Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Reading Suggestions for 3/3/15

I'm working on my ISIS and women series.  It's turning into a long epistle and won't have ready-baked parts to be served today, even though I have been writing for hours and hours and hours.  Perhaps you would like to read some of the pieces below instead?  While waiting, that is.

Katha Pollitt reviews the movie Fifty Shades of Gray and makes the necessary connections to such social values as are visible in many old-fashioned corset-ripper romance novels and so on.  I'd add the impact of the three Abrahamic religions into the pot and then stir.  And stir.

This piece has such a neat title: There are more men on corporate boards named John, Robert, William or James than there are women on boards altogether, that it's worth reading just for that reason. 

But ultimately that doesn't tell us anything except that men are a lot more likely to be found on corporate boards than women and John, Robert, William and James are common male names.

Public Policy Polling (PPP) has a new survey out on the opinions of Republicans.  The file has lots of interesting tables for the political geeks and nerds, and not only about possible presidential candidates.

Ferguson, Missouri is back in the news.  Its Police Department has been accused of using racially biased methods of law enforcement.

Finally, and just for the fun of it, this story about a near-death experience.  It may be made up, who knows, but so is much else online.

Saturday, February 28, 2015


I post cat pictures on Eschaton.  All the cats are stolen cats (posted with the permission of their humans) as I have none.  Here is the latest old and dignified lady cat enjoying some rest and warmth:

What I need to learn from cats is their ability to relax while being ready to pounce.  Anyone who is hooked to the Internet and its various battles and arguments needs to have that ability, the lissom cattiness of relaxed readiness.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to jump on top of houses, too?

This about crows is also quite wonderful for inducing relaxation.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Introduction to A Series Of Posts About Women And ISIS

Since last August I have collected material on the news, pseudo-news, opinion pieces and deeper articles about the terrorist movement which is called by various names (IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) and which currently holds large land areas in Syria and Iraq.   My archives are now crammed with stories, my brain is now crammed with various theological and quasi-theological explanations about men and women as well as with arguments concerning local, colonial, global and religious politics.  If I don't write any of that out my head needs to hire an external storage space.

Hence this series which I introduce here.  The goal I had from the very beginning is to study IS (the acronym I choose to use for its brevity) from the angle of how it regards women's proper roles, how it plans to control women and what those plans tell us about the more patriarchal cultural rules concerning women.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Irony Is Dead: Scott Walker, Wisconsin Protesters and Terrorists

Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin,  knows how to deal with terrorist organizations such as ISIS/IS/Daesh.  After all, he managed to control the wild hordes of protesters in Wisconsin!:

Asked how he would handle the Islamic State group if elected president, Walker said, "For years I've been concerned about that threat, not just abroad but here on American soil."
"If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," he said.

How does one write satire in a world like this?

Walker is also very eager to make an own-goal by doing the bidding of ISIS:

"We need a president, a leader, who will stand up and say we will take the fight to them and not wait 'til they bring the fight to American soil," he said. "We need to show the world that in America you have no better ally and no greater enemy."
Some fraction of the leadership of ISIS aims at creating a global religious war (which will produce the desired end times), and Walker would oblige them.

All this would be utterly hilarious if it wasn't so very dangerous.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

White Privilege in Australian Buses. A Look At An Audit Study.

Ian Ayres' opinion column in the New York Times is about an audit study carried out in Australia.

I love audit studies, because they are a way to control for all the alternative explanations to pure discrimination in consumer and labor markets.  Here's why:

An audit study uses trained individuals to play the role of, say, a car buyer or a job seeker.  The trained individuals are all given the same rules about how to behave, what to ask for and how, how to negotiate and, when relevant, they are also provided resumes etc. of equal value.  The goal is to have these individuals differ in only the characteristic the study is interested in, such as race or gender or both.

If it turns out that the tester's chances of getting a job interview or a good price on a second-hand car indeed vary by race and/or gender, we have ruled out that something else caused the apparent correlation.  Well, we have ruled it out if the audit study was well designed.

The flaw in audit studies is that they cannot continue for years and years, which means that they cannot tell us much about how people are rewarded in their jobs, whether they are promoted purely on the basis of merit, say.  But they are pretty good for measuring potential gender and/or race discrimination against job seekers or car buyers or renters of apartments.

Monday, February 23, 2015

To Praise Saunas. Or Not?

A recent study from Finland suggests that saunas might have the ability to reduce mortality from heart disease:

A study from Finland found that men who use saunas frequently are less likely to die from heart disease. Men's risk was even lower when they visited saunas more often in a week, and when they spent longer periods of time in a sauna each session, the researchers reported.
The findings could cause cardiologists to reconsider commonly held concerns about exposing heart patients to the heat present in a sauna, said Dr. Paul Thompson, medical director of cardiology at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn., and a member of the American College of Cardiology Sports and Exercise Cardiology Council.
"As a cardiologist, I have discouraged patients from using a sauna, from concerns over heat putting demands on a person's cardiovascular system," Thompson said. "Maybe we shouldn't be so restrictive with our patients."

I'd be careful about changing the recommendations too soon.  That's because the role of saunas in Finland is very different from someone in the US suddenly beginning to steam themselves regularly.

Saunas are a weekly custom in Finland.  Almost every single Finn has been in sauna thousands of times by the onset of middle age (and the men in the study were aged between 42 and 60).  The effects might be quite different for someone with no experience in löyly-taking suddenly beginning hour-long sessions of sweating.

I have not read the original study, so I assume that it controls for the initial health status of the men and how much exercise they take in general.  If not, the correlation could be caused by those factors:  Healthier men exercise more and take more saunas, too, and often the sauna is enjoyed after rigorous exercise.  I'm also pretty sure that the Finnish guidelines have also warned heart patients to abstain from sauna.

Still, the findings are thought-provoking.

I love sauna!  Love it, love it, love it.  When I'm in Finland I take one every night, and I miss it here (a hot bath is not a substitute, though I tried).  Some of my fondest childhood memories are running out into the snow bank with my sister to make naked snow angels and then back into the heat of the sauna.

The after-effect does feel quite a bit like having just had a good workout.  A singing of the happy cells of the body, if you like.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ban Them Books!

1.  In Mosul, Iraq, the Islamic State is burning books:

Residents say the extremists smashed the locks that had protected the biggest repository of learning in the northern Iraq town, and loaded around 2,000 books — including children's stories, poetry, philosophy and tomes on sports, health, culture and science — into six pickup trucks. They left only Islamic texts.
The rest?
"These books promote infidelity and call for disobeying Allah. So they will be burned," a bearded militant in traditional Afghani two-piece clothing told residents, according to one man living nearby who spoke to The Associated Press. The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation, said the Islamic State group official made his impromptu address as others stuffed books into empty flour bags.

2.  In Denver, Colorado, a group of students walked out in protest because of this:

Hundreds of students walked out of classrooms around suburban Denver on Tuesday in protest over a conservative-led school board proposal to focus history education on topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority, providing a show of civil disobedience that the new standards would aim to downplay.

3.  And in Oklahoma, Advanced Placement history courses are seen as fighting god and American exceptionalism:

Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) has introduced “emergency” legislation “prohibiting the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States History course.” Fisher is part of a group called the “Black Robe Regiment” which argues “the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists.” The group attacks the “false wall of separation of church and state.” The Black Robe Regiment claims that a “growing tide of special interest groups indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.”
Fisher said the Advanced Placement history class fails to teach “American exceptionalism.” The bill passed the Oklahoma House Education committee on Monday on a vote of 11-4. You can read the actual course description for the course here.
I don't aim to compare the Islamic State with American conservatives by putting these news in one list (they are certainly not the same or comparable in horrible violence), but to point out the shared string in the violin concertos: 

What is taught to children matters very much to certain political and religious groups.  Books are powerful!  Books may need to be banned or burned!  Education matters greatly as the Boko Haram (Western Education Is Forbidden) terrorist movement in Nigeria has noticed and as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan also knows.  And as Malala Yousafzai knows.  Hitler knew all about this, too:

Ignorance is a powerful weapon which makes education also a powerful weapon.  Hierarchical systems fear the idea of widespread democratic education, and they are correct in that fear.

I understand that our views of history or religion may clash, that utterly neutral information is impossible, even in school books.  But the approach to cure that problem is to let the different arguments duke it out when the children are old enough to follow debates of that sort.

On Altar Girls at the Star of the Sea Catholic Church in San Francisco And Other Related Topics

I missed this January event in San Francisco.  A Catholic church there, the Star of the Sea,  decided to stop allowing girls to be altar servers.  Existing girls who are serving can continue but new ones will not be accepted.

Imagine how you would feel if you were one of those "mistake, oops" girls!  To allow them to continue doesn't patch up the rejection.

But it's all perfectly fine, because there are parents in the congregation who like the idea of boys-only (in a church of male-priests-only) and because the priest behind this "innovation," one Joseph Illo, argues that the change is great for male bonding and makes sense as being an altar server could be the first step to becoming a priest and -- duh -- girls cannot become priests ever.  The logic is beautiful and very clear and in my divine opinion backwards.

The same Joseph Illo raised a few feathers more recently:

The Rev. Joseph Illo recently banned the use of altar girls at school and parish Masses at Star of the Sea, a decision opposed by some parents and staff.
Illo also upset families when he decided that non-Catholic students could no longer receive blessings during Communion, a decision he reversed after complaints from the school community.
And this week, parents revealed that Star of the Sea students as young as those in second grade received a pamphlet about confession late last year that referred to sexual topics such as sodomy, masturbation and abortion.

That was a mistake, Illo said Wednesday.
“Among the 70 items for reflection, some were not age appropriate for schoolchildren,” Illo said in a statement. “We apologize for this oversight and removed the pamphlet as soon as this was brought to our attention by the school faculty in December.”

You want to know what those pamphlets contained?

They asked questions such as, “Did I perform impure acts by myself (masturbation) or with another (adultery, fornication and sodomy)?” and, “Did I practice artificial birth control or was I or my spouse prematurely sterilized (tubal ligation or vasectomy)?” as well as, “Have I had or advised anyone to have an abortion?”
Riley Brooks, an 11-year-old student at the school, explained how he and his sixth-grade classmates responded to the material: they were “really grossed out.” “There was something about masturbation,” Brooks told the Chronicle. “Pretty sure abortion was on there, but I can’t remember. And sodomy. I don’t know what that means.”

Put all that together and Illo, a presumably celibate man in power inside a church which assigns most power to celibate men,  comes across as someone who just may have a slight problem with women and women's sexuality.  The irony in that is more than I can quite absorb.  

And no, I don't really care what theological arguments could be used to support his views because the game in all three major Abrahamic religions* is rigged against gender equality, what with their roots in two-thousand-year old shepherding tribal communities.  The gender roles literalists find supported in the Bible and in the Koran are those that were deemed appropriate in such tribal settings by those who had the power to leave us their words and thoughts.

These backward steps are not unheard of (though Illo's church is currently the only one in the archdiocese of San Francisco which is not going to let girls mess up things any longer).  The Southern Baptists, for example,  decided to get rid of female pastors in 1980s, though a few individual churches may still have them.

These occasions of backwards-sliding need to be noted.  Otherwise we will see more of them.

*In their most extremist forms, naturally.