On Trolls

I had another topic in mind, but this one got to percolating around my brain, and so I figured, what the heck. Let’s talk about trolls.

If you’re reading this, you probably know that I did a thing on Twitter a few days before Christmas. In fact, there’s a reasonable chance you’re reading this because I did that thing on Twitter.

That thread blew up, with the original tweet, at last count, up to 210,000 impressions. Most feedback was positive – and, yeah, some was really negative. The thing even got picked up by some news organizations. (I use the word “news” ironically here. In case that wasn’t clear.) That last link was sent to me by my Dean, who got it from his university news feed.

There was even some reasonable (though still somewhat inaccurate) coverage.

Naturally, this brought the trolls to the party. To be clear, what I wrote was accurate, and not even particularly controversial, if you’re a biologist. But if you have certain predetermined ideas of How Things Work, you find the idea that chromosomes don’t determine sex, and they REALLY don’t determine gender, very hard to swallow.

So, yeah, trolls. Trolls who were so outraged (or bored?) that they tracked down my Facebook page, this blog (which is linked on Twitter, so not that difficult), and my professional e-mail address. This is, incidentally, not all that uncommon for women having opinions on the internet. On FB, I block. Ditto for Twitter, though there I sometimes just mute without notice, so they can argue with thin air. Here, I go ahead and edit abusive comments. You can see an example of the “kitten setting” (stolen from John Scalzi) here.

Anyway, I got to thinking this week: you can tell a lot about what a person values based on how they insult you. For example, I tend to go straight for the person’s intelligence. That’s what I value, and, clearly, that’s what I expect to hurt most. I get a few trolls who call me stupid, though not as many as you might think, given that it’s possibly the most relevant insult. If you can undermine others’ opinions of my intelligence, experience, or professional standing, you might sway opinions. Makes sense, even if it has zero effect on me personally.

The ones that are interesting, though, are the ones that attack personal appearance. I had a raft of trolls telling me how very ugly I am. Why is that interesting?

Because it’s a go-to insult to use on “uppity” women. And it makes it clear that the person doing the trolling thinks that a woman’s primary value is, frankly, her fuckability. They think it is a terrific burn to tell me they don’t want to sleep with me. They fully expect this to be devastating to my emotional well-being.

It’s funny. Because it doesn’t work, at all. And yet they keep doing it.

Here’s the thing: there might have been a time, when I was really young, that this worked to ding my sense of self a bit. I was raised in the same misogynistic society everyone else was, so, sure, I thought that how I looked was important.

But I’m 44 years old now. I have come through the self-esteem issues of my youth, and out the other side. I don’t care whether strangers find me attractive – in point of fact, it’d save me some time and energy if they didn’t, sometimes. I care whether one specific person thinks I’m attractive, and he does, so I’m good. If someone else happens to think so, too, and expresses it in a non-creepy way, sure, I get a little ego boost…but no long-term benefits.

Because by the time you’re as old as I am, you know that looks are mostly a crapshoot, and even if you’re gorgeous, you won’t be forever. You also don’t think your primary “value” is in being attractive to strangers. And, hopefully, you’ve built up a sense of self that exists independently of the options of ANY strangers. That sort of self-confidence is immune from the insults of randos on Twitter.

So, yeah. As always, the things trolls say tell you more about them than they do about you. And when someone on Twitter tells me how incredibly unattractive I am?

I laugh. Seriously, I laugh, and take a perverse pleasure in knowing that they got NOTHIN’. That’s their entire argument.

I still have a Star Wars post brewing, but I think I’m gonna head home for today. Cheers.


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I don’t have a catchy title for this one. Who knows; maybe one will occur to me by the end of writing it, and I’ll delete this paragraph. Or not.

This morning, I encountered this article via Twitter. It’s a story about how Down Syndrome rates are declining worldwide, but specifically in Iceland, where, most years, there are about two (yes, two) babies with Down Syndrome born each year. This is due to abortion after prenatal testing.

I thought the article did an unusually good job of presenting the topic in a nonjudgemental and balanced way – specifically of presenting the way abortion is mostly  regarded in Iceland. To quote from the article,

We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication… preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder — that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.

This is so very different from the usual framing in the U.S. that the comments on the article (and the Twitter feed where the article was posted) are…well, they’re about what you’d expect. Combine that with the people who are really offended by the idea of eliminating Down Syndrome, and it’s a real mess.

This got me thinking about abortion on a bunch of levels, and so I’m going to chat at you for a while about it. Cool? Great.

To start with, my attitude about abortion is much more Icelandic than the usual American attitude. The U.S. is a very Puritanical, and, in my opinion, overly-religious society, and the anti-abortion religious right have succeeded in framing abortion as a moral choice – the killing of a person. Whether you agree or not, odds are good that this view has gotten to you, a bit. Odds are good that, if you are a woman choosing abortion, you’ll feel guilty.

Well, in my opinion, you shouldn’t. Yes, abortion ends a human life. I have never argued that it doesn’t. But my argument, the one that gets me occasionally labeled as a baby-killing monster, is that not all life has equivalent value, and that the value of the life of a fetus is set entirely by the woman who is incubating that life.

Yes. I just said “not all life has equivalent value”. And somehow I manage to still be a functioning member of society. How is that possible? [/sarcasm]

It’s possible because NOBODY really believes all human life has equivalent value. We all have our moral lines, and we should all own up to it. If you think abortion is wrong because all life is sacred, I really hope you oppose the death penalty. Oh, and the army. And armed police.

Because the fact is, if you are okay with sending people to war to kill other people in the name of…whatever this week’s reason is…then you should bloody well shut up about abortion. Because if you’re okay with a soldier killing another soldier, but not a woman who is pregnant choosing not to be pregnant anymore, you’re not judging the act: you’re judging the motive.

And you’re allowed to do that, if that’s your line. But you need to admit that NOT ALL HUMAN LIFE HAS EQUIVALENT VALUE to you, then. Because you clearly value a fetus more than a soldier. I don’t really care what your reasoning for that line is. The fact is, you have one.

Mine is different. To me, fetuses have little to no intrinsic value. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is, for me. If a person who is pregnant is thrilled about it, and really wants to be a parent – yay! Then, for me, that fetus is really valuable. On the other hand, if the person who is pregnant does not want to be…then that fetus has no intrinsic value to me.

To me, a fetus is not a person. It’s a potential person. One that, given the chance to develop its own personality, interests, etc., would likely have great value. But as a fetus – it’s just potential.

To me. Your mileage may vary.

So, abortion, then. I view abortion as healthcare. I view abortion as a solution to a problem. Let’s be clear – in the words of Leah Torres, an OB/GYN I follow on Twitter: adoption is not a solution to pregnancy. Adoption is a solution to parenting. Abortion is the only solution to pregnancy when a pregnant person does not want to be pregnant.

“But why is pregnancy a problem? Just have the baby and give it up for adoption. You should have been more careful anyway, now you have to pay for your mistake.”

Nope. Nope, nope, and nope. First off: birth control isn’t magic. It’s not perfect. People get pregnant anyway, even when they’re being responsible. Second, it’s none of my business why another person wants an abortion. It’s not my job to judge their level of responsibility or motivations before they get access to healthcare. We don’t tell smokers who have lung cancer that they should have been more responsible – sorry, no healthcare for you. Similarly, you shouldn’t view pregnancy as “punishment” for a bad choice.

And third: pregnancy IS a problem, or can be. Pregnancy is not safe. Especially in the U.S., where we have the worst rate of maternal death in the developed world. People die of being pregnant. I know people who have died of being pregnant. And even if you don’t die, even if you have a relatively uncomplicated pregnancy – it’s not fun. I’ve done this twice – and mine were “easy” as far as pregnancies go. But nonetheless: I threw up (or wanted to) for 4 months each time. Both times, all of the ligaments in my right foot just gave out and I wound up limping and/or on crutches for a chunk of my pregnancy. I had SPD both times, mild enough to live with, but bad enough to make every step I walked between weeks 9 and 42 (yes, he was late) of my second pregnancy painful. It was only the third trimester the first time. And it’s not a problem that ever completely goes away, just so you know. Kid 2 is almost six, and I still have sleep positions I can’t use anymore.

Not everybody hates being pregnant. I know. You don’t need to tell me. But I did. Believe you me, I only did it because I really wanted both of those babies. I would NOT remain pregnant if I didn’t intend to parent the resulting child. And nobody has any business asking me to. It’s my body; I have to live in it. I choose whether someone else gets to use it, and I retain the right of refusal at pretty much any point.

Next, abortion is a social justice issue. Others who are more versed than me have written a lot about this, but it comes to this: equal access to opportunity is only possible when all people in a society have the ability to choose when and whether they become pregnant. Again, yes, birth control is the ideal solution to this problem. However, it’s fascinating, don’t you think, that the people most vehemently against abortion are also usually those who most strenuously resist proper sex education for our children, want to close down Planned Parenthood, the world’s leading provider of birth control, and who oppose some of the most effective forms of birth control on the basis of the false notion that they are “abortifacients”. And don’t even get me started on the ones who oppose all birth control.

And, again, birth control isn’t 100% effective. Not even the best birth control. Which means we will ALWAYS need abortion as a medical option. The best, most progressive society would provide universal health care, including comprehensive sex education, birth control, prenatal care, and abortion. All. Not just some of these, but all.

Okay, finally: abortion as a way of reducing the rate of birth defects, including Down Syndrome.  My take: prenatal testing is a social good. It is ethical to provide a person with all of the available information about their pregnancy and their family’s likely future. The availability of abortion as an option in the case of trisomies and other fetal abnormalities is also a social good, IMO.

NOT because I think we should eliminate Down Syndrome. But because I believe everyone should have the choice about whether they want to remain pregnant, and under what circumstances. Again, for ME, a fetus is potential value, but little actual value. So, for me, odds are high that, faced with a fetal trisomy, I would have chosen abortion.

Here’s the thing: I don’t require that others think or feel the same way. If a family chooses to raise a child with Down Syndrome, I think they are amazing. If your child has Down Syndrome, my saying I think that abortion should be an option for people who find out their fetus is trisomic for Chromosome 21 does not mean I think your child has no value, nor does it mean that I think we should abort all pregnancies with fetal abnormalities.

It means that this is a choice each individual pregnant person should have. Most of the time, as it turns out, people choose to abort when they know a fetus has Down Syndrome.  I can see how that fact might hurt if you are a person with Down Syndrome, or the parent of a person with Down Syndrome. I get it.

But, nonetheless, for me, abortion is health care. It is an important aspect of the fight for equality. Whatever the reason – if a pregnant person doesn’t want to be pregnant anymore, I support that choice.

Okay, I think I’m done here.


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A Musing on “The Handmaid’s Tale”

So, I’m loving Hulu’s production of “The Handmaid’s Tale”. But I do have one nagging irritation, which isn’t their fault. In fact, it’s in the source material, and is the underlying foundation of the story, so, really, they couldn’t “fix” it.

Here it is: this is a really stupid way to address a fertility problem

Yes, yes. I know the story is really the subjugation of women via an authoritarian government using some vaguely Christian bullshit as their excuse, but they really do have a fertility problem. It appear that, at a minimum, the entire continent of North America has one.

So. Their solution? Round up all the fertile women and subject them to sex during their “fertile time”, apparently using some bullshit rhythm method.

I get it. The horror of the story is ratcheted up by forcing women to endure a ceremonial rape every month. I don’t have a problem with it as a storytelling device, really. But, as I scientist, I call bullshit.

If I was going to subjugate women AND try and fix a fertility problem, here’s how I’d do it:

  1. Round up all the women between the ages of 16 and 40 who have either had a child, or are young enough that they haven’t tried to, yet.
  2. Using standard treatments for infertility, get them all on hormones to control their cycles and stimulate ovulation of multiple eggs at a time.
  3. Retrieve eggs, perform IVF to generate as many embryos as possible, then transfer 1-2 embryos per woman back.
  4. Freeze the remaining embryos, or transfer some into women who didn’t produce eggs/embryos.
  5. Repeat.

This is gonna be a lot more effective than “natural pregnancy” induced by having sex a couple times a month when you think someone “should” be fertile. It doesn’t look like they’re using any ovulation prediction methods – I mean, would it kill you to

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The Bubble

Two posts in two days? Well, I had some thoughts on the way to work, so, yeah.

If you’re a liberal (or progressive, if you prefer, but I’m a traditionalist, and I’m going with “liberal”), then you’ve almost certainly heard the argument that liberal elites live in bubbles isolated from the “real world”, which explains their “out of step” views and morality. That is, if we lived in “Real America”, we’d be more like everyone else.

Okay, so this is mostly a bullshit argument. Except for the part where some liberal views are, indeed, out of step with much of America. The thing is – we tend to be a step ahead. That’s where the term “progressive” is useful.

I got to thinking about this in more concrete terms today, as I was driving to work, listening to a podcast from my local PBS station (gosh, SO liberal). The podcast was called “Ask a Muslim”, and it was literally that – they had a panel of Muslim experts (one Imam, one university professor, and one stand-up comic who does outreach using the title “Ask A Muslim”). This all-Muslim panel answered some very basic questions about Islam as a faith, and as a culture, and then took questions from the phone lines and e-mail.

I didn’t learn a lot that was new, in fact. I was pleased to find that my perception of Islam isn’t all that far off-base. One thing I did learn, though, that surprised me, was that the Muslim community in the U.S. is so small that most Americans don’t know a Muslim. (Or, perhaps, don’t know they know one.)

This surprised me, because I currently have at least three Muslims in my lab – the ones I’m sure of are all women, but I think two of the men are, as well. I don’t ask, because it’s none of my business, as the boss, how or if they worship. But the three women are open with it.

The three women run the gamut: one of them dresses like I do, and religion doesn’t appear to be a significant part of her daily life. Another wears a headscarf but otherwise completely “western” apparel, and is clearly a bit more observant. The third is covered from headscarf to feet in traditional clothes, and has spent many half-hours in my office discussing Islam and the role of education in the faith with me. So, not only do I know several Muslims in “real life”, I know a wide variety of “types” of Muslims. Just like I know a wide variety of “types” of Christians and “types” of…well, pretty much everyone.

So the fact that Muslims in the U.S. aren’t monolithic wasn’t a shock to me, but it got me thinking about my “bubble”. I interact with a minimum of three Muslims on a daily basis. “Real” America interacts with none.

If you look more closely, this is true of other groups that are frequently demonized in American society, too. I know quite a lot of gay people, and have been to one of their weddings. One of my colleagues is a lovely transgender woman with whom I’ve had many discussions about parenting. These discussions are interesting, because she was her children’s father when they were young, and, again, this is an open and “out there” part of the conversation.

I could go on. Now, let’s be up front about one thing: I don’t claim to be free of racism. I’m a white woman in the United States of America, and racism? You’re soaking in it. But I do think I can say: all of mine is unconscious, and when it becomes briefly part of my consciousness, I admit to it and try not to do it again.

So, my “bubble” – it’s the San Francisco Bay Area, and it’s full of people who aren’t like me. My bubble is probably the first or second bubbliest in the nation, though I suspect Manhattan is similar. Liberal “bubbles” are the melting pot you heard so much about in elementary school.

So, what does this mean? Well, it means that I’m used to the idea that everyone isn’t like me. It doesn’t bother me, most of the time. It means I’m not afraid of Muslims. I’m not weirded out by transgender people. I’m not bothered by a person wanting their personal pronouns to be “them” and “their” because they’re gender nonconforming and would rather you didn’t box them in as male or female.

It means, further, that the Muslims I know are not afraid to be themselves. They expect, given the “bubble” to mostly be treated as people rather than caricatures. It means that my colleague is happy to discuss her life before and after transition (incidentally, even in the Bay Area, this wasn’t always “safe” – she had some really bad times in the 80’s and 90’s). It means that not only do I get to meet people who are not like me, but I get to learn about those people. It means they’re willing to talk to me about their experiences and their community. It means they invite me to their weddings and parties.

So, “Real America”, then. What’s that?

It appears to be a place where the vast majority of people, most of the time, are alike (or pretending to be alike). And, again, before I go further: I fully acknowledge that there are LOTS of awesome people in Real America, people who aren’t afraid of folks who are different. But bear with me: if you don’t know any Muslims, there’s a much higher chance that you have the propagandized image of them. I’ve had a few people tell me I’m just “lucky” that none of the Muslims in my lab and classes have never tried to murder me. I’ve had far more tell me that, sure, they know there are “good Muslims” that aren’t like the rest.

Okay, guys, “the rest” are the vast majority. Most Muslims are like most Christians – that is, they are varied and individual, and, by and large, peaceful and kind and good neighbors.

Similarly, if you’ve never known a transgender person, you might have been thinking how “weird” my discussion of parenting with a parent who used to be male and is now female was. Get this: to me, that’s not “weird”. It’s just “lunch with Mary”. (Note: her name is not Mary. But I didn’t ask for permission to use her real name.)

What living in the “liberal bubble” does is protect you from a fair number of overt biases. It teaches you to live with people who aren’t like you. And, further, this includes groups I haven’t discussed. By and large, getting along with conservatives who disagree with me is easier when we both live in the bubble. Because we both expect to be disagreed with.

So, remember when I said liberals in bubbles (cities) are a step ahead?

Interracial relationships became acceptable, then common, in cities first. Then elsewhere. Now the majority of Americans agrees with those of us in the bubble. Same for homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Same for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. We get there first…then the rest of the culture follows. Not always as fast as we’d like.

So, what’s a bubble? It’s a place where we’ve tossed in a little bit of everything, and, yeah, I think those of us in bubbles are a bit arrogant about it. But I also think we come by it honestly – our way, in my opinion, is better.

If you’re afraid when you see a Muslim in an airport, wouldn’t you prefer not to be? My advice: find a Muslim and get to know them. If you’re afraid of transgender people in bathrooms, wouldn’t you prefer not to worry about it? Find a transgender person and talk to them.

Finally, the notion of the “bubble” is that we’re somehow isolated from the real world. Really? How so? There’s more of the real world per square mile where I live than in most of America. We’re the ones who aren’t isolated from difference. The country would be better off if more people listened to those of us in “the bubble”.


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Wonder Women

So, two things before we begin. First: SPOILERS are possible below. Likely, even. If you haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet, you might skip this one for a while. But there’s going to be some non-WW ranting first.

Second: this is going to be fairly stream-of-consciousness, possibly even more so than my usual non-academic writing. So, you know, you’ve been warned.

We’re in what feels like a weird time, politically, culturally, and pop-culturally, as women.  We fully expected, last November, to elect the first woman President of the United States. I don’t particularly care if you don’t share my opinions on Hillary Rodham Clinton – I think the woman is brilliant, I think she’s kind, I think she is one of the most qualified candidates ever to run for President, and I don’t buy most of the criticisms of her that have been floated over the course of 30 years – just so we’re clear, negative comments about any of that won’t get past my filters.

But we didn’t do that, did we? We elected the most unqualified man ever to seek the office in a serious way. We elected someone the polar opposite of everything liberal, progressive America stands for. And that includes an intense misogyny, a desire to put women back “into their place”. It’s horrifying, frankly. And the news media? Still trying to put the blame for her “loss” onto Hillary Clinton. Never mind that she got 3 million more votes than he did. Never mind that she got more votes than ANYONE ELSE in the history of the Presidency, except Barack Obama in 2008 (and the turnout was higher that year). And never mind that turnout was lower than previous years because of voter suppression efforts in precisely the states she lost but should have won if you look at Obama’s maps. And never mind that there was Russian interference in the election, and she STILL GOT MORE VOTES BY A HUGE MARGIN.

Despite that, we’re stuck with the Misogynist In Chief. It’s a hard thing to get used to, when you really believed a majority of your country had moved past this crap.

Culturally, then, the “being a woman” thing is also strange, because, in the U.S., white women, at least, have it better than any other women in the history of the world. We are, for MOST intents and purposes, regarded as independent, adult humans – which has typically not been true for women through most of world history. There are issues, yes – white men still meet in boardrooms to decide what sort of healthcare is appropriate for women, as if we’re children who can’t decide for ourselves. (Hint: if you believe someone is an adult, you GET THEIR OPINION about decisions that affect them. You even use that opinion as a key component of the decision-making process. Maybe by having lots of them on these committees of yours, assholes in Congress.)

We still face daily challenges that men don’t. The list is long, and annoying in the extreme. For example: women in my field still get told that, if they have children while on the tenure track, they might be seen as not taking science seriously enough. Or they’re advised to “plan to have their babies in summer” – like that’s a thing you can really do. Do you think men ever get these sorts of comments? (Hat tip to Janet Stemwedel, of SJSU’s Philosophy Department, for bringing this incredibly obnoxious aspect of academic culture to my attention again this week.)

We still can’t walk safely alone at night, and if we are assaulted, people are still apt to ask, “Why was she walking alone at night?” Again, dudebros, a tip: people should be able to walk alone any time without fear. The real question is why you think women should be appropriately considered targets and should have to live in fear.

There are numerous other examples, which I’m not going to discuss here. I have other posts you can probably read about this.

So, yeah. We are in a good place, historically, the women of America, and that makes the ways in which it still sucks to be a woman all the more obvious to us.

Pop culturally…there’s an interesting trend the past couple of years. Almost a backlash, in some ways, against dudebro culture. Lots of feminism pervading movies and television. Lots of attempts to begin to balance movies and TV out. (Did you know that only 17% of women in crowd scenes in films and TV are women? Did you know that 75% of speaking parts in movies and TV go to men?) And, yeah, it’s sad that attempts at balance automatically read as “feminism”. If you try to make your art resemble the real world, you’re a liberal, a feminist, even “pandering”.

So. This past couple of years, there have been two Star Wars films with female leads (though it should still be noted that women are still massively underrepresented in these films). The new Ghostbusters was gender-flipped. (All of these choices, especially the Ghostbusters thing, caused massive dudebro hurt feelings on the internet. Which made me love the movies all the more.) Supergirl (the television series) is unapologetically feminist. The Handmaid’s Tale is a grim view of where a large part of the American government (the GOP, let’s be frank, here) would like to put women, with a side of, “Oh, by the way, you can’t oppress people without having some of the oppressed population helping you.” Oh, yeah…even The Walking Dead has a “women are going to save the world” thing going on lately.

Which brings us to Wonder Woman. You will have noticed that most superhero movies are dude-heavy. (Or you may not have noticed – that’s the thing about cultures with baked-in biases – you don’t notice them until you start looking for them, often.) When there is a woman in a superhero movie, she’s one woman surrounded by five or six men. (See for example: The Avengers. I love The Avengers, but they have the usual dude-to-chick ratio problem.)

Wonder Woman will eventually be subsumed in the same way – she IS part of the almost-all-male Justice League, after all. But Wonder Woman, the current movie, is all about the women. Strong, confident women abound, from our hero, to her family (the all-female Amazon culture from which she comes), to Etta Candy (Steve Trevor’s secretary and, in the comics, Diana’s best friend), to, yes, one of the two major villains (Doctor Poison).

Also, the way in which Diana is “feminist” is striking. She simply is who and what she is, and she has no time or patience for the “rules” of WWI London society. She was raised not to know about her perceived secondary status in most of the rest of the world, and she’s not having any of it – to the point of not even acknowledging that “it” exists. She’s an adult, and she’s going to be making her decisions as an adult, and nobody is going to tell her otherwise.

She isn’t “resisting” sexism. She’s impervious to it. And it is glorious to watch.

Because isn’t that how we all want to be? I know I would love to simply reject the crappy misogynistic soup I walk through on a daily basis, and substitute my own, better version of reality. And, to a degree, that’s exactly what I do. But you can’t always just pretend it’s not there…unless you’re Diana of Themyscira.

So, yeah, a long digression to get around to: it rocked, for all the usual reasons, and for a few that are specific to being a woman in 2017.

It’s an interesting time to be a woman in the United States. We’ve progressed a long way in just 100 years, and there’s a cultural backlash that’s profound and painful. And then…there’s the pop cultural backlash against that. “You’re unhappy about women having power and personal agency? Here’s some art I just know you’re gonna hate. We made the Ghostbusters women and ruined your childhood!”

I have nowhere else to go with this. I just find it interesting. Now, I gotta go. I have experiments to design, papers to write, and the patriarchy isn’t gonna smash itself, you know.

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Happy Birthday To Me

Not yet. Not for a week. But I have had One Of Those Semesters, and may not find the time to do this in the next seven days, while I do have a few minutes right now.

So, I will be 44 years old next Wednesday. Out of college for a full half of my life (somehow that seems relevant as we approach graduation here at SJSU).

How’s it gone, so far?

Overall, pretty well.

Since I finished college, I:

Met the love of my life, earned a Ph.D, got married, completed a postdoc, had two amazing kids, got a tenure track job at a place I generally love, bought two houses (sold one), funded my lab to a level that’s pretty uncommon at SJSU, and was tenured.

It’s a lot, even for 22 years.

A few not-so-great things have also happened, of course. We lost my dad far earlier than we should have. Friends have died or been widowed (mercifully few, but nonetheless). We elected an incipient authoritarian dictator President of the United States. Climate change is a thing we should really look to.

But…to quote Joe Walsh (the good one, not the psycho deadbeat dad former Congresscritter), life’s been good to me (so far).

There is ONE thing that I’ve done recently that I wouldn’t have predicted 22 years ago, though. When I got tenure, I promised myself I’d start exercising again. I hadn’t exercised regularly in…almost 7 years, since my daughter was born.

Exercise for its own sake isn’t part of my personal culture, or at least it wasn’t until recently. I have always been tall and thin, and so the “exercise to keep fit” argument didn’t really affect me when I was younger. When I was in graduate school I played Ultimate Frisbee for a few years, and quite seriously some of the time, but let’s face it: that was REALLY about spending time with/sharing interests with my future spouse, not because I wanted it for my own sake. Yes, yes. Shut up.

Anyway. The benefits of exercise, even if you don’t need it for weight maintenance, are well-established, and I was entering middle-age. Also, I wanted to do something for me…just for me. Not for my kids, or for my job, but for myself.

In August of last year, the week my kids started school, a few months after I was notified of tenure, I started running. At first, I could run only 3 or 4 minutes at a stretch, and for a total of 20 minutes even with walking intervals. I managed maybe two miles on a good day.

I kept at it, using an app designed to take couch potatoes like me and train them for a 5K. I completed it in eleven weeks (it was designed for nine), just before the holidays set in.

So, here we are, nine months later. Nine months later, and I have run 3 days a week for the vast majority of the intervening 39 or so weeks. I had some downtime for a nasty cold in February, and take a week off here or there to avoid shin splints and other injuries. But I’ve done it: exercise is a habit.

I don’t hate it anymore. I look forward to it. Which, hello, super weird.

I now run at least a 5K three times a week, and I do it in about half an hour. I have no doubt that I could train up to a 10K if I could spare the time…but I can’t spare the time for an hour three days a week, unless I want to get up at 5 a.m. Which, no.

But, hey, I figure that 15-16K per week is more than enough to keep my middle-aged bones and cardiovascular system in good shape.

What I’m most proud of is this: I didn’t stop when work tried to stop me. I’ve tried to do this before, and always, always, work would become overwhelming and I’d stop. Like clockwork, week 8 of the semester would roll around and I’d just give up. But not this time.

I triaged other things instead. Stuff at work didn’t always get done exactly when it should have.

So, yeah: my exercise story dovetails with my work-life balance story. Balance is important.

So, my Big Accomplishments of Year 44: Moving to a new house, getting tenure, and running a 5K three times a week.

Now, if we can just get out of this Schrödinger’s Cat of a political situation: is it a collapse into authoritarian rule, or is it the early dissolution of a truly inept attempt at fascism? Feels like it could go either way. Not comfortable, me, with the GOP getting to decide which way it goes.

How was your year?

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Of late, I’ve had more than a few bigots present me with the argument that their bigotry is merely a difference of opinion, and that, as a liberal preaching tolerance, I should have equal tolerance for that opinion.

Nope. Noooooope.

This is one of those “your argument is logically flawed, and I think you know it but have decided to pretend it’s not” moments. Here’s the flaw, in case you are of this particular mindset and come by it honestly:

The notion that bigotry of the sort that would drive one to, say, vote for Donald Trump, or root for the Supreme Court to overturn the legalization of marriage equality is “just a difference of opinion” is false. A difference of opinion is this:

Me: “I think gay people are, you know, people, and the right to marry is a fundamental civil right.”

You: “I don’t think gay people are normal, and the right to marry only applies to people in normal relationships, so I don’t think they should get married.”

Me: “You’re a bit of a douchebag, but whatever.”

That’s a difference of opinion. However, when you say this:

“I think that gay people shouldn’t have the right to get married, and I’m going to vote for a dude who is going to do his best to enshrine my particular prejudices in law and force everyone to believe what I do…”

That’s beyond opinion. You are taking action to force your opinions on the behavior of others.

“But, but,” you say, “You want to force ME to believe that being gay is normal! And to act like your opinion is the right one! You want to make laws, too!”

Well, yes and no. Yes, I do want to make laws to protect others’ civil rights. Got me there. But those laws don’t force you to be gay. They don’t prevent you from getting married. They don’t force you to be nice to your married same-sex neighbors. They don’t force you to not be a douchebag.

You are, in fact, completely free to keep acting like a douchebag. You’re just not allowed to interfere with the choices of others while doing so.

This is the difference: when your “opinion” extends to making policy, then it’s not “just” an opinion anymore. It’s an action.

I am not tolerant of actions I disapprove of morally. My liberalism doesn’t say I need to be. I don’t have to be okay with you wanting white supremacy enshrined (even further) into law. I don’t have to be tolerant of you wanting a racist to be Attorney General. I don’t have to be tolerant of you voting for a pussy-grabbing grifter to be President of the United States. I don’t have to be tolerant of the Rules of the Senate applying only to women who are Senators.

What you’re not getting, people-who-think-tolerance-extends-to-every-damn-thing-you-say, is that actions have consequences, and that tolerance of those actions helps the fascists and the racists and the sexists.

When it comes right down to it, everyone believes their opinions are right, and differing opinions are wrong. Otherwise…there’d be no opinions. So, yeah, I do think I’m right, and you’re wrong, when we differ. But if it’s because you like sushi and I don’t…whatever. But it’s it’s because I like black people and you don’t…well, the level of wrong I think you are increases by an order of magnitude.

And you’re damn right I am intolerant of your attempting to force that wrong opinion on me and everyone around me. And I will fight to force you to keep your damn opinions off of my body and my country.

TL, DR version: Opinions start being actions when you start electing Nazis based on them.

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