Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Don't know how I got there, but I found my way onto this Tumblr and there beheld something truly awesome:
fake Avengers cover
This Avengers cover mock-up.

It originally came from Comics Alliance, concocted by blogger Chris Sims and artist Kelly Callen.

In case you can't see it, the image shows seven Avengers --- Captain America, Thor, Nick Fury, the Incredible Hulk, Hawkeye, Iron Man, and a black-gloved redhead I think is Black Widow (hard to tell since we're just seeing the top of her head, from behind) --- all holding the worst possible gift someone could ever give them. Cap's got a pair of pink socks covered with swastikas; Fury (who has one eye) has a 3-D movie and a pair of 3-D glasses, which he is holding up to his single eye; the Hulk has a chemistry set; Iron Man has a book on running a successful business by his old enemy and competitor Obadiah Stane; Hawkeye (an archer) has a box of bullets; the Russian Black Widow has a DVD of "Rocky IV"; and Thor has a copy of Richard Dawkins's book The God Delusion*.

Captain America's speech bubbles say, "ONE OF US is responsible for these horrible gifts! And nobody's leaving until I FIND OUT WHO!"

I love the look on Thor's face.

*This is especially funny because, not only is the book an argument that gods in general don't exist, but Thor in particular is one of the author's favorite examples of gods no one believes in anymore. (See this video for a collection of clips where he refers to Thor in this way.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Calling All Amateur Botanists

I found this wildflower growing on the bank of the creek running through my backyard: 
It's got small, star-shaped white flowers with a cluster of short yellow stalks in the center; almost like a narcissus, only with very different stem and leaf structure. (See, it's got one stem, with all the leaves coming off of it, and two flowers at the top).
Its leaves are kind of weird-looking, too --- they're much larger than the flowers, longer than they are wide, with edges that I'm not sure whether to call serrated, because the "points" are so rounded. 
Here's a close-up of the flower: this picture isn't as clear as the others, because I had to move closer to the plant to take it, and the flower is growing out of a fairly steep creek bank. Thus I was in an unstable position when I took it, and wasn't really able to steady the camera. 

(I notice, though, that while the flower in that picture might be out of focus, the thorns on the stem show up beautifully. Auto-focus can be a very strange thing.)

So, does anyone know what this is?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Blog Changes in Blog Owner's Lengthy Absence

So I leave the blog unattended for a couple months, and when I come back to it I find I can't even get on it anymore! I have to download a whole new browser before I can use it.

Now that I've done that, it seems to work well enough; the post editor screen is a little different, but not by much. And on the dashboard, where you can see a list of all your posts, they have a little counter next to each post showing how many pageviews it has! I really like that feature; now I can see which topics people are most interested in seeing me write about. (Of course, the high view count for some posts may simply reflect the fact that some of my posts are more widely syndicated than others ... but still, that's more information than I had before.)
So, Feministe has a pretty interesting post (responding to this article in the New York Times) about family dinner conversations, and how they shape a person's rhetorical style.

Here's how Jill describes her family's dinnertime ritual:
Even when I go home, still, a sit-down dinner and a long discussion is non-negotiable. The TV gets turned off. We don't answer the phone. There are no cell phones allowed at the table. There isn't a structured conversation --- we just talk. And since I come from a family of political junkies, the conversation inevitably turns to politics; since I also come from a family of people who like to push boundaries and challenge each other, the conversation inevitably turns into an argument. No one yells --- we aren't a yelling family --- but voices get raised and sarcasm gets thrown around and even though we're all lefty liberals we get deep into it.
And then we clean up and we watch some CNN and we all move on with our lives. It never occurred to me that dinner-time arguments over, say, farming subsidies or the proper legal treatment of child molesters could create lasting wounds or ongoing anger. Which is maybe why it's taken me years to figure out that, in the blogosphere, you can't come at someone hard in a comment section and expect that they understand you're challenging them because you respect them and find their views interesting, and that they will respond to your challenges and heated critiques with the same, and you'll both walk away still liking each other and not thinking about it much beyond, "Well that was an interesting discussion." Most people just think you're a flame-throwing asshole. I blame my parents.
One person, in comments, mentioned how they felt like the absence of any dinnertime conversation (or, really, any conversation at all beyond the most perfunctory) while they were growing up deprived them of the chance to develop any kind of rhetorical or conversational skills.

My own experiences are like Jill's in a lot of ways: my family, too, sits down for a home-cooked meal and unstructured conversation every night, and does not really consider any subject to be taboo. Certainly not politics, which is discussed frequently. But we don't argue like Jill's family does; we're more conflict-averse, we're not very emotionally expressive (indeed, we tend to be uncomfortable with strong emotions), and, for me at least, argument is not a style of discussion that I am very good at. My mind works slowly, taking time to unfold and absorb every aspect and ramification of whatever I have just been told (besides the fact that I don't think in words and need to "translate" something into the pictorial/abstract colors-and-shapes milieu of my thoughts, and auditory-processing issues mean it takes me longer to decode spoken language than written language, so in conversation I have a particularly long lag time between hearing and understanding), and any thoughts I might have in response to whatever I've just been told also take time to form themselves. I am thus in the position of not yet knowing what I think when it is time for me to speak. I may not even know what you've just said by the time you're done saying it and waiting for me to respond. 

To accommodate this, I tend to treat discussion less as a contest between ideas than as a process of discovering what each person's ideas are

Because I have often found that people's ideas are interconnected in unpredictable ways (including my own), just stating what one thinks about something isn't always enough. Sometimes if you say one thing, the person you're talking to proceeds as if you had said that thing, and a whole bunch of other things you haven't said and aren't sure you even understand. I have also made these assumptions about other people, thinking that I had found a word or phrase to express a bundle of concepts and then finding that, in the other person's lexicon, that word didn't come with all the connotations it carried in my head. So I try and identify the premises I am starting from, and the premises that I and my interlocutor hold in common. From there, I will try to explain how I get to whatever proposition we're debating from those premises, and will also listen to my friend (I can pretty much only do this with friends) draw me a similar map of his or her reasoning.

What Jill's post got me to realize is that this style of conversation, which it has taken me years to develop, might not solely be an accommodation of my cognitive and communicative quirks. It might also be something I have carried with me from childhood, modeled somewhat on the kind of dinnertime conversations my family has.

(Obviously, it couldn't be an exact copy of my family's conversational style, or I wouldn't have had to develop it, but I do feel that what I have jerry-rigged together for myself probably has roots in how my family communicates. It's an adapted version, but I am starting to see some shared features).

Anyway, if you were going to describe my family in terms of what kind of people they are (like Jill describes her family as political junkies), you'd probably call us science nerds. As much as we talk about politics, it's not the thing we talk about most. Most of our dinnertime conversation is of a technical nature, drawing on whatever field each of us is trained in (electromagnetics, chemistry, biology, medicine). Because we are not all trained in the same things, we often have to include a lot of background information leading up to whatever it is we want to discuss. (When my siblings and I were children, this was almost always our dad explaining something about electromagnetics, but now that I have my own body of knowledge and experience, I will sometimes find myself holding forth about chemistry or biochemistry). So my family tends to explain rather than argue, because many of the things we talk about require explanation before they can be discussed in any depth. 

I think now that habit, as much as my needing to slow conversations down and check repeatedly to make sure everyone is on the same page, has predisposed me to prefer a collaborative, expository conversational style to an adversarial, argumentative one, and to feel myself disadvantaged when I do find myself in the middle of an actual debate.