Seed starting, seed saving

My peppers are sprouting, Aleppo peppers from seeds I saved last year. I started growing these because the plants were facing extinction due to the war in Syria. There was a push to steward the seeds for when Syrians could return to farming them. (Also the peppers are delicious.)

I remember Cheryl Bryce talking about how war and colonization doesn’t only happen to humans, it happens to the rest of the inhabitants of the land as well. That invasive species are a form of colonization. I started growing qʷɬáʔəl (kwetlal, camas) because so many people in that podcast emphasized that settlers can and should learn to propagate Indigenous plants.

Bonus pronunciations:

It’s interesting to me that with all the complications of power dynamics and cultural appropriation, it’s so common to encourage allies to do seed keeping work. Yes, grow the seeds in your garden. Yes, save the seeds and trade them around. It isn’t only hobby gardeners who want to share seeds and cuttings and harvests. (Disclaimer that each plant has its own discussion and context.)

Now that it is seed starting season in the northern hemisphere, I wonder who is growing Palestinian plants, to keep the seeds for when Palestinians can grow them again. This episode of Seeds and Their People from a few years ago is an interview with a Palestinian seed keeper in Philadelphia, growing molokhia (jute), kusa (a summer squash), and zaatar (a savoury herb), and it includes links to buy seeds from the True Love Seeds network of small farmers.

Pinned over the summer and fall…

Parenting articles:

  • Who’s to Blame for a Generation of Angry White Men? (Dame Magazine) Asking the valid question, if all these mass shooters came from “normal” white families, what is wrong with normal white parenting?
  • The Conscious Kid‘s month+ long series on disrupting racism with kids covers enough theory and practice to get started on dismantling that normal white family, although it is focused on raising racialized kids to thrive. Instagram, like most social media, is just useless about archive navigation, so I’m going to link the whole series in another post.
  • Parenting Science looks at the evidence about babies’ moral lives. In short, babies are so loving it makes me tear up.
  • How couples try to equitably divide childcare. We found the practicalities of this surprisingly difficult, and if I didn’t have first- or second-hand experience with non-couple models like collective houses, multi-parent queer families, and project management I don’t think I would have been able to figure out how to approach this. The article highlights division by task rather than turn-taking as a way to share the mental load, which is mostly what we landed on as well. In the early days, a milk parent and an everything-else parent. Then a day parent and a night parent for awhile. Currently, a daycare liaison and an inventory / research coordinator.
  • The pregnancy-related chimera situation is so much bigger than I thought. Content note: lots of genetically-determined gender assumptions in that article.
  • I know a lot of folks who did/do baby signs with their kids, who like me probably had not considered perspectives on that from Deaf folks who sign. There are (of course), many takes, but this story makes such a basic point that baby sign resources created by hearing people are often incorrect that I felt ridiculous for not assuming that would be the case.

Other things:

WHEREAS, the earth is round

I wanted to get a world map play mat, after seeing examples of using maps to disrupt assumptions of whiteness with kids, talk about immigration and indigeneity, etc (e.g., Dr. Rosales Meza here). Remembering an old scene from The West Wing about how mainstream maps make Africa and other equatorial landmasses unfairly small, I went looking for info on the most justice-minded map projection.

Wikipedia has a good discussion of the argument given by the cartographers in the West Wing scene and the much larger context of the politics of area vs shape trade-offs in flat map construction and the great map projection debates of the twentieth century.

To my total delight, I learned that in 1989, a group of North American cartography associations endorsed a resolution against ALL map projections on the grounds that all flat maps warp our perception of our spherical home planet.

WHEREAS, the earth is round with a coordinate system composed entirely of circles, and

WHEREAS, flat world maps are more useful than globe maps, but flattening the globe surface necessarily greatly changes the appearance of Earth’s features and coordinate systems, and

WHEREAS, world maps have a powerful and lasting effect on people’s impressions of the shapes and sizes of lands and seas, their arrangement, and the nature of the coordinate system, and

WHEREAS, frequently seeing a greatly distorted map tends to make it “look right”,

THEREFORE, we strongly urge book and map publishers, the media and government agencies to cease using rectangular world maps for general purposes or artistic displays. Such maps promote serious, erroneous conceptions by severely distorting large sections of the world, by showing the round Earth as having straight edges and sharp corners, by representing most distances and direct routes incorrectly, and by portraying the circular coordinate system as a squared grid. The most widely displayed rectangular world map is the Mercator (in fact a navigational diagram devised for nautical charts), but other rectangular world maps proposed as replacements for the Mercator also display a greatly distorted image of the spherical Earth.

Way to cut the gordian knot, cartographers. I’m so glad to know you are out there caring whether I have an accurate impression of the shapes and sizes of lands and seas. For real. We got kiddo a pillow globe.

Pinned in March: podcast edition

People keep asking if I am getting any projects done while on leave and I keep saying no, but I realized I actually have been making decent progress on my project to be a little less ignorant about China. Here are my favourite recent episodes from my top two podcasts about China:

  • How does China’s advertisement market work? (Middle Earth Podcast). When I am trying to learn about something I am profoundly ignorant about, I find the easiest way is to piggyback on something I do know about. So I have been listening to tech analysis about China. This one covers the large differences between American and Chinese digital privacy laws and consumer tracking data, plus how social media and influencers work in China, where being too influential can get you arrested. Fascinating (to me)! Middle Earth panelists always seem eager to talk to each other– the two advertising industry guys in this episode have intriguing questions for the Weibo influencer.
  • Huawei and the Tech Cold War (Sinica Podcast). This has a great discussion of 5G and the international politics surrounding it. There is a non-techy panelist so things get explained for civilians.

A couple of other favourite podcast episodes that have made me less ignorant about some other things:

Pinned over the winter

  • The Risks of Using Auction Prices as Artworks’ Fair Market Value (Artsy) I am aware that the high-end art market is a weird financial scam run by rich people, but this article gives some great examples of how that actually works. Secret agreements, price fixing, show auctions– what a trip!
  • The Value of Childhood Crushes (The New York Times) It’s rare enough to see children respected as whole people that each instance is a treat. What a sweet and caring little article about a sweet and lovely topic, crushes.

    One option, of course, is to do nothing at all about a crush except to savor it. “That is so safe,” Mr. Smallidge said. “That’s such a delicious feeling. One of the messages that would be nice for kids to hear is that they don’t have to do anything about crushes. A crush has its own value because it opens us up and it’s exciting. And most of them, I would say, end there.”

  • Delete Your Account Now: A Conversation with Jaron Lanier (Los Angeles Review of Books) I had my usual Jaron Lanier response to this, which is to really enjoy reading a critical perspective on Silicon Valley by someone who knows a lot of insider lore, while simultaneously dreading the condensed version of this I will be hearing from oppressively anti-tech/pro-human-connection west coast hippies for the next few years. Also, being filled with desire for Lanier to cut off his weird white man dreadlocks. I had forgotten about this SEC decision:

    One thing that’s really interesting is that Facebook is not a normal company, in the sense that its valuation when it went public wasn’t based on how much money it made, which is what would normally happen with a business. It actually somehow talked the SEC into creating this other category, where it would be valued based simply on how much it was used, just on user engagement. And I think that was one of the most dreadful decisions in the history of financial governance, because, unfortunately, it set the pattern for other companies that went public later, like Twitter. So it’s almost like a government mandate that, instead of actually making money and serving customers, a company will become an addiction and behavior modification empire.

  • Can New Energy Technologies Save the Planet? Ask the Sperm Whale (The Tyee) Andrew Nikiforuk points out that most of the whales that were killed for oil were killed after the invention of refined fossil fuels made that oil unnecessary, because that invention also made boats a lot better at chasing whales. Capitalism can’t be used to conserve anything; its whole thing is to run the planet into the ground.
  • Leashes, licences for cats promoted as way to protect birds (Times Colonist) Do it, Saanich! This is my #2 favourite minor political goal behind getting rid of daylight savings time.
  • Island Voices: Seeing the forest for the trees in urban planning (Times Colonist) An informed, coherent letter to the editor is a joy.

Pinned in September

Pinned in summer 2018

I was, on the one hand, deeply occupied with splitting my body into two people and then getting to know the second person. On the other hand, I had a lot of time to read while awake in the middle of the night holding that person.

A longer list with less commentary than usual:

Pinned in June: non-depressing edition

The first argument that made me feel at all warmly about warrantless genetic surveillance

The journal Science published a response to the Golden State Killer investigation, where a suspect was arrested after a relative was identified by comparing genetic evidence from crime scenes to a 23andMe-style commercial genealogy database.

Expanding law enforcement investigations to encompass genealogical databases may help to remedy the racial and ethnic disparities that plague traditional forensic searches. In accordance with state laws, official forensic databases are typically limited to individuals arrested or convicted of certain crimes. Racial and ethnic disparities throughout the criminal justice system are therefore reproduced in the racial and ethnic makeup of these forensic databases. Genealogical databases, by contrast, are biased toward different demographics. The 23andMe database, for instance, consists disproportionately of individuals of European descent. Including genealogical databases in forensic searches might thus begin to redress, in at least one respect, disparities in the criminal justice system.

Genealogy databases and the future of criminal investigation (Science)

A fun, counter-intuitive baby name trend

Baby name news covers a lot more ground than I would have expected. This post starts with a surprising baby name trend and ends with a fairly detailed analysis of the impact of maternal age on social and political issues.

A few years back, I started a project to track down the red-blue divide in name terms. Did blue (liberal) and red (conservative) America actually name their children differently? Yes, they surely did. But how they did was a stunner. The “bluest” names were traditional, Christian, and single-sex; the “reddest” were newly invented, non-religious and androgynous. (Try it on the NameMapper: select 2004 and type in Henry, then Rylee.) In other words, our choices of names — one of the most candid, heartfelt expressions of our values and dreams — ran precisely opposite to our supposed values divide.

Red and Blue Baby Naming: Inauguration 2009 Edition (Baby Names Blog)

An endearing, bumbling discussions of plant intelligence

I love the edges where people in one discipline need ideas from another discipline. This survey of some current thinking about whether plants are intelligent involves philosophers trying to apply botany and ecology, while biologists and ecologists try to apply philosophy.

[Plant biologist Devang] Mehta believes that plants deserve respect. He just thinks confusing their qualities and abilities with those of humans is unnecessary anthropomorphizing. Venturing into the territory of philosophers, he argues that in order to qualify as “conscious,” a thing must be aware of its self-awareness, or meta-aware….

[Philosopher Michael] Marder admits that we can’t know if plants are self-conscious, because we define both the self and consciousness based on our human selves and limitations. “Before dismissing the existence of this higher-level faculty in them outright, we should consider what a plant self might be,” he says.

Marder points out that plant cuttings can survive and grow independently. That suggests that if plants do have a self, it is likely dispersed and unconfined, unlike the human sense of self.

A debate over plant consciousness is forcing us to confront the limitations of the human mind (Quartz)

On space and science fiction in the Arab world

This is an ok article about a topic I found very interesting– how has science fiction influenced science and space projects in the Arab world? It left me curious to know much more about the impact of having your local landscapes used as filming locations for so much sci-fi, both as distant planets and as places where archeologists dig up monsters.

A great many decision-makers, extending into the numerous members of the royal families across the Gulf, have bought into this desire to revive the Islamic scientific heritage as well as building the infrastructure that will drive it; development is, after all, meaningless without ‘sustainable’ development. And science fiction is part of the futurist vision they have of themselves: “Michael Winterbottom shot his 2003 film Code 46 partly in Dubai… parts of The Force Awakens were shot in Abu Dhabi,” as Determann’s book notes. Note the transition eastwards, since the desert planet Tatooine in Star Wars is actually the desert town of the same name in Tunisia, where much of the filming was done. The UAE has, of late, provided financial incentives for Western movie producers, itself part of its wider diversification away from oil strategy too. The same goes for their Mission to Mars.

As one project manager explains, the mission, according to Omran Sharaf, speaking in Determann’s book, “is not about reaching Mars but about inspiring a whole new generation and transforming the way youth think within the region… The goal here is hope, for humanity, for the region, for youth in countries with lots of conflict.”

Review: The Intertwined Histories of Arab Science and Arabic SFF (ArabLit)

Pin collection for May: parenting and public services

Some things I read that I loved.

Noticing different public treatment of parents of trans kids vs parents of “theybies”

The fact that reporting on trans children like Nicole has been far more sympathetic than reporting on Kathy Witterick and David Stocker’s decision not to gender their child Storm is itself very telling.  While it may be confusing and shocking for the general public to imagine raising a transgendered child, the story of trans children becomes relatable by making transgenderism analogous to medical disability.  It’s less than ideal, but no one can help it, and thankfully there is a course of treatment to be pursued.  But the idea that parents like Kathy and David would willfully choose to offer gender self-determination to their child is apparently an outrage.  Kathy and David’s parenting has been subject to pathologizing and hateful commentary from expert psychologists concerned about Storm’s development.  While Nicole’s parents are portrayed as compassionate and reasonable, Kathy and David have been depicted as selfish, deceitful, impulsive, and manipulative radicals using their child to enact a damaging social experiment. 

This post is from 2011, but I still see this split in 2018. The comparison to how disabilities are framed stuck out to me– somewhere I’m sure there is a parallel disability justice article that critiques pathologizing disabled kids rather than working to undermine narratives about which bodies are considered normal.

Get Your Gender Binary Off My Childhood!: Children’s Right to Gender Self-Determination | Feminist Pigs

Great kids books about disability

We are about to start collecting kids books at my house, and I have been deeply appreciating the detailed reviews and lists at Books for Littles. This entire four-part series about kids books dealing with disability is fantastic. It starts with a primer on disability justice and the social model of disability, and includes some handy lists of problematic tropes in kids books as well as better features to look for. After that, big lists of recommended books! There are similar posts dealing with race, gender, fatness, single parenting, emotions, and many other common areas of failure in kids books.

Empowering Kids Books About Disability: Stories About Inclusion & Disability Rights | Books for Littles

Delusions of Mommy Brain

Of course, parents who do not go through pregnancy — including fathers, adoptive parents and L.G.B.T.Q. parents whose partners give birth — also experience psychological and physiological attachment, which some researchers have studied. But “daddy brain” is rarely discussed in a cultural or scientific context in association with cognitive decline.

Meanwhile, the cultural belief in “mommy brain” is so powerful that some studies have shown that pregnant women who walked into an experiment describing themselves as cognitively fuzzy were found in the lab to perform at a much higher level than what they reported. Were the cognitive changes just in their heads, or are our medical formulations missing something? In addition to the unscientific myths about hormonal women being best suited for the home and hearth, what else has propelled this broader misinterpretation about what “mommy brain” is and isn’t?

Argh, this article hits all the usual points that come up when discussing brains and biological sex. It pains me that it took the NYT to alert me that birth-induced dementia was a sexist myth.

Reframing ‘Mommy Brain’ – The New York Times

Buses > ride shares

One of my favourite recurring themes is that Silicon Valley is not as smart as it thinks it is, it just picks easy problems. It is easy to provide luxury transit for a few rich people using a subsidy from venture capital, especially if you can temporarily get away with ignoring labour laws. It is much harder to provide economically sustainable transit for a lot of people, while following labour laws. When Uber and Lyft start trying to accomplish that much harder goal, it turns out they start to look like regular old public transit buses.

It’s telling that, even while transit agencies are being told to be more like Uber and Lyft, Uber and Lyft are increasingly mimicking buses. Both companies now have “shuttle” or “line” services that operate along preset routes with preset stops during peak commuter hours, just like a bus. It’s existential to the future of these start-ups that they stop subsidizing high-end solo rides and instead cram in the maximum number of riders per vehicle—in order words, that they reproduce a bus. The basic model—a big moving container of people on a fixed route—has never stopped working.

America’s Buses Need Your Love More Than Ever – The Atlantic

Have they always been displacegrounds?

Here in Victoria, playgrounds and their associated bylaws get used to displace homeless people. This article is about something else, but I snagged on this aside about the invention of playgrounds as a way to displace children from the public streets where they used to play.

The last great obstacle for those wanting to secure streetspace for cars were the angry mothers of America who saw their children killed or maimed by cars in the streets. Enter: the playground. That little zoological garden into which we still place our kids was an invention of the automobile industry as a way to appease mothers and get the little rascals out of the way.

Bicycle Urbanism by Design – Next City

Intermediate french fashion slang: Vogue France

Language is different in real life than it is in literature, so part of my intermediate French reading practice is following blogs and magazines. A surprisingly deep source of weirdness that I have become very fond of is Vogue France.

My first thought about high fashion is usually that it is toxic– misogynist and body-fascist– but to its credit, it is also very strange. A way to get most of the weirdness and a minimum of the poison is to follow the RSS feed. It contains very few and very tiny photos, and a seemingly random selection of their incredible headlines.

What is amazing about Vogue France headlines? They are clearly written in French, but they contain hardly any French words. This is mind-melting and I feel certain that learning how to make French phrases out of English slang is improving my grasp of French grammar.

A recent example:

Tendance dad shoes : 13 sneakers normcore ultra mode

You get to learn French words for “trend” and “fashion”, but after that it is only the word order that distinguishes this from the English equivalent, “Dad shoes trend: 13 ultra fashionable normcore sneakers”.

Pin collection for April

Some favourite things I pinned over the past few weeks.

On the communication value of ums and uhs

Counter to what Toastmasters would have you believe, we seem to use more “disfluencies” like um when we know what we’re talking about, and saying “um” helps listeners understand us better. I am used to watching for and celebrating the ways that real life is messier than idealized definitions when it comes to things like body diversity, relationships, even economics. I am delighted that spoken language is messy too!

Your Speech Is Packed With Misunderstood, Unconscious Messages (Nautilus)

Deafness on film

Beware the spoiler for A Quiet Place, but I learned a lot from this article about historical and contemporary representation of deafness and Deaf culture in movies. It includes some thoughtful criticisms of The Shape of Water, and introduced me to the term Deaf gain as a positive counter to the concept of hearing loss.

Quiet Places (LA Review of Books)

The Volcano is back!

So exciting to see The Volcano back in action! They even have a podcast up. I read several great articles over there this month, and bookmarked some more for later. Here is one that stuck out to me, for seeing through the healthcare rhetoric around government responses to the overdose crisis in BC.

Back to the War on Drugs – Canada’s Public Health/Public Safety response to the Fentanyl Overdose Crisis (The Volcano)

What if Black Panther had been created by an African?

This reads like an undergraduate assignment, but I enjoyed this comparison of Black Panther to Kwezi, a more recent superhero created by black South African visual artist Loyiso Mkize. The rest of the site is worth exploring too, if you are interested in African speculative fiction.

From Kwezi to The Black Panther: The Progressive Politics of the Black Superhero in Comics (Omenana)

Long profile of what is scary about Palantir

Even Google has noticed that I “show interest” in aspiring vampire Peter Thiel and his company Palantir. Palantir somehow keeps a lower profile than other giant tech companies and I haven’t seen them mentioned in much reporting about the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica story, despite being involved on both sides of the data breach.

This profile provides rare descriptions of what Palantir’s surveillance software actually looks like and what it does, as well as who their clients are (dictators, cops, and maybe your boss) and how real communities have been affected.

Palantir Knows Everything About You (Bloomberg)

Fun excerpt from Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric

Making the case that fashion-haters are the ones who are really obsessed with superficial appearances.

I have a pair of spiked wedge shoes that are always a conversation piece when I wear them out. They are my favorite thing, and I would be totally depressed if I lost them somehow. Whenever people see them in my room they always ask to try them on. Everyone does this—male, female, heterosexual, gay. They try them on for the fun of it and they love the feeling the shoes give them. But then they say: “I could never wear those,” a phrase we have all used to describe an item of clothing that makes us uncomfortable or that we don’t see ourselves in because it goes against the image we have already constructed for ourselves. But who actually says we can’t wear it?

The power of appearance, that’s “who.”

Fashion naysayers are often people who are “uncomfortable with taking full responsibility for their own looks,” Anne Hollander tells us, “who either fear the purely visual demands of social life—‘appearance’ or ‘appearances’—or don’t trust the operation of their own taste,” which means in the end that they “feel threatened and manipulated by fashion.” Negative theories of appearance emerge out of a nervousness and anxiety about one’s own way of looking, which coincidentally works to reinforce the power of appearance.

Why Is Caring About Fashion Considered Unserious? (Literary Hub)

Mushrooms make their own weather

Because of course they do. Never bet against a fungus!

Everybody Talks About the Weather But Mushrooms Do Something About It. (Small Things Considered)

Intermediate queer arab-french YA: L’armée du salut

People seem to love this book but myself I found it dull. A book involving incestuous crushes and public sex– dull! Clearly your experience may vary.

On the plus side, this novella is under 150 pages, a story about a gay muslim protagonist with a happy (enough) ending, and a good way to learn some sex slang and a bit about life in Morocco in the 1990s. My favourite parts were the discussions about speaking French versus other languages, and where all the multilingual characters learned French. Morocco, Switzerland, etc. Finding francophone authors is a fast way to learn some geography and history– which regions have French-speakers and why?