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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


cropJeez, July is over already?

And I still haven't finished that floral vessel bead series (let alone turned on the torch and made some more beads...) Anyway, despite clearing them out recently, the links have been piling up again (along with ephemera of a more physical kind on my desk[s] —that's right, I have two in my office, and they're both covered) which I guess is why I'm not getting anything else done, I keep reading crap on the internet.

  • A Jaime McKay (back in 2018) argues that we need to bring back public baths.

Sure—in the form of public swimming pools (of which the earliest actually derived from public baths): the US lost a lot of them as civil rights came in; they are part of the web of public spaces that bind communities together, provide safe places for kids to play [by themselves!] as well as those who find water supported exercise an important part of their regimen and help, like tree-spattered parks, to keep cool, which is increasingly important.

Sadly we're continuing to lose them because maintaining pools is expensive—I love that I can go do laps in our community pool, (& yoga in the super-shallow kiddie block) while watching mist over the water or gorgeous dawn light, while somebody else is responsible for the bacteria count, vacuuming out dead leaves (& the occasional frog), mopping the shower floors, not to mention providing lifeguards! —It also sponsors a local kids’ team, a kids’ tri, movie nights and the like. Plus, they let the milkweed grow for the monarchs. But we have this resource because a lot of folks in town worked very hard to raise money for the bath-house reno, get annual sponsorships and the like.

I'm deeply grateful to them.

Sure, I'd like to see public saunas and cold-water immersion, a sort of American version of onsen, but until the US gets over its sex-induced panics (currently manifesting as anti-trans sentiment, a very tired replay of the homophobia over teh gays that played out in the 80s) that's not happening: we can't even deal with people disrobing behind closed doors in the toilet, and we have how many public nude beaches in this country? (I certainly haven't ever encountered any, though I presume some must exist somewhere...)

  • Someone recced WXPN and so far I'm really enjoying this indie radio station. Reminds me of WDET's glory days, back when they played music, and I was a young married who actually went to concerts now and then...
  • Carl Zimmer documents some fresh thinking about human childbirth as obstetrical dilemma.

Certainly when I was having babies (via natural childbirth, in fact) the thinking was that women gave up physical prowess in exchange for wider hips that would accommodate our species’ huge heads that even so were still born preemie—hence human infant helplessness.

But now some (women, natch) researchers are pushing back, suggesting that it's metabolic load that determines pregnancy length, or perhaps the ability of the pelvic floor to support all that weight. Personally, I'm not completely convinced, as both a close relative and I had issues not with infection or blood loss, but what my midwives said was the most common—if not immediately dramatic problem— “failure to progress”, that is, our first-time babies got stuck. But it's an interesting take, most especially the idea that narrow male pelvises are not inherently superior.

  • Speaking of childbirth, squatting was what the midwives recommended because it naturally spreads one's pelvis; and it helps with bathroom functions as well:)

But as the posture (malasana, or garland pose) is, alas, associated with poor countries, it hasn't got much status. When I was little my dad claimed western chairs allowed one to work more efficiently, but really, I think it's the table/desk part that's more important. Certainly it's been one of my goals to sit seiza and in lotus, and to be able to squat with my feet flat on the floor. Currently I haven't either the flexibility in my ankles or extension? in my back to squat, knee arthritis makes seiza difficult and I dunno that my hips will ever be open enough for lotus. C'est la vie.

Well, here we are less than a week out from the last rant about the neighbor mowing the grass, aaaaaaaaand he's back at it. Oof.

Have some mixed media... to go with your mixed bag'o’links (& rants.)


cropThe other day, having stumbled across a linguist's tips for using duolingo more effectively as well as his top five tips for more effective language learning I dipped a toe into a more controversial offering, 6 reasons the gender critical right and the woke left are both WRONG about pronouns.

Not much of this is going to be new to linguist aficionados nor those familiar with trans issues, but if you're a bit fuzzy on what pronouns actually are or have never heard of grammatical gender, it's a good primer. I've run into far, far, far more intolerant het cis guys than I ever have trans-types who weaponize not using their pronouns absolutely correctly than he evidently has (exhibit A: the comments on this video...) so I do feel there's just a touch of annoying both-sidism in his later points; but as the out trans people in the comments (that I read anyway) are universally positive, I'd say, it's good!

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the people who need to watch it the most won't, (or even if they do, will willfully reject its content—see exhibit A...the comments) but if you'd like to see the “pronoun wars” examined thoughtfully from a linguist's persepective, then this would be a good and reasonably entertaining way to spend 20 minutes or so.

And just to re-iterate, again, for many trans folks, especially those on the genderqueer/NB/androgynous end of the spectrum, screwing up pronouns (or even names—far more important to me) is not that big of a deal if you're sincere and not giving off those poke-poke-twist-the-knife malicious vibes. Yes, there are trans people for whom misgendering them really ruins their day: they usually try to make their pronouns really obvious. The rest of us have better things to do with our time than worry about the clerk at the coffee shop who got them wrong.

So go forth and be confident that your open-mindedness and human courtesy will allow you to navigate this minefield evolving social norm with grace.

Update 27jul23: this is the third draft of this intro, and I think, finally I got it down to a manageable length. Apologies for the on-and-on-and-on 2nd draft posted yesterday.

And oh yes, some art.


cropI continue to be out of it, with very little to show for my life besides watching an absurd amount of anime (but at long last I can pronounce word more or less correctly in Japanese, a transition I hadn't even realized I'd made until questioned about my pronounciation by an AmerEng speaker...)

The wizard wants me to reboot the desktop, which means it's time for another linkie roundup!

  • Jordan Klepper's deep dive into Hunter Biden's laptop. Somehow I got the idea this was 10 or 15 minutes long; roughly 15 minutes in I realized I had another hour to go. Whoops!
  • Jordan Galaxy claims clicker training for your cat is easy and fun. Pretty sure I've linked this one before, probably the last time I cat-sat my workout partner's young, athletic & very bright (& thus easily bored) kitty. Likely this link will re-occur every time I cat sit this cat...
  • Pharyngula has had a buncha interesting linkies, kill your lawn—besides wasting water, filling the watershed with chemicals, not to mention noizzzzzzzzzzzzzzeeeeeee pollution (why yes my fanatical lawn mowing neighbor across the street is going at it right now—this is a dude who not only mows his (parents’) front and back yards whether they need it or not, but then goes onto the boulevard to get in some more noise & two-stroke diesel action...); a strong recce for the Netflix documentary Burying the Dead about these (women) researchers’ discovery of Homo naledi in the Rising Star cave system. It was a pretty tight squeeze! & ISTR at least one of the scientists saying it wouldn't’ve been possible to access this cave if she hadn't been a small woman.
  • Also on netflix, evidently, Who We Are, a documentary about racism and US history. As in, the latter contains the former.
  • This documentary about the electronica pioneer (who also made looney toons soundtracks) Raymond Scott is evidently only available as a DVD or on Vimeo, but it looks pretty interesting...
  • Someone characterized AI as basically sophisticated word & phrase completion algorithms, which is the best description I've heard, so much of the ‘AI is going to kill us all’ strikes me as so much hype. There are much subtler dangers, and this one about crap creeping into wikipedia (or its editors’ minds) strikes me as far more credible.
  • (48 min listen)
  • I have of course heard of Bruce Lee, but not of his one inch punch; a physics professor uses this technique hang on a basics physics lecture (as in, I could follow it pretty easily with a year of HS physics, admittedly by a superb teacher. —To this day I regret taking Chemistry II instead of Physics II, just because Mr Woodside was that good.)

Or you can check out my dragon & Neil Gaiman inspo doodle.


cropI have been going back and forth with a friend over Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, which was part of a book club discussion—it sounded interesting enough that I joined (ahem, invited myself in) even though it met by zoom, and I detest zoom.

My friend—and in fact, I would say most, perhaps all, of the book club members—liked the book because it provides a framework for explaining why people might tend towards a progressive or conservative mindset. I'm guessing most, mebbe all, of us are on the autistic spectrum somewhere, so having explicit explanations for what often looks to be opaque motivations is really helpful.

This is the book where Haidt made that famous argument about the five “moral modules”, and how progressives focus on the reduction of harm and fairness/cheating modules, whereas conservatives balance those two with an additional three, loyalty/betrayal, authority/submission, and sanctity/degradation; eventually, after complaints from libertarians (US style) he added a 6th, liberty/oppression—but that one hasn't really caught on.

Both my friend and I agreed that the research, both Haidt's and others’ in the first half of the book appears to be pretty solid, though the group selection in chapter 9 isn't widely supported by actual evolutionary biologists. (It should be noted that Haidt is a psychologist who currently is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at the New York University Stern School of Business.)

Where my friend was getting really frustrated with me was my extreme distaste in characterizing these modules as “moral”. They're not, in my view. It's difficult (because it's my own opinion, natch) to think of obvious downsides to reduction in harm or fairness; but loyalty, submission to authority, and sanctity all can be really problematic. Modules they may be, but I particularly don't consider sanctity, which as far as I can tell is the conscious, modern mind's co-option of our hygiene subroutine,“moral”. Yes, it's important to wash your hands and visceral disgust to rotten things is highly adaptive.

But especially as an atheist I fail to find the ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ argument persuasive. (Especially not when it's used to discriminate against marginalized groups because their customs are “icky”.) Ditto the submission to the authority and loyalty—both highly useful traits for social species like ours, but behaviours that can play out in good or bad ways. (Fascism immediately springs to mind...) —Not to mention the fact that honesty/cheating doesn't even make the cut, and that seems to me a pretty basic moral behavior—but my friend argues that Haidt doesn't include it because group consensus overrides one's honesty; my take was that he didn't bother because both progressives and conservatives value honesty, and thus, since it doesn't sift the groups, it's not necessary.

So I really don't like the idea of labelling these modules as “moral”, or even “ethical”. As a way to filter people into (especially USian) political stances, they work great; as axes to measure how ethical one is...not so much.

My friend is going with the admittedly generous viewpoint that conservatives have as much right to their views as we do ours. Well, of course. Moreover, it's a mistake to lump in a disparate and widely ranging group of folks with a single, simple label, which is why I've been careful to excoriate the GOP, rather than the mass of people who skew conservative. I'm conservative in many ways (one reason why I buy into the idea that conservatives tend to be more fearful and anxious: those traits certainly feed into my own conservative/risk-averse/less-generous tendencies.)

One of the things I find really helpful in reading books (or evaluating research) is extracting the driving purpose of the author, the underlying thematic content of a work. IOW, sure, the research Haidt cites, and his ‘moral module’ experiments are all very interesting, but why is he pursuing this and not that?

Sometimes, it's accident, like the jellyfish researcher who picked the simplest animal he could find for an 8 week grant....aaaaaaaand was still studying the fluid dynamics around these fascinating animals 20 years later. But to cite a counter example, we've known about all sorts of weirdly shaped male genitalia foreveah, but it wasn't till women scientists got into the field that we learned about, say, corkscrewing duck vaginas. Because, surprise! women are more interested in female anatomy then men.

So. Why did Haidt write this book? Do this research?

That, I do think, the author makes pretty clear: because he was born and reared a liberal NYC Jew, and—especially after 9/11—he wanted to be more of a ’Merkan flag-waving patriot and he needed to justify to himself and his community[1] this rightward move in his personal politics (which given his subsequent history since he wrote the book in 2012, is an assertion I can justify).

Given the current behavior of the USA conservative party (the GOP), this is uphill battle: aside from giving the ultra-rich tax breaks at the expense of absolutely everyone and everything else, the GOP has very little in the way of a coherent ideology, falling back on the easy trick of fomenting hate of and between marginalized groups (poor rural southerners against trans and Black folk, frex).

Nor do I think he made a convincing argument, either to us readers, or even himself for drifting rightward: the sad thing is, Haidt's views of human nature have become concomitantly more pessimistic (see: the idea that people can't expand their in-groups—minimally, to all of humanity, and ideally to all living creatures); IOW, his rightward political movement seems to have made him a less open, more fearful sort of person. That's not what I would call personal growth.

I grew up in a time when the ‘Moral Majority’ was dominating US politics with their claims that they had the high moral ground with regard to family and flag. It's taken well over a generation for us liberals to come back with ‘found family’ and pride/BLM flags. I resented the close-mindedness and (IMNSHO) anti-Christian views of that movement deeply, and am not about to cede ‘moral’ without a fight.

Haidt may have identified human behaviour modules that sort people's tendencies into progressive and conservative; but I vastly prefer the neutral framing of Marvin Minsky's ‘agents’ in his classic The Society of Mind.

And, just to be fair, I had some connection between this essay and today's page but darned if I can recall what it was. Hoist on my own petard, I guess...

[1]After all university science researchers have the critical thinking and argumentative skills to pick holes in his arguments


cropToday's hodgepodge of links include:

Or you can check out some not-too-bad photography and ok art.


cropThe past, they say, is another country, and I'm old enough now some tech from my childhood—library 3x5 card indices, 3" (or even thicker) telephone books, the computer punch cards I mentioned yesterday—now exist primarily as nostalgia, or ephemera of the sort I incorporate into mixed-media designs such as the one featured today.

One such item was the spiralgraph, a plastic toy with a bunch of transparent toothed plastic circles and rings with holes in them into which you would insert a ballpoint pen (or multiple colors of pens) for generating repeating circular geometric designs. As a child I loved the concept, though I found the actual device too difficult to use: the rings would jump when the teeth failed to lock, messing up the design (& I wasn't sophisticated enough an artist to use the “bad” ones back then).

Now, of course, one can use vector programs such as inkscape to generate these patterns (& thousands more); there is, I believe, at least one open-source app that allows you to re-create spiralgraph designs virtually[1] and a crowdsourced version of the same concept, but with much higher quality materials (or so they claim) if you want play with the physical object.

But while I might not want to actually use a spiralgraph, (let alone earlier incarnations of the concept) I surely appreciated this 1977 BBC video about its inventor Denys Fisher—someone who was just fascinated by the idea of using computers to create repeating circular designs.

His computer controlled pattern-maker never took off, at least, not the way the spiralgraph did; but by the 90s plotters, fitted out with technical pens (with special ruby tips to keep them from wearing so quickly) could theoretically reproduce the designs; and of course by the 2000s, when desktop image editing programs and high quality colour printers started becoming common, meant that one could use software to recreate spiralgraph patterns and many more.

Spiralgraphs are still being sold (as well the fancier ‘wildgears’) but they simply haven't got the cultural ubiquity that they had in my childhood: that has now retreated into history. (There's no particular point to this rambling, excepting the fact ...things have changed. As they do. Also that I was able to—finally!—incorporate some links that have been sitting around, waiting to be used for, um...3–5 years?)

And yes, today's piece has some equally old components:)

[1]It took me forever to figure out that you just move the gears with your mouse...