Monthly Archives: September 2011

Photograph of Branca Edmée Marques

Wednesday Geek Woman: Branca Edmée Marques, Portuguese scientist, and collaborator with Marie Curie

This is a guest post by Jennifer. Jennifer is a feminist and actuary who is travelling the world with her family and profiling notable women of history on her blog.

This entry is cross-posted from Jennifer’s blog.

Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.

Photograph of Branca Edmée MarquesBranca Edmée Marques was a Portuguese scientist, who studied and worked with Marie Curie. She was born in Lisbon in 1899, and studied chemistry at the University of Lisbon. In 1925 after completing her degree, she was invited to be an Assistant by the Chemistry Professor. He was concerned about whether she would maintain discipline in her classes, being female, but she must have succeeded as in 1930 she was awarded a scholarship to study with Marie Curie at the Sorbonne, in Paris.

Marie Curie was by then very famous, having won two Nobel Prizes. Curie liked her work so much that she gave her one of her most interesting research projects to do, and wrote a letter to the Portuguese government asking them to renew her research grant.

Unfortunately the combination of Marques being a woman, and the Portuguese government being in a state of flux (transforming from military to civilian dictatorship) meant that her grant wasn’t renewed. Curie managed to finagle a continuing scholarship for her anyway, and her doctorate on “new research on the fragmentation of barium salts” was awarded with the highest possible rating of tres honorable. In 1936, the Portuguese Universities recognized the degree, and awarded her an equivalent doctorate.

On returning home, however, she was unable to get an appropriate post at University. This, from all my sources, does appear to be fairly simple sexism, even if the lack of financial support in France might not have been. Instead, she lectured and started up the Laboratory of Radiochemistry and only in 1942 was she awarded the title of First Assistant, which meant that the University was recognizing her contribution more significantly.

Photograph of Branca Edmée Marques
She continued to lecture and work towards building up a new department, which eventually became the Department of Radiochemistry and Nuclear Chemistry. She published regularly throughout her professional life, researching many aspects of peaceful application of nuclear technology. In 1966, her contributions were finally recognized with a full professorship at the University of Lisbon.

She died in 1986, at the age of 87.

This post is based on Portuguese language sources (linked below) so anyone who can read the original Portuguese, please feel free to comment if my interpretations were wrong!

Marcas das ciências e das técnicas: Professora Branca Edmée Marques
A ciência em Portugal: Branca Edmée Marques
Maxima: Sancha Sanches

Facepalm: person clutching their face

By request: Booberday

SA asks:

Please, please write about the execrable “Booberday” meme on Google+.

Summary: it’s a “share pictures of your cleavage because of… breast cancer! yeah!” meme. That meta-meme is potent, folks. Got something you want people to do? Claim it’s about preventing or ameliorating or alerting or grieving breast cancer. You are now the untouchable saviour. The end.

Christa Laser on G+, link from SA:

[The Booberday meme is] demeaning, and it is precisely the gateway to harassment that drives women away from online communities. We have a responsibility as early adopters to create a respectful, caring community where everyone feels welcome. If it is acceptable in a community to post a photograph of cleavage, it becomes okay to comment on it with sexual jokes, then to comment on a photograph of a woman in the G+ community with a sexual joke, and then with sexual comments that are not jokes. If left unchecked, an online community that tolerates harassment against women can become dangerous for women, professionally and physically: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/apr/06/gender.blogging.

+1, as they say.

But it’s all worth it cos of the cancer, right? Mmm, let’s have a think about that.

Randall Munroe, whose partner is undergoing breast cancer treatment, writes in Liz Fong’s Google+ and in his own G+ stream:

The really frustrating thing about the “Save the boobies” campaign and similar ones is that it gets it exactly backward. Often, the point of breast cancer treatment is to destroy some or all of the boobies in order to save the woman.

Saying that we should work to cure this disease because it threatens breasts is really upsetting. For starters, it suggests that women are worth saving because they’re attached to breasts, rather than the other way around. But worse, it tells any woman who’s had a life-saving mastectomy that she’s given up the thing that made people care about her survival. What a punch in the stomach.

Barbara Ehrenreich famously wrote about breast cancer as sexy-making opportunity, among other things:

And in our implacably optimistic breast-cancer culture, the disease offers more than the intangible benefits of spiritual upward mobility. You can defy the inevitable disfigurements and come out, on the survivor side, actually prettier, sexier, more femme. In the lore of the disease—shared with me by oncology nurses as well as by survivors—chemotherapy smoothes and tightens the skin, helps you lose weight; and, when your hair comes back, it will be fuller, softer, easier to control, and perhaps a surprising new color. These may be myths, but for those willing to get with the prevailing program, opportunities for self-improvement abound. The American Cancer Society offers the “Look Good . . . Feel Better” program, “dedicated to teaching women cancer patients beauty techniques to help restore their appearance and self-image during cancer treatment.”

I could say and quote more, but almost everything I want to say Peggy Orenstein said in the NYT magazine last year:

That rubber bracelet is part of a newer, though related, trend: the sexualization of breast cancer. Hot breast cancer. Saucy breast cancer. Titillating breast cancer!…

Sexy breast cancer tends to focus on the youth market, but beyond that, its agenda is, at best, mushy. The Keep a Breast Foundation, according to its Web site, aims to “help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support.” If only it were that simple. It also strives to make discussion of cancer “positive and upbeat.” Several other groups dedicate a (typically unspecified) portion of their profits to “educate” about self-exam, though there is little evidence of its efficacy. Or they erroneously tout mammography as “prevention.”…

Forget Save the Ta-Tas: how about save the woman? How about “I ❤ My 72-Year-Old One-Boobied Granny?” After all, statistically, that’s whose “second base” is truly at risk.

And there’s Twisty’s long running crazysexycancer ‘adventures’. Get yer boobie shot here.

Lauredhel has also been on this for years: “Bring breast awareness back to the workplace”, Scrotes Oot F’t’ Lads!, More “Teehee! Boobies!” from the breast cancer awareness industry, Three Examples of Rape Culture in Nice Guy(tm) Breast Cancer Activism, Mount Franklin Breast Cancer ads. Let’s start a Brown Colon Cancer Awareness campaign.

Summary: you want to reduce incidence of and mortality from breast cancer? Consider funding and fundraising for research and evidence-based interventions. Want to remind the vast majority of women, especially breast cancer patients and survivors, that they aren’t sexy and compliant enough for your playground? Start a “save the tits” campaign today!

Update: there are multiple notes in Randall Munroe’s comments suggesting that Booberday wasn’t originally about breast cancer. I haven’t gone tracking the source of it, but if it’s true that dynamic is interesting. “Ew, sexist” followed by “it’s ok, it’s for breast cancer”, and when Munroe among others challenged that, back to “oh no, it’s just about boobs, so people who are or care about breast cancer patients and survivors can chill out!”

See also Sticking a pink ribbon on it doesn’t excuse “Booberday”.

Star Trek Anniversary Cookies by Darla from http://bakingdom.com

Happy 45th Anniversary, Star Trek!

It’s the 45th anniversary of Star Trek today! I fell in love with the show during Star Trek: The Next Generation’s run, and in rewatching it with my sister I’ve been realizing a lot of stuff I didn’t notice the first time ’round. For one, I’d never really thought about how many minorities, women and people of all ages are just there, both in the background and the foreground. There was more diversity on the Enterprise-D or even the original series than I see in most movies today. No wonder I could always see myself on the Enterprise!

Anyhow, it’d be easy to go on and talk about how happy I am to live in the future that Star Trek helped inspire, but instead, I’m going to link someone else’s tribute to trek, because hers is, well, cuter:

Star Trek Anniversary Cookies by Darla from http://bakingdom.com

Star Trek Anniversary Cookies by Darla from http://bakingdom.com

Darla says,

What is a lonely girl geek to do on the 45th anniversary of one of her all time favorite shows?

Make cute cookies that everyone else will love, so that they’ll tolerate the Star Trek marathon that’s ’bout to play on Netflix Watch Instantly all day long. That’s what.

That’s one awesome way to celebrate an anniversary! Go visit her post, To Boldly Go Where No Cookie Has Gone Before… for many more pictures and explanation of how she did it!

And please feel free to reminisce about trek (or talk about cookies) in the comment below.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Rising above our sordid linkspamming nature (9th September, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Painting of a horse in Lascaux Cave

Wednesday Geek Woman: Annette Laming-Emperaire, archaeologist

Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.

Born in 1917, Annette Laming-Emperaire was a graduate student at the Sorbonne when she began to study Paleolithic cave paintings (like this one from Lascaux.)

Although during her life her brilliance was always apparent, her great originality seems to have burst into being like a fire. La signification turned out to be that most rare beast, a graduate thesis that changed an entire discipline.

All quotes are from The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World’s First Artists, by Gregory Curtis.

In this thesis, which became a 1962 book, Laming-Emperaire summarized the discovery of Paleolithic art and the methods proposed so far for dating it. Then she looked at various interpretations of the art that scholars had suggested over the years: that the paintings evoked hunting magic; that they were fertility symbols; that they represented the totems of tribes.

Then she dismissed it all.

All of this, the whole body of work dedicated to explaining cave art, sixty years of consistent effort by many brilliant minds, she sweeps aside.

For Laming-Emperaire, all the research that had come before her – all of it – was fatally flawed because it depended on ethnography…. Laming-Emperaire said researchers “indiscriminately invoke facts from some societies that, by their social, religious or economic structure, can be very different from prehistoric societies – about which we know practically nothing in any case – and that are often very different among themselves.”

Painting of a horse in Lascaux Cave

For the time of writing, Laming-Emperaire was making a distinctly 21st century point. She had harsh words for her predecessor, the abbé Breuil, who in his discussion of masks in the paintings had invoked Paleo-Siberians, the Inuit peoples, Native Americans from North and South America, the bushmen of South Africa and Australian tribes in turn – conveniently glossing over the fact that in each of these societies, the masks mean different things. The bushmen use them for hunting; the Native Americans use them for sacred dances and the Australian Aboriginal people use them to represent gods and ancestors. Different cultures are different from one another. Breuil’s argument tells us nothing whatever about the Paleolithic painters.

Laming-Emperaire went further. Such comparisons, she said, are inherently arbitrary. An archaeologist forms a hypothesis about an artifact, then trawls the monographs of ethnology for evidence that supports his view. Confirmation bias might as well be built into the process.

What, then, are our options? If we can’t use arguments from existing cultures to shed light on cave paintings, how else might we bring the Paleolithic painters back to life? As Laming-Emperaire saw it, our options exist on a spectrum between rigorous empiricism – exact and objective enumeration of places, shapes and sizes – and prehistorical fiction – just making stuff up. The discipline, she said, had been oscillating between these poles: “sclerotic rigor on one side, a lively but unreliable creation on the other.” In the rest of La signification, she tried to show another way forward.

We can know only three things (she argued) about a prehistoric artifact: how it was made; any signs of use; and where it was found. The methods of painting cave art are interesting, but they don’t shed much light on what the paintings mean. Nor is it helpful to look for signs of use, since in the vast majority of cases there simply aren’t any.

What she proposed, instead, was to look at where the paintings are. Instead of allowing our preconceptions and prejudices to blind us, Laming-Emperaire called us to pay attention to what is in front of our eyes. She drew diagrams of the cave walls illustrating what species were represented and which way they faced. By carefully inventorying each scene, she began to identify paintings that might represent the same scene: a bison in a trap, surrounded by horses; a man threatened by a bison.

If she is right, these scenes are the oldest messages in human history, communicating across tens of millennia. And this hypothesis is based not upon idle speculation, but upon rigorous scholarship. Not surprisingly, Laming-Emperaire’s own legacy changed archeology, and her influence endures.

This audacious graduate student is saying it’s time to leave the thinking and the methods of the past behind and march in the manner she prescribes into the future.

And, broadly speaking, that is exactly what happened. The goals and expectations are rather different, and the techniques, particularly those using computer graphics, are more sophisticated, but detailed inventories and comparisons like those she first suggested remain at the heart of the study of Paleolithic art.

Wikipedia: Annette Laming-Emperaire

Pillar covered by colourful advertising bills

Enough of this linkspamming nonsense (7th September, 2011)

  • (Warning: stalking and threats of sexual violence.) OkCupid allowing impersonation, which allows someone to set up an account with your email address inviting, essentially, harassing replies. (In this case, someone also maliciously posted their target’s address, which is harder for OkCupid to check for automatically, but a complaint should result in a takedown.)
  • Don’t dumb girls down: The next time you want to tell a little girl how cute she is, try something else instead. (Discussed on Hacker News, ‘ware general fail.)
  • Gender Bias in Wikipedia and Britannica in International Journal of Communication, Vol 5 (2011). Is there a bias in the against women’s representation in Wikipedia biographies? Thousands of biographical subjects, from six sources, are compared against the English-language Wikipedia and the online Encyclopædia Britannica with respect to coverage, gender representation, and article length.
  • Women’s Quest for Romance Conflicts with Scientific Pursuits, Study Finds: Four new studies by researchers at the University at Buffalo have found that when a woman’s goal is to be romantically desirable, she distances herself from academic majors and activities related to science, technology, engineering and math…
  • Seriously, stop with the booth babes: On the one hand, YES! Absolutely!
    On the other hand, women have been saying this for years and been told, "You're making too much of it."
    Now, all of a sudden, the mens are up in arms. *facepalm*
  • A widely linked nymwars post by danah boyd that we may not have shared yet: “Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power: She draws on Skud's survey, and adds some additional context based on her FaceBook research. boyd points out that ethnic minorities and teens have used handles on Facebook—signing up and giving the name that they were most commonly known by.
  • Felix Salmon believes Apple CEO Tim Cook’s sexuality should be publicly discussed. (Salmon discussed it in Don’t ignore Tim Cook’s sexuality and Why I’m talking about Tim Cook’s sexuality.) Ken Fisher at Ars Technica asks Does the press have an ethical duty to out powerful gays in tech? Note that Cook is not on the record about his sexuality or his private life much at all.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

A cluster of Venus fly traps

Eep: spam filter is looking for a feed

Bit of meta sorry: our site’s spam filter for comments seems to have an appetite this week, and has eaten some thirty or more legitimate comments. Eep!

We’re digging them out of the filter now, which should liven up some posts that have seemed surprisingly sleepy.

We already have an open thread, so comments on this thread should stick to spam filtering. And gardening. Yay gardening. How’s spring working out for southern hemisphere gardeners?

A cluster of Venus fly traps

by Selena N. B. H., CC BY

Adria Richards head-and-shoulders self portrait in front of a wall of stickers

Open thread: sloganeering

This open thread is inspired by Adria Richards and her wall of geek. The Flickr caption on this picture reads Behind Adria is her Geek Wall of logos. They reminder her how awesome technology is and help to stir up all sorts of conversations.

Adria Richards head-and-shoulders self portrait in front of a wall of stickers

Adria Wears Her Zendesk Shirt At Her Desk, by Adria Richards CC BY-SA

The stickers include ThinkGeek, Ubuntu, Tux, the WordPress logo, Windows XP, a sticker reading Well-behaved women rarely make history and others.

What slogans, thoughts, logos, inspirational or demotivational thoughts would go on your geekspiration wall?

Note: this post is an open thread, open to comments on any subject within the scope of our comment policy.

A vending machine containing RPG cards

Geeks as bullied and bullies

Warning: some misogynist and ableist slurs quoted, and links may contain comments with additional slurs.

Background:

Alyssa Bereznak went on a date, discovered her date was a champion Magic: The Gathering player whose life centred on it and thought it was uncool of him not to mention that in his OKCupid profile. She didn’t really spare the snark:

At dinner I got straight down to it. Did he still play [Magic: The Gathering]? “Yes.” Strike one. How often? “I’m preparing for a tournament this weekend.” Strike two. Who did he hang out with? “I’ve met all my best friends through Magic.” Strike three. I smiled and nodded and listened. Eventually I even felt a little bit bad that I didn’t know shit about the game. Here was a guy who had dedicated a good chunk of his life to mastering Magic, on a date with a girl who can barely play Solitaire. This is what happens, I thought, when you lie in your online profile. I was lured on a date thinking I’d met a normal finance guy, only to realise he was a champion dweeb in hedge funder’s clothing… Mothers, warn your daughters! This could happen to you. You’ll think you’ve found a normal bearded guy with a job, only to end up sharing goat cheese with a world champion of nerds.

Elly Hart describes Bereznak’s actions as creepy, bitchy and predatory (and apparently there’s much worse out there).

Sady Doyle argues that it’s OK, good in fact, to have preferences in dating and to exercise them:

NOT SO FAST THERE! The Internet, Ph.D. has found you guilty of OPPRESSION! That most horrible, socially harmful, Internet-comment-generating of all “oppressions:” Thinking stuff is kind of dorky. It’s awful! It’s mean! It’s unfair! And, worst of all, it results in women thinking they have the right not to sleep with men they find unattractive!

Doyle’s comment thread is worth a read. There’s a lot of push back, particularly noting that while the Internet at large has been massively faily, Alyssa Bereznak’s date (Jon Finkel) has himself responded quite calmly and non-horribly, and some people talking about Bereznak’s use of anti-geek snobbery and contempt. See for example Lilivati at 59:

I’m not defending the misogyny and sexism evident in the comments, because there is no call for that. Nor am I going to argue that nerds are an “oppressed group” on the order of other groups.

But when I’m at work and people are talking about their weekends, about how they rerouted the cable in their house or won a softball game or other “acceptable” uses of free time, when asked about MY weekend, I do not say “Oh, I picked out some new miniatures to paint and then spent most of Sunday playing Pathfinder online with my friends.”

Why not? Because -this- is what happens when you do. Your hobbies are not acceptable, so the “normal people” around you do their best to shame and humiliate you into more acceptable behavior.

And Kiturak at 77:

My problem is that there are people in my life who know about my being [feminist/ bi/ poly/ genderqueer/ mentally disabled] – and to whom I still wouldn’t tell What I Did During The Weekend.
Especially if I spend too much time(tm) on said embarrassing activity. Which I do as a means of escaping all that shit for just a little while, and doing something fun.
The problem is that this is what happens when I tell, as Lilivati said. I won’t even small-talk to people about my harmless fun-times. Because I don’t need yet another way of being called a freak.

There’s pushback against the pushback too. Amy at 69:

This is more about how sexism can function independently within a group of educated people. There are very few single comments here that I disagree with. BUT. There have been vastly more words exhausted on whether or not Ms. Bereznek’s article is mean/bad/elitist than on the truly horrible misogyny directed at her. And the latter was the point of [Doyles’s] article…

…women who say “no,” without any qualifiers or excuses, get a lot of dangerous backlash. Here we have a woman doing just that in a truly spectacular way. And there has been backlash. I didn’t expect to see backlash here, but it’s been here too. Not in any one comment, but in people expressing the same thoughts I originally had: “The misogyny is bad and no one deserves that, but she’s kind of an asshole.” And then proceeding to spend a lot more words on why she’s an asshole than on the misogynistic comments thrown her way.

Doyle at 74:

I’m really uncomfortable with the number of people here who are looking at “being kind of snobby about social interests” vs. “being openly misogynist,” and deciding that Problem A is more serious than Problem B. And it’s disappointing to me that so many women are willing to participate in that. Just above, I’ve got a (probably going to get deleted) comment that actually talks about nerds as a “minority” and says that her post is actually equivalent to a misogynist statement. And that’s just bullshit. I care a hell of a lot more about an institutional, structural oppression that’s gone on for thousands of years and resulted in the denial of human rights to half the planet than I do about people being snobby to each other sometimes. I don’t love snobbiness, either, but that doesn’t mean I have to pretend it’s even close to being a structural oppression, and deserves the same weight or importance in conversations.

Doyle continues at 83:

Actually? From what I can see, there’s a power dynamic that nobody is willing to talk about. Which is that nerds, on the Internet, are not bullied. They are the bullies. Maybe you just don’t want to talk to me about this, this week. Or maybe there’s the fact that the subculture is known for being aggressive, abusive, and misogynist, and that if you dare to think you’re allowed to have an opinion about it, you will receive (as I have done) the following comments:

* Bitch
* Cunt
* Psychotic
* Retard
* Shrill
* Hysterical…

The bully-bullied dynamic in geekdom and by geekdom is complex. Right now, there are people like Lilivati and Kiturak being shamed at best and hurt at worst for geeky interests. Geeks may not be a protected class experiencing oppression in the way the term is used in social justice, but victims of bullying and the bullying dynamic need and deserve systemic intervention. And women geeks have it worse: our geekiness is viewed as a more unacceptable departure from social norms, and our relative powerlessness leads to more bullying. Geeks rule parts of the Internet, but right now, there’s a geek (or a hundred) being shamed, teased or abused online too.

And absolutely, many geeks are bullies too. They bully within geekdom, they bully non-geeks when they can. Having been a victim of bullying is not protective against becoming a bully, in fact often experiencing bullying and abuse is where one learns the art of bullying others. It’s not news on this site that geek culture has its own takes on misogyny and other oppressions with a side of geeky spin.

So what then? I’m absolutely clear that Bereznak can end or never start relationships based on any criteria she pleases, and that women exercising preferences shouldn’t be a secret thing. (“Sure, women can reject men, but ssssssh it’s a secret.”) And Internet snark from women results in an unjustified maelstrom of hate, that’s for sure. On the other hand Bereznak isn’t exactly challenging acceptable-hobby hierachies here and while she may not have harmed Jon Finkel as it happens, people like Lilivati and Kiturak, geeky people who are also in marginalised groups, got hurt. And I don’t think that’s nothing, either. Geek marginalisation is important because organising one’s life around fields of interests is the way that some people prefer to live or the only way their mind works, it’s not inherently oppressive or unethical (although it is not inherently free of same either), and some (many) geeks are not cruel, entitled, misogynist, empowered Internet trolls. We’re not trying to improve geek culture for the high earning able-bodied etc geeks: we are doing it for the oppressed geeks, whose oppression comes with extra lumps of shaming and excluding for their geekiness.

I see Amy’s point though: it’s not acceptable either to say quickly: sure-there-was-some-misogynist-nastiness BUT HEY LOOK AT THAT ANTI-GEEK SNARK LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT 100%. I worry that in some ways we don’t talk about the misogyny because it’s simply such constant news. A woman spoke on the Internet. Cue hate. Even feminists are burned out or too scared to look, now.

Hard stuff folks: what do you think?

Elsewhere: On A Woman Choosing Not To Date A Geek

nina

in memory of nina reiser

Trigger warning for lethal violence against women

I picked up Stephen Elliott’s The Adderall Diaries with trepidation, because it’s at least nominally about the Hans Reiser murder trial, and Nina Reiser’s murder fucked me up. Her kids are the same age as mine. Her career counselor is my next door neighbor and friend. And her husband and mine are both Linux kernel programmers. They worked together at a Palo Alto startup during the boom, where Hans sometimes cornered my husband to rant about the extremely acrimonious Reiser divorce.

When news of Nina’s disappearance broke, I asked my husband:

“Do you think he killed her?”

He thought about it for a minute and said:

“I am not saying no.”

Trust me, this is not a thing you ever want to hear.

Elliott’s book is gorgeously written and as a San Francisco memoir has a great deal to recommend it; and it’s not really about Nina and Hans. The trial is more or less just a backdrop to Elliott’s wandering around the Mission District and Bernal Heights and taking too many drugs. I loved it, and I do not mean to suggest that Elliott should have written a different book, or no book at all – here I am writing about Nina to exorcise my own personal bullshit, after all.

I have two – not even criticisms, let’s say two observations to make about the book. The first is that I am sad, still sad, continually endlessly sad and angry at the way everyone else’s narratives collude to obscure Nina and her life. It’s not that she was a saint or a celebrity – the hagiographies that dwell on her “movie star good looks” set my teeth on edge – but she was an extremely intelligent and tough woman, coping admirably in a horrible situation, and by every account a wonderful, playful, caring and responsible mom.

And because she was murdered she is now, in some sense, public property. Everyone, myself included, projects his or her own personal issues all over her frozen image. Hans’s supporters call her a whore. Stephen Elliott remakes her in the image of his dead mother. Her death has become a set of Meanings that overwhelm her life, which had its own meaning, and which was her own. I mourn the Nina who was alive, and really nice and clever and ordinary. It’s not fair. It’s really shitty that she’s dead, and I hate it.

My second point is a little bit harder to make, but here goes. Elliott, God love him, has the creative professional’s lofty disdain for those of us who work in cubes. A brief stint as a search engine optimization specialist at the end of the boom has qualified him to rule on the working world once for all time, apparently. We are not an interesting set of stories, he concludes. We are too simplistic, and the world we inhabit is too black and white.

I actually find this endearing (I have a whole other rant about how people who don’t work in an office can’t write about working for a living and can’t begin to imagine how intricate and interesting it really is, a multi-dimensional 15-puzzle played with and by chimpanzees), but I think it misses part of what was going on with Hans, and maybe a big part. It misses Namesys.

Joshua Davis’s brilliant article in Wired (part of the inspiration for Elliott’s book) joined the dots between Hans’ code and his character, but a company is also an expression of a person’s soul. His brilliant Russian mail-order bride was a big part of Hans’s self-image as the startup entrepreneur who could afford to date, let’s face it, way out of his league. And much of the savagery of the divorce seemed to stem from Hans’s fears that Nina would imperil or claim for herself some part of his hoped-for payout from Namesys.

Hans felt that his intelligence gave him special privileges. (Did I mention that he and my husband worked together at Rearden Steel? Yes, named for the company in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. You can’t make this shit up.) Armed with his titanium sense of entitlement, Hans insisted on what he saw as his rights. And it seems that when Nina stood up for herself, he choked her to death in the driveway of his mother’s home while their children were playing in the basement.

He probably didn’t intend to kill her. My husband makes the macabre point that if the murder were premeditated, Hans would have been better prepared for it. Having done it, though, Hans thought he ought to get away with it. He thought he could outsmart the police. He thought that his intellect was so great that it was only reasonable that he should get away with murder.

Hard to think of a more graphic illustration of the way Silicon Valley-style technocratic capitalism can reinforce the kyriarchy.

But here I go again, indulging the temptation to make Nina’s death a metaphor, a political point, an argument, instead of what it is, which is a tragedy. Today, on the fifth anniversary of her murder, I remember Nina.