Freaky Friday News: June 27, 2014

Poetry from Finland

The Finish tax agency wants all business to use electronic filing for their tax returns.  To encourage this behavior, they wrote the following poem (as translated by Reuters):

Pencil and eraser,
No longer a racer.
Electronic is in - a clear win!
Come and experience,
Drop your resilience!
CREDIT: REUTERS/CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

A New Macroscelides micus (or Elephant Shrew)

I could bore you with the details of this discovery, but there are really only two important facts about this that you need to know.
  1. There are still more forms of life for us to discover.  The time for discovery continues.
  2. Elephant shrews are completely adorable!
Okay, so number 2 is an opinion, not a fact.  But here are some cool facts about our newly discovered mammal:
  • Third shrew species discovered in the past 10 years
  • Rust-colored
  • Smallest known species of elephant shrew
  • Not a rodent, because shrews lack the large front teeth, but
  • Is a insectivorous mammal
  • Not related to true shrews
  • More closely related to actual elephants
  • Live 2.5 to 4 years in the wild
  • Diurnal
  • Live in monogamous pairs
  • Only live in Africa

Alleged Burglar Caught via Facebook

Nicholas Wig, 26, of Minnesota get the Idiot of the Week award.  While robbing a house, Mr. Wig logged into his Facebook account, and left it connected.  Then, the police found Mr. Wig wearing the stolen watch and carrying the stolen iPhone as if they belonged to him.

I don't know what to say to Mr. Wig, except he might want to contemplate a career change into something a little less intellectually demanding.

Wordless Wednesday: Debit Card Fail

Wow.
Kids, NEVER upload pictures of your credit or debit cards.
And for the love of all that's holy, don't publish your security code online.

Sins of the Father...

When I was growing up, I heard the phrase "the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children" quite a bit at church.  As a kid, I thought, "What a ripoff!  Kids get in trouble for the crap their parents do???"  I mean, I didn't want to end up in hell because of something my parents did.  And did this roll down generations like water?  Was I responsible for my grandparents' actions as well?

As I got older, I realized two important concepts.  First, the quote about "the sins of the father" is actually from Shakespeare's play, "The Merchant of Venice".  Yes, I know that Exodus has several passages that convey the same message, but it's Shakespeare's words that you hear today.  Second, the sins of the father do pass onto his children, but not in a direct way. I can explain it in two words:  role model.

That's right.  We, as parents, model everything for our kids, from how we eat, speak, sleep, handle emotions, get angry, handle conflicts,...  EVERYTHING you do as a parent effects your children. If you smoke, chances are your children will be smokers.  If you are an alcoholic, chances are your children will be alcoholics.  If you throw temper tantrums, flinging items around the house, guess what?  The item flinging will only get worse as your children begin to emulate you.

Even things you don't do matter.  For example, if you and your partner decide not to fight in front of the kids, then your kids have no basis for how to handle conflict as an adult.  If you don't show your kid affection with hugs and kisses, he learns to not be physically demonstrative about his feelings.

But the sins of the father goes beyond single family units.   The same effect happens between generations.  The people in World War II knew what it meant to lack food and items; their children tend to be hoarders.  In the fifties, society created this straight-laced image for people to follow.  The children of the sixties rebelled against this image.

Today, it's happening again.  The militants in Iraq are using the current unrest to attempt to create their own nation.  But if you trace the unrest back in time, it began with the United States and our illegal invasion of their country.  We invaded because Saddam Hussein refused to verbally acknowledge that he had no weapons of mass destruction.  Going back further, we cared about Hussein because he invaded Kuwait in the early 1990s.   Ironically, Hussein came into power because the United States and United Kingdom supported a coup by his political party in the 1960s..  But the original "sin" goes back even further, to the time after World War 2.  The U.S. and Europe took land from the Palestinians and Arabs and gave it to the Jews, creating Israel.  (Note: "Took" is a nice way of saying "stole", but the history books don't use the term "stolen" because the victors write the history of a conflict.)

On top of absconding with land, the U.S. and Europe then divided up the rest of the Middle East with no regard to their own current, informal borders.  This resulted in a mixing of all the local ethnic groups, setting the stage for what we have now - countries where the majority takes advantage of the minority until the minority fights back.

Sadly, fighting in the Middle East actually predates the civil war, with the tradition of people handing down their hatred from one generation to another.  Of course, we have that here in the United States, as backwardly social people hand down their own hatred of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and gays to their children.

In the end, it takes the children recognizing the "sin" - whether it's hatred, racism, physical abuse, alcoholism, smoking,... - and stopping the cycle from continuing.

Wordless Wednesday: Teddy Bear Warrior

"Sweet Halloween Dreams" by begemott on deviantArt
I strongly recommend viewing his portfolio; begemott creates
unique and intriguing pieces of art.

Sex and Gender in the 21st Century

Gay

Transgender

Lesbian

Bisexual 

As society learns to accept people for who they are, the variety of terms used by people to describe themselves has grown.  The terms "gay", "transgender", "lesbian", or "bisexual" drift through our media and conversation.  But to the average John or Jane Doe, what do these words mean?  How are they different from what we know?  How are they similar to what we know?  What are sex and gender in the 21st century?

Sex v.s. Gender

To begin, we need a base understanding of sex and gender. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, sex is: 
1 : either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures
2 : the sum of the structural, functional, and behavioral characteristics of organisms that are involved in reproduction marked by the union of gametes and that distinguish males and females
             ("Sex." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.)

So the term sex refers to a person’s biological and anatomical characteristics. So far, so good. Moving on, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, gender is:
2 a : sex
b : the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex
("Gender." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.)
Here’s the tricky bit. The dictionary lists sex as a definition for the word gender because the two terms can refer to the same thing: a person’s reproductive identity. But in common usage, gender refers to a person’s internal view of themselves, encompassing traits such as a person’s gender identity and sexual orientation, while sex refers to the physical bits.

That’s the definition we’ll use here.

Let’s Talk About Sex

A person’s sex begins at conception with the 23rd chromosome pair. A sperm fertilizes an egg to create a zygote. For the first six weeks, a zygote remains undifferentiated sexually, preparing for the upcoming changes by creating two gonads. Around the 7th week, the gonads of a fetus with XY sex chromosomes transform into testes, releasing androgens to begin the journey to becoming male. Androgens are hormones related to the development and maintenance of male characteristics in mammals; the most well-known androgen is testosterone. The release of androgens causes the fetus to grow male genitalia, male primary sex characteristics, and male wiring of the brain. 

For a fetus with the XX sex chromosomes, the gonads transform into ovaries around the 12th week of gestation. The ovaries then release estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones to create female genitalia, female primary sex characteristics, and female wiring of the brain. In the past few decades, scientists have discovered that female is the default form for a fetus.

Around 99% of all live births are either male or female. The remaining 1% are born neither wholly female or male; these people are designated intersex. Currently, there is no consensus among the medical, scientific, and intersex communities as to an exact definition of intersex. What they agree on is the fact that some intersex people appear either male or female; some have unusually formed genitalia; some are a combination of male and female. The lack of a definition leads to a lack of consensus on what conditions fall under the category intersex. But there are some intersex conditions that all agree on:
  • Klinefelter Syndrome: A condition where a fetus has XXY sex chromosomes. Typically, someone with Klinefelter Syndrome presents as male with secondary female sex characteristics (e.g. breasts). 
  • Turner Syndrome: A female with only one functioning X chromosome, which leads to underdeveloped sex characteristics. 
  • Swyer Syndrome: A fetus born with the XY chromosomes but non-functioning gonads known as gonad streaks. The baby appears to be female but stops maturing at puberty without hormone injections because there are no gonads to produce estrogen or androgens. 
  • Ovo-testes: A condition where a fetus has both male and female genitalia. This is one of the rarest forms of intersex, and historically, people with ovo-testes were called hermaphrodites. But the term hermaphrodite is considered at best a misnomer and at worst a pejorative and, therefore, should not be used. 
  • Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS): AIS is a condition where a fetus is genetically male with XY chromosomes but is biologically resistant to androgens. Please note that a fetus with XX chromosomes can have androgen insensitivity syndrome, but as the fetus does not rely on androgens for development, AIS has little to no effect here. There are three levels of AIS: 
    • In mild AIS, a fetus mostly responds to testosterone, developing male genitalia with full masculinization but lacks the ability to make sperm. 
    • In partial AIS, a fetus has limited response to testosterone, developing male genitalia that are under masculinized and infertile. 
    • In complete AIS, the fetus does not respond to testosterone. The person never goes from female to male, instead outwardly looking female but with no working reproductive organs. 
  • Aphallia: A person born without a penis but with the other male genitalia and sex characteristics. 
  • Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH): A condition where fetuses with XX chromosomes undergo a masculinization effect on the genitalia. This change causes the clitorus to grow large enough to be a small penis while the labia can resemble scrotum. In male fetuses, CAH does not change much at birth but causes complications during puberty. 
As you can see, being born intersex is not a walk in the park. However, the odds of a baby being born intersex are low, from 1 in 1,000 for Klinefelter Syndrome to 1 in 130,000 for Partial AIS.

Let’s Talk About Gender

Like sex, gender begins in the womb. As hormones differentiate the body into male and female anatomy, they also change how the brain is wired. One study found that the neural connective tissue between the left and right hemispheres of the brain were thicker in females at 26 weeks of gestation. Another study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, discovered that female brains are optimized for analytical and intuitive thinking while male brains are optimized for motor skills and perception. But the physical differences in brain matter are the tip of the iceberg. Using MRI machines, scientist have shown that men and women use their brains differently. Men outperform women on tasks that require spatial ability, such as picturing objects in 3D and mathematical ability. Women outperform men on memory recall, verbal ability, verbal fluency, and reading emotions in others. These physical and neurological changes affect a person’s physical, emotional, mental, and behavioral characteristics, creating a person’s gender.

While gender encompasses more, we’ll focus on sexual orientation and gender identity here.

Sexual orientation refers to the enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to another person; the term also refers to a person’s sexual identity. Some common sexual orientations include: 

  • Gay: A person who is attracted to someone of the same sex.
  • Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to other women. Note that there is no male equivalent for lesbian.
  • Bisexual: A person who is attracted to both men and women.
  • Polysexual: A person who is attracted to multiple sexes and genders.
  • Pansexual: A person who is attracted to all sexes and genders.
  • Asexual: A person who is not attracted to either sex.
  • Heterosexual: A person who is attracted to someone of the opposite sex.
  • Homosexual: An outdated term for gay. The LGBT community views this term as derogatory and, therefore, should not be used.

Gender identity refers to how a person views their gender on the female-male spectrum. Some common gender identities are:
  • Cisgender or cis refers to a person whose gender matches their sex. The following terms fall into the cisgender category:
    • cis man
    • cis woman
    • cis male
    • cis female
    • cisgender man
    • cisgender woman
    • cisgender male
    • cisgender female
  • Transgender is an umbrella term that covers anyone whose gender does not match their sex. For example:
    • a person with female genitalia who identifies as a man inside (female to male, or FTM);
    • a person with male genitalia who identifies as a woman inside (male to female, or MTF);
    • a person with either female or male genitalia who identifies as neither feminine or masculine.
  • Trans-sexual refers to a transgender person who pursues medical intervention to change their sex to match their gender identity.
  • Genderqueer is an umbrella term for anyone whose gender fluctuates between masculine, feminine, agender, and ambiguous regardless of their sex.
  • Agender or Neutrois refers to a person who identifies as neither feminine or masculine regardless of their sex. 
  • Bigender refers to a person who identifies as both feminine and masculine regardless of their sex.
  • Trigender refers to a person who identifies as feminine, masculine, and agender regardless of their sex.
  • Pangender refers to a person who identifies with all forms of gender regardless of their sex.
  • Androgyne refers to a person with both masculine and feminine traits. The difference between someone who is bigender and someone who is androgynous is that a bigender person switches between genders at various times while an androgynous person has a single gender that is a blend of femininity and masculinity.
  • Gender Fluid refers to a person who does not identify as a specific gender or set of genders.
  • Gender Questioning refers to a person who is currently undecided upon their gender.

Putting it Together

The vast majority of people are heterosexual and cisgender, whether male or female. But there are also gay, bigender men; bisexual, cis women; hetero, genderqueer women; bisexual, gender fluid men; etc. Just about any combination of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex exist somewhere in the world. According to a Williams Institute study published in 2011, 3.5% of the population in the United States are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and 0.3% are transgender. Or for every 100 people you meet, on average 3-4 people will be gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and for every 300 people you meet, one will be transgender. Chances are you know someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender.

Resources

You'll find more information about the LGBT communities at the following websites:



Net Neutrality - Please Comment!!!

"Net Neutrality" - an alliterative phrase that sounds mostly harmless but encompasses the idea that the data on the Internet is treated equally, regardless of source.  Basically, net neutrality means that Internet providers don't get to say how you use your bandwidth.  It's similar to the concept that the electric company can't impose rules on how you use electricity and the telephone company can't censor who you call.

But Internet providers want to control the bandwidth to promote their own interests.  For example, Comcast throttled their own users' Netflix access during contract negotiations with Netflix.  Because so many Internet providers are also content providers - think AT&T U-verse, Comcast, and Verizon FIOS - these companies have a vested interest in slowing down their competition while maintaining speed on their own websites.

Currently, the FCC is asking for comments on the situation - and we need to act.  The FCC has the power to categorize broadband and the Internet as a Title II service, which would neatly bring the Internet under current law.  But Internet providers are fighting this classification tooth and nail, spreading misinformation about net neutrality and promising not to misuse their power.  Sadly, at least two different Internet providers are already misusing their powers - that's why this is coming up now.

For a good recap on what's happening, I recommend this clip with John Oliver.


To act, just go to fcc.gov/comments and click on proceeding #14-28.  This takes you to a form where you enter your name and address, then your comments.  If you're not certain what to say, I suggest something like:

Dear FCC Commissioners, 
Please protect the American people, and classify Internet service as a common carrier service under Title II.  We need to keep the Internet available to everyone at the same price, and prevent unscrupulous businesses from abusing their power to throttle bandwidth to their competition.

Thank you.


Wordless Wednesday: Gnome Exchange

"So, how much for the fawn?"