This...

Sep. 24th, 2017 05:08 am
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Twitter user @astrokatey (Katey Alatalo) just posted this in 22 parts, which I will present in bullet form here. I have heard these sorts of stories from fellow students (as a student) and from professional scientists (as a radio inteviewer). Science (and STEM in general) is supposed to be a meritocracy, and it does best when it is, but it is also a human endeavour and wrought with all the failings and successes of all human activities. As soon as privileged thinking enters the picture, the quality of the science goes down because those with privilege know they don't have to try as hard to get the same recognition of their work or careers. It just so happens that most of those with privilege are white and male (and often in the latter part of their careers). It is hard to make space for others not exactly like ourselves, but that is (imho) one of the defining aspects of civilization and civil society.
  • This article (NYT "Push for Gender Equality in Tech? Some Men Say It’s Gone Too Far") has made me super angry. Do you want to know what it is like trying to be a woman in a scientific space? Let me tell you.
  • Your teachers will start telling you when you are young that you are “not ready” for advanced math.
  • I was just lucky my mother stood up for me with that teacher. Otherwise I would not have been in calculus in high school.
  • In college, you will be in classes where your male classmates will tell you how easy the homework was. You’ll doubt yourself a lot.
  • Only to find out they were scoring Cs while you were getting As. Be ready for them to also say things like “women aren’t naturally scientists”.
  • Those same men will look at you like a possible person to date, when you just want to do your work. You learn to close yourself off.
  • Then, if you’re lucky, the president of Harvard will give a speech about women being biologically inferior in science.
  • And you’ll get to listen to your peers repeating that all around you. You get into top grad schools, are told it’s because you’re a woman.
  • You go. Then your advisor makes you uncomfortable by staring at your chest [she linked to this article: "How Sexual Harassment Halts Science"].
  • You make it clear they made you uncomfortable. So they isolate you, insult you, and try to drive out of science.
  • When it is too much, you report it to the chair. Who tells you that you are overreacting, or lying. And threatens to throw you out.
  • You put your head down and try hard as you can not to “rock the boat” after the chair did you the “favor” of letting you switch advisors.
  • The stress of merely surviving saps you of the creative energy you needed to write and advance academically.
  • AND that ex-advisor is using his platform to denigrate you and your science.
  • MIRACULOUSLY you make it out. You graduate, you get your Ph.D. and you get a postdoc.
  • You work your BUTT off to catch up to peers. Build the networks your advisor usually helps you build and manage to get good science done.
  • YOU DID IT! You got a fellowship!! You talk about your struggles. Many don’t believe you.
  • Every day, articles like the one in the New York Times come out to remind you your voice matters less than a spoiled white boy’s.
  • And those classmates and those harassers come back to your mind. And you wonder…
  • Was the cost of having the audacity to want to be an astronomer while also being a woman worth it?
  • Most women in science I know share some of my narrative. Do most men? No. They were assumed from kids to be sciencey.
  • When the day comes that vast majority of science women DO NOT have a tale like mine, then, New York Times, we can talk “biology”.

It is the two lines "the stress of merely surviving saps you of the creative energy you needed to write and advance academically" and "you work your butt off to catch up to peers and build the networks your advisor usually helps you build and manage to get good science done" that, to me, highlight why action needs to be taken to address sexism (and racism, and classism, and ableism, and...) in the sciences. Societies have huge problems with discrimination and building those walls doesn't protect it, it makes it weaker and has a huge opportunity cost (imagine if all of those people that are interested and good at things were the ones given the opportunities instead of those who are meh about the whole thing but do it because it's easy because they are privileged... that is lost opportunity for all of us). This is also why professional organizations need to up their game when it comes to taking active measures to reverse the historic inequities that exist in their respective fields: the way the system work is that no matter how well someone does in their formative years, if they are part of a marginalized group they were not permitted to do as much as their privileged peers (I am, at the moment, quite frustrated with the Canadian Association of Physicists... they are doing a poor job at addressing the institutionalized discrimination in the field of physics in Canada). Again, we are all poorer for it. If we can't get this to work in the sciences (remember? supposed meritocracy?), then what chance do we have of sorting this out in society as a whole?

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Our new head of state in Canada is a female astronaut... how frickin' cool is that!?!!!

Former astronaut Julie Payette to be Canada's next governor general

She is also a computer engineer with a commercial pilot licence, and is also an accomplished athlete, pianist, and choral singer.
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Received in the past hour...

Dear Phelonius:

Congratulations! I am pleased to welcome you to the Bachelor of Arts Honours Women's and Gender Studies program at Carleton University. Enclosed are details regarding your offer of admission...


As stated before, I have completed all the requirements to graduate (they included an audit confirming it... the requirements change year over year, so it was possible that I could have gotten caught by something I didn't know about, but I'm good). So... as soon as I have graduated from my B.Sc. Honours program (I was told it would be around the end of May sometime, possibly early June), I can apply to graduate with the B.A. Honours (I already know my final grade as well, it's an A- ... not stellar, but pretty amazing for a degree I had not intended to get when I went to university, and much better than my final grade for physics, ugh). The convocation will be in the fall some time I believe. If you're in Ottawa on June 13, you are cordially invited to an apres-graduation soirée at my place in the evening (if you don't know the coordinates, message me).

In celebration, I present one of my favourite videos (it always makes me smile... and shake my head a little at it as I watch):



Never a dull moment!
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I just got my grade for the last class I had to take (4th year quantum mechanics), and I passed. I did not get the mark I was hoping for, but moving on to a new phase of my life is much more important (it has been so many years of being stressed out of my mind 24/7/365.25, it is going to take me a while to decompress). As such, I will be graduating in June (well, officially before then I presume, but ceremonially in June). I will have a B.Sc. Honours in Theoretical Physics with a Minor in Mathematics. As soon as I get the official word that I have graduated (it is pending now and needs to be approved by the university Senate, along with approvals for everyone else graduating), I will be applying for admission to the B.A. Honours Women's and Gender Studies programme. Having completed all of the requirements for that programme already, as soon as I'm accepted (presuming, of course), I will be applying to graduate from that as well (it will be a fall convocation for that).

Anyone in the Ottawa area is cordially invited to a party at my place the evening of Tuesday June 13th, which is the day of my convocation. I will hold a post-graduation party as well within a couple of weeks of that (probably the weekend of the 24th) for those who can't make it out on a weekday night. Just private message me if you don't know the way... Note: if you ask me for the way to San Jose, then that song will be stuck in my head, and I will hate you ;).
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Just emailed...

The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen,

Given the deplorable behaviour of the government of the United States of America with regards to the targeting of those with Muslim religious, ethnic, or national ties, and the unconsionable rejection of refugees (many of whom can trace their plight to actions on the part of the United States), it would seem prudent in both the short and long term at this point in time to immediately repeal the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement. The situation to the south of the border is just going to get worse and if Canada is truly committed to mitigating the terrible situations that refugees find themselves in, especially now that they are being abandoned or even demonized by such a major world power as the United States, we must be proactive in sending a message that there are still humanitarian countries left in the world that are concerned with the ongoing refugee crises happening in so many places.

As many have said since the executive order was signed, the basic premises that the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement was signed under have been substantively undermined, and it now presents a grave risk to refugees and exposes Canada to potentially unwelcome scrutiny if it fails to take timely action. I, and others, recognize that the government in Canada must be cautious in its actions such that they not be viewed as directly attacking the administration in Washington, D.C.; however, for Canada to accept refugees rejected by the United States for ideological and political reasons (and who are in danger of having their rights trampled because of their religion, ethnicity, or country of birth or origin), would send a signal to the citizens of the US, Canada, and the world that (strongly) oppose this latest turn of events that there are international repercussions to such small-minded, mean-spirited, and potentially deadly policies against the most vulnerable populations in the world. While we cannot count on rational behaviour from the leaders of our largest trading partner, we can at least make the right choices in those areas where we have some autonomy and disentagle ourselves from the dangerous course being set by the US administration. Repeal the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement now.

Yours sincerely,

Phelonius Friar
Ottawa, Ontario

cc: The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister responsible for the Status of Women (since the executive order will disproportionately affect women all over the world), and The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau (because he is the face of the Canadian government and is talking the talk, but Canadians and people all over the world need to see him walking the walk too).
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As part of my ongoing series of quixotic letters to those in power, I present the following.

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau,

With regard to the sale of Canadian armaments to the Saudi Arabian regime, I think the Liberal government has failed an important test of whether they are fundamentally different from the previous (and globally reviled) government here in Canada. Whether or not the weapons and weapon systems Canada is selling to the Saudis are going to be used in the direct oppression and murder of civilian populations, it will assist in justifying their continued brutal practices through the legitimacy that comes with the sale of such equipment to them by a nation such as Canada. I have been following with great interest the talk around betterment of the environment in Canada for aboriginal peoples and other potentially positive directions being contemplated, but this foreign policy decision is such a catastrophic failure to act in an ethical and moral manner, my hope for any real change in the governance of this country just evaporated.

One week ago, I finished the requirements for my B.A. Honours in Women's and Gender Studies degree (or Feminist Studies as I like to say) and have a year left at university to complete my B.Sc. Honours in Theoretical Physics as well before going into graduate studies (on top of a successful 25 year career in the international high technology field)... I have seen a few things in my life and like to think I have a fairly clear perspective of "the big picture". While you may call yourself a feminist, and have shown strong indication that you support a feminist agenda in some particular cases, the decision to sell weaponry to the Saudi Arabian government is a decidedly anti-feminist decision as their indiscriminate targeting of civilians in Yemen demonstrates (we hope it is indiscriminate, perhaps it is discriminate and deliberate as part of a campaign of terror, which would be in keeping with their general behaviour). I know you are aware that modern feminism is all about identifying and undermining those power structures that disproportionately oppress women, and I appreciate that you are at least not actively campaigning against the notion of feminisms like so many do. However, here was a golden opportunity to take a huge step to disrupt just such a collection of power relationships (and one of the most repressive in the world), but Canada has chosen to side with oppression and take a huge payoff from those oppressors to turn a blind eye, and that is simply the wrong thing to have done.

I would like to close with a quote by Albert Einstein – often misquoted but the idea tends to be accurate even then – that seems particularly appropos to me in this case. It was spoken by him in tribute to Pablo Cassals in 1953, "What I particularly admire in him is the firm stand he has taken, not only against the oppressors of his countrymen, but also against those opportunists who are always ready to compromise with the Devil. He perceives very clearly that the world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it." I think that quote should be on plaques on the doors to both The House of Common and The Senate (and maybe in every bathroom stall and on the tables in the parliamentary cafeteria, but that could be seen as somewhat extreme I suppose) as a caution to consider when making government decisions.

Yours sincerely,

Phelonius Friar
A Canadian citizen

If nothing else, I guess I am at least sincere... I do wish I had been more careful not to conflate Trudeau's purported feminism with the policies of the Liberal government or Canada, and I know he said it would be government by cabinet (which I think is generally a good thing), but this part of the portfolio – the optics of what this country does – seems to have fallen to Trudeau, and this is bad optics that greatly diminishes anything he says in the future regarding human rights in general and feminism in particular.
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Three quick (ya, I know, I'm not into posting short messages) updates:

Most pressing is that yesterday me and a good friend finally launched a Kickstarter campaign. Check it out, and if you think it's a good idea and have the means, please consider supporting it: "The 2016 Reboot of a Legendary Interactive Drama and the Inception of a New Media Genre"!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/673299016/midnight-stranger

Also, I'm one step closer to being published as a physicist in a peer-reviewed journal (Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research)... the accepted pre-press manuscript has been made available. I'm not sure what issue it will be finally published in (it needs to go through the final editing and production phases), but you can bet I'll post when it happens :). Anyway, here's the link for that (it'll be there forever, so if you only have 5 minute, go poke your nose at the Kickstarter instead):

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168900216001285

Finally, the new format for my radio show is finally starting to become workable for me. In case this is news, the show is an hour of feminism, science, and music (after 5 years I got good at the music part and don't want to give it up now). Yesterday I did my first interview: a Master's student in Women's and Gender Studies who is going to do their thesis on Batgirl from the comics (Barbara Gordon, and Oracle, and the controversies surrounding her on again/off again status as a person with disabilities and the tropes that surround it). I'll be trying to alternate between interviewing on science and feminism/social issues topics. The particular show is here (available "on demand" 24/7 for the next year or so):

http://cod.ckcufm.com/programs/371/25764.html

The general show link is here, again it's available to listen to "on demand": The Passionate Friar...
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This was a short reflection paper I wrote as part of my “Activism, Feminisms & Social Justice” class back in 2013. I had posted the research essay associated with it some time ago, which was done before the exercise, which was before this reflection. Unfortunately, the radio show I did is no longer available on demand... I should find out if the media is still available so I can make it available as a podcast... hmmm... one more thing to do, right? I should mention up here, before reading the essay, that the feminist show mentioned did happen, ran for over a year, and eventually wrapped up when the host ran out of spare time to produce the show. It was wonderful while it lasted though! Here's the paper...

Mental Health Issues and Breaking The Stigma of Labels: A Reflection

As part of the WGST2801 “Activism, Feminisms & Social Justice” Winter 2013 course at Carleton University, it was a requirement to form subgroups within the class, each of which was to mount an activist feminist project on campus. The notion was to take an activity from conceptualization through implementation and then reflect on the process, all within the theoretical frameworks of feminism and of praxis itself. There is something to be said for exposing people to this sort of activity early in their post-secondary education as a way of expanding their capabilities. However, the notion of forcing students to participate in an activist project to qualify for any sort of accreditation in Women and Gender Studies at the university (Carleton University) is a problematic undertaking. Specifically, real harm can be done to those involved if they are unprepared, there is insufficient oversight, or something bad just happens. Conversely, to allow students to receive accreditation without engaging in any sort of praxis is equally problematic to the feminist effort, and has led to deep divisions within the movement over the years (Kerlee). A fine line needs to be walked in introducing a formalized activist framework to students, and it is my conclusion that WGST2801 was too much, too soon, for most participants. Much of the opportunity to learn and grow was lost as a result of having to diffuse the limited amount of students’ time and effort available into so many areas of operation. A more gradual and measured engagement with praxis through each year of an undergraduate degree, culminating in a full project as was attempted here – but in fourth year – would better serve to inspire and inform the next generation of well-rounded feminist activist scholars.

To initiate the projects, all students were guided through a brainstorming session to identify relevant issues of concern, and then through a voting process to create a short list. Due to the class size, it was broken into two main subgroups: four morning tutorials and four afternoon tutorials, and each main subgroup voted for four topics from the overall class list. Five topics were chosen to be shared amongst the eight tutorial groups: LGBTQ, Mental Health, and Reproductive Rights being selected by both morning and afternoon main subgroups, then Media Literacy by the morning subgroup, and Anti-Racism/Indigenous Rights by the afternoon subgroup. We then, based on whether we were in morning or afternoon tutorials, signed up for the topic we were interested in on a first-come basis. I signed up for the morning subgroup on Mental Health. We were then individually required to write a research essay to inform our activism while simultaneously deciding as a group on the specific focus for, and approach to, the topic we were working on. We were then to execute the project as a group with the guidance of the teaching assistants and professor – who provided feedback on ethical and practicality issues with regards to our proposed actions. Once complete, we were to write this reflections paper as a means of critically analyzing the work that was done, and the process itself. The actual execution of the project for our group took place on Monday, March 4th in the Atrium on the 4th floor of the Carleton Unicentre. Formal promotion of the event started the previous Wednesday with a one hour long radio show done by four members of the group and broadcast live on CKCU (CKCU), and followed up with posters placed around campus.

The rest of the essay is here... )

Unfortunately, we did not learn as much as we could and should have through this project. Firstly, due to the design of the course, the spectral goblin of the readings and the final exam haunted the process. It also seemed that the majority of participants had somewhat more than part time jobs on top of school, and that created huge logistic problems that required we use the tutorial sessions to organize the event. The way the course was structured also meant that there was a disproportionate theoretical component that had to be addressed. While it is entirely appropriate and necessary to ensure a strong grounding in feminist and activist theory for any undertakings in such a class, a set of core readings and then specific ones depending on the topics chosen would have helped tremendously in achieving better cohesion, and a more manageable workload. Given the wildly varying levels of knowledge, experience, and skill of the participants, a series of highly focused seminars (in class or in tutorial) at the start of term on the components and efforts that make up any activist campaign would have helped create a more equitable environment for everyone to operate in. More effort could also have been spent finding out the strengths of the participants, and students could have presented half-hour mini-seminars on some aspect of their own experiences or skillset. For instance, I have been trained professionally as a project manager, but there was no room for me to share any of that knowledge. Others worked in the community, both in institutions and literally on the street, and I would have loved to have had a session from them. In retrospect, a two hour tutorial would have been more appropriate: one hour guided or structured, and the other hour where the space was simply made available to the group to use in the organization process. Another small thing that likely would have made a tremendous difference to the cohesion and shared knowledge of the group would have been to encourage us to share the research essays we wrote once we had our marks back, possibly even anonymously (not making it mandatory in case someone was uncomfortable in doing so). A tremendous learning experience was missed there, I believe.

Despite the issues the group faced, as discussed above, the project was very successful and had an excellent outcome within the parameters it had to operate within. I did however become convinced through the effort that a more gradual approach to building a functional activist toolkit would be more encouraging and less problematic than what we had to do. I would envision preparing an information table or other small project in second year from a fixed set of well-defined topics, with the TA acting as project manager and facilitator for the teams. During second year activism classes, the techniques and theory of activism would be conveyed. In the third year, the theoretical underpinnings of activist efforts could be explored and participants could be teamed with a 4th year group. In the fourth year, a full group project would have to mounted – from conceptualization through implementation, much like what we had to do in this class. I know that some participants this year were put off of activism because of the demands that we all become Jacks, or Jills as the case may be, of all trades. The skillset needed, and the confidence that comes with it, need to be built up gradually to encourage lifelong activism. A patient approach in this area, I believe, would have a much more profound impact on those seeking a degree in Women and Gender studies, or those that are simply taking the course for their own interest.

And the bibliography and footnotes are here... )
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Welcome to 2016, and Happy New Year! Out with the old and in with the new: after 5 years (!!!) on the radio, The Dollar Bin and my follow-on attempt at a show Doing It On The Cheap are no more, but please welcome The Passionate Friar to CKCU’s airwaves. Same host, same timeslot, but a (hopefully) very different show. Sandwiched as it is between talk programming (The Tic Show... err, Wednesday Morning Special Blend, and Hans’ CKCU Literary News) and music programming (Permanent Waves with Erik Stolpmann), the show aims to make that transition over its hour. It will start with a chat, some news, and sometimes interviews on the twin (and generally, but not entirely, exclusive) topics of feminism (and social issues and social justice) and science (the backbone of our civilization, with an emphasis on physics, the most fundamental science) — both of which are the subjects of undergraduate honours degrees that I am working on at the moment (a year and a half to go, ugh). There will be some music between the talk segments at the start, and the show will transition to just music by the end... found music mostly, where I will play music that I did not specifically set out to find, but have wandered across anyway (in that regard, The Dollar Bin lives on). P.S. I’m looking for correspondents on all three topics (feminism, science, and music) going forward, drop me a message if you are interested!

From the show’s new home page (this will be the blog associated with it, that was easy):

A gently curving corridor full of pipes and cables -- a photo of the decommissioned HERA accelerator ring at DESY in Hamburg, Germany

An hour of feminism/social issues, physics/science, and music...
News, reviews, interviews, ideas, engaging audio, and the Oxford comma!


This is a show for everyone who is passionate about more than one thing, and anyone that loves the simple, small joys of forever encountering new ideas, and having new experiences. While specific passions are going to be presented — simply because it is what moves this Friar in the moment, oh and time limitations, let’s not forget that — the intent is to do so in a way that is accessible to all, to get your creative juices flowing, to make your day more varied, and hopefully even provide inspiration for whatever your particular passions might be.

While what is presented here will truly be only the tip of the iceberg for this Friar’s passions, and the passions of those whose voices and works and actions are featured, the topics are sufficiently broad that it will take years to even get started exploring them. Specifically, this show will be focusing on three primary subjects: feminism and social issues, physics and science, and music and more music. Where, along with a foundation in feminist studies, comes the more general topics of social justice, aboriginal issues, issues of migration and human rights, intersectional identities (don’t worry, terms will be explained as we go), LGBTQ+ issues, globalism and neoliberalism, accessibility and disability issues... the list goes on — in short, social issues in general will be covered. And then way over here, we have the so-called natural sciences, which study the natural processes of the world around us and provides the underpinnings needed for the successful development and deployment of technologies, which then forms the functional backbone of our many societies. There will be an emphasis on physics because it is the most foundational of the natural sciences, but not a single field of science does not touch us somehow in our day to day lives: biology, chemistry, Earth sciences (geology, meteorology, ecology, oceanography, etc.), space sciences, and again the list goes on.

Why feminism and physics? Well, the simple answer is that I am in my last year and a half of independent honours degrees in both of those subjects: officially, I’m working on a B.Sc. Honours Physics (Theory Stream) degree, but I have also been collecting all the credits I need for a B.A. Honours Women’s and Gender Studies degree (I should be done that process this year, where I will not be done with physics until 2017, sigh). I came to Carleton as a “mature” student to finally study physics after a career designing and building electronics and software, and doing international project management on technical projects, while raising my children as a mostly single parent (by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever done... they are adults now, which is why I was finally able to go to university for the first time). Decades ago, I had a flash of inspiration/realization that synthesized much of what I read about the nature of the universe. I assumed I was wrong because I was ignorant in some critical way about it, but the more I read, the more it looked like I might be onto something, and the more evidence there was that there was value in the approach I had envisioned. I further assumed that someone else would come up with the same approach, but that apparently didn’t happen either, thus when my offspring were old enough, I quit my (very well paying, waaaah) day job and became a full-time student (mmmm, Kraft Dinner, sure I’ll have another bowl). The summer after my first year I took a course that aligned with several of my other passions: Feminist Disability Studies. I was hooked. Badly hooked. I have always been a social activist, and this wasn’t my grandmother’s feminism: it was new and exciting and inclusive and raw and full of dangerous pitfalls and irreconcilable differences. I took all manner of feminist studies, indigenous studies, language courses, and political science courses, and one day went into the Women’s and Gender Studies Department where they stared at me like I had two heads and announced that I was, randomly, most of the way to a minor in the subject. By taking the remaining courses for the minor and one more core course, all I needed to do was chip away at getting qualifying feminist studies credits in parallel with taking my physics degree (which was taking me longer than I had planned... that stuff is hard!), and I ended up with enough credits for a full major, and then an honours degree. I can assure you that nobody is more surprised than me! Due to university regulations, I need to graduate from my physics program before I can apply to the women’s and gender studies program, but I will just need to sit around with my thumbs up my butt and wait for the end of that semester because I will have all the credits I need already (okay, I won’t be sitting around, I’ll probably be doing physics research, but I won’t need to take courses).

Music? Well, if there is one language that is shared by all people, it is the language of music. Music is also at the core of everything I do (yes, including physics). Over the course of five years of doing The Dollar Bin on CKCU, I have learned much about how to find and present found music. For the most part, the music I played on the show was on CDs I had purchased for $3 or less in “dollar bins” wherever I travelled, and were by artists that I had never heard of before. Every show was the presentation of the outcome of the series of adventures I had listening to these previously unknown-to-me artists. I blissfully ignored genre boundaries and mixed music of all styles and origin and time period to create (what I have been told by others) was a challenging and engaging hour of music. Some of the songs I will be playing will be specific to topics I will cover, but I will continue the strong tradition of bringing intriguing found music to the airwaves (without the limitations I imposed on myself with The Dollar Bin — it’s all fair game now!).

Feedback is always welcome, along with music and topic ideas (especially if I can interview you or you can suggest someone to interview). I am also looking for correspondents (every/anywhere, and every/anywho) to do research, interviews, and produced segments on the topics covered by this show. You can reach me at dafriar23@gmail.com.

Don’t Let A Label Silence You ... a feminist activism project at Carleton University

Photo credits... Top: “In The Body Of A Dragon”, a view of the curving tunnel of the decommissioned HERA superconducting particle accelerator/synchrotron at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by me, 2014. Bottom: “Don’t Let A Label Silence You”, a student group feminist activism project I participated in on ways to destigmatize mental health issues done as part of the Activism, Feminisms & Social Justice (WGST2801) course at Carleton. Photo by me, 2013. As a note, the radio segment done with my classmates as part of that campaign (we took over The Dollar Bin that week to do it) ended up with the, now defunct, CKCU feminist radio show Femme Fatale being created by one of the participants, Lilith (they had never heard of CKCU before then).
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Hmmm... I just realized I haven't posted an essay in a while, something easily rectified (since I have many essays to post still). I have completed the requirements for a B.A. in Women's and Gender Studies (which I still call Feminist Studies) and continue to debate whether to put the moxie into getting a full Honours degree in the subject (I am continuing to slog away at my more technical degrees as well). I do have to say that I apply what I have learned in my everyday living and think I do it in a way that is constructive and not overbearing... it's a very powerful toolkit for looking at the world and has formalized many of the ways I already looked at things (and thrown a few new ideas in there as well). This was the final essay for a 4th year course called "Digital Lives in Global Spaces" that looked at the construction and reconstruction of how we define gender and society in general in a globalized and technologized world (to brutally make up a word). I got a pretty good mark on it even though it's somewhat middling in terms of how I thought it turned out (it's a bit confused in places I find... the prof thought so as well and commented that it marred an otherwise interesting essay). Either way, here ya go.

Blurring Gender Boundaries For Technology

There is no aspect of culture and society that is not somehow deeply entwined with constructions of gender, and the processes used for and artifacts created by technological innovation is in no way exempt. While this results in egregiously gendered products like pink tools and toolboxes1 and pink handguns and rifles2 to purportedly make them more attractive to women and young girls, these tend to be the low hanging fruit for criticism. It is the non-obvious gendering of technology that is more insidious – requiring careful analytic skills to effectively deconstruct, understand, and hopefully challenge how gender is manifest within them. However, if it was simply that technological constructs mirrored the hegemonic gendering so prevalent in society, this would only represent a fraction of the real problem being faced. Rather, it is the ways that technology in turn informs and reinforces how gender is constructed and performed that implements a critical channel of that hegemony. Every aspect and moment of our lives, in every part of the world, is deeply reliant on some form of technology for survival and the construction and maintenance of culture – be that a tool for digging furrows or the latest smartphone. The ubiquity of technology is what makes the messages we receive from that medium so powerful. To that end, if the conformity of invention to normative gender standards is the start of the problem, then that creative process needs to be broadened to be more inclusive of other ways of being and thinking, and if gender is the issue, then queer theory provides a powerful toolkit to apply towards solutions.

The rest of the essay is here... )

With the dominance and ubiquity of the Internet as a mediator of global cultures, a queer approach to existence does not have to be a local phenomenon – it can be demonstrated on a broad scale, and in ways that are difficult to challenge in the long run (as we saw in class, there are many brutal ways online to challenge perceived deviance in the short term). As the GamerGate fiasco has shown, the patience of the accepting majority is wearing thin with abusive behaviour online, and companies like Twitter and Facebook are finally starting to realize that their profits are in jeopardy if they do not provide the tools to their users to combat the online bullying of those that certain communities have deemed to be stepping out of line – a queering of these platforms has, in some ways, begun, and the respect and celebration of difference is starting to make inroads. If this way of thinking can become a dominant discourse, then the rejection of gendered hegemonies in the production and use of technologies of all kinds will become an acceptable possibility for more people. The tipping point will be when sufficient numbers of people can identify that a technical process or artifact exhibits an unwelcome or unnecessary gendered dimension, and have the courage and support to reject the identity that technology wishes to impose upon them. In the former, feminism has provided a robust toolset that can teach how we can become observant of gendered power structures; in the latter, queer theory and culture both shows and demonstrates that it is okay to reject those imposed identities.

And the bibliography and footnotes are here... )
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Maybe I'm getting more curmudgeonly in my old age, but I just spent 15 minutes sending an irate email to another organization with a staggeringly shitacular web site. Take a look and let me know if I'm being unreasonable in my very negative analysis...

I would have liked to participate in your campaign to generate interest in research in Ontario, but the web site is very poorly designed and hostile to interaction.

http://yourontarioresearch.ca/game-changers/

I don't click on links that don't let me know where they land (there was no hint that the images weren't going to be links), the "alt" text was not displaying (huge accessibility issues... I am using the current version of Firefox, fyi), and the photos don't necessarily tell me what the research area actually is that is behind it. I am busy and don't have time to play "guess the functionality" with a web site -- there are no captions, there are no navigational cues... it's an impenetrable wall of vaguely related images, not a user interface. I am a huge supporter of raising public awareness of issues related to research (in Ontario and everywhere else on Earth), so visiting this site after a friend sent me the link because they thought I would like it actually made me angry (if you hadn't guessed by the fact that I was upset enough to write this email). I have seen this sort of site before and it is, at best, kitchy; but at its worst, it is an exclusionary design concept that isolates each piece of information rather than presenting an integrated informational experience. Who would have the time or patience to click on 50 images to unlock the link to a page that they would then have to read before "voting"? Who is your audience for this web experience? What value is the vote tally that this web site will presumably result in? There is not even an indication, that I could see, of what effect my vote would have other than the simple joy of clicking on a button on a web site. I would have expected better from the Council of Ontario Universities.


Yours sincerely,

PF

P.S. And seriously? A wheelchair device for the generic research area of "accessible transportation"? What about people with mental or cognitive disabilities? Invisible disabilities that impede the use of public transit? This is 2015, not 1975! And that's just the tip of the iceberg with your choice of images and products. Nuns? What does the image of a nun have to do with the general notion of public health? Not to mention it displays a huge insensitivity to First Nations people after the recent release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on residential schools. I realize that these two instances refer to specific inventions or people, but as an interface to the research subjects, they are highly problematic. I could go on (I could write a paper on the subject there is so much to work with), but I will spare you any further analysis.
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Well paint me purple and call me Barney, I have just confirmed that I have completed the requirements for a B.A. General in Women's and Gender Studies (WGST) at Carleton University (or "Feminist Studies" as I like to call it)! I will contemplate over the next few months whether to put in the extra effort (and probably one more semester of studies) in order to get a full B.A. Honours in the subject so I could potentially have the credentials to do post-graduate work in the field. Oddly enough, the marks I have in that subject are head and shoulders above what I'm getting in my primary (B.Sc.) degree program. Go figure. I will confirm again, but I do not believe I can apply for admission to the B.A. WGST program until I have completed the B.Sc. Honours Physics (Theory) degree program and graduated... even if I have completed all of the requirements for the B.A.. You are apparently not allowed to graduate with more than one degree at a time (except where particular dual degree programs are offered by the university, and then it's more of a combined degree rather than two separate degrees). Not a big deal. Having actually finished the requirements for something (anything) does mean that I am making progress even though it feels some days like I'm just floundering helplessly. I was really sick at the end of the term and had to defer my exam in mathematical physics, but I did complete the two WGST courses I was taking this past semester (thanks to the professors being very flexible), and thus completed the requirements for the B.A. General this semester (one was the last "core course" I needed to take for the degree, "Feminist Research": I got an "A+" [wtf???]; and the other was a 3rd year course called "Transnationalism and Feminism": I got an "A-" [woot!]).

Plans for today: continue cleaning my room (it is just cluttered and I need it to be not cluttered), start studying again for my mathematical physics exam in mid-June (I want to do at least one or two hours of mathematics and physics every day this summer... I really need to become, as my mathematical physics professors stated, more "agile" at doing math if I want to be successful next year in some extremely hard subjects), get a +/-15V power supply built so I can finally play with the vocoder kit I built several months ago (a PAiA model 6710... it has just been sitting there waiting for power, ugh), book a flight for sometime this week so I can get signed out for being able to rent planes solo again (I have not been consistent and you have to fly with a certain frequency or you have to get "checked out" by an instructor to be signed out at the flying club for solo flights... a policy that makes excellent sense, imho), I will be having delicious tacos for dinner tonight, and I will catch up on the two free Coursera courses I'm taking at the moment: "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided" by The World Bank (of all people... but I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt to access much amazing information and lectures by dozens of scientists and policy makers), and "Web Application Architectures" from the University of New Mexico (a course giving the basics of Ruby on Rails, something I can probably leverage nicely for some of my ideas). Maybe I'll start re-reading Stephenson's "The Diamond Age" before going to sleep tonight (one of my favourite books!). I was basically slammed hard until the wee hours of the morning on Saturday when I turned in the last course work that was due this past semester, and spent most of the weekend drooling on myself (metaphorically speaking)... so it's time to slowly get to the things I have been unable to get to with school pressing so hard on me that past year.

Plans for tomorrow: probably just a continuation of today, heh, I can't imagine finishing all of that before I fall unconscious tonight ;).
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I am still trying to get around to posting about the rest of my last trip to Germany... before my next trip to Germany in 5 weeks... but I dug down to the surface of the desk in my room and found a sheet of paper that reminded me I had wanted to post some definitions and a (very) short essay I had to write out for an exam in a first year feminist studies class I took a couple of summers ago (I only have one more core course, that I'm taking next term, and then a handful of electives and I will have completed the requirements for a degree in the subject... this class was also a required class for the degree program). I just tallied my marks from the latest course I took (WGST4804: Digital Lives in Global Spaces), and it looks like my final mark is going to be an A. Now if only I could pull a few of those with my physics degree ;). With any further adieu, here are some definitions and a short essay.

Define each of the following terms in paragraph-length answers: 1) Reproductive Justice, 2) Rape Culture, 3) Compulsory Able-Bodiedness, 4) Queer, 5) Fatphobia.

Reproductive Justice: Definition is under the cut... )

Rape Culture: Definition is under the cut... )

Compulsory Able-Bodiedness: Definition is under the cut... )

queer Definition is under the cut... )

Fatphobia: Definition is under the cut... )

In a 2 page handwritten essay, reflect on how the terms you’ve just defined can help you develop a set of ideas that draw links between society, power relations, and one’s physical body. What are the themes that link these terms to each other? How can these themes be used to build a set of ideas about gender that are informed by feminist thinking? How can these terms be used to challenge normative ways of thinking? In your answer, you must make reference to the terms but do not need to define them. No outside sources are needed.

The short essay answer is here... )

And the citations are here... )
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It looks like I have to aggressively distance myself from Firefox now (fyi, Chrome isn't really an option for me either for mostly different reasons, I will have to ponder this for a while before making my decision...).

First, and what prompted me to go "oh, no...":

OKCupid seeks to block Mozilla Firefox over gay rights

What?

In following the threads of this story, it turns out that the brand new CEO, Brendan Eich, of the Mozilla Foundation (the organization that owns Firefox) donated $1000 to the effort that got Proposition 8 adopted in California (before it was ultimately overturned by the US Supreme Court). Employees are blogging and twittering their serious upset. Three board members have resigned, nominally because this guy got chosen instead of the person who had a huge amount of experience with mobile platforms — which is where they see the future, whereas Eich represents the past of browser technology. Eich was the key developer, amongst other things, of "Javascript" which is one of the core technologies of the "dynamic" world wide web, so he has had a huge impact on the technical side of how the world works now. He is certainly allowed his opinion (I have heard nothing to indicate he has engaged in any sort of hate speech or has done anything to compromise the rights of LGBTQ+ folk working at Mozilla), but taking the helm of an organization like Mozilla is something quite different in character and past politics make much more difference in that role.

From the article: Mozilla's head of education, Christie Koehler, who is gay, wrote on her blog: "It's hard for me to think of a scenario where someone could donate to that campaign without feeling that queer folks are less deserving of basic rights." However, she added that while she was personally disappointed, she said she did not think it would affect her work at Mozilla..

To Ms. Koehler, I have the following quote: "What I particularly admire in him is the firm stand he has taken, not only against the oppressors of his countrymen, but also against those opportunists who are always ready to compromise with the Devil. He perceives very clearly that the world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it. — Albert Einstein's tribute to Casals (30 March 1953), in "Conversations with Casals" (1957), by Josep Maria Corredor, translated from "Conversations avec Pablo Casals : souvenirs et opinions d'un musicien" (1955).

Then, while researching that story, I found this entire thread that I had apparently missed...

Mozilla to deliver ads in its Firefox browser

Between the two, I think I need to reconsider my choice of browsers and of the viability of an independent browser market with Firefox as a key player for the freedom of the web. In retrospect, it seems as though a bunch of features it introduced as being user privacy features have actually paved the way to allow Mozilla to have exclusive access to advertising space in the Firefox browser.

Double sigh... looks like the beancounters and professional corporate types have gotten a hold of the place and are going to run it into the ground while filling their pockets as it goes down, just like they do everywhere it seems these days.
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Fines, as a tool of law enforcement and ensuring justice, are currently pointless. Consider, for instance, receiving a fine for driving while distracted by an electronic screen (which, somehow, doesn't include GPS units, but that's another argument altogether... especially considering smartphones are much more likely to be used as GPS units these days). The fine in Ontario is going up to $280. The potential consequences of driving under the influence of distraction ranges from property damage through death (particularly horrifying when it is a pedestrian or an actually responsible citizen in their own vehicle). I will not currently argue against the appropriateness of a $280 fine given the risks (I think the fine amount is low), but lets just work with that as a number.

Suppose you are in a single income household and earn minimum wage in Ontario (just increased to $11/hr) and are lucky enough to have a full time job (or jobs, amounting to 40 hours per week). Your monthly income (before tax) will be $1760 (and you'll be scraping to make ends meet, at best...). A $280 fine is 16% of your monthly income (I'll write it as 0.16 for later reference) or about 1.3% of your annual income (0.013). A huge financial hit by any measure. Definitely a tangible punishment to such a person (fyi, 8.1% of Ontarians in the workforce were working for minimum wage as of 2009 [about double what it was in 2001]... the federal government hasn't published numbers since then, fyi, they used to be published annually... but, that too, is another story). Let's turn now to a household at the median income in Ontario: in 2011, it was $73,290/year, which is about $6100/month. Considering that most of these households would likely also have access to credit, a $280 fine is already likely an "expense" that could easily be absorbed into their budget... it is 4.6% of their monthly (pre tax) income (0.046... still noticeable, but it definitely would fall within most such people's "discretionary" spending limits) or 0.4% of their annual (pre tax) income (0.004). In 2011, there were roughly 576,000 households earning $200,000 or more in Canada... let's call it half a million (that's a sufficiently large number, in my opinion, to constitute a "segment of Canadian society"). To these people, a $280 fine (let's say they have an average income of $300,000 ... which is probably a decent guess for now given that over 300,000 of that half a million have incomes greater than $250,000), would be a petty annoyance at best (I would use the slightly more emotionally charged word "laughable"). With monthly incomes of $25,000 (do the math), such a fine would be about 1% of their monthly pre-tax income (0.01) or 0.09% of their annual pre-tax income(0.0009). I would argue that a $280 fine would provide no tangible punishment whatsoever to anyone in that income bracket.

Thus, my subject of "the sliding scale of punishment"... those with lower incomes are disproportionately burdened with needing to adhere to the laws of the land, while those who have higher incomes are insulated from the impacts of transgression because of their wealth.

But my momma told me not to bitch about something unless I had something positive to suggest as well. The solution to the above situation seems self-evident to me (has for a while, but I'm just writing about it now). The key to the solution is the word in the last paragraph: disproportionate. Or more appropriately, to make the system proportionate to ensure that the burden of abiding by the laws is shared equally amongst all citizens no matter what their income (with one caveat, for the very poor, because I'm not that much of a bleeding heart, which I will discuss shortly). Rather than set a fixed amount for such fines, a percentage of household income would be used. Using household income rather than personal income is a tricky decision already, but I'm thinking of individuals who live in wealthy households as often benefiting from the family's overall income without necessarily needing their own income (children and non-working life partners, for instance). It's really trying to tie financial burden to ability to pay. On that note, I would also see it instituted that any money transferred to someone (or the value of any resources contributed) from some other part of their family network to defend themselves against or to pay for such fines would have to declared as taxable income in the year it was received... again, ability to pay. Details aside, I hope you at least accept the principle of "financial ability", however it is accounted for, as that is the core of the argument.

So, numbers time again, and let's stay with the "$280" fine amount... obviously, it won't be a $280 to everyone anymore. It's also going to be a little more thought-provoking having to set the "base amount" that the proportional "actual amount" would be calculated from. Let us, for a moment, assume that $280 is the base amount we start with. The only readily available statistic we have access to that can also be considered a baseline with regard to financial ability of the overall population is the median household income. As stated, in Ontario, this was $73,290/year and we calculated $280 as being 0.4% of their annual pre-tax income. That single income household earning minimum wage discussed earlier makes about 29% of the median household income. Applying that proportion directly to our $280 base amount, we get about $81. Going the other direction, a household earning $300,000 per year is making 409% (about 4 times) the median household income. Applying that proportion, we get a fine of about $1146. Fyi, this is the first time I've actually calculated the numbers and my first blush is that they look like they could accomplish what I was hoping for. A quick glimpse into the stratosphere: about 2500 households in Canada earned more than $2.57 million per year, and had an average income of $5.1 million per year, so let's use that number. $5.1 million is 6958% above the median income, and that that income level, the $280 fine would scale to a whopping $19484 (and before you go *whoa!*, do remember that a $20,000 fine to such a household would have the same financial impact as an $81 fine on someone in Ontario working full time for minimum wage... I would argue it would have less of an impact because the sheer quantity of wealth provides so many other buffers that would not be available to someone with a low income... they'll be fine, and maybe they will be a little more careful next time). And while I'm here... contemplate the notion of environmental fines to corporations and how they work the same way (compare this to this, for instance)... but that too is another story.

I said I would have one caveat, and here it is. It should not be possible to reduce a fine to zero by having no income. This obviously would still impact the extremely poor in some disproportionate way, but there does have to be limits. I do always like the "least among us" approach, and in Ontario, that "least" would be a single person (no dependents) on social assistance with an annual income of only $7512 [holy heck, current information was hard to find on that number... and holy heck, that is a ridiculously low number]. At that income level, our $280 fine would scale to a little under $29, and that seems pretty reasonable as a minimum fine amount regardless of income (at this point, the "driving" metaphor kind of breaks down as there is no way they could afford a car, but presume it's some other offense with the same base fine amount). And before I go completely, I did want to make one little examination of the base amount of $280... Using the minimum wage example, and $81, someone would have to work for about 7.5 hours (pre-tax) to pay off that fine. That "price" would be the same for anyone (that actually worked a salaried or hourly job) because of the scaling. When setting the "base amount", the question should be "how hard will it be to pay off this fine... will it be a significant detriment when weighed against the severity of the infraction?". I still can't help but feel that $280 is a low base amount even for "distracted driving". I would be more inclined for it to cost someone earning minimum wage $280 in fines (thus making the base amount $970 or so using the proportionality I have proposed)... but that's just me, your opinion of the severity of this particular social ill is likely different from mine.

One last comment on proportionality, because this is something I have contemplated for a while as well: speeding tickets. In Ontario, it sort of works with a sliding scale, but only based on the absolute number of km/h over the limit you were going. So... the fine is the same whether you are going 120km/h in a 100km/h zone, or if you are going 60km/h in a 40km/h zone (presumably residential). Fyi, it would be a $95.00 fine. Arguably, these are different offenses. Going 50km/h or more over the speed limit puts you into the "racing" category and it actually gets serious ("immediate 7-day license suspension and 7-day vehicle impoundment; upon conviction - $2,000 to $10,000 fine, 6 demerit points, up to 6 months jail, up to 2 years license suspension for a first conviction"). I have long thought that applying proportionality to, let's now call it, the base amount of speeding tickets makes much more sense than using an absolute speed. Back to the previous two examples, 120km/h in a 100km/h zone is going 20% over the speed limit whereas 60km/h in a 40km/h zone is going 50% over the speed limit. Again, I would argue these are two qualitatively different events. In the former, it is speeding a bit; but in the latter, it is speeding a lot. In Ontario, 0-19km/h over is $2.50 per km/h over (plus fixed fees), 20-39km/h over is $3.75 per km/h over (plus fees), 30-49km/h over is $6.00 per km/h over (plus fees), and 50km/h+ over is a different class of offense. To convert to the proportional determination using the same incremental fee schedule, you would pretty much only have to replace the "km/h over" with "% over", and you're good. In the case of our highway commuter with a heavy foot, they would be in the 20% over category and would be handed a fine of $95.00 ($20 of that is the fixed fees, the rest is the $3.75 times the number of percent over). Our suburban leadfoot, on the other hand, is 50% over the posted limit and would find their car impounded and their lives in turmoil for going 60km/h past their neighbours' driveways. And just to be clear, to get that $95.00 ticket, a speed of 48km/h would be sufficient in that 40km/h zone (20% above). Obviously, I believe that these would then also be the baseline numbers for the fines based on median income (presuming you think those are reasonable amounts... the more I think about it, the more I'm guessing the fine amounts are skewed downward to encompass the income distribution in our society and would generally go up when set against the median family income level). Thus, if your rich neighbour up the street ($300K annual household income) zipped past your house in their Kia at 55km/h in the 40km/h zone you lived in (about 38% over), the base amount of the fine would be $283, so their fine would be about $1160. If they tore past your place in their Tercel at 70km/h in a 40km/h zone and got caught, they would lose their car, be in court, and be facing fines from $8,000 to $40,000 and possible jail time. In contrast, if they did it today and were convicted (there are lawyers that make their living getting people who can afford it off the hook for these sorts of things... although that wouldn't change with the sliding scales I'm proposing I guess), they would receive a fine of $220 and some demerit points.
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Because this is an amazing opportunity... and they don't, like, tell anyone (they are not good at promotion it seems)... if you are in the Ottawa, Ontario area, this is at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum:

Girls' Day at the Airport and Museum!

On Saturday March 8, the Rockcliffe Flying Club, the Eastern Ontario Chapter of the Ninety-Nines [their web site sucks and is out of date] and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum welcome girls and women to the Rockcliffe Airport!

Saturday, March 8 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Rain Date Sunday, March 9)

The Eastern Ontario Chapter of the Ninety-Nines and the Rockcliffe Flying Club will provide free flights to girls and women who have never flown in a small airplane!
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I just finished my last exam for the semester and headed home as the freezing rain was starting to fall in Ottawa. I had my Computational Physics [PHYS4807] exam on Thursday (mostly statistics for experimental physics and C++ and ROOT)... that was brutal!!! 4.5 hours long, and I took all but 15 minutes of it to finish (but I did finish, so I think I should get a good mark on it and my course overall). My exam today was for a C++ and "software engineering" course [COMP2404] that I had to take for my degree, and I am hoping to get an A+ in it (or an A minimum, but anything less than an A+ in this particular subject will be a little disappointing to me, heh, but I won't be crushed if I only get an A... bearing in mind I was programming in C++ in the early 90s and have decades of software development experience, although mostly in the C language... gads, I'm such an old fart, lol, but still young at heart... or is that immature? I can never remember... whatever, heh). I "challenged for credit" the other two computer courses I needed to take for my physics degree, but you either get a pass or fail for those and they don't affect your GPA. Taking the course in full will contribute to my GPA, and I could use a good mark to pull my average up (overall, I think I'm a "B" student, which under the circumstances of my life and existence is nothing short of remarkable, in a good way).

I also turned in my "mid-year" report for my 4th year Honours Project in physics [PHYS4909], which I will be updating based on feedback, and then sharing here when it's done (I've been threatening to post work I've done in physics for a while, instead of all that feminist studies stuff, and I will do so soon, mwaaahahaha...). Basically, I am trying to figure out how to re-purpose a particle detector — that was designed to be used at a high-energy particle accelerator facility like DESY or CERN — to be used to detect cosmic ray muons. FYI, it's a copy of the EUDET Telescope design developed in Europe for the International Linear Collider project (the website I put together last summer is here... a work in progress...). The main issue? At an accelerator facility, you can have all the particles you want and they are mostly delivered at a predictable energy. Carleton University does not have a particle accelerator, so we are going all ghetto and using naturally occuring high-energy particles: cosmic rays. Unfortunately, they are of all sorts of energies and you get about one every minute per square centimeter at a surface (from every direction, mostly vertical, they have a cos2θ angular probability distribution) and we need them to pass through all six layers of our detector... so with that configuration we only get about one particle every 30 minutes. The software that came with it has no idea whatsoever to do with so few particles (again, it was written for environments where you could pretty much have as many particles as you wanted), so that has to be re-thought and substantively re-written as well. Add to that (and this was one of the main physics results of the first semester of my two semester project), the amount of energy deposited in the detector chips by 4GeV electrons at DESY is almost two orders of magnitude more than what is deposited by 4GeV naturally occurring cosmic ray muons (mostly because electrons produce about 40,000 times more Bremsstrahlung than muons because of their lower mass... fyi, muons are sort of like big, heavy, electrons... they are both leptons, if you want to look it up). Most of the first semester was spent trying to see muons with the darned thing for the first time (we finally succeeded in late November, woot!), and next semester will be learning how to use it fully, developing new track detection and analysis software, and integrating the "Small Thin-Gap Chamber" (sTGC) data acquisition (VMM1) electronics and software with the detector electronics and software we have (as part of the ATLAS New Small Wheel Upgrade project at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, that Carleton is deeply involved with executing). The carrot under my nose is if I can get it all to work, we will likely do a beam test with the sTGC and Carleton's EUDET Telescope at Fermilab (using their pion beam), and they'll pay for me to go along as a key participant (there could even be a couple of actual journal publications out of it... I've only ever had my name on conference papers to date, which is still pretty cool as an undergraduate).

This all sounds very nice and such, but things really didn't go all that smoothly. At the end of the summer, a close friend of mine had a medical emergency that eventually required them to be sedated and to have their heart shocked back into regular rhythm (not a heart attack, but rather arrhythmia tachycardia... not immediately life threatening, but can cause heart attack or stroke if not treated reasonably quickly). There were a number of factors, but a lot of her life was being torn to pieces at the time and the insane levels of stress no doubt contributed. I ended up helping her back on her feet, and that caused me huge problems at the end of my summer term (in the 3rd year feminism course I was taking in particular, [WGST3812] "Selected Topics in Women's and Gender Studies: Gender and Health"... mostly a course on eating disorders and body image... not the most fun I've ever had as can be imagined). The whammy really came because I got quite ill myself shortly afterward (virus ov d00m) and wasn't able to complete the take home exam in that course. Earlier in the summer, family issues and the workload of my summer job at the university as a "Research Assistant" really beat the crap out of me as well, and that had a huge impact on my summer in general (yes, on the EUDET Telescope project... I basically had to get the space ready, learn what exactly the detector was and how it worked, and finish the basic commissioning of the detector after it arrived). Specifically, I had to drop the "Modern Physics II" [PHYS3606] course I had been taking, which means I now have to take it during the winter term coming up now (it's a heavy course because it has both an academic and lab component to it, and the course has been completely redone by a new professor so it will be much more difficult... sigh). I did manage to complete the two feminist studies courses I was taking though. I did finish the first year Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies [WGST1808] course (normally a full-year course, but compressed during the summer), which is required for the second degree I'm working on (a B.A. or B.A. Honours in Women's and Gender Studies, dunno which yet, but definitely a full degree as opposed to the minor I had been considering at one point, so long ago). I got an A+ in that course (woots!). Sadly, I got a C- in my 3rd year course, which really sucks the galactic muffin (if you'll pardon the phrase used in this context). The final take-home exam was worth 50% of my grade in that class (!!!), so by only finishing one of the two essays that was on it (because I was sick and overwhelmed), the maximum grade I could have received was a "B" and the professor gutted me on my midterm exam as well (somewhat unfairly, I thought), so I didn't really stand much of a chance in that class :(. All it took was to lose 13-15% in total to get that C- (if I had completed the final exam, I would have had an A- or a B+, ugh). It did advance me toward my second degree at least even if it didn't really do nice things to my GPA in that subject (I guess I could take an extra WGST at some point and use it to poit that particular course out of my average, heh).

I also didn't really want to take my Honours Project this year either, but it was somewhat forced on me (not entirely, but it was an offer that was difficult to refuse, shall we say...). That forced me to immediately drop the WGST course I wanted to take in the fall term (on "The Politics of Gender and Health" [WGST2807], taught by a midwife who had been all over the world). Even then the workload ultimately proved too much for me and I eventually had to drop my electromagnetism [PHYS3308] course, which is a "gatekeeper" course for my physics degree program. Between starting the semester at a massive deficit (health wise... and I was pretty badly burned out in general), with all of the family problems that came up, with another project that suddently got important (more below) that wasn't directly part of my studies, and with the Honours Project, there just wasn't enough time for the 12 to 26 hours a week of homework for the electromagnetism course (yes, 12 to 26 hours... consistenly, every week). I am contemplating taking it at the University of Ottawa, but I will have to take two semesters of courses there instead of the one here; however, I am thinking I might live through it if I spread it out a little instead of taking it the way Carleton offers it... Classmates who are way smarter than I've ever been, and have tremendous mathematical abilities, said it completely brutalized them and seriously lowered the marks they were able to get in their other classes the year they took it. It makes me feel a little better, but I still have to pass the course. The most important thing for me is that I proved that I could do the actual work (the math and the physics) — something I wasn't sure of, and really started to doubt myself — but just couldn't complete enough of it in the time I had to get a passing mark in that class (in one particular instance, I spent 14 hours figuring out how to do the first question of the assignment and had no more time to finish the remainder of that week's homework... which was 5 additional questions on top of the one I did manage to do... I got full marks for the one solution I turned in, but that isn't going to cut it for marks overall in such a course). Ultimately, I know taking the Honours Project when I did will turn out to have been a good decision, but I did suspect I wouldn't make it through PHYS3308 if I did... I have to say I tried anyway. Reminds me of a quote from Dune: "They tried and failed, all of them?", he asked. "Oh, no." She shook her head. "They tried and died". Heh. As I said, the stuff I'm learning having the space and equipment to do my Honours Project will serve me in good stead in a lot of the stuff I think I will be involved with going forward or that I might like to do (stuff like particle tracking techniques and Monte Carlo simulations in particular).

Which leads me to another project that has taken a surprising amount of time from me this year: the satellite payload that I designed for the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge of 2011/2012. The Carleton team did not win the competition, although we were certainly in the running. Most of the participants were from the Aerospace Engineering program, but a few of us on the payload team were in physics (one left science and went to aerospace engineering during the competition, heh). We had a great idea and lots of folks loved it, but we just didn't have the organization in place to support a winning entry (I had emailed the chair of the physics department and never even got an acknowlegement email or a word in the hallway... my supervisor at the time, Dr. Armitage, supported me as best he could and I learned a tremendous amount from him doing the project, so for that I am eternally grateful). Anyway, I had been working on the CRIPT and FOREWARN projects (which is where I got the idea for the satellite payload), as I have mentioned in the past, and was able to snarf some materials out of the trash heap when they wrapped up that I planned to use to build a prototype of the satellite payload if I had time. I had time (sort of), and it's built now... it took roughly a year and a half working very part time on it, but I finished it in November and was able to start taking a little bit of data right away. I have much, much more work to do, but it is off to a great start and if I finish work on it, I will be able to pitch it to a number of organizations to actually build and launch! Two things that this particular project allowed to happen that would not have if I had not been doing it: I got to meet Chris Hadfield, and I was invited to do a presention about my project at the 2013 Canadian Space Summit (in front of pretty much all the key industry players in the space sector and representatives from the CSA and NASA, etc.). The latter took a huge toll on my time availability as I really needed to finish the detector prototype and have something to show when I gave my talk. A copy of the presentation is here (a PDF, fyi) if you are so inclined and have a great need to follow what I'm doing, lol, or an interest in space weather and DIY satellite payload design. Anyway, this remains an ongoing project and I hope to have some key results in the next couple of months (the initial testing I did was just "sanity testing" the thing, it didn't begin to explore any of the questions I need answered).

I guess it wouldn't be a proper round up if I didn't at least recap the earlier part of the year... which was the usual mix of chaos, crises, and doom with sunny patches... I was able to complete three courses but had to drop Mathematical Physics I [PHYS3807] for lack of time to complete enough of the homework to pass (sound familiar?). It is also a "gate keeper" course for my degree, but the good news is that I am at least starting to understand the math required and how to do it. I think maybe what I need to do is take that course and electromagnetism together and just spend a semester doing nothing but mathematics (neither course provides any insight into physics, it's all just solid math, math, math) and maybe take a 3rd course in underwater basket weaving or something so I can go sit in a corner somewhere and drool while getting a credit. If I take the electromagnetism courses at the University of Ottawa, then this may not be entirely necessary. We shall see. I did pass Abstract Algebra I [MATH2108] (I got an A+, wtf??? I wasn't expecting to even pass that course initially, I guess I have an abstract brain), Mathematical Methods I [MATH3705] (I got an A-, but it was re-taking the course because I had previously passed, but had done poorly, and needed to be good at the stuff taught in that course to tackle... yup, electromagnetism and mathematical physics), and Activism, Feminisms, and Social Justice [WGST2801] (B+, and one of the "core courses" required for a WGST degree). The last one was particularly interesting because, as part of the required "activist project" (yes, mandatory volunteerism, the course is hugely problematic), I hijacked my own radio show to host a show on issues surrounding mental health with four of my classmates (you can listen to it "on demand" at that link). That led to one of the participants, aka Lilith, to pitch and get her own radio show ("Femme Fatale", an accessible and inclusive feminist radio program... fyi, I will be doing a fill-in for her show on December 30th if you want to tune in). She trained with me on my show before she got hers and normally co-hosts with me these days on my show (she has helped me to learn how to be "conversational" on the air instead of relying as heavily on scripts), and has become a good friend of mine too (one of the few actual friends I have at Carleton... the age gap makes it pretty hard to relate to other undergraduates, so it's only exceptional individuals that I can make any connection with... which self-selects for cool and interesting people, which is okay in my books I guess, heh). On the downside, things blew up so bad at the end there that I actually flunked challenging for credit the C++ course [COMP2404] (that I took this term for GPA credit, which will turn out for the better — in the long term at least).

Because I knew I would self-combust if I tried to take Mathematical Physics I again next term (it is with the same professor that teaches electromagnetism), I did a huge shuffle of my courses for next term and will be taking Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics [PHYS4409] instead with one of the best physics professors Carleton has (Bruce Campbell, fyi... and no, he doesn't have a chainsaw for an arm, heh). Unfortunately, this necessitated me dropping the "Feminist Research" [WGST3810] class, which is the last "core course" I need for my feminist studies degree, so I will have to take that next year (it's only offered in the winter semester). In its place, I am taking a course on "Gendered Violence" [WGST3807]. I am still going to be taking the Modern Physics II [PHYS3606] class because my Honours Project supervisor is the new prof for the course and he kind of insisted... but the lab section I was able to get into conflicts with my radio show so unless I can switch to the other lab section, it is not going to go well for me (although I might be able to finagle something, we shall see). And, of course, I will be continuing my Honours Project. Over the next couple of days I will figure out whether I will take the electromagnetism course at the UofO... sadly, I'm leaning in that direction because I really have to get over this hump somehow and hard work is the only way it's going to happen. I'm hoping that if I get exposed to it from a different perspective (and from a different professor) that I will understand it better. And lastly, I need to come up with a reasonable plan to finish testing the satellite payload prototype I've been working on. It's all doable until something in some other part of my life sort of blows up, which given past experience, is pretty much inevitable :P.

As a parting note, I will be taking over the radio station for New Year's Eve!!! I will be on air from 10PM on December 31st through 2AM on January 1st. Tune in for a fun New Years program! 93.1FM in Ottawa and area, or streaming live to large swaths of the planet via Internet at http://www.ckcufm.com/ :). [and yes, I'll be doing my regular Wednesday morning show at 10AM on January 1st, I hadn't remembered that when I originally agreed to do the New Year's overnight, heh]
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I recently uncovered an old report that I had written in the summer of 2010 about the musical project I composed for the Feminist Disability Studies class I took that year (more info here). That course remains probably one of the most influential things I've experienced in a long time and has changed the path of my university education (well, expanded it at least, my general path is still somewhat where I aimed to walk). I remain fascinated by this subject and hope to continue to learn more about it and to ultimately contribute to the field more than a couple of undergraduate essays and a song or two. Please keep in mind while reading this, that I was still in my first year of university and this was probably about the third real essay I'd ever written and didn't know how to do citations properly (does anyone, really?) or structure things well or avoid hyperbole, etc...

It's been a crazy couple of months and this is really the first time I've come up for air. So much to talk about, so much accomplished, so much failed, so much excitement past, present, and future (they all blur together for me these days... although one could argue it's been like that my entire life). Sadly, it's time for bed (I've spent the last couple of hours catching up on reading my friends' blogs and a few other blogs I follow... e.g. Ellen Reid's delightful and über entertaining "My Complete Lack of Boundaries" blog), and I will have to provide a real update at some point in the future. Hopefully a not quite so distant future at that.

Exploring Feminist Disability Themes Through Music

One of the cornerstones of modern feminist studies is the notion that personal narratives of women or other marginalized groups provide a standpoint from which their sociocultural experiences can be analyzed, especially in contrast to the dominant experience. When standpoint theory is particularized to those who have “a body that materializes at the ends of the curve of human variation”, an epistemology of the lived experience of disability emerges – called sitpoint theory or sitpoint epistemology – as a means of universalizing feminist standpoint epistemology away from its prejudicially ableist roots (Garland-Thomson, “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory”). Since art often presages the emergence or some new aspect of a culture, and a healthy culture will produce a vibrant and multitudinous artistic expression of its identity through narratives both personal and constructed, art comprises a primary expression of cultural epistemology. Within the world of art itself, music can be a valuable tool for embodying that which is often inexpressible in words or images, and therefore struck me as being a potentially powerful method of conveying the academic themes we have explored in this introduction to feminist disability studies, as well as giving new voice to the nature of the personal stories we have heard. Such an effort can also be seen as part of the emergence of a broader artistic expression and a tool for the popularization of the formative culture based on the integrative work of feminist disability studies itself.

The rest of the essay is here... )

Whether or not there is any particular merit to “Sitpoint Epistemology” as a piece of music independent of context, it does represent possibly one of the first attempts, if not the first attempt, to explore key themes from the field of feminist disability studies exclusively through music composed for that deliberate purpose. Based on feedback from its inaugural performance within the classroom environment, subsequent feedback from friends and acquaintances on their impressions and feelings about the piece, my own repeated listenings and self-criticism, and judged against the context of the amateur nature of my musical abilities, in integrating the specific commentary received, I have come to the personal conclusion that I was ultimately successful in my attempt. Of particular note is several of those who listened to it without context picked up on the rhythmic and emotional themes I deliberately attempted to use to capture the narrative of disability. Through this, and I’m sure, subsequent explorations by those more competent than I at achieving complex expression through music, the culture of feminist disability studies will become part of a growing dialogue in popular culture and academia.

And the bibliography is here... )
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A relatively (?) brief update... I got my marks back for my summer courses. I got a C- in my 3rd year feminism class on eating disorders (I described the personal doom surrounding said mark a couple of posts ago if you are inclined... the mark reflects that I was only able to finish half of the final exam, so that sliced 25% of my grade right off the top as the exam was worth 50% of my mark). This is fine though in my mind under the circumstances as I got a credit in the course (0.5 credits since it was a half-summer one), woot! The big news is that for my full-summer course (the 1st year Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies seminar course that I had to take to qualify for a B.A. in the subject), I got my second ever (in my life) A+... woooooooot! Beer and pizza all around (or suitable replacements for those that cannot consume either or both, heh)!

For the 3rd year course, the exam had two components: a theoretical component (two options) and a practical component (two options). I wrote the theoretical part, and had chosen the prompt to write about a music video that featured objectification and sexualization of women (not hard to find at all, eh?). I obviously didn't do it, but I did consider a number of videos that I will share with you now for posterity's sake. Now, you may or may not realize that I'm a huge music video fan (depending on how big the rock you are living under is, heh), so I had a wide array of choices to choose from just off the top of my head. I also didn't want to choose something quite as blatant as the Thicke video that everyone is (rightfully) dissin'. No, I wanted something a little more... nuanced. Or at least really whacked out and atypical (and non-traditionally jarring if possible). In the end, I chose this video to write about (if I had). Amongst other things, it's terrifyingly catchy... but imagine writing a feminist critique of this particular "oevre"... no worse than the group I was in having to present Tokyo Gore Police to my 3rd year feminism class last summer I guess (complete with cosplay and homemade sushi, lol).



(not to be confused with The Aquabat's Fashion Zombies!, which is something entirely different and awesome)

The runners up are presented (as embedded videos)... ...under the cut )

Mitsou's "Bye Bye Mon Cowboy" was considered... but she does have agency in it, so it didn't really fit the mold of what the professor wanted. I think Whale's "Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe" (although "Babe" sounds suspiciously like "Bitch" to me in the actual song) deserves an "honourable" mention as well... just for its audaciousness... although a critique of it would be more suited to another course perhaps. It kinds of reminds me of a video I saw recently for Árstíðir's "Shades" (from Iceland)... a truly terrifying piece of cinema (brilliant, but scaaaary). Oh, and just so that doesn't put you off of Árstíðir, they are beautiful and amazing musicians, perhaps check out the following of them performing a live cover of Simon & Garfunkel's version of "Scarborough Fair/Canticle"... truly sublime! And if that catches your attention, then here are a couple more breathtakingly beautiful tracks: "Lost In You" (a fan-made video... gorgeous), and "Kill Us (Live In Moscow)" (the music just plucks the ol' heart strings... has a downtempo Carolinas sort of feel to it I find, wow, goose pimples every time, fuck that's good shit!).
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I got my annotated bibliography assignment back tonight (once I was done writing my final exam earlier this evening) from my prof for the first year class I took for the full summer ("Introduction to Women and Gender Studies"). This was the class I was told I had to take to get a degree in Women and Gender Studies and I was initially trepidacious about it because I'd done a bunch of 2nd and 3rd year courses (including two on theory), but once I realized there was no escaping it (and way before the class actually started), I adjusted my attitude and chose to approach it with an open mind and the desire to learn as much as I could. Even if it did go over material I had covered before, and at a more introductory level at that, some of this stuff is so abstract and confusing that hearing it from a different perspective could be nothing but beneficial. I got a teacher that matched my learning needs very well and I ended up enjoying the class from start to finish. She was also very supportive to me in the face of the struggles I was undergoing at the start of the summer from being in the middle of dealing with a family illness (I was, frankly, utterly burned out by June). By about the middle of the summer I was mostly back on my feet, but her understanding had a huge positive impact on me turning things around relatively quickly.

As an amusing aside, there were several males in the class at the start of the class in May, but by the time we got to the second half of the course (it's a full year's worth of material in less than 4 months), we were down to just myself and one other student sporting Y chromosomes. The other male in the class was in a somewhat similar situation to me, but this summer course was actually the literal last class he had to take to graduate (he'd already completed his honours project, etc. and just needed one more full-year or two half-year courses to fulfil the credit requirements of the program he was in). He was also mildly grumbled by ending up in a first year course (he took it because it fit with his schedule and was the most interesting of the courses he could take over the summer), but by the end of it, he said he really enjoyed it too. He went further and said that he truly wishes he'd taken the course earlier in his schooling because he learned so much and so many useful tools in that class that would have made his later years both easier and more interesting. I have the same general opinion myself and if you are coming to university or just contemplating taking a course or two, I can't think of a more interesting, challenging, and engaging class than this one (it's WGST1808 at Carleton, other universities will, of course, have different course codes). Hats off to the prof as well... very few hands went up at the start of the class when she asked how many students considered themselves "feminists" and many of the questions and challenges voiced during the class were, in my opinion anyway, extremely difficult to address in a diplomatic and reasoned manner, but she handled it amazingly well (despite the occasional look of shock or mild panic at trying to figure out what to say, heh).

Anyway, I got an A+ on this assignment (woot! I worked really hard on it). We were allowed to choose any topic we had covered in the course (which was a lot of topics!), which was the one redeeming feature of this task... it was quite the slog otherwise. I chose to re-look at the topic that kicked me on my way to getting a simultaneous undergraduate degree in women and gender studies (or feminist studies as I like to say because the "f" word gets more of a confused reaction than the formal name, heh): feminist disability studies. I consider the topic to be at the forefront of social and political theory today as it has to come to grips with the outer edges of our society and even has to challenge our understandings of what it means to be human (pretty heady stuff, to say the least). If you are interested in this subject, this is a fairly good "leaping off" point as I have summarized the key readings required. Here is the prompt we used:

Students must pick one topic from the list of topics covered in the second term and create an annotated bibliography of 10 academic sources related to it. Standard citation format should be used for all sources. At least 4 of the ten sources must be from peer-reviewed journals. The goal is to survey the topic generally, and compile the ten most significant sources relating to the students’ interest in the field. Your job is to defend your choice of sources, and justify why you picked them.

The sources chosen must reflect disciplined research in the field as opposed to the first ten sources on a given topic that were found. Sources must be critically summarized in a 100-150 word annotation that demonstrates where the source fits in the broader intellectual context relating to the chosen topic. Students are asked to organize their sources thematically, in order to demonstrate patterns and debates in the field they have engaged with in their reading.
Students must highlight their findings and offer a critical analysis of the sources in a 3 page statement that situates the bibliography. No class readings are permitted on the bibliography.

A couple of us in class definitely agreed that it would have been much less work just to write an essay, but this is some research that I can come back to in the future and might (some day maybe) be of use to somebody else... Here it is:

Annotated Bibliography: Feminist Disability Studies

My introduction to the formal study of feminism came through a 2nd year Feminist Disability Studies course I took in the summer of 2010. The subject of disability and ways of conceptualizing disability had been an interest of mine long before the course, having circulated in communities for much of my life that are considered disabled (including, one could broadly argue, science fiction fandom and those involved in the punk and industrial music scenes), and eventually through raising two children with disabilities as a single parent. The most fascinating thing about this hybrid subject is how profoundly feminism clashes with the theorization of disability. When the modern feminist slogan “We Can Do It!” (Kimble and Olson 2006) just isn’t true, and someone cannot do it, then the feminist empowerment discourse becomes yet another intersecting oppression in the lives of many. New conceptual tools are being, and need to continue to be, developed to come to grips with what appear on the surface to be insurmountable incompatibilities. These disparate epistomologies challenge feminists to deconstruct their existing and any new discourses in search of hegemonic assumptions of ableism and, by extension, to more deeply examine positions that are implicitly (or explicitly) racist, sexist, heteronormative, classist, or otherwise discriminatory. It also provides a framework that teaches further lessons of how to celebrate and value difference rather than engaging in practices that require conforming identities to achieve social inclusion or political progress.

The rest of the essay is here... )

Feminist disability studies is a fledgling area of research, and we are still waiting on an effective praxis based on this challenging new field, but work done in integrating third-wave feminist theory with disability studies shows great promise. Where race and sexuality drove the discourse that eventually spawned the third wave of feminism through a critique of what feminists meant by woman, feminist disability studies challenges the very assumptions of what it means to be human. As such, it seems poised as a potential catalyst for next phase of critical discourse about the current state and future course of feminist thought and activist projects.

The annotated bibliography is here... )

And the list of references is here... )

Postscript

I had a great deal of difficulty finding peer reviewed journal sources for this bibliography as much of the important work in this field seems to have been originally published in scholarly anthologies, referenced in journal and other anthologies, and then reprinted in yet more anthologies. I found a good many journal articles on the various subjects examined, but even these pointed back to several key works that have only ever appeared in anthologies. A good example of this is Nancy Harsock’s foundational essay on feminist standpoint theory, “The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a Specifically Historical Feminist Materialism”, originally published in an anthology Discovering Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science (Sandra Harding and Merrill Hintikka, eds., Amsterdam: D. Reidel, Inc., 1983). In the end, and because of the numerous subjects that must be understood to appreciate the complexity and deeply nuanced field of feminist disability studies, I chose to mostly select anthologies that would provide both foundational and detailed explorations of some of the key required concepts. Again, an example is the Harsock essay which is reprinted in the Harding anthology which I have included in the annotated bibliography. One notable exception to this was Rosemary Garland-Thomson’s article “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory” published in NWSA Journal, but which I could not use in this bibliography as it was a course reading (although it is reprinted in the anthology “Gendering Disability” which is included in the bibliography).

Post-Postscript

As part of the feminist disability studies course I did in 2010, I composed and presented what seems to have been the first – and is what I believe remains the only – piece of music that has explicitly attempted to capture some of the key notions of that field. It is entitled Sitpoint Epistemology and can be heard here (it is best with headphones, but anything will of course do):

MP3 of Sitpoint Epistemology

A short description that was read in class as an introduction to the composition can be found on my public blog here:

http://pheloniusfriar.dreamwidth.org/348.html

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