Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Holy Shit, the Third Punic War!

Ruins of Carthage
 The Third Punic War started in 149 BC, and by 146 BC, Cato the Elder saw his dream of a dead Carthage fulfilled. If you were a Carthaginian at the time, the whole thing was just...such bullshit. You're sitting here in your utterly defeated country, doing whatever the Romans tell you to do because they could burn you and everything you love as easily as you could punch a rock.
Balancing Rock
Not that I'd recommend it. Rocks just aren't very good at dodging.

Then some foreign tribes started raiding Carthaginian territory. Carthage was bound by treaty to arbitrate all conflicts through the Roman Senate, but at this point they had paid off the war indemnity and considered the treaty dissolved. The Romans saw things differently.

More importantly, the Romans were facing a huge increase in population and a huge staying-the-same of farm yields. So the Third Punic War, essentially, was Rome looking at Carthage and saying, "Hey, guys, we need your" then lighting North Africa on fire.
Tunisian Painting
Not the farms, though. Boy, would that have ever been awkward!

Carthage was destroyed. Utterly. It's buildings were burned and its people put to the sword or sold into slavery. Its territories were annexed by Rome, and the city itself would only be rebuilt (as a Roman city) a century later. Then it became a Vandal Kingdom for a while until it was conquered by an Islamic Caliphate.

But here's the thing: when you completely obliterate a city, there's no one around to sign a peace treaty. In a weird but arguably (technically) legal way, the cities of Rome and Carthage remained at war after Carthage ceased to be part of the Empire. At least, that's how officials from both cities saw it in 1985, when the mayors of both cities signed a peace treaty and symbolic declaration of friendship.

If you take that technicality at face value, the Third Punic War was the longest conflict in history, lasting over 2,130 years.

Holy shit.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Holy Shit, The Cretaceous Coast!

Early Cretaceous Eath

We've got an election coming up in the United States. It's a midterm, which too many voters tend to think of like a bye week, but it's important. Go vote on November 4.

When you do, think about all the factors beyond your control that lead to the outcome of an election. Sometimes it's something stupid one of the candidates said or did to shoot themselves in the foot. Sometimes it's a wave of backlash against a single policy. And sometimes it's a 100-million-year-old geographic feature that used to be where you live.
Wait What?
I really hope some of you made this exact face.

That's the case for people living on the Cretaceous Coast, anyway. The Cretaceous Coast is, for the most part, a decidedly non-coastal region that stretches from Mississippi to the Carolinas. It's not easily distinguished on a modern topographical map, but in the Cretaceous Period it looked like this:
Late Cretaceous North America
This looks different from the one at the top of this post because they are millions of years apart
Pretty easy to see right? Well, you can also see it on a county-based electoral map, like this one from 2012:
Seriously though, look back and forth. It's eerie.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Correlation isn't the same as causation, dummy," you sneer smugly as you sip your venti pumpkin spice latte and pat yourself on the back. Ordinarily, I'd agree with you. But not today. Today you're going to spit that pumpkin spice right back out onto your keyboard, you pretentious hipster. Because the Cretaceous Coast is demonstrably responsible for that strip of blue counties in the South.

Here's how it works: between 129 and 65 million years ago, the Cretaceous Coast was, in fact, a coast. That meant it was a hotbed of aquatic life, like plankton. When the water started receding, that life stayed behind and died, leaving a massive deposit of organic material. If you know anything about agriculture (and why wouldn't you in this day and age?), you know that organic material leads to ideal growing conditions for crops.
Human Reaper Larva
It can also be used to generate a representative of your race while all the actual humans are systematically destroyed.
Fast forward about 64,999,800 years to the early 1800s, and you've got yourself an agrarian, slave-based economy with nutrient-rich soil and an unprecedented boom in a cash crop (cotton) thanks to new industrial advances. The former Cretaceous Coast was primo real estate for plantation owners because it had some of the most hospitable soil on Earth for the humble cotton plant.

Not so hospitable for human rights, though
Now, I don't know if you were aware of this, but a lot of that cotton was actually picked by slaves. And at the time, chattel slavery was an institution that consisted almost entirely of white owners and black slaves. After the Civil War brought slavery to an end, most of those black slaves stayed where they were. Their families were there, and the only work many of them knew was there as well...and this time, they'd get paid to do it.

Eventually, those former slaves gained the right to vote. Some time later, they gained the actual ability to vote without being turned away at the polls or simply lynched for trying. Certain events transpired and certain party platforms were adopted, too complicated to go into here, that led to black voters almost universally voting for democrats in every election.

And that's how a geologic feature that hasn't been around since the dinosaurs continues to affect the political landscape of the American south to this very day.

Holy Shit.

And seriously, vote.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Holy Shit, Gamergate!

ESRB M Rating
If only.
For as long as I can remember, "gamer" has been one of the main points of my identity. Gaming was a constant companion for most of my youth. Several of my strongest and most enduring friendships were formulated on the foundation of shared interest in games. Games were a comfort and a release when I was a morose teenager.

Recently, I've started to shy away from calling myself a gamer. There are several reasons for the change. I have newer, more important ways to identify myself these days -- like husband, and more recently, father. But it's not like I don't still play. I do. Every chance I get, even if said chances are few and far between.

The bigger reason is Gamergate. Gamergate is a movement that is ostensibly about corruption in the games journalism industry. That's a very real problem. There have been instances of journalists being fired for writing honest reviews of games whose publishers were providing advertising revenue to the host site. That is all kinds of unethical, and it's not an isolated problem.
Giant Bomb
But we got these guys out of it. They're cool I guess.

But that's not what sparked Gamergate. Gamergate started when the jilted ex-boyfriend of an indie game developer posted a video manifesto that aired all of their dirty laundry, including accusations that she had cheated on him and exchanged sexual favors for positive coverage of her game. The Internet exploded in the way it only does when there's a new woman to harass. Of all people, Adam "Jayne from Firefly" Baldwin coined the movement's the midst of one of his bat-shit, right-wing Twitter rants. 
Jayne, your mouth is talking. You might want to look to that.

It could have been a decent movement, to be honest. But from its inception, the people who were saying, "If that's true, it really says something about the state of games journalism" were instantly drowned out by the hordes of ignorant shits screaming, "It must be true! What reason would a jilted ex-boyfriend have to lie about his ex-girlfriend to her peers? Our only reasonable course is to threaten to rape and murder her."
They're like this, but with death threats.
And I am not fucking kidding about that. Zoe Quinn was driven from her home by threats of sexual violence and death, from people who had found and published all of her personal information, including her address. Anyone of any standing in the industry who spoke in her defense was given the same treatment, including Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist critic who had already seen her share of death threats because of her video series that asks the question, "Do the games industry and gaming culture maybe treat women poorly?"
Threats against Anita Sarkeesian

The movement is completely out of control at this point, and it might be the biggest threat to gaming since the industry crashed in 1983. A largely falsified rumor about a woman's sex life has started a horrific campaign of harassment against women who are interested in games and want them to be a more inclusive medium. I mean, Jesus Christ, when I was a teenager my heart would have burst with joy if I learned that games were considered "art" enough where they could be subject to feminist critiques. I've always insisted that video games could be more than toys, and now that people outside of the traditional gaming demographic are acknowledging that, a bunch of children are trying to drive them away with death threats.

So as much as I'm not done with gaming, I'm done being a gamer. I know from the responses within the industry to Anita Sarkeesian and to the Gamergate lunacy that I can look forward to a richer, more diverse culture surrounding games. But gamers? I won't be a part of that world anymore.

Holy shit.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Holy Shit, Dad Joke Comics!

I made another thing! It's called Dad Joke Comics! You probably won't laugh, but you will roll your eyes and groan and say "Who does this guy think he is?"

My design philosophy for the site could be summed up as, "Dad, please get off the Internet."

Anyway. Back to your regularly scheduled shit.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Holy Shit, Mass Extinction!

Meteor Impact

Mass extinction is, you might (very correctly) assume, a pretty bad thing. I mean, every mass extinction so far has paved the way for a new form of dominant life on Earth, so there are some silver linings. We're here because of mass extinction.

But still, an event where over 50% of the species on Earth have been wiped out can only be called a catastrophe. This has happened on at least five occasions on the geologic time scale. The worst of them was the Permian-Triassic Event over 250 million years ago.
Extinction Chart
This chart is the visual equivalent of jargon, but the Event in question is the highest blue peak.

In that event, up to 96% of the species on Earth were completely eliminated. While there are several theories as to the cause of this disaster, it's nearly impossible to tell for certain what happened. Maybe a large meteor struck the planet or a supervolcano erupted and kicked up enough dust to choke out the majority of life. Maybe a massive, cross-species plague swept through every living thing. Maybe the atmosphere simply changed and most life couldn't catch up.

The point is, shit died. A lot. And that was just the worst Mass Extinction Event. There have been several others. The most famous was the one that finished off the dinosaurs.
It's not like they were even phoning it in by the end. T-Rex was one of the last surviving species

The criteria for a mass extinction is that roughly half the species on the planet must have been destroyed within a short period of time. A short period of time on a geologic scale, mind you, means "within a million years or so."
Or, "Significantly longer than the entirety of human history

So when I tell you that Earth has lost 50 percent of its wildlife in the past forty-five freaking years, you should know that this means serious business. We are absolutely in the middle of a mass extinction. Right now. And we are absolutely the cause. Whatever your feelings are about the environment, there is no way that this will end up being anything but terrible for humans.

Because "mass extinction" really is just as terrifying as it sounds.

Holy shit.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Holy Shit, Mentoring Biases!

Emma Watson
#heforshe because I want my daughter to live in a world without the below scenario

Lately there's been a lot going on in the realm of gender politics. One of the big rallying cries for the Women's Rights movement of late has been the fact that women make about 77 cents for every dollar men make in the work force. One of the big answers to that cry has been that women tend to choose lower-paying jobs, so it's your own fault for not joining the STEM collective.
Borg Cube
...and adding your biological and technological distinctiveness to their own

Well, not so fast.

It's generally accepted that, in order to really excel in any discipline, you need a good mentor. Academic mentoring is a time-honored tradition that dates back to probably around the time humans realized that they could use specific noises to pass their knowledge on to another person. It's an essential part of the learning experience.

With this in mind, researchers sent thousands of letters to professors asking if they'd be willing to be a mentor to the letter-writer. These requests were 100% identical, but were signed with different names. In the STEM fields, if the letters were signed by a female-sounding name (or what we'll politely call an "ethnic" name), not only were they less likely to get a willing mentor -- they hardly ever even got an answer.

These mentors are essentially the gatekeepers of lucrative career fields, and the sign they're currently hanging on the gate looks like this:
Berenstain Bears
Wherein Brother Bear is kind of an asshole

This sort of thing has always bothered me, but now that I have a daughter?

Holy shit.