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Six principles of nonviolence (Happy MLK Jr. Day)

17 Jan

A day late but here we go anyway!  Last weekend I went to volunteer training for the Women’s March On Austin scheduled for this Saturday.  I was planning on blogging about biology today, but talking about what we went over in training seems more timely.  The Austin march is one of 616 sister marches around the world planned to coincide with the one in Washington, D.C. (so there might be one near you!)  Here’s an excerpt from the mission statement of the women’s march on Washington, emphasis added:

In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.

I was really impressed and inspired by the event coordinators- the person who trained us in nonviolent protest has been involved with protests and activism since she was 8 (Austin native) and read this excerpt aloud, stressing the end: that we need to support all marginalized groups to move forward, instead of looking only at cis, heterosexual white women (a.k.a. “white feminism”– that was a link to an article by an academic; this is a link to a HuffPo video explaining the term).

Next we went through practical things about how to march safely (link arms, use a buddy, if something happens decide as a group to stay and sit down, linked or go away very quickly, report anything suspicious to block marshalls), volunteer jobs (I’m at the check-in table!), and then the six principles of nonviolent protest.  She was careful to say that these have been used for a long time by not just MLK, Jr. (examples: suffragists, Gandhi) but he happened to write them down in a way that’s very nice for teaching activism to new people.  So here they are (in bold), plus some thoughts

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.  Often not fighting back requires bravery.  You can be nonviolent and still be aggressive, just not physically aggressive.
  2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The goal here is to make a community, to win over the people who are against you.  A good way to not do it: tell people “you’re wrong!”  A good way to start to do it: listen.  Also, make eye contact.  Be a human and show people that you are a human and you recognize their humanity as well.
  3. Attack forces of evil, not people doing evil.  This was when our presenter reiterated that this is not an Anti-Trump march, but a pro-women, pro-LGBTQ, pro-immigrant, pro-marginalized people march.  “Trump is a symptom, not the disease.  We want to defeat the disease.”
  4. Accept suffering without retaliation.  This is basically, don’t fight back.  When people see you suffering an injustice, you’ve communicated to them that this matters, and hopefully they extrapolate that you matter.
  5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.  Another way that people put this is to avoid internal violence as well as external violence.  Come at this with love and hope for reconciliation in your heart instead of hatred and hope for retribution.  Keep up morale in a positive manner, not a negative manner.
  6. The universe is on the side of justice.  Believe this.  A volunteer said that this was the easiest principle to keep up, and another said #2 is the hardest- she wants to snap back instead of listen.

I got a little teary at the end of the nonviolence training, when we practiced chanting “HEAR OUR VOICE.”  I’m not a big crowds person so being in the middle of a room of such positive energy and solidarity really affected me.

Here’s a video of a training that happened later that day (not for volunteers), which starts with 20 minutes of Q&A and then an hour of Simone going through these principles etc.  She’s really good:

So if you’re in or near one of the cities with a sister march, consider heading over there this weekend and checking it out!  Ours will have some awesome speakers and music after (Wendy Davis!  Lizzie Velasquez!  More!) and should be really cool.  I am also not actually planning on marching the 1.5 miles in 80 degree heat with 22,000 other people (definitely a recipe for very pregnant me fainting), but I’ll be there beforehand so if you’re around come say hi!




How to cut a watermelon (for science!)

13 Aug

It’s summertime, which means watermelon!  There are actually two parts to this post: first, the smarter way to cut watermelon (so you don’t end up with watermelon juice all over your face/hands/clothes), and second, a goofy little experiment I did the other day to figure out the best way to buy watermelon.

For my entire life I assumed eating watermelon, like eating a ripe juicy peach, was just a naturally messy ordeal best done outside or over a sink.  Then this summer a friend showed me the right way to cut watermelon- watermelon fries!  The traditional wedge shape means every bite releases more juices to go everywhere else, while the fry fits entirely in your mouth and is a lot like eating a fry.  See schematic of happiness:

On the left I'm positively melon-choly.  On the right I don't understand w(h)at 'er problem is.

On the left I’m positively melon-choly. On the right I don’t understand w(h)at ‘er problem is.

You start the same, cutting a watermelon in half and laying it flat side down for safe cutting.  Instead of making on vertical slice and lots of horizontal slices (as you would for wedges), you make equal numbers of vertical and horizontal cuts.  This forms a lattice- it’s best if each square is about an inch to an inch and a half long.


PRO TIP: cutting board that fits inside a baking sheet = no mess to clean up after cutting

PRO TIP: cutting board that fits inside a baking sheet = no mess to clean up after cutting

Wedges were very in fashion a few years ago, but now they're passe

Wedges were very in fashion a few years ago, but now they’re passe

It's all about the stilettos now (I'm not sure what stilettos are but they're definitely skinnier than wedges)

It’s all about the stilettos now (I’m not sure what stilettos are but they’re definitely skinnier than wedges)

Discard the corner/end pieces that have no watermelon, and voila!  Watermelon fries!

Now you don't need to go to a generic American chain restaurant to say TGIF! (Because everyday can be Fry-day)

Now you don’t need to go to a generic American chain restaurant to say TGIF! (Because everyday can be Fry-day)

Here’s a real life version of the right side of the cartoon above:



Now for the second part of the post!  What’s the best way to buy watermelon?  That is, if you can’t carry a 15-20 pound watermelon yourself (for whatever reason).  Sometimes stores carry big slices of watermelon, so I’ve bought plenty of 5 pound slices this summer, which I highly recommend.  But yesterday the store only had a box of precut watermelon for $3.90 or a personal sized watermelon for $4.99.  So of course I bought both, for you blog readers (or because I wanted watermelon).

We wait & watch... which watermelon will win the war?

We wait & watch… which watermelon will win the war?

Any guesses?  Because of the labor involved we guessed that the mini watermelon would win, but then again, mini seedless watermelons seem like a luxury item, like a labradoodle or a pluot, so they might charge a premium for them.  Volume wise they look similar, but humans are pretty bad at estimating volumes- we’re good at linear estimation but bad once we get to higher dimensions (how many acres is the lot where you live?) [For that matter, what is an acre?]

I decided to go by weight, but also tried a rough volume calculation ahead of time.  Clearly there’s space in the box, but I didn’t want to measure each piece and calculate volume so I just did the volume of the box.  Similarly, there’s rind in the watermelon and it’s not a perfect sphere, but hey, this is why I’m a mathematician and not an experimental scientist.

Box: 7″ x 6″ x 3″ = about 126 cubic inches of watermelon

Mini watermelon: 6″ diameter = 4/3* pi * 3^3 = about 113 cubic inches of watermelon

Again this volume calculation is pretty bad: you can see how much space is in the box above, and once we cut open the watermelon, how much rind there actually is.  After measuring the box/melon, the first thing I did was weigh the precut melon using my husband’s fancy scale and a bowl.  Then I ate a lot of that melon, and started cutting the mini watermelon (not the smart way).  I wanted to get as much watermelon as possible out of the mini melon, but still cut off all the white parts since the precut didn’t have any white parts.

Cutting a melon this way is not very appeeling- I just did it for science

Cutting a melon this way is not very appeeling- I just did it for science

Mini-melon fries!  I guess fries are already mini potato fries (holy crap regular-sized potato fries are often called 'wedge fries' all the puns don't work!)

Mini-melon fries! I guess fries are already mini potato fries (holy crap regular-sized potato fries are often called ‘wedge fries’ all the puns don’t work!)

One thing that I thought was crazy was the next picture: I’ve unwound the measuring tape to 6″, the diameter of the mini melon, but you can see how much more melon there is.  Then again, the bowl isn’t so deep so this isn’t that crazy.

So that's how long six inches is!

So that’s how long six inches is!

Also, I needed to do three weighings for the mini melon because the scale couldn’t hold that much.

Box: 542.0 grams

Mini melon: 1162.0 grams

The mini melon held twice as much melon as the box did!  It was really crammed in there vs. all the space in the box, I suppose.

So the final tally:

Box: 138.97 g/$

Mini melon: 232.87 g/$

So the mini melon is clearly the better deal, right?  You get almost twice as much melon per dollar spent, even though you spend an extra dollar.


The precut watermelon was perfect- sweet, juicy, with just the right amount of bite.  I ate almost the entire box while doing this “experiment,” which means I ate an entire pound of watermelon in half an hour.  It was like every piece was from that magical inner zone of watermelon which isn’t too mushy (the exact center) but is still sweet (not touching the rind).

Meanwhile, just about every piece in the personal watermelon was a rind-piece.  It’s just not big enough to get to that magic zone.  Even the store clerk thought I’d picked out a good one!  I’m going to make gazpacho with those two pounds of watermelon because I want to hide the lack of sweetness.

Next time I want watermelon (like tomorrow), I’m going to pay the premium and buy the precut.  I would encourage you, however, to buy a whole watermelon and cut it into fries as above.  That is, if you can carry a watermelon.

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