Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gun Owner and (future) Mom Talks About Gun Paranoia

Let me preface this by explaining something. I'm a gun owner. I use guns. I kill large animals with them. I occasionally target practice for fun. I'm a pretty good shot with a rifle.

I got a BB gun when I was, what, 9? and we'd target practice in the yard several times a week. I took a hunter's safety course when I was 13, killed my first deer when I was 14. There were always guns in the house, my dad has had a concealed weapon's permit since I was a kid, and we always had a handgun in the car when we went on a road trip. I feel comfortable with a gun in my hands, and that's because I was taught from an early age that they are tools, but dangerous ones; to respect them, how to use them properly, how to clean them, etc., and plan to teach my own kid the same. And I won't even mention how many hours I've spent on FPS games.

So any of you who disagree with me can skip the "you're only AFRAID of guns because you don't understand them!" BS.

Yeah, I'm a gun owner, and I want better gun control in the US. Crazy, socialist things, like actual, effective, back ground checks, an effective ban on cock-extenders assault rifles and large ammo clips, and maybe even *gasp* monthly buy limits.

There's this video being passed around that's supposed to be a great example of how armed citizens could "stop a massacre".

1) This was two teenaged boys, one with a bat, one with a gun, trying to make some easy money. The second that someone shoots at them, they run away. Not even close to a "massacre". There's a huge, f**king chasm of difference between that and a suicidal, mentally ill loner with homicide on his mind, pockets full of ammo, and nothing to lose.

2) The "hero" starts out with a good shooting stance, two handed, steady, but it quickly dissolves to him shooting wildly from the hip, swinging the gun all over the place, barely even sighting in on the target before firing, all while other people run around the crowded room. I've seen kids playing laser tag who have better firing technique (which probably explains how he fired 7 or more times from a short distance and hit one guy twice and the other not at all). Compare it to the firing stance used by these police officers in much more stressful situations*.

3) The last shot is out the f**king front door as the the two kids are running away. It stopped being "self defense" after the second shot and turned into some kind of vigilante shooting spree. I'm not at all surprised this happened in Florida, where it's also apparently fine and dandy to kill teens to protect yourself from loud music.

And this, my friends, is the absolutely best case scenario for this sort of this, and it was mostly luck. It's luck that a stray bullet didn't injure someone, and luck that the criminal with the gun was a scared kid who turned and ran instead of ducking behind something and starting a firefight.

If I were there, I would much rather risk having my wallet stolen while waiting the five minutes for the police to arrive (you know, those people with guns who have extensive training in how to use them in public) than get hit by a stray bullet from Citizen Concealed cock-enhancer Carry over there.

And then we have the fact that these libertarian-types keeps saying, "more guns! If there were more guns, everyone safer! Because... guns!"

Except that the US already has a lot of guns. Lots, and lots of them. More per capita than any other "first world" country, and yet we still have the highest level of assault deaths per capita. How many more guns does it take, exactly, before we're all safe from these extremely rare events that are impossible to predict? Are the lives already lost because of gun ownership somehow worth less than those that might be saved during one of these vanishingly rare terrorist attacks?

Even if we ignore studies like this which thoroughly debunk this idea, how do these people reconcile the fact that, in every single other "first world" nation, fewer guns appears to correlate with LESS crime? Is the US just special?

*Look, I know police officers aren't perfect, but I trust them approximately a thousand times more than I do random Joe Schmoe on the street who's only experience with firearms outside a shooting range is in his over-active fantasy life.

Monday, December 17, 2012

I'm pregnant! Lets celebrate with some snark

For those who don't know, there is this popular thing where parents-to-be track pregnancy progress with a "week by week" calendar. There are like a million versions of them, but they all have a lot in common: they're all tailored to mid-to-upper-class women in heterosexual relationships who are having a planned pregnancy with a wanted, healthy fetus in a first world country and either stay at home or have jobs that don't require extreme/repetitive physical labor that they can afford to quit early if need be.

These "calendars" are often scientifically inaccurate to one degree or another, and they are universally so full of sickly-sweet rainbows and fluffy bunnies that they made me gag even before I got morning sickness. And they always, ALWAYS, compare the "size of your baby" to a fruit or vegetable. Sometimes, the fruit choices are downright bizarre. How does knowing that my fetus is the size of a kumquat help me visualize it? No one reading these things knows what a kumquat is!

So, I decided to do my own version of a pregnancy calendar. This first part is week one through my current week. My plan is to continue to follow my own gestational progress, or until I get bored with it or actually give birth. Whichever comes first. (The guide I'll be using is the Mayo clinic's book on pregnancy, which is succinct, scientifically accurate, never compares babies to fruit, and is completely humorless).

Warning: sarcasm and dark humor ahead.
Oh, and by the way, I considered not writing about pregnancy/parenting at all, since it seems a bit outside the normal topics I write about here. But then I was all like, dude, this is my blog. I write what I'm thinking about, and holy shitballs am I thinking about this. A lot.

Week 1, Day 1

How big is your "baby"?
It doesn't exist yet, because today is actually the first day of your last menstrual cycle. Because OBGYNs want to make you do math, today is considered the first day of pregnancy... or gestation... sometimes. But... only once you DO become pregnant. So, this day only becomes important retroactively, two weeks in the future when fertilization happens.

This is an asinine practice; in all other mammals, we measure gestational period as starting with fertilization. So, if you want to compare humans with other mammals, subtract 14 days. Well, sometimes, because, to make it more confusing, sometimes doctors and scientists DO count only from fertilization (aka "conception" another word only used in humans). I'll be doing it this way, because the other way doesn't make sense.

Fun Fact: gestational period becomes more complicated to measure in some animals because "pregnancy" doesn't always immediately follow fertilization. In embryonic diapause, the zygote remains dormant until environmental conditions are more favorable, sometimes for months or years.

This alone is an interesting phenomenon, but not as interesting as the bizarre lab experiments it has inspired.

It sounds like a really handy trait to have (assuming you could control it somehow), and I'm surprised that the only sci-fi reference for it is Farscape (where it didn't work out very well).

Anyway, if you're trying to conceive on purpose, this is a time when you've probably already started taking a daily pre-natal vitamin. The irony is, if you have access to pre-natal vitamins (and the education to know that they exist in the first place), you may not need them because you probably get all the nutrients you need from your rich and varied diet. But it's still a good idea. Especially when a lack of folic acid can lead to such horrendous (and preventable) birth defects like anecephaly and spina bifida. Go ahead and google those. I'll be here when you get back (and the nightmares have subsided).

Fun fact: they make pre-natal vitamins that taste like sour patch worms! (which is to say: Man I love living in the United States in the year 2012! I am not being sarcastic!)

Actual Week 1, Day 1 (aka Week 2, Day 7?)

This is the day you probably conceive, if you're the average woman.

This involves a man ejaculating, there's no getting around it. If you're fertilizing your egg the old fashioned way, approximately 280 million sperm are deposited into your vagina, but only a fraction of them make it to the egg which is hanging out waaaay up in the upper oviduct (a trip that takes between 5 minutes and an hour).

Fun Fact: Domestic bovines produce an average of 3 billion sperm per ejaculation and their travel time is only 2-3 minutes. This amazes me; the distance is further, the pathway more crowded, yet they gets there so much faster than in humans.

Extra-fun fact: I have personally, via anal electoprob, caused quite a few bull ejaculations in the last two years of employment at a mixed-practice veterinary clinic. I have lost count; more than a dozen, fewer than a hundred.

How big is your "baby"?
About the size of an amoeba. In the minutes after that one, special sperm wiggles through the egg's outer layer of cells, cell division starts and the separate haploid cells of egg + sperm combine to form a free-floating zygote (which includes the cells that will become the placenta).

Fun fact: if you were a domestic cat (or any other induced-ovulator), the act of copulation itself is what stimulates you to drop an egg or ten from your ovaries. Can you imagine how terrible it would be if humans were induced-ovulators? Every time you had intercourse: BAM! a follicle explodes an egg out into your tubes. Fun.

Still Week 1 (around Day 4)

How big is your zygote?
Still about the size of an amoeba. Today is the special day that the zygote finishes its journey through the fallopian tube and reaches the lining of the uterus. There, it's secretes  nasty destructive enzymes that eat through the lining of the uterus so the this little life-sucking creature can burrow deep into the wall of the uterus and attach itself to your lifeblood. Rarely, this process continues out of control and the woman can hemorrhage to death as the enzymes eat uncontrolled through large blood vessels.

Pregnancy is truly a wondrous thing.

Assuming the woman survives, the zyogote is now known as a blastocyst, and consists of about 100 cells.

This is also when the litttle bundle of joy starts secreting the hCG hormone (you know, this one), which causes most of the unpleasant side effects of pregnancy like nausea, vomiting, sore breasts, mood swings, and crying at Kay Jewelers commercials. Therefore, today is the day you could realize you're pregnant. It's also the first day that home pregnancy tests can be used accurately.

Week 2

No one ever talks about week two. Week one is exciting because conception happens. Week three is exciting because it's the start of organ development. Week two is kind of relegated to "more of week one stuff". IE: cell division happens. Boooorrring.

Week 3

How big is your embryo? About the size of an adult German cockroach. It's not much more than a worm-like tube lined with rudimentary mucus membranes and the beginnings of a circulatory system, however at this point we get to call it an embryo! It's the beginning of major organ formation, so now is an especially good time to avoid things like cocaine and high levels of radiation.

Week 4

How big is your embryo?
About the size and shape of a housefly maggot. Though the heart may have started beating, the body is not recognizable. There is a "head region" and a tail, and maybe an opening where the mouth will be. That's about it.

Week 5

How big is your embryo?
About 1/3 inch long. Now, in addition to a head region and a tail-ish lookin' thing, there's also stubby little limb-like projections.

Week 6 - 8

How big is your embryo?
About the size of a newborn kangaroo. This is the point, in my opinion, when your embryo looks the most like an alien from a B movie: it has four flipper-like limbs, a long tail, bulbous head, and unblinking eyes.

Week 9-11

This is the first week where you can start to relax a little bit (if you have a wanted pregnancy) and stop freaking out every time you get a gas cramp: the rate of miscarriage drops dramatically at this point, and greatest risk of environmentally-caused birth defects has passed. Most major organs are formed, and we can officially call this little bundle of joy a fetus.

The irony is, of course, that the riskiest time for birth defects happens during the period where many women don't even know they're pregnant yet, and may not know to be cautious about their lifestyle.

Then again, there are some women who don't realize they're pregnant until the day they give birth.

Week 12 (end of first trimester)

How big is your fetus?
The size of a deer mouse.
Those of us with a wanted pregnancy can relax a little more as miscarriage rates drop even further at this point.

Sadly, this is also the point where, if you play contact sports like rugby or roller derby, you want to stop the contact part. The fetus is no longer fully protected by your pelvic bones. Ironically, at the same time that you have to slow down your own workout routine, the fetus is just starting to pick one up as this is the time when nerves and muscles start to function.

Tune in next week! There may be hiccups!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Some Pit Bull Stuff

James and Swami, Dallas, TX

1) I'm totally stopping my own blog series "anecdotal pit bull" because I've found an even better version of it: the Animal Farm Foundation's "Majority Project". It's just a huge, constantly-growing group of photographs of normal, mundane people who own pit bull dogs. Pit bulls are a very popular type of pet dog. The end.

2) And this article from HugABull: "From Skeptic to Breed Advocate"

Which is similar to my own experience, I guess.

I clearly remember the first time I met a "pit bull". I was about 12, and was at a friend's house for a sleep over or something. We took a walk to her neighbor's house to meet their new puppy, which was little, and cute and wiggly and kissy, and then the owner told us it was a pit bull.

My first thought was, "oh is that what they look like?" my second was, "oh, too bad it will grow up to be aggressive." I wasn't scared, because obviously it wasn't aggressive right that second, but I was puzzled why this family chose such a dangerous breed when, (surely!) they knew it would turn on them one day. We finished petting the puppy, and went back home, and I mostly forgot about it.

As far as I remember, I didn't do much more thinking about "pit bulls" until I got into college and started volunteering at the local shelter. There were lots of pit bulls and mixes there. I walked a lot of them. I trained with some of them. Sometimes there would be one in the 'off limits' area that was aggressive or a fear-biter.

In other words, "pit bull" dogs were just like all the other dog types at the shelter; a mix of personalities, back stories, and behavior. You judged each dog's individual behavior and needs before taking it out of the kennel. Aside from weight and/or strength, looks didn't help with that judgement at all.

I don't remember when I changed my mind, exactly. There was no "ah hah" moment, just a slow progression to "breed advocate" over the next few years. I think it helped that it coincided with my first, unfettered access to high speed internet and the flood of information available.

It also helped that Corvallis is a very dog-friendly town in general, (Kelly Dunbar visited the shelter once and said she saw more people out walking their dogs in her one afternoon driving through Corvallis than she saw in any other city in an entire day.). Lots of dog parks. Lots of hiking trails with public  poop bag dispensers. Lots of yuppies walking pit bulls in sweaters to the farmer's market. Sort of Portlandia Lite (TM), if you see what I'm saying.

In other words, a perfect place to lose your biases of pit bulls. There's just too many of them, out in public, being normal dogs.

I still don't feel like a "breed advocate", even though I've been labeled a "pit bull nutter" by several pit bull haters. They're not a breed/type that calls to me the way that, say,  border collies do. The only reason I talk so much about "pit bulls" is that .... I just like dogs. And logic. Pit bull hysteria is stupid and causing a lot of families a lot of grief, and killing a lot of really good dogs, all to satisfy some "if only one child is saved!" fallacy of risk assessment.

Stupid people who kill dogs, directly or indirectly, piss me off. That's really all it's about.

Leslie and Dante

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sammy goes crazy for body spray

What's the allure? She gets more excited about this stuff than she does about dead fish.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Vaccine wankery from well-meaning people

In case my comment gets removed (and so no one need suffer by missing a piece of wisdom from yours truly). Last week I spent a bit of my time on a comment in response to this blog post .

Here it is. Enjoy:

I don't disagree that an indoor-only pet may not need a rabies vaccine - rabies isn't like panleuk or upper respiratory infections that can be tracked in on your shoes, for example. But the risks from vaccines in general are very small. Why such the freak out? The links you provided just go to highly biased and non-scientific "opinion" websites. Not very convincing.

And there are not "countless" studies that say that vaccines are "damaging". That's false, or at least dishonest. There *are* well-documented and well-known risks from vaccinating, but serious reactions or development of soft-tissue sarcomas are very, very rare; Statistics we have aren't great, but indicate less than 1 in 100,000 risk. You put your cat in more risk by driving him to the clinic in a motor vehicle.

It's unfair to say that the woman's response meant she "didn't care about the health of animals" and it was "just to make money".

It's standard to vaccinate dogs and cats for rabies between ages 3-4 months based on the recommendations of multiple scientific organizations using current health data. And it's very reasonable for a humane society clinic to insist on vaccinating upon intake for spay/neuter surgery - from their perspective, they're dealing with a lot of animals who may never see a vet again in their life. It's in their best interest, and the best interest of the community as a whole,  to help maintain good herd immunity in the community they're serving.

Here are some less-biased links:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lengthy Jay Lake quote'o'the day

"I'm a relentless empiricist, firmly moored in the world of logos, who doesn't have any trouble acknowledging the value and power of mythos as a key component of human existence. Including my own personal version of mythos.

My sometimes ugly public quarrels with religion and the religious have entirely to do with people confusing their personal beliefs with some form of objective truth, and then projecting that confusion into the public square to the detriment of both themselves and the rest of society. When it comes to religion, I am a First Amendment absolutist. I will defend to the death your right to worship as you please (and equally my right to find your worship ridiculous); and I will defend to the death my right to be entirely free of the pleasures of your worship.

In the faith-holding sense, I don't believe in anything. The universe just is, evolution and thermodynamics don't require my spiritual assent to exist, any more than gravity or climate change or tomatoes do. That's not to say I'm some mindless, amoral spiritual void. My mythos is always aboil, bubbling over, as anyone who's ever read my fiction can probably attest. I just don't confuse the structures of my consciousness with the external reality of the world."

From his personal blog.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I'm not much of a romantic, I guess

This Guardian article I ran across today needs a new headline:

Advances in technology leads to slightly larger handful of rich elites able to climb Mt. Everest every year. This is bad because... ROMANCE RUINED.

OK, fine, that's his opinion; boo hoo for him that he doesn't like that the unwashed masses are DARING to tread where only rich white men were allowed to go before. Whatever. That he thinks that the motivations of modern-day Everest climbers is somehow LESS WORTHY than the motivations of climbers from 50 years ago is pompous and irritating, but beside the point.

But, really? The first paragraph: "This is a photograph of all that has gone wrong in humanity's relationship with nature... it is a picture of how profoundly we are failing to have any kind of decent respect for our world: how our romance with nature has become sick and twisted."

Gimmee a break.

This is a photo of a sick and twisted relationship with nature.
Also, this and this and this and this.

Having a few extra rich people who are able to stomp around a sterile mountain top? Not even on the f*)cking radar.

Dear nature tourism is a good thing. Those same tourists that are cluttering up your view of Everest are the same ones who are literally pulling species back from the brink of extinction.