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August 2016



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Aug. 7th, 2016

Collie muse

Ridiculous conversations with housemates

I have tons of things I should be writing and reading and painting and training and cleaning and organizing and researching and blah blah blah… but I'm out of givashits right now. This also means it's sometimes hard to come up with something clever and intelligent-sounding for here. The following will have to do instead — because these are just things that made me laugh, and when my brain is all out of brain juice due to scholastic work, having some brain candy that makes me happy is a good thing! :-)

~ * ~ * ~ * ~* ~ *~

C, staring perplexedly at the floor, "Why is there glitter all over the mat here?"

B: "Because we live in a fabulous house!"

C pausing for a moment, then: "…can't argue with that…"

~ * ~ * ~ * ~* ~ *~

C, driving the car & continuing the on-going conversation: "Oh, I saw a great bumper sticker the other day! It was one of those silly 'God Bless America' stickers with an American flag on it, but it was old so all the red had faded off. All that was left was God, America, and the little blue square with stars in it. It was almost intriguing! Was it supposed to be 'God Stars America' or 'God Square America' or 'God Blue America' — or what?"

L raises an eyebrow: "'God Blew America'? Shouldn't we all be happier if that was the case?"

C: "Argh! Man, the second that came out of my mouth I knew I was in trouble!"

~ * ~ * ~ * ~* ~ *~

B, idly studying a bottle of wood polish: "'If swallowed, call physician immediately.' Well, that's not going to work — I'd have terrible cell reception!"

C: "What do you mean? We have great cell reception!"

B: "Well, think about it. First, before swallowing, it'd have to catch me and hold me down long enough to swallow-"

C: "Argh! I can't believe I fell for that — and encouraged you!"

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.


Jul. 31st, 2016

Collie muse

Goldie does it again! :)

Squeeee time! I'm so proud of my clever girl! :)

Here's a photo of Goldie looking unimpressed at me gleeing so much at her that the cell wasn't steady enough:

Goldie & Agility 1 cert

Goldie & her first Agility cert — one of many, we hope!

…and here's the actual certification scanned in. Amazing what you can do with Photoshop to pretty things up when you want! :)

Agility 1 -- aced! :)

Agility 1 — aced! Onwards to Agility 2! :)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jul. 16th, 2016

Collie muse

Goldie! :)

To all my friends with children: I am so very, very sorry! I owe you all an apology… and some explanation. :-D

It is probably no secret to those who know me that I don't care for kids that much. The very young ones are often loud and shrill, and their high-pitched voices frequently hit a note that I find quite painful due to popping an eardrum some time ago while scuba diving. I also happen to agree with the (slightly paraphrased) quote regarding babies being alimentary canals with no sense of responsibility at either end. Consequently I have never been able to fathom parental effusing on the remarkable and unique beauty and/or intelligence of their (very average-looking, to me) offspring — could anything be duller to listen to?

There is also the fact that throughout most of my animal-training and -owning life I have usually ended up with the "difficult" animals — the ones that are fearful, or have learned bad habits, or have been hurt and are now consequently quite untrusting. I don't regret being there for those animals — I'm actually rather proud of being able, in most of the cases, to help them become happier and calmer and better behaved. However, I also got used to needing endless patience with the poor things, and to watch those with friendlier or more confident animals easily navigate tricks and training that would take my particular animal teammate much, much longer…

-until now.


Intermediate Obedience graduation! Isn"t she awesome?! ;)

Intermediate Obedience graduation! Isn't she awesome?! ;)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jul. 12th, 2016

Collie muse

The Magicians by Lev Grossman, pt. 2

Okay, finished the book; ready to give a few more thoughts on it. Some notes:

  • Same trigger warnings as before (i.e: rape, able-ism, & thoughtless misogyny) with the addition of violent death and breathtakingly insulting levels of rich white boy privilege — and also…
  • MAJOR spoilers! Though the book (& TV show) has been out for a while, so… cave lector, I suppose?

Anyway! To continue: much as I suspected, in the last 60 or so pages of the book the main character Quentin — I cannot bring myself to call him a hero — does not receive his comeuppance. Unfortunately he also learns nothing at all by the end of the book; his record for horrendous life decisions remains metaphorically untarnished.

For example, I mentioned him cheating on his girlfriend and somehow managing to mentally recast himself as the seduced victim rather than — at the very least — an equal participant. I have two issues with this: first, as depizan (one of the moderators from the excellent Ana Mardoll's Ramblings) discussed with me: due to Quentin being such an unreliable narrator we actually have no way of knowing for sure that this sexual interlude was in fact consensual.

However, despite everyone being so incredibly drunk that one of them (Eliot) was unconscious and the other two (Quentin & Janet) clearly were judgement-impaired, I think we're supposed to believe it was indeed consensual — due to the (perceived) lack of negative reaction from both Eliot and Janet the next day. Indeed, Quentin internally characterizes Janet's reaction the next morning as smugness at having seduced Alice's boyfriend — which is an amazing feat of self-righteousness on his part, but which I guess really shouldn't surprise me considering his consistent narcissism.

Secondly, this self-righteousness of Quentin's reaches an appalling pitch of psychological projection when he discovers the devastated Alice, some time later, spending a night with one of the other students. I personally saw this as a very natural reaction on Alice's part; I could easily see her thinking something like this:

'My first boyfriend ever has cheated on me and I have no one to turn to, to help me through this horrible sense of betrayal and hurt. Was it actually love I felt for him or was I just deluded by sex? Perhaps I should try sex with someone else and see how that feels. If it's wonderful then maybe I'm better off without Quentin, but if not then maybe it is indeed Quentin who I love.'

Quentin, however, manages to recast this experimentation by Alice into a real WTF?! moment — he sees it as personal verification of what a vile, horrible person she truly is. This really boggled me, but… somehow he manages it? He is, in fact, such a disgustingly insecure, pathetic little shit that when Alice tentatively admits to him in the middle of a dangerous situation that (just like him) she's afraid… he sneers at her. Later things start escalating into a truly life-threatening situation — so during a rest-stop he belittles her for being too timid. Her words are prophetic — she tells him she will stop being timid if he will:

"for just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there's nothing else. It's here, and you'd better decide to enjoy it or you're going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever."

Cue make-up making-out, followed eventually by a terrible battle where Alice dies to save him and everyone else.

So let's recap: Quentin's courageous girlfriend — that he initially raped, then cheated on, and then villainized to soothe his guilty conscience — doesn't just plead with him to try living a better life; she also uses so much magic in battle to protect him that she dies from it… all so he will have enough time to try to live more. And how does he repay this astonishing act of forgiveness and generosity? Upon recovery from the battle, he goes home and refuses to use magic any more — people would be better off without it! — instead retreating into smug self-righteousness in the well-paid sinecure which is provided for him: a C-level-equivalent job where all he does is play video games all day in his luxuriously appointed New York City business office.

Then, at the very end of the story, old acquaintances from his magical school days appear, telling him they need his help when they return to the alternate realm where Alice died — to become kings and queens there. It takes less than 10 lines of dialogue from them to demolish Quentin's conviction that humans would be better off without magic — so little, in fact, that it's pretty clear his running off and hiding like this is not much more than the petulant snit-fit of a spoiled child upon being forced to understand there actually are life-changing consequences for his (really stupid!) actions.

However, it's also clear he hasn't learned a thing so far — because he insults one of his old friends in order to have the last metaphorical word… and then leaves with them.

That's it for the first book. There are two more, but frankly I can't bring myself to bother wasting any more time with Quentin. In retrospect, he is a singularly unpleasant example of astonishingly egocentric, self-righteous, and extraordinarily privileged "poor little [white] rich boy."

From what I've been told, by the end of the third book Quentin does finally buy a freaking clue and realize he's not the charmed center of the entire multi-verse. However, while that's a relief to hear I still don't have any desire to read the next two books. The author did a good enough job of inverting the Chosen One trope that I ended up revolted by the main character and didn't enjoy the book… and thus have no desire to read any more about this pathetic loser.

That being said… Sabotabby on LiveJournal made a very perceptive comment to me about Quentin: he's a literary character in a fantasy genre — and that's why I find him so jarring. He's far too realistic — all his adolescent angst and petulant whining laid bare to the reader. There's neither courage nor heroism within him, yet his environment is full of magical trials and wondrous quests. To some degree this makes me despise him less… though I still don't want to waste any more time on him.

Funny thought, though: by my reaction to Quentin it's clear I vehemently dislike literary characters in the fantasy genre… but equally I find I dislike the perfect (or close to it) heroic character in the fantasy genre. For example, while I adored the Narnia stories as a child, I often felt more empathy for the younger Pevensies than for Peter. He was such a perfect little prig sometimes! I always felt it very unfair that he got to be the leader when it was clear to me that both his younger siblings and many of the Animals were far more quick-witted, imaginative, strong, brave, and/or experienced than he.

Even worse (to my perspective) are the pulp stories about yet more "The Chosen One" types like John Carter of Mars or Doc Savage. They were always perfect! They always knew just the right thing to do! Talk about script immunity: their freaking environment loved them! Just once I wanted to see the girl not fall instantly in love and betray her entire people for Carter… or for one of Doc Savage's Fabulous Five to correct his instant — and perfect! — translation of the clue given by the ancient hermeneutic scribbles on the  collapsed stone wall of the lost archaeological whatsis. Where's the sense of wonder or excitement when you know the protagonist will never really be challenged or threatened?

Thinking about those reactions made me amusedly realize: I really don't give authors much leeway in this style of categorization! However, I'm not entirely sure I could definitively say what exactly it is that I'm looking for in a protagonist. I clearly don't want the strict literary character type any more than the strict fantasy character type… but some reality might be nice. Having a magical world where things are straightforwardly black and white is dull; I want at least a little well-considered gray, you know? I do realize that's rather frustratingly ambiguous of me, but for right now this is one of those "I'll know it when I see it" sorts of situations. Maybe this is part of why I so love good urban fantasies?


Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jun. 28th, 2016

Collie muse

The Magicians by Lev Grossman, pt. 1

Trigger warnings for rape, able-ism, & thoughtless misogyny.


My bookclub read this book this last month. It has a nifty (and for nerds, self-aggrandizing) concept: magic is real but secret and only the extraordinarily brilliant can see and perform it. I haven't quite finished it yet, and I may have more to add at that point, but I had a very strong visceral reaction to parts of the book, and I wanted to write them out because I wasn't yet ready to verbalize them last night, when we met to talk about the book.

There wasn't much discussion about the book, oddly enough. The general consensus was that the movie's protagonist was much more likeable than the book's. One of the women pointed out what she referred to as "button words," which are unkind and poorly used words that aggravate you so much they knock you mentally out of the story. Hers was "retarded," and the thoughtless use of it in the book made her angry enough that she just stopped reading rather than finish the story. Another woman mentioned the word "autistic" as hers. I found particularly poignant her disgusted comment, paraphrased from my memory: "He referred to the character as having a focus so intense it was autistic. Right, like no one else ever has had really intense focus!"

Which brings me to my thoughts on some of the things I really, really dislike about this book. For example, the main character spends an unpleasant and apparently pointless amount of time mooning over women's breasts — to the point that someone in bookclub wryly noted that this was clearly normalization of that particular distasteful behavior. When I mentioned how creepily "male gaze-y" it was as well, though, several of the women cheerfully noted that they just "blipped" right past that!

I can understand needing to blip right past crap like that. Actually thinking for any length of time about the book's attempted normalization of such objectifying behavior, and how that actually encourages under-socialized boys and men to engage in it would, I suspect, be psychologically painful and potentially damaging for women readers.

But there's a more important question than why didn't I just blip right past it, and that is: why should we have to "blip" right past it? Why do we have to agree, however temporarily, to view women — ourselves — as objects which can and should be sexualized, in order to read the story? Hell, why is this sort of reprehensible behavior being normalized in the first place? Why are we as readers being pretty much put into the position of having to agree with the (male) author that that's just how it is — boys will be boys!

I emphatically do not agree with that statement. Further, I don't like it being shoved in my face like that… and I really don't like that we as women are pretty much forced to accept our own objectification if we are to read the story.

This asshole of a protagonist later cheats on his girlfriend Alice:

It could have been the sheer domesticity of it… or maybe it was just boredom, that powerful aphrodisiac… but if he was honest with himself Quentin had known for at least twenty minutes, even as they were wrestling Eliot [their drunken friend] down the hall, that he was going to take Janet's dress off as soon as he had half a chance.

…then has the unmitigated gall to blame Janet, the other young woman, mentally casting her as the triumphant conqueror over his (now angrily ex) girlfriend. Right, dude… because she totally forced you to take her dress off.

Can we talk about the rape scene? Earlier in the book, our "hero" and his companions have been shape-shifted into Arctic foxes:

Increasingly, Quentin [the protagonist] noticed one scent more than the others. It was a sharp, acrid, skunky musk… to a fox it was like a drug. He caught flashes of it in the fray every few minutes, and every time he did it grabbed his attention and jerked him around like a fish on a hook. … This time he tackled the source of the smell, buried his snuffling muzzle in her fur, because of course he had known all along, with what was left of his consciousness, that what he was smelling was Alice.


It was totally against the rules, but breaking the rules turned out to be as much fun as obeying them. …he was tussling with Alice. Vulpine hormones and instincts were powering up, taking over, manhandling what was left of his rational human mind.


He locked his teeth in the thick fur of her neck. It didn't seem to hurt her any, or at least not in a way that was easily distinguishable from pleasure. Something crazy and urgent was going on, and there was no way to stop it, or probably there was but why would you? … He caught a glimpse of Alice's wild dark fox's eye rolling with terror and then half shutting with pleasure. … she made little yipping snarls every time he pushed himself deeper inside her. (455)

Later, when they're human again:

Things just got out of control, that's all. It wasn't them, it was their fox bodies. Nobody had to take it too seriously.


Mayakovsky [the professor] sat at the head of the table looking smug. He had known this was going to happen, Quentin thought furiously… Whatever perverted personal satisfaction Mayakovsky got out of what happened, it because obvious over the next week that it was also a practical piece of personnel management…. (456)

This… I just. I can't. If I hadn't known already the author was male, this misogynistic piece of shit scene would have informed me of that fact in no uncertain terms. Hell, where do I even start? How about with:

Oh, but it wasn't really them — they were foxes! He couldn't help himself!

Uh-huh… because none of us have ever heard that "he just couldn't help himself!" justification for rape before, right? Because we all know that men are just animals who can't control themselves at all if there's a woman around. What absolute bullshit.

But in the end she liked it! She wanted it too!

Remember what I said earlier about this scene showing me the author was male? That fantasy of the raped woman ending up loving her rapist is in reality referred to as either Stockholm Syndrome or a possible symptom of domestic violence. It is a sickness, it is pathological — it is emphatically not healthy. It is a twisted piece of psychological projection that rapists and batterers tell themselves to justify their horrific actions: she was asking for it! It wasn't my fault — she wanted it!

Add to that the complete lack of regard in the rape scene for things like, oh, birth control, or any  emotional upset on the part of the raped girl (all she does is later ask the boy if he loves her — what was the author thinking?!), or male conflation of female pain and pleasure, or deliberate male abrogation of self-control in pursuit of sexual pleasure, or the fact that someone who is incapable of giving consent in any meaningful fashion should not be fucked! …but no worries! No, we're all cheerfully assured we shouldn't take this too seriously or anything! It's all those cute little foxie instincts — not our protagonist's fault at all, really! After all, an emotional breakdown or pregnancy resulting from rape — oh, excuse me, "nonconsensual sex" — doesn't fit into the male fantasy of the woman needing to be violently overcome in order to realize she actually really loves her attacker, right?

Yeah, no way that could ever go wrong.

Finally: rape as a "practical piece of personnel management"?! Dude, no. Not just no, but HELL no! This misogynist author can at this point, as far as I'm concerned, go jump in a lake.

Sigh. I'm a completist — I've got only 60 pages to go in a 400 page book. I can do this. I would really like to see the protagonist receive his much-deserved comeuppance… though I'm not holding my breath. I may not like it… but I can do this.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

May. 17th, 2016

Collie muse

Intellectual Shamans (part 2)

Now, admittedly I was just taking quick glances at small photos on google, and the author does state up front that these are just the intellectual shamans that she knows of personally. Nevertheless, her selection of ostensible shamans begs several uncomfortable questions. According to this website, in US business schools women are less than a quarter of tenured faculty, and less than a fifth of full professors — and women of color are even more hugely underrepresented. So why aren't there more management/business professors who are women or people of color? Further, Waddock's selection of study participants works out to only one woman for every seven men, rather than the one in four or five that it should be when based on actual statistics — and her ratio for people of color is even worse. True, she points out that those were the only ones she herself knew — but she also notes she didn't personally know all of them. Many of them were introduced to her by others. That being the case, why didn't the author at least try for more diversity, in an attempt to provide a broader and richer selection of intellectual shamanistic thought?

As I continued reading, another uncomfortable thought started to intrude: is this use of the term shaman a form of cultural appropriation? I've been told that using another culture's concepts with respect is often considered acceptable to the originators of that culture… but I honestly don't know if they'd consider this respectful or not. Actual shamans sometimes go through years of training with a mentor shaman, or endure some agonizing or near-death experience, before they refer to themselves as such. Further, there is a strong spiritual or religious aspect to indigenous shamanism. Would they feel this so-called intellectual shamanism truly equivalent to their life-long efforts — for the blood, sweat, and tears shed for their people? In fact, now that I'm thinking about this… is there an element of ivory tower elitism here — as in: is the author (hopefully unconsciously) inferring that true, indigenous shamans are somehow… I don't know, maybe non-intellectual, or overly dependent on emotion, or something? I'd hope not… but again, as a middle-class white woman in my chosen field of study, I try to be extremely leery of even the possibility of cultural appropriation.

There was one last thing that crept up on me as I was reading: the author notes repeatedly the importance of being who and what one is called to be — yet she gives no credence at all to the equal importance (at least in academia, and I presume in business as well) of actually being recognized as outstanding in one's field. In fact, she doesn't seem to even realize that the issue of women — especially women of color — being overlooked for men exists at all. This is a real shame, especially since both academia and business are huge purveyors of inequities to women and people of color. In general men out-earn women, and white people out-earn people of color, while promotions go more often to men than women, and to whites rather than PoC. Ignoring such things does not make them go away — if anything, it makes them worse. For the author to be blissfully oblivious to these glaring inequities in her research does not speak well, to me, of her powers of observation, especially since she herself is a woman in academia — you'd think she'd maybe notice things like that?

I also strongly feel more diversity in her selection of research participants would have added an inspiring depth and richness to her depiction of intellectual shamans. For her to be (apparently?) utterly oblivious to the overwhelming predominance of academic — and consequently also somewhat socially elite — white males in her research not only diminishes the potential value of her work, but also makes me uncomfortably wonder: is she (unconsciously?) suggesting it's mostly only white men who can truly become who they really are? But then she keeps saying we all need to just do it — to have the courage to answer the call and become shamans in service to our world in our own right. So… does her paucity of study participants who are women and/or people of color show her belief that women and people of color just don't have the courage to answer that call, and/or that they simply aren't that good at this sort of thing? Or is this more a case of her not realizing that 'answering the call to become who we really are' only works when one has a job that ensures enough food for the family to eat, and a roof over their heads? Does she not realize how important the opportunity offered by being in the social higher classes is, in order to take fullest advantage of talent and training? Does she not get how much easier privilege makes things… or does she simply just not care?

In conclusion, there were quite a few issues for me regarding the research methodology which ultimately caused me to regard the book with regretful suspicion. Not only am I still extremely uncertain regarding the potential cultural appropriation, but I also don't feel I can really trust the author's discoveries to be truly representative, due to the rather narrow selection of participants. On the other hand, I feel very strong agreement with the author's base premise: in order to offset the incredibly destructive current results of widespread corporate greed, selfishness, and lack of empathy or cooperation, we have a powerful need to bring back both ethics and (perhaps personal) spirituality into our lives and our work. In the end, I loved the concept, but the examples did not really clarify as much as they could have — more research is clearly needed!


Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

May. 16th, 2016

Collie muse

Intellectual Shamans (part 1)

When I read the title — Intellectual Shamans: Management Academics Making A Difference by Sandra Waddock — I really, really wanted to like this book, and to be able to apply it to my dissertation. I strongly believe our educational system — economics and management in particular — need deep, powerful overhauls on their ethical teachings. I feel strongly about this for a variety of reasons, one of which is that studies have shown that economics — one of the foundation courses of management training — is either teaching or self-selecting for students to lose altruism, empathy, and compassion; to behave more selfishly and avoid cooperation; and to expect the worst of others. These are emphatically not the ethics I want to have predominating in corporate America!

Initially it seems this book too is suggesting a sea change in management ethics — through the teachings of what the author refers to as intellectual shamans. I love that phrase! It brings a spiritual element to academia which I feel is sorely lacking. I'm not suggesting that universities, say, require classes in pre-approved versions of christianity before anyone can graduate with any degree, or that there be, for example, a mandatory prayer hour each day. But I do feel the emphasis on only quantitative statistical financial data which is currently in vogue for business classes is causing the students to miss some really important — dare I say spiritual? — intangibles… concepts such as cooperation, fairness, compassion and empathy, and consideration for others. Heck, even some psychology or anthropology might help business students, so that they could learn that humans thrived evolutionarily due to unselfish behavior and concern for others in the group.

But returning to the book: Maddock defines intellectual shamans as "scholars who become fully who they must be, and find and live their purpose, to serve the world through three capacities: healing, connecting, and sense-making, and in the process seek or come to wisdom" (1), and "formally" defines intellectual shamanism as "intellectual work (theory, research, writing, and teaching) that integrates healing, connecting (intermediation or the mediating of boundaries), and sensemaking to serve the greater good" (3). She is quite frank that this is qualitative rather than quantitative teaching and research: "it is the light that shines from them [intellectual shamans] that helps us identify them, even though this is hardly a scientific concept" (5). She also heavily emphasizes the "becoming who one must be" element of her definition of shamanism, adding that in taking this route:

many (perhaps not all) intellectual shamans become wise elders — sages. Wisdom, as I define it, also has a tripartite definition: wisdom is the integration of systems understanding, moral imagination, and aesthetic sensibility in the service of the greater good, which in the case of intellectual shamans is reflected in their healing orientation. (4)

She goes on to explain her choice of phrasing — first why she considers them shamanic and then why intellectual. According to her interpretation of her research on these individuals, they are shamanic because they have:

undertaken the task (some would call it the spiritual task) of finding and living out their core purpose in the world — and in doing that they are trying to help make the world a better place. Their implicit and sometimes explicit message to all of us is to do the same…. in shaping their purposes, they serve the world in some important way. (3)

She further clarifies her beliefs regarding these individuals, and on what she means by their service capacities, by noting that:

[a]s intellectual shamans within a broadly defined management academy, they do this [serve the world] through the tasks of healing something intellectual or idea-based, be it theory, research, or practice; of connecting, which means mediating across boundaries or boundary-spanning; and of sensemaking. But they might be operating in any number of other realms of academia — or simply other realms. (3)

Perhaps most intriguingly, Waddock explicitly notes that this research has helped her — and, she hopes, others as well — understand that:

we all have the capacity to become intellectual — or other types of — shamans, depending on our own gifts, power, and callings. We 'simply' need to have the courage to answer the call to become who we really are, to work in service to something beyond ourselves that tries to make the world or something in it better, and follow that call in our life's work by doing work that matters, makes a difference. (7)

I find this a hopeful beginning and an encouraging message — a sort of shamanic version of Gandhi's "be the change you wish to see in the world," so to speak. I've often felt that education should step up to the plate more as far as working deliberately towards making a better world.

That being said, I found myself feeling oddly, increasingly uncomfortable as I continued reading. Part of this I knew was due to the 28 individuals which the author chose to interview. She emphasized repeatedly how inadequate "standard" markers of a quality reputation — such as, for example, number of citations of one's works, or how many books published and articles written for so-called 'A'-level journals — are for intellectual shamans… yet when introducing each individual she dedicated two or three pages each to effectively reciting their CVs — isn't that the classic marker of quality? — and other notable accomplishments.

More disconcerting was the lack of diversity in her selection of intellectual shamans: out of 28 individuals there are only four women, one of whom is of Indian descent. Googling the others, I think there's also a South African, some Europeans, and several Canadians — two of which were apparently born in India. Past those two, however… they all look very white!


Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

May. 10th, 2016

Collie muse

Hooks, bucks, & holes

We have a covered patio on one side of our house which is accessed by a sliding glass door. I use it most often to let Goldie in and out of the house to the backyard. The patio was used for exercise equipment by the previous owners, and they left a small, simple hook sunk into the ceiling — kind of like this one:

Hanging hook

Hanging hook

In fact, that photo is probably close to life-sized. It's not a terribly big hook or anything — small enough that, say, wasps or something had filled in the hook part with enough material to form some sort of pale gray, blobby thing resting in the arch of the hook. My assumption was that it was some sort of nasty bug, so I was keeping half an eye on it to know whether they were coming back this year or not — we sure don't want a wasp's nest right next to the sliding glass door, after all.

As it turns out, it's not bugs at all — it's a hummingbird! She's nesting quite assiduously, though she really doesn't like it when we use the sliding glass door. She zips off immediately when we come out that way, scolding us with sharp little chk! … chk! cries that sound much louder than her tiny little body looks like it could produce.

We're using the other doors now to access the patio, to give her a bit more privacy… and I confess I am somewhat excitedly wondering if I could sneak a webcam out there too! I would absolutely love to watch baby hummingbirds being hatched and fledged, after all.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Several times recently I've been in a place where I had to listen to the folks around me admiringly discussing rich people. Their eccentricities, the weirdly frivolous ways they spend their money, the issues they ignore in order to have fun, the vast amounts they spend on things that could easily be bought for far less… these seem to excite and fascinate people, such that they listen with rapt attention and seem to find it a wonderful story to hear.

Is it just me that finds stories such as these incredibly sad? All the good these people could do! But instead they're spending their money on personal toys, on antiquated games for which they are nostalgic, on things that entertain only them, on having a fun time… on remaining children, emotionally.

Do they ever read the news? Do they realize they're part of the 1%, or that they're contributing to the financial problems not just of the US, but of the entire world? Do they even care?

Worse: why do ordinary people seem to treat them with near-hero worship? These obscenely wealthy individuals are not worthwhile role models. If anything, they're parasites on society. I wish there were some way to reach such people — to ask them if they would like to do something really amazing, to help people and to make a better world. Or perhaps the issue is that there are too many trying to do that to them — and all with a wildly different idea of what a better world should be.

Nevertheless, as rational people, and at the very least, surely it would behoove us not to idolize the stupidly wealthy? Maybe I'm overreacting… but still, profligate waste makes me feel bad — both for those who could really use that wastage, and for those who're foolishly throwing good things away. I find those folks really sad.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

I'm slowly making progress on my plan to turn my bedroom into a steampunk zeppelin's cabin! I've stained the inside of all the doors and doorframes that face into the bedroom so they look nice and brown. I'm going to put a porthole into the one that leads to the rest of the house. There are two porthole frames — one for each side of the door — and they look rather like this one:

Porthole example

Porthole example

Like the photo, mine need cleaning rather badly! They also have a pretty blue-green hard plastic window, rather than being clear — which is perfect for my needs.

Next, I think, are the long curtains which obscure Engineering — the nook in the room where all the filing cabinets are. They're simple purple IKEA curtains, but I intend to put a fringe on the bottom, and some sort of drape at the top so they look more Victorian.

Having an artsy project like this one is really helpful as a break from dissertation writing. I give myself one day a week to just relax and make things, and that makes a huge difference to my sanity! I'll post photos at some point when I have more to show.


Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

May. 3rd, 2016

Collie muse

Diss blues in a cheerful key!

Woo! Just finished my first interview for my dissertation research — and it went swimmingly, I think! Feeling much relief here, as well as some amusement at myself for needlessly stressing so much. Hopefully my participant enjoyed herself as well! Now, a couple of notes for future interviews:

  • zoom.us works great! Very clear directions, very easy to connect to for everyone, very simple controls, and it saves beautifully — in both video and audio format, which will make it far easier for me to do a text transcript. I'm sold! I'll be sticking with zoom instead of skype from now on. Thanks, Sam, for the invaluable recommendation!
  • Note to myself: before the interview starts, turn on a light in the room! I didn't realize it was getting dark because I was so focused on my participant… so when I finally looked at my side of the screen again, I realized I was almost completely darked out — almost menacing looking! Totally not the perception I want to give… ;)
  • I should let my participant's words lead the discussion more, I think, rather than worrying so much about the questions. When my participant was most animated and, I think, most enjoying herself was when I let her just tell things in the way and the order she wanted.
  • Sounds silly but of critical importance: use the restroom before the interview starts! Very embarrassing… ;-p
  • Another note to myself: have fun! This doesn't mean I can't be serious or focused as well, of course, but I think when I was enjoying myself was when my participant was having the most fun as well. I'm so very grateful to both her and the lovely person who connected us! Though I can't mention any names for the sake of confidentiality, you know who you are — and you're amazingly good folks!

That's it! The first of, I hope, many fascinating interviews with many wonderful women. To infinity… and beyond! :-D

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Apr. 18th, 2016

Collie muse

Women & STEM

I'm starting to become somewhat unhappy with a current trend I'm seeing on-line: increasingly indignant or strident calls for women to "step up" and start more enthusiastically participating in STEM (or the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)… purportedly so as to give women more of a voice in society, so as to change it for the better. I have a number of issues with this assertion:

  1. It presents lack of women in STEM as a woman's problem — they need to get off their dead butts and get with it!
  2. It assumes the arts are pretty much valueless to the true running of society; and…
  3. It presents men's desires/fields/whatever as the goal and source of power, which does nothing to alleviate society's misogyny — which means that will doubtless carry over into the STEM jobs just as it has in every other previously male-dominated field.

At some point I may write more about #3, but right now I'm just going to give a perspective on issues #1 (since I personally lived what I'll be relating below) & 2… because I've felt great sympathy and admiration for Ada Lovelace since I first heard about her.

So… issue #1: the idea that lack of women in STEM is a women's issue because they just need to get with the program.

Several years ago I originally returned to college so as to get a major in computer science and a minor in anthropology. I remember my computer classes painfully well. The first computer classes were wonderfully fascinating — I so loved the ingenious puzzle that coding was, to me! Plus I had a professor who was actually working in the field, rather than simply being an ivory tower recluse. In that first elective class there were no more than 20 of us students, and the prof was quiet but very smart — to the point that he rapidly figured out that asking, "Does everyone get this?" would get him a silent (even if confused) class… but asking, "Would anyone like me to repeat this?" would get relieved and enthusiastic nods from the confused.

Then I attended a required class — what I now refer to as a "cattle-call" class of something like 200+ students. It was held in an auditorium where the chairs sloped down to the stage. The first few classes everyone was participating as enthusiastically as that first class I'd taken. However, right in the center, at about the professor's eye level, was a small group of 3 to 5 young white guys who would always shout out the answers — even when the professor had only asked for a volunteer to reply.

It didn't take long, of course, for the professor to start deferring to those guys, and everyone else in the class just started falling silent — because they never got a chance to answer, or even ask questions. The prof would run through a problem, turn to the class and say, "Everyone got that?" and the guys in the front would say, "Yeah!" and the professor would look pleased and go on to the next problem. He would do this… even when I could see others looking as confused as I often was myself.

To be fair, there were other white males in the class who didn't get it, along with all the rest of us… but they too tended to be quiet in the face of the aggressively shouted competence of the "favored sons." Unfortunately the class was on a critical subject in computer programming, but because I didn't get it at all and was too embarrassed to ask questions in class, I did very poorly. That subsequently affected both my self-confidence and my ability to actually do the coding — because I still didn't understand this subject. Eventually that lack of understanding undermined my intended degree, and I ended up majoring in anthropology (with honors) and minoring in sociology instead.

In retrospect, if I was too intimidated to object in class (I was) then I really should have gone and complained to the professor during his office hours. But again, it's much easier to realize this with a decade or two of hindsight and self-confidence under my belt. Speaking just for myself, it was a small step from a perplexed, "why is no one else objecting? It must be just me — clearly I'm just imagining other folks' confusion," to the self-imposed isolation of, "everyone else but me must be getting this — maybe I'm not smart enough to do this," to it becoming a self-shaming and self-fulfilling prophecy reflected in my grades.

So if a clueless old white male professor favoring a handful of loud young white men over everyone else in his class is defined as a "woman's problem"… then yes, under that strikingly twisted definition, the lack of women in STEM is indeed solely a "woman's problem."

Next, issue #2: the arts being perceived as pretty much valueless to the true running of society.

On this I deeply sympathize with the Lady Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace (1815-1852), the first computer programmer. Ada's mother had her child rigorously schooled in mathematics and logic in an attempt to protect Ada — the only legitimate child of the wildly notorious and flamboyant romantic poet Lord Byron — from what she perceived as his insanity. Despite Ada's interest in those subjects, she was also fascinated by both her father and poetry — which her mother stringently discouraged. At one point Ada exasperatedly wrote in a letter to her mother, "You will not concede me philosophical poetry. Invert the order! Will you give me poetical philosophy, poetical science?"

The separation of knowledge into the strongly estranged "arts" and "sciences" is, to me as well as to the Lady Lovelace, as artificial as separating mind and body or logic and emotion. I've always believed, for example, that justice should be tempered with mercy, or that ethics should be the bedrock of scientific inquiry. Ada herself commented: "The intellectual, the moral, the religious seem to me all naturally bound up and interlinked together in one great and harmonious whole." She expanded that statement by explaining:

Imagination is the Discovering Faculty, pre-eminently… It is that which feels & discovers what is, the REAL which we see not, which exists not for our senses… Mathematical science shows what is. It is the language of unseen relations between things… Imagination too shows what is… Hence she is or should be especially cultivated by the truly Scientific, those who wish to enter into the worlds around us!

Unfortunately Ada's poetical science and philosophy still resides more in imagination rather than enriching both those male-dominated fields. As a consequence of our insisting on these enforced, artificial binaries, I believe we as a society lose much richness and beauty in our lives, as well as a fuller understanding of the glorious complexity of our universe. Honestly, though, the fruitful intermingling of science, the arts, and philosophy is a subject so deep and wide as to merit an entire book, rather than just my idle speculations. Oh, wait… there's already a book on the subject. It's both brilliant and heavy going — much like Ada's writings on Babbage's proposed Analytical Machine. You're welcome! ;)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

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