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Category Archives: Wobosphere fun

It was the custom of the ancient Persians to reconsider while sober all Twitter avatar choices made while drunk, and vice versa.

Me encouraging scientists to use Twitter sometimes feels like Bill Hicks saying, “I am available for children’s parties, by the way.”

From Alex Gabriel:

Chromosomes, as Anne Fausto-Sterling details in Sexing the Body, can’t be relied on as indicators of the other traits here — sets exist beyond XX and XY, as do humans in whom both are found and outwardly ‘female-bodied’ people with the latter. Anatomy comes in endless combinations, such that estimates of ‘ambiguous’ sets’ commonness vary wildly, with some as high as one in twenty-five (John Money, cited in Fausto-Sterling’s work). Bodies with the ‘wrong’ features — height, hair, breast tissue, Adam’s apples — are common. Everyone preadolescent, postmenopausal or otherwise infertile is sexless judging by sperm and ova. Hormones, like most of these attributes, can be altered at will.

When not all these tests are passed, which overrule which? Milinovich describes people with ‘female’ anatomy and XY chromosomes as male, for example — suggesting, confusingly, that she doesn’t think maleness requires physical traits. What reason is there to choose genes rather than body parts when diagnosing sex, and not vice versa? In practice, things tend to go the other way: medics who judge a foetus’s sex via ultrasound, for instance, do so only by identifying outer sex organs, and I know nothing about my chromosomes, interior sex organs, hormones or fertility. The fact (or assumption) I have a penis is seen as enough, most of the time, to classify my sex as male, but why should it outweigh these unknown factors?

It’s common enough for adult cisgender men — deemed male at birth, with bodies read straightforwardly that way — not to grow facial hair. I know two or three who don’t; so probably do you. This isn’t seen to affect their physical sex. Why then, barring blunt intuition, should the absence of a penis? We can argue facial hair is only a secondary sex characteristic, and penises a primary one, but this relies itself on defining sex by reproductive role: the logic is circular. From that standpoint, moreover, why not make testes the sole determinant, so people possessing them and a vulva were ‘males’? Testes have, after all, the more distinct and self-contained function of sperm production. A penis, being a shell for the urethra, is just another pipe among the plumbing — we’ve no grounds except cultural ones to treat it differently from a vas deferens. So why is it more necessary for ‘maleness’?

Milinovich calls sex a static, stubborn fact, then moves inconsistently between ideas (see above) about what it is. If she herself can’t pick a definition, what does this suggest?

Not up to much so far today; just thought I’d leave a note here about PZ Myers’ nice post on Cynthia Gockley.

My “Worked Physics Homework Problems” book now stands at 372 pages. If you ever wonder what I do instead of meeting people.
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Take the quiz and find out today: Which mescaline-fuelled Hunter S. Thompson rampage of angry gonzo journalism are you?
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1996: John Horgan declares THE END OF SCIENCE. 1997: first E. coli genome sequence published. 1998: expansion of Universe found to be accelerating.
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“You’ll get so preoccupied with equations that you forget to eat!” #BadWaysToPromoteScienceToYoungWomen
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A thing which always surprises me: people who can read Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” nonparodically. The title character

  • is seven feet (2.13 m) tall,
  • carries three hundred pounds (136 kg) without effort,
  • can easily tear straps meant to withstand 5000 pounds of force (the weight of over 2 tonnes),
  • can sing beautifully whilst waving musicians like batons, and
  • neutralizes gravity itself through the power of sheer awesomeballs.

But to a certain mindset, which fancies itself much put-upon and misunderstood, Harrison Bergeron could burst through the door waving a BFG9000 and riding a T-rex, all to nary a chuckle.

“Intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our Earth with envious eyes and invested in hand-sanitizer manufacturers.”
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This is probably as good an evening as any to ask if anyone I know actually watches Elementary. I gave up midway through season 1. Even at their best, the episodes read like House fanfiction with the serial numbers filed off. The mysteries were predictable, even if, like me, you didn’t watch enough contemporary TV to recognize actors (and guest starring: the guy who did it!).
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I once sent a TV Tropes link to a man in Reno, just to watch him die, one bullet point at a time.
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Another thing which year-in-review pieces remind me about: Despair over the failure of news media does not belong under the same heading as idiosyncratic, essentially groundless usage peeves. “It’s terrible how ‘news’ is just giving blowhards unearned publicity instead of informing the citizenry! And how people use ‘impact’ as a verb.”
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Love Actually is, like Scott Pilgrim, a movie I couldn’t find interesting enough to finish watching. Never seen the whole thing. But I gather that it ends with the kid slipping through airport security because they’re distracted by Bill Nighy being killed by Snape.
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It’s Cyber Monday. The skies over Boston are the colour of a DOS prompt and I’ve a 30% discount coupon for some sizzling hot RAM for your Hitachi.
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“I’d thought my own interlibrary loan requests were odd enough, until I realized the book Jenkins held was bound in human skin.”
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Like Nabokov’s PALE FIRE, but instead of endnotes, Internet comments.

Links from the past couple weeks.
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