I’m ridiculously busy (at work today, Saturday, for instance), but I wanted briefly to mark the occasion. It’s Juneteenth, an emancipation anniversary which — if I understand it correctly — focuses on the joy without needing to downplay the grim realities, and is for everyone who feels that, for all its unresolved legacies, the end of US slavery is something to celebrate. I’m so white I’m actually pink, but Juneteenth makes me happy too.
Fortunately, my friend Abel has done a great job of introducing and explaining the day and its background, so I’ll just point you there: What is this Juneteenth of which you speak?

Take Back The Blog

TakeBackTN.jpg As prefaced here, this is my post in support of Crablaw’s Take Back The Blog virtual march.
It should go without saying (and virtual-marching) that decent people will not stand for the kind of behaviour that has recently been directed at Kathy Sierra, Deviousdiva, Jill Filipovic, Melissa McEwan and Amanda Marcotte — to name just a handful who got a lot of publicity, for every one of whom there are a hundred or a thousand women whose similar stories never make headlines.
It should go without saying, but it doesn’t, so I’m adding my voice to those who are standing up and saying it today. I want the cowardly degenerates responsible for these disgusting attempts at intimidation to know that they won’t be tolerated any more in cyberspace than they would be in meatspace.
A good place to start reading about all of this might be my custom Google search, which will emphasize results from my blogroll:

Google Custom Search

Medley’s right.

I haven’t said anything about the Kathy Sierra fiasco for the same reason I don’t say much about politics any more: my blogroll does a much better job than I ever could. But that assumes that you are reading my blogroll pretty extensively, and some things simply warrant more effort than such a blithe assumption. Medley is right, the Sierra incident is one such case:

I wrote briefly about the Kathy Sierra situation earlier. I resent the hell out of the fact that these despicable behaviors are out there and must be addressed — not only is the harassment and threatening vile in and of itself, but the fact of it takes time and energy and spirit away from all of us who are compelled to speak out against it. It’s a double-win for the misogynists and hatemongers of the world.
But, we must speak.
This kind of crap must not go unanswered. It’s why, if you scan my del.icio.us feed, I’m always ranting that MEN WHO DON’T HATE WOMEN MUST SPEAK against this crap as well.

I still think my blogroll is a better source of information and insight than I am, though, so for such times as this I’ve built a custom Google search engine that will emphasize the results from sites in my blogroll:

Google Custom Search

Try searching for combinations of “Kathy Sierra”, Markos, sexism, misogyny, “death threat”. And for the record: what happened to Sierra was vile, the perps are wastes of oxygen who should be doing serious jail time, and Kos is an idiot who long ago made himself irrelevant to progressive politics.
This “point to my custom search” approach isn’t perfect, but I simply don’t have time to cover all the things I find important, even just the ones I find compelling. But I do have great faith in the ability of my blogroll to cover any topic — after all, if they don’t cover it, I won’t know about it anyway. I don’t get news anywhere else. So, we’ll see if I can’t get the most important issues at least a little coverage here.
TakeBackTN.jpg Update: yet another woman is being targeted by filth on the internet. Deviousdiva is a British expat living in Greece and writing about the plight of the Roma in Athens. Her meatspace ID has been revealed and she’s been threatened. (Hat-tip: Lindsay.)
There’s a real pattern developing here, a pattern of online abuse of women. My guess is that as outright misogyny becomes less and less acceptable in public discourse, the online world provides a kind of outlet for mouth-breathing cowards who would not dare say these kinds of things to anyone’s face.
The answer, pace idiots on the right, is not to abolish online anonymity; nor, pace idiots on the left, is the answer to establish some kind of Code of Conduct.
The answer is to SPEAK UP and make cyberspace as unwelcoming as meatspace for these degenerates. So if you have a blog, please consider joining the “Take Back the Blog” virtual march on April 28th (I’ve messed with the date to keep this post on top until then). Even if, like me, you are no expert on such issues and probably won’t have anything more substative to say than [this is good], say that — stand up and be counted.

Invest in freedom and democracy.

Longtime readers (both of you) are probably waiting for the punchline, or at least the cynical remark, after that title, but there isn’t one. Look at the category. I’m not kidding here.
And what is the investment in question? Lindsay is having a fundraising week to support her work as a freelance journalist:

I have been “drug free” for nearly six months: It has been half a year since I swore off pharmaceutical copywriting for good and dove full-time to blogging and other freelance writing! I cut way back on pharma after Katrina, but I was still “chipping,” doing the odd copywriting assignment to supplement my blogging/writing income. I knew that if I was serious, I was going to have to go cold turkey and kick my pharma habit once and for all.

So, last October, I quit for good.
Since then, my freelance career has been off to a great start. The blog has continued to grow and thrive. I’ve published in Salon, TIME, The New York Press, AlterNet, Chelsea Now, and other outlets. I also recently joined This Modern World as a co-blogger. It’s an exhilarating time, but I’m just barely keeping my head above water.

I’ve suggested supporting Lindsay before, and my reasons haven’t changed. I don’t see how you can have a functional democracy without a free, that is, independent, press — and the more independent the better. We need smart, insightful, resourceful journalists who are not beholden to one corporate media giant or another.
Naturally, Lindsay wants to make a living from this, which means not having to hold intellectual bake-sales on her blog (in return for donations, she’s taking requests for articles and/or photos). That’s part of her plan, initially by way of advertising on Majikthise. But it’s a tough gig, and support now could make a lot of difference in helping her to establish a mature, self-sustaining career. If you have a few spare dollars, please do something good for the world (and especially the US!) and send ’em to Lindsay.

Open Letter to Prof Robert Scherrer of Vanderbilt University

If you read science blogs much at all, you will have run into Rob Knop, either at his own blog, Galactic Interactions, or in someone else’s comments. Though I don’t always agree with him, I find him a cordial and thoughtful member of our virtual community. One of Rob’s particular concerns is the status of women in science, and he recently posted an entry on what happened when he tried to get a faculty meeting to come to terms with the idea that his department (Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt) is a hostile work environment for women:

We have an issue in our department right now which has (tangentially) brought up the issue of the climate for women in physics. We have a serious problem with the climate for women students and post-docs (at least). I don’t really know if it’s worse here than physics departments elsewhere; I know the climate is globally bad everywhere, and maybe it’s worse on average, or maybe it’s better on average. But I do know it’s bad here, and unless we think about it, it will stay bad.
In a short presentation to the department today, I included a slide with this statement on it:

The biggest problem among the faculty is that we all allow things to slide. None of us speak out when we see and hear things that we should be questioning. We are all, constantly, guilty of this; I can name a few instances for myself, and doubtless have forgotten many more.

In retrospect, using the absolute term “none of us” was probably a mistake, but certainly it’s rare when people speak out. This statement was close to a direct quote from a female graduate student I’ve talked to; I asked her what she thought the biggest climate problem was, and it was this: the fact that behaviors are accepted, not questioned, evidently by all.

It wasn’t pretty; you can read the whole thing here. It got worse: his department chair insisted that he take the entry down (which he did). In comments on Zuska’s post about all this, Absinthe posted the text of a letter she sent the dept chair, Robert Scherrer. I thought that was a good idea, so I’m doing the same:

Dear Prof Scherrer:
I write to express my concern over an article posted by Rob Knop on his personal weblog, in which he described the disappointingly negative reaction he received when he tried to get a recent faculty meeting to consider the level of discrimination faced by women in your department.
As a research scientist, sex discrimination in our “tribe” is of immediate and personal concern to me. I believe it to be a widespread and pressing problem and consider it a culpably stupid waste of human resources wherever it occurs. I expect better of my colleagues and professional peers.
I have been reading Prof Knop’s personal writing on this issue for some time, and regard him as admirably open-minded and fair in his approach. I have never known him to be anything but polite and reasonable. I make this point because I can only imagine that his presentation to your faculty meeting was of the same high standard: well reasoned and not in any way threatening.
For him to meet with a solid wall of aggressive denial that the problem even exists is, if anything, cause for even greater dismay than the hostile environment for women that he describes within your department. It took considerable courage for Prof Knop to broach this contentious topic with his colleagues. As chair, you are largely responsible for your department’s overall tenor and for its compliance with legal requirements for equal opportunity. I should have thought you would see Prof Knop as a welcome ally in this undertaking.
In fact, though, your response to Prof Knop’s article is cause for yet further concern. As I understand it, you demanded that Prof Knop remove the post (which he did). This was counter-productive at best, since the Web never forgets; indeed Prof Knop’s post is available in full elsewhere, and has probably attracted more attention as a result of your actions than it would have on its own. Prof Knop has explicitly disavowed the notion that your actions constitute censorship, but on this I disagree with him. His article made no mention whatsoever of anyone by name, nor of any sensitive business (hiring, tenure, or similar). The research community, and academia in general, needs more transparency — not more secrecy.
This is an open letter, having been posted to my own personal weblog. I understand that you are busy, and do not expect a reply. You should know, however, that I will be advising friends, students and colleagues of both sexes that they should avoid your department, and probably view Vanderbilt University itself with some suspicion, on the basis of this incident.

Update: More from Rob, in typically careful and reasonable style. He’s right, and I’m wrong, and I won’t be recommending to anyone that they avoid VU or Rob’s department.
For one thing, they have a pretty strong female and minority presence (see the first comment on Rob’s entry), which can only help in improving the situation — conversely, if they stop getting female/pro-feminist male/minority applicants, that can only be harmful. For another, reading the blog discussion of this whole incident will provide a good background for anyone considering VU or Rob’s department, leaving them armed with penetrating questions to ask at interview time.
I got a response from Prof Scherrer (I won’t quote it as I didn’t ask permission/give warning). He focused his reply on the fact that the meeting included legitimately confidential discussions, which I think is somewhat lame, but then he’s a dept chair and I’m just some weirdo on the internets. (Should I write him again to let him know the change in my position that Rob has caused? I lean towards “quit bothering the guy” myself.)

Open letter to Reed Elsevier

Further to the petition and boycott pledge I linked a while back, Tom Stafford has put together an open letter to Reed Elsevier that you can sign if you are an academic or researcher. Tom writes:

The letter will be sent to the Times Higher Education Supplement, a leading UK academics’ weekly, with potential for other national and international coverage. This will be the next in what has now become a series of open letters from professional users of Reed products. Previous letters have been signed by medics (in The Lancet) and high-profile writers (in the Times Literary Supplement), and both have received considerable, and worldwide, media attention.

Here’s the text of the letter (also available as a pdf here):

Mr Jan Hommen
Reed Elsevier PLC
1-3 Strand
xx October 2006
Dear Mr Hommen
We are an international group of academics who are extremely concerned
about Reed Elsevier’s involvement in organising major arms fairs in the
UK and around the world.
We rely on our academic work to be disseminated chiefly by means of
books and peer-reviewed articles, a significant share of these via Reed
Elsevier publications. Being both contributors and (unpaid) referees,
and readers of Reed Elsevier journals makes us stakeholders in the Reed
Elsevier business.
On its website, your company states that it is “committed to making
genuine contributions to the science and health communities” and that it
is “proud to be part of [these] communities”. Conversely, we are not
proud to be associated with Reed Elsevier as we feel your statements are
undermined by the conflict between your arms fair activities and our own
ethical stance. Arms fairs, marketing the tools of violence, are a major
link in the chain of the global arms trade which proliferates arms
around the world and fuels a cycle of human, scientific, economic and
cultural destruction.
This is entirely at odds with the ethical and social obligations we have
to promote the beneficial applications of our work and prevent their
misuse, to anticipate and evaluate the possible unintended consequences
of scientific and technological developments, and to consider at all
times the moral responsibility we carry for our work.
We call on Reed Elsevier to cease all involvement in arms fairs since it
is not compatible with the aims of many of your stakeholders.
Yours sincerely

If you want to sign it, send email to tDOTstaffordATsheffieldDOTacDOTuk with “open letter to Reed Elsevier” in the subject line and a brief note including your full academic title, name, discipline and institution (or former institution if retired). The petition is ongoing, so also please sign that if you haven’t already. As I write there are 357 signatories; if you’re reading this you will probably recognize #19, 32, 55 and 90 (I’m #28).
I know that, after the umpteenth petition or letter or fundraiser or whatever, outrage fatigue starts to set in; and I know that, as world affairs go, there are more important issues than scumbags Reed Elsevier branching out into arms dealing. But — and here I’m speaking to my colleagues: researchers, teachers and academics the world over — this is our issue. It’s in our professional backyard; we own a chunk of it. Not only is a major academic publishing house part of our community, or at least of its infrastructure (whether we like it or not), but as the primary consumers of their primary products and services we have an unusual degree of leverage in this situation. Reed Elsevier is a business: if enough of their customers sign Tom’s letter and petition (and Nick’s boycott), they will get out of the arms trade.

So what can I do?

Over at Uncertain Principles, Chad is a bit frustrated with some of the discourse around the Pipeline Problem (that is, why are so few women retained in higher positions in science?):

One of the things that ends up bothering me about the discussion of how to get more women in science is that it tends to focus on the college and professional level. Everybody seems to have an anecdote about a creepy physics professor, or an unpleasant graduate student, or a sexist post-doc.
This bugs me for a couple of reasons. The obvious one being that I’m a college physics professor, and I’m not that guy. I’m not fool enough to try to deny that unreconstructed sexist pigs exist in the profession, but I’m not one of them, and neither are my immediate colleagues, and sweeping statements that lump us in with the pigs of the world bother me.

Now, Chad’s larger point is about intervention earlier in the pipeline; I largely agree, but I want to focus on something else:

sweeping statements that lump us in with the pigs of the world bother me

I’m a postdoc, and I try not to be That Asshole. When someone says something that effectively lumps me in with Those Assholes, I have an algorithm that allows me to avoid taking it personally:

  1. whatever cogent criticisms of sexist behaviour this person is making, do they in fact apply to me?
  2. if yes, fix problem (that is, fix self)
  3. if no, do said criticisms apply to anyone around me, or the environment I work in?
  4. if yes, how do I fix that? can the person making the criticisms also give me constructive advice?
  5. if no, there would appear to be nothing I can do here but be pointlessly offended, therefore *shrug*

Here’s my point, and I think it’s an important and somewhat underappreciated one: I think that not taking such things personally is one of the most important things I can do about the fact that “unreconstructed sexist pigs exist in the profession”. Allowing the people who bear the brunt of said pigs’ actions to vent without shutting them down just because “hey, I’m not like that” is a way to contribute to an anti-pig environment. I think of it this way:

Angry Female Scientist: my fucking profession is riddled with sexist assholes! Jesus fuck! I hate you bastards!
Male Option 1: I’m not like that/don’t generalize, you’ll alienate your allies/don’t be so emotional/etc
(This translates “shut up and keep your place”, not just immediately in the AFS’s mind but in a larger sense, in which an angry woman is immediately confronted, dismissed, argued with and ultimately ignored. Think about what happens when a man gets angry and makes overly general statements; he generally gets cut some slack, or at least left to vent.)
Male Option 2: Dude1, what happened? Did I do something?
(This translates “I accept that there’s a problem, that you have a right and a reason to be angry; I’m on your side, go ahead and vent, maybe tell me how I can help”.

I prefer MO2. I don’t want to be That Asshole, and I don’t want Those Assholes to feel free to be assholes in my presence. So I speak out, and when someone else speaks out — especially if it’s an AFS — I try to figure out if they’re legitimately mad at me and if they’re not, I let ’em vent and don’t take it personally. It’s healthy: there should be a hint of anger in the air, when women are still being raped on the job.
I’d rather be That Humorless Liberal than That Asshole.
P.S. Further to Chad’s opening point, it does indeed seem that everyone has an anecdote about some sexist creep or other. I take that as an indication that there are way too many sexist creeps in my profession: those stories don’t make themselves up.
1American for “mate”; like “mate”, has become a unisex term.

Whup. Ass.

Apropos the last entry, via Atrios: Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez got some monkeymail and replied in much better style than her idiot correspondent deserved:

MICHAEL SAYS: 3. They do not register for selective service and do not serve in the military – forcing legal Americans to defend them.
ALISA SAYS: Sigh. According the U.S. government, all male immigrants — legal and otherwise — are required by U.S. law to register for selective service.
According to the National Center for Immigration Law, one in ten U.S. soliders who have DIED in Iraq have been immigrants. Five percent of those serving in our military are illegal immigrants.
The first soldier to die for the United States in the current war in Iraq was Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala.

(Emphasis mine.) Good enough to die, not good enough to vote. I had no idea.
That’s just a sample, too — you should read the whole thing. By reading one blog post you can be better informed about the current immigration debate than anyone in the mainstream media.

Assholes are everywhere.

Erikawhite.jpgWhen Erika Thereian changed her Second Life skin from white to black, other things changed. Friends became distant, men made assumptions about her sexuality that they hadn’t previously made, and there were blatant racist attacks:

“Well, I teleport into a region,” she says, recounting a latter case. “Where a couple people [are] standing around.
“One said, ‘Look at the n***** b****.'”
“Another said ‘Great, they are gonna invade SL now.'”

Erikablack.jpg I was gobsmacked by this. If you’d asked me to predict what would happen, I’d have said nothing much — I’d have assumed that a virtual world would be much more open minded, less prone to prejudice, than the Big Blue Room. I suppose, in retrospect, it’s not so astonishing that there are assholes everywhere — but I bet no black person would have been surprised. None of Erika’s black friends were.
Tell me again how there’s no such thing as white privilege?