Thursday, June 19, 2014


Doing this drawing made me really excited about drawing people riding comically enlarged animals, so I've decided I'm going to take commissions.

If you want a picture of yourself riding a comically oversized animal -- any animal, even a specific individual (like, if you want a picture of yourself riding your cat), with whatever other specifications you might care to make (what you'd like to be wearing or doing, like if you want to be carrying a banner or aiming or brandishing a weapon or something, or if you'd like to be riding your animal in a specific setting, like up a mountain or through a snowstorm or over the ramparts of Helm's Deep or whatever), PayPal me ten dollars and send me a message (in comments here, in my Tumblr askbox, on my DeviantArt profile page, in an email ... whatever) describing what you'd like me to do.

(Obviously, if I'm going to draw you, I need to know what you look like, so you'll need to send me a picture or a link to someplace where you've posted pictures online.)

My email address (which is also the address of my PayPal account) is, if you want to take me up on this offer. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bring Me One Large Enough to Ride!

A drawing of myself riding a huge Norwegian Forest Cat, inspired by this post on Tumblr

Only Some of These Really Bother Me

(A version of this post has also appeared on my Tumblr)
Article header from "10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing"
There's an article on listing ten words/concepts from various fields of science that are commonly misused by laypeople, so I had to look at it and see if any of my pet peeves made it onto the list.

There were a few:
3. Quantum Uncertainty and Quantum Weirdness
[Astrophysicist Dave] Goldberg adds that there's another idea that's been misinterpreted even more perniciously than "theory." It's when people appropriate concepts from physics for new agey or spiritual purposes:
This misconception is an exploitation of quantum mechanics by a certain breed spiritualists and self-helpers, and epitomized by the abomination, [the movie] What the Bleep Do We Know? Quantum mechanics, famously, has measurement at its core. An observer measuring position or momentum or energy causes the "wavefunction to collapse," non-deterministically. (Indeed, I did one of my first columns on "How smart do you need to collapse a wavefunction?") But just because the universe isn't deterministic doesn't mean that you are the one controlling it. It is remarkable (and frankly, alarming) the degree to which quantum uncertainty and quantum weirdness get inextricably bound up in certain circles with the idea of a soul, or humans controlling the universe, or some other pseudoscience. In the end, we are made of quantum particles (protons, neutrons, electrons) and are part of the quantum universe. That is cool, of course, but only in the sense that all of physics is cool. 
4. Learned vs. Innate
Evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk says:
One of my favorite [misuses] is the idea of behavior being "learned vs. innate" or any of the other nature-nurture versions of this. The first question I often get when I talk about a behavior is whether it's "genetic" or not, which is a misunderstanding because ALL traits, all the time, are the result of input from the genes and input from the environment. Only a difference between traits, and not the trait itself, can be genetic or learned — like if you have identical twins reared in different environments and they do something different (like speak different languages), then that difference is learned. But speaking French or Italian or whatever isn't totally learned in and of itself, because obviously one has to have a certain genetic background to be able to speak at all.
6. Gene

[Synthetic biologist Terry] Johnson has an even bigger concern with how the word gene gets used, however: 
It took 25 scientists two contentious days to come up with: "a locatable region of genomic sequence, corresponding to a unit of inheritance, which is associated with regulatory regions, transcribed regions and/or other functional sequence regions." Meaning that a gene is a discrete bit of DNA that we can point to and say, "that makes something, or regulates the making of something". The definition has a lot of wiggle room by design; it wasn't long ago that we thought that most of our DNA didn't do anything at all. We called it "junk DNA", but we're discovering that much of that junk has purposes that weren't immediately obvious. 
Typically "gene" is misused most when followed by "for". There's two problems with this. We all have genes for hemoglobin, but we don't all have sickle cell anemia. Different people have different versions of the hemoglobin gene, called alleles. There are hemoglobin alleles which are associated with sickle cell diseases, and others that aren't. So, a gene refers to a family of alleles, and only a few members of that family, if any, are associated with diseases or disorders. The gene isn't bad - trust me, you won't live long without hemoglobin - though the particular version of hemoglobin that you have could be problematic. 
I worry most about the popularization of the idea that when a genetic variation is correlated with something, it is the "gene for" that something. The language suggests that "this gene causes heart disease", when the reality is usually, "people that have this allele seem to have a slightly higher incidence of heart disease, but we don't know why, and maybe there are compensating advantages to this allele that we didn't notice because we weren't looking for them".
Those were the ones that resonated with me the most; others were only minor peeves or didn't actually bother me at all.

Misused Word #1, "Proof," was only a minor annoyance for me in that I'm almost never talking about mathematical proofs, and even if I were the sort of person who does use them routinely, it still seems to me like most things people talking about "proving" colloquially are impossible to express in mathematical terms.

It just seems to me like there wouldn't be very many circumstances in which mixing up the technical and colloquial meanings of "proof" would be an issue that would even arise.

(I have found that the most annoying sources of confusion in scientist/layperson conversations about proof have to do with standards of evidence, or also degrees of uncertainty. You can be more unsure of one thing than you are of another, even if you're not 100% certain about the thing you are more sure of.)

Similarly, "theory" also doesn't annoy me that much because I don't usually have much trouble adjusting to different usages of words in different contexts.

I can see how it would get really old having to explain the technical meaning of "theory" over and over again, though.
It seems like those are more about the meaning of specific words than they are about whole networks of ideas, so they are easier for me to adapt to when they surprise me in conversation.
The ones discussed in the quoted text above, though? Misuse of ideas derived from quantum mechanics, misinterpretations of evolution and natural selection, or the idea that genes are "for" specific things? Those come with so many other ideas connected to them, so many wrong things tacitly accepted as premises, that I feel like I need a ball of yarn to slowly pick my way back to the start of the conceptual maze.

Cognitive Styles, Stereotypes and Collateral Damage

(Cross-posted from my Tumblr)

I saw a really interesting post on Tumblr about, among other things, different disability stereotypes and some of the less-than-perfect ways different subsets of cognitively or developmentally disabled people cope with them.

The part of the post I'm responding to:
You know how there is a subset of badbrains people who are like “ACTUALLY, our BADBRAINS MAKE US SMARTER. We are not disabled, we are the NEXT EVOLUTIONARY STAGE, we are BETTER. There is us on the top, then normals in the middle, then unsmart r-word badbrains people on the bottom. Given time they will see.” And I was attracted to that subset of badbrains people for a while before I realise they were assholes (And also stopped being academically smart.) And there was a subset of the subset who said “the unsmart r-word badbrains were just expensive useless people who should die, I NEVER thought that (not that I deserve some kind of “not a murderer” cookie) but those people existed and exist. 
But I feel like there is also a subset of badbrains people who are like “ACTUALLY, our BADBRAINS MAKE US KINDER, we are a PURER  type of human, more whole and loving and sane, more Hufflepuff, than the normals. There is us on top, normals in the middle, and the evil heartless non-sensory, abstraction-based, heartless badbrains people on the bottom, they probably all worship Richard Dawkins and watch my little pony and are racist and rape everyone they meet. They are all just like Elliot Rodger, we should probably kill them before they kill us.”
The bolded parts ring true for me too.
I know that both types of “badbrains people” — the ones whose minds handle abstract concepts well, but don’t really get emotions or people*, and the ones whose minds don’t handle abstract concepts or words well but are good at empathy and perceptual, sensory stuff** — exist and have to deal with ableism from NTs, and have various ways of coping with that and saying, no, actually we have value and are good at things.
And I know that those coping mechanisms can turn into ways of hurting other DD/MI people — the ones whose cognitive styles are as different from our own as they are from the norm. We might think we’re trashing a stereotype but actually be trashing real people who share traits with the stereotype. 
I actually overlap a bit with both of the subsets of people you’re describing — most of the mockery I got in grade school was of the “look at the stupid R-word, she believes whatever you tell her” variety; I do live primarily in a world of sensory information and sometimes I’m not exactly within reach of words; I sort of straddle a line between very concrete, literal thought and more abstract, logical, analogy- and metaphor-based thought; I think very slowly and sometimes speak haltingly; but at the same time I’m very good at academics, including STEM subjects, I can be pretty far removed from my emotions (like, it took me until my 20s to even realize I was capable of certain emotions, or to express them), and I am ridiculously insensitive to nonverbal cues and emotional subtext in conversation.
The latter set of traits make me very much a stereotypical “Aspie” that autistics who don’t have those traits have been bashing as non-representative of what actual autism is like. I’m not really bothered by it because I know they’re right. My observations do tell me I’m in the minority in having those traits, especially the lack of affective empathy
The stuff I’ve seen from other autistic people has been more along the lines of “this type of autistic person doesn’t really exist” than “this type of autistic person is evil,” though.

(From NTs, of course, I've seen a whole lot of "this type of autistic person is evil" stereotyping. It's almost coming to replace the autism stereotypes I remember more from childhood, the ones that imagine us as having no inner life.)

*Continuing with the Harry Potter Sorting Hat theme in the quoted passage, it would probably make the most sense to associate this cognitive style with Ravenclaw, and maybe Slytherin.

**Probably more likely to be in Hufflepuff or Gryffindor

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kansas City, Don't Get on This Bandwagon

Just this past weekend I read something that upset me very much: the City Council of Kansas City, Missouri is considering making it illegal to give food to homeless people without having a permit from the city to do so.

You can read the proposed ordinance here (PDF).

Because it's a couple pages long and legal writing is dense, I'll also excerpt the relevant bits of it here:
Section 8-301.11 of the 2005 Food Code is amended to read as follows: A PERSON may not operate a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT without a valid PERMIT to operate issued by the REGULATORY AUTHORITY. A PERMIT is required to apply for and obtain and pay for a separate FOOD ESTABLISHMENT PERMIT for each of the types of FOOD ESTABLISHMENT operations listed in subsections (1) through (13): 
(13) Food Sharing Permit: issued to a not-for-profit granted tax-exempt status under any provision of Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code ... that is distributing food free of charge for the sole purpose of impacting food insecurity in Kansas City, Missouri. Food sharing permits are not intended to cover food sharing taking place within permitted food establishments. Any already-permitted food establishments shall not need a food sharing permit to offer food free of charge to the public within the confines of the already-permitted establishment. All potentially hazardous food shall be prepared in a permitted kitchen and any processed foods must be pre-packaged. All food shall be labeled with the name or identifier of the permittee and disposed of four (4) hours after being removed from active temperature control. On site food preparation is prohibited with a Food Sharing Permit. Permit holders shall provide waste receptacles if none are readily available or if on-site receptacles are not adequate to collect the waste generated, while distributing food pursuant to the permit and when necessary, shall collect and remove any food or container waste. Food sharing permittees shall not distribute food within one block of a school on a day in which school is in session during the 30 minute period preceding school or the 30 minute period after adjournment. All other Food Code requirements shall be followed, including the obtaining of food handler cards. Re-inspection fees shall be those as set for catering permits. There shall be no cost for the initial food sharing permit or for any routine annual renewals.
It's not clear from this text whether any of this applies to a single person handing out food on their own. (At least, it's not clear to me.)

I'm also not clear on what the implications are for a group that's not a formally recognized nonprofit, like a social club, that might want to distribute food.

The ordinance itself, and City Council member Melba Curls in comments to the public at a protest rally held June 4 at City Hall, cite public health as one of the reasons why the ordinance was drafted.

Intuitively, that makes sense. By making a city-issued permit a requirement to distribute food, the city can keep track of who is distributing food and periodically inspect the kitchens where they prepare it. They can make sure that those kitchens are clean, and that the food that passes through them is not carrying any disease-causing microorganisms.

I'm not sure it would really play out like that, though.

First of all, I'm not aware of any recent outbreaks of food-borne illness here originating in soup kitchens; all the ones I remember reading about originated in restaurants, or on farms or food processing plants.


Other example.

Other example.

Other example.

(It's true, if the contaminated food items end up in grocery stores, they could find their way to a soup kitchen or food pantry's shelves. But it seems like the most efficient way to catch contaminated produce before it makes someone sick would be to do your screening as each shipment reaches the stores, not at whatever secondary or tertiary destination the food is actually eaten.)

So I'm not sure how helpful this measure will be in reducing the number or extent of outbreaks of food-borne illness, and at the same time I'm sure this will have a chilling effect on efforts to feed the city's hungry people. 

(How could it not? It's adding red tape where before there was none. Also, some of the people who are doing that work showed up at the protest rally and said that the ordinance would make it harder for them to operate. So this isn't just me coming up with hypotheticals; this is a thing that people who work at feeding the homeless say will probably happen.)

I'm also aware of a larger pattern around the nation of criminalizing either homelessness itself or ordinary citizens giving food to homeless people.

And I also know that Kansas City is currently hustling to market itself as a cool, happening city to attract the wealthier members of my generation. 

I am made very cynical about what it means to do that, largely by the spectacle of San Francisco all but waging open war on its poor people to curry favor with the Silicon Valley professional classes. 

Return of the Arty Aspie

I started drawing this a ridiculously long time ago --- like fourteen or fifteen years ago. I drew all the black chessmen, and the closest two of the white chessmen, and shaded less than half of the squares when I abandoned it.

I don't remember why I didn't finish it then; either I got bored of it or I didn't think I could draw the smaller chessmen in the background. 

I've gotten better at working on a small scale since then, so they were fairly easy when I finally came back to it.

Being on Tumblr has inspired me to do a lot more art, so I also made a Deviant Art account.