porcelainandporcupines

Archive for the ‘news on parade’ Category

Listen, don’t tell anyone I said this, but sometimes the worst part of my job is talking to faculty members. Not all of them, of course, but some of them, the ones who’ve spent their entire lives working in academia, the ones who view the entire world as their classroom, the ones who think everyone else spends their time just waiting to hear them speak.

If you can’t read between the lines there, I’m talking about the white guys.

I spoke with one of these guys earlier today, a guy with a theory about what happened last night, a theory that explains why Trump won. I observed that a lot of people have theories today, and he responded smoothly that, as a History professor, his theory was maybe worth a little bit more.

To tell you the truth, I was both looking forward to and dreading talking to this guy today. We’ve spoken many times about the election over the past year, and he, as a History professor, does indeed have some keen insights about political doings, even if his tendency is to express them in a way that I’m could generously describe as muddled, or ungenerously describe as designed to demonstrate his own intelligence rather than actually communicate. Interesting, to a point, but more interested in a receptive audience than in what someone else – maybe not everyone else, but probably me – thinks.

We spoke yesterday about the election, agreeing that Hillary winning was the only possible outcome. When I awoke this morning to the impossible, I thought back to a conversation we’d had over the summer, in July, about barbecues. Whose barbecue would I rather attend, he asked, one organized by Hillary Clinton? Or one organized by Donald Trump? Without hesitation, I responded “Hillary Clinton.”

This, it turns out, was the wrong answer. Trump would be the better barbecue, you see, because “you don’t know what he’s going to do.”

But Hillary, I argued, would be prepared for the barbecue. Hillary would make sure there would be adequate utensils, and napkins, and a crudites platter for nibbling while things cook on the grill. Hillary would have veggie burgers available, knowing some of her guests don’t eat meat. Hillary Clinton’s barbecue would definitely include watermelon, and beer, and games for the kids.

That Hillary Clinton would plan a barbecue that actually feeds her guests – including me – wasn’t a strong enough argument to overcome the  Trump-led spectacle, before the topic changed entirely to the racial aspects of watermelon, a conversation so reasonable for two white people to be having that I engineered an reason to excuse myself post-haste and returned to the desk. But I thought about the Trump-led barbecue for a while, because there was a flaw in the ‘spectacle’ argument, and as not a History professor, it took me a while to put my finger on it.

Eventually, I realized the flaw is that, actually, we did know what Trump would do. By that point, in July, Trump was entirely predictable. He would be his own true turd self, and while we may not be able to predict exactly how that would manifest, we knew it would be rude and vulgar and cruel, it would be entirely self-serving, and it would be filled with lies.

Of the many things I thought this morning, one of them was “Well, I guess [you] got [your] barbecue.” Followed by the realization that he would be in at some point today and we would try to dissect what had gone so wrong. Well, he would offer his dissection, and I would offer mine.

So after his theory, I offered to share one of my own. One of the strange things about the results was that so many women – white women – had turned out for Trump, rather than Hillary. How could this have happened?

Well, he interrupted, that was a problem he’d always had with Bill Clinton, the accusations from women.

I did not point out that Bill Clinton was not running in this election. Also, it should be noted that at no point did I ever ask for whom he’d voted. Instead, I pointed out that many women had accused Trump.

They had?

Yes, I insisted, a touch incredulous. I couldn’t tell if his disbelief was genuine or a misplaced pedagogical device.

It was genuine. He didn’t know that.

But you heard the Access Hollywood recording?

Yes, of course he’d heard that.

Afterwards, many women came forward to detail his assaults. I believe the last count was 14.

He hadn’t heard that.

It was in the news.

Question mark?

All over the news.

That, see, was the problem. He doesn’t get the news in the way you or I do, as a passive consumer. He has to seek it out, search for it, effortfully follow up on stories. This one, he missed.

He did not seem concerned about this. It seemed unfortunate, but, obviously, unavoidable.

MAYBE, I did not scream in his face, but MAYBE PART OF THE REASON TRUMP WON IS BECAUSE YOU, AN EDUCATED WHITE MAN, DID NOT THINK HIS ASSAULTING 14 WOMEN WAS A STORY WORTH FOLLOWING UP ON.

And this is the problem I’ve had with today. It’s not the students in the Trump tee shirts that I have grudgingly held doors for, or the people with whom I strongly disagree. It is discovering that people – because it’s not just him; he came in to the library at the end of my long day of seething at the meme from the Bernie Bros – still in a snit they didn’t get the revolution that conveniently popped up right in front of them and that they’d fought so hard for for all of 5 months and so clearly deserved; the meme stating that had Hillary not rigged the primary, Bernie could have won last night,  tone deaf to the implication that women can only win by cheating, but also, somehow believing that this woman, who’s so clearly guilty of something that she’s been investigated non-stop for nearly 2 decades, and yet so wily that the charges never stick; that this grasping, devious woman would rig a primary and then somehow leave the general election to chance? Somehow, her long streak of underhanded wizardry fails just when she needs it the most, all so they can absolve themselves from the results that we all are responsible for, that we all have to live with, except them less than everyone else. This, from people I know, people I assumed were on my side, they have sold me out, don’t care at all that I might now starve at a barbecue – while others face so much worse – while they sit back, having been right all along, and enjoy the spectacle. The hardest part of today is coming to terms with the fact that it is not just the other side that lacks compassion; it is our team, too.

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Have you read the Sandman graphic novels? I read them repeatedly in the ’90s; I had a series of roommates back then who were fans, and it seemed like a good idea to re-read them every time they appeared on our communal bookshelf. If you haven’t read them, I would cautiously recommend them; I certainly enjoyed them at the time – hence all the re-reading, and talking about them today – but I don’t know if they offer the same appeal to a more seasoned adult as they would to someone for whom the concept of adulthood having relevance in their own life is a bit fresher.

ANYway, so one of these graphic novels starts out, as I recall, in a club. I believe this is the storyline wherein Delirium decides to find her missing sibling, a lumberjack-looking fellow whose specific Endless identity I don’t actually remember. But this quest of Delirium’s ends up leading to Dream’s killing Orpheus, much to the delight of Desire, whose antipathy for Dream was well-established but never satisfactorily explained, in my opinion, except that every story needs a bad guy and if you’ve already cast Death as the cool older sister in your mopey family of goths, it would then naturally fall to Desire to be the bad one since, although we hadn’t fully defined the concept of thirst back then, it’s never been cool to want something or to be something.

But before we get to that, we start out in a club. Delirium, despite her, uh, delirium, recognizing that she maybe shouldn’t undertake this quest all on her own, follows her guide, the Borgol Rantipole, a lesser entity that Dream had assigned to provide her company in an earlier issue and herein appears as a hovering fish on a string, to a club to see if she can enlist Desire’s assistance in finding their missing brother. Delirium, it seems, having once been Delight, also spent a brief spell as Dumbassery, since it’s well established that Desire serves only shis own ends. Desire obviously rejects Delirium’s offer, probably while Despair oozily lumps nearby, upset that nobody wanted to include her.

But before being rejected by Desire, Delirium has to find hirm first, and so it is that we find ourselves momentarily with a human character in the club. This, presumably, is not too long after the death of Freddie Mercury, as the human, who I don’t believe is named, is telling his companion – we, the readers – that when he told another person in his acquaintance, who definitely does have a name but I don’t remember what so let’s just call him Donald, about Freddie’s death, Donald glibly replied “Well, another one bites the dust, eh?” To which Human responded “Donald, when God put teeth in your mouth, he ruined a perfectly good asshole.”

And that, dear readers, is why, while I may have some of the details of that Sandman storyline wrong, whenever I see a picture of Donald Trump with his mouth open, all I can think is “You know, Donald, when God put teeth in your mouth, he ruined a perfectly good asshole.”

(I know, you’re probably thinking “What the hell is this?” Well, for a variety of uninteresting reasons I found myself thinking about a certain cartoonish, megalomaniacal, tonsorially-challenged redhead, and I wondered what thoughts Lex Luthor might have on the subject. Spoiler alert: he is not a fan.)

Lex Luthor put down the newspaper and wrapped both hands around his mug. Eyes closed, he let out a sigh, knowing that such an action was pointless. And it was. Nothing had changed when he opened his eyes; he sighed again.

Look at him, this buffoon! Like everyone in Metropolish, Lex had been confronted with this angry image for months, heard his nattering through all manner of devices. Evin if you didn’t want to listen to him, he was obsessively replayed by every media outlet, eager to catalog the day’s gaffes and offenses.

Lex had grown tired of him. Not right away – at first, he thought they could be allies. Believing his goals, his inevitable dominance could only be bolstered by this self-proclaimed Captain of Industry. Believing he’d found another leader like himself, a man led by vision, whose wealth was no more than a by-product of achieving their goals. Yes, together they would do great things – so Lex thought.

Yet how quickly this huckster revealed himself! Of course, the truth had been there all along; Lex was angry that he too had taken so long to see past the bluster. But what had initially passed for similarities were quickly exposed as mere trapping. The finely tailored suits they both wore, that were so fitted to Lex it as though they were drawn on him, looked cheap despite their probable cost, hanging awkward and unflattering on his puffy frame. The keen business mind was nothing of the sort, just shouts of success where everyone could plainly see failure. Worse, what meager success he had achieved was not his own, but just his name hastily plastered over someone else’s work.

Maybe some of his own inventions hadn’t succeeded in the way he’d hoped, but he, Lex, was the chief innovator at Luthorcorp! His scientists and engineers carried out his vision, as they should have; he didn’t need to take credit for someone else’s work.

But the hair – that had mislead him. Lex knew, always, that it wasn’t good. He didn’t admire it, but he was jealous. If not for that long ago incident in the lab, Lex would still have his own red hair. Although, he surely would have allowed his own to thin with dignity, if it must – Nature acted without malice. Unlike Superboy.

So many times Lex had thought back to that day – he’d never believed Superboy’s claims that it had been an accident – and what his life would have been like if not for the Kryptonian’s carelessness. All the praise heaped on Superman would fall on him. He would be embraced by a loving public. He’d enjoy a better reputation in the press, that was for sure; Clark Kent would be his mouthpiece too, not just Superman’s, and would never have reason to launch his relentless, and strangely personal, campaign against Lex and Luthorcorps.

For years Lex had believed this, but now, suddenly, another possibility presented itself. Without Superman to strive against, might he, Lex, have become no better than this ridiculous tycoon who was all over the news for months? Without the very real threat posed by the son of Krypton (why was he the only one to see it?) could Lex have turned into this fearful tyrant? Lex shuddered at the thought of himself rambling on about a wall. Mere humans posing a threat? Bah! No, the only alien who should be illegal in Metropolis was Superman.

Fate had brought Superboy to his lab on that day, to provide the adversary Lex deserved; he understood that now. His path in life was always to protect the people of Metropolis; for years, that had meant from Superman, but now, here, there was a more immediate threat. And not just to the people he loved – because Lex did indeed love the people of Metropolis; why else would he fight so hard for them? – but to himself. His own wealth would be protected under such a Miser-in-Chief, of course, but the celebration of ignorance this man was whipping into a frenzy; well, it would turn people against scientists like Lex and their innovations faster than Superman ever could.

He needed to be stopped, that was clear. But how? It was too late to run himself; besides, having already been president, he was probably ineligible to run again. He could surely, between now and the election, develop something to tally the votes however he saw fit. But Lex didn’t want there to be any whiff of impropriety, nothing that might support the delusions and paranoia that, incredibly, only seemed to feed the mania swirling around this man like flies on a corpse.

No, what he needed was for everyone to see what Lex saw, for him to be so exposed that even those who’d cravenly offered their support, tepidly claiming this was the best of a bad situation, would have to say No – no, we can do better than this. It needed to happen before the election, so he would never get the votes in the first place. And Lex knew, all to well, there was one surefire way to get everyone – everyone – on Earth to turn against a business man. He picked up his phone and made a call.

“Hello, Daily Planet? Put me through to Clark Kent. I need him to deliver a message to Superman – I have a proposition for him.”

I should start off with the usual disclaimer that I generally don’t like to talk about politics, because I make a genuine effort to pay no attention at all to what is happening in the political arena and thus have no real idea what I’m talking about. It’s all extremely boring, and even though important things happen sometimes, everyone involved is so self-important and unpleasant that, even if I happen to agree with their stance, I mostly want them to shut up and stop being a jerk. Because, in politics, everyone is a jerk, and never more than in an election season.

And with that elegant segue, I will bring us to the actual point that brings us together today, which is that I very seriously don’t understand why we are still having candidate debates. I know the election is a mind-numbingly long 9 months away, but it’s not like there’s any  nuance that needs to be teased out of a candidate’s stance. At this point, all anyone is saying is “Hulk smash!” and the object of smashing doesn’t need to be clearly defined because whatever you can think of, you’re the Hulk and all you can do is smash it. And that everyone else is also claiming to be the Hulk and that they’ll be the ones doing the smashing is ludicrous because you’re the Hulk and you can prove it by how you’re smashing your opponent. Who you’ll gratuitously insult by calling a female, unless they’re actually a female, in which case there’s no side a woman can be on and not be wrong. Because you can’t be a feminist if you’re supporting a woman if it’s only because she’s a woman, and you can only be supporting her because she’s a woman since she’s the only woman to support.

But a larger issue than the lack of substantive issues is that it’s 2016. Which means that no one needs to travel for days into town to be able to hear what a candidate has to say. We don’t need to be in the audience or even in the same state in order to watch the debate as it’s happening, and we don’t need to watch the debate as it’s happening to find out what was said.  The first debate can be seen by just as many people in just as many states as any subsequent debate, because of technology. And because of technology, there’s no need to trot out the same people to say the same things over and over again if they’re doing it in front of the same audience.

Furthermore,  if the candidates don’t have to travel to each state to make their platforms known, then there’s no real need for staggered primaries. It’s extremely inefficient and serves no purpose other than to exacerbate an already unnecessarily prolonged process. Imagine if, instead of months of debates and polls, we had 1 debate? And then followed the broadcast television live +7 model and waited a week to let everyone catch up, and then had the primaries? Easy-peasy. Simple. What would we lose?

Or, perhaps another option would be to have the same amount of debates, but stagger the candidates who appear in them. Hypothetically speaking,  if there are 12 Republican front runners, you can take a mix-and-match approach to each debate and let everyone have a voice, rather than let 1 candidate run roughshod over every possible discussion. Hypothetically.

Additionally, and this is a little crazy, but since there are so many months and so little to say, why not have a major news outlet host a debate between some of the fringier candidates? It would do nothing to dampen the messages, such as the are, of the major candidates who still have every other media outlet at their disposal, plus it might actually help someone make an informed decision about who they want to be president. And isn’t that the purpose of a debate? Plus, imagine how high the levels of self-regard would rise in this country if one could simultaneously #feelthebern and support an actual Independent candidate.

Obviously, there are many things wrong with the current political landscape; even without knowing what they are, I know that. Fewer debates and simultaneous primaries may not solve all of them, and certainly has the potential not to solve any of them. But shorter seasons has worked very well for television dramas; I’m sure a shorter primary season could yield positive results as well.

Dear Scientists,

When this article was recently brought to my attention, I thought it would occasion nothing more than the 3rd in my series of Why Scientists Should Stop Fucking Around with Woolly Mammoth DNA Already. As it has been a while since last we spoke on the subject, let’s begin with a review:

1. Nature has already filled the void created by the extinction of the Woolly Mammoth, and it wasn’t with more Woolly Mammoths; which is to say – there is no place in the modern landscape for such an animal;

2. It is beyond cruel to resurrect an animal that can not survive in the wild and would therefore spend its entire existence in captivity;

3. If you were to ask 1,000 people who don’t work in natural history museums what they want out of life, none of them would answer “More interactions with Woolly Mammoths”; to bring back the mammoth is to spend an exorbitant sum of money on something that is neither necessary nor desirable to the world at large; it is to create a new New Coke for a new generation.

4. Since you are not working on anything of value, scientists who are “working” on the Woolly Mammoth “issue” could better serve society simply by becoming trainers for seeing-eye dogs. Or even garbage men;

5. There are actual issues of scientific importance that need to be addressed out there.

One of these issues, you may recall, is the Tasmanian Face Cancer. Yes, I am still moved by the plight of  our adorably ugly little friend, the Tasmanian Devil, spreading cancer amongst themselves at an alarming rate.

I know I’ve been bugging you – for years – to get on this, so you might think I would have been happy to discover this. Sure, that’s a couple months old – and horrifying, with the tumor-riddled face of a Tasmanian Devil [in all seriousness, that picture is rough; you may not want to look, and you wouldn’t be wrong] –  and it does seem to be good news:

After years of unrelentingly dire news, biologists have found a possible hope for Tasmanian devils, which are threatened with extinction by a contagious, highly virulent form of cancer.

A small group in Tasmania’s northwestern tip appears to have survived the scourge largely intact. It’s the first population to do so, and represents the first real sign — however tentative — that the beloved marsupials may survive.

Certainly, it’s good news that there are some Tasmanian Devils that are resisting the spread of the cancer. And, even considering that Tasmanian Devils who appeared resistant in the past did eventually succumb, it’s encouraging. But, I do question the idea that “biologists have found a possible hope for Tasmanian devils,” since, having read the full article, it sounds like the Tasmanian Devils did it all on their own:

The new findings describe what they [scientists] found: a population [of Tasmanian Devils] that, four years after the disease arrived, looked much as it did before, though the populations around them have been decimated. They still contract the disease, but in lower numbers, and to far lesser effect.

You want credit for what now? Honestly, I’m not seeing evidence of anything that the Tasmanian Devils didn’t do on their own. I do, however, have some concerns about what you’re planning on doing in the face of this progress:

“The best outcome would be that some devils in this population are resistant,” said McCallum. “We might be able to spread the resistant genotypes,” repopulating Tasmania with devils bred from the West Pencil Pine survivors.

Do you know what Dr. Frankenstein’s error was? It wasn’t that he made the monster wrong; it was that he made the monster. Period. Full stop.You getting involved in this situation, now that the Tasmanian Devils seem to be making progress on their own, it just seems like a bad idea to me.

Which, I know, is a complete departure from what I’ve spent years saying. And I do understand your impulse to help them; no one wants them to be cancer-free more than me, especially now that I see a resemblance between their horridly wonderful faces and my Oola’s sweet and beautiful face; (certainly, they are alike in temperament.) It’s tough to sit on your hands when something you love is dying and you think you can help. I’m sorry I was so pushy for so long, I really am. But please, let’s hold off on the spreading of resistant genotypes until we’ve given the Devils a chance to spread it themselves. You can use the time to work on other projects! Really. Anything but Woolly Mammoths, and I won’t say a word.


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