Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupy the East India Trading Company

So, remember the third, terrible Pirates of the Caribbean movie? The big villain is Lord Cutler Beckett, a bigwig at the fictional East India Trading Company (any similarity to the East India Company purely coincidental).

His catch phrase, which he says whenever he is screwing someone over or doing something unethical, is "It's just good business." Which makes him sort of emblematic of what the whole Occupy movement is protesting against.

Near the end of the movie, all of his scheming and manipulation has backfired. We are treated to a prolonged sequence of him walking down a flight of stairs on his ship while the ship (the whole world, one could say) is collapsing (or, rather, exploding) around him. He repeats his catchphrase just before being engulfed in a huge fireball.

In honor of Lord Beckett, I whipped up this little thing. Feel free to share it before the cease-and-desist order comes.

And here is the thematically related next installation in the Occupy Darwin Eats Cake series:

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Public radio, Occupy, and Darwin Eats Cake

So, look, I like public radio as much as the next guy. Which is to say, you know, Car Talk is sort of funny, I guess. But at this point, I think I'm pretty much done with them.

It seems that these guys are so desperate to avoid accusations of liberal bias (even if they come from unabashedly biased right-wing sources) that they will fire (or force someone else to fire) anyone who participates in the Occupy protests.

The first was opera reporter Lisa Simeone, who participated in an Occupy-related protest near Washington. She was the host of Soundprint, an independently produced show distributed by NPR, but was fired after pressure from NPR, which was prompted by criticism from Fox News and the Daily Caller. Her other show, World of Opera, refused to fire her, so NPR dropped distribution of the show, which will now be distributed by North Carolina' WDAV.

Simeone noted that, if she is in violation of NPR's ethics codes for speaking outside of work, then so are a lot of NPRs political reporters. Of course, the difference is that she was acting as an individual citizen, and not being paid, plus, she does not talk about politics at all in her radio show. Other people, who are political reporters, get paid to speak for businesses and on mainstream media outlets. So, there's that.

Just to recap: Opera reporter exercises free speech, for free, on her own time? Ethics violation. Political reporter paid by corporations to talk politics on their own time? AOK!

More recently, Caitlin Curran was fired from her job at The Takeaway, which is produced by WNYC and Public Radio International, after becoming virally famous for this photo:

You can read Curran's first-hand account on Gawker.

My guess is that public radio is running scared right now from the right-wing attack on their federal funding, which has been going on forever, but has been particularly vocal over the past six months or so. Here's the thing, though, it does not matter how much you bend over to appease the right. They are going to keep coming after you. Even if all the federal funding is taken away, they are still going to keep coming after you.

The problem is that to the right, public radio is inherently symbolic of liberalism, if for no other reason than that it does not pander to anti-intellectualism.

Anyway, all of this brings us to the latest episode of Darwin Eats Cake. I posted the first two strips in the Occupy Darwin Eats Cake series here.  Here are the next three:

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Raponomics update: Tap Dat A$$et

So, here's the best thing I've seen in a while. It's the latest entry in the raponomics genre, which is a thing now.

K-RUG in the house, yo!

Grab your pitchfork and end this plutocracy – it’s the only way to save our pseudo-democracy.

There's also a Keynes-Hayek smackdown rap here.

h/t to pillar of poetic righteousness D. A. Powell.

Iraq War vet injured by police at Occupy Oakland needs help

So, there's an update on Scott Olsen, the Iraq-War Vet whose skull was fractured by police at the Occupy Oakland protest. Olsen's status has been upgraded from "critical" to "fair," but that he will need to undergo surgery within the next couple of days to relieve pressure on his brain. Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace have set up donation sites to help cover medical bills.

Now, you might think that if you are a veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq, and you get hospitalized by the police while engaging in a peaceful protest, that there would be some mechanism for covering medical bills that didn't rely on private donations. Of course, if we lived in that America, people would not have needed to be out protesting in the first place.

If you recall, the Washington Post's coverage of the violent police crackdown on protesters was illustrated by a picture of a policeman petting a cat that was "left behind by Wall Street Protesters." Well, that photo now has its own tumblr: Oakland Riot Cat. Here are a couple of samples.

where Quan is Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who still seems to think that she bears no responsibility for this.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Three-eyed Simpsons fish caught near Argentinian nuclear plant

So, who doesn't love it when life imitates art? Apparently, some fishermen near Córdoba, Argentina caught this fish:
Image via Geekologie.
Perhaps coincidentally, the fish was caught near the city's nuclear reactor.

Sadly, a brief survey of Córdoba's Wikipedia page reveal's no mention of a baseball team, glacier, gorge, or iconic lemon tree.

Spanish-language story here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A few troublemaking protesters does not justify police brutality

So, according to James West's coverage of the events at Occupy Oakland last night, the escalation in the standoff with the police may have been due to a small, belligerent minority:
No one appeared in control and the group was divided into two groups: the largely peaceful, and a small, visible, determined group of agitators.
At the height of this melee, I saw two men throw bottles at the police. People screamed and scrambled for air ahead of the inevitable: a half-dozen canisters of tear gas—some crackling and echoing off the Rite Aid building. Caught up in taking pictures, I breathed and choked. It felt like I had swallowed chilies and then rubbed the chilies into my eyes for good measure. I heard reports of rubber bullets and saw demonstrators tending to the distressed. My Twitter feed told me of at least one bloody injury—a man hit in the head with a canister—but the gas made the intersection impossible to rejoin for 10 minutes to confirm injuries.
Now, many people will undoubtedly use this to justify the police response. After all, there was an attack on the police. Nevermind that the police were all in full riot gear and in absolutely no physical danger from thrown bottles. To a certain mentality, if the crowd throws something at the police, that justifies a violent response, no matter how disproportionate.

Here's the thing, though. West's account makes it clear that the majority of the crowd was peaceful, and in fact, actually trying to discourage the belligerent minority.

Now let's ask what happens when you have a situation like this if people are NOT protesting societal inequalities.

Imagine, say, a baseball game, where, say, a belligerent group of fans was throwing things onto the field while the people around them were telling them not to. Do you think the cops would fire rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd as a whole? Or do you think they would move in and try to apprehend the people throwing things, while being careful not to hurt the rest of the crowd, who are fundamentally on their side?

My guess is that it might depend on how much time Republicans had spent decrying the baseball game as class warfare.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, CNN quotes Mayor Kasim Reid as saying,
This movement is moving toward escalation. That it is no longer peaceful in my judgment and there are elements in that movement that are willing to engage in violence. So I'm not going to let that stand.
Yes, that's one possible response. Because there are elements that are willing to engage in violence, we need to send riot police in to stop the protests, using violent means if necessary.

Another, less dickish, less hegemony-protecting response would be to reach out to the rest of the protesters, the peaceful majority who are there engaging in constitutionally protected speech, to identify and remove the violent elements, to ensure the safety of both the police and the protesters.

Of course, that would assume that the Mayor's goal is actually public safety, rather than just coming up with an excuse to shut down an inconvenient and embarrassing protest.

Letter from Cairo to Occupy Oakland

So, here's something heartwarming that has come out of the disaster of the past two days in Oakland: a letter of support from Cairo.

You can read the whole thing at Occupy California, but here are a couple of excerpts:
So we stand with you not just in your attempts to bring down the old but to experiment with the new. We are not protesting. Who is there to protest to? What could we ask them for that they could grant? We are occupying. We are reclaiming those same spaces of public practice that have been commodified, privatized and locked into the hands of faceless bureaucracy , real estate portfolios, and police ‘protection’. Hold on to these spaces, nurture them, and let the boundaries of your occupations grow. After all, who built these parks, these plazas, these buildings? Whose labor made them real and livable? Why should it seem so natural that they should be withheld from us, policed and disciplined? Reclaiming these spaces and managing them justly and collectively is proof enough of our legitimacy. 
In our own occupations of Tahrir, we encountered people entering the Square every day in tears because it was the first time they had walked through those streets and spaces without being harassed by police; it is not just the ideas that are important, these spaces are fundamental to the possibility of a new world. These are public spaces. Spaces for gathering, leisure, meeting, and interacting – these spaces should be the reason we live in cities. Where the state and the interests of owners have made them inaccessible, exclusive or dangerous, it is up to us to make sure that they are safe, inclusive and just. We have and must continue to open them to anyone that wants to build a better world, particularly for the marginalized, excluded and for those groups who have suffered the worst.
. . . .
By way of concluding then, our only real advice to you is to continue, keep going and do not stop. Occupy more, find each other, build larger and larger networks and keep discovering new ways to experiment with social life, consensus, and democracy. Discover new ways to use these spaces, discover new ways to hold on to them and never give them up again. Resist fiercely when you are under attack, but otherwise take pleasure in what you are doing, let it be easy, fun even. We are all watching one another now, and from Cairo we want to say that we are in solidarity with you, and we love you all for what you are doing.

Comrades from Cairo.
24th of October, 2011.
Update: It occurs to me, of course, that I have no idea who the author(s) of this are, or whether it actually came from Cairo, or anything, really. But none of that really matters in this case, because what it says is true, no matter where it came from.

Occupy Oakland Video

So, if you haven't seen this video from last night's Occupy Oakland protest, here it is. Don't watch if you're not comfortable with blood or profanity. Or if you desperately want to cling to the illusion that the Occupy protesters are a bunch of selfish hoodla, while the police are uniformly faultless champions of freedom (in which case you should go back to eating usual shit sandwich from Fox News).

Basically, what you have here is a guy lying on the ground bleeding from his head after he got nailed by some sort of police projectile: maybe a tear-gas canister or maybe a wooden dowel. You have a phalanx of police standing there doing nothing for him. Then you have some protesters running over to help the guy. At which point one of the cops tosses a flash grenade right into the middle of the group.

The bleeding guy is Marine Scott Olsen, who was twice deployed to Iraq. He is currently in the hospital in serious but stable condition with a fractured skull.

He was attending the protest as a member of the group Veterans For Peace. This quote from the Veterans For Peace official statement on Scott Olsen:
As with virtually every example of the occupy movement across the country, those encamped were conducting themselves peacefully beforehand, protesting current economic, social and environmental conditions in the U.S. brought about by decades of corporate control, a criminal financial industry and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are driving the U.S. global empire into bankruptcy.  These "occupy movement" participants are telling us something we need very desperately to hear.  They should be listened to, not arrested and brutalized.
Police in the majority of cities are acting with restraint and humanity towards the encampments, but Veterans For Peace will not be deterred by police who choose to use brutal tactics.  In fact, as happens with repression everywhere, more people join the cause.  We do believe that the rank and file police officers are part of the 99%,  the overwhelming majority of Americans who are suffering at the hands of an intolerable system.  Layoffs and cutbacks in city after city prove that we must join together to demand justice for all. 
We send our very best to Scott Olsen and his family and wish him a speedy recovery to health.  
We shall not be moved.
Amen to all of that.

How do you think the Washington Post covered last night's evictions in Oakland?

That's right! It was all about cops heroically petting the kittens that the selfish Occupy protesters left behind. (Via Wonkette.)

Boing Boing has a nice round-up of coverage from Oakland here.

Ronin Institute: Universities as resource aggregators

So, I had not realized until I got a twitter-prompt from Kiona Strickland that so much time had passed since I put out my call for opinions on what one would need to successfully do academic research outside the confines of traditional academia.

The call was put out in the context of my own goal of incorporating as a non-profit called the Ronin Institute to pursue my own scholarship.

A remarkable number of people shared extensive and thoughtful comments. I hope to respond directly to each of you quite soon as well.

Responses came from people who are already functioning outside of academia, people who are thinking about doing so, and people who are successful and reasonably happy professors at this or that institution.

There were a huge number of specific things that came up in the responses, but they seemed to cluster around the following five things:

1) Money
2) Library access
3) Colleagues
4) Legitimacy
5) Infrastructure

It occurs to me that each of these needs points to the fundamental role of universities are resource aggregators. By that I mean that they facilitate what in economic terms would be called "economy of scale" (or in voodoo complexity science terms "emergence"). I'll take each one of these in turn.

1) Money. This is of course, the biggest thing that many scholars are worried about, especially these days. You've found something that you love. You've gained enormous expertise in it. Quite possibly, there is some particular thing (maybe a behavior in some species, or a period of history of some specific location) on which you have become the most knowledgable person in the world. It seems like you ought to be a way to turn that into a paycheck, right?

Fundamentally, we all have to work within the constraints set by how much funding there is out there to support scholarship in a particular area. You can total up the budgets of then NSF, private foundations, and so on, and it provides a sort of upper bound on what can be supported. In many fields, there is the perennial problem of over-production of PhDs, which is constantly putting pressure on this upper bound, but that's a post for another day.

Within those constraints, an independent scholar has to deal with two things. First, the money available for their research may not be enough to live on. Second, their grant support may fluctuate over time. In most fields, universities help with the first by creating ways to subsidize your scholarship through teaching or other activities.  If you are, for instance, a clinical researcher in a university hospital, you may have an arrangement where the less grant money you have, the more time you spend treating patients.

Universities help to address the inevitable fluctuations in grant support by effectively averaging financial support across individuals and over time. I may have a grant shortfall this year, but they keep paying my salary (at least nine months of it). Presumably, this is, on average, compensated by the overhead they take in when I do have grant support, from the classes I teach, and from donors who are impressed by the prestige of my department.

It is not obvious to me that the Ronin Institute will be able to do much of anything on this front, unless I win the lottery. However, I believe that it could serve as a hub for communication among independent scholars, many of whom might have more creative ideas to share.

2) Library access. Access to scientific journals and books is an absolute necessity for any real scholarship. Here, the resource aggregation is perhaps most obvious. A university will typically have institutional subscriptions to a huge number of academic journals, and affiliation with the university gives you access to those journals. University libraries also usually have huge number of "books," which are sort of like the web, but printed out on paper.

Legend has it that in an era before the invention of the blog, people used to buy, sell, borrow,
and occasionally read books. Image via Wikipedia.

This, again, is something that would be difficult for the Ronin Institute to replace. Fortunately, there are work-arounds available to many independent scholars. For books, many universities have mechanisms to make their collections open to the public. You'll want to contact the school(s) closest to you to find out.

For most scholars, the most important thing, though will be electronic access to the journal articles, preferably via some mechanism that works while you're at home in your pajamas. The trick is to acquire some sort of (non-paying) affiliation with a university. You might be able to use your alumni status do this with your alma mater, or you might be able to arrange some sort of adjunct or visiting position with a university close to you.

3) Colleagues. The most valuable resource that universities aggregate is people. At a university, you can be surrounded by people who care about things as obscure as the things you care about. You get continually exposed to new ideas both in formal settings like seminars and in informal ones like waiting in line for a latte. Some of these colleagues may then become collaborators.

It is easy, I think, for an independent scholar to recede into isolation. Your research can suffer from a general lack of intellectual stimulation. It can become sloppy if you are not being challenged by smart people who have expertise that overlaps with and complements your own. And, of course, some of the most interesting projects are those that integrate knowledge, expertise, and ideas from different areas. Those projects will absolutely require strong communication or collaboration among multiple people with different backgrounds.

Being an independent scholar has the potential to be a lonely existence, even if you do have a balloon.
Then, of course, there's the purely social / emotional component. For most of us, being a truly independent researcher would be a terribly lonely and unsatisfying existence. I think we all need someplace where we can go and say something like, "I'm so sick of working on this grant proposal," or, "You won't believe what Reviewer 3 wants me to change," where people will get it.

In principle, this is an area where the Ronin Institute could make a contribution. It could serve as an online hub where independent scholars can share their ideas and experiences, maybe even find collaborators. What do you think? If there were a reasonable online community of Ronin, would you participate? Do you imagine that it would help?

4) Legitimacy. This, to be honest, was one of my primary motivations. If you submit a grant proposal or paper from your home address, the reviewers are probably not going to take you seriously. It's a shame, but the fact is that most reviewers are going to be traditional academics themselves, and may be instinctively distrustful of alternative careers.

This, again, is a place where the Ronin Institute might be able to contribute something. I am leaning towards creating a mechanism through which independent scholars could acquire some sort of affiliation with the Ronin Institute. This would come with an e-mail address and the ability to cite the Ronin Institue as an institutional address. My instinct is that if you have a way of publishing under a university address (e.g., as an adjunct professor or visiting scholar), that will benefit you more, but who knows. I'm still weighing the pros and cons on this one, and am trying to think about just how open the affiliation would be. In any event, it would probably be somewhat restrictive at the beginning, as I would want to limit the numbers for logistical considerations, at least to start.

5) Infrastructure. The last thing that universities provide is all the other people and stuff that you could never have on your own. This includes grant administrators, accountants, clerical support, IRBs, etc. It also includes equipment. In the experimental sciences, it might be expensive lab equipment, which only makes economic sense when it is shared among three labs, each of which has fifteen or twenty grad students, postdocs, and technicians working there. Even if your work is primarily theoretical or computational

This is an area where the Ronin Institute could, in principle, contribute. It is conceivable that, in the future, independent scholars could run grants through the Ronin Institute, and the overhead from those grants could support one or more people who could administer the grants. Similarly, maybe it could pool money to pay for shared software licenses.

This is not anything that is going to happen anytime soon, however. If a sufficient (and sufficiently active) community grows here, though, it is something that we might consider a few years down the road.

The Hall of Doom would have been difficult for any one supervillain to afford on his or her own.

In the meantime, we might be able to compile a list of resources, ways to access those science-y things that you need occasionally, but could not possibly hope to own.

Next Time: 

As you might expect, many of the responses also focused on all the things that don't work for them in traditional academia. That will be the next update.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Evolutionary Psychology Freudian slip

So, here's something that's a little bit awesome.  At least it's awesome if you're the type of Evolutionary Biologist who likes to poke fun at Evolutionary Psychology. Which is to say, if you're an Evolutionary Biologist.

If you go to John Tooby's webpage, and click on the link labeled "Advanced Theory and Method in Evolutionary Psychology," you get this:

Hat tip to someone whose name I won't post here, lest it should negatively impact his and/or her job prospects.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hauser response to plagiarism allegations

So, I'm not sure exactly how I wound up covering this story here. Somehow I have this vague memory of posting a link. Then there was a green fog, and some comments, and tiny dogs riding tricycles, and Katie Holmes struggling to escape from her Katie-Holmes-shaped prison cell, except she had giant fangs, and next thing you know, here we are.

Anyway, a few days ago I mentioned that Gilbert Harman had reposted his mini-paper in which he lays out the case that Marc Hauser had taken many of the ideas in his book Moral Minds from a young researcher named John Mikhail, and that Hauser had not given Mikhail adequate credit for those ideas. Harman argues that Hauser's qualifies as plagiarism, not of Mikhail's words, but of his ideas.

A commenter noted that Hauser has responded to the allegations, and Harman provided a link to Hauser's response, which he has posted on his webpage. You can view the response here. Briefly, Hauser argues 1) that many of the ideas in the book, which Harman claims were copied wholesale from Mikhail, were, in fact, indebted to a number of non-Mikhail sources, many of which predate Mikhail's work (e.g., Chomsky), 2) that the scope and thrust of Moral Minds is quite different from Mikhail's, and 3) that Harman seems to be lobbying for a standard of citation that is not at all standard in the field (or any field), and would result in books being completely overwhelmed with citations.

It is worth remembering that Harman himself has stated that his original allegations (which you can read here) were meant to be "a draft of a case for the prosecution and not a final verdict on this topic." So I think that even Harman would not want any of us jumping to any conclusions without reading and considering Hauser's response.

What I would love is to hear from someone out there who is familiar with the work in question, but is not connected to Hauser, Mikhail, or Harman. Does any such person exist out there?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Blog 4 Book Lovers review of Remarkable

So, regular reader will already know that my wife, Lizzie Foley, has her debut middle-grade novel coming out next April. I have already explained to you how excellent the book is, and how you should plan on buying it for your kid, and how you should buy a second copy for yourself.

Now, you may be thinking that since she is my wife, I'm not in a position to provide an unbiased assessment of her book. That may be fair in general, but in this case, my biased appraisal of the book also happens to be exactly correct.

As evidence, let me point you to this review, which was just posted at Blog 4 Book Lovers. Here's an excerpt:
One of the many things about this book that impressed me was how the author juggled an incredible range of topics without making anything in the book seem ridiculous.  The story goes from pirates to sea monsters to fortune telling pizza makers.  I'd never read anything like that.  Another thing were the realistic characters – it must have been something in the writing, because I swear I could picture Jane right next to me.
Here's a reminder of what the cover looks like (modulo any tweaking that happens in the next six months):

Buy. Read. Enjoy.

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: October 23, 2011

So, welcome back to Sunday Linkasaurolophus.

Remember, it's like the Winter Linkolympics, but on just one ski.

1. Philosopher of Biology, blogger, and awesome-name-winner John Wilkins is looking for help to bridge a financial lacuna. If you're in a position to loan or donate, please do. He's one of the good guys.

2. Who says high schools aren't preparing kids to function in our society? One consequence of the decade-long War on Terror™ (a wholly owned subsidiary of Haliburton) is the proliferation of secret courts, which are able to pass down judgments with absolutely no public scrutiny or oversight. Well, the kids are getting in education in twenty-first century American Justice at Alice High School in Texas, where a student was kicked off the cheerleading squad and suspended. The student claims that he is being punished for a same-sex kiss that was caught on one of the school's surveillance cameras. The school says,
The Alice I.S.D. has recently reviewed the recent removal of a student from the Alice High School Cheerleading Squad. After reviewing the Alice I.S.D. Student Code of Conduct and the Cheer Program Handbook, the removal will stay in effect. The student's parents are in agreement with the district's decision. The student code of conduct and cheer handbook are designed to improve conduct and encourage students to adhere to their responsibilities as members of the school community. The student and parents are clearly aware that the student was not removed from the squad for kissing another student at school. While the student is free to discuss certain aspects of his discipline in the media, the District cannot discuss the specifics of this incident and must respect the privacy rights of the students involved in this matter.
Except, that the student's family is not in agreement, and still claims it is about the kiss. But, you know, privacy concerns, so I guess we'll just have to trust them. Via Jezebel.

3. Did you know that Oral Roberts has a gay grandson? Me either. He sounds awesome. He'll be giving a series of public lectures starting today. Read about it here. And no, it appears he is no longer invited to family functions.

4. Global warming is real. Now most people who are not ideologically committed to global warming NOT being true already knew that. So what's the news here? Well, a group of researchers called Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature has done a careful reanalysis of the major temperature records, and has concluded that, yes, things are getting warmer. The results are important in part because the group is not made up of existing members of the climate-science community, and in fact approached the question with a degree of skepticism. In a rational world, that would satisfy climate deniers. Oh well. Via The Economist.

5. And finally, if you haven't seen it yet, here's Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, and a whole crowd of folks singing at Columbus Circle in support of the Occupy movement. Via Boing Boing.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

eFrienda: Ask your doctor if it's right for you

So, have you been offline for more than a few hours at a time this week?  If so, you may be suffering from Anti-Social Media Disorder, or ASMD.

Awesome PSA (pharmeceutical service announcement) video by Hilary Weisman Graham, whose debut Young Adult novel, Reunited, will be released by Simon and Schuster in June 2012.

How would Cain's 9-9-9 plan affect you?

So, something like four fifths of you would wind up paying more in taxes under Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax than you do under the current system. Which four fifths? The poor fifths, of course!

Which just makes sense, of course, because, as Cain says, "It is not someone’s fault if they succeeded, it is someone’s fault if they failed." So, to you bottom four fifths of American households out there: you are failures, and you need to own up to it; these success yachts aren't going to buy themselves!

But how, specifically, would the upside-down 6-6-6 plan affect you? Here is one of the best graphs ever, created by Brian Highsmith, and posted by Jared Bernstein. The bars show the change in tax liability for different American households under Cain's plan:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gilbert Harman plagiarism piece on Marc Hauser back up

So, a few weeks ago, I linked to a short piece written by Princeton Philosophy Professor Gilbert Harman in which Harman made the case that Marc Hauser's book Moral Minds plagiarized the ideas of a young researcher named John Mikhail.

Then, suddenly, the Harman piece disappeared. Harman commented that he had not meant for the piece to go public. He had posted it to his website in order to get comments from a small circle of colleagues. When it received wider attention, Harman pulled it down so that he could give his ideas some more thought before publicizing his accusations.

Well, an expanded version of the piece is now back up. You can read it here. I haven't diffed the files, but it looks like the original piece is still there, with some additional discussion at the end.

Connoisseurs of academic scandal, enjoy.

Hat tip to Laila Waggoner.

Edit: Post title had Marc Harman instead of Marc Hauser. Der . . .

Best postdoc ever: last call

So, a few weeks ago I posted about three-year postdoc opportunities at the Santa Fe Institute. This is a reminder, since applications are due on November 1. Go to the original post for a complete explanation of why you should be applying for one of these positions.

Here's the short version: it's three years of complete freedom to pursue whatever research you want in an intellectually stimulating transdisciplinary environment with a bunch of cool colleagues.

Read more about the fellowship and access the online application here.

What would baseball's poet laureate actually be like?

So, apparently, there's this guy, Tom Martin, who has been tweeting haikus about the Milwaukee Brewers (@brew_haiku). According to the Times baseball blog, Bats (via the Poetry Foundation), Martin is lobbying to become baseball's poet laureate:
Tom Martin texts haikus about Brewers games on Twitter, and he wants to be baseball’s poet laureate, a role that has been vacant since, well, forever. (The late, great Dan Quisenberry wrote some pretty good poetry, but never earned the national superstardom and universal acclaim that comes with the title of poet laureate.) Martin’s verses celebrate the joys and sorrow of following the Brewers. Joys, from Sunday: “At Miller Park now/ready to go with game two/packed house is rocking!” Sorrows, from Wednesday: “It’s tough to win when/we can’t keep the ball in yard/see you on Friday.” It is as if Dick Stockton were calling a game, only concisely. 
Martin would be willing to work for no money, taking his compensation in the form of booze, just like any good poet. However, even this alco-altruistic stance is not consistent with baseball's actual economics. The fact is, if baseball were to have a poet laureate, not only would the poet not get paid, they would have to pay baseball for "promotional consideration." This would ultimately wind up with the poet laureate position being held by some multi-national corporation.

Which means that the haikus written by baseball's poet laureate would look something like this:

Poet Laureate Citibank Group:

          Step up to the plate!
     Open a checking account,
          you'll hit a home run!

Poet Laureate Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America:

          Steroids can be safe
     and effective. Unleash
          your inner champion!

Poet Laureate Bank of America:

          B of A, leading
     the league in stolen "bases,"
          by which we mean homes.

Poet Laureate Goldman Sachs:

          Slide into second
     quarter earnings with our new
          accounting methods!

Poet Laureate Novartis, makers of Ex-Lax:

          Try our new bunt cakes!
     Is your last meal "stuck on third"?
          Drop one in the grass!

Occupy Darwin Eats Cake

So, for the next . . . um . . . span of time . . . lasting, I guess from now until I run out of ideas, my Darwin Eats Cake webcomic is changing formats. Normally, it updates approximately twice a week, on approximately Monday and approximately Thursday, and the strips are mostly self contained. For now, though, the strips will be coming more frequently, and will form a continuing storyline.

This change was necessitated when Eleonora convinced the rest of the cast to go into New York and join the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Here are the first two installations in the new series:

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Like everything at Darwin Eats Cake, and all original material here at Lost in Transcription, these comics are licensed through Creative Commons, meaning that you're free to share, copy, print, etc. them, preferably with attribution, and, ideally, a link back to the site.

Remember, sharing is caring :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

BREAKING: Rush Limbaugh is a lying sack of 5#!7

So, there may be some of you out there who thought that there must exist some level below which even Rush Limbaugh would not stoop in his partisan hackery.

You would be wrong.

You may have heard about how the US is now sending 100 military advisors to Uganda to help the government deal with the Lord's Resistance Army. Now, this may or may not be a good idea strategically, and it may or may not help anything on the ground, and certainly the Ugandan government is no paragon of human rights, so it is certainly reasonable to question whether or not this is the best course of action.

But how would you voice that question if you were, say, a compulsive liar, hypocrite, and generally worthless human being? If your only consideration was making the Obama administration look as bad as possible?

Well, if you are a compulsive liar, hypocrite, and generally worthless human being whose name happens to be Rush Limbaugh, you question it by arguing that the Lord's Resistance Army is a Christian group fighting to liberate Uganda from oppression.
Now, up until today, most Americans have never heard of the combat Lord’s Resistance Army. And here we are at war with them. Have you ever heard of Lord’s Resistance Army, Dawn? How about you, Brian? Snerdley, have you? You never heard of Lord’s Resistance Army? Well, proves my contention, most Americans have never heard of it, and here we are at war with them. Lord’s Resistance Army are Christians. It means God.
(quote via The Lede, where you can read a lot more about this)

The problem is that the LRA is actually a notorious group that engage in particularly horrific murders, and is heavily involved in sex trafficking, slavery, and so on.

Over at Boing Boing, Xeni Jardin shares this snippet from the Human Rights Watch report on a massacre recently carried out by the LRA in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
The vast majority of those killed were adult men, whom LRA combatants first tied up and then hacked to death with machetes or crushed their skulls with axes and heavy wooden sticks. The dead include at least 13 women and 23 children, the youngest a 3-year-old girl who was burned to death. LRA combatants tied some of the victims to trees before crushing their skulls with axes.
According to that report, 321 people were massacred in this incident. Many were also abducted, and those who were too slow to keep up were killed along the trail.

Note that in the world of reality, even the "reality" of US politics, this is not a partisan issue. The military advisors are being sent as a result of the "Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009." The bill had 46 co-sponsors, including both Republicans and Democrats, and was passed unanimously by the Senate. It passed by a voice vote in the House, with no dissent.

So, whatever you might say about the people in congress, none of them are siding with this particular group of mass murderers, which is more than we can say for Rush.

But at least they've got the word "Lord" in their name.

Protester's account of Citibank arrests

So, Gawker has just published a first-hand account of yesterday's events at the Citibank branch in New York, where 24 people were arrested, including one woman whose arrest was caught on video, making the police look not so good.

Elana Carroll, one of the protesters arrested at Citibank, provided a first-hand account of events.
One thing that struck me was the description of the police. It sounds as if the particular group of police involved in the arrest were sort of a bunch of dicks.

However, she also added this:
Certainly the arrest was a big moment. But all of the interactions with the police and seeing what it was like to be processed etc. was really eye-opening as well. Aside from the cops who arrested us, many of the cops we interacted with told us that they "commended" us and were proud that this movement is happening.
This is something that I think most protesters and observers are aware of, but should be repeated, often. The police are not the enemy, and it would be a mistake to let the protests be taken over by an us versus them mentality. The economic and regulatory reforms that protesters are after are going to help everyone in the long term, and almost everyone in the short term. I think most of the police know that, and the couple of times I've been down there, I've been impressed with how professional the police have been, and how congenial the environment seems to be.

There are, of course, a handful of cops who are authoritarian bullies -- it's probably why they became cops in the first place -- but most of them have genuinely devoted their lives to public safety, and are just trying to do their jobs. Similarly, there are a handful of protesters who are there because they like being annoying assholes, but most of them are selflessly trying to change a broken and unjust financial/political system.

We have to shine a spotlight on the high-profile events, like bank arrests and face-macing, while not losing sight of the fact that this is a struggle for the economic and political security for everyone.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I owe Martin Nowak an apology

So, if you're an Evolutionary Biologist, you're already familiar with the dust-up prompted by a Nature paper published in 2010 by Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita, and E. O. Wilson.  If not, I wrote about the paper, and the response from the community, here and here.

Briefly, the article attacked one class of approaches to modeling the evolution of traits affecting social interaction: models based on kin selection and inclusive fitness. The authors made strong claims about the effectiveness of such models, claiming that they were useless or even wrong for thinking about eusociality (e.g., in species of bees and ants). The paper prompted a number of written responses, in blogs and in letters to Nature, one co-authored by 137 prominent biologists, refuting many of the claims of the paper.

The paper comes with a weighty appendix, which contains a lot of calculations. Those calculations are not problematic. Rather, it is the main text (the only part most people will read) that triggered the vocal response. The main text made a bunch of unsupported (and wrong) claims, knocking down a straw-man caricature of kin-selection models. It was this straw-man caricature that people found so offensive, along with the failure to cite a huge body of literature (which would have undermined that straw man).

The disconnect between the careful, meticulous appendix and the swaggering, irresponsible main text led most readers to assume that we were looking at a frankenpaper, the imperfectly integrated product of multiple authors. In this sort of circumstance, the impulse is to partition blame among the authors.

My sense was that most people held Tarnita, a postdoc with Nowak at the time, blameless, a talented junior scientist in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The blame, in most people's eyes, fell primarily on Nowak, for a complex set of reasons that I tried to untangle here.  In particular, Nowak has a reputation for not being generous in attribution of credit to other scientists.

Wilson was not blamed. He is, after all, a living legend among evolutionary biologists. If anything, the discussion about Wilson was along the lines of, "Why is Wilson keeping such bad company?" Some people even speculated that he was perhaps being taken advantage of, that he had been roped into putting his name on the paper.

It now appears that I, along with all the other rumor-mongering evolutionary biologists, owe Nowak an apology.

Over the past year, Wilson has been on the warpath, giving various interviews in which he reiterates the major arguments presented in the paper. The most recent just appeared here in the Atlantic. This article, I think, makes it clear that Wilson was the ideological driving force behind all of the misrepresentation in the original Nature article. It also seems to indicate that the disingenuous argument will be expanded to book length in Wilson's forthcoming The Social Conquest of Earth.

The richest part of the Atlantic article comes in Wilson's trashing of Stephen Jay Gould. Trashing Gould is, of course, a popular pastime among evolutionary biologists.
“I believe Gould was a charlatan,” [Wilson] told me. “I believe that he was … seeking reputation and credibility as a scientist and writer, and he did it consistently by distorting what other scientists were saying and devising arguments based upon that distortion.” 
This is a valid enough criticism of Gould. It is also a dead-on description of what was wrong with the Nowak et al. paper. I suspect that the irony is lost on Wilson.

Nowak, M., Tarnita, C., & Wilson, E. (2010). The evolution of eusociality Nature, 466 (7310), 1057-1062 DOI: 10.1038/nature09205

You can't close your bank account in Santa Cruz either

So, the news earlier was about how some Occupy Wall Street protesters went into a Citibank branch to close their accounts, were locked in by the bank, and then arrested. Video shows protesters milling about, causing no trouble, and a woman exiting the bank, identifying herself as a customer as she is manhandled by the NYPD. See the video here at LiT, or at Gawker, or Wonkette (and surely lots of other places).

Well, a much less violent and disturbing drama unfolded at a Bank of America branch in Santa Cruz, where the manager refused to let people close their accounts. According to Addicting Info, goes like this:
Rather than allow their customers to close their accounts, they told them that “you can not be a protester and a customer at the same time.” The bank manager threatened to lock the doors and call the police to have their own customers arrested for the simple act of requesting the closure of their own accounts. 
Here's the five-minute video made by the two women who tried to close their accounts:

Welcome to America. You can have your First Amendment, or you can have your own property, but not both!

NYPD will arrest you if you try to close your bank account

So, this is pretty depressing. This is apparently a woman attempting to close her Citibank account when she is seized by a surprisingly large number of New York's Finest.

Via Wonkette, who note:
Be patient through the first 90 seconds — haha, attention span of a gnat! — because a remarkable little drama unfolds with protesters inside the Citibank branch communicating with protesters outside, all very reserved, collecting names and birthdates of the people about to be arrested inside. And then, brutish cops seize a woman in a business suit who is saying, “I’m a customer, I’m a customer,” and showing her Citibank checkbook. Apparently she is here to close her account, and for that she is manhandled by a bunch of thug cops who should be careful where they go from now on. Anyway, closing your account is now a go-to-jail offense.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: October 16, 2011

So, a few items for the Linkasaurolophus this week.

Remember, it's like Linkaroni, but 100% gluten free.

Let's start with the good news. If you haven't seen it, this is a beautiful articulation of what the whole Occupy Wall Street, 99% thing is all about. It was written as an open letter to "the 53% guy," a critic of the protests, on Daily Kos. If you've got relatives who think that the protests are just a bunch of lazy whiners who want someone to blame for their lot in life, send them this. Here's an excerpt:
So, if you think being a liberal means that I don’t value hard work or a strong work ethic, you’re wrong.  I think everyone appreciates the industry and dedication a person like you displays.  I’m sure you’re a great employee, and if you have entrepreneurial ambitions, I’m sure these qualities will serve you there too.  I’ll wish you the best of luck, even though a guy like you will probably need luck less than most.
I understand your pride in what you’ve accomplished, but I want to ask you something.
Do you really want the bar set this high?  Do you really want to live in a society where just getting by requires a person to hold down two jobs and work 60 to 70 hours a week?  Is that your idea of the American Dream?
Hat tip to Jon Woodward on that one.

Next up, New York is currently all out of the Plan B ("morning after") contraceptive. This was covered by the Health Editor at an online magazine called XO Jane. You can read the column here, but I really don't recommend it, as it is excruciatingly self absorbed, written in a style you might expect from someone so famous, or so rich, that they are accustomed to having to put no effort into their conversations, because everyone laughs at all of their jokes no matter what.

But, more importantly, it contains statements about birth control that are just factually wrong. It has been tackled by scicurous, who details some of the problems, and end with this piece of advice:
Far be it from me to tell XO Jane how to handle their hiring, but I do think it's generally wise to have a heath editor who's taken a health course. And who can read. But perhaps I'm too picky.
Finally, there's an update on the faster-than-light neutron thing. A paper has appeared on the Physics ArXiv that claims that the Italian physicists who wrote the original paper failed to account for certain relativistic effects, and that when those effects are taken into account, the correction of 64 nanoseconds is just enough to bring the neutrino speeds back under the speed limit.

The paper, by Ronald van Elburg, can be found here.

The result has been covered by the Physics ArXiv blog, and at Bad Astronomy. Both writers caution that, while the results seem convincing, we need to wait for the response from the Italian team, and generally let the process play out before concluding that the result has definitively been debunked.

If van Elburg is right, though, it is worth noting that, rather than being a refutation of Einstein's theory, the neutrino experiment looks more like a dramatic confirmation of it.

Recall that last week, the Wall Street Journal published a moronic editorial as part of their ongoing commitment to propagating lies about climate science. The pinnacle fo moronicity in the moronic editorial was the following moronic claim:
The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might—repeat, might—travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein's theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth's atmosphere.
Do you think that, in light of van Elburg's calculation, the Journal will now publish a retraction, saying that, well, maybe we should be recognizing the broad consensus among climate scientists?

Yeah, me neither.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: October 9, 2011

So, welcome back to Sunday Linkasaurolophus.

Remember, if it were 700 miles South-South-East from here, it would be Lurkusaurolophus.

First, according to the China Digital Times, Beijing is now filling up with Obama Fried Chicken:

which would probably seem racist if it were not so completely bizarre.

Next, you know that show Lie to Me, where Tim Roth is really creepy and sort of a dick, but is successful and beloved because he can tell when someone is lying by reading their "microexpressions"? The show is somewhat based on the work of psychologist Paul Ekman, who developed the Facial Action Coding System for reading people's emotions.

The problem, apparently, is that the scientific literature comes down squarely on the side of "That doesn't work."

Well, as a part of civilization's ongoing slide into self-referentiality, researchers at Michigan State performed a study to see whether watching an episode of Lie to Me enhanced people's ability to tell whether or not people are lying.

Hilariously, the study found that watching Lie to Me actually makes people worse at distinguishing between people who are telling the truth and people who are lying.

You can read more about it over at Mindhacks.

Never one to miss a chance for self promotion, I thought I would use this as an opportunity to resurrect one of the early Darwin Eats Cake strips:
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In related news, people who spend all their time sitting on the sofa watching The Biggest Loser do not get any thinner.

Finally, about a week ago, the New York Times published an editorial by self-identified neuromarketing expert Martin Lindstrom, in which he explained how brain-imaging studies prove that we are not addicted to our iPhones, we are in love with our iPhones.

The only problem is that it was a huge pile of crap. It was a misleading (perhaps disingenuous) description of research that was done badly (perhaps disingenuously) in the first place.

The multitudinous flaws in the editorial have been pointed out by a bunch of folks: Here are at least some of them. If you wrote about this, but I missed you, send me an e-mail, or add a link in the comments.

Tal Yarkoni provided, I think, the most detailed point-by-point takedown of the editorial. If you want the nitty gritty of what's wrong read this.

David Dobbs covered it in a post entitled "fMRI Shows My Bullshit Detector Going Ape Shit Over iPhone Lust."

Neurocritic's post is titled "Neuromarketing means never having to say you're peer reviewed (but here's your NYT op-ed space)."

Russ Poldrack addresses the editorial in a post called "NYT Op-Ed + fMRI = complete crap."

Nathan Collins relates the logical error in the editorial to George Bush (Sr.)'s infamous 1988 Willie Horton campaign ad.

Forty prominent neuroscientists wrote a letter to the Times in response to the editorial, which was promptly whittled down. However, you can read the original letter (and see the caliber of the writers) here.

Tal Yarkoni wrapped up the aftermath here, including the weasely non-response response Lindstrom posted in several blog comment threads.

It seems like a sad and embarrassing day for the Times.

On the other hand, when you remember the role that the newspaper of record played in lying to the country in the lead up to the Iraq war, maybe it's actually a good day for the Times. I mean, misinterpreting fMRI studies hasn't killed tens to hundreds of thousands of civilians.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Transistor Rodeo in Cafe Review

So, it's been a little while since I've done poetry-related self promotion, and I know you've been missing it.

A few months ago, the Cafe Review published a Festschrift dedicated to Agha Shahid Ali. This was exciting for a few reasons:

1) Agha Shahid Ali is awesome, and every literary magazine should devote a Festschrift to him.

2) I learned what a Festschrift is. Apparently it's German for "party paper."

3) Since Transistor Rodeo won the Agha Shahid Ali prize, they were kind enough to review it in the issue. They also included a few new poems of mine, which are sort of modified ghazals. I tried writing some actual ghazals, but found that I could not pull it off. So I started tweaking the form. And tweaking it. And tweaking it. Eventually, I settled on a form that now goes by the name "Thus in the Limit."

Here's the generous and thoughtful review, by Michael Macklin:
If you are looking for poems that surprise, let me mention this unassuming mother lode. Try these lines from "Love Song": 
      Words leapt from your mouth then
      like a gymnast on the moon.  You were so
      lively and full of pockets. 
Don't worry, I am not giving away secrets: There are a number of poems entitled "Love Song" in this slender volume. But I would use this opening stanza as a description of what Jon Wilkins, the poet, does. Using the same title for each of a series of poems, he sends words zipping and zinging through our senses like a knife-throwing magician, then ducks behind the nearest title for a new and completely differently balanced set of knives: 
      Always assume it is your lover
      who stands
you said at the end
      of every tunnel and is waving 
      a scarf or an axe. . . . 
Leap to the next "Love Song," and so on. But Wilkins is not just fast of flashy; he prays, catalogues, theorizes. He does these things by himself in the loneliness of space, or else naked and drunk after the prom with William Carlos Williams in his own Mean-Joe-Green-meets-the-boy-with-a-Coke version of "Kenneth Koch's Unfinished Sestina." 
In the section called "Prayers," Wilkins uses the titles to place us in a specific time, physical space, and attitude, i.e. "7:34 am, styrofoam cup, metal table / Prayer": 
      Still too early
      for beautiful
      people. Just
      the dust
      mask / leaf
      blower who
      may / may not
      regret former
      truancies and that scar.
His prayers are bright, twisted pieces of cellophane that wrap the everyday in what feels like the mathematics of modern meditations. He uses slashes to turn his short lines into fractions, as though he were working out the balance necessary to prove his theories on God / world. He ends this prayer, "Lord, make me hot as coffee, / and I'll melt this world like sugar." Wouldn't we all like to believe that of ourselves? 
If I had been taught prayer or mathematics by Wilkins, I might have stuck with them. Not because I always agree with him, but because he would keep me fascinated by what was coming next. His ability to keep us off balance and interested is uncanny. As he says in "Please don't hate me because I'm perfect": 
      God, I wish I had a nickname like Rabbit.
      I wish I'd spent more time swimming as a kid. 
He leaves us wishing as well.
And here are the three poems that were included in the issue:

Thus in the Limit

Just like you, she came here for the fountains
of youth and chocolate. She found them occupado.

Occupational hazards and other children follow
her through the streets, but the alleys disobey,

dissolving like salt behind her. You can find her now
tucked in behind the baking soda with her umbrella,

unbearable to her parents, who claw at the old country,
backs to a black hole of immodesty and television,

transvestites and flavored mayonnaise, of mountains,
moonless nights that almost resemble, almost reassemble

Thus in the Limit

Just like you she came here with a bag full
of chalk and yellow tape. Her fear of snakes

sneaks up on her now and again, coiling her
on herself like the long braids of the peculiar

pelacur girls she used to watch with a braid
of envy, fear, and desire. She is a tidal wave,

a tiny wafer, lingering on the tongue
of a Priest, full of unsprung anticipation,

an incipience and a retrospect and the twisted cable
connecting them, impossibly long and longing

Thus in the Limit

Just like you she came here overflowing
with a need to feel superior, an age-old

rage holds her heart – gentle but joyless,
resentful, like holding the hair of the girl

hurling in the dorm toilet. Still beautiful –
still never going to fuck you. One day she

may see you again, and generations later
erupt like a pimple on a weedy chlapec,

slapstick now, from far away, but the boy
is a killer, has no nation, no hesitation

%&#! $#!& Stack

So, here's a little something to relieve the monotony of the the Steve Jobs idolization that still has the internets in its grip.

The video is totally NSFW (for language) by the way, which is just one more reason why you need to walk out of your crappy office job and go join the nearest Occupy Wall Street protest. Mother Jones has an interactive map here.

Oh, and you can buy the shirt here.

via Topless Robot.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: October 2, 2011

So, welcome back to Sunday Linkasaurolophus.

Remember, it's like Linkadrosaurid, but one taxonomic level down.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard about Occupy Wall Street, a populist, Arab-spring-style protest in Manhattan. Or, you might not have heard about it if you get your news from television, which seems not to be giving much coverage to these protests. Or if you get your news from newspapers. Weird, it's almost like the big corporations that control the major media outlets in this country don't want you to know about massive protests against the corporate takeover of politics.

Boy are they going to cover the heck out of those tea-party rallys, though.

Fear is vigilance: This is a little flash game, which is not very interesting, actually, but has the following premise. You're trying to give away personal safety alarms on a campus, but no one is very interested. So, each night, you go out after dark and punch people, to teach them the importance of personal safety. I don't think the game's creators intended for it to be a metaphor for the war on terror, but I'm not sure, since didn't actually play it very long. Maybe if you level up enough, you get hired by Haliburton to go around stoking islamophobia so that you can sell expensive stuff to the military.

Speaking of corrupt people doing stuff that is patently wrong, while shrugging it off as some sort of capitalist manifest destiny, you should read the Bloomberg piece on those tea-party wonder twins, the Koch brothers. ("Shape of an amoral plutocracy!" "Form of a psychopathic lack of empathy!") Here it is.

Finally (with a hat-tip to my wife on this one), you should read this profile of Marcia Lucas, ex-wife of serial-culture-defiler George Lucas. It is fascinating and depressing. You know how everyone goes around asking how George Lucas could have gone from being the genius who created American Graffiti and the original Star Wars trilogy to being the hack who did everything else he's ever done? Well, the key difference seems to have been Marcia, who played a key role in editing the tone-deaf messes that George filmed into the stories that transformed movies and culture. She then left him for being the emotionally crippled narcissist who, ever since, has been systematically destroying that legacy. It's also a parable about how women's contributions get dismissed and denigrated. It's a long read, but worth it.