Metatalktail Hour: I Need a Hero! April 7, 2018 5:43 PM   Subscribe

Good Saturday evening, MetaFilter! This week, AugustWest wants to know, "Do you have any heroes and if so, who are they and why are they your hero?"

as always, chat about whatever's on your mind except politics. (And of course heroes might involve a little politics but let's not fight about the Present Unpleasantness.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee to MetaFilter-Related at 5:43 PM (41 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

My co-worker Tommy who has been going through her own shit the last few months but has still made the time to support me whenever I find myself crawling into a darker place. I think we've both been heroes for each other, trying to lift up the other, even when we're dealing with our own heavy burdens. Tommy isn't on this site, but she's my hero and I think I'll tell her that the next time I see her, along with a hug.

Sending out hugs to all you other heroes out there, you know who you are, you lift up others and shine a light. This is sentimental as shit but fuck it, I'm in earnest and it's good to know that there are good people out there. It makes dealing with all the rest of this shit (looking at you 2017-2018) a bit easier.
posted by Fizz at 5:57 PM on April 7 [8 favorites]


I think I’m at a point that I simply don’t trust heroes anymore, at least not the public kind. My own experience when meeting or working with famous people I looked up to almost always eventually led to disappointment. Not like a brief meeting, where they don’t have time to display their true self, but when I’ve had the opportunity to work over an extended period with a major figure that lots of people looked up to, it seems they invariably disappoint me with a meanness or a cruelty that seemed unnecessary. I suppose there’s an efficiency to be exploited by not suffering fools gladly, but being an asshole eventually is something I’ve experienced working with people I really looked up to over and over again. And #MeToo confirmed that theory for me. It’s not as simple as just being a genius. You need to be both talented and nice, or you’ll never get a ballad about you out of me.

That said, even though she was imperfect, my mom impressed the hell out of me, as does my wife and my very brave children. But I don’t want to share a personal story tonight. Instead, I want to enumerate the people here who impress the shit out of me. People who I want to emulate, at least online. I’ve only met one or two of them but they’ve all made an impression.

First, there’s Mathowie. Holy shit that guy impresses me. Imperfect, sure, but such a brilliant person and such an amazing thing he made. I still miss him. I don’t know or care about the history or politics behind the scenes. I’m sure it would lead to eventual disappointment. No thanks. Life has already provided a bounty of disappointment. I’d rather just think about what he did and said, and how it was surprisingly influential, human, precinct, and illuminating about how I thought of the web and communities. Really miss that guy.

That said, cortex wouldn’t be out of place on my list. He’s actually way funnier than Mathowie and I kind of relate to him for personal reasons. He seems clearly smarter than I am. He also seems like a good person with excellent judgment, save perhaps taking on such an enormous task.

There’s also Pater Aletheias, whom I really respect. Such a heart and such wisdom. And there are those minor heroes who seem to do one or two things really well, but seem like damn fine folk on top of it. The Welk is a comedy hero, and languagehat is an academic hero. ChuraChura is a field research hero, and Horace Rumpole is a bibliographic hero. MonkeyToes is a goddess hero, and Ocherdracho is a hero for her bravery.

There are others I really admire, and as I read their contributions they continue to impress, like lobstermitten, and goodnewsfortheinsane, and restless_nomad and all the fuckin mods, really, and Wordshore, and loquacious, and oh my god Eyebrows Mcgee, what a treasure.

I guess my point is that I think I’m done with looking to people whom I know really nothing about as heroes. People who are conflated with their products and creations and thus worshiped for the wrong thing. Making really cool stuff and doing really cool things is awesome, but if you don’t know how to treat a stranger with kindness and decency, if you can’t share from your heart, you don’t qualify as a hero in my book.
posted by Stanczyk at 6:44 PM on April 7 [17 favorites]


jessamyn: For so many reasons, really. You rule, lady. I feel like I've learned so much about how to be the adult and woman and activist I want to be from reading so many of your posts and comments across the internet over the years. I appreciate your way of being. I feel like for a lot of us here, you're like the big sister we never had.

Neko Case: My second favorite Vermonter-by-choice, Case is just amazing. Everything I read about her, every song of hers I hear, just makes me admire her more. I love her independence, her honesty, her punk unconventionality, her chutzpah, her candor, and the thought processes that are revealed in her songs.

Other singer-songwriters I admire: Carol van Dijk of Bettie Serveert, Sarah Bettens of K's Choice, Ringo Shiina, Michelle Branch, Shirley Manson of Garbage, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth...

The feminist women of color who led protests in Ferguson and beyond: Johnetta Elzie, who I feel lucky to have gotten to meet, is one of the first people to come to mind. I also think of Alexis Templeton and Brittany Ferrell, two beautiful queer women of color who met while protesting and got married. I learned so much from following all of their accounts during the protests—they influenced so many of my subsequent life choices. And Gwen Ifill, though not a protester, was a journalist who brought so many together at America After Ferguson and was of course amazing in many other ways, may she rest in peace. I also feel so lucky to have gotten to meet her.

Edward Crawford: He was the man in this iconic photo from Ferguson in 2014, wearing that American flag shirt, a bag of locally made Red Hot Riplets in one hand, a tear-gas canister trailing sparks in the other. Crawford sadly died last year, on May 4, 2017. Thinking about it still makes me want to cry. I think often of the spirit of protest and free speech he exemplified, and when I send care packages to friends out of town, I usually include a bag of Red Hot Riplets now in his memory.

Dream hangout: I had a dream recently I got to play soccer with Marilyn French, and I'd definitely count her among my heroes. The Women's Room was the first feminist book I ever read, out of the Rubbermaid storage tote on the porch of the counselor-in-training house I lived in one summer at Girl Scout camp.

Fictional characters: Cayce Pollard is fictional, but William Gibson made her an amazing iconoclast. I still want to be like her. Same for Kate Libby in Hackers.

And yeah, Stanczyk, you mentioned some other folks around here whose writing and thought process I also really appreciate. When I was a magazine editor, several of the same people came to mind for me when I was asked what writers I admired. Some of the non-MeFite contingent on that list wouldn't be on it anymore today for various reasons, and several of the MeFites on it don't hang around here that much anymore, but everyone there influenced me.
posted by limeonaire at 7:44 PM on April 7 [7 favorites]


Frances Kelsey.

Robert Goddard.

Yaz.

JFK

Fictional hero: Jim Rockford
posted by KazamaSmokers at 8:05 PM on April 7


Every person who has ever struggled with addiction and successfully achieved sobriety is a hero to me.

I usually poo-poo this kind of talk, but I believe that getting sober requires a genuinely heroic effort and it warms my heart to think of all the heros walking around every day like it ain't no thing. I raise my club soda to all of us!
posted by kinsey at 8:07 PM on April 7 [17 favorites]


Emma Gonzalez. That speech with the 6:21 of silence. GODDAMN. Also, the other Parkland kids. More of these kids getting on the lawns of people and leading.

My dad. He's got issues (Schizophrenia) but he's always been there for me 100%. He's just the most morally solid person I know. He annoys me at times (because he's 78 and I'm 45 and we live in the same house) but he's my favorite person.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:08 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]


Janette Sadik-Khan, former commissioner of NYC Dept of Transportation, is basically my hero. You may've seen me on the blue ranting lately about how people don't take street safety seriously enough, and she is a role model for livable street design (aka livable existence).
posted by ferret branca at 8:08 PM on April 7 [7 favorites]


Just so the MetaTalkTail crew knows: Wordshore is taking a break from MeFi. Hopefully the break will be short and not permanent.
posted by cooker girl at 8:15 PM on April 7 [20 favorites]


Ernestine Rose: Jewish, atheist, and feminist orator and activist of the 19th century. The story of her early life reads like a novel: argued in court as a teenager to get out of a marriage arranged by her father, appealed to the King of Prussia for exemption from a law requiring sponsorship of Polish Jews, and supported herself as an entrepreneur by creating room deodorizers.

Sometimes I suspect she may have elaborated on some of her early life story, but then I look at the documentary evidence of her life in America, and I wouldn't be surprised if her story were the whole truth either. She traveled the frontier by horse and wagon to advocate for women's suffrage and religious liberty and to educate about atheism. She toured with Susan B. Anthony. She saw a better world and urged us toward it:
In gratitude to the past, we owe a duty to the future.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:40 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]


Chiune Sugihara - He could have done nothing, and no one would have thought less of him; he could have done a little, and still been thought of as a hero, but he did everything he could - and doing that coming from a culture with a really strong emphasis on consensus and respecting decisions from the top, where that consensus was on not standing out and doing anything

I think a lot of people like to fancy that they themselves would be freedom fighters etc if push came to shove, but actually most people don't - that's how these things work. I fear I would fall in line with the masses if it came to it, but I always think of Sugihara's example as someone who acted, not because he had to; not because he was expected to, not because he was siding with the monsters if he didn't. He acted because it was the right thing to do.
posted by smoke at 10:13 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]


I guess to expand on that and how I... contextualise it in my own life. I feel like I often am faced with choices about whether to speak up or act, or do nothing - and no one would think less of me for doing nothing, but I should do something because it's the right thing to do. This might mean picking up some rubbish that isn't mine, or telling a colleague I don't want them making sexual jokes around me anymore. I use Sugihara's example to remind myself that I can be part of the solution or part of the problem, even though my situations are far more trivial than his.
posted by smoke at 10:23 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


Gregg Popovich. Sure, he’s a sports ball coach, but he is a true leader in a way that inspires me. He brooks no bullshit, calls it as he sees it & does not gladly suffer egos, which is a monumental task in sports ball. There is no one alive I’d rather have dinner with. I truly wish he’d run for president but I also gather that he’s no fool.

David Bowie. Look, I’m a musician who came of age in the 70’s. I really shouldn’t have to explain this. He was apparently universally kind & encouraging to those around him, & was so instrumental in starting or reviving so many careers of musicians he believed in. His gifts to the world of music are immeasurable.

Cold Chef. His twitter descriptions of what he goes through on a daily basis with grieving families — man, only a true saint could keep the kind of composure he does under those circumstances.

The whole of Doctors Without Borders. The more I read about what these guys do, the more in awe I am of their mission & achievements.

Neko Case, a successful independent musician in the post-label, post-radio, post-royalty bold new future. Also one to not gladly suffer fools (see her rant about Rolling Stone labeling her a “woman in music,”).

Stevie Ray Vaughan, for forgoing his anonymity & using his fame to try to help addicts seek recovery - he was a big motivator for me. I saw him use & drink, & thought “Shit, if he Could do it...”

St. Augustine of Hippo, patron saint of printers.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:41 PM on April 7 [7 favorites]


Mr. Rogers. BOOOM I WIN SUCKAS
posted by Jpfed at 11:31 PM on April 7 [16 favorites]


This is another one of those questions where I overflow with answers.
My mother, for her basic goodness as a human being, in large things and small.
My friends Satoshi and Yuki, for handling parenting in general and parenting a disabled kid in particular with grace and care, realism and good humor.
Sakai Toshihiko, for living his principles (among them, the one about women actually being human beings, not typical of his place and time) and keeping a sense of humor throughout.
Yamamoto Senji ("I'll hold the fort alone") for his courage, and his humanity, and for helping bring birth control to Japan.
Winifred Holtby, Nella Last, Hermione Ranfurly.
Etty Hillesum.
posted by huimangm at 12:38 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


This is a bit lame, but at the moment my big hero is my SO. Her best mate since forever (single digit age) is soon to die from lots and lots of cancer. The support she has given - from meals, to marshalling others, to simply sitting with a person too debilitated to really respond - amazes me, because I’m just not that good at people, and I would be utterly bereft.

Apologies to Nick Farr-Jones and Paddy Kisnorbo.
posted by pompomtom at 5:51 AM on April 8 [5 favorites]


And John Eales, obviously...
posted by pompomtom at 6:12 AM on April 8


Heroes:

My friend Megan who parents a child with autism with extreme patience and ferocity. She also terminated a much wanted pregnancy when they received a diagnosis of anencephaly. How she managed to go on after that is a testament to her strength.

Mister Rogers.

The kids from Parkland.

Malala.

Michelle Obama.

Any child going through cancer treatments.

Single parents.

My son.
posted by cooker girl at 6:13 AM on April 8


Probably not as the person I am now, which is a sad thing.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:37 AM on April 8


My riding coach is my hero. I first met her when she was about 20 and knew a thing or two about riding and overcoming adversity, and in the few short years since then (she turns 27 this week) she has grown into one of the most knowledgeable, hardworking, encouraging, big-hearted, selfless people I know. She works 6 days a week as a barn manager/instructor, trains several competition teams to great success on the local schooling show circuits despite substandard facilities and a string of slaughter-bound throw-away auction horses, she cleans houses in her "free time" to cover the bills, is "mom" to a giant menagerie of horses, dogs, cats, small critters, and a man-baby or two in her life, and is a tireless cheerleader who cares deeply about the people around her.
posted by drlith at 7:46 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Do you have any heroes and if so, who are they and why are they your hero?

Woz, because having finally figured out exactly how his Disk II floppy controller works there was no other course open to me but to press my forehead to the floor and chant we are not worthy, we are not worthy.

Seymour Cray is generally reckoned to be computer design's J. S. Bach; if that's true, Woz is its Jimi Hendrix.
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


I share the sense of caution about capital-h Heroes among public figures that Stanczyk talked about, a sense of having my capacity to rely on the infallibility of any sufficiently visible person at this point too tattered by the demystifying and disappointing encroachment of reality. It's like an old sweater worn out to the point of disintegration, that can't be relied on for comfort when comfort was the main thing it had going for it.

I believe in the capacity of people to be moral and good and brave and to do the right thing when it's hard, and I admire that greatly in the people I see managing to do it with consistency, but it correlates poorly with folks whose e.g. creative output I admire and so I've dissociated the two ideas in my mind for the most part. Decency and ethical courage are great things and don't need to be married to a mythos to have value, or to be dragged down with the wreckage of that mythos when it falls.

This is just personal stuff, though. None of it is meant as an argument against having heroes or toward a specific working definition of what the word should mean. I just find that I have trouble relating to the word; my worldview at this point is so much one of seeing things in the shape of making the best of necessary compromises and inevitable and plentiful imperfections that I end up reducing the question to "who is doing good, more or less", and I take comfort in the fact that I see a lot of people in the world managing to clear that bar even when there's also a lot of folks conspicuously failing to try.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:35 AM on April 8 [8 favorites]


Shuji Nakamura.

Who?

He invented the blue LED and his efforts initially netted him a whopping $200 bonus (although years later, he received a Nobel Prize). True Boo-Roo is a very early Wired article about his struggle.
posted by Rash at 9:58 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


Cortex, as usual, articulated clearly what I've been struggling to formulate. Real life provides lots of examples of people doing good and brave things, but I can't quite bring myself to call them heroes. Real people are messy and contradictory, and whenever I learn about somebody who's done something righteous I've sort of come to expect that they're also an asshole in other ways (e.g. Oskar Schindler). There are lots of real people I admire but I try to compartmentalize the good things they've done and not expect the whole person to be purely noble and good.

I guess that's my personal definition of a hero and for that, I look to fiction. I really need some heroes at this point - 2017 felt pretty scary and 2018 isn't looking much better - and fictional heroes are better than nothing! So at this point I'll sheepishly say that Captain America is my hero. After a lifetime of mostly ignoring comics I'm surprised that Cap is really growing on me, but I think he checks all my boxes: brave, good, idealistic, and open-minded. He's willing to admit he's wrong (cf "I'm from Fresno, ace") and I think that's what really endears him to me. I still can't read comics or graphic novels - constantly switching between text and pictures just breaks my brain - but I've enjoyed the movies , especially "Winter Soldier", and I'm really digging the Steve/Bucky fanfic that's been recommended on the Blue (got any new recs? send 'em along!). I never thought I'd live to see a gay all-American superhero, but I'm delighted. And seeing people writing and reading about this kind of hero tells me that others share these values, which gives me a little hope for our sorry-ass times.
posted by Quietgal at 11:21 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Lots of people in history and alive today were or are unusually admirable (or did some really admirable thing despite being just human in other ways). Maybe those people were heroic, maybe generally, maybe very narrowly, maybe just for one shining moment in their lives. Maybe.

But having a hero is a personal and active thing, isn't it? You can't just read about someone once and claim that person as your hero. You have to go on thinking about and modeling yourself after that person, don't you? That sort of hero-having, the role-model sort, I don't have.

There are lots of heroes out there, but none of them are mine.
posted by pracowity at 11:36 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I'm finding this to be a provocative and interesting question because it's hard to define what a hero is in the first place, and as we're all finding out hero worship can have consequences.

I don't have a lot of direct heroes, but a lot of inspiration. I can't think of anyone I would directly or completely want to model myself after, because no one else would fit, and that's fine and even surprisingly mature for me.

Famous, tech, arts and sciences: Hedy Lamarr, Admiral Grace Hopper, Wendy Carlos, Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram. Ursula K. LeGuin. Kate Bush.

More personally I have a friend I've known since I was ten who has always been ahead of the curve and rock solid on how to be both nice and ethical. I've been in moral/ethical dilemma before and have asked myself, "Ok, what would he do?" He's also been a life long friend that's essentially my adopted family.

I also really look up to a few artist friends of mine, especially the women. I've seen them stick with it and grow over years. I've seen the politics and bullshit they have to put up with, and the extra servings they get for being women in the arts trying to make statements about gender, sexism and other issues.

One of the things I've talked about is the lack of visible role models for trans or GQ folks. So a few of my trans role models are right here on MeFi, and I likely wouldn't have been brave enough or been able to figure things out without their visibility and openness talking about it.

There's also a bunch of MeFites I admire a great deal for being awesome, interesting, kind and highly ethical people.
posted by loquacious at 12:30 PM on April 8 [5 favorites]


Hunter S. Thompson. Spaulding Gray. Lou Reed. Lou Barlow.
posted by vrakatar at 6:18 PM on April 8


Interestingly (or not), I do not have a definition of what a hero is or should be. As a child, I had two sports figures as heroes. One, Thurman Munson. Two was John Wooden. Now that I am over 50, I still admire them both, but my current working definition of a hero is the every person who gets up, goes to work, raises whatever family in whatever form they want and just plugs away at life. The single mother. The disabled person that overcomes. The ex-con who is trying to do right. People who dedicate their lives to the service of others or to the service of their community are heroes too in my book.

My boys are firemen and one of them is in the military and there are all sorts of folks in the FD, the PD, the Military, that put their life on the line daily and don't falter. Those are heroes too.

People who stand up for principle even at their own peril are heroes to me.

People who can lead by example, who are role models not because they try to be, but because of who they are.

I would add my grandfather too for all he overcame without once complaining or without once wavering in his desire and efforts to make a better life for his family. Add to that his mischievous sense of humor and...

When it comes to superheroes, I am on Team Superman. The black and white tv show from the 50s.
posted by AugustWest at 6:39 PM on April 8 [2 favorites]


Jesus, John, and Elvis
Son Of God, President and Pelvis
These are the big three, if you ask me
(and they all had good hair)
Jesus John & Elvis
Dick Siegel 1992
Saw Siegel in a small concert venue downtown Houston, late 80s, early 90s, also @ the Kerrville Folk Festival, round about that same time. A fun show.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:09 PM on April 8


This is so easy it’s not even funny. Lots of “heroes” are people who have cultivated a life of fame through their talent: David Byrne, Pele, Barack Obama. These are people with amazing skills and worthy of emulation, but are they heroes? I’m not so sure. Then there’s people who were in the right place at the right time and made the critical right decision: the guy who landed the plane on the Hudson River, the 911 responders, Jackie Robinson. These people made heroic decisions but they were instinctual and not necessarily sustained acts to put themselves in harm’s way over time.

I think to qualify as a hero (in my book) you need to be a person that places the well being of others over your own, and make active decisions to do so, sustained over a long period of time. The level of difficulty in doing so is factored in.

When I started my current position (super hero life saver at an urban Underserved clinic), on my first day, I was assigned my very own personal medical assistant. K was a few months out of medical assisting school. Prior to this job, she was working at a Jiffy Lube. K’s parents were drug addicts and her father died from his drug use when she was 12. She became pregnant when she was 14 and thanks to a state program she was sent to rural Oregon where she could maintain her own sobriety, continue school, and carry her pregnancy to a healthy term delivery. Throughout her childhood and this period, her primary person of support was her grandmother. She raised her son, clean and sober, as best she could as a teenage single mother working various jobs. One day she met a good man and fell in love with him and got married. The only problem was he was an undocumented immigrant who fled Narco violence in Mexico to start some kind of life in the US. Like I said, he is a good man who worked hard and became a valued employee at his fish processing plant and eventually the two of them became pregnant, eventually giving birth to a beautiful daughter. So K, now with a son and a daughter, and a messed up family of origin decided she would do what it took to provide for her family and give them the best opportunity she could.

She got her job at Jiffy Lube and her husband stayed on at the fish processing plant. At some point she realized she was a capable fast learner that had something to give. She decided to give MA school a chance.

Working with her I found a kindred soul. My approach with employees who work with me is to give them the freedom to use their gifts and their experience to work with me however possible toward a common goal. She is able to crack black humor jokes and talk gangsta while absolutely respecting the patients and doing whatever it takes to make them feel comfortable and normal and honor their story. She alone is responsible for saving the lives of a dozen people she convinced to go get that mammogram that showed cancer or that Pap smear that wasn’t on my radar.

2012: Her husband the undocumented immigrant gets shot in the stomach during a robbery attempt. He survives but doesn’t want to report it or testify for fear of deportation. Turns out the perpetrator is a serial robber and the police want to get him and her husband can help close this case and the police offer to help him apply for a green card for his cooperation and K convinces him this is the best thing long term for her family.

2014: after a period of unusual dizziness her 13 year old son is diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his brainstem. We get him in to the best pediatric neurosurgeon in the country (my wife is friends with him) and we do a kickstarter to keep her paid while she takes time off work to deal with every parent’s nightmare. Her son undergoes successful surgery and returns to work four months later.

All the while, she is my right hand person. My patients come to see me as much as they come to see her. She conveys a joy and concern for each and every broken person that comes to me for help and they love her for it. She drives an hour in traffic each way to get to work and is offered higher paying jobs much closer to home and she declines them over and over because the work she does with me is important to her.

2016: she and her husband have put away enough money to buy a home in the impossible seattle housing market. At her housewarming party I could not possibly be more proud of her.

2018: her son’s brain tumor has recurred and it is inoperable. The world’s greatest pediatric neurosurgeon now has a special interest in her son. He recommends continued monitoring. Sometimes these things stay quiet and he’s not symptomatic so let’s just watch carefully. He’s 17 now, he’s taken a job at McDonald’s (though he’s vegetarian) and on the fast track to being manager. He’s graduAting on time despite his health problems. I gave him his first guitar and he’s now playing in his own garage band.

Her daughter is 13 and is a straight A student and is a ridiculously good kid.

Her grandmother who raised her is now dying of vascular disease and she is the only responsible family member who is dealing with her hospice care, helping to settle her financial affairs and taking her to doctor appointments.

Now that Trump is president, her husband, who continues to work and pay taxes and is a valued member of his company, his family, and his community now faces an uphill battle and faces a very real possibility of deportation. His initial hearing was decided unfavorably by the judge because the social security number he’d been using was associated with several crimes across the country. K’s husband is currently traveling around the country obtaining every police report associated with the social security number he’d been using in order to prove that it wasn’t him that robbed that bank or kidnapped that woman.

Despite all of this, she shows up every day to work her underpaid and under appreciated job because she knows that these people depend on her, that her presence makes the medical system accessible to people who are completely disenfranchised and she gets to practice with genuine warmth and love and our hundreds/thousands of patients are far better off because or it.

She has far more immediate concerns that would derail most of the rest of us, but her commitment to her family is the same as her commitment to her patients. The issues her family is dealing with are the same issues her patients are dealing with and she understands that struggling with them at home is the same as dealing with them at work. That to me is heroic. Everyone deserves the same consideration and compassion and I am amazed at how K is able to deal seamlessly with each and every person in her life struggling with these issue.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:17 PM on April 8 [23 favorites]


Heroes.
posted by JanetLand at 5:30 AM on April 9


Not my hero, but given folks people's comments, this seemed apropos.
All My Heroes were Junkies - Ellis Paul
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:22 AM on April 9


The hero that comes to my mind is my undergraduate supervisor who has ever since been at least as much of a mentor to me as any other advisor I've had in my academic career. She got her PhD in the 60s training under the generation of researchers who discovered the foundations of molecular biology using phages. After an abundantly successful post-doc at the University of Virginia discovering the first real reason why some organisms use non-canonical nucleotides in their DNA, she mentioned to the head of her department that she intended to apply for a faculty position that had opened. On paper at least she was way stronger than anyone they could expect to attract, and even without the open position it would have been obvious to hire her as she would have come free having been granted what was at the time a huge NIH grant. However, the head of her department went red-faced angry and yelled at her for having the temerity to apply for a faculty position when she had two young children at home, and threatened to no longer sign for her grant should she apply. The way she describes it at the time she wasn't entirely sure he was wrong, but was convinced to fight for her career when she was shown the Nobel lecture of Salvador Luria, which referenced her work. So she left.

She ended up taking her large research grant to what was essentially then little more than a small glorified hippie commune in the Pacific Northwest. While there she built a lab I've described before out of undergrads and the occasional post-doc that did world class research. From the 70s to the early 90s, they helped to sequence and annotate one of the first genomes ever fully sequenced, which was at the time the largest ever sequenced, and is still arguably the best understood genome that is larger than a plasmid. During that time, some of the first guidelines for the handling of recombinant DNA were drafted on her kitchen table, she helped build up a science faculty that is now doing really cool science and education with a model of real undergraduate research she pioneered, and trained a whole generation of molecular biologists who scattered across other fields.

This changed though in the 90s, after she went on a research exchange to the Soviet Union and found that people there had been using the phages she had already spent a full scientific career picking apart to understand molecular biology to instead treat bacterial disease. Her generation of phage biologists in the west had always dismissed phage therapy as impossible due to overly empirical assumptions about how phages would interact with the immune system they never bothered to test, which turn out to be wrong, and assumptions about host range that we've known since the 20s only really hold true for the one bacteria they tended to study and aren't as limiting as they thought. To almost all of her colleagues, phage therapy was just a crackpot relic of the pre-pharmaceutical era that had long been disproven by a set of influential reviews in JAMA that very convincingly showed that he unregulated snake oil salesmen who passed for a pharmaceutical industry in the 30s couldn't make effective phage products. However, she saw the work being done in Moscow and Tbilisi herself, and was convinced enough to change the whole orientation of her lab towards more classical microbiology techniques that would be needed to investigate questions that would be important for understanding phage therapy, like: What exactly happens when phages infect cells that aren't actively growing, like most infectious bacteria aren't while they're in situ?

For a long time many of the, largely male, serious researchers in the field continued to dismiss her with phage therapy generally. Indeed, for the first time in her career her lab went between major grants, and for years at a time, as they stopped getting taken seriously and as she nurtured the idea of phage therapy. However, she grew the handful of researchers interested in the idea into a global scientific community that is about to attract at least 500 to Wroclaw, is currently saving lives with phage with treatments that are increasingly part of the standard of care, and has now astonishingly attracted many of the same serious researchers who expressed different ideas 20 years ago. In large part because of her, we now have the most commonly cited solution to the antibiotic crisis, something commonly referenced as one of the greatest threats to mankind, ready for more widespread adoption over the next few years.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:06 AM on April 9 [7 favorites]


My hero lately is Americana singer Jason Isbell. I keep meaning to do an FPP about him, as he's a terrific musician/songwriter, a hilarious Twitterer, and an all around good person. He's a rare bird as a country singer (admittedly more of the alt-country stripe, but he's a big enough deal to get CMA and Grammy noms alongside Nashville stars anyway) whose nuanced, considered tunes touch on topics like privilege, post-Trump rage, and racism. He consistently tweets progressive stuff, but with a kind of humble, affable common sense southern decency to him that we've sort of forgotten can be held by folks at the left end of the spectrum. He's used his fame to do things like push for more female representation in Nashville and oppose Roy Moore's campaign with fundraising concerts in his home state. He's also a snappy dresser who's been featured in GQ. ("I get a kick out of people who think because I make Americana music I’m supposed to dress like a damn horse repairman or some shit.")

Seriously, he's amazing. Check him out having an extended mutual interview with George Saunders.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:10 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


In another one of these threads, on March 18, I shared the following:
I’d appreciate it if mefites keep me in their thoughts this week. On Monday March 26, there is going to be a hearing at my university which will determine whether the university considers the man who raped me to be responsible for his actions. I’m preparing for the hearing this week, and I can use all the good vibes I can get.
I am enormously relieved to report that the hearing panel has found my assailant RESPONSIBLE on all three charges. (They were: non-consensual sexual contact, non-consensual intercourse and/or penetration, and non-consensual physical violent contact during sexual contact.)

I am full of relief to have been believed, and heartened to know that the process can, sometimes, lead to the correct result. I do not yet know what the sanctions will be, but I have previously been told that it could not be anything less than suspension or expulsion. It would be incorrect to say I am happy; my assailant was, until the night he assaulted me, one of my closest friends, and this will almost certainly end his career in medicine just as it was to have begun (he was supposed to graduate from medical school next month). He was drunk and doesn't remember the assault. I feel positive about the outcome, because it is the correct one, and the one that values my humanity over his potential, but it's still a tragedy that he threw away a decade of training in one night of drunkenness—and he doesn't even remember throwing it away.

But he is the one who threw it away. He brutally hurt me, and now the university has acknowledged that. The outcome of the hearing has lifted an immense weight from my shoulders and I can finally, after six months of agony, focus on my future rather than on what happened that night.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:30 PM on April 9 [44 favorites]


I'm so glad to hear that, ocherdraco.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:10 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Oh, thank God, ocherdraco! I've been thinking of you and hoping to hear a just outcome.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:29 PM on April 9 [4 favorites]


ocherdraco, that is the best news I've heard in a long time. I'm so grateful that you were believed and you hopefully can now have some closure.
posted by cooker girl at 5:38 AM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Another person relieved to hear it, ocherdraco.
posted by brainwane at 1:44 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Glad for you, O. Sending you good vibes.

As for heroes: me, baby!
posted by stinkfoot at 3:53 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Thanks, Stanczyk, for the kind words, and I'm so glad, ocherdraco, for some good news in this horrible situation.

As for my heroes, it sounds trite and cliched to say Martin Luther King, Jr but I'm going to say Martin Luther King, Jr. The more I become committed to a philosophy of non-violence, the more I rely on him to help show me the way. And, alongside King, Bayard Rustin, who should be much better known than he is, and also Walter Wink, whose "myth of redemptive violence idea" has stayed with me since I first read him more than 15 years ago. Because of those three and some other influences, my conception of non-violence has moved from a general anti-war sentiment to non-retaliation, to a commitment not to use violence or any threat of harm to achieve my goals. I'm still getting better at that, because my default response to some situations is to raise my voice, seek to intimidate, or pull rank (often in parenting contexts) but I'm convinced that ultimately the only path to create the just world I seek is through humility, patience, and self-sacrifice, as well as the dismantling of coercive social structures.

“The myth of redemptive violence is, in short, nationalism become absolute. This myth speaks for God; it does not listen for God to speak. It invokes the sovereignty of God as its own; it does not entertain the prophetic possibility of radical judgment by God. It misappropriates the language, symbols, and scriptures of Christianity. It does not seek God in order to change; it embraces God in order to prevent change. Its God is not the impartial ruler of all nations but a tribal god worshiped as an idol. Its metaphor is not the journey but the fortress. Its symbol is not the cross but the crosshairs of a gun. Its offer is not forgiveness but victory. Its good news is not the unconditional love of enemies but their final elimination. Its salvation is not a new heart but a successful foreign policy. Its usurps the revelation of God's purposes for humanity in Jesus. It is blasphemous. It is idolatrous.”
― Walter Wink, The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium

I also think often of two different pastors, one of whom wrote me a letter once that encouraged me to "stop worrying about whether you are normal--normalcy is too lofty a goal for any of us" and another who told me "it may be hard to see right now, but there is a path form where you are to a purposeful and satisfying life." Both of those were the right word at the right time for me. I hope from time to time I can say something so helpful to someone else.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:18 AM on April 12 [3 favorites]


Right now I love the host of Pod Save the People, DeRay Mckesson, and his cohosts Clint Smith III, Brittany Packnett, and Sam Sinyangwe. Heros in the sense that I want my sons to be inspired to fight for social justice as they do.
posted by biggreenplant at 4:18 PM on April 13


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