Sunday, December 08, 2019

A Blast From The Past: The Extreme Male Brain

I recently came across that old argument that the existence of an "extreme male brain" is the real explanation for autism.  Given this, it might be worth my while to review here some of the results from research I did earlier on the work of Simon Baron-Cohen, the creator of that concept.  In particular, I want to explain how he tested the existence of supposed male and female brains and what is veryvery wrong with those tests:

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Democratic Socialism and Happiness. The Nordic Model?

A Current Affairs article provides lots of interesting graphs about democratic socialism and its possible relationship to being able to have a contended life.

I like the article quite a bit, but I would like to see what happens if the five Nordic countries (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland) are removed from the graphs. 

It looks to me like the positive correlation the graphs suggest might be much reduced if we did that.  And that, in turn, suggests that perhaps the Nordic type of democratic socialism has something the other types do not have, or at least not to the same extent.  More equality between men and women, say?

Or it could just be that a cold environment makes people's brains work better when it comes to creating fair societies.  (Just kidding).

Me And Orange Marmalade

My favorite breakfast is a slice of very sour and dark rye bread with Swiss cheese and orange marmalade.  And bucketfuls of strong coffee.

It's about the marmalade I wish to write.  I love orange marmalade, almost as much as I love chocolate, but orange marmalade does not love me.

Or perhaps it does?  You decide.  For some weird reason it doesn't matter how careful I am in spreading it on the bread or how carefully I place a very thin sliver of cheese over it, to cover it completely, or how carefully I put the knife I used away.  Whatever I do, there will be orange marmalade all over my fingers up my arms, behind my ear, and, once, even in the back of my head, stuck to the hair.

If I take my breakfast back to bed I have to launder the marmalade-covered pillow-cases and often the sheets, too.

What causes this to happen?  I suspect a revenge from Zeus, because no other sticky food makes me lose all the nimbleness of my fingers, no other edible item ends up all around the outside of my coffee mug, and no other condiment ends up all over my body.  Or I might be hexed.

I once spent a night at a hotel in southern Illinois where the skies are enormous and the earth flat and where hotels seem to never have heard about orange marmalade.  Realizing that it isn't available everywhere, like oxygen, made me feel deflated and weird, as if some major physical law of the world had been disproved.  Coming home to my pot of marmalade meant relief and a return to normalcy.


This post will be archived under "stupid rubbish to get my writing going."


Thursday, December 05, 2019

Short Posts 12/5/19. On Gender Gap in Wages, Trump's Hurt Fee-Fees, US Health Care Costs Etc.

1.  I was doing housecleaning on the blog and found a  post from last spring about how to interpret the gender gap in wages (between men and women, that is).  It's a pretty good one for clarifying how to interpret the gross gap (or how not to interpret it).

2.  What the fuck is this organization?

3.  Our Supreme Leader is very thin-skinned, because he is a narcissist (see narcissistic rage), not because he feels as if the truly elite circles won't admit him.  This article argues the latter.   It's not completely wrong, of course, because the narcissistic personality disorder might be caused by a person's early life experiences.  But most mature individuals don't huff and puff and flounce off when their feelings are hurt, only to express their displeasure on Twitter. 

4.  I find writing almost impossible right now.  My apologies for disappointing anyone in that way.

5.  This video shows some British reactions to US medical care prices.  I should write more about the reasons why the US prices are so high, though I have done it many times in the past.


Monday, December 02, 2019

Post-Thanksgiving Echidne Musings

1.  I find it tough to write much in this Age Of Unreason.  What's the point of trying to dig up facts and logical arguments when they never grow any kind of wings or learn to fly, poor modest sparrows?  Everybody prefers watching the vultures eat roadkill or listening to the gaudy peacock scream out its rage.

(This means that I think I'm logical, rational, cool and collected, and that most of the online world has gone berserk.  Your opinion may differ.)

2.  Do this thought experiment:  Turkeys rule the world and humans are regarded as one of the "other animals."  They are of two types, the wild ones (which look like us), and the ones in cages.  The latter are artificially bred so that they are very very fat and extremely stupid.

Every year the turkey-world Thanksgiving television shows nattily dressed male turkeys mercifully pardoning one fat human from the oven.  Other turkeys can even vote for the one they would like to see live.

(This means that I have a very radical and fanatic streak, having to do with animal rights.)

3.  My take on the world is frequently too gloomy and bitter.  To sweeten that a little,  I want to give thanks that Sudan has now repealed the law which the earlier government put in place in 1992 and which, among other things,  severely limited women's dress and behavior*.  Those severe limitations were intended, of course.  And that's why the repeal of the law is both a good thing in itself and perhaps a sign of a change in cultural mores.

4.  Belated Thanksgiving wishes to you all.  I am thankful for my compassionate, intelligent and charming readers.


* A short overview of the effects of the repealed law:

The Law includes articles from chapter 15 of the Sudan Criminal Code, that criminalise certain personal behaviours such as indecent clothing, drinking of alcohol, offensive acts and seduction, among others.
Moreover, the Law covers a wide jurisdiction that includes the gathering of women and men in certain places, the use of public transportation, conditions of ‘good conduct’ for women workers, the use of loudspeakers, music concerts, and the opening hours of restaurants and shops.
Repressive tool’
The articles and provisions of the Law are specifically formulated in vague language, to give the police and the courts a free hand in its implementation, the SDFG says. The Law also gave the Public Order Police the powers of intrusion in private domains to enforce its articles.
Article 152 of the Criminal Code, on indecent clothing, is a good example of the vague definitions in the Law. The article does not set a concise definition of what constitutes ‘indecent clothing’. Thus, the application of this Article depends on the personal judgement of the arresting police officer.
In addition to this, it has led to misuse of the law by Public Order Police officers. There are numerous cases where detained women were financially, physically, and even sexually abused by policemen in exchange for their release.
These practices turn the Law into a repressive tool to enforce a particular behaviour and image of the society, the SDFG report reads.
The Public Order Law promotes discrimination against women with most of its articles focusing on their activities. The application of these articles systematically targets the presence of women in the public sphere in an attempt to limit their mobility and social activities.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Every Sperm Is Sacred. And Each Ectopic Pregnancy, Too.

In the great state of Ohio a bill introduced in the state legislature doesn't just want to ban abortion completely.  It also wants ectopic pregnancies to be re-implanted in the pregnant woman's uterus.

There is no medical procedure that could achieve that, but never mind, because the point of these proposals is to pull and tug our public discourse toward the far-right edge of pure misogyny*. 

Thus, it's not only abortions our wannabe forced-birth overlords and overladies work to control; it's the whole pregnancy and every stage in it that could go wrong.  And at each of those stages the only focus is on the fetus.  It's utterly irrelevant for those who wrote this bit of lunacy that an ectopic pregnancy can be a life-threatening medical emergency** for that aquarium presumably existing only for the purpose of letting fetuses swim in it.  Because it's only an aquarium in the forced-birth world, not an actual human being.

The proposal also includes other nice bits:

In addition to ordering doctors to do the impossible or face criminal charges, House Bill 413 bans abortion outright and defines a fertilized egg as an “unborn child”.
It also appears to punish doctors, women and children as young as 13 with “abortion murder” if they “perform or have an abortion”. This crime is punishable by life in prison. Another new crime, “aggravated abortion murder”, is punishable by death, according to the bill.

It's common for pro-choice writers to muse about the reasons for such extreme forced-birth views and it's also equally common for them to offer various theories about the impact of retrogressive religions and so on.  But whatever the underlying explanations might be, they are clearly linked with viewing women as tools (aquaria for fetuses) which should be under the control of those who keep writing such bills, not as full human beings.

(For the every sperm is sacred reference, watch this YouTube video.)

*  I doubt the proposal will pass.  Its real purpose is that changing of the goalposts in what is deemed acceptable compromises when it comes to abortions.

On the impossibility of the reimplanting procedure:

There is no procedure to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy,” said Dr Chris Zahn, vice-president of practice activities at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “It is not possible to move an ectopic pregnancy from a fallopian tube, or anywhere else it might have implanted, to the uterus,” he said.
“Reimplantation is not physiologically possible. Women with ectopic pregnancies are at risk for catastrophic hemorrhage and death in the setting of an ectopic pregnancy, and treating the ectopic pregnancy can certainly save a mom’s life,” said Zahn.

**  I know two cases where an ectopic pregnancy happened, one with a good ending.  The last thing the medical providers, working feverishly to save a life, should worry about in such crisis situations is going to prison because of not managing to perform a nonexistent medical procedure.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Echidne Thoughts, 11/23/19. On the Online World, Misogyny, Choking And Other Stuff

1.  If nothing else comes out of the impeachment hearings, at least more people have become familiar with the term quid pro quo.

2.  It's great fun to notice how many people in online debates say that something has been rebutted by studies without being able to bring up any of those studies.  Because few people will put their wading boots on to enter the deep waters of research to check on such assertions, those who are most assertive tend to look persuasive.

3.  Though of course giant chunks of political debates are not about facts and evidence in the first place, but about fee-fees and anger and desire for power.  Not that there's anything wrong with those latter things, but facts and evidence should also matter*.  Says she while filing her nails into talons.

4.  One of those Perfect-Hate-Combo professors has been vocal at Indiana University about the inferiority of women, gays and people of color (and those who share more than one of those groups get double- or triple-wammied by him).

He's not worth my attention, of course, but reading about his views reminded me of the way how the explanation for women's inferiority keeps changing over time.  Every time one explanation has been refuted, a new one will be created**.  It's a whack-a-mole game, my sweetings.

5.  Anal cancer cases and deaths from anal cancer are both rising in the US:

Since the 1950s, there have been substantial changes in risk factors for anal cancer, including shifts in sexual behaviors and an increased number of sexual partners, according to the study, both of which increase the likelihood of contracting HPV.
Shifts in sexual behavior may also be contributing to deaths from choking.  A recent Guardian article argues that the so-called "rough sex" defense for killing someone has become more common in court cases in the UK, and speculates about the possible reasons for it:

Prof Susan Edwards, a barrister who teaches law at the University of Buckingham, believes strangulation should be made a stand-alone offence.
“Strangulation is the cause of death in around a third of all spousal homicides,” she said. “Now there’s a burgeoning use of [rough sex excuses] because there’s greater acceptance of BDSM [bondage and sadomasochism] in relationships.”
Thirty years ago, she said, the more common excuse from a violent partner would have been that they were provoked, that it was unintentional or they lost control.
Campaigners partly blame the cultural normalisation of rough sex on the growth of violent online pornography and books such as Fifty Shades of Grey with its themes of sadomasochism.
While studying this topic I found an earlier article with this astonishing bit:

One young man who spoke to the Guardian for this piece said he chokes his girlfriend, and has done for several years, “because she likes it”. Days later, he got in touch again. “I thought about our conversation and asked her about it. She said she doesn’t actually like it; she thought I liked it. But the thing is, I don’t: I thought it’s what she wanted.”
Clearly there should be much better communication between sexual partners, better spread of health information and a strong movement to clarify to young people that online porn*** is not depicting actual sexual counters or teaching young boys and girls what women might like in sex.

6.  And a cat picture

That face reminds me of the face I get when I hear what new horror Trump has tweeted...

* For more on my thoughts about the online debates, see this post from 2018.

**  In this case he retweets a new argument that has been created to try to explain why the presence of women in academia is a bad thing.  The most common earlier argument against women getting educated was that educated women will never be able to find a partner and will live and die alone, surrounded by only multiple cats which will then eat their dead corpses.  But statistics doesn't support that argument, so something else had to be created.

Well, there's always the argument that whatever is good for girls and women must be bad for boys and men, but that doesn't really fly terribly well, either.  Or the nineteenth century argument that educating women withers away their wombs and causes mental illness.

So this time we learn that the academia should have more men than women, because men are much more likely to be geniuses.   We are told that to be a genius requires not only that one has a very high IQ but also that one has a specific personality type which is regarded to be slightly more common in men (based on self-reported surveys, mind you, and not addressing the question to what extent personality types are affected by gender stereotypes). That personality type sounds to me a bit like being an asshole, to be honest.

But I know of no research that would suggest being an asshole correlates with being a genius, and I very much doubt that it does.  Besides, this particular professor probably scores very high on assholery but not on being a genius, as is clear from his arguments.

*** A 2010 study describes the prevalence and the direction of aggression in online porn:
This current study analyzes the content of popular pornographic videos, with the objectives of updating depictions of aggression, degradation, and sexual practices and comparing the study's results to previous content analysis studies.
Findings indicate high levels of aggression in pornography in both verbal and physical forms. Of the 304 scenes analyzed, 88.2% contained physical aggression, principally spanking, gagging, and slapping, while 48.7% of scenes contained verbal aggression, primarily name-calling. Perpetrators of aggression were usually male, whereas targets of aggression were overwhelmingly female. Targets most often showed pleasure or responded neutrally to the aggression.



Tuesday, November 19, 2019

On Short Hair And Gender. Or Back To The 50s Gender Norms, With A Twist?

I have very very short hair, in a pixie cut.  I have worn two pairs of Converse All Stars to ground over the years, one black and one red pair, and I often buy jeans made for pre-teen boys because their cut suits me.  I spent much of my childhood playing cops and robbers and war with my boy cousins, though we also played house. 

If I asked the advice of Alex Marzano-Lesnevich on what this might mean in terms of my gender identity, they would probably suggest that I might be genderqueer.  This is because Marzano-Lesnevich  uses the above examples to explain their own road from girlhood through gayness to identifying as genderqueer in an opinion piece in this December's Harper's Bazaar.

Yet I am not genderqueer.  Indeed, I have no inner gender identity that would not be directly based on living inside this female body or on the way others have treated me because of that body (1).

To see the point where Marzano-Lesnevich's story clearly diverged from mine, read this quote about their childhood:

Soon after, I began to ignore the long hair that marked me so firmly as a girl, leaving it in the same ponytail for days on end, until it knotted into a solid, dark mass. All my friends were boys, and my dearest hours were spent playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the lawn with my twin brother and the neighbor boy. My room was blue, and my teddy bear was blue, and the turtle I wanted to be was Leonardo, not only because he was smart but because his color was blue. When my twin brother got something I didn’t—to go to the baseball game, though we were all fans; to camp with the Boy Scouts while my sisters and I were shuttled off to the ballet; to keep the porn mags I discovered in his bedroom—and the reason given was that he was a boy, rage choked me with tears. That was grief, I think now, the grief of being misunderstood.

My own childhood rage-and-grief experiences about gender roles and sexist stereotypes primed me for my later re-birth as a feminist. I saw the whole valuation system as arbitrary and rigged and I saw the little holes into which we were slotted, presumably based on our biological sex, as horribly wrong, stifling and the basis of sex-based social hierarchies.

Marzano-Lesnevich's  childhood rage-and-grief experiences primed them to accept the system of gender rules for most others but not for themselves.  They didn't see the gender slots wrong, only insufficient in numbers and not reflecting their own gender identity.

Who is to say which of our approaches, if either, would be more effective in changing the world?  Have the years I have toiled writing feminism trying to push an immovable mountain of misogyny aside been productively spent?

Given the rapid acceptance of the alternative approach, the type espoused by Marsano-Lesnevich and many others, I now harbor grave doubts about the value of my work (2).

The new gender theory approach (3), with its essentialist assumptions about  gender roles and norms and its frequent references to pink (for those who identify as girls) and blue (for those who identify as boys) brains sounds familiar yet also revolutionary (4).

It's familiar because it partly echoes the conservative views of gender roles and norms as rigid and permanently set by our biological sex (it's girls who play with dolls), even though it dispenses with the essentialism about biological sex and chooses to essentialize gender roles, norms and stereotypes directly (if you play with dolls then you are a girl) (5).

But it's also revolutionary.  It preserves the sex-based social hierarchies but allows individuals to leap frog them as long as they settle into one gender slot and act according to that slot's requirements.  You can be anything you wish as long as you are the right gender for that (6)!

But can this new system of defining gender produce, say, economic equality between both the two old genders and all new ones?  I don't see how it could, but I of course hope to be convinced otherwise.


(1)  According to the new essentialist gender theory, I should therefore identify as agender.

But nobody would stop treating me as a woman if I did that!  That's because large chunks of sexism and gender discrimination are not based on inner identities but on how others see us.  For others not to see our biological sex, body modifications through hormones or surgery are necessary for most.  That is a steep price to pay for gender equality.  And it would be a private solution of no help for the billions of other women who suffer from sex-based oppression in this world.

That I have no gender identity myself does not mean that I would not allow others to use the concept to define their own gender, mind you.  I also get that the reasons for transitioning are serious and painful ones and may have nothing to do with attempts to evade being a target for misogyny. For some trans women, at least, the transitioning leads into more oppression.

(2)  For instance, I have spent over a decade trying to show the errors in neurosexist research biased toward digging up innate sex differences between men and women.  This effort looks rather pointless in today's political climate where both the political right and much of the political left view traditional gender roles, norms and stereotypes as essentialist, not as at least partially culturally constructed ot as the way women's subjugation is actually maintained.

(3) I hasten to add that what I am writing in this post is not about the reasons why transgender people transition, in general, but about one particular "woke" story concerning a nonbinary gender identity and its not-so-woke shadow.

(4)  Familiar because of the popularity of the search for distinctly female (pink) and male (blue) brains in neurosexist research,  though in that they are still firmly linked to female and male bodies.  In the new gender theory that link is broken so that anyone can possess a pink brain, for example. 

(5)  Linked to footnote (3),  I stress that the above is a false (but common) popularized version of what it means to work with gender identities rather than with biological sex.  It's not the way psychologists identify transgender teens (or should identify them), for instance. But it's not a rare take on the issues in online writings.

(6)  Note that for some individuals to be nonbinary, it's necessary for most others to be regarded as firmly binary.

To be "genderqueer" (a gender which seems to be defined as consisting of breaking binary gender norms) requires the assumption that most others enforce those binary gender norms and roles.  To be a feminist doesn't require any such identification, yet, at least in my view, results in the exactly same breaking of gender norms, and, at least in theory, to the benefit of more people.