Advice for Scientists from a Fan

1*kwiNY-8vonJm3sIBdwogAwHay fever could not stop this family of a biologist, a kid who is interested in EVERYTHING, and a writer from attending the Sacramento March For Science. It was a wonderful event that I was proud to have participated in.

I lurked on the March for Science Facebook thread on and off as this march was being planned, and Science People, as a friendly layperson, I have Thoughts.

1. Get intersectional.

You are not practicing science in a vacuum. You are practicing a field which does not have a glowing history with women, people with disabilities, people with color, or people who identify as LGBTQIA. Face this history. Educate yourself on it. Stop saying that science should not be political – it is political and it has always been political. Stand up for vulnerable populations with your bodies and your voices, and help both professional and laypeople understand the ethics which should be guiding science today, and what science today teaches us about poverty, racism, sexism, and so forth. This is part of your job.

2. Reach out to the public – nicely.

The world is full of people who don’t know about science. Many of them are not idiots – they just never had a chance to learn. Stop making Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse  Tyson do all the work! Be confident, be proud of your accomplishments and your knowledge – but don’t be a snob. Maybe you can analyze the genome but you can’t unplug a toilet. We all have our areas of expertise.

3. LEARN.

I know, you are scientists, you are always learning. Learn about things that aren’t in your field – it will make your science more effective.

In the weeks leading up to the march, many worried that being inclusive would be too political. The fact is that not being inclusive is also political. There is no neutral ground, and there never has been – our choices about who is allowed to practice science, how we conduct it, what we fund, and how we interpret and use findings has always been shaped by political and social factors. The findings themselves may be neutral – gravity is real whether I choose to believe in it or not. But the field in which those findings are discovered is not and cannot be a neutral one because we are people who function in a context of other people.

Any scientist, but especially those interested in science advocacy, should have at least a passing familiarity with some of the issues historically and currently that shape the way vulnerable populations might look at the scientific field. For instance, scientists should know something about the history of eugenics and forced sterilizations in the United States of America. They should know about the American history of using African-Americans for scientific research without their knowledge or consent. They should understand at least something about historical efforts to “treat” homosexuality as a mental illness. And of course, scientists of all genders should understand the struggles women face with sexual harassment in STEM fields today.

Understanding social issues makes science better, just as science has the potential to make social issues better. The march was a powerful step (no pun intended). Keep going!

 

 

 

44 Reasons for Happy

IMG_2291.jpgI had a birthday and my family spoiled me rotten. In honor of the day, here’s 44 things I’m happy about. what brings you joy?

  1. Big Trouble in Little China: Don’t panic! It’s only me, Gracie Law!
  2. 30 Rock: “Because society!”
  3. I’m not proud of this, but the fact that someone called Trump a loofah-faced shit-gibbon does make this list.
  4. My electric blanket.
  5. My cats.
  6. My dog.cat and dog under the covers
  7. My heating pad.
  8. Eva Green’s existence,
  9. “Penny Dreadful: “Enjoy the fairy lights!” “I always do!”
  10. The Great British Bake Off.
  11. Victorian Sensation Literature. Secret babies! AMNESIA!
  12. Feminist comics
  13. The French Toast at Tower Café in Sacramento.
  14. Book clubs
  15. Tee Turtle
  16. The unexpected revelation that kids between the ages of 12 – 14 are actually super interesting and fun.
  17. The Internet.
  18. Internet blocking apps, because the Internet is a double-edged sword.
  19. Wikipedia.
  20. The Cast of The Force Awakens
  21. Gravity Fallsmaxresdefault
  22. Feminist, anti-racist interpretations of the Lovecraft mythos
  23. Jane Eyre
  24. Antibiotics
  25. Soap
  26. Chris Evans and his tweets
  27. Intersectional Feminism
  28. Daffodils
  29. Equal Exchange Hot Cocoa Mix
  30. My bed.
  31. As always, this photo:5185
  32. Gillian Anderson
  33. The Schuyler Sisters!
  34. Weird Westerns and Gothic Noir
  35. The blue pillow I put behind my head while I cuddle my daughter.
  36. My daughter!
  37. My husband!
  38. Family and friends, online and in person.
  39. Complaining about Percy Shelley and Lord Byron
  40. Dorothy Parker
  41. Iced tea. Not sweet tea. Iced tea.
  42. The fact that 2016 is over.
  43. Reading in a hot bath.
  44. The public library.

A Few Thoughts About Family

IMG_7154.JPGLast weekend my Uncle Jeff died after many years of illness. We have a large extended family that is both financially comfortable and only slightly dysfunctional. Most members of the family live within a two-hour driving radius of the nursing home where Jeff spent his last year and his final days. Jeff was a member of society for whom family played a traditional role – someone in the family always made sure he was safe, as happy as possible, and well-cared for. Family visited Jeff several times a week and kept vigil as he died.

During that same week, the GOP proposed a budget that would cut funding for free school meals, and funding for Meals on Wheels, a program in which volunteers deliver meals to seniors who live at home. The cuts to school lunches were justified by saying that feeding children is not proven to raise their grades. Cuts to Meals on Wheels were justified by claims that the program does not show results. Merely feeding the hungry is not result enough in Trump’s America.

In my experience, Republicans like the idea that family takes care of family. The Republicans of my acquaintance are far from stingy. They have been very generous and kind with their family members, friends, schools, and churches (institutions that serve as a kind of ‘found family’ for many). However, Republicans do not like giving to those they consider to be outsiders – people from other countries, or people of other religious faiths, or people of different sexual orientations, or people they simply don’t know.In the Republican mindset, families should be empowered to take care of their own members.

Jeff’s caregivers told us that they were pleased to see how often his family members visited him. They told us that many of their patients don’t have this kind of family support. The idea that family (of blood or of choice) is responsible for caring for society’s most vulnerable members ignores the existence of vast numbers of people in our towns, our states, our countries, and our planet who do not have family at all or who do not have family with the resources needed to take care of them.

If our nation is to survive, it will have to expand its idea of what family means. Are not all of our residents family? Are we really willing to let seniors and children go hungry because they aren’t related to us, or they don’t go to our church, or their grades aren’t high? Are we really going to say that because we are healthy the illnesses of others are not our problem?

Families are a social construct by which we support each other on a small scale. Governments are (or ought to be) a social construct in which we pool our resources to care for each other on a large scale. If you drive on a public road, or drink clean water, or use a flush toilet, and you live in America, then you have participated in this system. If a nation is not a family, then what is it for? And if a government does not assist the most fragile members of its family, then why support it? In the words of the famous song by Katherine Lee Bates:

“America, America, God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with Brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!”

 

Outrage, Ranked

86caec10e9fba576e60f51e24721e6d7Dear Readers, there are so many things to be outraged about these days that I have ranked them. Do with this what you will. Next week I’ll post something adorable, I promise.

 

Here’s my breakdown of things that are happening:

 

Things that are not actually Trump-related.

I won’t lie. It fills my heart with sadistic glee to hear rumors that the Trump staff can’t find the White House light switches. How I love to imagine that they are all working in the dark, possibly with the aid of candles.

 

However, according to the copy of Time Magazine that was so thoughtfully placed in my doctor’s waiting room today, we can’t actually use this as evidence that Trump and everyone who works for Trump is incompetent. Apparently, there’s no good orientation to help the transfer between administrations. Every new administration ends up with staff that doesn’t know where the bathroom is or how to find ballpoint pens. We can’t pen this on Trump’s crew being idiots.

Outrage level: Surprisingly unwarranted.

 

Things that are Trump-related but are irrelevant.

I don’t care about Trump’s hair or skin tone or appearance in any way. I don’t care if he can  or cannot spell (I have bias since I can’t spell either). I don’t care what job Melania used to have and although I do worry that she might be abused it’s not something I can do anything about. I don’t care what anyone on Trump’s staff looks like or what odd habits they may have. OK, I do care – that’s a lot of gum, Sean. But they don’t affect anyone’s ability to govern.

Outrage level: Not worth it. These kinds of things may have a certain hypontizing effect, but they are a waste of outrage.

 

Things that are reprehensible but sadly normal for a Republican administration.

Now we get into things that require action. We have a Republican congress. Of course we are losing health care and women’s reproductive rights and civil rights for people of color and the LGBTQIA community. Of course the most vulnerable populations are losing funding. Of course the separation of Church and State is threatened. Dust off your signs from the Bush and Reagan years. As they say in Battlestar Galactica, “All this has happened before and all this will happen again.” Doesn’t mean it isn’t important – these issues are literally life or death for many people in our country and abroad. Call, protest, write, and look out for each other and for crying out loud vote in 2018!

Outrage level: Return to Bush years outrage levels. Unpack old protest buttons. Never give up, never surrender.

 

Signs that the end days are seriously nigh.

I’m not going to say that these are signs that we should panic, because panic is not useful. These ARE signs that our democracy as a whole is under attack. Man the barricades (figuratively speaking) when you see:

 

  • Attacks on the system of checks and balances. When Trump thinks that the job of the Legislative and Judiciary Branches is to rubber stamp his orders, that’s not normal.
  • Hate speech. Attempts to ban, deport, or target specific groups of people. Increased hate crimes. The rise of white nationalism and white supremacy. This is not normal.
  • Attacks on the press. I’m referring to Trump’s belief, and his staff’s repeated insistence, that the job of the press is to speak in favor of the president. The press functions unofficially as a fourth piece of our country’s checks and balances. They do not serve the president – they are independent entities. When the President expects the press to be his servants, we have a problem.
  • A President who admires dictators and strongmen. Trump seems to have a long list of leaders who he disapproves of as “bad people” but admires for their ability to “get things done.” This list includes Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Vladimir Putin, and Rodrigo Duterte. I’ll say one thing for Trump – he’s not cagey. He’s telling us quite directly that he likes leaders who ignore checks and balances, human rights, legal procedures and the democratic process in their efforts to accomplish their agendas. He also admires leaders who use power to get more power, and money, for themselves. For Trump, business conflicts of interest are a feature of his presidency (for him) not a bug.

Outrage levels: Maximum

 

Actions you can take? Call your Senators. Be active in local politics. Help elect Democratic politicians in 2018. Write letter to your representatives and to your local paper. Subscribe to a newspaper. March. Volunteer. Remember that alcohol and hand sanitizer can remove hate graffiti from many surfaces. Be a decent human to other humans. Speak up. Persist!

 

 

 

Revisiting an Old Flame: Lost Season One

lost15Lately I’ve been re-watching that groundbreaking TV show Lost. Lost was one of the earlier shows to have a long-reaching arc combined with an internet fanbase. It had an international cast, which was unheard of at the time. It had multiple roles for women. It was thrilling until it went horribly off the rails, which took about five minutes.

Lost is famous for having promised us that everything would make sense despite the fact that ultimately one must assume that the writers used an increasing amount of pharmaceuticals. But you know what, Season One is still amazing – and it’s tightly constructed. Everything from Season Two to the ending seems to have been constructed by a blindfolded monkey playing scrabble, but Season One is TIGHT. Examples:

  • Sayid never figures out how much English Sun understands, but as an interrogator he can tell when she’s trying to dodge a question.
  • Sawyer is supposed to be just awful but early hints of his inner good-guy are all over the place. The only thing we actually see him bartering is a tube of sunscreen to Shannon (and let’s be honest here, who doesn’t like to see Shannon miserable). When Boone gets hurt Sawyer not only doesn’t barter but he also asks Kate if she needs anything else right after loading her up with alcohol for Boone.
  • Jack focuses on the needs of the community from the first frames of the show. Locke focuses on his own interests. Sometimes these interests coincide with the needs of the group and sometimes they don’t – an early sign that Locke will always follow his own agenda.
  • Despite the bickering in the group, there’s an incredible amount of kindness. Michael and Jin fight in one scene and a few scenes later set that aside long enough to try to free Jack from a cave-in. Sayid makes a pair of glasses for Sawyer even though Sawyer and Sayid hate each other. Jack’s “Live together or die alone” speech from Season One defines the series and keeps it from being nihilistic.Everyone fights to the point of sometimes actually trying to kill each other until a more serious problem arises, at which point they co-operate.

 

lost-cast-photo

The Angsty Island of Perfect Abs

On re-watching the show, I realize that one of the show’ porblems was that over time the male characters tended to expand while the female characters tended to shrink. No one gave a shit about Kate’s love triangle or Sun’s affair that may or made not have gotten her pregnant. We all got tired of Claire looking for her baby. What a waste of fantastic women who kept being defined by their love interests and their babies.

The question isn’t “Why did we start watching Lost.” The question is “Why on earth did we keep watching it even when as early as Season Two it was clearly not going to pan out? Lost never lost (sorry) the core principles it started with – beautiful scenery, compelling characters, a lot of humor, and moments of kindness and joy. So even when Lost kind of sucked, it gave us episodes like “The Constant” and moments like this one from Season Five:

 

Or this one:

 

Remember when it wasn’t Penny’s boat? And when Hurley beat up Sawyer? And when Sayid killed a guy with a dishwasher? And when Claire was wearing Libby’s shirt? And how about that time when Nestor Carbonell joined the cast the only mystery we cared about was whether or not he wore eyeliner? Good times.

Yesterday I stared Season Two and thought, “Dude, this is all going to go downhill, I can’t even with this.” Today I’m back at it. Lost, like my imaginary TV boyfriend Sayid, is that messed up boyfriend that I just can’t quit.

250px-Sayidlost.png

I’m here for you, sweetie!