04 December 2013

Maria Bello's "Coming Out as a Modern Family"

If you haven't read Maria Bello's New York Times piece, "Coming Out as a Modern Family," you should consider checking it out. While it is Maria's venue for a coming out, it also touches on points I think we forget or don't consider. It questions what partnership means, and illustrates that just because a romantic relationship ended before death doesn't mean it failed. If you want an idea of the piece:
"My feelings about attachment and partnership have always been that they are fluid and evolving. Jack’s father, Dan, will always be my partner because we share Jack. Dan is the best father and the most wonderful man I’ve known. Just because our relationship is nonsexual doesn’t make him any less of a partner. We share the same core values, including putting our son first. My more recent ex, Bryn, remains my partner because we share our activism. And Clare will always be my partner because she is also my best friend." 
Anyway, check it out.

25 November 2013

The Dark

We put on our coats, and zip them up. Bracing we step outside. The sun is gone for the day, so we must enter the dark.

It was dark when we woke up, and it is still dark as we shut our office doors. A day passed, some say, but we live like moles, and know the gopher way.

Post-work routine is crippled, for it seems midnight by dinner, and our minds can't sleep, they've already fought the darkness. Yet in the mornijng we can't wake, for the dawn hasn't broken.

No leaves don the trees, water stays solid, yet it is the dark we find nipping, biting, gnawing at our selves.

18 November 2013

Boiler Up! Purdue Senate & Student Govt Oppose HJR-6

This relates to my post, "Indiana has a chance." Take action such as contacting your state legislature here.

It was great to be a Boilermaker today, as the University Senate of Purdue joined Purdue Student Government in overwhelmingly opposing HJR-6 (The Marriage and all Similar Institutions Discrimination Amendment). That said, one should note that the President of Purdue (Former Republican Governor of Indiana and individual who is NOT an academic, Mitch Daniels) has stated neutrality. Thus, I would still encourage people to sign the petition asking him to put the university over politics and oppose the amendment.

Purdue has now joined the other major universities in Indiana - Indiana University, Wabash, DePauwBall State, and Butler - in opposing the amendment.

Watching as this effort progresses, I continue with my optimism - Indiana has a chance. Indiana really could defeat this amendment. A lot has changed since these amendments started happening. The streak of states enshrining discrimination in their constitutions has ended. Minnesota defeated a marriage discrimination amendment. Washington, Maryland, and Maine won marriage equality at the ballot box.  Hawaii, the state where it all started, now has marriage equality. Legislatures and courts have also expanded the number of states. Public opinion is changing and people are waking up.

Image from Freedom to Marry. Note 2013 isn't over, and it is quite likely we will hear from at least New Mexico before we ring in 2014.
Indiana has a chance. One should remember that Hoosiers have resisted the amendment for years. Major businesses like Cummins and Eli Lily oppose the amendment. The state's major universities oppose it. Many religious leaders oppose it. Even some members of the Republican Party oppose it. The groups that oppose the amendment are growing every day, and I encourage you to check out Freedom Indiana to find out who has come out against it.

Image from Freedom Indiana, on the Indianapolis city council voting to oppose HJR-6.
I think Hoosiers really could recognize the misleading and out-of-state forces that are trying to drive this amendment and reject them. Hoosiers will realize how much damage this amendment will do to the state. Damage by: leading people to leave Indiana for greener pastures in other states (like Minnesota); causing people to accept a job offer elsewhere because of Indiana's policies; and leading businesses to pass up Indiana because of its policies to name a few.

That said, this is a fight. We can't expect those who want to enshrine discrimination (with incredibly ambigious language) into the constitution to play fair. I hope we can stop this before it happens by killing the money wasting ballot question (take action such as contacting your state legislature here). This ballot question will be resource intensive (such as the cost of the legislature's time, the cost to hold the vote, etc), and that alone is a reason to oppose the measure, and to try to kill it early.

Image from Freedom Indiana concerning a newspaper opposing HJR-6
If it makes it to the ballot, I expect a long, divisive, and expensive fight. I also expect the Hoosier spirit, and I have hope that the people of Indiana will recognize this amendment for what it is - a force to damage the state and tie the hands of Hoosiers for years to come.

The Purdue community has shown it opposes this amendment, and I expect many Hoosiers to follow. Take action such as contacting your state legislature here.

Boiler Up!

Edit 21 November 2013 - Butler added to list of universities opposing the amendment.

14 November 2013

Nitrogen: It's Plant Food

Tuesday I randomly picked up a Minnesota daily, and noticed a letter to the editor entitled, "CO2: It's plant food." Yeah, it is a denialist letter. Which led me to submit the a sarcastic response. It is appearing in the Minnesota Daily as, "Nitrogen: It's plant food."

It did get cut down a bit for space concerns. If you are curious what I submitted before the editting (they called me to approve the editting just fyi), it is the following:

In response to Rolf Westfard’s piece, “CO2: It’s plant food.”
Regardless of what the eutrophication alarmists think, I can simply note that Nitrogen is plant food, and thus it is obviously great for us to just allow tons of excess Nitrogen from fertilizer to run off into the environment. Sure, that ignores rate limiting resources, changes in the ecology of a system due to changes in relative resource abundances,  the scientific literature, the observance of dead zones in certain bodies of water, and the fact that we live on a planet that has been fundamentally changed by human land use, but it is a great catch phrase, isn’t it? Just to be safe I will toss in something like the stock market has generally trended upward throughout history to support my point. In order to add another societal problem to distract from the one at hand, I will note that women in some states are being robbed of their ability to utilize their constitutionally protected reproductive rights due to trap laws. Oh, and it also must be okay to let huge amounts of Nitrogen run off into the environment because there is Nitrogen in human excrement.

11 October 2013

University of Minnesota Restrooms - The Hold Up?

This continues my series on single-use restrooms at the University of Minnesota (post 1, 2, 3).

I think I finally got a clear answer concerning the single-use restrooms that are not gender-neutral. Here is what I have discovered:

1) There is no policy concerning the gendering of single-use restrooms.
2) When changes are made to a room, it must be brought up to code. For that reason any single-use restroom that is not gender-neutral may cost more than just a sign change to make gender-neutral.

Therefore it is a time/effort/money issue. The restrooms in the Ecology Building have apparently now been added to a restroom modification queue. This also means there is a time/effort/money bottleneck somewhere, and leads me to the following questions:

1) How many gendered single-use restrooms are not up to code? The ones that are up to code would be low hanging fruit.
2) Where is the time/effort/money bottleneck. Is it with Facilities? University appropriations? The level of committment to diversity and inclusion? Tracking down this bottleneck will help to resolve the issue university-wide.
3) What channels could resolve this bottleneck? For example, if there truly is no money for this, could we get alum to pay for the fixes, potentially for their name appearing somewhere? Is this a project to put on somebody specific's radar? One thought I have had is that one could report single-use gendered restrooms as gender and gender identity bias (using this form), and use that mediation to accelerate the movement of the university's hand. That may be one way to move the university along by having the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affrimative Action do part of the lifting. Certain entities (university governance, university-affiliated organizations, etc) may also be able to push the process along. It in-part depends on where the bottleneck is as to what would be effective.
4) What would be most appropriate in a policy? A standard would of course be that single-use restrooms will be gender-neutral, and that new construction will include such facilities. A channel to report single-use restrooms that are not gender-neutral would also be useful. I think it would be useful for a resolution suggesting a policy to also suggest looking into the feasibility of gender-neutral multi-use restrooms in some facilities (which would include looking at what restrooms have floor-to-ceiling stalls). Beyond that: Would the policy include a timeline, to make sure we aren't just dumping on facilities something they don't have the resources to do? What would be an appropriate timeline? Part of this would involve looking at other universities, particularly the University of Minnesota's peers.
5) Is temporary signage possible? One question I haven't asked, but I've certainly had in the back of my head, is if just a paper sign could work until Facilities can get to the restrooms? I recognize that Facilities may not be able to make the changes themselves (due to code issues), but what if somebody (not affiliated with facilities) put a paper sign simply stating that the restroom is gender neutral? The TransCommission, for example, puts up a sign on multi-use restrooms near their meetings for the duration of their meeting making them gender neutral. If say, the Ecology Building community wanted to do something similar, is that possible? They wouldn't make the gender-neutral restroom list, but they would provide a temporary solution for the people who use the facilities in question.

There have to be ways to get this issue resolved and resolved in a timely manner, as is only consistant with the Twin Cities' history and the University of Minnesota's reputation.

19 September 2013

University of Minnesota Gender Neutral Restrooms Update 2

Posts this follows up:

It appears the correct contact for restroom gendering at the University of Minnesota is facilities management, according to emails from the Department of Environmental Health and Public Safety.

The Transgender Commission's email is much more hopeful, although that will likely just concern the Ecology Building. I've inquired as to whether or not their is a policy on the issue. If not that is potential grounds for improvement and to stop all the silly back-and-forthing that seems to be the case here for this issue.

I did notice two other issues as well. The Gender Neutral Restroom Map for the University of Minnesota notes Smith 40 as a multi-use gender neutral restroom. When one goes to this restroom, however, they are greeted by the following sign:

This is not okay. It seems to be suggesting that a unisex restroom could not ever be multi-use. Having used multi-use gender neutral restroom facilities at universities in the past, that is certainly not true. I was not able to go in at the time as someone had locked the multi-use restroom to use it, so I'm not sure if there are floor-to-ceiling stalls or what.

It is also problematic that when one looks at the gender neutral bathroom list, a number of them are under a variety of restrictions, or suggest they are not open to the public (for example being labelled "Staff Restroom"). There really needs to be a clean-up of this system.

13 September 2013

University of Minnesota Gender Neutral Restrooms Update 1

The Vice President of Student Affairs at Purdue, Dr. Exum, once noted that asking the right questions can get a fair amount done. This proved true for me during my last two years at Purdue. Earlier I noted a post entitled "University of Minnesota Falls Short on Gender Neutral Restrooms," and I've decided this falling short is important enough for me to start asking questions.

At Purdue, the correct contact concerning the gendering of single use restrooms on academic campus is in the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (in the residence halls it is the Director of Residence Life for those Purdue students who may be checking this out). I have started there with asking my question, which simply asks if there is a reason for so many single use restrooms to be gendered (and pointed out the Ecology Building as an example of this). I emailed the Department of Environmental Health and Safety a week ago and have not yet heard back, and thus have emailed them again today. I also emailed the Transgender Commission to ask the question two days ago, and so far have just gotten an auto-response letting me know the email is only checked once or twice a month. If I don't hear back in another week I will email an administrator who was hired here from Purdue.

I will continue to update my progress on this issue here for those who are interested.

Update: The email I sent to environmental health and safety department has been forwarded from the general email to a Specialist for Food, Water, and Housing.

02 September 2013

Wanted: University of Minnesota Undergrad Research Volunteers

Recruitment webpage | Poster pdf
If you are or know of an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota looking for research experience involving plants, evolutionary biology, or quantitative genetics, please contact me or pass on my information. I've made a webpage describing the opportunities, and am willing to sit down with people to discuss the opportunities. Committment will vary, and thus we should discuss it. Plants will need to go into the greenhouse in October (so there will be planting and censusing germination). We will have to keep an eye on the plants and when they begin to flower crosses will begin! Plants will be hand pollinated. There will be some indirect data to come out of this (how long they take to germinate, self-incompatibility), and the potential to collect more (size, number of heads, etc.), which could be analyzed by an undergraduate (potentially with my help). Plants represent populations from four different locations across Minnesota, so undergraduate mini-projects comparing the sites wouldn't be hard to set up, and self-incompatibility data will likely come as a nuissance to the crossing design anyway.There are also a number of papers I would like to discuss with anybody who joins on, and there is the potential to continue working on the project after this academic year if desired.

No experience is necessary, this is easily a starter experience for undergrads. I currently do not have money to take on undergrads, but there is the possibility of credit. Please visit this webpage for more information. Also, for a more fun, two-minute description of the project, check out this post.

29 August 2013

The Current Cost of Investigating Welfare Fraud isn't Worth It

Just because an idea sounds reasonable and seems to make sense doesn't mean it is good policy. Sometimes a second look is needed.

I also should note that I am triggered to write this post because of an article (The Hand that Feeds You) by Al Jazeera America, and it is refreshing to see a new mainstream media outlet.

The prime example of a policy that sounds reasonable but is actually silly is mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients. It seems so much like common sense - government is subsidizing one's living and should thus check that one is living in accordance with law. Many companies require drug testing for their employees, so why not welfare recipients?

I've not ever worked for an employer that requires drug testing, haven't ever been randomly drug tested in school, so I'm not very familiar with the process. That said, while drug testing by employers is legal and use of drugs may change how certain laws apply, those laws, "[do] not encourage, authorize or prohibit drug tests" (EEOC). This fact weakens the idea, but doesn't completely make it seem unreasonable.

What makes drug testing welfare recipents seem unreasonable is it just doesn't do that much, such that the cost makes one question the resources, time, and effort going into these tests. Drug testing an individual apparently averages about $40 (NC Policy Watch). There are ways to try to avoid this cost, such as Utah using a screening questionnaire to decide who is high risk for drug use, and then only testing those who are high risk. That said, in one year it cost $6,000 for the screening questionnaire, and another $25,000 to test those who are high risk (Desert News). How many people of the 4,730 screened did that $31,000 catch? 12

Florida tried all out testing, only to find that:
Ushered in amid promises that it would save taxpayers money and deter drug users, a Florida law requiring drug tests for people who seek welfare benefits resulted in no direct savings, snared few drug users and had no effect on the number of applications, according to recently released state data (New York Times). 
To be fair, some outlets do report savings, as in savings of $40,800-$98,400 a year for a $178,000,000 program (Tampa Tribune). Oh, and those savings require one to assume that those tested are going to stay on the program for a year, and that we will continue to see 2% rejected a month.

These changes are also coming when we see headlines, like this one in 2011, "Welfare Spending Cut in Half Since Reform" (referring to the reform under President Bill Clinton) which includes charts like this:

Chart from CNN

The program that got me onto this subject, however, was the Al Jazeera America article on food stamp fraud. Here, it would seem to make sense to be stringent about investigating food stamp fraud, but in reality it doesn't make any fiscal sense. For example:
California found potential problems in fewer than 2% of its 150,000 SNAP investigations, costing the state about $35 million to find less than $20 million in wrongful payments... All told, the USDA contributed $126 million, and states spent millions more, for investigators to recover about $115 million. (Al Jazeera America)
So it clearly is costly, but these people who are committing the fraud must be getting absolutely rich off of it, right? Wrong. One study suggests the average income of those convicted of welfare fraud, including the welfare, was just $13,356 (Al Jazeera America). The scholarly article actually gives us a pretty good profile of the fraud:
Most fraud convictions were for unreported income with a median amount of $2,423, which on average, amounted to only $164 per month per household member. This represented part-time earnings of less than five-months’ duration that were scattered over a year or more, suggesting that parents made repeated attempts to plug gaps in inadequate subsistence budgets. For the majority, the fraud conviction was their first offense, and the mean amount of the overpayment was less than $5,000. With 64% receiving no child support, the median income from earnings and other sources—aid plus overpayment—was $1,113 per month. To place this figure in perspective, if defendants had reported all of their income, 73% still would have incomes far enough below the poverty line to continue to qualify for welfare. [emphasis mine] (Swan et al)
It should also be noted that these recipients are jumping through a number of hoops just to qualify, having to go so far as to waive their 4th Amendment rights (Al Jazeera America).

That said, investigating some types of fraud does sometimes make sense. To make the same contrast Al Jazeera does:
Every year, states conduct nearly 450,000 welfare fraud investigations. About 14,000 people are eventually criminally prosecuted for welfare fraud, most of them charged with felonies. (As a comparison, the IRS launches about 5,000 fraud cases each year, and about half of them end in convictions). (Al Jazeera America)
Pre-sequestration, there was a gap between what was owed to the government and what was actually paid (aka tax fraud) of about $400 billion (Politico). The sequester though appears to have cut $267 million from enforcing the tax code, meaning a loss of revenue of around $1.5 billion. The financial return there is extreme and obvious, unlike drug testing welfare recipients (which has a marginal return if you are comfortable making certain assumptions) and investigating welfare fraud (which costs more than it returns). Investigating tax fraud has significant and worthwhile returns.

Oh, and just for a final kicker I leave you with this quote:
Neither SNAP nor TANF adjust eligibility levels based on local costs of living — David’s salary would have been too much whether he lived in McAlester [, Oklahoma] or Queens, New York — and SNAP doesn’t cover a number of household necessities, like soap, toilet paper, pharmaceuticals and diapers. (Al Jazeera America).

28 August 2013

University of Minnesota Falls Short on Gender Neutral Restrooms.

Campus Pride recently released a list of the "Top 25 LGBTQ Friendly Colleges." I proudly attend one of these universities, the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities (This is the flagship campus, and I will use UMN for short). In fact, UMN got a perfect 5/5.

This is a prime example of how far we have to go.

Yes, UMN earns much of praise, as well as the other three Minnesota schools that make the list. Their presence is only natural given the state's record on Queer issues. After all, Minneapolis was the first city to protect on the basis of gender identity. UMN is clearly able to check the vast majority of the boxes, with UMN's report card only giving it a no on, "Accessible, simple process for students to change their name and gender identity on university records and documents." This is definitely an issue (for more than just Trans people), though not my topic for this post.

The "Wabasha Freedom to Marriage Bridge" as it was declared by St Paul Mayor Coleman for the passage of marriage equality in Minnesota. My photo.
One of my pet peeves, and a very simple fix, is a prime example of where UMN gets an easy pass by the surveys of groups like Campus Pride. One simple question is way too easy on campuses:
Does your campus provide gender-neutral/single occupancy restroom facilities in administrative and academic buildings?

This leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, UMN has gender-neutral restroomsThere is one on the same floor as my office. Yet there is a lot more at issue than just having gender neutral bathrooms. What percentage of the buildings have gender neutral bathrooms?  On all of Saint Paul campus, there are only 8 buildings listed with gender neutral restrooms. That is less than half. The next closest gender neutral bathroom to the one near my office is, according to Google Maps, a 0.3 mile walk. Are there single use bathrooms that could be gender neutral but are not? Yet again UMN miserably fails. My building has two single use restrooms on every floor except the first one, and yet there is only one gender neutral restroom in the entire building. 

Image from UW - River Falls
What reason is there to have seven segregated single use bathrooms in one building? From an efficiency standpoint it is nonsensical. People either have to ignore the gender segregation (thus defeating whatever purpose one thinks there is in the segregation), wait, or go to another floor. If the concern is the presence of urinals in some (which is present in the only gender neutral restroom in my entire building and any of the surrounding buildings) or the female hygiene receptacles, a simple sign would quickly clear up that problem. Female hygiene receptacles could be added to the other restrooms if that is a concern, since they are just wall-mounted trash cans. For those bringing up a cleanliness argument, I will just ask since I have heard these kinds of remarks from both men and women, are you worried about male aim or female hovering?

The building that I am discussing, photos from the UMN's Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior department.
This is common sense, and has a profound impact on the environment. What kind of message does it send when only a single restroom in an entire building of single use restrooms is gender neutral? To me it seems more like a checked box than a true attempt to create an inclusive environment. People face really horrible issues due to restrooms. A friend being blocked from entering a bathroom is part of what spurred my activism on the issue, and judging from what I heard far worse has happened.

The lack of widespread gender neutral restrooms also creates a prime zone for anti-Trans bias. Cis-privilege quite likely gives a person like myself the benefit of the doubt when using a single use restroom that somebody perceives is "incorrect." It is likely written off as the other restroom being occupied. Does a person who appears Trans or gender nonconforming get that same benefit of the doubt? Why even create the possibility of these scenarios existing. To be honest, it is sad that even in the cities that first protected gender identity people are still made to feel ashamed and unsafe simply by their choice of restroom. It is even more shameful that the university can't at least make sure all single use restrooms are places that anybody can feel comfortable using (it should be noted here that the American's with Disabilities Act 2010 standards essentially require all new and renovated single sue restrooms to be handicap accessible).

UMN has earned high marks, yet let's not rest on our laurels. There are certainly improvements needed.

21 August 2013

Indiana Has a Chance

On the 9th of May 2011 I wrote a blog post entitled "The Indiana State Legislature is Hurting Us All." Unfortunately, the reason for that post continues to hold. It almost seems as though the Indiana State Legislature has it out for its citizens.

The tyranny of the Indiana state government is even more clear to me after having moved to a state that has likely one of the best state governments currently. Take the budgets as an example. Indiana made a few wise choices to help its finances (such as consolidating prison food purchasing), but many of the decisions have and will hurt the state (cuts to education, illegally cutting family planning, etc). In contrast, Minnesota has a balanced budget and did so while still investing in the state. With a few common sense tax reforms (including a new income tax bracket in a time of increasing income inequality which makes economic sense), smart cuts, and investments in schools and jobs Minnesota was able to balance its budget. It's budget also resulted in a credit outlook upgrade, which had been downgraded due to the tricks former Republican Governor Pawlenty had used to create the appearance of a balanced budget.

The current Minnesota state government got to the position it is now though because it recognized the utter mismanagement the state's Republicans had caused (such as the credit downgrade I previously mentioned). The Republicans also made a huge overreach - namely the voter suppression and marriage discrimination ballot amendments. This had terrified me on election night, but it turned out that Minnesota's voters had recognized the damage these would cause and rejected both. The voter's also showed how tired they were of Republican mismanagement and overreach, and handed the state back to the Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party for the first time in 22 years.

Being in Minnesota gives me hope about Indiana. An Indiana government that would actually work for Hoosiers would make the state a model for the nation. Not perfect, but a solid step in the right direction. Hoosiers should not surrender Indiana to those who would do the state harm. Indiana is worth fighting for, and I have seen that. I saw it in the West Lafayette City Council Chambers when the city's Human Relations Ordinance was expanded. I saw it when Hoosiers rejected Republican Senate candidate Murdock's anti-woman, rape-culture laden statements and voted instead for Democratic Senator Donnelly. I saw it at Purdue, which I predict will one day be the most LGBTQ friendly school in the Big Ten (even if it was robbed of the academic president it should have). I see it in the reaction against the non-academic president at Purdue.

Indiana has the chance to start working for Hoosiers instead of against them, and I have hope that Hoosiers will fight for it. That chance, oddly enough, comes from some of the same Republican overreach that occurred in Minnesota - a marriage discrimination amendment.

Today, Freedom Indiana was formed. This group will work to defeat the marriage discrimination amendment. This is a chance for Hoosiers to take back the state. To send the message that enough is enough. Please, sign the petition, like them on Facebook, and start laying the groundwork to take back the state. A number of issues could lead to the take back (such as the education system fraud/corruption), and I think this one holds that potential.

Now I should get back to helping to preserve Minnesota's regional heritage (blog post, article 1, article 2 on that).

19 August 2013

Fall of Men *Eyeroll*

It is incredibly obvious that we live in an andrarchy. Men have a massive power differential over women. The humor of the following is a prime example of this fact:

Image from I Waste So Much Time, content from Saturday Night Live
We can look at every single president of the United States.

Or every Vice President of the United States. Or every Secretary General of the United Nations. Currently only three of the nine Supreme Court justices are women (the most in its history), and only one other woman has ever served on the Supreme Court. Congressional diversity is the highest it has ever been, and by highest for example only 81 of the 435 Representatives are women.

We see gender disparities all over the place, and they are very clear empirically. For example, women experience gender bias in STEM fields:

"Science faculty's subtle gender biases favor male students"
The gender gap certainly exists in wages, board positions, and CEO positions. This is particularly odd, because:
"Aside from fairness issues, gender pay discrimination is not economically healthy because companies are better off when they have more women in management roles. CNBC quotes a 2011 survey by Catalyst showing that company boards made up of 19 to 44 percent women achieved 26 percent more return on invested capital than those firms with no women board members. It also makes it difficult to recruit women to these high responsibility positions when they know they'll be paid less than their male counterparts." (The Gender Pay Gap: It Affects Us All)
Systematic sexism is real and alive. If men still aren't opening their eyes to the issue, then I'm going to have to pass them on to Greta Christina to give some examples of how men are hurt by the andrarchy and sexism. Some of her articles on the subject include: "How Sexism Hurts Men: 'Undateable'",  "How Sexism Hurts Men, Part 2: Why do I Care", and "5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men."

Andarchy is alive.

Yet I see articles like "School has Become Too Hostile to Boys."

I think part of the article is well-taken, namely that zero-tolerance policies rarely make sense. But then there is this part:

"On the other hand, millions of boys are struggling academically. A large and growing male cohort is falling behind in grades and disengaged from school. College has never been more important to a young person’s life prospects, and today boys are far less likely than girls to pursue education beyond high school." ("School has Become Too Hostile to Boys")
My first reaction is to pull a page from Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
"...I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say when there are nine..." After all, as she notes, there have been nine men on the Supreme Court ("Ginsburg Wants to See All Female Supreme Court")
Yet in that same paragraph it get's even crazier, stating:
"As our schools become more risk averse, the gender gap favoring girls is threatening to become a chasm." ("School has Become Too Hostile to Boys")
Yes, there is a gender gap in education. Yet a gap at one level doesn't mean the gap persists throughout the entire system. Women may be higher achieving in primary, secondary, and even post-secondary education, but as I showed before that isn't translating into women gaining an advantage over men. As one report notes:
"In most science disciplines studied, the percentage of women among recent PhD recipients is much higher than their percentage among assistant professors, the typical rank of recently hired faculty. Even in disciplines where women outnumber men earning PhDs, the percentage of assistant professors who are White male is greater than females." (A National Analysis of Diversity in Science and Engineering Faculties at Research Universities)
Women essentially have to outperform men just to be considered equal to them. So even if women are outperforming men in school, that doesn't really change the male-centric system we live in. I also feel the need to point out that these are not biological, but cultural disparities.

I just don't get where I am suppose to feel sorry for men, or to even feel like men are getting left behind. There has been talk about the "Fall of Men," yet I kind of want somebody to explain why I should give this any credence? We live in a society that systematically oppressed women, and that systematic oppression is clear and empirical. I have a hard time seeing any disadvantage a man feels being the result of anything other than the andrarchy that favors said man in the first place (what I mean to say here is you may be able to give examples of men being disadvantaged or underrepresented in an area considered feminine and emasculating men who enter it, but that is still anti-female sexism at play). Anybody want to offer some thoughts?

14 July 2013

Safety and Race

Last night the George Zimmerman case's verdict came out, and he was found not guilty of murder or manslaughter. I will allow others to touch on discussing the trial, the verdict, etc. I don't feel the proper person to address the verdict, though I do want to discuss my thoughts as society moves forward.

Depending on how my reaction to something is going, I often try to take a day before making any statements about it. I didn't immediately respond when I heard the verdict, but did post on Tumblr and Facebook last night:

Humanity is engaged in a constant struggle for justice. The arc of history bends towards justice, yet justice is not always delivered. We must be ever vigilant, and continue to push forward with the struggle for justice. 

Some days come that remind us just how much more work we have to do. Some days remind us that certain groups of people live in fear simply for who they are. Sometimes we see security used as a guise for something else. Sometimes we see unintended consequences. We must ever push for justice.

Some days are a tough reminder that certain groups, such as teenagers and People of Color, are often forced into a state of fear by society.

We must continue to push for justice. Be conscious of what voices are not at the table. Be thoughtful of potential consequences and be vigilant in working to fix harmful unintended consequences. Speak up for justice, and try to be aware of the forces that are driving the systems and emotions of those around you.

Some days are a tough reminder that certain groups, such as teenagers and People of Color, are often forced into a state of fear by society. 

We must continue to push for justice. Be conscious of what voices are not at the table. Be thoughtful of potential consequences and be vigilant in working to fix harmful unintended consequences. Speak up for justice, and try to be aware of the forces that are driving the systems and emotions of those around you.
Regardless of how you feel about the decision, one thing should be obvious - People of Color are afraid. As one post I saw put it:

A common aspect of white privilege is assumed innocence (there are a few other features that fit into this, but the perception of light skin is definitely a large component). Nobody follows me around a store. I rarely feel unsafe when out at night, even when alone. I could take a stroll through many suburban neighborhoods, even at night, and my presence could likely be easily explained away by stating that I'm visiting and needed a breath of fresh air or couldn't sleep. People of Color frequently do not get this pass. I typically ride the bus to my office, and on these trips I frequently overhead comments concerning how the Trayvon Martin case was going. People were informed and they were concerned. They questioned what this meant for their own safety.

Regardless of how you feel about the verdict it should be clear that a group of people feels unsafe based solely on an immutable characteristic of themselves. These feelings are valid and justified. Laws like "Stop and Frisk" and "Stand Your Ground" have a wealth of statistics now showing their negative unintended consequences based on race (and we are waiting to see on "Papers Please"). People of Color have decades of life experiences that reinforce the fear for their safety, and centuries of transmitted experiences.

People are living in a state of fear that society has forced upon them. These experiences aren't uncommon either. My brother and I saw an incident here in Saint Paul, Minnesota a few weeks ago. A Muslim Woman of Color and her three children were shopping for groceries, and a white man went out of his way to go call them terrorists, and went on a rant from there. The man was removed after employees were alerted, but what kind of atmosphere does that create? What must that embed in the minds of those children?

Racism is systemic. It is taught young, continually reinforced, and the facts are typically overlooked in favor of what makes the white majority feel the most comfortable.

If nothing else, Facebook should have illuminated a number of people's feelings today. Several of my Facebook friends have set the following picture to be their profile:

People are connecting the dots. We don't have to live in a world where somebody gets theirs and doesn't care what happens to others. The system doesn't have to be like this. This is how WE, as SOCIETY, have made the system. As another post I saw put it:

After saying all of this anybody who knows me knows I am a pretty strong optimist. I really do think the arc of history bends towards justice (even if there are setbacks along the way). Sometimes we need a stark reminder of what the system looks like. Regardless of what happened in the Zimmerman Trial, these events should illuminate the lack of security that many people of color have. We can change that. We can fight for justice, we can fight for equality, we can fight for equal opportunities (and when I say equal opportunities I include the need for equal starting positions and equal access to merit).

As I said earlier, People of Color have decades of life experience and centuries of transmitted experiences on the systems of racism that exist in this country. We have statistics on the intended and unintended consequences of a number of our actions. We can improve the system. We can create a society that is safer for People of Color (and will be safer for us all), but we have to work for it. We have to want it.

05 April 2013

Samsung Series 3 Chromebook Review

Samsung Series 3 Chromebook. Yes, I used Google's photo, it is better than the one I would take!

I've had my Samsung Series 3 Chromebook for a little over a week now, and I've gotten asked questions here and there, so I figured I would write a bit about it.

When I first got it I noticed the biggest issue with it and really my main issue - the screen is small. 11.6" is definitely the smallest laptop screen I could possibly work with on a regular basis. I'm coming from a 14" laptop, so not a monster, but 11.6" is a very noticeable decrease in size. I didn't realize everything on the screen would be scaled down so much smaller. I've set the page zoom to 110% and that helps some, but that is still my main dislike. There is also an oddly large amount of space around the screen, particularly at the bottom, so I feel like Samsung could make the screen larger without making the laptop any bigger (granted the area around the screen probably reduced the production cost, so I suppose there isn't too much room to complain).

After the initial night to get over the size of the screen, I love the device. It is super thin and small which makes it incredibly portable. I can nestle with the device on the couch and not have to awkwardly position myself. It is incredibly light, making my backpack noticeably lighter and it doesn't take up much space at all. Perfectly laptop to carry around, toss in one's bag and go, etc. Samsung definitely got the size factor right. Much thinner and it would feel fragile, I think it is just the right thickness.

The other thing I noticed right away is how quickly it boots. While the first time upon booting it has to get itself set up, and once logged in to my Google account it had to download and sync my data (I use Google Chrome, so it syncs everything across the devices). After this it is fast. It boots from being off in easily under ten seconds. I just have to close the lid and it is asleep. It wakes in maybe a second or less upon opening it. It is very noticeable, especially coming from Windows 7. I'm much more willing to just pull this laptop out for a quick task than my main laptop (from now on referred to as my Vaio). I don't have to wait for Windows to start up / resume. Chrome OS definitely stays out of the way in this regard, and it is much appreciated!

When first buying a Chromebook it seems crazy. I bought a laptop that essentially has a cellphone process and RAM. The thing is the Chromebook doesn't have the clunky OS to deal with. I actually find Chrome to crash less on my Chromebook so far than it does on my Vaio. It is obvious with boot up and shut down. The operating system just stays out of the way and leaves me with what I really wanted to access - the Internet. It really changes how one thinks about the computer. For most of the tasks I do I don't need the power that my Vaio provides. I just need a process good enough to run a few different tabs, RAM enough to store these, harddrive enough to store the handleful of pdfs that I need at the moment. Otherwise everything else can be handled elsewhere. My documents can be stored / accessed through a number of services like Dropbox and Google Drive. If I want to run R I can do so through the University of Minnesota Statistic Department rather than make my computer run it. My journal articles are organized in Mendeley which is synced online so I still have access.

I can also remote access my Vaio if I need to run something I can't do online - like GIS. Now saying this I haven't had the smoothest time with remote access, but I haven't used it much. When I set it up at home it worked fine. When I tried to do it at school all I got was a black screen. That said once home I decided to try again, got the black screen, but then told it to send the Ctrl-Alt-Delete command and it worked just fine. I haven't tried to remote access again, so I don't know if it only works when I am home or if it will work fine from school.

The wireless card in this device is definitely better than the one in my Vaio. I get Internet in a few places on campus I otherwise would not have it. This is especially good since I don't have an ethernet port on the computer! Typically on campus or most anywhere I would go there is wireless though, so I don't really need an ethernet port. The port I miss is VGA. I have a VGA monitor in my office, and the projector in the classroom I teach in is VGA. In both of these situations I can't use the VGA, and I don't think it makes much sense to spring for an expensive adaptor that would actually work. This does have HDMI which works great for connecting to my TV, but there is still enough VGA around to make the lack of that port a bit upsetting. The other port I suppose I should mention is it does have a USB 3.0 port in addition to a USB 2.0 port. I have an external harddrive with USB 3.0 so I suppose this is useful, but I really only use a USB mouse so right now it isn't a huge plus. It is good to know I have it, but I don't know that it changes how I use the laptop at all. There is a card reader and a place for a sim card too, for those interested in either of those.

I suppose there are a few stock features of a laptop that have to be discussed. A lot of people will complain about the matte screen, but I actually prefer it to a glossy screen. I think the matte is a plus over glossy (due to not having glare/reflection issues), but that doesn't seem to be the norm. I also like the keyboard a lot. It is the button style keys that are becoming common place, so I don't think I really have to try to sell them. They are popular for a reason. Having the multi-finger gesture track pad is also really nice. My Vaio doesn't have that, and it is a huge plus for the tack pad. Scrolling with it just feels natural. I also like that I can tap the pad or push down on it to click. I do both, not sure why one or the other, but those with a Mac will be used to this.

The laptop is plastic, though they tried to make it look like metal. It is actually sturdier than I expected, so I don't find it disappointing that it is plastic. My Vaio is plastic though, so I guess it isn't a change for me at all. Not having a fan is amazing though. The Samsung Series 3 uses an ARM chip, which means it doesn't need the fan and doesn't run as hot. It is really nice not to have the fan being noisy in the background. I don't feel I notice it having a cheap processor either. There really isn't a bunch of behind the scenes stuff to occupy the processor, so it can have lower specs and get away with it. Like I said, a Chromebook really does change how one thinks about computing!

While I addressed it earlier it is obviously the biggest question with a Chromebook and so I will touch on it again, and that is whether or not I feel limited having a computer that essentially only runs Google Chrome. It really doesn't feel that limiting. It may initially mean having to find a few websites to replace things one was used to doing, but for most tasks the local applications aren't necessary. I now know of two online office suites that support comments on word documents. I synced my iTunes library with Google Play so I can still access all of my music. Much of what I do is online - email, access course documents, read the news, Facebook, etc. Much of what I do can also easily be moved online - writing documents, making presentations, reading journal articles. Also, the offline functionality isn't as bad as some reviews made it out to be. I added the offline Google docs app so I can make a document offline that will sync when I get online again, and it caches some documents locally to access when I don't have connection. I did try this out the morning after I got it, and it worked just fine. While it only has a 16 GB solid state drive, it does have a 16 GB solid state drive, so I can download pdfs if I'm worried I won't have Internet access and then just pull them up. Also, there are some pretty awesome pluses to a Google Chrome computer. It is set up so it updates itself, so it is always up to date (no more annoying prompts to restart for an update!). It syncs across my devices (so my bookmarks are synced on my Vaio and phone as well). That also means I could easily transition to another Chromebook. I would just fire up a new one, log into my Google Account, and there my apps and bookmarks and settings would be.

There are some tasks I will of course need my Vaio or a computer lab computer to do. Making a scientific poster is probably a bit much to do with an online office suite. GIS applications that fit my needs are not online yet. If I want to run R on a dataset I don't necessarily want to be public yet then I won't be able to do that (at least not that I know how at the moment, though playing with things like SSH might fix that). I can't play many of the computer games I have on the Vaio. Yet I can remote access, or my Vaio, or a computer lab computer. I didn't get the Chromebook to replace my Vaio. I got the Chromebook to reduce the wear-and-tear on my Vaio by reducing the number of days I need to cart it to and from campus. I don't know if it is because it is new, boots faster, or because it really does just run nicely, but I find myself using the Chromebook at home when I could easily choose my Vaio instead. Like I said, I really do like the device.

I also wouldn't do any talk about this computer justice if I didn't mention the battery life. So far it has basically lasted me the entire day on campus which is absolutely amazing to me.

I like the Chromebook. I had thought about buying them when they first came out but they were way over what I was willing to pay for the device. The ARM-based Samsung Series 3 hit the price point for me where I was willing to give it a try (especially considering my Vaio runs fine but the plastic case is starting to crack).  If you are wondering why I chose the ARM device over the Acer C7, it really comes down to the solid state hard drive. Not having the moving parts to worry about is really nice. Not having a fan was a benefit I realized later, not initially.

I really like the device, and I would encourage people who are thinking about them to really give it some thought (and the benefit of the doubt). You might be surprised at how functional it is, especially after you give yourself a day or two to adjust your thinking. I don't know if it would be good as one's only computer, but as an everyday computer it seems to be an excellent choice. If you have another computer you could remote access (/ leave at your home or office) or easy access to other computers (say on campus), I'd say try it out. Maybe buy one through a place you could return it and give it a week (give yourself more than your initial impression because it is, after all, a computer that just runs Google Chrome). I think you will be pleasantly surprised. I was pretty well sold the morning after I got it when I opened it, it was instantly on, and I right away started typed up an offline document.

And yes, I wrote this from my Chromebook.

02 February 2013

Purdue President Letter Gaffe

I know I am taking this a bit late, but that is partially by my own design. On 18 January 2013 the new president of Purdue, former Indiana Republican Governor Mitch Daniels, wrote a letter to the people of Purdue. I avoided reacting to the letter right away because it is out there, and I wanted to avoid being purely reactionary. After having given myself time and space to reflect, I think there is one line in the letter that is so egregious that it must be called out. There are others, and I could point to what I think to be conservative rhetoric that I am uncomfortable with, but I think one line may be overlooked that should not (emphasis mine):
The mission of undergraduate instruction is increasingly subordinated to research and to work with graduate students. (An Open Letter to the People of Purdue)
 What?! This line, in my mind, shows EXACTLY why choosing a politician/business person instead of an academic was a mistake. Maybe I am misunderstanding this line. I really hope I am misunderstanding this line.

The first problem I have with it is that it shows the former governor clearly doesn't understand what a university does. A major research institution like Purdue has three main goals: education, research, and outreach. A major university like Purdue is not a diploma mill. The whole point of the university isn't to get as many people through with bachelor's degrees as possible.

What is worse is that as a business person and politician, I would expect Mitch Daniels to understand this. Businesses have been farming out their research to universities more and more frequently. That almost flows right into the second half, as some of the farming out of research is because grad students can be cheaper than employees. The state may also request the university to look into something. The state may want expertise from professors who research a topic. Also, the research-education link is part of how the university system works, and how it is different from just four more years of high school. A decent part of education for undergrads at the university level is engaging them in research.

The research and student organization involvement I had at Purdue taught me more than my classes. Due to my research as an undergrad I also got to learn from professors I would not otherwise have interacted with. I got to refine my interests, and better prepare myself for life after undergrad. With the complaints on "administrative creep," university is as much about the experience as it is about the education. I would argue student organization involvement is more important than GPA. Research experience more important than a list of taken courses. While I benefit greatly from when people place a high value on a GPA, I don't think that reflects one's potential. Essentially my GPA reveals I am good at taking tests. Furthermore, even if one places importance on GPA, research is part of the reason my GPA was what it is. Research is not just a fundamental part of the university, it is a fundamental part of undergrad education. I agree that there are issues of professors who don't want to teach at all but have to. The research part of the sentence isn't what I want to really call him out on though.

The graduate student part of the letter is the part I find unsettling. Does Mitch Daniels really think professors spend too much time with grad students? Maybe this is an artifact of him being a law school. Maybe what I perceive to be a joke is actually taken to heart by Mr. Daniels. Grad students, law students, and med students will each gang up on the other for various joking reasons. For example, law students don't go to school for nearly as much time as grad students and med students. Upon graduating, law students and grad students are slated to make a less money than med students. Maybe when law students and med students gang up on grad students is the relationship between grad students and professors. Yet the reason for this relationship is obvious. Grad students are frequently training to be professors. Grad students also do a lot of the tasks at a university that necessitate them working closely with professors. We teach some of the classes, we do much of the research. Professors can be incredibly busy people (yes, Mr. Daniels, even after tenure), and the fact that they make time for grad students should alone be evidence of why the time is spent working with grad students is important. Are universities just undergrad diploma mills and working towards people getting grad degrees are just secondary to undergrad degrees?

If Mr. Daniels thinks professors favor grad students over undergrads, maybe he needs to think about what grad students do at the university - the research, the teaching, the staff roles (administrative assistants for example, or the grad students working in the residence hall system). Mr. Daniels wrote a letter that I feel he was trying to use to claim that he understood the university system. Unfortunately, I think it revealed many misunderstandings and just confirmed some of our concerns about a non-academic president.

I also want to warn the people of Purdue from feeling divided. While administration versus faculty happens, both need to recognize the importance of the other for the mission of the university. Don't destroy the greatness of the university by being pitted against each other. To the grad students, remember you have more power than you think. If you work together you can put pressure on every other element of the university. Grad students have gone on strike and I think you can imagine the scramble of the faculty and staff to try to do things like make sure classes are still taught, administrative tasks are still done, and the research moves forward. I'm not saying this comment should lead to a strike, but just reminding you not to let the new president bully you. Don't be a scapegoat.

22 January 2013

Top Annoying Gun Control Arguments

The issue of an military-style assault rifle ban and high capacity clip ban is an issue that I am (oddly) neutral on. There are aspects of Obama's gun violence prevention plan that I think are no-brainers (universal background checks), some that we need to discuss (mental health access/stigma), and some that I'm really not that concerned on either way (military-style assault rifle ban). I feel like the issue of gun control is getting overwhelmingly discussed, however, and I keep hearing two trivial arguments that I am tired of hearing about (one from each side). I am specifically referring to these two arguments in the case of the military-style assault rifle ban because that is the law that is being proposed, thus any other issues are moot.

1. The Second Amendment
Since we are bringing up the constitution, let's just give the text:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
I'm not going to bother with whether or not this deals with the individual right to own guns, as the Supreme Court has already weighed in, and thus we know for certain that the second amendment does protect an individuals right to own a gun for self defense.

Thus, to the issue we are discussing - is the second amendment a valid argument against a military-style assault rifle ban? No, laughably no. Congress has the right to reasonable gun restrictions. They can't eliminate one's right to own a gun, but they can do an awful lot of reasonable restricting. The second amendment gives one the right to own a gun, but it does not give one the right to own ANY gun. The second amendment doesn't give one the right to own a nuclear missal and it doesn't give one the right to own a military-style assault rifle - it only gives one the right to own a gun. So stop dragging the second amendment into this, it has nothing to do with it. If military-style assault rifles are banned again, as they were during part of the 90s and 00s before the bill failed to be renewed, one will still have the right to own a gun, and to own an overwhelmingly large number and variety of guns. If the bill is anything like the previous one, it will actually specifically protect citizen's rights to own certain guns (a compromise that helped it pass last time). One will still have their second amendment rights if a ban on military-style assault rifles passes.

2. No Other Uses
The other argument I am tired of hearing is that military-style assault rifles have no other uses but to kill as many people as quickly as possible. If killing as many people as quickly as possible was the sole reason for the existence of these guns, then why would so many people own them?

Some people collect guns (yes, like stamps or coins). Some people just enjoy going to the range to shoot these (honestly, you would be surprised at the number of people who get a kick solely out of owning guns just to shoot them at ranges). For some people guns like these are a hobby. We live in a country where it isn't uncommon for people to have access to enormous material wealth, and their use of that wealth doesn't always relate to some supposed designated purpose of an item.

Debate is typically healthy, and it is nice to hear topics being discussed. People also need to be realistic when they discuss these topics though. It is important that we thoroughly discuss the issues at hand, and seek out the potential unintended consequences. In order to do this however, we can't keep coming back to red herring arguments. The two issues I stated above serve merely to distract from the point being discussed - what steps can be taken to reasonably reduce the gun violence seen in this country.