Archive for the pedantry Category

A more productive post

Posted in media, pedantry, rant, Science with tags , , , , on 12/01/2014 by sangomasmith

I recently went blog-diving and found this charming specimen who, between saying things that make sense, seems to be particularly vexed by feminists (and women in general, if his other mentions are anything to go by). Now, the combination of finding this particular rough diamond and hanging around here too much got me all het up to write a post blasting the smart misogynists for being the clueless dipshits that they are. Ultimately, however, I realised that (as Scalzi pointed out) you just cannot get concepts like ‘privilege‘ across to these bozos without whickering and whining. They are just too bitter, clueless and invested to hear. So instead I’m going to try for something a little more tangental: a brief explanation for why these guys may have a point about some of the people they find wretched or disgusting (thanks for that, Scott). And why it doesn’t much matter.

 

The problem is simple: it takes a certain amount of resources and connections to get the word out. This means that, barring miracles or outside intervention, a rich, upper-class person who works in the media is going to have an easier time reaching an audience than a poor person working as a janitor. Which means that, more often than not, the people writing about the poor and dispossessed are going to be neither. Which can be a problem if, for instance, you’re trying to dig down to the essence of what it means to be poor. It can also weaken your personal case for whatever it is you are arguing for – folks will inevitably leap onto the fact that your personal experiences are overblown or minor compared to the real suffering that you’re trying to connect to. And there is a core of truth to this – it really is hard for a white, cosseted, upper-class person to really get what it means to be down and out in a racist country. Or for a pampered, academic feminist to really get what it means to be a woman living in a world where your worth to society is measured principally by the number of male children you can raise to adulthood.

 

However, there is a known human faculty which is supposed to help alleviate this problem. We call it ’empathy’. It is, like all things human, not a perfect faculty – one’s personal experiences and biases will always creep in to colour things. But it is useful for that most human and humane of tasks: the long mile in someone else’s shoes. I should mention the word ‘useful’ again, because empathy is also about more than just getting the feels when you realise what someone else’s plight is. It is also a hard-edged tool: the culmination of our fine-grained, meta-cognitive, social senses. Which is why it tends to be the first thing that tends to go whenever a brain is damaged or malfunctioning.

 

Most feminists, whatever I may think of their individual lives or arguments, tend to at least display empathy. That the ones with the biggest platforms may also tend to be the ones who encounter the least actual sexism in their daily lives (you know, aside from the inevitable rape threats any time they say anything in the public sphere) does not mean that what they say has suddenly been rendered worthless. What unites my little collection of misogynist  internet assholes, on the other hand, is a stunning lack of empathy. This may not even be their fault – it is one of those biological failings of the male gender (along with stupid risk taking and much higher crime rates) that we tend to be more afflicted by neurological disorders.

 

So when they accuse those evil(or wretched, or disgusting) feminists of being self-serving, vain, deceitful, clueless, arrogant, out of touch, creepy, grasping, pathetic etc. perhaps they are just looking into the mirror and failing to see any reflection but their own?

Plant Genetic engineering: Current gene insertion technologies

Posted in Crop science, History, musings, pedantry, Science, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on 03/01/2011 by sangomasmith

The long-awaited part duex:

 

The technology of gene insertion in plants is around 30 years old now, the product of a wave of research in the 1980s. Eventually, two main technologies came to dominate the field: Biolistic and agrobacterium-based insertion. They are, with a few tweaks and upgrades, the same technologies we use today.

Biolistics, as the name implies, use ballistic particles (usually microscopic grains of tungsten or gold) to punch through the tough cell walls of plants and deposit DNA (which is carried as an outer coating) into the nucleus. This process is fairly inefficient, with only a small fraction of cells being hit in the right manner to transfer a functional copy of the construct into the genome. Even in these few cases, the insertion is often fragmented, or else contains multiple copies of the construct. This inefficiency, in addition to the rather limited types of plant matter that can be used (almost always embryogenic cultures of cells rather than intact plants or whole tissues) means that biolistic insertion has slowly lost ground to its long-time rival: agrobacterium. Its great advantage, however: the fact that the process is not limited in terms of what species it can transform, will keep it on the front lines as a niche system for the foreseeable future.

 

Agrobacterium-based methods make use of an engineered version of the gall-forming bacterium: Agrobacterium tumafaciens. This clever little bug is able to use a special DNA carrier (the T-plasmid) to introduce DNA into its host. Normally, this DNA would contain genes to make the plant cells form galls and produce food for the bugs, but engineered versions have had this cut out and replaced with cloning sites to insert other genes. The result is a simple system that produces transformed plants with high efficiency. Unfortunately, the little guys are sort of finicky when it comes to what species of plants they will play with. This has been especially problematic for the cereals (wheat, rice, barley and the like), which are all grasses that Agrobacterium is normally not interested in. Recent advances have thankfully overcome this somewhat, so the future of this little bug is bright.

 

Of course, the field of gene insertion is not static. Both systems, good though they may be, have significant limitations in terms of their ability to target genes to specific places on the genome and also have trouble when being used to insert multiple genes. As these abilities are both going to be very important for the next wave of plant genetic engineering, a lot of research has been done to find something better. I’ll cover these future gene insertion techs in the next segment.

Meta-Burton

Posted in movies, pedantry with tags , , on 25/03/2010 by sangomasmith

I went and saw Alice in Wonderland today. My main thought (besides silently bemoaning the fact that I paid, again!, to have my childhood ruined) was that old Tim sure doesn’t do a lot of original stuff these days(Matt Bors agrees with me).

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On that note…

Posted in musings, pedantry with tags , , on 19/03/2010 by sangomasmith

Here’s the candlemaker’s petition. It’s unfortunately just as applicable now as it was when it was written. And just as funny.

I fail to agree

Posted in media, musings, pedantry, rant, Science with tags , , , , , , on 19/03/2010 by sangomasmith

A quick disclaimer: I’m a huge fan of Dresden Codak. However, I don’t always agree with Aaron Diaz himself.

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An illlustration, or just pointless?

Posted in media, movies, pedantry, rant with tags , , , , , , on 25/02/2010 by sangomasmith

I was watching ‘Saved!‘ the other evening (it’s quite a nice film) and ended up in an argument.Now, typically, I’m trying to both defend my own position and apologise at the same time…

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Another opinion

Posted in movies with tags , , on 22/12/2009 by sangomasmith

Greg fish seems to have stumbled upon the same video I did. His opinion on the matter differs, however. On the subject of actual giant robots, though, we find ourselves in some agreement.