ScienceOnline and Followup to #ScioSafe

(by Zuska) Mar 12 2014

Let's start by acknowledging that I was not at SciO14, so obviously I was not at the impromptu/spontaneous #ScioSafe session. Had I been at SciO14, I am sure I would have been at #ScioSafe. I hope that I would have done a good job of listening and doing my part to help create an environment where people felt safe to speak up and share.

I have the greatest admiration and respect for EVERYONE who participated in that session. And I have great sympathy for those who might have wanted to be there, but didn't find out in time. It's too bad they couldn't have had access to such a session on the regular conference agenda, as many have noted.  I do think it's entirely possible that what occurred in #ScioSafe could only have taken place outside the official boundaries of SciO14. Okay, in an ideal universe, the board of ScienceOnline spent the past year dealing head-on with their Boron-issues, got a lot of professional advice, and brought in some top-notch facilitators to help the heal the community. They had a plenary session in which they reviewed what happened, explained exactly what steps will be taken to change the culture, and outlined concrete plans for improved communication.

Roseanne Connor once said "I'm still waiting for chocolate air!" in response to sister Jackie's statement that she was waiting for Roseanne to say she was right. Organizations will be direct, effective, and rapid in their response to Boron-like disasters sometime shortly after we have chocolate air. They have to be pushed, nagged, prodded, dragged, "incentivized", and sometimes, reinvented, to make things better. Oh, you think you are hoping to just slide by this year with the "recent events" euphemism and some hand-waving in the direction of "boundaries" and then whoosh! back to "real" scicomm and on to 2015!  Well, maybe. Except, no. ScienceOnline as an organization should be thanking its lucky stars that it has dedicated and passionate members who want to make it into what it should be - a welcoming space for everyone who wants to talk about science online.

It's easy-peasy to be just one more unwelcoming, non-inclusive, harmful kinda conference. Nobody needs to attend a Scio conference. They aren't part of professional organizations, universities don't necessarily support attendance costs, the eclectic mix of professionals, students, and academics thus far drawn to SciO have to be choosey with their conference dollars. Why go someplace where you know there are serious issues that are festering and unlikely to be fixed, especially if it's an informal sort of get-together? Might as well go to the usual unwelcoming places that are official career-builders. So kudos to the people trying to do SciO a favor and make it better.

If you haven't already, read the summary of the #ScioSafe session here at Doc Freeride's blog and give some serious consideration to the seven items listed in the document session attendees produced. As far as I'm concerned it's all pretty much a no-brainer, except for part of #5. I think the SciO org desperately needs to clarify what, if any, relationship they still have with Bora Zivkovic, and what, if any, they currently plan to have with him going forward. Then let the community descend with pitchforks and torches decide how they feel about that. In my dream world, Boron is invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference on using social media for science communication but when he shows up, he is put on a rocket ship and sent to Neptune. I will admit that the rocket ship to Neptune is my preferred, albeit impractical, solution for dealing with all harassers. If SciO does its job right in creating a community that is truly welcoming and inclusive and safe, and that does not support or reward bad behavior, there will be no need to ban the Borons of the world. The community will make their existence so difficult they'll seek easier places to do their dirty work.

That's what I would like to see, beyond creating a community where people feel safe to report bad things that happen to them, knowing the perpetrators will be dealt with: I would like to see a community that makes bad actors less likely. I would like to see a community that plays a role in building better communities. Not just the stick, and punishment after the fact, but something like a carrot. Actions to prevent occurrences are a start, and then it would be wonderful to be part of growing a crop of folks who create inclusive environments wherever they go, because they have the tools to do so.

I think this is part of science communication, and part of what science online can and should try to accomplish. The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) offers a rotating series of mini-courses that can be taken for accreditation, to develop skills that medical writers need. There are skills that science writers need, and of course there are places you can go to take such courses. But ScienceOnline could offer something no one else does. I would like to see development of a set of courses that are offered on a rotating basis, maybe for some sort of accreditation, if SciO becomes a member organization. Participants would learn how to foster inclusivity through communication. Here are some topic ideas:

1. What is inclusive language - and will it ruin my beautiful prose? (Subtopics to be covered include: his/her is so awkward!; you people can't take a joke; lame is just an expression!; what's wrong with talking about hard & soft skills?; we just want "the best and brightest")

2. What is an inclusive lab group and what communication skills does it need?

3. How do I write about a scientist who is a woman without mentioning her knitting?

4. Is it ever okay to mention the knitting of a scientist who is a woman?

5. There's more to February and March than George Washington Carver and Marie Curie

6. Got privilege? Leverage it as an ally online!

Those are just some off the top of my head ideas, I'm sure you people working out there in real science communication can think of better ones, but you get the idea. Now go forth, my friends, and get to work. ScienceOnline isn't going to invent chocolate air without your help.

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So Sad

(by Zuska) Mar 05 2014

I've been reading the comment thread on this post over at Whizbang! and I grow so sad. Poor Boron! Subjected to a witch hunt, tried and sentenced by an angry mob, when he didn't commit legitimate rape or even real harassment, which God knows is a horrible thing IF you have ever seen it, trust me. I mean, people have a right to their hurt feelings, but that doesn't give them a right to violate Boron's privacy, because if the topic of sex is in any way under discussion - say, in relation to a bit of science  journalism - why then it is perfectly normal to describe at length how you like to get down and dirty with your partner, especially over coffee. There is no evidence! Of anything! No harassment to be seen! Boron is a victim! People are being silenced! The mob is scaring people from speaking the truth! Boron is just a poor lad with Asperger's from a foreign country where they do sex talk different and no one has asked him his side of the story about this lapse of good judgment! People are too emotional and over-reacting, probably because they were harassed, and so they see it everywhere and when you think about it, what is real rape anyway, especially in a marriage, or some strange foreign culture? A court of law would give a proper hearing to all sides.  If only some journalist would investigate the true story. Why, oh why are you mean, cruel, horrible people making such a great and wonderful man suffer consequences for his actions? Can't you just let him do whatever he wants and let him be the judge as to whether he thinks it was harassment and he should apologize or not? What do you people want? It's like you think you have the right to define things and take actions. That is not how it works. Shut up and keep pulling the levers for the Great and Powerful Oz. Come back and show love for this great and good man. Don't be so crazy. Don't make us kill you delete your comments.

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Good Reads - Elder Care Edition

(by Zuska) Mar 05 2014

It struck me the other day that I now have a small and growing elder care section in my personal library. One or two of these books might be of interest mostly to people who may soon, are now, or have recently been involved in elder care but most are just good reads.

Up first are the two that are most targeted to "users" - those who are caregivers and family members of elders. Caring for Your Parents: The Complete Family Guide by Hugh Delehanty and Elinor Ginzler is published by the AARP. This is especially useful if you are just starting down the pathway of elder care, and/or if you and your siblings have never had any discussions with your parents and/or each other about how the parents will be cared for as they age and become more needy. Blessed is She: Elder Care - Women's Stories of Choice, Challenge, and Community by Nanette J. Davis combines statistics and analysis with excerpts from first-person narratives culled from interviews with 61 caregivers of varied ages and backgrounds. Those mired in caregiving will recognize themselves in many places, and may find much to comfort them here.

Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler is both personal narrative and investigative reporting. She uses the story of her father and the pacemaker that kept him alive long past the time he wanted, and the quest to have it turned off, to explore the issues around aging, quality of life, and quality of death. I would recommend this to anyone.

In This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett you will find several essays about her grandmother and her dog. They are beautifully written; they will give you new perspectives on love, devotion, and loss; and I dare say they will comfort.

The Death Class: A True Story About Life by Erika Hayasaki is not about elder care per se, but it is about students, and their extraordinary teacher, learning how to live in the face of death. This one is a page-turner.

No More Words: A Journal of My Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh by Reeve Lindbergh is just what the title says. You could finish this book in a day or two with uninterrupted reading. But it is not lightweight. There is much to think about here. Anne Morrow Lindbergh was left debilitated and nearly wordless by a series of strokes, and her daughter Reeve writes about caring for her in the last year and a half of her life. It turns out that even the very well-to-do, with all the assistance one could want, suffer the guilt, anger, resentment, and despair elder care brings.

It seemed like everywhere I turned in these books, and often in life, people recommended or spoke of Buddhist philosophy and belief as helpful in negotiating life as a caregiver. One book I have not yet finished, but which came highly recommend to me, is Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron. Elder care is nothing if not packed to the rafters with uncertainty and change, so maybe this is as good a guide as anything the AARP can tell you about navigating the Medicare maze.

Two novels I'll add to the list and be done: Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan, which gives you the perspective of the elder facing life alone at home, companions and acquaintances passing away, children living far off. Wish You Were Here is sort of the prequel to this book and is just as wonderful.   These are two of the best novels I've read recently.

If you've read something along the lines of the category of this post, feel free to drop a note about it in the comments. I'd love to hear about it!

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No Going Back

(by Zuska) Feb 28 2014

I have a good friend with some chronic health issues. Our lives are very different, but we have much in common. We talk about how losing a husband or a career changes your identity and understanding of yourself. How the responsibility for young children or elder care grinds at you, day by day. How illness turns what was once a pleasure into a source of dread.

We both had our social circles, liked to eat out. Then health issues made that impossibly difficult. At my worst point I stopped eating out altogether; she went down to two places whose food wouldn’t harm her. I have since been able to reintroduce many foods into my diet and can eat at a wider variety of places; she is still mostly limited to the two, so that’s where we go when we go somewhere.

We both know what it’s like to try explaining complex dietary restrictions. “Peanut allergy” and “gluten-free” are in the general public vocabulary, but “onions give me migraines” and “I’m eating raw or plain food” are not.  A few weeks ago we went to see a favorite band, had dinner at a nearby Asian restaurant. She asked for steamed vegetables and brown rice.  It was the work of several minutes to convey this as a serious request. Usually Asian restaurants are safe bets for her; everything is to hand and it’s no big deal to throw a few steamed veggies on a plate. Why it wasn’t this time, who knows.

And then there is the discomfort your dining partners experience. They will range widely across the menu and enjoy their meals with gusto. They can’t help it, and you don’t want them to. But it makes them feel bad, when they look at you. Sometimes your dining partners are not just discomfited, they’re angry. Why don’t you just try a little x? Are you sure you can’t eat it? Do you have to be so picky? It’s so difficult every time we go out to eat! Eventually you just stop going out to eat. Except to your two places, with the handful of people who understand.

We vent together  – food, our once taken-for-granted good health now gone, the responsibilities weighing us down, the isolation we experience. One day she said “People say when God closes a door he opens a window. I’ve been waiting for my window for a long time. I try to keep hopeful, but I just don’t see it. I just keep wondering, when am I ever going to get back to myself, back to [the person I was before marriage and children and divorce]?” Here, dear Reader, was the time to blow sunshine up her ass with a cheery “keep hopin’ on that window!” Or not. I chose not.

I said that some experiences we have change us so profoundly that there is no going back. That person is dead and gone. We are now some new version of ourselves, and it is not the person we were planning to be. The door was one-way.  The view from the window is strange. We can look over our past, and should be generous to the person in those memories. But we have to grapple with this and now. Quite often, it is not a lot of fun. Not that there isn’t fun to be had, but there is also the realization that life never lets up for one damn minute, till you’re dead.

Obviously a stroke, lost career, and years of severe migraines have had their effect. But it’s the past six years of elder care that beat a lot out of me.  I know elder care made me more aware of disability issues, even helping me see my own chronic illness in a stronger light. I know it made me value kindness more highly than ever. I know it gave me the gift of long hours spent with my mother and in-laws that would otherwise not have been. But I am also a duller, slower, person with an even narrower life than before.

I am slower in part because I am older – the difference between 45 and 51 is real and I feel it. The slowness is also because the work and stress and worry of the past six years tired me out. I am disinclined to work really hard at anything. I am hoping spring and the garden will have some reversal effect on that.

I am a duller person. It takes me longer to read. I can’t always follow what’s going on in a commercial – there’s a lot of flitting from one image to the next so fast a dull mind gets lost and quits.  I am more forgetful. I struggle more for the right word or name. Some of this is due to natural aging and the effect of menopause and also no doubt to the effect of so many different meds mixing in my body. But I know that part of it is due to the long, steady drain of elder care on my cognitive resources.

And my life is narrower. The intermittent but unpredictable debilitating migraines had taken away my work connections and most of my social life. We had moved from one state to another. The few friends I once had in this area had themselves moved away. Children and church are the two other main conduits to social interactions, and I had neither. I was just taking baby steps to build a social life for myself without the usual resources of work, family, and church, when elder care arrived on the scene. Elder care is a chronic unpredictable set of minor and major disasters plus daily repetitive tasks that are always urgent and never completed. It gradually swallowed up more and more of my time. It occupied my mental and emotional energy even when I wasn’t directly engaged with it. It became my new job, family, and church all in one – just without the social contact.

In this and now, life will still not let up for one damn moment on the slower, duller version of me. I am aware that, if I’m lucky, I have about thirty good years left. I would like my slow, dull ass to do the best it can with them. The view out my window right now is blank. Apparently tilling and planting of the earth are required of me, if I want to enjoy the view.

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Dogs Here and Gone

(by Zuska) Feb 27 2014

When I was a very young girl, some thousands of years ago, one of my favorite books was Go Dog, Go! Each reading brought the measure of delight at the end, when at last the dog party commenced, and the boy dog finally admitted he liked the girl dog's hat. Today I'm wondering if the dog party isn't very much like what dog heaven would be, if there were a dog heaven. I hope so.

I am a cat lady, but in the past two months I have made the acquaintance of two dogs I rapidly came to like very much. And just as I settled them into my heart, I lost them. I grieved a little along with the authors, a perfect demonstration of the paradox of fiction. I had never met these dogs in real life, nor even their owners. But their death touched me, and I could sense the hole their loss would leave.

Brandy was a side-story that crept into one's heart slowly somewhat like the snail,  in The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. She was the faithful companion of the long-suffering author Elisabeth Tova Bailey.  Rose I came to know more directly in the various essays wherein Ann Patchett recounts her life with that beloved dog in This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage.  (I highly recommend both books, and suggest you order them from Parnassusbooks.net if you are not so fortunate as to have a local independent bookstore.)  I came to know about the death of each of these dogs, and now I want them each to be at the dog party. I want them to meet each other, Brandy sporting a most fabulous hat, Rose offering effusive praise, both of them heading for the wild dog tree party, finding their favorite foods, trading stories of their owners' lives.

In "On Responsibility", Ann Patchett writes:

Is is wrong to tell a story about your grandmother and your dog in which their characters become interchangeable?

and by the time the one finishes the essay, the reader concludes with the author that the answer is "no, and please give us more."

I do not believe in dog heaven, or regular heaven; but sometimes, I treasure a fond hope of my mother welcomed at the Pearly Gates by Jesus's open arms, reunited with my father and brother, with all the chocolate she ever wants to eat.

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First the Squirrels, Now the Deer

(by Zuska) Feb 26 2014

I like birds. In no way can I call myself a birder, but I like birds. This year I have managed to identify six different birds at my backyard feeder: the cardinal (Mr. & Mrs.); tufted titmouse; red-bellied woodpecker; downy woodpecker; goldfinch; house finch. Also, I can spot robins. I consider this a tremendous leap over my past years "look! a woodpecker! look! a little yellow birdee! look! birds!" Someday, I hope to identify my seventh bird.

I feed the birds in winter because birds are nifty and birds have it tough. We humans chew up their habitats at an astonishing and mortifying clip.  Birds fly into our glass windows and die, they eat our plastic and die, they become prey of our kittehs and die. Stray cats and house kittehs unsupervised by their owners kill many, many birds. So I keep my cats under control, and I set up a feeder in the winter, when bugs are hard to find. It will lift my mood anytime I watch the feeder show.

But the squirrels. Oh, the squirrels. I finally obtained a feeder that is more or less squirrel proof. Particularly ambitious and acrobatic squirrels have still found ways to sneak seed out of it. I have yet to obtain a squirrel-proof suet feeder. I have heard tell there is such a thing but I will believe it when I see it in action. Last year and this squirrel seed consumption is way down, thanks to the new feeder. It is essentially like this squirrel buster classic. Do not waste time on baffles and guards, these are just like resting platforms and climbing guides for squirrels, in my experience. Anyway, I felt I had reached a stand-off with the squirrels where seed was concerned, and had conceded the suet territory to them, while holding out faint hope that a suet-proof feeder might someday be found.

And then came the deer.

We've had an unusual amount of snow this winter, and it has stuck around for an unusually long time. So I haven't seen the deer much for weeks. I think it's been too difficult for them to trek into my yard. But then we had a warming trend, a few sunny days, one long rain storm, and voila! no more snow. Suddenly the deer were in the backyard like a herd of cattle.

This evening there were four of them gathered around the feeder, with four or five more lounging off to the side and one or two more up the hillside in the forest. The ones around the feeder were taking turns eating out of it. I am not sure how they were getting anything out of the tiny little feeder holes - maybe they were just jostling it around to knock the seed out, and then picking at it on the ground. I had not known that deer were big fans of birdseed, but you live and learn. Mr. Z opened the window and yelled at them. They took off at a slow sort of half-run, and five minutes later were right back at it. I went outside and yelled at them and they just looked at me. Like, what do you want? Or, why don't you just go fetch us some more seed?

I chased them off and set about spraying the entire area with Liquid Fence. I didn't see them back before it got full dark but who knows. They were probably up in the woods laughing at me and biding their time. Damn you dirty deer!

Now I have to find a bird feeder that is both squirrel-proof and deer-proof. Last year I visited a friend I had not seen in many years, and found she had taken to backyard bird-watching. Her feeder setup was impressive. The feeder was sheltered from above with a large plastic dome, and the pole it was on was shielded by a large diameter spiky metal cylinder that looked like a bad-ass dog collar crossed with concertina wire. I will have to get some advice from her about where and how she got that rig. Maybe it will work to keep away deer, too.

Otherwise I guess I will have to bring the feeder in at night, and/or spray the seed with capsaicin and/or raise the feeder to six feet high or more. One website I consulted suggests taking the feeder down altogether for several days so the deer will forget about it and look elsewhere for food. Like the deer will ever forget, I am so sure.

I hate the deer, but I feel sorry for them as well. They are trying to survive in a 9-acre plot of woodland surrounded by suburbia on the edge of Philadelphia. There are far, far too many of them for the available space. I don't know how they survive, yet each year they do. They have no predators save starvation and disease. It is one messed up world we have created for ourselves and the critters.

I feel sorry for the deer, but mostly I hate them. I spent a lot of money last fall to have part of my yard landscaped, reclaimed from these past years of neglect as elder care took up more and more of my life. I focused on adding native plants to the yard, along with non-natives that would be hardy and require little in the way of watering. The deer have eaten a good chunk of the little plants put in last fall, and now that the snow is gone I am sure they will resume their munching. What will be left when the spring growth kicks in, I wonder. I was supposed to be greeted this spring by a beautiful new garden coming to life but I think it's going to look flea-bitten and scabby.

It's only fair. We've taken habitat away from all the wild animals, and those that have managed to survive have come back to our yards to take them away from us. The deer in my backyard don't know or care that birds are in more desperate shape than are deer as a species. Even if I could tell them so, would they be willing to sacrifice themselves in favor of the birds? Would I have the nerve to ask them?

Would I do it myself if I were them? I want to save the birds, and I want to save myself. I would like both things to be possible. If we save ourselves at the cost of the birds, then we are no more than deer in the world's backyard.

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Quick, Who's A Geek?

(by Zuska) Feb 19 2014

Not you, I bet! Unless you're a dude, that is. I know this for sure because just this morning I came across a helpful new tome, The Geek's Guide to Dating, written for dudes who want to get girls.

You keep your action figures in their original packaging. Your closets are full of officially licensed Star Wars merchandise. You’re hooked on Elder Scrolls and Metal Gear but now you’ve discovered an even bigger obsession: the new girl who just moved in down the hall.

What’s a geek to do? Take some tips from The Geek’s Guide to Dating. This hilarious primer is jam-packed with cheat codes, walkthroughs, and power-ups for navigating the perils and pitfalls of your love life with ease. Geeks of all ages will find answers to the ultimate questions of life, the universe, and everything romantic, from First Contact to The Fellowship of the Ring and beyond. Full of whimsical 8-bit illustrations, The Geek’s Guide to Dating will teach fanboys everywhere to love long and prosper.

It would have been out of the question, of course to have written the above thus:

You keep your action figures in their original packaging. Your closets are full of officially licensed Star Wars merchandise. You’re hooked on Elder Scrolls and Metal Gear but now you’ve discovered an even bigger obsession: the new girl Person of Interestwho just moved in down the hall.

What’s a geek to do? Take some tips from The Geek’s Guide to Dating. This hilarious primer is jam-packed with cheat codes, walkthroughs, and power-ups for navigating the perils and pitfalls of your love life with ease. Geeks of all ages types will find answers to the ultimate questions of life, the universe, and everything romantic, from First Contact to The Fellowship of the Ring and beyond. Full of whimsical 8-bit illustrations, The Geek’s Guide to Dating will teach fanboys cosplayers everywhere to love long and prosper.

Out of the question, of course, because then how the hell would you have written the book to go with that? It is geeks, who are dudes, white dudes to be specific, who need help with mating, and it is girls, who may or may not be geeks, who cares, who are out there waiting to be properly mated. Always this way. Dudes, seeking and finding girls, like a precious grail quest. Too bad if you are a geek girl who would like some dating tips on sorting dudes from duds. Or a geek dude who fancies other geek dudes. Or likewise a geek girl whose heart beats faster for other geek girls. No book for you!

The book authors were on this morning's Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane. I hasten to add that they declared, many times, while talking about the book and answering questions, that geek is not an identity owned solely by dudes, that anyone can be a geek, that geek culture has broad meanings and shapes, that it is welcoming to all, and that the openness and welcoming to all is part of what makes geek culture so great.  The irony of having written a book that takes as its unacknowledged knowledge-we-all-share that geeks are dudes completely escaped them. It also seemed to have gone right by Moss-Coane, for the usually quite sharp host did not remark upon this at all.

Why does it take so much help to be a dude? Some years back there was The Dangerous Book for Boys, because boys were in danger of growing up as namby-pamby nancy boys who wouldn't know a penknife if a Real Boy jammed it in their thigh. The Dangerous Book for Girls was promptly produced as an antidote (and for more book sales). Now Real Geekness needs shored up a little with an Actually Real Geeks ARE Men Even Though We As A Community Say We Are Totally Welcoming To All dating manual.

Oh come on, it's all a bit of light-hearted good fun, can't you relax and laugh a little, you feminists have no sense of humor! We even put in a Note To Girl Geeks (see page 19)! Where we said this book is for dudes but if you try hard you can see yourself in it! Except facial hair! If you're so bothered by it, why don't you write your own Geek Girl's Guide to Dating?

Would a Geek Girl's Guide to Dating be of any help? (1) No. (2) No. (3) No. It doesn't address compulsory heterosexuality in geek culture. It doesn't solve the problem of Real Geeks Are Men, But There Are Some She-Geek Oddities As Well. It doesn't address the problem of a book that stakes the claim of a single very specific identity as the center of the universe and equivalent to the community identity. The book is more accurately called The White Geek Dude's Guide to Dating. The following phrases are crutches used to walk away from that: "well, we really do welcome everyone; you should just write your own book" and "some women think it's funny" and "just try to picture yourself in it" and "there aren't that many gay geeks, I never met any" and "if we had to take all that into account,  it wouldn't be funny anymore".

Ah yes. If you had to take everyone else's perspective into account in writing your book, then 95% of the jokes in it wouldn't be funny, would they? Because the funny is based on the unacknowledged knowledge that Real Geeks Are Dudes. Where's the funny in having to admit that Real Geeks Are Men is just a bit of bad cosplay, and that the costume is wearing mighty thin, eh? No book for you.

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Does Intention EVER Matter?

(by Zuska) Jan 29 2014

Via @KMBTweets, I came across this piece offering an analysis of Feminism's Toxic Twitter Wars in The Nation. I harbor the suspicion, and perhaps the hope, that neither side would claim me if we could sit down and have a long talk. And that, if we could have the long talk I dream of, the war would be over. Or at least the part that matters, for the people that care. I leave figuring out what matters and who cares as an exercise for the reader.

Let us begin: to be fair, "toxic feminism" is already at play on twitter, its definition and ownership contested. So I'll allow it in the title, as it is itself part of the wars. Have at it, Young Fresh Face of Feminism's Future and Old Faded Farts of Feminism's Failure! (Please, no discussion of ageism at this time. "We live in a youth culture that hates old people!" "They don't understand Twitter and what's really going on today!" "My joints ache!" "My ass tattoo is itching!" Judean Peoples' Front, piss off! Splinter!) (Yes, I made sweeping generalizations about how the old and young sort themselves. Deal with it.)

However: I am not going to stop calling my vagina a vagina. I am an old crone. A vagina is the name for a thing I have, of which the GOP would like majority ownership. I would like to use the word vagina when I am defending the right to a legal, safe abortion.  I am simply declaring this non-negotiable, at least in the world of this blog, and will score one for the Old FFofFF against the Young FFofFF for proper deployment of intersectionality in achieving one's goals.

Moreover: I can read between the lines.  Why was a "wave of coruscating anger and contempt", poured on the studiously earnest politically correct Femfuturites' heads? Such silly complaints: New York centric, unaddressed groups, neglect of the offline. There was no travel budget! They had nine black women! And really - the offline, at a discussion of the online world! I declare this a well-mixed Cosmopolitan of social class, geography, and race privilege. I refuse to drink and will score one for the Young FFofFF against the Old FFofFF for getting the a theory of intersectionality but not (all) the practice.

With the score tied, let us call a temporary truce and look at this part of the article:

...there’s a norm that intention doesn’t matter—indeed, if you offend someone and then try to explain that you were misunderstood, this is seen as compounding the original injury.

Hoo boy! I can't tell you how many times Mr. Z has gotten himself in hot water with that one! Honey, when I said nobody in their right mind would want to watch a documentary, I was not insulting you. I meant that nobody would voluntarily choose to watch them, unless they want to nap. They are boring. Continue, article:

Again, there’s a significant insight here: people often behave in bigoted ways without meaning to, and their benign intention doesn’t make the prejudice less painful for those subjected to it.

Yep. I don't understand why you are still upset. I said I didn't mean to make you feel bad, and I explained that it's just because documentaries are known to be boring. This is so not helpful. But neither is "it doesn't matter what you say now, the evening is RUINED!!" Back to the article:

However, “that became a rule where you say intentions never matter; there is no added value to understanding the intentions of the speaker,” Cross says...

Added value: I think there IS utility in talking about intentions and what drives them, sometime AFTER, of course, a real apology has been issued. Honey, I'm really, really sorry. I know I hurt your feelings. I don't know why, though, and I never meant to. I want to understand. I want us to have a nice time together and be entertained and not bored. How did I go wrong? What? Is that a copy of No Direction Home on my shelf? Why yes, yes it is. Why do you ask? THAT'S a documentary? And there's more stuff like that out there? Great! Let's look for it!

Oh, wouldn't it be awesome if the conversation went like that. But no. Sometimes, all you get is, I'm sorry, I know I hurt you, I didn't mean to make you feel bad. And the subtext is it makes me feel really bad about myself that I made you feel bad. If this is coming from some whatsisface on the internet, you can pretty much classify this as a nonpology. I didn't mean to make you feel bad so I don't have to do any thing more than say I'm sorry, that should be enough. Except we all know it isn't.

If this is coming from your significant other, depending upon how long you've been together and how much $$ you've thrown down the bottomless pit of couples counseling, this is the cue that it's time for the two of you to use your tools and avoid pushing buttons and if your buttons get pushed count to ten before responding. Even leave the room for awhile if you have to. But come back and talk it out, to make the relationship stronger and communication better going forward.

Maybe your partner says documentaries are boring because he thinks they are all educational stuff he may not understand and is intimidated. Or maybe he says documentaries are boring but he doesn't know what they are and conflates them with something that's "good for you". Or maybe he says they are boring because that film style usually doesn't capture and hold his attention, and he experiences it as boring. Or maybe your partner's a jerk.  First two cases, there's hope of change and seeing things a new way. Third way, there's hope you both can understand each other's point of view, agree to disagree, and enjoy the things you can share. The last one: time to move on and find a new partner.

If my neighbor across the street comes in my house and disses documentaries I'm going to shrug my shoulders. I'm going to say no, it's not my job to prove to you that documentaries are interesting. I'm going to walk away. Or tell the neighbor to leave, I've got documentaries to watch. But if it's my partner - then I'm going to engage. I'm going to go past my hurt and try to get us past our defenses and maybe some insights will occur and maybe it will even end with us watching a documentary together.

The tricky part is when it's someone else close, like a sister. Sisters have long histories and complicated mutual misunderstandings.  "Documentaries are boring! Nobody likes them! Give me a reality show any day." "Documentaries are enthralling! Everybody agrees! They are the real reality shows!" It would be nice if the two got along. But, well, documentaries. And the history. Beyond the history and the COMPLETE cluelessness about documentaries, one is hard of hearing and the other has bad eyesight. One raises her voice; the other points and says "see? see?" over and  over.  They live on different continents. They don't have to keep in touch. It's more peaceful when each sticks to her own circle of friends and leaves the other to her crazy toxic ideas about documentaries.  I mean, if you want to make a good documentary, what could you possibly learn from anybody working on a reality show, or vice versa? Keep that kinda toxic thought outta here!

 

 

 

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Defining the Discourse and Words We Use: Who Gets To?

(by Zuska) Jan 24 2014

So, this is not the way I imagined breaking my writer's block. Or my refraining-from-writing-as-an-act-of-mourning. Or my mourning-induced aphasia. Or whatever is this is. I'm gonna just cross my fingers and hope I don't snap during the writing of this and say something that worsens everyone's depression (except mine) and destroys the universe (because of my omnipotent evil feminazi womanish powers)  which in any case should be ignored (really, the whole post should be ignored, on account of its having been written by a screeching harridan whining about no big deal).  Here we go.

First, I ask thee, gentle Zuskateers, to read Let Me Fix That For You, Nature at Red Ink. (Thanks, @rocza for that link via the twitters.)  Then please read I'm sorry...but you brought this on yourself honey by my dear friend Drugmonkey.

In the first post, Henry Gee's original letter is a discourse-controlling tour-de-force, and Red Ink does a marvelous job of deconstructing his blatherings. One just sits in one's chair, jaw agape at the hilariously depressingly superb job that is this pulling of the truth out of truthiness's ass. It both entertains and instructs. One gets a delightful dose of schadenfreude in the reading of it, whilst simultaneous schooled by the unmasking of rhetorical tricks Gee deploys .

Next up is Drugmonkey's blog piece, offering a detailed analysis of  Gee's nonpologetic discourse. Wait for it... comment #4 tells us how he is doing itt rong, and in an inflammatory manner, and how the rong is ineffective to boot. Trifecta of discourse control!

Commenter #4's knickers got bunched over all the rong because (a) Drugmonkey used an analogy - ineffective! and (b) Drugmonkey picked a bad analogy - inflammatory!  Drugmonkey might as well be talking to a brick wall. Or worse, trying to talk to someone on the other side of the brick wall but all his shouting for attention makes them climb up the wall and shove some bricks onto his head to shut him up.

I'm sorry. I know that was confusing and possibly inflammatory. The person atop the wall could have poured boiling oil on his head. Or shot him with flaming arrows.

Now, as Drugmonkey did, we pause here for a trigger warning regarding abuse, should you read further.

Continue Reading »

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Why Don't The Humanities Bring Science Into Their Classrooms?

(by Zuska) Nov 19 2013

In my usual graceful manner, I barged into a conversation on twitter between @Drew_Lab and @LauraSBooth regarding this point: "I see scientists bringing in Steinbeck, I never see English profs bringing in science." Nuh-uh, I said, they do too bring in The Science! And I promised references.

This post is my reply. Some qualifiers: I don't claim this is an exhaustive round-up of what's out there. It's just what I know about and can lay my hands on quickly. Also, consider these ponderings.

1. Humanities and social science scholars have been studying, critiquing, and writing about science & technology since forever. There's even a whole field called Science, Technology, and Society, with journals and conventions and classes and even, in some places, one can major in it. Does any of this scholarly activity count as bringing in science?

2. I will acknowledge, these scholars are not running gels or differentiating equations in their classes or having poster sessions of latest results at their meetings. But is this what we need humanities and social science scholars to do, really? And what outcome do we expect or want if they do?

3. What do we mean by science? What kinds of things do we want brought into non-science classrooms? Does that differ significantly from field to field?  Is history of science good enough? Are critiques of science (STS, feminist theory) sufficient? Do we want humanities students to learn actual bits of science - and if so, what bits?  Is the entrance of science into the humanities/social science classroom to be a demonstration of the wonder of science? Are the students to learn the scientific method, to think like scientists?

I'll stop now.

If your campus has a women's studies program, there is a chance that someone in that program has been doing something with science in one of their classes. This will most likely be one of two things: history or critique. Women's studies scholars look at the history of lost and forgotten women in science, and the barriers women faced against their participation in science. Margaret Rossiter's three-volume Women Scientists in America is a comprehensive overview, but of course there is much to be said outside these volumes and about women outside the U.S.

Women's studies scholars also critique the practice of science, its processes and products. Books on these topics are too numerous to list.

There are many courses that take these topics as their subject or include them as a portion of the course.  There once was an archive of these courses accessible through the wmst-l site but the link seems to be broken now. The wmst-l listserv would be a source of information for people who have or are currently teaching courses in these areas.

STS programs list their courses: check out Stanford's program's offerings. I want to take Text Technologies: A History. That sounds so cool.  Take a look at their faculty list - they come from all sorts of disciplines. OMG Helen Longino is there! Fangirl moment!

I would also like to point out that the esteemed Janet Stemwedel, @DocFreeride, teaches about ethics and science. Surely that must count as bringing science into the classroom. Do not argue that point.

There are print resources. The book Feminist Science Studies: A New Generation ed. M. Mayberry, B. Subramaniam, and L. Weasel, contains several useful essays. Take "Difficult Crossings: Stories From Building Two-Way Streets" by Baker, Shulman, and Tobin. A several-years long program designed to help scientists bring women's studies into their classrooms and vice-versa, it did not try to do both at the same time. The project devoted an entire year to each. I would bet that this project yielded more publications than just this book chapter. It might be worthwhile looking for them, or just contacting one of the authors about it. This is the most organized approach I am aware of.There could be others, I just don't know about them, as this has not been an area I've focused on.

There are two more essays in the book, companion pieces by Subramaniam and by Witmore. Subramaniam was a biological scientist, Witmore a rhetorician. He analyzed her scientific writing as rhetoric. They each wrote about the experience and outcome. I believe any scientist or humanities scholar would find these pieces of interest.

I myself have collaborated with a social scientist,  and we produced a publication! "Telling Stories About Engineering: Group Dynamics and Resistance to Diversity". It is in NWSA Journal, vol 16 no 1 spring 2004 pp 79-95. It's in an anthology somewhere but you can get it at your uni library in the journal form.

Helen Longino famously collaborated with Ruth Doell to write Body, Bias, Behavior: a Comparative Analysis of Reasoning in Two Areas of Biology Science.  So yeah, publications are not classes, but actual collaborations of a non-scientist with a scientist are worthy of note, I think.

One last significant publication: Sally Hacker's book Pleasure, Power, and Technology: Some Tales of Engineering and the Cooperative Workplace. Hacker was a sociologist who actually took calculus classes. Then she wrote about the role intro calc performs in the lives of engineering students: how important calculus was as a gate-keeper, how it functioned as a maker of men from the boys.

This is a completely random listing of things that I think speak to the question of "English profs bringing in science".  There would be more links if my head hurt less right now.  It may or may not be helpful, and it may or may not answer the original question. I think that's about a complete CYA. I shall therefore stop now.

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Give Us This Day Our Daily Meds

(by Zuska) Nov 19 2013

Med Art

Daily Meds as Medi-Art

 

Not inclusive of meds "taken as needed" for migraine! Or the PPI, every other day-ish. I wish I could call mom and tell her I'm catching up to her all-time impressive total.** Winning! Winning!

 

**We did manage to get it re-evaluated and whittled down to a more reasonable number.

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Why I Won't Be Registering For ScienceOnline Together 2014

(by Zuska) Nov 14 2013

ETA 11/18/13: As Karen Traphagen points out in the comments below, the session on Broadening the participation of the disability community in online science is indeed included in the schedule for ScienceOnline Together 2014. I was wrong to imply it was not, simply because I had not located it in the schedule, and I thank Karen for pointing this out. I am glad to know this session will be included in the conference. My point about the registration procedure and the issues it creates for people with disabilities - or for people with caregiver responsibilities that can't be shirked at the one particular registration time, or anyone else who has to be in a meeting or a class or on the job or attending to any other responsibility at all - still holds. If registration is a scarce and limited commodity, then the current allocation system is, in my opinion, heavily weighted in favor of people with certain types of advantage, like excellent internet access, free time, flexible schedules, good health, and no major caregiving responsibilities, among others. Except for the 75 consolation spots, of course. Good luck!

The ScienceOnline Together 2014 registration for 200 spots opens today at 3 pm EST.  I've been lucky - and I do mean lucky -  to attend all the past annual incarnations of this event. The first time it helped to be part of the small group of people who knew about it and who encouraged me to go to it. Later it helped to have enough spare time and reasonably good health to participate in session organization, and money to afford registration, travel, and lodging. Most recently it helped to be literally lucky enough to win one of a few lottery spots.

It looks like lots of good sessions  were proposed this year including one called Broadening participation of the disability community in online science.That one doesn't seem to have made it into the schedule, although I'm not sure about the relationship between sessions and schedule.  I haven't exactly been keeping up on the details of conference proposals and organization, in large part because of my chronic migraines.

Speaking of the migraines, today at 3 pm EST I will be in my neurologist's office. He will be giving me a botox treatment for the migraines, something he does once every three months. During the treatment I will be wincing and mildly cursing from the pain of the needles, and hoping for better results than the two previous treatments. One thing I will not be doing during the treatment is asking my doc to hold the needles for a few minutes while I whip out my iPad, borrow the hospital's wifi, log into ScienceOnline Together 2014, and attempt online registration.

It looks like I, along with the session on Broadening the participation of the disability community in online science, will be absent from ScienceOnline Together 2014.

What's that you say? There's a lottery for 75 spots after the real registration, just for sick/loser folk such as myself? Why that is awfully kind and generous.

If we are not to discuss how to Broaden the Participation of the Disability Community in Online Science, we might at least facilitate their participation in Online Science Unconferences by not requiring them to hover anxiously over their computers at a one specific time to compete for the scarce commodity of registration spots. In fact, we might Broaden the Participation of Just About Damn Near Everybody if ALL the available spots were in a lottery, and everyone who wanted to go to the conference had to sign up for the lottery. Then people who were privileged with better online access, more free time, and luxurious good health wouldn't have the upper hand.

Do you want a 2:1 ratio of professionals to students? Put the professionals and students in different lottery pools, and split up the spots in the appropriate ratio. I think that might be fair, to help boost the student representation; they might tend to under-register, and professionals to over-register, in the lottery pool. Do you want 50:50 gender balance? Within your lottery pools, first select one person randomly from the male and then one from the female candidate pools. Do  you want a diverse racial/ethnic representation? If you collect this information on the lottery registration, then use the results to weight your selections. What, this isn't a fair lottery anymore? My dear friends, the current state of affairs is already Unfair.

Having money, being relatively healthy, knowing the right people combined to help me access the conference in the past. Being white and straight is, we can be sure, helpful in knowing the right people. It's my shame that my luck in years past obscured the unfairness inherent in this (and other) conference registration situations. But that's what privilege does for you. It helps you not see what will inconvenience you. Dismantling some of that privilege might have made it less likely that I would get to go to all of those conferences. So perhaps it's just as well that I sit at home in 2014.

 

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The Intro to Philosophy Take on Women's History

(by Zuska) Oct 30 2013

Today in intro to philosophy - the First Woman Writer Ever!
Learn with me.

Descartes was a really impressive dude. There were some problems with his Method. Princess Elisabeth wrote letters to him and asked him some good questions. She was kind of like Socrates in her letters, asking why and how. She was not playing a game, she was genuinely curious, kind of like she was saying you're this big intelligent man and I'm just a little princess over here trying to understand things.* Their correspondence was pretty cool. After Descartes died, Princess Elisabeth decided not to publish her letters, because, well, you see, there were some sentimental things in the letters. You know, that might have hinted at a relationship. So she kept them private. They were published long after her death. It's too bad she didn't agree to publish the letters, because they are the earliest known significant writing ever done by a woman! For realz! And if they had been published by Princess Elisabeth, people would have known a lot sooner that women were just as intelligent and capable of rational thought as men! Truth! [Because one exception was all that was needed to deconstruct an edifice of structural oppression. And obviously as soon as the letters came to light that edifice was demolished!]  Uh, you could ask a feminist philosopher or women's studies professor about it but I'm pretty sure this is the earliest writing by women that we have. [I am not an expert, some dudebro told me this, I didn’t bother to ask a women’s studies professor because a) really, and b) if a woman had written something I’d know about it.]

*Yes, he said "kind of like she was saying you're this big intelligent man and I'm just a little princess over here trying to understand things.

 

So when I got home, I went to the googles, and whaddya know, there's Hildegard von Bingen's theological writing in the 1100's. And Christine de Pisan's Book of the City of Ladies in 1405. Ann Bradstreet published a book of poetry in 1650. And then there's The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikbu, "considered the world's first novel",

praised for the complex relationships between and among the characters. This is especially true regarding the portrayal of personal desire and the constraints that rank and gender in a highly hierarchical society place upon it, as well as the hidden tensions inherent in the conduct of Genji’s highly calibrated social and personal relationships. The novel is striking also for the compelling evocation of its characters’ minds, particularly of women of various ranks mulling upon their lot in life. In certain instances, these women exhibit an understanding of the workings of the psyche in terms almost modern.

It was written in the Heian Era (794-1185 CE).

But philosophy is what dudebros do. Hildegard was just writing about her visions in response to some "divine command" (not at all like Socrates's daimon).  Pisan's Book of the City of Ladies is just a pastiche done by a dancing dog while Augustine's City of God is philosophy. A bunch of poems or a gossipy book about ladeez and court life - you can't even talk about them in the same breath as Aristotle's Poetics. So I think we wimmin folk are lucky for two reasons.  Princess Elisabeth's letters made it into the philosophy category. And they got published so now everyone knows women are equally as smart as men. This is what makes the discipline of philosophy a warm and welcoming haven for women. Now that we have that straight, let us turn our attention back to Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and Nietzsche.

You know, I want to study those dude philosophers. Understanding them is important for understanding a lot of other stuff. It's like learning algebra and trig before going on to calculus. But it burns my shorts to get my intro to philosophy with breezy "women are equal" jibber-jabber undermined in the same or next breath with condescension and implications about women's emotions blocking the progress of philosophy. And I really don't like it combined with casually wrong stories about women's history. I've got enough experience and knowledge not to be fooled or damaged by this crap, but those young kids in class with me? Well, they're just starting to learn, aren't they.

 

 

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Some Thoughts On Shaming (Maybe Not What You Think)

(by Zuska) Oct 20 2013

Thanks to a tweet from @Namnezia, I read this post: On chronic illness, disclosure, and imposter syndrome. The writer, who goes simply by the name disabledphd, tells of acquiring a "Stupid F'n Medical Condition" (which is how I shall think of the migraines henceforth) as a graduate student. Here's the advice he/she got about whether to disclose this information going forward in his/her career:

The main piece of situation-specific advice I was given was that moving forward in my career I should be very careful about disclosing my SFMC. This advice echoed from every corner I tilted an ear to. I heard it from mentors, from family in academia and from people I didn’t know but reached out to because it seemed like they had solid perspectives on academic careers. It was an amazing show of unanimity – Seriously, you try getting that many academic types to agree on a single issue! And when I thought about it at the time, it seemed completely sensible.

Assuming my goal is a tenure track position, do I really want the fact that I have this thing out there? Even in the best case scenarios, it places an asterisk over my future that committees looking to hire people into lifelong positions might take note of. Probably a silent note, possibly even a subconscious one, but the cold fact is that no one has to tell you why you didn’t get the job, especially amid a glut of qualified applicants. And manifestations of consequence could be more subtle than simply not getting hired. One academic I spoke with noted that colleagues in positions of power might hold back advancement opportunities because they ‘don’t want to stress you out with extra work.’ In the politics of academia, such a decision could be well-intended or it could be nefarious. But in the end, it wouldn’t matter. An opportunity missed is an opportunity missed. I look back at nearly a decade of work shaped by chance opportunities and shudder at the notion.

Yikes.

With that kind of helpful advice, who wouldn't try to deny one's own reality go into deep cover?

Of course, it eventually proved impossible to maintain a facade of "nothing to see here!" At some point, disabledphd "broke" and told the boss. The description of the fallout is painful to read: not because the employer was unkind or discriminatory, but because of the emotional toll the secret exacted on disabledphd. This emotional toll was not lifted by speaking the truth.

And why should it be? This is what disabledphd says:

So why do I say ‘broke’? Because somehow, without meaning to, I turned disclosure into the null hypothesis of my little experiment. Telling someone meant failure, even if he/she was someone I was all but certain would be fully supportive. This was my own mistake, constructing a psychological Maginot line against a war of my own creation.

There was definitely a failure here, but not on the part of disabledphd.

With secrets come shame. In characterizing the knowledge of disability as a career-shattering demon to be kept hidden, disabledphd's science family made the fact of disability into a personal shame. You can succeed in science - if no one knows you are defective. If you have a disability but keep it from showing, then it's perfectly fine to have a disability. (I can't think what sort of advice would be given to people with disabilities that cannot be hidden. I imagine letters of reference with lines about how "brave" they are and what an "inspiration" they are to everyone around them...)

The flip side of successfully, or mostly, hiding your disability, is that people doubt its authenticity, legitimacy, and/or severity. Regarding migraines, a friend once made the droll remark "if you don't have blood and pus streaming out of your ears, no one thinks it's serious."  Tell us about it: we'll punish you. Heroically manage it: we won't believe you and you'll punish yourself for us. Yay. Great choices.

No matter how well-intentioned the advice givers were, the effect was to cause shame. And, it helped to perpetuate the idea in the larger scientific community that disability is a liability and must be kept hidden. The disability-is-a-liability-that-rules-you-out discourse facilitates the agenda of sexists who label pregnancy as a disability and cite it as valid reason for discriminating against women. If you don't buy that discourse about pregnancy but you do about disability in general, you are undermining your own efforts to support women in science. And hey! Some people with chronic, invisible disabilities happen to be women! Lots of them, in fact. Intersectionality!

We've seen, in the past week, the poisonous effect secrets and shame have wrought in the scicomm community. (#ripplesofdoubt)  When someone is raped, abused, harassed or mistreated in any manner, they are often asked to keep quiet about it, for the sake of someone/something else - someone's job, keeping the family peaceful and intact, whatever. But when we ask for quiet we are asking to keep things just like they are right now. Right now, when white people say we're "post-racial" and find clever new ways to discriminate; when women must hide abuse and assault or face more harassment; when people with disabilities need to live like they don't have them in order to obtain "equal employment opportunities".

If you are in a position of power, and you ask someone to keep a secret rather than telling them "I've got your back", you are laying bricks in Oz. And Oz doesn't need any more help. It's distressing to learn, and keep learning, how entangled we all are in building and maintaining the edifice of our own and others' oppression. It's difficult and scary to stop doing even the little things, and figure out how to do them differently, or better. But we have to try.

 

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Who Else Would The Perpetrator Be?

(by Zuska) Oct 18 2013

I understand full well why some people pressure victims to keep quiet. It's not, despite what they say, for the sake of the perpetrator and his/her reputation/ability to earn a living/the poor family etc. Or not just that. It's to keep to keep us all from looking behind the curtain. We must all continue staring straight ahead at the big green scary head of the great and powerful Oz (where Oz is, variously, patriarchy, racism, heteronormativity, unfettered capitalism, ableism, or some heady stew of it all).

 

 

The shouting, the scary noise, the bellowing smoke and flames - the big green head cannot produce these effects on its own. Someone must pull the levers and speak into the microphone. It takes a village, if you will, to run Oz. In Oz, supplicants are given minor rewards and the right to prepare future supplicants to appear before Oz. If they work hard, they can one day pull some of the levers themselves. Indeed, one day they must, or Oz will collapse. Livelihoods and the very architecture of Oz depend upon Oz. It is best to strictly regulate who can get close to Oz, lest the curtain and thus Oz and thus everything be endangered.

All this is logical, and easy enough to understand.

What I don't get is this: Say someone yanks the curtain aside a little bit. Look, see, this person. This person is a perpetrator. And the good people of Oz are shocked and appalled. They are shocked that one of their own is involved in the lever-pulling.

Well, who else would the perpetrator be? It is the colleague who harasses, who casually flings racial insults. It is the brother who molests. It is the priest who rapes. These people do not come from Mars. They come from right here where we live and work, in Oz. They are our neighbors and friends, our co-workers and bosses, our lovers and relatives, our clergy and officers. They may be very good people, but they are very bad friends, bosses, priests. They are, indeed, humbugs. Just as we know that Ted Cruz is a humbug of a member of Congress, we know these people are humbugs of what they purport to be in our lives. Perhaps they are nice to their pets and give generously to good causes. Perhaps they have been good to other people at other times. But their acts behind the curtain have made of them a humbug of the role they would play before it.

When the curtain is pulled back, it is right to feel shock and sadness at what we see - but not at who we see. The levers are being pulled all day long, every day, and somebody you know is doing the pulling. It cannot be otherwise. To continue to think otherwise is to lay bricks in Oz.

Maybe it was you once. Maybe you had a minor lever, just a tiny puff of smoke. Maybe you had to learn how to let go of the lever, try to walk out of Oz, and build something new. Oz is so appealing, though. You know how things work there; the climate's always just right for you; you don't have to think about things so much. You thought you were walking out of Oz but you're right back where you started...will you sigh and once more grasp the lever? or try walking out of Oz again? There is no balloon, and there are no ruby slippers. Just a long, difficult walk, away from everything comfy and safe, with everyone in Oz yelling "come back! come back! you're crazy! we'll kill you!"

 

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