To Fossil or Not to Fossil

Today, I learned that you can tell the difference between a rock and a fossil by licking it.


Girls like code, too

Contrary to popular belief, I am still alive.

Prologue: It is a little unsettling the extent to which I can retrospect through the last five years of my life on here.

I was reading the November 2014 issue of Wired today (I’m a little behind on my subscription) and I came across the follow “letter” to the editor in reaction to an earlier article about sexism in Silicon Valley:

Women in the US choose not to enter the programming profession. No one stops them. No one is discouraging them. When you give people the freedom to choose, sometimes their choices don’t allow every profession to skew to the same ratios as the general population. Short of forcing people into certain jobs, we’ll just have to deal with this. – JoeBob89*

This comment made me REALLY ANGRY.

Women in the US choose not to enter the programming profession.

Sure, some of them don’t. Also, some men don’t. But I am a woman in the US. I am choosing to enter the programming profession. I go to school with other women in the US who are choosing to enter the programming profession. Half of my programming-related classes to date have been taught by women. I have woman Facebook friends who are teaching themselves how to program. There are so many programs out there now the help get girls as young ages into programming. (Like this one, and this one.) Someone is funding these programs, which probably means that they can demonstrate some measures of success. This means that there are, and will be, women in the US who want to program.

No one stops them. No one is discouraging them.

Maybe not explicitly, not all the time. But look at this chart:

Percent of women obtaining bachelor’s degrees in given field.

If no one is discouraging women from computer science implicitly or explicitly, why is the percentage of women obtaining CS degrees decreasing at such a rapid rate over a span of time when other STEM fields — math, physical sciences, engineering — are increasing in their share of female degree recipients? At a time when women overall make up a higher percentage of students in higher education than men do? There is nothing inherently distasteful about computers to women. So why, when we are finding it (slightly) more welcoming in engineering and the “hard” sciences, would we flock en masse away from CS (as the chart shows in the 2000-2010 decline) if we’re not being somehow discouraged?

Further, a study cited in Slate recently confirmed unconscious bias against female math students at a young age. Granted, the study was conducted in Israel, but I would wager that the same phenomenon occurs here. So, girls not being discouraged? Try again, pal.

When you give people the freedom to choose, sometimes their choices don’t allow every profession to skew to the same ratios as the general population. Short of forcing people into certain jobs, we’ll just have to deal with this.

This is true. Which is why we might never see engineering at 50% female, or health professions at 50% male. And no, we shouldn’t force people into certain professions. But we certainly shouldn’t force them out of certain professions, either, whether intentionally or not.

I don’t know much about the culture of Silicon Valley, but I do know that what I’ve read would suggest that it is weighted heavily against women, and I do know that I am a woman, and we are discouraged (not all the time) — by the media, by our society, by our teachers, by our friends — from going into the sciences. This is something we DON’T have to deal with.

* JoeBob? Really? Bro.

I also just think I should add that women codebreakers were essential to the Allied war effort in World War II, and have otherwise been indispensable contributors to the development of computer science over the past century. Stop Rosalind Franklin-ing us.

Whoops, update.

New posts over here, finally. In the interest of consolidation and getting what I pay for, direct all future curiosity thence.

This’ll stay here for archival purposes, so, you know, if you need to find that thing I wrote three years ago, you can. I know, I know, big demand.

On Syria, from someone who knows more than many and less than some

Since Syria doesn’t seem to be magically disappearing as a global disaster, I suppose I should say something about it. Because we all know I have an opinion that I wouldn’t want to keep to myself, and not just because this is so much like the plot of this season of Newsroom.

Let me preface this by saying the use of chemical weapons is reprehensible. If you disagree, you should find some humanity or just go off to a cave and die. But somehow, the use of such weapons isn’t a thing that seems to bother us as a country. And I think that’s shameful.

I’m certainly not much of an interventionist: if we could morally and ethically and humanely sit on the sidelines of all conflicts that don’t directly concern us, well, I think that’d be swell. But we don’t; we pick and choose and we pick and choose bizarrely and, frankly, unethically. And by the fact that we do choose to intervene at all, I don’t think it morally allowable to stop intervening when the ethical case is so clear cut.

Not that we have a stellar track record for ethically-minded intervention: we, like a rational actor, take action when it suits our political needs, which is at least intellectually consistent if not admirable, as in Iraq in 2003. But when it makes no difference to us, as in Sudan or central Africa or Burma, we are conveniently and conspicuously absent. As much as we might like to think of ourselves as moral protectors of the free world, we are far more politically-driven than anything.

What makes Syria particularly prickly is that it matters to us somewhat as a regional issue, but not as much as Iraq, and it is mass murder, much closer to Sudan or the Kurdish genocide, neither of which received so much as stern words (maybe some stern words) from Team America World Police. So do we react to Syria like we did Iraq, as a matter of regional import, or like we did Sudan, as a human tragedy that is, unfortunately, outside the scope of our concern?

Then how do we rectify our prospective courses of action in Syria with our strikes in Libya and Yemen? These are both instances where we have specific targets, Qaddafi and al-Qaeda respectively, and we take action, relatively quietly, on a small scale. So why can’t Syria fall into this category?

Then, of course, there’s our inconsistency in weapons issues: we launch a pre-emptive strike against Iraq when they MIGHT but probably DON’T have “weapons of mass destruction,” instead launching the country into what we might kindly refer to as disorganized chaos, yet we do nothing but yell really loudly at and emptily threaten Iran when they DO have nuclear weapons capabilities. This logical inconsistency is proof enough that Iraq never had these things: Iran does, and we know better than to provoke them. Had Saddam Hussein actually possessed such capabilities, we probably would never have dared provoke him, either. He was, after all, a genocidal maniac.

Just like another good friend of ours: Bashar al-Assad. So what do we do when this G.M. (genocidal maniac) has and USES weapons like this? Do we just sit on the sidelines and wait for him to attack a country we actually “care” about? Because don’t get me wrong, we don’t really give much of a flying **** for Syria. Not like how we do give two ****s for some of its neighbors (not that we get anything out of that relationship either).

A recap on weapons:
1. Iraq might but probably doesn’t have scary weapons. We launch a nearly-decade-long war.
2. Iran does have nuclear capabilities, but we’re not sure about weapons. We talk loudly.
3. Syria definitely has nerve agents and it’s highly likely that they’re being used against the rebels and civilians. What we do is TBD.

Are we so afraid to take action in Syria, despite the clear moral case (it would, certainly, be a just war by Thomas Aquinas’s criteria), because it’s a civil war? And is it that civil war is, by its nature, an intractable conflict? Do we not meddle in domestic affairs of other states? That last question is tongue in cheek: pre-Revolutionary Iran and Lebanon, for starters, might beg to differ. Of course, last time we put troops in the midst of Middle Eastern civil war, Americans died. Did we, shock, learn our lesson??

Syria is a confounding anomaly: it matters regionally, it’s a clear-cut ethical case, they have scary weapons, it’s a civil war, and its ruler is, by all accounts, a terrible human being. So is it Iraq 2003, is it Iran, is it Sudan, is it Lebanon or is it Libya? In three out of five cases, we act. And the jury is still out.

What I’m suggesting isn’t necessarily intervention: only logical and ethical and behavioral consistency. If we’re going to be Team America World Police, we need to be Team America World Police. Perhaps we ought to be a more ethical version of TAWP. And if we want to stop trying to be TAWP, is this really the right moment?

I’m still here. I Think.

On the plus side, it’s been only three months, not six, or twelve, or seventy-three.

I’d like to say I have a valid excuse for not entertaining my vast, innumerable readership with more regular musings on nothing at all. My pseudo-valid excuse is being busy, which is probably everyone’s excuse for ever not doing anything. After all, you’re not going to say “How dare you not do that because you’ve been busy!” but you might say “How dare you not do that because you’re lazy!” Either way, what I’ve been NOT doing has been writing. Here’s what I have been doing: watching Bones. I’ve learned a lot about human anatomy and crime-solving, so at least its been productive.

What I realized today, though, was the actual reason for my post-radio-age radio silence. It’s not that I don’t want to write things, or that I can’t think of moderately entertaining things to write about, but that I think they are so inane, uninspired, or repetitive that no one will want to read them or I will bore myself into oblivion simply by putting them on paper (or internet). I mean really, who wants to read about skiing AGAIN? Do you really REALLY want to hear about the absurdity of the people? The idiocy of the customer? How many pictures of stunning mountainscapes can a person POSSIBLY look at? You HATE amusing anecdotes and funny observations, don’t you? I thought so.

Oh, you do want to read those things? Well, I’ll get right on that. After I watch three more season of Bones. Oh, and The Americans. I started that last night. Spies! Russians! Reagan! Galore!

A quick one before I go? Statement of fact: there are two kegs sitting on the deck. I have no idea if they are empty or full or somewhere in between, nor do I know (sad truth) how to tap a keg and find out. Even sadder truth: it’s Passover so I can’t be drinking the beer, anyway. Now, if only they were kegs of rum…