The Utility of the Familiar and the Strange

I assume you’ve heard the news of the two major hurricanes (and the damage they caused) that recently came ashore in the US — the first hitting the shores of southern Texas and then the other (this past weekend, just over a week after Texas was hit), going up the full length of Florida.

During the commentaries on these two events — whether by the media, politicians, or people who lived through them — I found it interesting how comparative analysis was deployed to make sense of the events.

Or, better put, to figure out what to do in the face of them. Continue reading “The Utility of the Familiar and the Strange”

Making the Arbitrary Natural

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Despite the rhetoric about the Olympics bringing the world together peacefully to celebrate athletic achievement, the competition is oddly divided according to “their genitalia and the patch of land on which they were born” (as colleague Craig Martin put it on Facebook). We see some wonderful examples of international goodwill, certainly (some listed here), but the arbitrary divisions dominate, both through the flag-waving spectators in the stands and the daily medal counts according to nation in the media. Whether it is people in India cheering P.V. Sindhu, who reached the Badminton women’s individual finals last Friday, or people in the United States cheering for Simone Biles’ five medal performance in gymnastics, the division into nationalities takes on the appearance of being a natural description.

The organization of the Olympics, demonstrated from the Opening Ceremony Parade of Nations, and the media coverage that focuses on the nation’s athletes make the nation appear to be a natural division, an obvious identifier (a la Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities). We often cheer for people from our own country because their victory brings us status, even though we have little if anything in common with the athletes, potentially being from different regions, living within different social networks, holding different commitments, etc. Continue reading “Making the Arbitrary Natural”

Disorder Is In The Eye of the Orderer

squirrelofficeI went to lunch the other day and, unknowingly, locked a squirrel in my office.  Continue reading “Disorder Is In The Eye of the Orderer”

Do Bathrooms Matter? Revisiting “The Bathroom Problem”

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On the heels of North Carolina’s recent decision to require transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to their identified sex at birth, Target has just released a new policy indicating that transgender people may use restrooms in its stores that correspond to their present gender identity. While this initiative has received strong support from many corners, it is also not without controversy; most notably, the American Family Assocation (AFA) has called for a boycott of Target on the grounds that this policy “endangers women and children by allowing men to frequent women’s facilities.”

With these claims in mind, there is some importance to my inquiry in doing a bit of fact-checking. As the evidence suggests, transgender people are no more likely to be sexual predators than anyone else, and yet as a group they experience disproportionately higher levels of discrimination and harassment in public venues (and in bathrooms, in particular). Moreover, in response to those who claim that Target’s policy will invite sexual predators of all gender identities into bathrooms, the data indicates that people are no more likely to be attacked in a bathroom than anywhere else, rendering most of the safety arguments relatively void. Continue reading “Do Bathrooms Matter? Revisiting “The Bathroom Problem””

“Sorry Harry, We Thought You Know”

Picture 7So, have you seen “Dumb and Dumber To” — the sequel to the 1994 hit starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels? No? Well, you ought’a — it ain’t “Dr Zhivago,” sure, but there’s some little gems in there worth thinking about. Continue reading ““Sorry Harry, We Thought You Know””

“Why would we have that playing at Tennessee?”

leninWhile not aiming to trivialize ongoing conflicts elsewhere in the world, I couldn’t help but make a connection between the above article and a video making the rounds of social media, in which the University of Tennessee’s football coach sniffs out the source of the song “Sweet Home Alabama” playing while his team practices — a song much associated with one of his team’s arch rivals (which, yes, happens to be where I work). Continue reading ““Why would we have that playing at Tennessee?””

Seeing Is Believing, Or Is It?

Prisma-lightSpectrum-goetheWith my grandparents living in Missouri, the “Show Me State” motto was always familiar to me as a child. The notion from that motto that seeing the world is how you know the world became more complicated when I met my wife. She sees the world differently from me, noticing differences in colors that look the same to me, differences that I have neither perception of nor words to describe. If seeing is believing, whose vision (perception) should I believe?

The issue of perception of color has come into the foreground after the sensation that was Dressgate. In one segment of a Radiolab podcast on color from several years ago (embedded below) that suddenly became popular, they compared the number of different color perceiving cones in the eyes of different animals (beginning about 9:30 in the podcast). Dogs have two, humans three, butterflies five, and mantis shrimp top the list with sixteen. Continue reading “Seeing Is Believing, Or Is It?”