)
So at least I’m not guilty of this one (at the moment)

On the other hand, I’m gay and atheist, and unlike the new generation, I grew up when that meant being spit on, beat up, raped or killed for being who I am – far more so than it does today.

Thanks to people like these.  Hey, Is it wrong that I think the one second from the right is unimaginably cute? - Probably. But hey, at least I'm not participating in ageism, since that photo was taken before I was born.
Thanks to people like these.
Hey, Is it wrong that I think the one second from the right is unimaginably cute? – Probably. But at least I’m not participating in ageism, since that photo was taken before I was born.

I’ve lived in terror, learned to fight back, worked to change public opinion, been beaten, used, taken advantage of sexually; I’ve been told by people in uniform that since I was gay it probably wasn’t REALLY rape, was it, now. I’ve been shouted at by evangelicals and Phelps clones, been told I am dirty, disgusting, an offense against the creator, an abomination only worthy of death. I’ve protested against treating people Of ANY gender, genetic origin, political creed or gender preference, in a discriminatory fashion. And I agree that there are some serious issues with how women are treated – in public and in private – by cis-gendered hetero men of all origins. I also agree that as a man I am only capable of understanding a small portion of what it means to be a woman.

Oh, Oliver. Why must you feed into the patriarchy?
Oh, Oliver. Why must you feed into the patriarchy?

You can probably tell I’m leading up to a ‘but’ here, though. So here is my caveat:

The thing is that just like with the treatment of gays, lesbians, transgendered and otherwise queer individuals, the problems won’t stop unless we win hearts and minds. – ACT UP didn’t accomplish as much for gay rights as the nationwide movement to come out to parents, siblings, and friends, and put a personal, friendly, relatable face on the problem.

As opposed to this.
As opposed to this.

There are times when the hatred of an oppressor is justified – indeed, the only thing that is capable of sustaining one through a dark time. I’m not disputing that – I’ve been there in my own way.

But that hatred becomes self-defeating when it helps your oppressors create caricatures of you, and you of them; it stops dialogue and change dead.

It becomes a hindrance when it blinds you to potential allies – people who may be privileged in one way or another, but who abhor what is being done to you.

And it becomes delusional when it allows you to engage in the same hate speech against your oppressors that they would use against you in your place. I’m speaking to you, Michelle.

There are people both outside and inside the feminist movement who understand this: people like Theresa Warburton and Joshua Cerretti, who wrote an insightful article on white privilege, and also Dr. Nerdlove. – I don’t always agree with everything they say, but they aren’t vilifying me for existing, and seem interested in engaging all comers in a dialogue; that’s all I really ask of anyone.

discussing privilege - ur doin it right
Discussing privilege – Ur doin it right

I have lived on both sides of privilege – And I know that I can never be free of that taint, because many hardcore feminists will only see me for my gender and the color of my skin. They will name me oppressor. They will argue that I’m serving to uphold white male privilege – when I’ve spent my life (and blood – literally) working against it. It reminds me very much of how I was treated when I wore a dress or held hands with another man or marched for civil rights for alternative gender preferences. And it makes me sad that anyone part of a people oppressed would turn to oppression themselves.