July 25, 2008

Short Dark Knight Review

It makes "Batman Begins" look bad by comparison.

July 21, 2008

Hip And Cool McCain

On my way home from work today I was listening to "All Things Considered" on NPR and they were discussing John McCain's attempt to court young voters away from Obama. He's doing all kinds of things like town hall meetings with the youngins and going on "Meet The Press" for their college episode. They also mentioned a game on his website called "Pork Invaders." Yeah, you know what doesn't make you seem old? Punning on a game that's over 30 years old.

July 19, 2008

Dr. Horrible (Again)

Just one last reminder that Dr. Horrible is not only awesome, and that now all three parts have been posted, but also that after tomorrow it's going to be pulled down off the web. That's right, after tomorrow you'll have to buy a DVD or something if you want to sing along to the cool-ocity that is Dr. Horrible. Of course, I'm going to be unable to avoid buying this thing on DVD. Man, I wonder what kind of special features they'll have. Link.

July 18, 2008

What do The Feminists believe?

One of the most ironic anti-feminist tropes -- both in the real world and the internets -- is the charge that feminists are dogmatic. We -- so the anti-feminist will say -- are ideological drones, marching in rigid lockstep and rejecting out of hand any attempt to rationally challenge our preconceptions. We're like the Inquisition and the Secret Police, only armed with vaginas. (At least, some of us. I do chuckle a little when my anti-feminists interlocutors start referring to me using female pronouns.) The caricature is so deeply ingrained -- or, if you prefer a metaphor that literally means exactly the opposite thing but makes the same figurative point, so widely dispersed -- that it was even used against me recently by a Princeton philosophy grad student, the sort of person who you'd think would really know much, much better. (For some bonus irony, notice that the charge of dogmatism was used as an ad hominem to support the claim that I was using an ad hominem.)

I find the charge ironic because I have a great deal of trouble thinking of anything substantive that all feminists believe. After 20 minutes of careful through, and some non-trivial assumptions, I've come up with exactly one:

Most, and possibly all, cultures around the world today are sexist.

Note, for the first, that I haven't defined sexism. This is because I don't believe there's any feminist consensus on what sexism is. While feminists do agree that sexism is a problem, there's no agreement on the nature of the problem, much less on particular policies that will improve things.

With some significant assumptions, it's possible to come up with a second:

There should be some legal guarantee preventing the government from interfering with a woman seeking a voluntary abortion during the first six months of a pregnancy.

But since I know, personally, at least one woman who's a dedicative progressive and devoutly anti-abortion Catholic, the assumptions needed to get consensus around this claim are dubious at best.

Now, it would be easy to come up with many more -- the sky is blue (generally), chocolate tastes good, snow is white, puppies are cute, and other inanities. But none of these is characteristic of feminism or feminists. And in no case do we have clear feminist agreement on whatever policy proposal you don't like and want to blame on `The Feminists'.

Unless I'm leaving something out. Can you come up with anything?

Reconceptualizing underrepresentation

I've spent the past week reading Iris Marion Young's Justice and the politics of difference, and the last day or two thinking about this thread on the underrepresentation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines. (I should say `some STEM fields' or just give the list -- physics, engineering, computer science, pure mathematics, economics, and philosophy -- but I'm just going to use the easier-to-type version and let you know right here that I'm not talking about biology and chemistry, at least with respect to women.) Putting these two thinkings together, I feel the need to reconsider the basics of underrepresentation: the problem is not what we think it is.

We usually think of underrepresentation as a problem of numbers: STEM fields are `disproportionately' male, or white, or straight, or able-bodied, etc. As evidence, we cite facts about the percentage of tenured faculty who are female or people of colour or queer or disabled, etc. (To cut down on the number of lists like these, I'm going to primarily use the generic `group X'. Substitute in your favourite oppressed social group for the X.)

But such facts are insufficient to establish a claim that group X is underrepresented in STEM. In order to establish this claim, we need the normative claim that the percentage of tenured faculty who are members of group X in a STEM field should be approximately such-and-such, or in the range from here to there. And that should causes problems, because (at least in part) no-one seems to have given much systematic through to how we're going to determine what comes after it, or even whether it's the right sort of claim. Nor is it at all clear what's backing up that normative claim: why should the percentage of group X-tenured faculty in a STEM field should be between a and b?

So, instead, I'd like to suggest another (or a novel) way of understanding underrepresentation. On this approach, underrepresentation is a matter of epistemic injustice (I'm drawing on Miranda Fricker here, too). More formally, underrepresentation is about the way certain groups are deprived of access to certain communities of epistemic and political power and prestige. (Namely, STEM communities.) As I see it, there are two aspects to this deprivation:
  1. whether members of group X have the same access to membership in the prestigious community as members of other groups, and
  2. whether the members of group X are oppressed within the prestigious community.

To put these in terms of the underrepresentation of women within STEM, the first aspect concerns whether women can get into the laboratory -- as a group, do they have opportunities to become scientists, engineers, and mathematicians? The second concerns their status within the laboratory -- does the STEM community treat women justly?

With just this much, we can make some preliminary observations. First, the feminist underrepresentation claim is that women are oppressed within certain STEM disciplines. The corresponding opposition claim is that women are not oppressed within STEM. Second, numbers tell us something, but not everything. This parallels injustice in the broader society: looking at the race and gender of poverty can tell us something, but it doesn't give us a complete understanding of economic, racial, or gender injustice. Third, examining the satisfaction of (Humean) preferences (as John Tierney did in the NYT article that inspired the FPh post) is only relevant to the extent that the satisfaction of (Humean) preferences is significant in the theory of justice we are using to analyse underrepresentation as epistemic injustice. Unless you're a utilitarian, this will be at best only somewhat significant -- again, it won't give us a complete picture.

I mentioned Young's book up in the first paragraph. Young has two major goals in this book: to challenge what she calls the `distributive paradigm' in mainstream political philosophy and theory, and to articulate in its place an alternative paradigm of injustice as oppression. The last paragraph parallels the first task: my observations indicate that a statistical examination of the distribution of resources and positions of power gives an incomplete picture of underrepresentation. This distribution is certainly relevant to issues of epistemic justice, but not the whole story.

Young lays out her alternative approach to justice as a taxonomy of forms of oppression. Borrowing this taxonomy as our background theory of justice, we can re-articulate the feminist claim of underrepresentation as epistemic injustice: women are exploited, marginalized, powerless, and sometimes subject to cultural imperialism and violence within STEM.

1. Women are exploited as research assistants, technicians, instructors, test subjects, secretaries, janitors, and other assistants and support staff to primary investigators and tenured faculty. Their work, both creative and menial, is appropriated by and benefit PIs and tenured faculty. I say `women are exploited as research assistants', for example, and not `research assistants are exploited' because these lower status positions are disproportionately held by women or held by women who are less likely to receive eventual returns on their sacrifices than their male colleagues (the leaky pipeline effect).

2. Women are marginalized and powerless is similar ways. (Young is not, to my mind, entirely clear on the difference between these two.) Assistants and support staff to PIs and tenured faculty have little or no power to make decisions about the research they will participate in or how they will participate in it. They might be able to choose whether or not to participate at all, or suggest new directions, experiments, research strategies, etc., but have no real power to shape the course of research. Similarly, instructors and teaching assistants have little or no discretion over their courses -- they are assigned by their superiors to teach this class or that, on a term-by-term basis, and usually based on the department's need to cover teaching duties perceived as menial or boring by tenured faculty (Physics 101, the early calculus sequence, remedial classes, etc.). The content of these courses is usually dictated by official standards and texts or all the sections of a course being linked to a standardized midterm and final.

3. Cultural imperialism and violence, Young's last two categories of oppression, are less common than the first two (treating marginalization and powerlessness as one category for the moment), but still issues of injustice within STEM than need attention. Cultural imperialism refers to the widespread acceptance of stereotypes and biassed perceptions of marginalized groups. In the context of STEM, this would mean the acceptance of scientific theories with, say, sexist content and implications. Uncontroversial historical examples abound -- Stephen Jay Gould's The mismeasure of man has some jaw-dropping ones. More controversial are contemporary theories of, for example, gender- and race-linked differences in the distribution of IQ and problem-solving abilities and still-prevalent `active male/passive female' models of fertilization. (In this post, I'm going to remain neutral on the question of whether any of these theories was epistemically acceptable in its heyday, or is epistemically acceptable today. Perhaps there are genuine dilemmas of epistemic justice.)

4. Violence is exactly what you would expect. I suspect -- though I could be wrong -- that violence is a pervasive or systematic problem only in medical and pharmacological treatment and research, and not other STEM fields. (Although perhaps medicine and pharmacology should not be classified as STEM fields at all.) Violence in medicine is closely linked with race and class, and with powerlessness: women of colour and living in poverty have been subject to forced sterilization as recently as the 1970s, they are less likely to receive proper medical care and due respect for their autonomy as patients, and so on.

Similar observations apply to racial groups, and of course disability. (I suspect there's a whole thesis to be written on the ways disabled people are the victims of violence within medicine.)

I have one final observation. One especially persistent feminist criticism of STEM fields with underrepresentation problems (I've heard this about philosophy, physics, mathematics, computer science, and economics) is the prevalence of a macho, aggressive, or `duelist' culture (the phrase is Janice Moulton's) that is supposed to drive many women away from these fields. In such a culture, one is supposed to be a vigorous and aggressive defender of one's views in a such argumentative context; the thought is that this creates a great deal of competition, effectively weeding out the weakest (and, presumably, therefore untrue) ideas. Traditional feminine attributes of pleasantness and self-abasement create a catch-22: either women cannot adopt these aggressive norms (they conflict too much with the way they have been taught to behave), or they are punished and disparaged by their male colleagues for being too aggressive.

This is, I think, an extremely important criticism. But I'm not sure where to place it in Young's taxonomy of oppression. Perhaps one side of the dilemma is marginalization -- women who do not adopt the aggressive stance are denied standing within the community -- and the other is cultural imperialism -- the successful imposition of masculine norms of behaviour on women.

July 16, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Back during the writer's strike, Joss Whedon and his pals were bored. So bored were they that they started coming up with ideas for projects that they'd like to do just for fun. One such project was Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. After the strike ended Joss rounded up some money to do it right and got pals Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion to do some sweet super-powered musicality. It's the awesomest thing since I don't know when. Check it out. Rumor is that after this initial run you won't be able to see it for free anymore.

Also, so you know, new favorite song = "With My Freeze Ray I Will Stop The World".

Update: I can't stop watching this thing. It's so awesome.

Update 2: Neil Patrick Harris should be in everything filmed from now on.

Update 3: Part 2 is out now! Part 3 will be out Saturday.


There's an opinion piece over at the NYT today arguing that we should abolish terms based on Darwin's name (Darwinism, Darwinian, etc.). The points made are largely good; mostly that use of terms based on Darwin's name narrows discussions and gives skeptics a 19th century target to attack rather than 21st century data. My only objection is that if my memory is correct it's almost always people who are attacking 21st century science who invoke Darwin's name. In my experience the people who are trying to undermine modern scientific theories/data are the ones who invoke Darwin's name most frequently. The people who would be most likely to be convinced by this piece, and who support the scientific community's evolving understanding of nature, are the ones most likely to already use more accurate terminology. Link.

July 12, 2008

Review: Hellboy 2

Poor Hellboy. He's such a great character. More pulp detective than super hero, he is almost always in over his head but doing his best to get the job done. And he's so charismatic while doing it! The first movie wasn't exactly art house fare but it knew what it was and seemed to enjoy just being a fun action romp that didn't take itself too seriously. Hellboy was, and is, brought to life pitch perfect by Ron Perlman who showed that he can have an entire movie rest on his shoulders after a career as a character actor.

And the first movie was a success. Not a runaway smash hit, but a success nonetheless. You can almost hear the pre-production meetings as you watch Hellboy 2: "So what we'd like is some of that Pan's Labyrinth art style, but without all that dreary drama and with a lot more wire work and explosions! Don't worry, we'll balance it out with more jokes." Hellboy 2 is inarguably gorgeous. In fact, I think del Torro outdoes Pan's Labyrinth in character design and perhaps even cinematography. Ultimately though, Hellboy 2 suffers from the most common sequel syndrome: more. They decided they were going to take the first movie up a notch to eleven and what was a neat little fun action movie turned into a special effects extravaganza with a fight scene every five minutes broken up by mostly funny but pretty forced humor bits. Ron Pearlman is still great, but Selma Blair gets a bunch more meat to her part and chokes hard. She couldn't be more wooden if she put down roots, but even then she's out acted by the Giving Tree.

It's hard to admit that I'm as disappointed as I am about this movie. It's not what I'd call bad. After all, the plot dragged but it made sense and though the action scenes were done well but were just far too plentiful. Sequels don't have to be the first movie on steroids. It's ok to just tell the next chapter of the character's lives and tell it well. I *want* to hear about Hellboy's continuing adventures but I don't necessarily need to see every slow motion punch he's ever thrown.

July 10, 2008

Jesse Jackson

I know that by now I should be over this, but I just can't help but be frustrated by the utter lack of honest dealing that conservatives show in discussions on the internet. I'm sure many conservatives, maybe even some of these same conservatives, are completely reasonable in real life, but every time some Democrat says something even mildly objectionable they act like they shock might just knock them down.

Was assuming that he was off the record stupid on Jackson's part? Of course it was. Indeed it was super stupid. Is the phrase "cut his balls off" a phrase that warrants women fainting and men wiping their brows with handkerchiefs? Not unless we're a country of children.

But hey, while we're at it did you hear that McCain thinks killing Iranian civilians with our increasing cigarette exports is a super funny joke? Probably not because some guy who's not running for office used a metaphor when he thought he was off the record. After all, why cover what the candidates say?

Scroll Down

Don't miss Czar's post, which was the newest post until I buried it under a mountain of Wizard World pics, and has a quite funny video imbeded. I'm already trying to think of funny things to do while my girlfriend is sleeping. Also, today is his birthday. Happy birthday Czar!

Review: Doctor Who Season 4

Unfortunately, Russel Davies' swan song season was the worst of the bunch. There are some great episodes in there ("Midnight" is right up there vying for a top 5 episodes of the new series spot) but most of it was pretty rote. And then the finale, oh, the finale. If I didn't like Dr. Who so much and there weren't some great bits of writing in there I'd say this was one of the all time worst offenders of fan-wank-itude of all time. "What's that? Russel's leaving and we're losing the Dalek license? Well let's bring the Dalek's back. Oh, and Davros, because he's a character with great motivation. Oh, and every companion so we can have this big goodbye scene. Again, there were some great bits in the finale, the cast was good, and ultimately I love Doctor Who so I enjoyed myself, but if the scientists could harness the power of my eye rolling the country would be energy independent overnight.

Here's hoping for better things next year after the loooong break.

Wizard World '08

A fine Doctor costume all the way down to the trainers. But he's a sad Doctor because he has no companion, so he's going to commit suicide by using the sonic screwdriver on his face.

Ah, what a fine way to end my Wizard World '08 pictures! Less than a year until Wizard World '09! Hooray!

Wizard World '08

This guy was waiting in line to meet Katie Sackoff (aka Starbuck of Battlestar Galactica). Crossover!

Side note: You *never* see people dressed as Trek character at Wizard World. Weird.

Wizard World '08

Coincidentally the Hellfire Club was meeting in the other wing of the Philly Convention Center on the same day as Wizard World. Emma Frost seems to have gotten lost on her way to the bathroom.

Ugh, two bathroom jokes in one day...

Wizard World '08

It's a little known fact that Iron Man once got drunk on a thirty pack of Miller Lite and then made a nuclear powered suit out of the cans.

Wizard World '08

The recent rumors are that Jesse Ventura is going to step into the Colman/Franken Senate race in Minnesota. He should announce his candidacy as either Blain from Predator or Captain Freedom from The Running Man. Then he should endorse Franken and bow out.

Wizard World '08

The best part of this picture is that you can see my reflection in his dome.

What purpose does that ridiculously long neck (which is accurate to the comics) serve? Bonus points though for Aquaman's tattered cloths on his trident. Somewhere the King of the Oceans is looking for something to hold up his pants.

Wizard World '08

I don't even know what the Hell these guys are. But damn, that's got to be hell in the bathroom.

Wizard World '08

Best costume of the show. Hands down. Inside was a girl who looked like she was about to melt. After the second day of the show she was killed and replaced by Wheelie. Damn you Wheelie!

Wizard World '08

Three Spideys! A new record! You know, as much controversy as the Iron Spidey suit created when it appeared, in a few years it's just going to be another Spiderman Armor, which is to say, a footnote.

Wizard World '08

Blue Beetle here did a great job of recreating his broken goggles from the Countdown to Infinite Crisis and OH MY GOD ARE THOSE HIS BALLS?!?

Wizard World '08

I honestly can't tell if this is the same Wonder Woman from earlier or if there were just two of them walking around. Also, that's a small Amazon!

Wizard World '08

Riddle me this...how does a super villain maintain a secret identity when he signs his Wizard World badge?

Note to Riddler: You got something on your chin pal. You might want to wake it up and shoo it along.

Wizard World '08

When the Baroness tells you to smile for the picture "or else," you smile for the damn picture.

Also, I asked her how Dr. Mindbender ran a clean lab with no shirt on. She said he sweated in a lot of experiments.

Wizard World '08

"Ah ha!" Cyclops thought, "I'll jump into this frame when he asked the girls for a picture." Three Spidey's are ok. You only ever need one Cyclops.

Wizard World '08

As part of Poison Ivy's parole from Arkham, she was required to spend five hours a week helping blind former-superheroes do their shopping.

Wizard World '08

You know it's time to retire from the superhero game when you can't even muster the energy to be excited about putting the costume on anymore.

Or if you'd prefer: Man, she's been spending too much time in the Danger Room. Get that girl some sun!

happy birthday?

My brother-in-law made a peculiar birthday gift for my sister. Had to share.

July 04, 2008

Wizard World '08

Upon touching the Monolith Drew experienced a leap forward in evolution.

Wizard World '08

You know how ubiquitous Star Wars characters are at Wizard World? There's a freaking Death Star wall for the Star Wars characters to hang out in front of. You probably can't tell in the downsized version that I can post on Blogger, but you can tell that this scene is from the Battle of Endor because there are both Star Destroyers, Mon Calamari cruisers and X-Wings flying around out there.

Wizard World '08

Ah, fanny pack Spider-Man. He's a Wizard World fixture and uses a fanny pack to cover up his junk. Plus, he's almost always surrounded by hot ladies.

Note: This is our second Spidey.

Wizard World '08

This picture has the whole spectrum of Wizard World costumes. On the one end of the spectrum you have people foregoing rent money to add that extra dose of space marine realism. Then you have people that splash some makeup on their face or throw on a brown robe.

Wizard World '08

The best part of this costume is that I'm assuming Jean Grey is still dead.

Wizard World '08

A gamorian guard from Return of the Jedi...snore. Granted, it's better than another Storm Trooper.

Wizard World '08

Ah ha! I figured it out! Harrison Ford was too busy to make Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull so they got this guy instead! That explains it!

Wow, on top of some great costumes, check out Henry Jones Sr.'s diary in his pocket. Now that's attention to detail!

Wizard World '08

This was a cute picture of Jay with our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man until I noticed Harley Quinn.

July 03, 2008

Wizard World '08

Jamie comes all the way up from the Magic Kingdom to be rude to V. Poor V, he's a rebel leader!

Wizard World '08

Ah, the *REAL* Mystique! Not that sex naked Mystique from the movies. You know she's an evil mutant because she has tiny skulls on her belt.

Wizard World '08

After years of hiding in plain sight, Waldo is caught and tortured by The Batman. His plot with Clayface foiled, Waldo began plotting his escape from Arkham.

Wizard World '08

That's right, I spent some time with the Princess of Power, Wonder Woman. Of course, I had suspicions that she was in the country illegally so I called in a tip to Homeland Security and they deported her back to Themiscyra.

Wizard World '08

I don't know who this woman is, but she was not impressed by Jay's antics. Shortly after this picture was taken she summoned a great beast to humble him.

Wizard World '08

That's right, after selfishly hording the joy of Wizard World to ourselves for three years we permitted the ladies to come along with this year! They got to take it all in for the first time. Lucky!

Here's part of the gang posing with a Republican. Jay was surprised by his plans for reforming health care.

Wizard World '08

Yeah, I'm a month late getting these things up. Anyway, expect tons of pictures now that I'm motivated!

Let's start it off simply. Two chums awaiting my arrival for the happiest weekend of the year! Hooray!