Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Throng of Illogicals and Science Denialists Are Going to Storm The Castle

I like Jesse Bering's blog on the Scientific American website.  Whether I agree with him or not I enjoy his writing and he has a good head on his shoulders.  Well this month Jesse got into a tiff with Andrew Sullivan over circumcision.  

Science Denialists and Illogicals Storming
The Citadel of Logic
Jesse doesn't like Andrew calling his penis mutilated.  Well Andrew feel free to call mine anything you wish,  and I will agree with you.  But as I am finding out sticks and stones will break your bones but words will really piss 'em off.  Frankly I kind of believe that one should call a spade a spade, so when I zip it down and have a good look at old pete, well yeah mutilated comes to mind.  But if it will make Jesse feel better, I could call it decorative, designer, avant garde, pretty, aesthetic, minimalist or whatever would be appealing to Jesse's delicate sensibilities.  It makes little difference to me, my delicate sensibilities were hacked off at birth.  It was modified by the best science of the time...I bear the brown racing stripe... ahhh indeed I am a Gomco Clamp Boy!  I could have been on the front of a Wheaties box at the time.     

Anyhow Jesse presents much evidence of the wonders of circumcision.  OK, and he also states that the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) revised their policy statement on circumcision which according to Jesse:
"The consensus regarding this cascade of new datasets—all of which, they claimed, they went over methodically with a fine-toothed comb—moves the AAP away from its historically noncommittal view and towards a clear stance that the benefits of infant male circumcision now unambiguously outweigh its minimal risks when performed under sterile conditions by properly trained physicians." 
OK so gee I guess I am wrong, circumcision is a really good thing.  Jesse claims that there is a 60% reduction in HIV transfer.  I have read some things about that 60% but OK, I'll give Jesse his 60% reduction.  Then in an ever rising crescendo of hysteria Jesse ends the article with this pearl of wisdom:

"I don’t need someone else to tell me what I should be outraged by, Sullivan, thank you very much. It’s certainly not going to be in response to already stressed-out parents acting sensibly as their child’s health advocate and appealing to the ethical directives of professionals, rather than online blowhards who think that repeatedly referring to an act with an amygdala-fuelled term like “mutilation” makes it so. If you want your child to be at an increased risk of urinary tract infections, herpes, genital ulcers, HPV and HIV, that’s entirely your choice, and feel free to celebrate with other science-denialists sharing similarly misplaced passions. But spare me your righteous indignation over those parents today that fail to see their benevolent, educated decision to circumcise their infant sons as an 'attack on their sexual pleasure at birth.'" 

In case you haven't guessed, the emphasis is mine.  So now I am a science-denialist using amygdala-fuelled terms like mutilation, but good Ole' Jesse here is a paragon of emotional stability.  So let's take a look at what the AAP said in their revised policy statement.  From:  

"Although health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns, the benefits of circumcision are sufficient to justify access to this procedure for families choosing it and to warrant third-party payment for circumcision of male newborns. It is important that clinicians routinely inform parents of the health benefits and risks of male newborn circumcision in an unbiased and accurate manner."

Again of course the emphasis is mine.  So does the import of this paragraph warrant Bering's accusation of those who would refuse circumcision as science-denialists?  I really have no interest in Bering's and Sullivan's spat but I do resent being called a science-denialist just because I don't agree with Bering.  But OK I'll concede, I am a science-denialist, but grant me this Jesse,  I am a science-denialist with a mutilated penis and a well fueled amygdala. 

Incidentally I have been counseled by people who are against circumcision to avoid the M-word because it is inflammatory.  But because 1)  I am a little pissed at moment, 2) I am only using it in reference to myself, and  3) that is exactly the word that I feel best describes my condition, I believe that I shall use it for one more day. 

OK I said I would give Jesse his 60% improvement in preventing HIV transfer.  From a practical standpoint what does that mean?  One only needs a condom 40% of the time?  In terms of HIV transfer what real value is attained by circumcision?  HIV is no longer a problem?  Ohhh?  Why did we ever have a problem to begin with in the US?  What about Europe?  The best I can gather Europe and the US have about the same rates of transfer.  Shouldn't the European rate be much higher with the 60% reduction in HIV transfer garnered by circumcision?  Circumcision is relatively rare in Europe.  

Regarding HIV transfer, in a practical sense, being circumcised means that on the average it will take you longer to get infected than it would if you are not circumcised.  But the fact remains that if you engage in continual risky sexual behavior and do not use condoms you will eventually become infected with HIV.  So what exactly has circumcision done for you?  You can get circumcised and have to use condoms all the time, or you can stay intact and have to use condoms all of the time.  The choice is yours.  Oh wait, no.  I am sorry, it's not your choice, it is your parents choice.  I apologize for the confusion.   

Note: I posted comments 16, 19 and 43 at Bering's Blog at the link above. 

Well my second foray into the world of circumcision blogging resulted in two of my comments not being published.  Now we all know that I ain't too smart, intellect has never been one of my claims,  but wouldn't that qualify as censoring?  Of course the blog belongs to an individual and it is hers to publish or not as she sees fit, but gee, post a note that comments from illogicals will not be posted.  I could go waste my time else where.  Well here are the two blog posts:

SquintMom, Resources For Evidence Based Parenting, What The Science Says About Circumcision: Part 1 — The Benefits

Her conclusion for the benefits:

"Science Bottom Line:* There is no scientific evidence that strongly supports circumcision in the United States for the sole purpose of preventing disease.** 

**Obviously, this is not to say that there’s no reason to circumcise, nor is it to say that there’s no SCIENTIFIC reason to circumcise in areas with epidemic HIV, etc. The point here is that the argument FOR circumcision in the U.S. can’t be made on the basis of scientific evidence, and must instead be made on the basis of values and beliefs."

SquintMom, Resources For Evidence Based Parenting, What The Science Says About Circumcision: Part 2 — The Risks  

Her conclusion regarding the risks:

Science Bottom Line:* There is no scientific evidence that strongly links routine infant circumcision with appropriate analgesiato physical or psychological harm.** Because there are many options available for managing pain during infant circumcision, however, there’s simply no justification for medical circumcision without analgesia. 

**Obviously, this is not to say that no one is ever hurt by circumcision, or that there are not individuals who wish they hadn’t been circumcised. However, the SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE does not provide support for the argument that routine infant circumcision is harmful. As such, the argument AGAINST circumcision in the U.S. can’t be made on the basis of scientific evidence, and must instead be made on the basis of values and beliefs.

So I thought, cool!  This person did what appeared to be a fair assessment and arrived at the conclusion that the evidence neither supports or refutes circumcision.  OK I can buy that.  So then I started reading through the comments, and I ran into this inquiry by a mother to be:

"Hi. This is my first time commenting, but I’ve been reading your blog for a while. I am pregnant with a boy and am trying to decide whether to circumcise. I posted on the forums, and the women there are very anti-circumcision. It seems like they make a lot of unsupportable claims, though. For instance, they say that there’s no reason for a boy to look like his father, since they won’t be sitting around with their penises out. I think (but I don’t have the scientific evidence to back it up) that children probably get a lot of their early sense of sexual identity from comparing their bodies to those of their parents. A little girl knows she’ll GROW breasts, and a little boy will get a bigger penis like his father’s…but an uncircumcised boy knows his penis won’t look like his (circumcised) father’s penis when he gets older. Also, my understanding is that the majority of white, middle-class boys in the US are circumcised. What would be the effect on a boy’s psychology of looking around the bathroom or gym and realizing his penis is different? Also, what if he’s in high school or college and hears girls making fun of the way an uncircumcised penis looks?"
So we are not talking about religious circumcision,  HIV, HPV, penile cancer, cervix cancer, sensation, child rights, wishes of the adult, or any other issue than appearance. Is appearance a valid consideration for circumcising a child? In my mind no. Appearance does not exceed the right of the individual. But let's put that aside. I can understand this woman’s concern.  So I wrote the following reply concerning appearance:
"Let’s turn your question around. Immigrants from Africa move in next door. They are nice people and they are going to have a ritual circumcision of their daughter. You have been invited to the ceremony. How much weight will the argument hold with you, that if they fail to circumcise their daughter, she will not look like her mother, her grandmother, her aunts, or her older sisters? Valid argument? Would you object, or simply agree that this girl should physically resemble her relatives?
I am circumcised. I have no idea if my father was circumcised. My son was born in 1983 and he was circumcised. Why wouldn’t he? Its what we do. A decision I deeply regret today. I have not seen my son’s penis since he was 5 years old, and I don’t believe that he has ever seen mine. We don’t exactly lounge around in the buff comparing our goods.
In any event if we are going to use the argument of the importance of appearance, then we should actively support female circumcision in Africa because we don’t know how much damage may result by a generation of daughters not resembling the mothers. If that sounds a bit absurd, and I hope it does, then think again about how that argument sounds for the perpetuation of routine male circumcision in the US."

I wrote another comment (which I did not copy) at the end of the comments.  I complimented her on research and presenting a balanced view on circumcision.  I then went into a rant but a well behaved rant and simply asked why it was that I was circumcised in 1949, and  I replied  with "Well ah you know ah hygiene, prevention of phimosis,  ah err ah he will look like his father." In other words nobody knows.  I then went on to provide a rushed, brief, and admittedly not terribly well written history of circumcision in the US.  The point that I was trying to make was that I was circumcised in 1949 because Victorian zealots 60 to 100 years earlier were convinced that masturbation was going to be the downfall of the Western world and some how the practice not only caught on but became medicalized.  The root historical reason for medical infant circumcision in the US is to blunt sexual pleasure for both masturbation and coitus.  

So I posted both comments on SquintMom's blog Thursday night.  They were awaiting moderation for about 24 hours.  I checked last night, the comments were still waiting.  I checked this morning and my comments had vanished. 

SquintMom posted the following comments last night to another person's post.  Normally I would not copy a reply to another person, but in this comment she also indicates, indirectly, why my two comments were censored:

  • "SquintMom September 21, 2012 | 8:18 pm
    Thank you for your comment. I want to make a few things clear: I personally do not take a stance for or against circumcision, though many who have commented suggest that I do. Secondly, religion — the reason many people circumcise — is a force separate and apart from scientific logic. That is to say, a person who would not otherwise believe circumcision is a good idea because the natural state of the male is with a foreskin might choose to circumcise anyway if they believe that it’s a mandate from god as a result of a covenant with Moses or some such. Religion, therefore, becomes its own driving force that can neither be supported nor refuted with scientific literature. This is why, even though the literature leaves ME PERSONALLY (and anyone else looking at JUST the science) at a stalemate, circumcisions will continue to take place among those for whom the decision is a moral one rather than a logical one.

    Reply SquintMom September 21, 2012 | 8:32 pm
    Actually, reading your comment really made me think (enough so that I am posting a second response to it). When I wrote these two circumcision posts, having looked at all the literature, I concluded that I was at a scientific stalemate. As more and more ridiculous comments from intactivists who were citing irrelevant, poorly conducted, or faulty studies started to pour in, I believe I started to realign myself with the pro-circ group simply to distance myself from the throngs of illogicals (a cognitive bias: if they are illogical and I am not, then I must not agree with their conclusion). The ridiculous comparison of male circumcision to female circumcision is yet another failure of logic that works against the intactivists when it comes to speaking to scientists. The fact that someone randomly decided to call the two procedures by the same word makes them no more similar than inflammable (an object that catches fire easily) and inflammable (an object that is not flammable), as I pointed out in an earlier comment in which I addressed the embryological origins of the tissues taken in the two cases.Point(s) being:

    1) Thank you once again for your comment. It’s nice to run across an intactivist who understands that the science does not come out against circumcision, even though ethics very well may.

    2) I hope you occasionally take the time (frustrating though I’m sure it is) to educate fellow intactivists about misuse and misinterpretation of science, and to explain that when a scientist says “The science can’t be used either to support or oppose circumcision in a conclusive way,” said scientist is not necessarily pro-circ, nor is said scientist necessarily saying that ETHICS can’t play a role in making the decision."

    Again obviously the emphasis is mine. OK, now considering my comment posted above regarding the family from Africa, apparently my use of the word circumcision with females is verboten. OK fine. So lets call it Female Genital Surgical Procedure, or let’s call it whatever you want to call it, but I have seen it called female circumcision. My point is the end appearance of the genitals after these procedures have been performed. 

    Does the Male Genital Surgical Procedure change the appearance of a penis?  Yes. 

    Does Female Genital Surgical Procedures change the appearance of the vulva? Yes. 

    Again please remember that we are discussing appearance.  So I would like to know how does what I said in my above comment qualify to this statement:

    The ridiculous comparison of male circumcision to female circumcision is yet another failure of logic that works against the intactivists when it comes to speaking to scientists. 
    How is what I said about appearance a failure of logic? Do both procedures change the appearance of the genitals? Yes.  So how exactly is  a concern about the female appearance in Africa not valid, if concern for male appearance in the United States is valid.  Please show me where my logic has failed. 

    I believe SquintMom has provided the explanation:

    As more and more ridiculous comments from intactivists who were citing irrelevant, poorly conducted, or faulty studies started to pour in, I believe I started to realign myself with the pro-circ group simply to distance myself from the throngs of illogicals (a cognitive bias: if they are illogical and I am not, then I must not agree with their conclusion). 
    So you see all is explained in the end.  How could there possibly be logic in my comment?  As a member of the throngs of iilogicals it would be virtually impossible for me to be logical, for if I were logical then I could not be in the throng of illogicals, but because I am in the throng of illogicals it would illogical for me to be logical.  Ergo to protect the sensitive scientific mind from yet another circular logic problem, SquintMom decided wisely to censor my comments.  

    So let me see if I have this right.  She studies circumcision, garners a gang of references, comes to the reasonable conclusion that:

    "Science can’t be used either to support or oppose circumcision in a conclusive way."
    Then the Neanderthal hordes descended upon her with bad data, bad logic, and bad breath so she decided to align herself with the pro-circ group.

    Elementary my dear Watson.  

    Well SquintMom, I am stupid--I really don't pose a threat to you.  So if you would like to come over and comment, I won't censor your comments, like you did mine.   I don't fear brilliance like you seem to fear the throngs of illogicals.  I do keep a shotgun handy, so if they mob you with their furry smelly bodies, I can dispatch several of them and the rest will run away in fear of the thunder from the gods.   

    Well it is Saturday night, approaching midnight.  Sorry but I must take leave, don my hooded tunic, fetch my pitchfork, axe and torch. I am gathering with the throng over at the castle. We are going to storm the logicals tonight.

    Note: I have been rather liberal about granting validity to people's opinions in this post.  It was for the purpose of the argument at hand, whether their opinions or data had validity or not was irrelevant to my argument.   Most Intactivists (my fellow illogical throng) would not agree with my willy-nilly conceding of points regarding willy and rightfully so.   If you are considering circumcising your son please research this with far more diligence than what I have used in this post.  (Edit: the Edell video below is a good starting point.)   The 60% improvement in the prevention of HIV transfer is hotly disputed.  To me it is irrelevant in a practical sense.  What if it is 20%, do you need a condom?  Yes.  What if it is 80%, do you need a condom?  Yes!  So what do I care what the real percentage is, it is irrelevant if you would like to remain HIV free, ergo circumcision is useless in the prevention of HIV transfer in the US.  The AAP's previous policy said this: 

    There does appear to be a plausible biologic explanation for this association in that the mucous surface of the uncircumcised penis allows for viral attachment to lymphoid cells at or near the surface of the mucous membrane, as well as an increased likelihood of minor abrasions resulting in increased HIV access to target tissues. However, behavioral factors appear to be far more important risk factors in the acquisition of HIV infection than circumcision status. 
    Again, obviously, emphasis mine. 

    Edit 8-31-13:  Here is an excellent video on the foreskin and the ramifications of circumcision:

    YouTube, Anatomy of the Penis: Penile and Foreskin Neurology, Ken McGrath


    This post was created with material from my comments at:

    My previous post on male circumcision:

    EDIT 10-4-12:   Here is an interesting video discussing circumcision.

    Here is another video that rationally explains the legal differences between male and female circumcision.  It does not propose making female circumcision legal, but does question why male circumcision is legal.  It also questions SquintMom's contention flat statement that "The ridiculous comparison of male circumcision to female circumcision is yet another failure of logic that works against the intactivists when it comes to speaking to scientists."  When one looks at the total spectrum of what could be labeled female circumcision and considers the legal ramifications, such comparisons are not ridiculous and to label them so may be indicative of bias.   

    Ironically the principle that American society operates under regarding male infant circumcision is hinted at by a quote by Stalin:

    One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic. 

    It is not my intention to make a ridiculous comparison between circumcision and mass political murder.  But consider this, in the years of my childhood, teens, and young adulthood I have seen exactly one uncut penis.  We should not confuse commonality and social acceptance with morality and ethical behavior.  In a world where circumcision did not exist, you would be outraged to read that some crazy parents had circumcised their infant son.  Yet for the past 80 years American society has circumcised millions of infants without their knowledge or consent.    

    EDIT 10-28-2012:  Upon re-reading this I would also like to take exception to   SquintMom's statement:

    **Obviously, this is not to say that no one is ever hurt by circumcision, or that there are not individuals who wish they hadn’t been circumcised. However, the SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE does not provide support for the argument that routine infant circumcision is harmful. As such, the argument AGAINST circumcision in the U.S. can’t be made on the basis of scientific evidence, and must instead be made on the basis of values and beliefs.
    Emphasis mine.  But in fact, hospital records do show that a certain percentage of circumcisions are botched.  The intactivists claim that the actual rates exceed the published rates and they provide some compelling arguments for the reasons for such inaccuracies.  My God!  Could SquintMom's first sentence be illogical with her second sentence?  If someone is hurt, then is not circumcision harmful?  

    SquintMom's statement is false as it is written.  If the SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE does not provide support for the argument that routine infant circumcision is harmful,  then hospital records are either wrong about circumcision or are not part of scientific evidence.  So are the hospitals lying?  Why would a hospital falsely admit to botching circumcisions?  Are hospital records inadmissible to scientific evidence? 

    Taken at face value SquintMom's statement would indicate that no one will ever be harmed by circumcision-- zero complications, zero botched circumcisions, zero infant deaths attributable to circumcision.   I don't believe that this was her intent, (her first sentence contradicts the second) so I will give her the benefit of the doubt and just say  that her statement was poorly written.  

    If you want to make a positive statement about the harm of routine infant circumcision then you have to make a statement that looks at risk (fancy term for harm) verses benefit.  Here is what the AAP had to say in their policy statement:

    "Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it."
    BTW the intactivists would dispute this statement, but let's not go there, again because it is irrelevant  to my argument.  Looking at the above statement SquintMom's statement is just plain wrong.  The AAP is stating that there is a risk, ergo there is some level of harm, but the potential benefits exceed the risk.  Then employing a little logical jujitsu they state the procedure is justified for families who choose it.   In other words, REMEMBER YOU CHOSE TO DO THIS TO YOUR SON, SO ALL OF THE RISKS AND BENEFITS ARE SQUARELY ON YOU, NOT US.  Because we also state:   (the)"health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns."

    So what is it AAP, should we or should we not circumcise our sons?  It's not like flossing your teeth.  Once its done, its done.  

    So getting back to SquintMom, her statement at face value is false.  There is harm done in a certain number of circumcisions.  Again I will give her the benefit of the doubt and just say that she stated her point poorly.  She probably didn't mean that there is zero harm, but that the benefits exceed the harm.  But for someone who is so scientific, so sensitive to the attacks of furry minded illogicals, who holds the scientific method as paramount, such an omission is far more serious than the blatant denial of science that babbling idiots like me purport.  Looking at her statements again, which statement has the greater weight.

    A.  Obviously, this is not to say that no one is ever hurt by circumcision. 

    B.  However, the SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE does not provide support for the argument that routine infant circumcision is harmful.

    BTW, the screaming capitals are SquintMom's not mine.  

    To paraphrase the words of Rumpelstiltskin from the TV show, "Well dearie, remember logic always comes with a price." 

    If you are going to make claims of how logical and scientific you are, you best make sure that all your statements are logical and scientific.  

    EDIT 7-26-13:  There is a very well written and poignant account of a mother's struggle with the decision for circumcising her sons at Lilly Cannon's Moralogus:


Friday, September 21, 2012

Which of the following best describes your gender?

Once again a blogging buddy has provided me a golden opportunity to post by simply copying my reply to one of their posts.  Thank you Fiftyodd!

Here is her post at her excellent blog:

Fiftyodd, Life in the 21st Century - Political Correctness, September 21, 2012

In her post Fiftyodd observes the rather politically correct wording of the inquiry regarding gender on a survey she was filling out.

Which of the following best describes your gender?     _____ M   _____ F

Seems kind of wordy doesn't it?  Usually if you have forgotten, a quick peek in your pants can confirm accurately through piping analysis the answer to this request.  Usually it goes something like this:

Insy =  F    Outsy = M

Pretty straight forward wouldn't you say?  Perhaps visual aids will help.

Example of Female Pipe Threads
Image Credit:

As you can see in this lovely photo of a standard pipe cap, the threads could only be described as INSY, hence they are female pipe threads.

Example of Male Pipe Threads
Image Credit:

Now compare the threads above to the image directly to left,  the threads are definitively OUTSY, hence they are male pipe threads.  Now a bit of confusion comes to mind because this particular object is known as a pipe nipple, a terminology that I never quite understood, but let's not lose our way.

I am hoping that all the money I spent buying Swagelok® fittings in my years of engineering will spare me the wrath of their corporate lawyers regarding my heist of their images.  Hey remember guys I could have bought Hoke® or Parker®, but not only was I dedicated to Swagelok®, I was something of an expert knowing many of the part numbers in my head.  I sent a lot of bucks your way, granted not my money, but I had control of I don't want to hear any crap about deleting these images.

By the way when it comes to pipe threads there is a polite terminology for fastening them together.  You can mate the fittings,  couple the fittings,  or engage the threads.  Less sophisticated, you can screw them together.  Pipe threads however will never copulate, engage in coitus, or have intercourse.  Yes technically it would seem to be a very proper and accurate description, and terminologies that would be proper in mixed company at tea in the afternoon, but it is just not done.  Nor have I ever seen the F-word used, except perhaps when the completed joint leaked during hydrostatic testing.   But I stray, forgive me.

The question at hand was:

Which of the following best describes your gender?     _____ M   _____ F

So I hope the piping images above will confer the basic understanding of gender assignments based on visual piping analysis.

It seems very straight forward.  What can be simpler?  But upon further thought, I added this comment to Fiftyodd's post:

The simplicity of the answer boxes certainly does not match the implied complexity of the question. They provided a digital answer to a question asked with an analogue implication. Did they have a write-in section?
Alas without a write-in section or the choice of DRIED UP OLD COOT, I would not be able to answer this question honestly. I imagine that my hormone levels are feminine, age reduces testosterone, and I am no doubt flooded with estrogen.

Fiftyodd then replied back that there was no write-in section in the survey.  She also tried to cheer me up by stating that she thought I sounded masculine.  That is very nice of her, but really?  I know better, after all I am the guy that lives within me.  So upon further reflection on how I could honestly answer this question considering the implications of "best describes", I wrote back:

But Fiftyodd,

"Which of the following best describes your gender?"

The question almost demands a further rich and detailed explanation. If they simply wanted to know a plumbing based answer, could not the question been posed:

Gender? _____M _____F

For instance on my driver's license it states: Sex: M. Technically that is a correct answer and it agrees with every document ever generated about me (well except some graffiti on my locker once in junior high). As an aside I have often been tempted to reply:

Sex? Yes!

But when you ask "Which of the following best describes your gender?" now many factors come to mind.

-- A young marine called me an "Air Force Pussy" at Kadena Air Base in 1973.

-- My wife and son laugh at me because I love the movie "Sleeping in Seattle". They have called me a big wussie.

--I have been called a bleeding heart liberal c--t when defending various aspects of feminism to the boys at work.

--I hate sports and NASCAR!!!!

--The boys at work have described my various interests as c--ty, as in "Grow a set and quit reading that c--ty shit."

--I freely admit that I love my wife and prefer being with her than having a night out with the boys.

--I refused to go to the girly joints on business trips. I was subjected to much derision over that but I noticed nobody else went without me, but I deprived them of the opportunity to go.  I didn't have them shackled.  They could do what they pleased. 

--My wife's uncle wanted to stop in Hooters for a burger. I told him I was not allowed in Hooters. He made fun of me later in front of the entire family. (Ha Ha! Little did he realize I got laid that night because of that refusal...ha! Some times nice guys finish first. There is method to my wussiness.)

--I read Fifty Shades of Grey.

--I am currently reading Vagina by Naomi Wolf. (I suppose the boy's from work comments would literally be true in this case...oh dear I hope Wolf doesn't read this, she will lose 3 nights sleep--someone called a vagina a bad name.)

--As I get older I seem to be getting a little puffy about the breasts.  Breasts!  What the hell?  Well pecs seem to be an awfully strong term for what I have...not man boobs per se, but a little puffy...I tell myself that it is just fat.

--While I don't like opera per se, I would rather have to sit through an opera than a boxing match.

--I have a inner goddess--she is 13 years old and just had her first period. She loves romance.

--If my mother could read my inner goddess's thoughts she would repeat the line she made about a flighty female cousin back when we were teens: "A good 6 inches of hard manhood delivered furiously and often would straighten that girl right out." Oh dear the implications of that to me now are most unpleasant.

--I have a inner cool dude--he is 9 years old and likes spaghetti, pizza, and hamburgers, and fantasizes about what girls look like down there--it has to be really cool.
--If my mother could read my inner cool dude's thoughts she would be very concerned about impending self abuse when I reached puberty. 

--My good friend Alicia kicked my ass in the comments on my blog for my lamenting violence and excessive competition in women's sports.

--Estrogen!  I worry about it, both environmental and ingested.

Do you see what I mean? Yes, I identify myself as a man to the world, but when you start digging deeper can a simple male or female answer adequately answer the question...

"Which of the following best describes your gender?"

Oh by the way, I really love women's underwear, black stockings and red high heel shoes...

with my wife properly contained there-in. Oh my!

You can read about how I got my ass kicked by three women one time when I was feeling my oats:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Persistence of Memory

The Persistence of Memory,  Salvador Dali

Every now and again something will happen to remind me of just how unreliable our memories are, well mine anyway.  Every marriage has its little inside jokes.  I was relating one of these to an internet friend when I was once again reminded of just how lousy my memory is.  

My parents used a sexist term that I attributed to the World War II generation, tomato, but always pronounced ta-mAy-ta.  A tomato was a sexually attractive and probable flirtatious woman, something of a rough equivalent to “broad” or “babe”.  Tomatoes were not sluts or whores, but then again not exactly the wholesome girl next door either.  I checked the dictionary bundled with my computer and there is no reference to a tomato being anything other than a tasty salad ingredient.  I checked the Urban Dictionary and it had a variety of usages for tomatoes, some quite nasty.  The one that would align with my usage here, was quite graphic, and exceeded the intensity that I would associate to the word.  No need for the F-word here, that is understood.  Also there was no mention of it being of WWII vintage. 

Anyhow, my wife and I have always been a little amused with the term, and we have this little private joke.  Upon seeing a large and nice looking tomato (the vegetable / or fruit if you must) I will stare at the tomato with an astonished look and say “What a magnificent tomato!”  and my wife will reply in a squeaky falsetto  “Oh thannnk youuuuu.”  The joke is based on the “knockers” scene from the Mel Brooks movie Young Frankenstein.

Here is where the persistence of my memory goes awry.  I have a very detailed memory of the scene that is visual in nature.  Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn approach a pair of large doors on a castle.  Kahn is wearing a very low cut peasant’s blouse and has an abundance of cleavage showing.  Wilder does not have a hat on an his hair is very wild and Einstein like.  On each door is a huge knocker.  Wilder notices the knockers and stops and stares for a moment in pure astonishment and says “What a magnificent set of knockers.”  Madeline Kahn puckers her lips up shyly looks down and sort of quivering her head says in a very high pitched squeaky falsetto “Ohhhhh thaannnk yooouuuuu” employing a Betty Boop eyelash flutter. 

Well as you can see my memory of this incident is rather inaccurate.  Notably it was not Madeline Kahn, but Teri Garr and there is not near the drama that I remember.  Garr does not speak in falsetto and Wilder has a hat. This is totally not the scene that I remember, and what makes it worse is that I even have my own internal video of it which follows the written script above.  

So what is going on here?  Why is my memory of this scene so terribly wrong?  

According to an episode of Radiolab, 

our metaphors for memory are for the most part wrong.  We often think of memory as being a biological filling cabinet in which memories are stored in a very accurate and detailed manner. We may have problems recalling the memory but it is often regarded as a location problem.  Find the right mental cabinet and correct drawer, and you will fairly accurately remember what you had placed there years ago.  WRONG!   Well perhaps it is the equivalent to a large hard drive or memory card, where sensual stimuli and perhaps a story are some how recorded into the neurons and are available for an exacting playback.  WRONG. 

It seems the actual mechanism is that protein bridges are in some manner constructed between neurons.  These bridges do not allow us to play back a memory per se, but  rather to re-create the situation in our minds.  Research has found that a certain drug can not only block the laying down of the proteins during memory formation, the drug can also block the action of the proteins during recollection, thus reducing or eliminating the memory.  This blocking action during recollection is felt to be evidence that recollection is not simply the access and reading of a data file, but rather the re-creation of the event mentally.  We actually experience a mini-theatrical performance of the event which then lays down some new protein bridges. 

So the problem with the persistence of memory is that these new Broadway performances are subject to our experience since the original event and our emotions at the time of the recollection.  So they get modified in the remembering. The more one remembers an incident, the more likely the memory is going to be colored if not corrupted by the very act of remembering.  How we would like to think of our various recollections is that of making a xerox copy of the original.  So after 50 recollections you basically have the same recollection as the original.  But the reality of it is more like the one of those experiments you did in school where the teacher hands a written paragraph to the first student at the left front desk.  The student reads the paragraph then whispers the story to the student behind him.  That student whispers the story to the next...all the way to the last student in the right rear of the class.  The last student then relays the story he heard verbally to the entire class.  Invariably the last student’s story is radically different from the written story handed to the first student.  Each student colors or emphasizes the story in a different manner in his re-creation of the story.  

What is even more frightening is that not only are our memories malleable by our own experience and and emotions they can be subject to modification by others.  In the second segment of the memory episode at Radiolab, they speak of research where people’s memories were intentionally modified with events that did not happen.  How you ask, imagining torture, or some scary contraption with a rats nest of electrodes affixed to the subject’s skull?  No! Quite simply through persuasive discussion.  It turns out to be rather easy to get someone to recall an event  if they believe you are being truthful.  

The danger in this lies in court testimony of eye witnesses.  It is very easy for investigators to suggest to an eye witness a modification to their memory.  As was mentioned in the podcast, an eyewitness see a crime committed.  The perpetrators leave in a car.  The car is rather unformed in the witnesses' memory.  An investigator asks, “Was it a red Camaro?”  There is some element of chance that the unformed car (which could be a green Toyota) will harden into a red Camaro in the person’s mind, just from the question. If it does, then that red Camaro is now going to be what the witness saw, not some shadowy generic vehicle but a very specific red Camaro and each recollection will give strength to the red Camaro.  There is probably a very critical period of time in which the witness needs to be very honest himself and the investigator and state “I don’t know. I can not remember the details of the car.”  If the witness is trying to please the investigator, the suggested red Camaro may very well become a “fact” in the witnesses' memory without his realization. 

I experienced this many times at work.  Something turns to shit during a test.  When this happens it always happens fast.  Slam bam thank you ma’m, and what the hell just happened?   You experience some loud noise, a whole bunch of alarms, and then the power trips. It usually occurs in about 10 to 30 seconds.  Generally you have nothing more than a ruined test.  But there may be a lot of man hours involved in that test, and you have to find out what happened.  So you sift back through the data and you start to construct a story.  You are not telling a line of BS, you are trying to figure out what happened (although in a way to cover your ass to some degree in the process).  What I found was that in the recollection of the incident I would remember more and more was the fabricated story made of words that the data presented and less and less of what I actually experienced with my senses which went something like this BOOM, WHOOSH, BANG, BZZZZZZZZZ, WHAM, THE ROAR OF VARIOUS PUMPS, ONE ALARM...TWO ALARMS...THREE ALARMS...POWER TRIP. LOTS OF ALARMS FLASHING LIGHTS AND KLAXONS SOUNDING AND THE CONTINUING ROAR OF PUMPS, RELIEF VALVES HOWLING, AND A SECONDARY TRIP OF ALL THE POWER TO THE FACILITY...BLACK AND SILENCE EXCEPT FOR THE RELIEF VALVES WHICH ARE DEAFENING.  

Teri Garr is in the scene, not Madeline Kahn. 

I can’t say I miss those incident reports.  Explaining a f--- up was never fun, even when no human error was at fault such as lightening strikes and power failures.
Finding the “What Knockers” YouTube clip was a lot of fun by comparison.  I was amazed at how wrong my memory of the scene has become.  To tell you the truth I don’t think that I remembered that Teri Garr was even in the movie.  I remembered Madeline Khan and her iconic voice and somehow substituted her into the knockers scene.  

It was my wife that actually started the joke. Years ago, I innocently made some comment about one of our garden tomatoes, and she replied “Oh thank you” in a squeaky falsetto.  I looked at her dimwittedly and she had to explain.  Well that started it.  The joke has been going on for better than three decades.  It is nothing but a silly joke, but one that glues us together through the commonality of experience.  It is really old and trite, yet it never fails to get a small chuckle.  It is not the humor that is important, it is the bonding, the shared experience.  It has been used with melons, Pop Tarts, plastic jugs, walnuts (in reverse), gourds,  even felines.  Felines?  Well every now and again the cat will sit in her lap.  “What a magnificent .... “ 

Image Credits:

Persistence of Memory, Salvadore Dali: Wikipedia, The Persistence of Memory