29 June, 2009

Notes From the Sprawl #1

I’m sitting in the Sprawl. Endless tract homes outside, old forests fell to birth new frame-house clones. Green lawns sprinkled with new trees, small trickles of Ozarkian forest running through the places where developers can’t profitably reshape the land. The deep ravines, heavy bluffs, and holler creeks preserve what this land used to hold. This Sprawl is not unique. There are many thousands of other subdivisions just like it scattered in traffic jammed rings growing out from wheezing city cores. The houses, the cars, the flabby pink people, these same exact forms have become ubiquitous elements of the American landscape. I posit that this landscape fosters, exacerbates, and breeds ignorance. Like the soft and flabby bodies that automobile dependency and the “American diet” create, so too does the mind wither away in the suburbs. The American Dream may have directly led to the genesis of this massive Sprawl, this gross misallocation of resources, but it is here, in the Sprawl, that individuals’ dreams come to die.

We’re told that we should aspire to a tract home with a 2-car garage and enough bedrooms to raise our own brood. We’re sold the idea that we need to fill these thin-walled homes, new and insecure in the earth, with the latest LCD TVs, computers, fancy textiles and leather couches. We’re instructed to raise children like we maintain our houses: superficially beautiful and nice, but without depth or lasting permanence. These homes are not built to last. They are cheap opportunism, dry-walled profiteering. Just like the media we consume, the entertainment we float in.

Once we have achieved the perfect suburban house, what’s left? To climb the corporate ladder? To acquire a pool? A perfect vacation? These are small goals, individually oriented. These small goals constrain the empathetic powers of the mind, reduce it to baby steps and the politics of the immediate cul-de-sac. Housing associations enforcing false aesthetics, prime-time TV, faraway libraries; all combine to stifle the intrinsic human urges to curiosity and adventure. What more is there to know when all your immediate needs are immediately met?

This environment implicitly allows the ignorance that politicians and demagogues can prey upon. This is the danger of the uninformed, where grown adults cannot help their children with their homework because they have never, nor have ever even tried, to learn more than was simply required of them. This is most relevant to us, as scientists trying to improve science’s relationship with the public, because we fundamentally cannot convince adults deadened to novelty, wonder, or curiosity, to suddenly wake up and engage us. We can push the spark, but we cannot create it.

This is also entirely relevant to our discussions of gender roles, politics, religion, etc. We rant and rail against how society currently operates, we question how it can even be this way when it is so clearly repressive or illogical, we even offer solutions; yet the truth of the matter is that these discussions take place in a rarified atmosphere. We live in intellectual townships, on or near university campuses, and these places just aren’t like the rest of the country. Our discussions still are useful, they still have meaning, but the simple fact of the matter is that most people will not and cannot care until they perceive a direct benefit to them in the form of an infotainmented soundbyte. It ain’t necessarily the best or right, but it is how things currently work.

27 June, 2009

Silky Muscles

ResearchBlogging.orgYou're running through the cool woods on a hot day, barefoot as dead leaves rustle underfoot and the cold flint tickles beneath. The green leaves and kudzu blur past as you dodge beaming shafts of sunlight and the hot ground they illuminate. You scan the earth ahead for sinkholes and patches of poison ivy, but still, the chilled, humid air coiled around the trees flowing in your ears feels joyous in comparison to the sauna of the open field. You dart between two trees, then suddenly stop and gyrate wildly, windmilling arms about your face as you splutter and ick; swiping instinctually at your face to pull away the clinging threads of a spider web.

To many of us, spiders are mostly nuisances, either by dangling from a single invisible thread in the most inconvenient places or by stumbling into webs and getting their sticky strands stuck in our eyebrows such that we look like a surprised Gandalf. However, a recent publication suggests that spider silk, the material they spin webs and drag lines out of, may turn out to be much more useful that we previously thought.

Compared to contractile biological muscles, mechanical rotary motors are rather inefficient. Getting a micro-servo to function correctly in a robot arm is a difficult art of soldering and fine-tuning. In prosthetic limbs, robots, and industrial applications, there is a current need for a small, reliable, lightweight, and dependable actuator. It turns out that when spider silk is exposed to alternating extremes of ambient humidity*, it contracts much like a biological muscle and does so repeatedly. Many biological fibers (cotton, wool, etc.) can also contract in high humidity, but they can only do so once before becoming inert. This occurs because different fibers are composed of repetitive hydrophilic materials that suck up water and collapse into lower net energetic states when the water is available, as it is during humid conditions.

The really cool part of this research was the force generated by the spider silk. On a basis of equivalent mass, spider silk was found to be capable of doing 500X the work of a human biological muscle. Agnarsson et al calculated that, based on their scaling experiments with combining individual silk fibers, a 2cm diameter strand of spider silk would be capable of lifting 2tons of mass! Similar, though weaker, effects were observed in silkworm silk (which is already commercially availble).

The caveat to this, because there's always a caveat, is the degree to which the spider silk contracts. Human muscle is capable of elastic modulus (how much it can bunch up without breaking) of 30-40%, while spider sillk was found to be capable of a modulus of only ~2%. This is considerably less useful, but still cool. The researchers noted that this was all done in one particular species of spider, Nephila clavipes, and that the silk of other spider species may turn out to have more useful modulus while preserving greater scaling strength and simple humidity switch.

Let's hope that these tests are done and something found, because robots everywhere are itching for a change.

*Steps of 10% differences. Contraction was found to be irreversible after exposure to <70%>

Agnarsson, I., Dhinojwala, A., Sahni, V., & Blackledge, T. (2009). Spider silk as a novel high performance biomimetic muscle driven by humidity Journal of Experimental Biology, 212 (13), 1990-1994 DOI: 10.1242/jeb.028282

25 June, 2009

How Not to Flirt #3

Leave the calipers at home. Although it may seem that measuring the ratio of her shoulders to her brain pan volume is an easier and more direct way of assessing her intelligence, it actually turns out that most women prefer you speak with them and use conversation as a gauge. Needless to say, this is messy, but it is not only expected, it's required. It should also be noted that normalizing the least squares average of you and hers' combined brain pan volumes to the width of her hips as an approximate function of successful procreation is a very large and inexcusable mistake.


Cheese Poll.

No doubt you've noticed it's done and the poll is now closed. I have to say that I'm somewhat intrigued by the results. I had not anticipated that Stilton would be so popular; it almost beat Gouda. Honestly, I expected Gouda to win, and it did, because everyone seems to think it's a fancy, lovely cheese.

Now, perhaps you're wondering: what cheese would Toaster be? Well, I think I would be one of the least popular cheeses in the poll, the Double Gloucester.

Also, I had thought that the possible list of cheeses was rather comprehensive, so for those of you who marked others: what did you have in mind?


Toaster is going on vacation in a place that does not guarantee Internet access, and as such does not guarantee your regularly scheduled blogging. I will, however, still be active on Twitter (@ToasterSunshine). Nonetheless, I have prepared a couple of posts that are scheduled to publish while I am away to tide you over.

Take care of the Internet in my absence. I'm going to be mightily pissed if I come back and find it overrun by LOLcats.

Cultural Possession Post Script

The Western male presumption of ownership over women is particularly evident in the social treatment of women who dare to deviate from prescribed gender roles and expectations.

As a society, we castigate ambitious women as being cold harpies and equate them managing men in a brusque manner with castration (whereas the same managerial style from a male leader is expected; it's as if subordinate men expect a compassionate mother figure instead of a boss). We traditionally celebrate homemakers as the epitome of woman-hood, and this is wrong. Although I am not suggesting that all homemakers are unhappy, it does seem that it would present a life of social isolation, financial dependence, menial tedium, and absolute boredom. However, with recent modern revolutions, homemaker women have, to a degree, come to be both looked down upon and become a source of envy (because they don't really work, but if it's a stay-at-home father, he's a martyred hero).

But the most glaringly obvious cases arise when men interact with out lesbians. If the man* interacting with them finds them attractive, there are culturally approved denigrating tropes to fall back upon that always involve him getting involved in her sexual life or at least watching. And if that same man finds the lesbian with whom he is interacting unattractive, he will commonly write her off as a misguided woman who just hasn't had the "right man" yet (to put it politely). Both cases invoke explicit assumption of ownership by the man over that woman's sexuality.

Here there is a substantial level of cognitive dissonance. On the individual level, women completely own their sexuality and control when, how, and with whom they choose to have sex. Often, men inappropriately perceive this as women "holding out" or having an undue control over them when in reality it has absolutely nothing to do with them. But on the societal level, men implicitly control women's sexuality. Through cultural invocations of idealized beauty, through cosmetics, through lingerie, clothing, make-up, hair styles, shoes, and pornography. Although cultural conditioning allows individual women to find empowerment in their femininity, the social machine sets and enforces the standards of "beautiful" femininity and is driven entirely by men's desire and lust. Through dissemination of culture in pictoral advertising, men express their idealized desires and women strive to meet what they are told is beautiful. This leads to insecure, depressed women and demanding men in a self-amplifying feedback loop, which furthers neithers' cause nor equity.

To move forward, we need to dissociate our individual images of ourselves from those idealized images we see in the media-driven world around us. It is far more constructive to look to a loved one for a compliment on one's appearance than to try to use a fashion magazine as a mirror. In effect, if we continue to do the latter, unwittingly or not, we are allowing cultural standards to own all of us. Men become owned by the standardized ideal femininity and pursue it to the exclusion of everything else, and this reinforces the male privilege of owning females' sexuality. Women become owned by the same standards and torture themselves trying to meet them because the advertised message that beauty = happiness has been so deeply ingrained by Western media that it is now unavoidable and pervasively subconscious.

Maybe it's time Western ideals were broadened, both to increase the happiness of women as well as to dilute the male sense of cultural ownership over women.

*Singular term used generally, not specifically.

23 June, 2009

How Not to Flirt #2

Good Hygiene is important. Failure to bathe will result in rejection, although it is important to note that the object of your affection being kind enough to Febreeze you does not count as reciprocation of that affection. They're merely quarantining your stench.

22 June, 2009

Muscle Hypertrophy (Dynamics Addendum)

A while back I wrote a post about the interactions of IGF-1 and MGF on muscle hypertrophy following mechanical stress (exercise). From that post, it could be assumed that it's all about IGF-1 and MGF, but the reality is considerably more complex than that.

It's tempting, and easy, to think of our bodies as constant and that growth is only occuring when we can see it. However, the body is continually tearing itself down and building itself back up. The entire intestinal epithelium regenerates completely, a couple cells at a time, over the course of 4 days to 1 week. Our skin is continually growing outwards and being worn away. Some organ systems, such as skeletal bone, rebuild themselves at a much slower rate while others, such as the central nervous system, are essentially immutable over the entire course of our lives. Most of the molecules that make up the body are in a continual state of flux as metabolism breaks down cellular products in adipocytes and delivers free fatty acids to the liver for oxidation into pyruvate, phosphocreatinine, or glycogen for use by skeletal muscle to do work, although this is not the only direction or only pathway in which such conversions constantly take place.

Colonic smooth muscle actin (red). The bright red strand is the smooth muscle lining the columnar epithelium of the colon (fainter chambered red). The really bright red strand is the musclaris mucosa that helps to drive peristalsis, or the sequential movement of intestinal smooth muscles to drive lumenal contents (food being digested) along the length of the gastrointestinal tract. 40X magnification, bar is 200um.

Muscles are made up of highly-organized fibers, such as the actin in the picture above. These fibers are organized into bundles that are studded with molecular motors known as kinesins that effectively run along parallel fibers. When you contract a muscle and tense it up, the fibers are dragged past each other by the kinesins to make the effective length of the muscle shorter and producing work in the form of moving whatever the muscle is attached to. In the process of this, the molecular motors burn cellular energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that the body makes from pyruvate molecules.

Over time as the muscle fibers get used they start to breakdown due to mechanical wear and tear (the initial burn from a workout is due to accumulation of calcium from anaerobic respiration; the soreness the next day is due to injured muscle fibers). The order of the molecules in the fibers starts to break down, and it's much cheaper in terms of energy used for the body to break down the worn-out muscle fibers and replace them with new fibers than it is to just repair them. As such, skeletal muscles are in a continual flux of breakdown and new fiber synthesis. This dynamic process that continually renews our muscles is not only completely normal, it's advantageous. Genetic experiments with mice have shown that deleting the gene that encodes myostatin, a protein strongly implicated in muscle breakdown, results in massively muscled mice who aren't any stronger than their scrawny companions that still have myostatin. Deletion of myostatin arrests muscle breakdown, but also leads to hypertrophy of those muscles primarily through retention of damaged and useless muscle fibers that add absolutely nothing to the ability of the muscles to perform work (strength).

In relation to food, the breakdown and building of muscles, which are really just facets of the catabolic and anabolic states of metabolism, can be classified more simply as muscle protein breakdown (MPB) and muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Put simply, muscles will shrink when the rate of MPB exceeds that of MPS and vice versa. The body increases MPB when blood sugar and insulin levels are low and the bodily stores of glycogen in liver and skeletal muscle have been depleted. Although fatty acids are also mobilized for energy from fat tissues, the net effect of this is that the body begins to slowly eat at its skeletal muscles to keep going. The body also pulls acidic or basic amino acids out of muscle proteins as needed to help regulate blood pH, which has to remain within a narrow range for us to survive. After eating, and for 4-6h afterwards, the body decreases MPB and increases MPS such that new muscle fibers are built. How we work out, the spacing of our meals, and even the composition of those meals all influence the efficiency with which muscle protein synthesis occurs. For what it's worth, branched amino acids such as valine, leucine, and isoleucine are absorbed across the brush border of the duodenum and into the blood stream at a faster rate than other free amino acids.

The primary lesson of all of this is that bodily flux is entirely normal. I know that when I first started trying to gain weight I obsessively checked the scale everyday and would be disappointed when it registered a 2kg loss over the course of a day, and astounded when it would suddenly report a 4kg increase in 1 day. The reality is that one's immediate weight, and muscle mass, are determined by a large number of factors and unless we are trying to be super-athletes we shouldn't sweat them too much. Variation is normal. The body already has flux down and we don't even have to think about it for it to occur.

P.S. - Scicurious of Neurotopia has published an excellent introduction to the mechanics of neurotransmission, which are quite relevant to how nerve signals are transduced to musclar action through neuromusclar junctions.

[Sources for this post included what I remember from a few old textbooks (primarily Griffin and Ojedas' "Textbook of Endocrine Physiology", Vander, Sherman, and Lucianos' "Human Physiology", maybe some Alberts et als' "Molecular Biology of the Cell", and a wide scattering of abstracts I remember reading, but not saving.]

How Not to Flirt #1

Failing to wear pants will likely result in an eyeful of mace or a police report.

21 June, 2009

Isänpäivä Tuuman

Looking back, I suspect that throughout my childhood and adolescence my father waged a covert campaign to ensure I would not want to become a physician through over-exposure. When I was young he'd take me with him to the hospital on the weekends when he got called in to do an emergency CAT scan, and subsequently film and video game gore seems poorly contrived. Too gushy. Instead of having water guns, I had 500ml syringes to play with and I'm still not convinced that a Super Soaker is any better, and syringes don't have to be pressurized to work. I grew up with scrubs for pajamas. He took the X-rays whenever I broke a bone, and he always assumed it was a sprain unless my joints were visibly distorted. And he fixed everything, and I mean everything, with hemostats. Cars, lamps, light sockets, locks, fans, clothes. I had to turn a pair of hemostats to turn on the lights in my room.

Well, his campaign worked. Although I can still carve poetry with a scalpel when needed, I was one of maybe 7 students in my molecular biology program that weren't pre-med. Instead I am a scientist, and my father is just glad that I'm not trying to pay rent by playing bass guitar. Because if I'd managed to succeed already at the latter he'd have to admit that he was wrong to groan each time I happily hauled a new bass guitar, effects pedal, or amp into the house. This way he can just be confused about what I do and that's easier.

Hyvä Isänpäivä, Isä!

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

20 June, 2009

Cultural Possession

Cultural overtones of male possession of women are prevalent throughout Western society. Institutionalized inequalities continue to demonstrate that men are expected to be allowed to own a greater share of society without complaint.

Not only is it completely socially acceptable for a man to name his most prized possession (lawn tractor, mid-age crisis sports car, guitar, boat, computer, etc.) a feminine name and refer to it in the feminine sense, but it is also expected among many men that a man in a committed relationship fulfill a given quorum of complaining about it to retain the status of his manhood[1]. The former creates a sense of entitled ownership of the feminine while the latter represents the opposite side of this in which men must frequently repudiate any claims of ownership from a woman to retain his sense of masculinity. This bizarre dialectic creates and perpetuates the prevailing Western attitude of women being worth less than men, and by proxy male desires being generally worth more than female autonomy.

Granted, things are better now in Western cultures than they used to be. Marriages used to be formed on the basis of dowries[2] and young women maintained hope chests for their future expectations. The culture of my ancestors even has oral traditions that tell of young men literally stealing their wives from neighboring villages and running off with them into the night to evade capture by their angry families. In these traditions, women were more objects to be bought, sold, and haggled over than human beings with whom to develop deep intimacy and strong relationships. Nonetheless, many men still see most women as little more than fleshy collections of orifices for them to use at will or expectation regardless of how the woman in question may feel.

Cultural Evidence[3]:

1) The Wage Gap.
Per the last statistics on the issue that I have read, women continue to make, on average, just $0.77 for every $1.00 that men earn. This implies that the work men do is ~30% more worthy than equivalent work and work-hours produced by women. This is patronizing bullshit, and when it's combined with hostile and sexist workplaces that continue to exist despite anti-sexual harassment policies it becomes indicative of a subtly expressed but pervasively held belief that men own the economy, and therefore the world, more than women because they "do more"[4]. That the leaders of top companies and political bodies are overwhelmingly male just makes that attitude all the more visible.

Believing that men should earn more[5] because they "do more" makes women into second-class workers. This, in turn, leads all too easily to believing that women are second class people, period, and can be used as such. This is very apparent in the stud vs. slut paradox that Ktbug Ladydid has aptly dissected here.

2) Protectionism
Many men conflate the societal expectation that they protect the women around them with a naive assumption that they, by extension, also know what is best for those women (mentioned in a post below). And all too often and far too easily men confuse their own immediate desires and gratification with what they think would be best for the women around them. This also represents an inaccurate conflation of (comparatively) diminutive physique with assumed mental prowess.

3) Dating
In a typical Western date[6], the guy takes the woman out for dinner and a movie and pays for both. If it was a nice place for dinner the guy can wind up spending a rather large amount of cash. The problem here is that the more money a guy spends on the date, the more he expects that she reciprocate his investment in the night by putting out. In effect, this reduces the date to the guy paying an entry fee to his desires being met, regardless of her desires. This is the milieu in which date rape flourishes.

The key difference here is expectation vs. hope. When a guy goes out on a date expecting that she follow up by allowing physical intimacy to proceed to some vaguely defined "base"[7], it is wrong because it reduces the woman's boundaries, desires, and autonomy to mere conditions, confounding factors, of the the guy's expectations. At the same time, it is perfectly OK for a man to go out on the same date hoping that the relationship will get to the next "base" because simple hope is couched in his respect for the woman and does not in any way conflict with her autonomy.

Nonetheless, the current[6] culture of dating seems to thrive much more on expectation than hope. Expectations also create entitlement in that the societal expectation of reciprocation from the woman creates the popular illusion that that (very uneven) reciprocation is the way things should be, and it is from this narrow vantage point that guys try to justify date rape. If the woman isn't meeting their expectations, they become the victim and once they believe themselves oppressed or treated unfairly it becomes all too easy for them to transmute that into coercive or violent behavior. The entitlement that stems from expectation also serves to diminish the woman's voice and reinforces her standing as a second-class party.

/Cultural Evidence

Date rape and sexual coercion[8] continue to exist because men are socially allowed to view women, and women's autonomy, as less than their own. By feminizing owned things (symptom) and attempting to own women (pathology), men do both genders a gross disservice by deepening the too-wide gap in understanding and social valuation between sexes. In my cohort of 20somethings and younger, the extant traditions mentioned above are slowly eroding and as such I do hope that the next generation will come up even more equitable in general, although unfortunately there're always a couple of jackasses in any given population. Hopefully their behavior will come to be increasingly stigmatized.

[1]E.g., "pussy whipped", "grow a pair and go out tonight", "where does your wife keep your balls?"
[2]Additional evidence that Western culture thinks less of women than men, because the males' families literally had to be paid to accept the bride in the first place.
[3]If you know of additional evidence that I have missed, please add it in comments.
[4]Today's doubty quotation marks generously provided by Büllshyte Incorporated, LLC.
[5]Silence here amounts to tacit endorsement.
[6]So far as Toaster's field research has yet been able to determine. The data are, however, inconsistent.
[7]In lieu of a more elegant term that must exist somewhere.
[8]Infantile posturing, pouting, guilt trips, put-downs, pleading, begging, pestering, insinuations, and innuendo.

19 June, 2009

Ambiguity in Flirting

Stephanie Zvan of Almost Diamonds has called me out in the mini-series going on below for having not aptly noted that I have not yet discussed how women socially condition men. I have discussed how men are failing their brothers and sons and how men acting in society perpetuate, unwilling or not, gender inequality. She's quite correct in that I have so far left out a very important part of the dialectic, but honestly I haven't yet done so because how men and women interact and shape each other in society is even more complex than the differentiation pathways of dendritic cells, and I still don't feel like I know enough about the latter in the first place, let alone the former.

For example, I was walking home from the lab the other day, still in my lab clothes (dress shirt tucked into Dickies with sneakers and a jacket), lost in the depths of my head as I often am. I noted that there were 2 casually dressed women approaching me from the opposite direct walking side by side, so I politely stepped to the edge of the sidewalk so they could pass and fixed my gaze somewhere oblique. Then, as they approached, one said loudly to the other "That's a GREAT IDEA, NAME!" and then she turned to me as they passed and told me so as well. I stammered back "Good, I'm glad to hear it!" and turned away to walk away and hide my blushing. I still have no fucking clue what any of that was about.

But the thing is, is I immediately wondered if they'd been playing a joke on me because my nerdness is apparent from 50m distance or if it was some odd form of flirting. I suspect that the ambiguity of flirting shapes a lot of how men perceive women's cues and accordingly react. Men grow up exposed to women in films and other popular media who very often say the opposite of what they really want, who are coy, or who are fufilled by a the acquisition of a strong protective man. This, in turn, leads men to believe that in order to possess win over a woman they must be strong and protective, and this is all too frequently transmuted into a smothering sense of entitled control and possession.

Although, in rational terms, it seems a wide and ridiculous leap from a protective attitude to a possessive attitude, the emotional space is actually rather small. It is all too easy for one to go "I protect them when they need it" to "I protect them therefore I know what is best for them". This kind of thing perpetuates the patriarchal attitudes of society just by itself and was especially evident in the historical argument against women's suffrage that they'd just vote how their husbands told them to.

Nonetheless, men believing that they must be strong, aloof*, and shallow to gain access to a relationship with a woman hurts both men and women in the long run. Men hide their emotions from women, and then from themselves, and as such carry around a knot of confusion that too easily erupts into rage and violence. And when many men may perceive the women in their lives (or lack thereof) as the source of their stress (which is a socially encouraged scapegoat**), they lash out at them, emotionally conflating their own misunderstood hurt with the "fight" response of flight-or-fight.

That society tells men they must be strong for women and to get women creates a strong impetus for men to not show weakness around women, especially those they are in relationships with. A woman may push very hard on the man in her life to open up to her emotionally, but when he does so she may very well never be able to see him as she used to want to perceive him, and at some level many men know this and as such it is an additional incentive to remain closed off. Perhaps women could help men here by signaling that they will not judge them poorly if they open up, as this clarity could help a lot of men to become more confident simply with feeling their emotions and not dangerously bottling them up.

I know I'd sure appreciate it if flirting were clearer.

(UPDATE: I just noticed that it doesn't say so anywhere here, but this video is "Closer" by Suffrajett. Citation citations!)

*Toaster has frequently been described as aloof. This is inaccurate. Toaster is simply oblivious.
**Bachelor Pad vs. Ball and Chain.

16 June, 2009

On Weakness

Western* men are not to be weak; we are expected to always be strong. A moment of public weakness is considered humiliating, and an inability to deeply cage one's less acceptable emotions (sadness, hurt, depression, fear, anxiety) is an inexorable mark of heavy shame. As noted in my previous post, we're allowed jocularity, enthusiasm (for sports, money, and women), and stoicism. Deviation from these acceptable expressions is socially punished by labeling an offending man as effeminate or weak and successively isolating him from the in group.

Consider the case of an uncontrollably sobbing man vs. that of an uncontrollably sobbing woman. In the woman's case most everyone's first instinct, regardless of whether it is expressed or not, is empathy and compassion. But if we see a man on the sidewalk sobbing uncontrollably with his head and shoulders bent to his chest in defeat, we first look away and walk by pretending not to notice, wondering if it would wound the man even more if we were to offer a word of kindness (because to recognize his pain is also to recognize his weakness).

It's a simple rule: those who play by the rules may continue playing while those who do not are cast aside and marked as other.

Some societal circles are substantially more insulated from the consequences of not exactly following that rule. Academia is considerably more tolerant of expressional deviation in men than, say, construction. Even so, in academia we are apt to write off a man who is expressing his emotions outside of prescribed means as either eccentric or poorly socialized. Over time, it seems that these men take those labels unto themselves and perpetuate themselves as cover for their (subconscious?) rebellion against the rule. Perhaps it eases their cognitive dissonance.

In order to follow the rule, Western men have to become accustomed to, or at least numb from, cognitive dissonance between what they actually feel and the means with which they are allowed to express it. This is most evident in father-son relationships, especially after the son has grown and struck out on his own. The son may desperately want his father's approval, to hear that his father is proud of him, but he isn't allowed to come right out and say so because it would expose him as insecure and seeking attention to fill that. Meanwhile, the father may very well be proud of his son, but he is discouraged from expressing that for fear that his son will see him, the role model, as weak.

Within popular culture, this tension is evident in the common, and somewhat true, trope of the a woman battling her boyfriend to open up more and share his feelings with her. Often we try to deflect these uncomfortable requests by claiming to not actually feel nearly so much as women**, and this may be partly true because we're socialized not to really examine our own feelings or consider what they may mean. Once again, the reason is because we have been taught that acknowledging weak emotions, admitting that we have been hurt or that we feel something more than our next goal, is itself weak. In effect, vulnerability itself is weakness, and this perpetuates entire populations of men who don't really know what they're feeling or why. And if we as men cannot understand our own emotional selves, how can we accurately consider those of women?

Here as well, advancement in considerate and respectful treatment of women is contingent upon men coming to better understand themselves. Only when we are able to be truthful with ourselves about what we are really feeling can we hope to begin to understand the casually oppressive world we have been taught to create for women. Only then can we begin to help effect change.

We can start by helping to remove the social stigma attached to perceptions of weakness.

*I qualify this with "Western" because I lack knowledge of male, or even female (although for what it's worth, female behaviors seem to be more universal), behavioral expectations in other cultural milieus and as such I don't claim that what I say here applies to them in any way at all.
**Admittedly, there are some women who seem to feel an amazingly large number of different things in astoundingly short periods of time, but perhaps these few are 1) compulsively emotive or 2) exceptions to prove the rule.

15 June, 2009

On Male Emotions

I tried to write a letter to my little brother.

I failed.

I started to write about how I couldn't stop puking when he was born. He had a needle feeding an IV into his head and I didn't know what else to do with my worry. I wound up trying to continue typing through tears clouding my eyes because I am so proud of him now and because I am so happy that he doesn't remember most of the things I fought so hard to protect him from growing up. We're brothers, we bear scars inflicted by one another. Thankfully, his adult teeth settled in normally even after I'd managed to knock several of his milk teeth out with a baseball bat (by accident, I swear!), but my toenails have never looked quite the same since he picked up a rock and smashed them off of my right foot when I wasn't paying attention (not an accident, I'm certain!), although his doing so certainly got my attention.

But here's the thing that's interesting: real successful men in the Western world aren't supposed to tear up, let alone cry, for anything ever regardless of everything, except when we are hit in the crotch. Indeed, my first reaction to noting the tears gathering at the corners of my eyes was to stop what I was doing and ensure that no one could see me or, if they could (which would be embarrassing), that they at least hadn't noticed. If they had I would have had no choice but to covertly punch myself in the crotch to give me an excuse.

Western men are, in essence, expected to dissociate themselves from their internal emotional state and relate to general society through a very narrow prescripted set of emotional cues. We're allowed jocularity, enthusiasm (for sports, money, and women), and stoicism. If we have some modicum of power over our fellows, we're also allowed public displays of frustration and/or anger. But to be sad, withdrawn, or quiet is considered weird. Compassion is tolerated from certain professions (e.g., MDs only) but is regarded elsewhere as creepy.

I don't claim to know where these proscribed action sets came from, but I do observe that they are rather inflexibly reinforced through everyday interactions among men. I posit here that these perpetuate the irresponsible man-child phenotype I discussed in the post just below.

To completely assume adulthood and its obligations is to also assume its mores and social rituals, including the restrictive expression of male emotions. As a result, it is far easier for young men to float along expressing nothing but "dude!" and lust than it is to develop the maturity required to really feel anything in the first place and then be caught up in the inherent cognitive dissonance of Western expression.

Consequently, to help change the definition of a real successful man from a cold, stoic automaton to a responsible, considerate, and respectful individual and in doing so help the cause of gender inequality, we need to also broaden the avenues through which men in the West may express themselves. Not only will this allow everyone to better understand each other, it will also allow young men growing into adulthood to better understand themselves.

14 June, 2009

How We Fail Our Brothers

We, as men, as fathers, as brothers, as uncles, as cousins, are failing. We are failing grotesquely to teach the males younger than us how to be men. As a result, we are complicit in the creation of an entire generation of idiot men-children pursuing their immediate gratification at the expense of anything meaningful or lasting. Culturally, we have enshrined this new lowest common denominator in TV and film with popular anti-heroes, who get by, succeed, and get the girl in spite of being pathetic, rudderless, and immature.

Too often we frame the discussion of feminism, inequality, and/or women's rights solely in terms of what women can do to empower themselves and hold solidly against a casually oppressive patriarchy. While this is good for women, it leads to long-term conflict and frustration on both sides. Men cast women as whiny castrators despite well-documented gender-based disparities in income. Women cast men as stupid and base, and unfortunately this is becoming more and more true with each passing year. We have allowed the lowest common denominator in what we expect of men to sink to new depths.

A real man is responsible, considerate, and, above all, respectful everywhere that respect is due. This doesn't just mean respecting one's grandparents, it means respecting the janitor, respecting the receptionist, and, most importantly, the strangers with whom they share the world every day, including the cute women regardless of whatever they may choose to wear. But these values are no longer being transmitted to boys as they grow up. Instead of seeking to become men and assume the responsibilities of adult life, young adult males are living in a protracted adolescence and have been for quite some time. A second generation of man-children is now coming up through college. This environment of greatly lowered expectations for decent behavior from men doesn't just perpetuate gender-based inequalities and an unsafe world for women, but it also exacerbates it by placing the immediate gratification of a man before the autonomy of anyone else, especially women.

Our society views all women's personal interests and goals as secondary to those of men. We are astounded with the exceptions of stay-at-home fathers, we castigate ambitious women as power-hungry harpies. That our popular media, news media, literature, and schooling all reinforce this ad infinitum is deeply flawed, and in it our failure is evident. We cannot hope to correct gender-based wrongs by focusing solely upon how women can help themselves; we must also ask how men can change themselves and redefine the shallow, but unfortunately prevalent, prescribed notions of macho and masculinity*. To do otherwise, to not teach young boys how to be real men, guarantees failure.

*If you're a male wondering how you can change to help, here's what Toaster does: He just tries to not be an asshole. And when he slips and is an asshole anyway, he apologizes. This generally works quite well.

Silence is the Enemy

12 June, 2009

Waffle, Groffle, Air Guitar!

When our experiment isn't working quite right or our data is running right at a p-value of 0.05001, we get frustrated and angry. This is only natural, because we are human scientists and that's how we roll. The data being bastardy isn't always your fault, sometimes it's the fault of your tools, your undergraduate minions, or even the organisms/molecules in question. We've all been there. Some have been there for a long time and have reached the breaking point of despair where, in their deepest heart of hearts they want nothing more than to dump all their notes in a large pile and light it all on fire whilst dancing about it, singing happily in tongues.

But what can we mere mortals do to break out of this rut?

Some prefer to rail at the PCR Gods and Cloning Faeries. Some prefer to vandalize their advisor's personal property. Some prefer to stick everything in the freezer and leave it until later when they maybe feel like trying again. But none of these are guaranteed. In fact, the only sure-fire way to give your experiments that little extra puff of wonder, whimsy, and badassness that they need to succeed is to INVOKE THE ELDER SCIENTISTS' SPIRITS*.

How does one do such a thing?

Why, with a dance, of course!

Figure A: How to summon the Elder Scientists' Spirits.

There are 3 simple steps to this dance, as illustrated clearly above:
1) Waffle.
2) Groffle.
3) Air Guitar.
In the Waffle step you throw your jazz hands into the air, lift one leg, and then hop from one foot to the other whilst continuing jazzy hands. In the Groffle step you do a modified version of The Sprinkler, but you have to be on the verge of tearing out your hair with your left hand and very violently swing your right arm about while moving the right leg up and down to make sure it's not too easy to balance. And finally, in the Air Guitar step the spirits start to gather (see gathering gloom in illustration above) as you wail away at your imaginary axe. It helps to make guitar sounds and run around on top of your bench the stage, gyrating furiously and windmilling. In case you need help envisioning, planning, and/or executing the last step, Toaster's got your back with some inspiration:

I hope this helps you in your Quest For Science.

*h/t Arikia Millikan's wit.


This post brought to you by the generosity of the generous people who have donated to the Silence Is the Enemy fund for Doctors Without Borders.

11 June, 2009

Kidney Magic

Figure A: Current model of how Shiga toxins (Stx) produced by enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 (EHEC) gets from the intestinal lumen to the kidney where tubular nephritis and glomerular metaplasia are directly observed. EHEC is not an invasive enteric pathogen.

I actually used this diagram, done in chalk and charcoal*, in a presentation for lab meeting in presenting lots of recent literature that suggests that Stx hitches a ride on activated intraepithelial neutrophils. As a result of this presentation and in particular this slide, we designed some experiments that might never be done.

*If you can spot the comics references in this, congratulations, you are nearing the Toaster Valence of Nerdness.


In my Silence Is the Enemy post, I mentioned that I would donate anything gained from comissions or art requests to Dr. Isis' Doctors Without Borders funds. Due to a very generous response, the remainder of this month will be image heavy as I agreed to post some old stuff and make a bit of new stuff.

I'm still accepting new requests as well.

Actin Belly

40X coronal stomach section, stained for actin. Click for high res. Scale bar = 200um.

Frozen section, wash off excess OCT in RT dH2O, 10min permeabilization in 100% acetone, 30min block in Toaster's Übermegablocking Buffer*, added primary polyclonal Ab without washing, incubate 1h @ RT, wash 3X in Washy Wash Buffer**, add labeled actin at 1:200 and secondary labeled Ab against primary at 1:10, incubate 1h @ RT, wash 3X in Washy Wash Buffer, tap off all excess wet, 2 drops Prolong Gold Antifade + DAPI (@RT), coverslip w/out bubbles, cure O/N in a dark box.

The resolution I managed to get here is so exquisite and the result so beautiful that I am very tempted to get a 5'x6' giclee print of it and hang it on my everything.

*Toaster's Megablocking Buffer: 1% BSA, 1% FBS, 1% NGS in 1X PBS; to make Toaster's Übermegablocking Buffer add 1:10 CD16/CD32 to block endogenous Fc antibody receptors in the tissue.
**Washy Wash Buffer: 2% FBS, 0.02% NaN2 in 1X PBS

08 June, 2009


The time has come for Toaster to begin pounding out emails with enough intelligence and wit to firmly lodge my real name into the skulls of potential advisors at Ph.D. programs I am interested in. I know well enough to use proper grammars and to include titles and whatnot, so it's not the content so much that has me worried. I figure I'll track down interesting PIs through program websites, read a recent paper or 5 by them, and then ask sparkling questions about their future research plans (eventually working in the question about whether or not they expect to have spots for students available in their labs for the next round).

However, recent developments render me much more mobile than I had previously been. Now that I don't have a serious girlfriend to consider and am forfeiting most of the furniture, I can pretty much move whereever in the world I might want to. Therefore, dear reader, what is the graduate school situation like in countries outside of the U.S.A.*? Are the academic customs and mores different? Do they fund students with tuition and stipends?

I first noted UCL (University College London) via the popsci book "Oxygen" by Dr. Nick Lane and then noted that it produces a lot of high quality research. There seem to be many other high-caliber research institutions in Britain as well**. At the same time, there are several groups in the Netherlands and one at the University of Munich doing very interesting immunological research. But I realize that my lens on this is entirely modulated through the Internet and as such may be missing some really cool/interesting/awesome groups, so who else is out there?

Toaster thanks you for your wisdom in advance.

*And not just those that speak English.
**I am somewhat concerned about the prospect of living in a country that hasn't seen a fresh vegetable since Cromwell (and eels don't count!), though at the same time the dangers of living in a city with a Würstchen-, Bier-, und Kuchen-based socioeconomic dialectic also seem manifest.

Obviously Not Quite Right

DAB stain, mouse stomach, 40X.

This particular staining protocol had diaminobenzidine, hemotoxylin, and McGill's modified EA solution as stains. The diaminobenzidine, from what I understand, was supposed to color neutrophils and monocytes varying shades of grey-black intracellularly. Light blue is supposed to correspond to basophils. Either I've discovered some new property of basophils in which they invade and form sheets in the connective tissues and basement membrane of the stomach (which'd be even weirder considering that the system in question skews to TH1/TH17-driven inflammation), or I've screwed up the staining protocol somehow. The latter is much more likely, and it also looks like I left the slides in the hemotoxylin for way too long.

I just wish I could remember where I'd put the Coplin jars, because this time around I was staining out of Petri dishes (Toaster does not recommend putting xylenes in a Petri dish, unless it is a fancy glass Petri dish).
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Even though I don't agree*, everyone generally seems to think that babies are really cute and that we should save them. OK, well I meant more that I don't agree with the cute thing, because otherwise they're right: we should vaccinate, intubate, and swaddle in bubble-wrap as needed!

HOWEVER, there is a huge difference between a full-term, autonomously-living baby and a 16-cell blastocyst. One is alive, the other is a tissue. I feel no compunction whatsoever supporting a woman's right to self-determination, and that includes what's going on with her womb. Basically, I don't have the organs or biogeneic capabilities that women do, so I can't really ever truly understand their situation in an unwanted pregnancy and therefore I have absolutely no right to project my opinion all over their rights.

This is a well-written reminder of the cost to fully-formed women when abortion isn't available. In these situations desperate women do desperate things that, all too often, wind up in permanent injury or even death. Here in the West, it's all too easy to think of child-birth as a safe, happy event where women painlessly pop out laughing little bundles of joy. It's too easy for soft-minded hypocritical middle-class people to forget that poverty and hunger are very real and that many women would rather terminate an inopportune pregnancy than try to raise a child in hardship.

So if you ever find yourself locked in an interminable argument with someone Who Just Doesn't Get It, point them back to the article and hopefully it'll remind them what's what.


06 June, 2009

How Do Scientists Roll, Anyway?

So I don't know exactly what the lyrics to this song are at this point. I kind of improvised them as I went. I also figured out how to bend recorded pitches! Anyway, I've cobbled together some new music, the "Science Recruiting Song", which, if you're not busy puking in horror, will at the very least have you dancing a little bit in your chair. LINK!

05 June, 2009

New Cartoon (With Bonus Story)

Recently, whilst Toaster was still bumbling his way through undergrad and dancing around going "I WANNA BE A SCIENTIST!" like an enthusiastic 5-year-old in their art class smock smearing paint in their crush's hair, he drew cartoons that got published. I've been intentionally vague about the cartoons themselves because they form a huge electronic trail pointing directly at Toaster's Sekret Identity with neon flashing signs and klaxons. Lest I mislead you such that you think my cartoons were actually funny or interesting, I should admit that the cartoons I drew were editorial pieces for the college newspaper*. Mostly they were one panels. One summer I tried starting a humorous 3-panel strip, but it didn't last long when I ran out of crude robot humor and couldn't for the life of me figure out how a robot and an aristocratic octopus with a monocle and orange juice newspaper hat and their mutant penguin-wombat friend (I was deadset on these characters [I don't remember why], and this was my undoing) could possibly plausibly interact.

In the smallish world of political cartooning, I have/had two heroes: Matt Davies and Pat Oliphant. I admire their styles, wits, and steadfast, unapologetic content. Nonetheless, I let myself draw some really shitty cartoons that should never have been published. Part of it was that the newsprint the paper printed on was spectacularly porous, even for newsprint, and any effort I put into shading or detail work would be massacred on the page. Another part of it was that I tried very hard, sometimes too hard, to hide obscure symbolism in my cartoons so that those on campus who uncovered it could feel special. And the last part of it was that my editors didn't really know how to approach cartoons, but that's not entirely their faults, I should have helped them be critical (probably would've helped if I'd been more receptive, too; I once had a perfectly obvious cartoon rejected as being too controversial so I responded by drawing a rather crude cartoon on the inside of a paper plate and handing it in [it got published]). I started out drawing wonderful cartoons in pen, but eventually degraded into mere penciled in (literally) commentary on campus culture (equating sorority girls with garden gnomes was surprisingly unpopular). Throughout all of it, I really enjoyed getting hate mail and loved it when people wrote letters to the editor to complain about being offended by my tastelessness; however I did not so much enjoy official censure by the Student Race Advisory Committee and it is to the credit of my editors at the time that they did not publish my inital (angry and combative) response.

I guess I should clarify that last one. This was during the debate regarding a state constitutional amendment to ban the use of affirmative action in anything and everything. Allow me to make this clear, my position then and now is that although affirmative action is an imperfect tool it is also the best we have until mortality, morbidity, lifetime adjusted earnings, graduation rates, incarceration rates, infant mortality rates, and standards of living are no longer statistically significant between any groups. However, I chose to draw a cartoon trying to lampoon the view I had overheard from privileged white students as to how they regarded African American students being there solely because of affirmative action and not due to their own efforts. Unfortunately, I chose very poor compositional layout and it came out looking like I espoused those views (I don't). It didn't help that this was hot on the heels of a very blunt anti-affirmative action cartoon from another cartoonist.



How to Make a Conservative

This was a quick pencil cartoon** in my current sketchbook. I've been reading about some of the fucktarded highly ignorant things that Republicans and assorted associated conservatives have been saying about the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States. I can't help but notice that the default conservative reaction to anything and everything that does not uphold, support, or confirm their narrow worldview is to hate it; while when one of them says something one of the others like they all gather round for a circle jerk and stroke their egos.

It should probably be noted that I carry water for neither major political party in the U.S.A., but generally find the Democrats to be more sensible.

And then I found this one on my hard drive:


This one was drawn back before the 2008 presidential election when I noted how prominently violent terms and war talk figured into the Republican campaign. As such, it seemed to me that Death itself may well be voting Republican this time round and I drew the above with a quill and inkpot.

Criticism welcome, but ignorant fuckwittitude will be chased down and beaten roundly with squishy rotten fish and putrescine.

*Come to think of it I think I actually never got paid for the last year I cartooned, which isn't a major loss as it would amount to barely enough to buy a sandwich with mayonnaise.
**The father figure in this cartoon came out looking a lot like a character in a recent popular Cartoon Network show. Can anyone name him? The second cartoon is kind of a small clue.

03 June, 2009

Post-Concert Report

Last night I went to see Gogol Bordello in concert. Absolutely incredible concert. I had a blast despite going alone. I spent 2h pogo-ing on the periphery of the mosh pit. I departed after the 2 encores (the last one of which had one of the band members surfing the crowd standing and singing on top of her bass drum) happy, ears ringing, and covered in sweat (of which probably 70% was my own). The part of the venue I was in had 5-7 people/m2, and as such I fear my conceptualization of the term "personal space" has been irrevocably altered. There were so many people crammed in every direction, dancing and surging as one, roaring the same lyrics, and moshing during the polka breakdowns that it was simply 2h of one pure adrenaline high, vicariously shared with everyone around me. I was highly impressed, not just by the band but also by the crowd. Of all the concerts I've been to, this was, without doubt, the most gender-balanced. Most punk concerts' crowds are mostly guys who think that moshing means that banal "hardcore dancing" that is a thinly veiled excuse to hit people in the face. There was none of that bullshit last night, just ricochet moshing and pogo-ing; there may have even been more women than men.

In light of my tremendous experience last night, I have some words for my fellow concert-goers:

Dear Short Women in the Mosh Pit,
You are awesomely brave. I don't know if you could even see the band on stage for the thicket of people pressed around you, but you stuck it out anyway. And yeah, I saw you all kicking the ass of that skeevy guy who kept trying to grab you and for it my esteem of your badassness rises even further. I "accidentally" elbowed him in the head at one point for you (and Toaster has sharp elbows).
You're awesome,

Mr. Smelly Greasy Guy,
If you're going to headbang in a crowded punk mosh pit, please have the decency to wash your hair first. Covering up your BO stench (and when you can smell it over the rest of the mosh pit sweat, you know it's bad) with perfume does not fix it.
Fuck off,

Dear Cute Girl I Elbowed in the Head 5 Times Whilst Pumping My Fist in the Air Before Realizing It,
I'm terribly sorry. I really hope that my elbow didn't fully connect with your head and if it did, please accept my profuse and heartfelt apologies. Actually, please accept them in any event.

Mr. and Ms. Punkies,
Shaving your hair into a rat-tail and imitating Poly Styrene's make-up before going to a concert makes you look like a punk. Leaving the mosh pit crying after the first two songs with your Hot Topic jewelry askew makes you look like a poseur.
Work It Out,

Dear Hot Ladies Who Were Dancing Up Against Me,
I appreciate you all. I don't know which of you all kept goosing me, but I don't really care. I know that some of you only wound up near me because I helped you up off the floor after getting knocked down by other moshers, but that doesn't explain why you stuck so near me for most of the rest of the concert. I regret getting separated from you all during the second grand finale.
All the Best,

Mr. Half-Naked Screaming High Guy,
You scream like a little girl and kept throwing beer cans at people while hanging from the railings. You have no idea how close you were to getting kicked in the face.

Dear Doc Martens Boots,
Thank you for your steel toes and heavy bouncing soles.
I love you,

Dear Friends Who Sneered at Attending the Concert,
You may have found the mere concept of "polka", "punk", or even "polka punk" odious, but you really missed out. I hope you had fun watching TV and napping instead.

02 June, 2009

Laboratory Conversations

Toaster: "How best to clean out the Micro-Q?"

TechnoGrad: "Spray in ethanol and dry with the air outlet, but be careful because if you put it on there it'll shoot across the room."

Toaster: "That could be fun."

TechnoGrad: "Not with the Micro-Q, with regular pipettes, yeah, but not with-"

Toaster: "But last time I was shooting pipettes across the room you weren't happy."

TechnoGrad: "Yeah, well, now I'm in the other room."

Toaster [not listening]:"...although that could have also been because I was shooting them with an improvised slingshot at your head..."

Student2: "Uh..."

TechnoGrad: "Who said scientists aren't fun?"

Student 2: "Uh...well,"

TechnoGrad: "Gotta love scientists, gotta love science!"

Student 2: "Uh..."

TechnoGrad: "But not in that way!"

Toaster: "Hey, speak for yourself!"

01 June, 2009

Silence is the Enemy

Silence is the enemy of suffering. So, too, are ignorance, arrogance, and alienation. Each breeds an ugly facet of entitlement and casual atrocity in which horrors become normalized and accepted. An environment in which those in power abuse those weaker than them with absolute impunity and clear consciences. This is unacceptable and perverted.

I learned of Nicholas Kristof's column in the New York Times on the extant suffering of women and girls in Liberia through Dr. Isis and Sheril Kirshenbaums' "Silence is the Enemy" initiative. I read the article with bile rising in the back of my throat and a cold rage coiling. Cohesive words fail me. This is so sick, so utterly disgusting and depraved that I lack the frame to coherently express my outrage. Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to just Liberia. Rape continues to be used as a weapon of terror in Sudan and Congo as well. For wider context, here is Eve Ensler explaining the link between rape in Congo and our consumption in the West:

(hat tip to Joel Johnson at Boing Boing Gadgets)

Mr. Kristof, Dr. Isis, and others have suggested that the best way to end this ongoing humanitarian atrocity is to enforce the rule of law. As I see it, this will not be enough. Rape and sexual assault have become so deeply embedded in the male psyche of Liberia that many men apparently think nothing of abusing young girls, stripping them of the joy of childhood and cruelly robbing them of self-determination and sexual autonomy. A few rapists going to jail for their crimes will not dissuade the others entirely. It should still be pursued, but the more powerful weapon in this fight against rape is shame.

Shame trumps the law, every time.

There are milder echoes of this patriarchal entitlement here in the West. My cohort celebrates the gross objectification of women and their wholesale disenfranchisement through the rap music they play at parties, the "funny" T-shirts they wear, and the words they use to describe them. I have heard, far too often, young men refer to young women as "bitches", "hoes", "booty", "poontang", etc., reducing these women to nothing more than orificies for their own use. But at least in the West, deep shame is heaped upon the perpetrators of sexual violence. It doesn't stop it from happening completely, unfortunately. But we know that without stigma and legitimization by inaction, men who have been exposed to sexual violence as a norm will perpetuate that sexual violence as though it is normal. This is what is happening right now in Liberia.

Giving money to Doctors Without Borders is one great step in the right direction, but I submit that action must also be taken to stem the tide at its source rather than just treat its victims. Let us demonize those brazen and depraved enough to assault young girls, or any woman ever at all, and call them out for the beasts they are through education and humanitarian propaganda. The use of rape as a weapon of war and terror in Liberia, Sudan, and Congo has created an environment in which boys are raised to view women as nothing more than objects for their own gratification. This reflects the dark underbelly of our own culture and our previous silence reflects poorly upon our national character. Let us call them both out and cheer as they wither in the light of exposure and make all of humanity freer.

[Silence is the Enemy coalition here.]


I don't get many artwork commissions, but if any of you wish to commission something from me I will donate all of the proceeds to Dr. Isis' fund and you'll get a piece of original Toaster artwork. Her and her allies are donating all of their blogging proceeds for the month of June to Doctors Without Borders.