Waking up

Okay, loyal readers. The holiday is over, the last semester is all tied up, AGU is done, and everything on my list is looking forward to new classes, new publications, new research, and new directions. I cannot guarantee that after running out of things to say on my year-old blog, I will suddenly have a lot to post again, but I will try to remember that this site exists and use it now and then. That is as close to a resolution as you and WordPress are getting.

Other New Year’s resolution: take more awesome baths, and with alcoholic beverages in hand. I will endeavor to remember to update you on my progress.

On a lighter note…

The Literary Review 2009’s shortlist for bad sex writing is now available, complete with excerpts of suggested passages. These are NOT safe for work, of course, but are safe for giggles. I considered excerpting some of my favorite parts, but I have so far resisted making the leap to all-out [bad] porn on my blog, so I decided it’s best if you just go over there yourself.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to remember and memorialize people killed as a result of anti-transgender hatred. The list of names for 2009 is available here and relisted by Melissa here (in a slightly easier to read format). Liss’s post, Fillyjonk’s post at Shapely Prose, Kate’s post on Salon, and Meloukhia’s post all articulate the importance of observing this day, and I encourage you to read both the list of names and stories and those posts.

I’ve read that something like 1 in 12 people who identify as transsexual, transgender, genderqueer or intersex are murdered. That statistic is staggering, and the list of names for 2009 is therefore as long as you might expect. And as Kate points out, these victims of violence disproportionately belong to other marginilized groups. Recognizing the severity of threat of violence that transgendered people face is incredibly important; without that wider recognition, it’s not going to change.

Fat at college

A friend alerted me to this article in the Chronicle today. I am super mad! The gist is that students with BMI > 30 have to take an additional fitness class geared towards weight loss, and if they fail to lose enough weight to reach an acceptable BMI, they must pass another additional fitness class.

“There’s an obesity epidemic,” Mr. DeBoy says. “The data are clear that many young people are on this very, very dangerous collision course with heart disease, diabetes, and stroke—health problems that are particularly bothersome for the African-American community.”

This is not an epidemic, so can we please stop calling it that? Magazine headline writers made that up because they thought the hyperbole sounded sexy, and they didn’t care what the words actually meant. And okay, look. People stopped getting fatter here a decade ago. That shift was actually relatively minor, and correlated with an increase in height. Both height and weight have similar levels of heritability (about 80%); neither can be changed significantly through force of effort for any reasonable length of time (> 2-5 years) except in a very small minority of cases (which are thus exceptions and probably usually have something else going on, like severe malnutrition in youth, illnesses, medications, etc.); and the weak correlation between certain health risk factors and increased BMI is pretty well balanced by similar weak correlations between other health risk factors and decreased BMI, such that all-cause mortality rates of BMI classes are similar (and lowest in the “overweight” group). When it comes to those correlations, the assumption of causation is made without second thought, leading to methodologically poor studies and false conclusions. BMI is a flawed, white-European-centric, shorthand way of assessing whole populations and is next to meaningless when evaluating the health of individuals. And health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke are particularly “bothersome” for the African-American community for reasons that likely have nothing to do with body size, and everything to do with availability of and access to good treatment.

On the question of whether or not obesity is a disability, as with all levels of ability, that’s a question of context. In the context of a plane seat that is 17″ wide, everyone whose seated hip dimension exceeds 17″ has a disability (which has got to be more than 50% of the population). In the context of a building with stairs and no elevators, ramps, or stairlifts, a person without the use of their legs has a disability. In the context of a store where the top shelves are too high for me to reach, like my local Whole Foods, I have a disability and need to get assistance from store employees to complete my routine shopping. So in the context of a discriminatory school policy that requires 1-2 additional pieces of coursework from anyone with a body over a certain size, those bodies present disabilities — and in this case, it’s because people created that context on purpose, which is worse. This isn’t hard.

As for the question, “Will enforced wellness like this work?” the answer depends on what it means for the program to “work.” Some students will probably lose weight temporarily, so it will appear to meet some arbitrary weight loss goals. Simultaneously, the stigma and shame associated with being singled out and made to complete additional course work on account of factors mostly beyond the student’s [long-term] control will likely negatively impact her emotional and mental well-being, and not just in the short term. Rates of depression are not potentially higher among fatter people because they’re inherently more depressed; it’s because we treat them like shit and then tell them it’s their fault.

My grandmother [probably] had breast cancer. If they had made me take on extra coursework about proper breast health in college (which then stigmatized and blamed me for my heredity!), I would have righteously fucking sued the goddamn school. And I’ve said this before, but all of you folks whose insurance covered your wisdom tooth extractions, because your puny genetics meant your teeth came in all wrong? You drove up my insurance costs. Based on my happily intact third molars, I am confident that you should have taken some wellness classes on proper dental care, you unattractive-toothed loser. Because I care about your health.

The geology disaster movie review written by a geologist.

I just saw this:

Truthfully, it was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. In terms of the people-plot, it takes that usual disaster-movie cheesiness and ramps it up to a level that is painful but not quite true camp. So I could laugh at it, and so could my movie buddy, but most of the other people in the theater weren’t laughing. Kind of like Independence Day that way (unsurprisingly): you get the tired broken-divorced-family-reunited story, the stirringly-cheesetastic-speech-that-shows-goodness-prevails-over-greed bit, the necessary noble sacrifices (not just one, oh no). And the completely unnecessary, way over-the-top epilogue to show it’s a New World Of Great Hope. Those things were laughable but it kind of hurt, and not in that good-laughing-hurt sort of way, either. To give you some kind of perspective, this movie was waaaay more literal with the personal relationships and heavy-handed with the messages than The Day After Tomorrow, as Roland Emmerich movies go. Yeah, I know.

Before I get to the fun bits, this deserves a bit of social commentary. As my movie companion said on the way to the car, the disaster movie genre seems to exalt conservative values (and in a really exaggerated way), and by conservative I think he mostly meant racist: while this was a step up from Independence Day because we actually noticed some other countries exist (well, more than the token “About bloody time! What are they going to do?” line from some Brits in the desert), he pointed out that non-white-suburbanites were overall pretty shafted (“We’ll let the Chinese laborers die, but you have to save my white children!”). And I’ll add that the women in this movie were particularly helpless. At least Volcano and The Core have token women with agency (note: not Emmerich movies). We don’t even get tokens here: the women have children and puppies to protect, and they are plot devices that are pleasing to look at, but that’s it. It’s not like any of them go up the stairs to see what’s going on when the stepdad comes down to say, “You guys better come take a look at this.” They’re good at huddling with the children, though. And then there’s the whole reunite-the-divorced-parents bit, which… yeah.

But those things, though more exaggerated than in even most disaster movies these days, were all more or less expected. And aside from laughing at cheesily overdone Hollywood stories, frankly, the plot isn’t the reason I chose to drive out of my way to a big movie theater and pay $10 a ticket to sit for 2 1/2 hours eating popcorn for dinner last night. This movie was saved and made bearable purely by spectacular effects, hilariously bad science, and Woody Harrelson.

The video clip embedded at the top of the post, and the one I linked to that doesn’t embed (which is one of the higher res official trailer releases), should sufficiently capture the special effects part. There were awesome explosions, the literal sliding of continental crust into the ocean (what have we always been saying about California!), fantastic cracking and collapsing of parts of crust into bottomless pits, bridge collapses, stone building and monument collapses, glass building collapses, trains driving into insta-chasms, cement mixers and giant doughnuts rolling across streets, car chases (racing against the EARTH), RV chases with flaming fireballs, small plane fly-thrus, bigger plane fly-thrus and crashes, small- and big plane races against pyroclastic blasts (that were still pyroclastics in D.C. a few hours after Yellowstone erupted IN WYOMING PEOPLE), mega-cruise-ship roll-overs, tsunamis on the coasts, tsunamis in the Himalayas… I feel like I’m forgetting a few things. But there were a lot of things. And I’m leaving out most of Yellowstone because that goes in the science paragraph. Which is next. But the effects were so much fun that I felt like I should be on a simulator ride in Disney World with shaky seats and crappy seatbelts, even though this movie is 158 minutes long and I wouldn’t have been able to feel my legs anymore.

Okay, but this is a science blog (at least one in every 10 or 15 posts or so), and I feel I am not doing my readers or this masterful film justice if I don’t discuss the amazing science that went into its production and story. You see, all of this happens because of neutrinos. You may ask, “Volcanista, how is that possible?” And I would say, “It’s not.” But see, it’s possible if the planets in the solar system line up in a line, because their tides would then be SO STRONG that the SUN would go CRAZY. Really! It happens! In fact, it’s already starting. That SOLAR CRAZINESS causes big flares, or something, and those flares also put out NEUTRINOS. Which are super dangerous. Because they pass right through matter and have no mass, so they can’t touch anything or really affect anything in any way, and we have to build underground tanks the size of small towns just to detect that they even exist. That’s why they’re so dangerous. Because when they mutate into NEW ATOMIC PARTICLES THAT DON’T EXIST because the SUN IS CRAZY, they can make water boil, which is just nuts, and then the EARTH’S TECTONIC PLATES MIGHT BEGIN SHIFTING. Extra fast!!

Well. We all know that’s trouble. It makes massive cracks and chasms, plates drop off into the ocean, other plates just pop up to make new highlands, and all the volcanoes go off at once. Since Yellowstone is apparently the biggest most dangerous volcano on Earth (where did people get this idea?? Is it all the Discovery Channel specials?), that’s bad news. I mean, that volcano put out enough ash for ashfall to be detected as far east as… the Mississippi! Which is almost all the way to D.C., so it totally makes sense that a MEGA SUPERVOLCANO ERUPTION will blast DC with a pyroclastic cloud that will knock over stuff like whoa.

I did enjoy the eruption itself. It was quite a nice 3-ring blast (oo, like a binder!), and they managed to throw in some real volcanic plume-type structures, briefly (like some nice rooster tails) before they went totally nuts blowing stuff up. I’m not entirely sure how volcanic bombs the size of houses can have trees on them, or (alternatively) how house-sized chunks of crust hurled out of a volcanic crater can be glowing with hot lava action, but that was there, and it made for some exciting volcanic bomb-dodging action (which is two kinds of action!). (Obviously they haven’t watched Volcano. The correct way to dodge a bomb is clearly outlined by Anne Heche in that quality film. First you need to determine WHERE IT WILL LAND, and THEN you move! Volcanologists are trained to know this.)

So there was some seriously and literally hot science in this movie. And there were some fantastic, dramatic lines about how the tectonic plates have begun shifting O NOEZ. I was very excited.

And now I’ve seen it, so you don’t have to.

Excellent reviews also available from Slate and Roger Ebert.


I don’t really have the words to fully articulate how angry I am about the passage in the House of the Stupak amendment. We need health care reform, and I wanted it as badly as the next person. But my reproductive rights and my right to affordable health care should not be a bargaining chip in that battle. It isn’t adequate health care reform if I don’t have those things. And to all the Congresspeople who voted for the amendment, particularly the Democrats, well, I don’t have anything to say to you that would be decent to articulate in front of the children.

Oh god.

I can’t even find the words to comment on this horrific tragedy. Things like that shouldn’t happen. Damn the fucking rape culture to hell. I’m so done with the world right now.

FA in the news

Daniel Engber of Slate has an interesting article up today about fat politics. Engber has written previously about anti-fat discrimination in our institutions and culture, so I know he’s pretty well-read on the topic. His question is whether bigotry will cost Chris Christie votes in the NJ gubernatorial election, and his answer is, well, most likely. That’s not really a big surprise and I don’t disagree with him.

There are some issues with how he gets there. For one thing, he cites Nate Silver’s ridiculous article as though it represented actual data on the body shapes and sizes of our nation’s governors, even though Silver evaluated their sizes by eyeballing photographs. (All that great statistical analyses he was known for leading up to the 2008 election seems to go out the window when it comes to certain subjects.) He also speaks authoritatively about what makes people fat — either overconsumption if you’re rich, or eating the wrong foods if you’re poor — even though the statistical differences in body size between those groups is poor, and even though any real correlation would still say nothing about causation.

Also, Engber, major fail on the oppression olympics front with this:

As a fat man, he’d get none of the deference afforded to women, homosexuals, blacks, Latinos, or any other marginalized group with its own identity politics. Never mind all the evidence of body-size discrimination in employment, education, and health care. Weight bias may be just as prevalent as racial bias, yet we’re reluctant to assign any political status to obesity.

Yeah, dude, no. Don’t even go there.

The interesting part for me was that he presents some aspects of the fat acceptance movement with some reasonably fair analysis. I think he could stand to be even harsher in his condemnation of people whose response to FA is to fling angry insults, and the internet really deserves a much bigger plug — places like Shapely Prose and Fatshionista are much more the face of fat acceptance than anything related to NAAFA (and thank god). But overall I like reading things like this in my news feed:

Thin people tend to think they’ve controlled their weight through hard work and strength of character…That makes the idea of size acceptance seem like a personal affront to anyone who’s not severely obese. If we’re all OK with being fat, then there’s no pride in being thin….Most of the country is overweight or obese, according to government standards, yet there’s no constituency for a fat politician. Conservatives see excess weight as a sign of moral failing or a breach of personal responsibility. Liberals sneer at the bloated American lifestyle, even while imagining the war on obesity as a fight for social justice.

Grad school and mental health

There is news going around that an ASU grad student shot himself in a professor’s office, and the campus was on lockdown in response. We don’t know any details of the story. It’s likely that there was something other than the standard stresses of grad school in play here. But I’m reminded of the studies from last spring that found that more than half of graduate students are clinically depressed, and I have to wonder what role that plays in extreme cases like this one.


Oh my fucking god, you have got to me kidding me. No really, what? Seriously?

Well, at least he lets them use his bathroom. Totes not a bigot.