Panda Sex!

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Through the stress of upcoming finals, I figured we  could all use a little cute, and what better than pandas?

Now of course, I did actually do some research for this one, but you bet your ass I am going to present it in a visually cuddly way (especially since some of the stuff isn’t super cuddly).

Pictured above is Pan Pan, which loosely means ‘Hope’ which I learned after reading all about his legacy in this article on FiveThirtyEight. Pan Pan passed last year, but not before leaving 130 panda descendants in his stead.

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Pan Pan is credited with being one of the most successful sexual pandas. He helped panda researchers in breeding programs that natural breeding is more successful than insemination or more pressured or forced couplings. He’s a stud, and studs apparently make a lot of babies. His studly genes were even passed on. Some of his descendants are known for being successful breeders. Unfortunately, there are problems that arose once the hurdle of endangerment was crossed.

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Pandas like Pan Pan that were raised in captivity are often more domesticated and lose the abilities they need to survive in the while after a few generations of breeding. Very few pandas are released into the wild. After that, there is still an issue that unless groups of wild pandas cross paths and mate, inbreeding can affect and destroy the group.

On the flip side,  a similar issue is already happening in captivity. Researchers are scrambling to increase gene variability by increasing the number of successful mating pandas.

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Fortunately, other endangered species have gone through similar experiences when raised and bred in zoos and conservation sites. That information is now in the researcher’s hands to translate into panda terms and hopefully rebuild the strength of the species.

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Hopefully in the next decade of panda research and captive breeding, we will see more pandas successfully entering the wild and increasing the gene pool.

Here are more pictures of pandas.

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Ladies in the Comic Book World

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As an employee at a movie theater, I have grown to loathe movies based off comics. Now don’t go grabbing your pitchforks. I don’t mean that I dislike the movies, usually they’re pretty amazing. But that is just the problem. They always make the theater super crazy busy, which isn’t always the most fun for the employees at the theater.

I was scrolling through some articles on the New York Times site trying to find something that caught my eye and I ended up doing rage research on the new Justice League movie, since it is the most recent comic movie to plague the theater. (I’m getting to the point, I promise. Just bear with me through a little more exposition). Anyway, I dove down the rage induced rabbit hole and ended up on my new favorite site, ThePudding. (Thanks Stephanie). They have an article that by some miracle of the internet, I haven’t seen yet. (I spend way too much of my free time on this site. And you should too). The article looks at the gender ratio in comic books. (See, I told you I’d get there 😛 ).

They break down the comparison in a few ways. The first is by super powers and abilities. They note that “Percentages are determined only from characters with powers. In DC and Marvel, 62.4 percent of all male characters have powers, and 62.8 percent of female characters have powers.” They then took the difference, in proportion, of male and female characters that share the same ability.

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They break it down in the info graphic with the most dramatic differences at the top, so I’ve grabbed the top 3 comparisons. They note that the powers that are higher on the female side tend to be more gender stereotyped toward females. [Note strength vs. agility, pheromones, sonic scream, and prehensile hair]. We also see that the males sweep the objects section, most of which belong to superheroes that are rich and or very intelligent, i.e. male.  I also grabbed the ‘Mental Power’ section because it is was the only section to have only the females represented as the higher proportion. It also follows gendered stereotypes that women are stronger with their minds and men are stronger with their bodies.

I do not find any of this data very surprising, considering most of big super heroes (male and female) were invented in a different era. If we look at just the ones I included at the top, Wonder Woman debuted in ’41, Rouge in ’81, Catwoman in ’40, Raven in ’40, and Poison Ivy in ’66 (even though she technically isn’t a hero at her debut). Some of the really big female characters were invented during and immediately following the wave of WWII. However, the authors here do not put time into account when doing the analysis (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). However, I think it would be interesting to run the same analysis compared decade to decade and see if there is an increase in equality in these metrics, and maybe other metrics like percent of lines, bad-assery, and villain vs. superhero.

I think it would also be important to compare the women in comics from their debut to their current rendition. Comics go through many many retellings and reinventions of their stories, so it would be interesting to track a character like Wonder Woman from her first comic appearance all the way to the DC films released in the past two years. I think that movies like Wonder Woman and Justice League give the heroes a new light that takes them out of the poor stereotypes they may have been born in. Which is admittedly a good thing, a little silver lining, to the hoards of people lining up to get popcorn on a Friday night.

 

What Data Exists for the Link Between Mental Health and Mass Shootings?

With four mass shootings in the United States in just the past 60 days, this has been a topic that is on my mind. As a personal project, I’ve been compiling data and trying to crunch the numbers and understand the validity of the numbers themselves. The data set I have been analyzing is from Mother Jones. I want to be able to look at the details of each shooting and try to form an opinion from a blank slate (well, as blank as I can get).

I chose this set because it really is a set. It has a lot of variables and often explanations for some of the points. I have also chosen this because it is the first thing that pops up when I Google “mass shootings data.”

Now don’t jump the gun and attack my source. I have looked through the set and there are issues with it, and I’ll talks about some of those later. I chose it specifically because it was the first thing to pop up. I am a little less concerned about finding the absolute truth of the matter and more concerned about looking at the data that is being presented to the public, because that is where they are forming their opinions. So in order to be ‘on the same page’ as everyone else, I thought this would be a good way to go.

Today, I want to look at just some percent comparisons when I looked down the column “Prior signs of mental health issues.”

This set includes all of the 95 mass shootings from 8/20/1982 to 11/5/2017 in the United States. (Again, this is already a problem. According to Politifact, depending on how you define mass shootings, the number of shootings could be much much higher than the number in the set I’m looking at).

53% (50/95) of the shootings listed in the set marked “yes” in the mental health category.

This number alone looks pretty definitive. More than half is not something to discount. Until, of course, you look closer at those numbers. the “Prior signs of mental health issues” comes with a companion “Summary” column explaining why the certain mark was given. Now this is where it gets less definitive.

26% (13/50) of those marked “yes” had a history of violence listed.

Only about a quarter of the “mentally ill” shooters had a history of physical or verbal abuse toward others or a history of suicidal thoughts or actions.  About a sixth of those included only showed a history of depression as their mental illness. Personally, I believe that a history of violence, whether it was due to mental illness or not, is a factor that should be heavily considered.

12% (6/50) of those marked “yes” only listed depression as a reason.

I do not believe that depression means that people are likely to be violent. On top of that, most of the people that had depression listed were vague in the description. It was often unclear if they were depressed at the time of the shooting or had been listed there just because it was a problem they had faced in the past. A few that stood out were “His cousin said he was depressed and “going through a lot of things”,” and “Neighbors said he suffered from depression and had a drinking problem.”  Although the cited sources were reputable sites like USA Today and CBS News, respectively, I wound’t necessarily call someone mentally ill because of what their cousin or neighbors said.

25% (24/95) of shooters were labeled “unclear” in the mentally ill column.

This can be a problem. Depending on your view point, it would be very easy to put all of these shooters in to the ‘ill’ or ‘not ill’ bins. Of those that were listed as unclear, 14 did not have any explanation as to why they were marked that way, which I assume means there isn’t enough evidence about the shooter to label them one way or another, so they just omitted the Summary section. That is almost 60% of the unclear shooters. If someone were to be arguing for or against the contribution of mental illness, that 60% makes a big difference.

34% (32/95) of the instances only sited one article, or multiple articles from the same website.

This is also a huge problem. Although all of the websites cited (and one book, for the Columbine shooting) were legitimate and reputable news sources, this data is often not cumulative from multiple sources. Also, the data only comes from the news. Some of the information (like patients’ records) may not be public information, but it would be better if there was more pieces to the puzzle. I don’t say this to discount the news vendors used, they have probably done a good job summarizing information that may not be easily accessible to the public. However, it is still just a news article. We cannot slap a mentally ill label on someone because of one quote from one news source. It may be legitimate, but there is too large of a chance that it may not be, which can be damaging to the shooter, the shooters, families, other mentally ill persons, and perpetuate the stereotype of mentally ill shooters.

In conclusion…

We should not whole heartedly trust this data set, however, we should use it as a basis and improve upon it. The spread sheet that Mother Jones is using is a Google spread sheet, meaning it’s open source (to an extent) and will update in real time. And hopefully it does get more work. Anyone researching mass shootings and mental health, like myself, will likely stumble across this source and use it to build or further their opinion. Unfortunately, while it seems really fantastic, the data needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Can Data and Law be Friends?

The article “The Supreme Court Is Allergic To Math” touches on a lot of ideas which I think relate to this class to a ‘T.’ Oliver Roeder, the author, introduces the idea well, so I will use their words to help introduce my post.

For decades, the court has struggled with quantitative evidence of all kinds in a wide variety of cases. Sometimes justices ignore this evidence. Sometimes they misinterpret it. And sometimes they cast it aside in order to hold on to more traditional legal arguments. (And, yes, sometimes they also listen to the numbers.) Yet the world itself is becoming more computationally driven, and some of those computations will need to be adjudicated before long.

This really ties into the focus of our class. It is a real world example of how data affects–or doesn’t affect–the decisions in politics. I could delve into the debatable conversation about the use of data in politics, but instead, I’d like to start with what I know, and that’s not politics. (I will most likely post more about this debate later, but I think it deserves another post. If I do write that post, I will link it here).

I related to this article on a personal level; as someone who really likes math.

When I respond with “math” to any number of questions that have to do with my studies or interests, most people respond with some rendition of “I don’t like math and you’re probably crazy for liking it, but that probably makes you really smart so good for you.” I don’t mean to sound pompous in any way, but I just mean to say that more often than not, math is prevalently disliked, and people typically don’t react well to it. And it makes sense. Math can be extremely difficult to understand if it is not presented in the right way, and more often than not, math can have a lot of discrete and specific complexities required to understand it. If you can’t understand something, it becomes frustrating and there builds a dislike for the subject.

So I understand why the justices may have a difficulty listening to the numbers. Math is hard if you aren’t working with your ‘niche’ of math (for example, I’m trash at calculus but I love statistics). I imagine that the kind of maths and data that would be involved in a supreme court case are going to be very involved with layers of complicated calculations, even for the persons presenting the data. So for an outsider to the issue, even with a strong background in the specific mathematic calculations at play, it could still take a lot of work to dive into the data and analyze its validity and prevalence to the case.

Now what if, for example, you got a law degree and not a math degree? Now we start to see the problem.

Justices know constitutional law. It’s their ‘niche.’  Obviously they are (or should be) versed and practiced in other forms of law and politics, but the constitution is where it’s at. So asking them to fully consider maths and data that they do not have the time or education to fully understand shouldn’t be expected.* I think of a metaphorical example for myself. Say I was doing a really difficult proof and someone came up and said “Hey, if you used some high level calc, this would be easier.” I wouldn’t super like it, but I’ve dealt with calc, and with some help, I could limp though using complicated calculus in my proof. Now if someone came up and said “Hey, I’ve got this really complicated constitutional bill that will help you solve your proof” I would probably scoff and flip them off.

So back to the judges. Although the data could be processed by experts, the judges solve problems in law with, well, law knowledge. So they might flip off the data experts. Just because there is an overarching trust of numbers in our society doesn’t mean that everyone should be expected to incorporate it into their job or decision making.

Right now, I’m going to take the stance that the judges are just fine with ignoring the numbers. However, even just typing that sentence makes me want to throw up a little. I want to yell “Don’t ignore the data!” but I can see and agree with multiple angles for this argument. So I end here knowing full well that there is more to be said on this topic and there is a flipped to my argument that probably makes just as much sense. But like I said earlier, If/when I write on this again, I’ll put it right ->here<- .

 

 

*  Westminster’s political science and justice studies majors do not currently require math courses. To graduate in WCore, students only need 3-4 Quantatative Emphasis credits and 6-8 credits of Science and Math (WCSAM). These courses could vary greatly, meaning students could graduate from these programs with varying levels of math experience in quantity and type.

 

Further Reading

Troll in the Dungeon!

Or maybe just a bunch of humans.

I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with a few of my friends early last year, and we’re currently in between campaigns so we’re all getting antsy to start a new one.

For those who haven’t played D&D, allow me to give you a basic run down of how the game actually works. You might have seen this clip from Stranger Things on Netflix, and that kind of describes how a night usually goes when I play, but not really how the game works. It is played like an RPG (role player game) video game. The players, are well, the players, each with a conroler in the form of dice. The dungeon master (DM) is eeeeeverything else. They are the entire rest of the game- they set the scene, they enforce the rules, they play the side characters, and on and on. The players use their characters stats to make actions and the DM tells the players what happens in response.

So in reality, it plays very similar to games like Mass Effect, Witcher, WoW, and Skyrim. Only it’s always multiplayer and we play on a table instead of a console or computer.

So as I was saying, we’re about to start a new campaign. And now I’m faced with the most labor intensive, difficult, time consuming part of playing an RPG: creating a character. For anyone who has played an RPG, you know how it goes.

My first and only character that I played was an Ardent Kalashtar, which I chose hastily and without a clue about the game. It was a very difficult character to play, so this time around, I’ve been thinking about playing something easier, and as it turns out, so do most other people that play D&D.

According to this article on FiveThirtyEight, the most popular race is human and the most popular class is fighter. I personally thought that more fantastic characters would be the norm. Why not be a wizard half-orc or a druid gnome or something else off the wall? I personally think that people are more naturally drawn to things like humans and fighters because they are easy to understand.

As I previously said, my first character choice was difficult. The traits of my character, Cassara, set her up to be very stoic, have a tortured past, and be better at assisting in fights than leading the pack. She was very different from me, so it was hard for me to naturally make decisions that the character would make. In a video game, you’re often given a set of lines to chose from, only certain scenarios are possible, and in the end, there’s a certain way you win the game. D&D by nature is completely opposite. It is all  made up on the fly. Retrospectively, I think I would have had an easier time playing a human fighter. I have a very good sense of what it means to be human and a fighter. Human is pretty obvious, and fighters punch things.

However, I eneded up loving my chsracter after I got the hang of things and after my DM gave me some wise words. “Dude, you were on improv for 6 years. Just play the character like you would if you were on stage.” And after that it clicked. The choices were easier to make, her spells easier to choose, and her plotline started to fall into place. Now, after working through this blog post, I have created a theory that ties together my experience and the information from the article.

Actors, artists, and writers are more likely, than those who aren’t, to play more fantastic characters in a D&D campaign.

Now, I’m basing this theory entirely on my own personal experience, so it would definitely need to be tested with a survey analysis.

In the group that I play with, my DM os a writer, myself and two others did theater and improv all through high school. There are no humans and no fighters in our group. In fact, two of our players invented their races. My almost brother-in-law is an artist and he frequently DM’s campaigns for his friends and for my campaign group. He is vehemently against playing humans, claiming it doesn’t allow for as much creativity.  In my boyfriend’s campaign, there are no artists, writers, or actors. It’s mostly athletes and gamers. Three of their players’ characters are humans.

Now, I don’t mean to say that playing a human makes you uncreative, but I do think that it does not require as much creativity as playing a non human. So the majority of people naturally gravitate toward humans and fighters because the familiarity of the character makes the game play easier and let’s the player focus more on the other complications of the game. It’s also easier for first time players while learning the game when not spending so much creative thought on how a character would be played.

It might just be that human fighters are the best game play, but I believe I may be on to something. Games like D&D naturally attract the creative, but those who spend their time away from the table creating artwork use the game to push their own creativity.

“Classic” Rock

And then I heard Green Day’s “American Idiot” on a classic rock station a few weeks ago, and I was shocked.

Walt Hickey, a writer for FiveThiryEight decided to do some research after this happened to him. He wanted to know what exactly went into classifying classic rock as classic rock.

I have found myself asking similar questions of radio stations play choices over the years. There is always a song that plays that feels out if place, but after reading this article, it makes a lot more sense.

Hickey sampled classic rock stations from all over the nation for one week and compared the frequency of artists, songs, and years songs were released.

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What he foind made sense, at least to me,. The large majority of classic rock songs were from the 70’s into the early 80’s and included bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zepplin. However, there was a surprising amount of more modern (seemingly not classic) artists that fell on the spectrum like U2, Metallica, and Green Day.

As it turns out, it’s actually the listeners that determine what is played in what station. Radio stations use surveys to find our what music consumers like and what genres they think bands fit into. They then build their playlists from there.

I found this very interesting; that it was we the consumers that ultimately shape the genre over time, not an algorithm or a group of suits in a tower somewhere. Of course the genre is ultimately created by the artists themselves, but we decide what bin they fit into, or sometimes, create a new bin for a new kind of sound.

What’s in a Baseball?

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Baseball has always been my favorite sport, both as a player and a spectator. Netflix definitely made a category for me called “Movies about baseball.” Even though I don’t follow the sport closely, I still like to hear about all the numbers behind the sport. Movies like Moneyball and documentaries on the physics behind the fastest pitch have always been some of my favorite watches. So naturally, I was drawn to this article on FiveThirtyEight (which is slowly becoming one of my favorite sites to scroll through) about how the mabufacturing of the baseball has affected the game.

My thoughts before reading the article automatically jumped to a conclusion along the lines of “How do you rig a baseball?” Umpires, pitchers, and catchers, constantly trade out for new balls as soon as it is damaged or dirty, so something like ‘Deflategate‘ from the NFL AFC playoffs back in ’15. The article took it in a direction I wasn’t expecting, which was definitely a nice surprise.

It turns out that baseballs consistently have slight manufacturing differences that give advantages and disadvantages depending on what sode of the pitch you’re on. The MLB has specifications that must be met for baseball manufacturers that produce balls for MLB games. However, these differences still fall within these specifications, so the balls can still vary.

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This image from the article shows what manufacturing differences can make the balls go faster, or on the flip, the absence of them can make them go slow. A faster pitch is good for the pitcher, a slower pitch is better for the batter.

These variations can make or break a game, so the MLB tightened their specifications in favor of reduced drag, which is in favor of the batters and therefore results in more homeruns.

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This chart from the article shows the decrease in differences in baseball’s over the years.

So in the end, although the new specifications favor the team at bat, it ultimately makes the game more fair for both sides, reducing the randomness of the baseball’s in play. Also, it means at more homeruns, which I think any baseball fan can happily support.