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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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PS: When people hear about a biology study, what are some things they can ask themselves to check for gender bias in the study?

JH: The first step is always to say, 'Does this finding replicate?' Because we've so many of these flash-in-the-pan things where a study gets tons of publicity and there's so much competition in biology to be first with your breathless finding. So that's the first question to ask, 'Has anybody else gotten this?'

There are certain phrases that tip people off about gender bias. For example, if people do some kind of neuroscience study, let's say it's an MRI study with humans. These researchers will often say, 'This is a hardwired difference between males and females.' Well, if these are adults [who are being studied], it's not hardwired at all, right? They've had 20 to 25 years of experience that has shaped their brains. Typically, you don't find good neuroscientists using the phrase 'hardwired' because they know how plastic the brain is. Differential experience between males and females could account for brain differences as easily as any kind of brain differentiation that depends on hormones or something like that.

—PopSci has an interview with Janet Hyde, a psychologist at University of Wisconsin-Madison who helped spearhead the school's new fellowship [PDF] in "feminist biology," our new collective major. (PopSci has more words on the "hardwired" issue here, too.) [PopSci] | April 23, 2014

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Estate Jewelry: Hippocampi, 18th Century Febreze, and a Circus You Can Wear

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across an unusual antique scrimshaw pie crimper that was carved in the shape of one of my favorite mythological creatures: a hippocamp. Half horse and half fish or sea-serpent, the hippocamp (or hippocampus) appears in Greek, Phoenician and Etruscan mythology, and Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, is often shown driving a chariot pulled by hippocampi. The gestural horsey/ fishy characteristics essential to the hippocamp are nearly impossible for an artist to resist, and they’ve been depicted in various forms—coins, mosaics, painting, sculpture—for centuries. You can scroll back through my Twitter feed for some examples, but definitely don’t miss this incredible late 16th century Spanish hippocamp pendant in the collection of the British Museum, and also don’t forget about the famous 18th century Trevi fountain in Rome, which depicts Neptune, the Roman counterpart to Poseidon, overlooking two rearing hippocampi (and a couple of tritons).

If you happen to have what is no doubt a lot of cash, you can always pony up for this amazing hippocamp brooch that’s currently available from Lucas Rarities in London. Circa 1939, the piece was designed by Juliette Moutard for the French jewelry house Boivin, and features a golden hippocamp with an emerald-studded tail. It’s nestled in a shell set with even more emeralds, and a ruby bow suspends a natural saltwater pearl pendant below. Gah.

If, like me, you take public transportation to work, you may want to invest in a nice little vinaigrette. No, I don’t mean the salad dressing. The vinaigrette I’m talking about is a tiny little box or container that men and women carried with them to help mask unpleasant scents in their immediate surroundings, generally during the late 18th- to mid-19th centuries. Consider it an early version of Febreze. Vinaigrettes usually had a hinged lid, and held smelling salts or a tiny sponge beneath a pierced interior grill. The sponge could be soaked in a perfume or other aromatic substance like vinegar (hence the name).

Peter Szuhay is selling this beautiful little gold vinaigrette that was designed in the form of a cowrie shell. Circa 1780 and probably French, it is enameled both inside and outside, and finished with a very pretty pierced and engraved interior grate.  READ MORE

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Vampire Diaries Author Now Writing Fan Fiction For Her Own Series

Via the Wall Street Journal:

When Alloy Entertainment fired L.J. Smith from the popular young-adult book series "The Vampire Diaries" and replaced her with a ghostwriter three years ago, a civil war broke out among fans. One camp swore fealty to the characters and embraced the new books, which still feature Ms. Smith's name prominently on the cover as the series' creator. The other, more vocal faction sided with Ms. Smith and boycotted the ghostwritten novels.

"I would not read those books if they were the last books on earth," said Christina Crowley, a 35-year-old substitute teacher in Riverview, Mich., and a staunch L.J. Smith fan. "I didn't want to read her characters written by someone else."

Now, in one of the stranger comebacks in literary history, Ms. Smith is independently resurrecting her stories about the adolescent undead. She's publishing her own version of "The Vampire Diaries" digitally on Amazon, as fan fiction, creating a parallel fictional universe that many hard-core fans regard as more legitimate than the official canon.

The business aspect of this story is fascinating: The Vampire Diaries series is still being published with Smith's name prominently featured on the book covers, and Alloy after firing her is semi-promoting her fanfiction because they get a cut of the proceeds, thanks to the widening copyright loophole that Smith is using through Amazon Worlds. Shorter version: all writers are doomed. [WSJ]

Ask Polly: Why Am I Deathly Afraid of Success?

DogDear Polly,

Love your column. Can I throw something at you? Apologies for being vague with certain details.

I'm a 43-year-old woman who has spent my whole life in one industry, got pretty far, and then descended back down the ladder to the place I started from. One day my whole outlook on my career changed and I wanted out. The problem was I didn't know how to do anything else. I was unconsciously sabotaging job after job but without an exit strategy, so it was a rough few years.

Finally I ended up at the entry level of my industry, hiding my experience and qualifications so I could be a worker bee. In exchange for giving up a great salary and high pressure 24/7 job, I got over a hundred hours of my week back, and for the first time, started to have a life. Materially, it's spartan compared to what I had, but I'm at peace and happy way more often than I was before.

Now that my job is so undemanding and I have a lot more time than I've had, I've gotten back in touch with my childhood dreams and have started to do what I really wanted to do. It's in arts/entertainment.

This is where my problem comes in: Having any actual success was far from my mind when I started my new work. I was just happy to finally have the time to be doing what I always wanted to do. READ MORE

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Interview with a Woman Who Recently Discovered She Loves Group Sex

Fiona is a woman in her late twenties who lives on the East Coast with her husband Eric and their three-year-old.

So, we’re talking because you recently had a new experience.

My husband and I went to a swingers club for the first time!

How long had you guys been throwing around the idea?

A couple months—we talked about it a lot, but stopped short of making it an actual possibility. Then very recently my husband was just like, “Let’s just do it, we keep talking about it, I found this place in Atlantic City.” And we decided to go for it, and we went on Friday, and it was awesome.

And you’d never done anything like this before.

Not at all. I had experiences of being drunk and sort of fooling around with a friend and a boyfriend, but I’d never had sex with more than one person at a time, never really had sex with strangers. I only had one one-night stand ever and it was awful. So the idea had crossed my mind in fantasy, but not as something I actually wanted to do.

How long have you and your husband been together?

Married for almost four years and together for just about five.

So what was that transition moment like, from fantasy to all of a sudden you’re staring at each other like, “Okay yeah we’re gonna do this.”

Well, I should say here that my husband and I both have pretty serious trust issues, which is a big reason why this seemed like a potentially bad move. We’ve both had issues with being cheated on, and that stuff sticks to you forever. And he’s quite a bit older than me and has a lot of experience that I never had, and for a long time I was pretty protective of my fantasies: even if I expressed them in the moment and it was hot, afterwards he’d feel weird about it, so I kind of shut stuff off.

So oddly this wasn’t even on the table as a fantasy until I embarked on a bit of an emotional affair with an ex of mine. Afterwards we were working through it and trying to be really honest with each other about sex, and it opened up a new door in terms of what we were willing to talk to each other about.

Like what?

Like me saying, “I actually might be attracted to women.” Aside from making out with friends I hadn’t had any experience with that, so the realization came slowly. And I told my husband and the next day he called me at work and was like, “I want you to know that, if this is something you want to explore, you should be able to do that.”

My first thought was, Oh, that’s cool, and my second was like, Very sweet of you but that’s insane that you think a woman being bisexual is this very specific, like...

Yep. Never met a guy who wasn’t like, “Sure, bang your friend, that sounds great.”

Like, you’re not asking me to explore all the men I haven’t fucked. I don’t think they realize there could be an actual emotional threat. READ MORE

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Famous Fictional Food in Photos

Photographer Dinah Fried recently published Fictitious Dishes, a book featuring 50 photos of literary meals. The above is from Kafka's Metamorphosis:

There were old, half-rotten vegetables; bones from the evening meal, covered in white sauce that had gone hard; a few raisins and almonds; some cheese that Gregor had declared inedible two days before; a dry roll and some bread spread with butter and salt....

This is very 4/20 Cookbook reading material; more info at the Fictitious Dishes website. (Next up, a Farmer's Boy photo-feast?)

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Ramona Lisa, "Backwards And Upwards"


Chairlift's Caroline Polachek (who wrote Beyonce's "No Angel") has been recording on her own as Ramona Lisa, working a dislocated aesthetic that Fader describes as "wide-open and strange, like a cyborg’s take on pastoral music." Here's the first single, and you can stream her debut album Arcadia in full now.

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Ask Baba Yaga: Can I Do Something Reckless and Selfish Without Suffering the Consequences?

Transcript after the jump. READ MORE

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Is This Bolivian Soccer Ghost A Real Ghost Or What


Maybe someone's skateboarding across the stadium rooftop and casting a shadow? Or maybe ghosts just love soccer games in South America. The Daily Mail informs us of a precedent: "Some Venezuelans believe the 'ghost' of their deceased President Hugo Chaves was responsible for saving an otherwise certain goal during an international match against Colombia."

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On the Affirmative Action Ban in Michigan

From the New York Times:

In a fractured decision that revealed deep divisions over what role the judiciary should play in protecting racial and ethnic minorities, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a Michigan constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action in admissions to the state’s public universities. The 6-to-2 ruling effectively endorsed similar measures in seven other states. It may also encourage more states to enact measures banning the use of race in admissions or to consider race-neutral alternatives to ensure diversity.

States that forbid affirmative action in higher education, like Florida and California, as well as Michigan, have seen a significant drop in the enrollment of black and Hispanic students in their most selective colleges and universities.

For the past year I've been teaching at University of Michigan and watching students from all backgrounds try to force the school to deal with what it means that black undergraduates are now at 5% of the student body (a number noticeably off from state demographics: 14% of Michiganders are black). All year people have been agitating ferociously for an educational environment where administrators would not immediately sound disingenuous when saying the word "diversity," but the peculiar proto-justice that Jennifer Gratz hath brought upon us shall hold. Gratz, the (white) original plaintiff in the 1996 case, recently challenged a black Detroit high school senior to a public debate over affirmative action and stated, “Should we have a limit on how many Asians we admit? The government should be out of the race issue." She has called the Supreme Court decision a "great victory."

Michigan, whose online "ethnicity reports" are laughably half-assed and whose legacy-preference admissions policies are well intact, has otherwise acknowledged the ongoing protest by pledging to refurbish the multicultural center and consider digitizing some old civil rights documents, which one Huffington Post writer gives as evidence that "the University of Michigan Black Student Union's work for increased tolerance and diversity has paid off." Their work for tolerance! What a word, what a word. READ MORE

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Happy 500,000th Birthday to This Siberian Bacteria

Mother Jones has a nice interview up with photographer Rachel Sussman, who has been traveling the world and taking pictures of the oldest things she can find: 2,000-year-old brain coral, an 80,000-year-old colony of trees. Says Sussman:

One thing that is really interesting is that there is no area that deals with longevity across species. For example, dendrochronologists study tree history, and mycologists study fungi. But they don't talk to each other. So there was no list of old organisms. Apart from a lot of Google searches, I would try to find the published scientific research. It might start out with a rumor in a local newspaper—"hey, here is this 100,000-year-old sea grass"—and I then track down some hard facts and contact the researchers, who nine out of 10 times, are so thrilled that someone is interested in their esoteric work.

To the right is the oldest thing she photographed, a lab sample of bacteria that could actually be anywhere between 400,000 and 600,000 years old. Can you imagine an age at which a 200,000-year discrepancy doesn't mean that much? That bacteria is sitting around in the permafrost with its friends all like, "In my day, humans weren't on their goddamn phones all the time because they had the social cognition of a contemporary border collie and lived till age 35." [Mother Jones]

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Royksopp & Robyn, "Every Little Thing"

The Röyksopp guys and Robyn collectively have 35 years of varyingly experimental but unwaveringly catchy output between them, so it's seemed impossible to me that their forthcoming collaborative EP/mini-album Do It Again would be anything less than a gift from the Scandiland pop gods. But it's still real nice to hear these two brand-new tracks out in the world: Robyn's laser-sugar charisma building against the loose, looping escalation of "Every Little Thing" and tangled up in the bittersweet house frenetics of "Do It Again."

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Boots Feat. Beyoncé, "Dreams"


This is the final cut off of producer Boots' forthcoming mixtape (he also released the track "A Day In The Life Of Jordan Asher" earlier today). "Dreams" is a bit of a slow burner, but know that Boots is donating all of the song's proceeds to a New York City nonprofit "devoted to the issue of teen dating violence." It's available here.

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My Strangely Nurturing Afternoon With Shirley Phelps-Roper

I’m pretty sure one of the hate-mongers offered me cookies while I was sitting in their living room, but I was too nervous to eat.

Across from me sat Shirley Phelps-Roper, attorney and de facto spokesperson for the Westboro Baptist Church. Her father, pastor Fred Phelps Sr., had founded the anti-gay empire, and Shirley was the face behind a good chunk of the group’s 52,000 protests. I’d only ever seen her depicted as angry—angry at a picket, angry on the news, angry on the radio.

Angry, but never alone. Shirley was constantly flanked by fellow church members or a few of her 11-kid brood. Today, her daughter Megan—“my right hand”, she called her—sat to her left.

In the next few years, Shirley would lose her father to death and Megan to the outside world. But at that moment in 2010, family was everything.

I’d just moved to Kansas City, and this was my first story in my first job as a reporter. I managed to pick a subject so universally despised by journalists everywhere: Those in Kansas City rolled their eyes at the Phelps family—sick of Shirley’s shit before ever even talking to her—and national reporters hosted an endless depth of outrage at their protests. Even years ago, I knew another Phelps story would be a tough sell.

But at least I wouldn’t screw it up. I neurotically decided to videotape and audio-record the whole conversation, the way some people set four alarms before a job interview. And I wouldn’t cry, even if she was mean. I’d desensitized myself to Angry Shirley by watching clip after YouTube clip of the hatriarch spewing homophobic vitriol in her interviews with news outlets.

I didn’t expect her to be any more pleasant with me. Because I was sitting on her couch next to a gay dude.

Scoops, a minor celebrity DJ on the Kansas City airwaves, had dressed up for the occasion in a spray-painted V-neck reading “Fuck me – I’m Famous”—but at the last minute, he’d covered it with a paisley button-down. Shirley also wore a homemade T-shirt, a hot pink number advertising “GodHatesFags.com.”

Shirley crossed her arms and leaned forward, and smiled. I braced myself for the worst.

•••
This was not Scoops’s first time at the Phelps house.

He’d met Shirley and some of her children over the years while counter-protesting their protests, and for some reason—shock-value, for one—he seemed to bond with some of the Phelps girls. He’d struck up a sort of friendship with Shirley’s 24-year-old daughter, Megan, and they’d sometimes chat on the phone.

So on Easter of 2010, the lapsed Catholic Scoops called up Megan and asked if he could come visit. She asked her mom, and Shirley said yes. We’ll talk to anyone, she told me.  READ MORE

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Draw Me Like One of Your Tinder Creeps

I feel like this gets me in trouble a lot, but when someone does something I think is rude, I always want to give them a taste of their own medicine. I’m an artist, and I try to use art as my weapon, even though that sounds so lame. So I thought, “What is something I can do to make me feel the way that they’re making me feel?” Obviously, I couldn’t just send them back a sexy message, because they would love that. They would be like, “Yay, it worked!” So I just started doodling how I would imagine them naked … except sad-naked. It was the most immature thing I could think of, because their pickup lines are the most juvenile, basic things, but also still oddly offensive.

—Slate's Amanda Hess talked to Anna Gensler, the artist behind "Instagrannies" (NSFW!), an Instagram account in which she posts nude portraits of men who come onto her on Tinder with opening lines like, "Bet your tight." And what's your arse like, mate? [Slate]