Saturday, January 22, 2005
It is snowing today in large parts of the U.S.. Snow is lovely stuff, especially if you have proper snow tires for your car and someone else to shovel the driveway. Then you can concentrate on enjoying snow.
I like to put on my cross-country skis and go and harass the neighborhood. One year I got a group of drunks running after me, but of course I was on skis so they never had a chance. Skating is fun, too, if there is a frozen lake nearby, though you want to let someone else go first to test how hard the ice is. Or you need to learn the rules about how to drag yourself back onto hard ice. An icepick is a good implement for this, or a long rope tied to a tree on the shore before you venture out.
You can also give all your rugs a wonderful cleaning by putting them on freshly fallen snow with the good side down. After ten minutes or so, you can gently beat the back of the rug. When you pick it up you will find, to your great astonishment, a horribly black rugshaped patch on the snow. Or at least I do. This works even with hand-made oriental rugs, and it saves you lots of money in cleaning fees.
And then you can make snow lanterns. I have already given instructions for these on the Eschaton threads and maybe even here last year, but they are so beautiful that the instructions are worth repeating. They only work if the snow balls up, though.
Make about nine snowballs and arrange them in a circle (outside!) so that the balls touch each other. Make the second layer above the first with seven snowballs so that they make a slightly smaller circle, then use five snowballs and so on. The idea is to make a pyramid out of snow. Before you close it off with one snowball on top, insert a lit candle, one of the sturdy fat ones preferably. When it gets dark you have this magical little lantern by your doorway. Better still, make a row of them along your front path.
Then you can run into the house and have a large hot drink with a very clear conscience!
I like NPR's Daniel Schorr's gravely voice and his carefully expressed but blunt opinions. He's an old-time journalist, which means that he actually studies the topics on which he speaks, and that is so refreshing. So far he's said pretty much everything according to my dictates, so he must be a very competent guy!
Here is Schorr on the U.S. media:
Washington these days feels a little like Moscow in Soviet times when the government routinely dispensed information to the public and the public routinely didn't believe it. The two main newspapers were the Communist Party organ, Pravda, (Truth) and the Soviet government organ, Izvestiya (News). People used to say, "There is no Izvestiya in Pravda and no Pravda in Izvestiya."
...who can believe TV news reports when they may turn out to be government-financed videos? Have you ever seen the report on the drug benefits of the Bush Medicare act that ran on 40 local TV stations, complete with the "out-cue": "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting"? The Department of Health and Human Services paid her to play the role of reporter. Or, did you see the report on the antidrug campaign produced by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, narrated by nonjournalist Mike Morris?
He also mentions the nonexistent WMDs and the Armstrong Williams scandal which isn't a scandal because he is on the side of the Washington Pravda and Izvestiya. And that is the real scandal.
I know, I was supposed to blog only cheerful stuff today. Well, Schorr is a small source of cheerfulness in this post.
My new promise is to try to blog on positive developments on the weekends, if at all possible. That way my dear readers don't have to take antacids nonstop. Here is a positive development: Women in Iran have been judged as capable of running for the president of the country:
"If they posses the necessary qualifications, women can also run for president," the television quoted Guardian Council spokesman Gholamhossein Elham as saying.
The announcement clears up ambiguities within the constitution about whether only men can hold the post. Under Iran's constitution, the president must be elected from among political "rijal." Rijal is an Arabic word that can be interpreted as men or simply political personalities regardless of their gender.
For the last quarter century, "rijal" has been interpreted to mean a man. Of course what this will mean in practise is not so clear. The "necessary qualifications" could be manipulated in various ways, but at least this is a step forwards. This is good.
Or is it? Thanks to Kait in the comments of this post for alerting me to this:
Iran has denied allowing women to take part in this year's presidential elections.
However Elham told a state-run news agency, ISNA, "I have not changed the meaning of the word rejal".
"I never had an interview on such a subject on television, and the article published is not correct", he said.
Hmmm. Someone must have given Elham a phone call.
Friday, January 21, 2005
Here it is! My wonderful gingerbread castle. You can't see the details very well here, but it's properly crenellated. I'm going to feed it to the squirrels tomorrow as it's getting a little bit dusty. The trees add a nice realistic dimension, don't they? I wanted to put a snake banner on top, but I broke one of the walls like five times and gave up on any attempt to touch the damned thing again.
At the National Prayer Service today Bill Graham, the man who is said to have converted Bush to fervent Christianity, said this:
Offering one prayer, the Rev. Billy Graham said he believed God had a hand in Bush's re-election.
"Their next four years are hidden from us, but they are not hidden from you," said the 86-year-old evangelist, whom Bush credits with inspiring him to reaffirm his faith and give up drinking at age 40. "You know the challenges and opportunities they will face. Give them a clear mind, a warm heart, calmness in the midst of turmoil, reassurance in times of discouragement and your presence always."
So God had a hand in Bush's re-election! I wonder what form that took. Perhaps meddling with the voting machines? But that's blasphemy! Naughty me.
But apparently not naughty Bill Graham.
I feel like we are all sitting in a train driven by some lunatic who doesn't know how to stop the damn thing.
The Norwegians have been aghast at the behavior of the U.S. First Family:
You see, the sign shown in this picture is the way to greet Satan in Norway and maybe even more widely:
President Bush's "Hook 'em, 'horns" salute got lost in translation in Norway, where shocked people interpreted his hand gesture during his inauguration as a salute to Satan.
That's what it means in the Nordics when you throw up the right hand with the index and pinky fingers raised, a gesture popular among heavy metal groups and their fans in the region.
Which just goes to show that religion is hard to interpret literally. Or...?
Today's Action comes from MoveOn:
The New York Times disclosed on Sunday that the Bush administration is using the Social Security Administration to mislead the American public and sell Social Security privatization. Documents obtained by The New York Times show that Bush's plan is to insert "propaganda" into Social Security publications -- using the apparatus of this huge government agency -- and the trust millions place in it -- to sell their privatization scheme that would cut Social Security benefits.
We need your help to make it clear that the Social Security Administration is not another propaganda tool of the White House. Please take one minute to send a message. Call the Social Security Administration at the number below. Tell them you oppose Social Security privatization and you expect them to deliver straight facts -- not White House spin -- to the American people.
After the greeting, dial 1 for English or 2 for Spanish.
Then press 3.
Then press 0 to speak to a representative.
Thanks for taking today's action.
Or so it appears:
For an occasion draped in historical fanfare, and for television talking heads who have filled the programming day discussing history again and again, there's been glaringly little attention paid to one momentous fact: President Bush's historically low approval ratings. Bush is struggling to hit even the 50 percent mark. The latest New York Times/CBS poll out today puts Bush's rating at 49 percent, marking his standing the flimsiest for any president on Inauguration Day, at least since modern presidential polling began nearly 80 years ago. But shhhh, don't tell the Beltway talking heads.
Forced to fill up hour after hour of dead air leading up to Bush's actual swearing in, anchors, reporters, guests and analysts on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox and MSNBC all politely shied away from the topic of Bush's dismal ratings. Over the course of four hours of continuous inauguration coverage from 8 a.m. to noon (collectively, that's 24 hours among the six outlets), the topic of the president's (historically poor) approval ratings came up exactly four times, according to TVEyes.com, the continuous television monitoring service.
It's like a wedding, isn't it? Nobody ever says that the happy couple is probably going to be divorced in a year or that the groom had a big red pimple smack at the tip of his nose or that the bride was flat-footed. Or maybe like a funeral: only good things are said when someone dies. I hope the next four years doesn't finish this country off. Then we would have a real funeral.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
It means that the Fox News used seventeen conservative/Republican commentators and six Democratic/progressive commentators in its inaugural coverage today between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., EST. It means that during the same time period CNN used ten conservative/Republican commentators to exactly ONE Democratic/progressive commentator. It means that MSNBC used thirteen conservative/Republican commentators to two Democratic/progressive commentators during the same time. Could this biased distribution be because the president who is being inaugurated is a wingnut, so that mostly only wingnuts are allowed to comment? But isn't he supposed to be the president of everyone? He said so, himself, quite recently.
About 81% of all commentators were wingnuts today. Even some of the so-called Democrats/progressives are nothing but wingnuts. And still we hear that this not enough, that this is the liberal media! Gag me with a spoon.
This is from a teenage magazine intended for girls, and it tells them how to snare a good Godly man:
Be Genuine . . . Be You!
Guys don't like a tease. They hate to be led on. But they do like a good game of chase. Knowing how to be pursued, protected by personal convictions, centered in an awesome relationship with Jesus Christ, will provide the energy and motivation for you to keep living a life that pleases God.
So when that guy from across the room sets his sights on you, be sure that you're a moving target. And always be moving in a spirit of love and concern, ever closer to God
Who needs feminism?
Link courtesy of Biblio
A thread on the Eschaton was full of wonderful sayings by Dorothy Parker, the woman with a sandpaper tongue. She's one of mine, of course, as are all viper tongues. You could read her and other vinegary writers. Here's something to get you started:
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song.
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
and I am Marie of Roumania.
(from Enough Rope (1926))
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
(from Enough Rope (1926))
If you prefer something more thoughtful from Ms. Parker, think about these:
Ridicule may be a shield, but it is not a weapon.
(from John Keats' You Might As Well Live (1970))
The nowadays ruling that no word is unprintable has, I think, done nothing whatever for beautiful letters....Obscenity is too valuable a commodity to chuck around all over the place; it should be taken out of the safe on special occasions only.
(from Esquire (1957))
Then you could look for other writers that suit the tenor of the day.
Or you could take up knitting. It was hugely successful among those who watched the guillotine executions in the French Revolution, or so we are told by most likely biased sources. Good knitters can easily knit and watch executions at the same time. It's one of those fine motor skills that work independently of the brain. I am a sporadic knitter myself, though a very advanced one. I knit about once a decade, but then I equip all the snakes with sweaters which have roughly two hundred colors in each. I have lots of wool in storage for knitting, but writing the blog uses similar fine motor skills (you should see my fingers run!) so I haven't done anything interesting for a long time.
Woodworking is another nice thing to do when you are bored. Just make sure you have plenty of insurance and learn to think of three fingers per hand as a sign of pride.
I'm making some shelves to put up behind my computer. They have been in the same state of half-readiness for months now, because I can't decide how to fix them to the wall. I want something fancy.
You could begin by building a miniature gallows. You could then knit the rope for it and make little stuffed figures of any particular person you want to see hanged.
Or you could just drown your boredom in fancy lovemaking and nectar-sipping.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
I was wondering when all this would start:
The woman once known as "Jane Roe" has asked the supreme court to overturn its landmark decision that legalised abortion 32 years ago.
Norma McCorvey, whose protest against the abortion ban in Texas led to the 1973 ruling, now contends in a petition to the court that the case should be heard again in light of evidence that the procedure may harm women.
"Now we know so much more, and I plead with the court to listen for witnesses and re-evaluate Roe v Wade," said McCorvey, who says she regrets her role in the case.
The procedure may indeed harm women. So does giving birth, and, unfortunately for the argument "Jane Roe" presents here, the potential harm of giving birth is much greater than that involved in medically performed abortions.
This has nothing to do with worries about harming women, of course. If anything, the reverse is the intention. Listen to this:
...in a strongly worded concurrence, the 5th US circuit court of appeals judge Edith Jones criticised the abortion ruling and said new medical evidence may well show undue harm to a mother and her foetus.
Do you think that she was trying to be funny? This judge is a religious wingnut, unless I'm conflating two different Edith Joneses here. But I don't think so. Here is an excerpt from a speech an Edith Jones gave last year:
Jones criticized the United States Supreme Court during the Chief Justice Earl Warren era for its lack of prudence, citing cases that created, what Bickel called, a "web of subjectivity" and led to a "national litigation explosion." Jones added that, while America is still the most religious society in the western world, it has been forced to deal with the unrepresentative secularity of the Supreme Court over the years. Still, the Supreme Court has acted prudently in certain cases, and the struggle to maintain judicial prudence is an ongoing fight where victory is elusive, Jones allowed.
I'm sure that judge Jones would just love to balance out all that unrepresentative secularity with some proper Bible-thumping. Too bad about the Constitution.
This is really fertile ground. There are so many good ideas all across the sane blogosphere, and lots of are absolutely perfect. The most popular one is the not-one-dime-day: don't spend any money tomorrow, don't buy groceries, don't buy gas, don't buy anything whatsoever. Just a little reminder of the economic power of us unwashed masses, a nudge in the well-padded side of the corporate America and a reminder that we won't help them if they spit on us. Also, for certain types of people only money speaks.
This wouldn't conflict with the idea I posted earlier on the blog: that of donating money to an organization which funds abortions for poor women. You could always donate tonight or first thing Friday morning if you feel that you must remain pure on Thursday.
Then you could always go to Washington, D.C., and cast a gloomy pall over all the festivities, but if that's what you're doing you don't need me to tell you anything about it. Though think about a man who has nine balls! Sounds like some sort of compensation to me, and, yes, I know that this joke is in very bad taste but then I have a bad taste in my mouth all the time nowadays.
Another affirmative idea is to get together with others who feel the same way about the coronation and to arrange your own alternative orgies. Check your local listings; there might be something fun going on. Some bloggers cover their blogs in black tomorrow, as a sign of acknowledging the importance of the day, but I'm not going to do that, though I probably won't obsessively describe the dresses of the party-goers either.
Whatever you do, remember that you are not alone and that you are sane.
Bill Thomas, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has ideas about women. Specifically, he airs the idea that women's Social Security benefits should be altered:
The Ways and Means chairman said the entry of more women into the workforce and the narrowing of the gap between men's and women's salaries — at a time when the gap between women's and men's longevity is increasing — meant that Congress should consider whether men and women should get equal Social Security benefits. He did not say whether women's benefits should be adjusted up or down.
"At some point, somebody might want to suggest that we need to take a look at the question of whether or not actuarially we ought to adjust who gets what, when, and how," Thomas said
This is one of those cases which causes statistical discrimination whatever one does. The problem is that men, on average, die earlier than women. If men and women are paid the same benefits per person per year, then women will collect more money as a group because more women will live to older ages. If, on the other hand, we changed the system in the way Thomas suggests, women would get less money each year than men, and as groups women and men would collect equal amounts. But then all the men who live longer than the average man would be getting "extra" benefits, whereas the women who die earlier than the average woman would never get their "fair" share.
I'm pretty sure that the Supreme Court has ruled against Thomas' plan as discriminatory in the past. The justification was that individual discrimination is worse than unequal group outcomes. But this is a new era with a new Supreme Court so one never knows. Or, rather, one does know, of course; even if one would rather not. If you get my meaning. I'm very glad that I'm a goddess right now so that I don't have to try to eke a meager survival on my reduced Social Security checks in extreme old age.
And, as someone suggested on Eschaton, why not use the same argument to cut the annual benefits of whites? Whites also have a longer life expectancy than blacks.
Sara sent me an e-mail about a little rewriting she had done on a post about feminists that she found on a misogynistic website. She altered the word "feminist" to "conservative" and so on, and this is what she produced:
"Cult of Victimization"
Echidne of the Snakes states in her book, /Conservatives and Domination:
Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression/, that "Conservative
consciousness is the consciousness of victimization...to come to see
oneself as a victim" (pg 15). Nowhere is this assumption of ideological
victimization stronger than on college campuses. The self-definition of
victimhood, in all of its myriad forms, is a foundation in the majority
of College Republican chapters -- where it is actively encouraged and
We feel that the "victim" mindset has no place in your college
Simply stated, victimhood -- in any manifestation-- is dysfunctional.
Remember "dysfunctional" literally means: It doesn't work. When it
to finding a strategy, you want something that works to prevent you from
having a poor college education. Victimhood justifies your actions after
you have failed this first task.
By starting out with the assumption that a conservative student is a
victim, right-wing activists create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead
of encouraging healthy change, (e.g. assertiveness as opposed to
critical thought, social skills instead of anger, personal
responsibility as opposed to blame and empathy instead of emphasis on
self) such claptrap often enable the tenets of victimhood and combines
them with anger, self-righteousness and an intellectually vapid learning
experience. Complaining about “liberal bias” encourages existing
dysfunctional, uncritical and selfish behaviors in conservative students
by giving them confidence that their intellectual skills will protect
them from the backlash of said behaviors. We will go so far to say that
these programs seek to create a "super-victim" who is seeking revenge
What you get is /not an effective or functional way to obtain a sound
In fact, the resulting over-confidence, absence of critical thought and
lack of social skills put the conservative students more at risk. Not
only will they be stigmatized by the majority of thinking people, but
they are now risking infuriating a truly intelligent and hostile
liberal. Such a liberal might not just stop at critiquing their
arguments. He or she is, in fact, more likely to engage in mocking them
and subverting their language. Unfortunately, conservative students’
banishment from the mainstream of society will more than likely put them
into a "fringe social area" -- where this kind of predators lurks!
In our minds, the ideology of victimization is a dead end street. It is
predicated on the assumption that you have already lost and have no
power. You the reader must make a decision right now, and that is: Are
you willing to take responsibility for your actions and, by
acknowledging that you do have a degree of power and control over what
happens to you, prevent yourself from receiving a poor education?
Believe us when we say this is not the kind of question you will hear in
most chapters of the College Republicans.
I think it's nice!
Write a letter to your Senators and ask them not to confirm Condalezza Rice as Secretary of State. As demonstrated by Rice's unresponsive answers to Barbara Boxer's questions, Rice is not qualified to be Secretary of State. Tell your Senators that we can do better.
Thanks for taking today's action.
In this post the story of disecting the provoking thoughts of Lawrence Summers continues. As you may remember, he offered three hypotheses for the reasons why there are few women in hard sciences:
1. The eighty-hour workweek expected
2. That women might be biologically less able to do hard sciences than men
3. Discrimination against women.
I have discussed the second one quite extensively in my previous post in this series, and here I wish to tackle the first and second suggestions of our Lawrence.
First, why would the eighty-hour workweek in hard sciences keep women back? What is the average workweek in the soft sciences or in the humanities, where there are more women, relatively speaking (though not by the amounts that the so-called biological studies of female superiority in writing skills would suggest...)? As far as I can tell, the average expected workweek is pretty long for all Ivy League professors and scholars, but this appears to have less effect on women outside the hard sciences.
Second, why would women react differently to a long workweek than men? This is the hidden agenda in this suggestion: it has to do with who is going to take care of the children. So it's very simple, really: according to this hypothesis, women are not in the hard sciences because they need to have more time for family life. Men appear not to want to have a family life to the same extent. Why would this be the case? Here, once again, opinions differ. Some argue that women have a biological imperative to spend more time chauffeuring their children to hockey meets than men do. Others argue that the upbringing we are all subjected to convinces both girls and boys of the necessity for such tasks to belong to women. Or perhaps both of these reasons apply at the same time.
Third, given this sexual division of labor in many families, why are eighty-hour workweeks so necessary? Here the answer appears to be that the quality of research would diminish if the scientists could go home, once in a while, or even take the white coat off for a day every week. I disagree with this. There is no evidence proving that this long workweeks would be good for creativity and productivity in general. In fact, there is a pretty good counterargument, based on the likelihood that we get less productive the longer the time we have already worked. Besides, eighty-hour weeks translate to zero hours with children except during the weekends, and I don't care what sex you are; if you are a parent this is crap.
Talking about the "eighty-hour week" is a shorthand way of pointing out that so many things in the academia assume that the scholars have a well-equipped home base to which they return only to sleep. The scholars are certainly not expected to give birth to children, for example, though change in this has taken place in the last few decades. But hard sciences may not look like very hospitable places to a lot of women for reasons of this sort.
Then consider being the only woman in a department, or one of very few. Consider a lab where people talk about what internet pornsites they visit and so on. And consider that some of your colleagues might very well be thinking all the time that women are by nature less able to do science. It takes a very specific type of person to wade through all this towards the great enjoyment that hard sciences can offer.
Things are not this bad or bad at all in every department, but these departments-from-hell still exist. Most of us don't want to be the symbolic pathbreakers who get beaten to a pulp in the process, and it's not difficult to see why hard sciences might not look that attractive to a woman perfectly capable of practising them.
And this brings me to Dr. Summers' third hypothesis, the one about discrimination against women. Here is the place where Dr. Summers reveals his true beliefs:
Summers' third point was about discrimination. Referencing a well-known concept in economics, he said that if discrimination was the main factor limiting the advancement of women in science and engineering, then a school that does not discriminate would gain an advantage by hiring away the top women who were discriminated against elsewhere.
Because that doesn't seem to be a widespread phenomenon, Summers said, ''the real issue is the overall size of the pool, and it's less clear how much the size of the pool was held down by discrimination."
This little conclusion is from a very early book on discrimination by Gary Becker. If you think about what is being said here for a while, you realize that if Dr. Summers is correct, then there has never been any discrimination at all! All those blacks and women who sued Wal-Mart for discrimination were wrong!
Sadly, this is not the correct conclusion. Becker derived this result in a simple model of the world where he assumed that only employers wanted to discriminate. Both coworkers (colleagues) and consumers were assumed to be totally fair and unbiased. But in reality we cannot assume that neither coworkers nor consumers would be totally fair and unbiased. In fact, when Becker introduced the possibility that discrimination might not be something that only bosses do his conclusion no longer applied.
Also, the conclusion is derived from a model which assumes that there is no ignorance about workers' true abilities, that everybody knows everything relevant. Once we allow for the actual amount of uncertainty and ignorance in the real world, the result would fail to follow even if only bosses were bigots. In fact, some alternative models show just the opposite in this case: that even actually unbiased bosses might discriminate if they expect that this strategy is, on average, rewarded by the overall market.
That Summers served one of the earliest and very partial conclusion from the whole rich field of the economics of discrimination shows what he really thinks. For this is the one piece that is always trotted out by those who never believed in any of that discrimination bullshit in the first place. He could have at least mentioned the many alternative theories of discrimination and the fact that they lead to very different conclusions. Or he could have mentioned the many empirical studies that show gender discrimination exists.
Instead of giving you a long lecture on these theories or evidence, I'm going to assume that you trust me enough to believe that they exist. Thus, Summers' argument fails to say anything very useful about the possible extent of discrimination against women in the hard sciences, even if we define discrimination as only taking place on the level of the relevant university. Then there is the whole issue of steering by teachers and career counselors on school level and the general societal expectations... Really, there is a lot of material here, and Summers' statement is a little bit inane.
Which brings me to my conclusions. Whether women and men have the same average ability to do hard sciences or not, shouldn't we clear out all the other obstacles women in the hard sciences meet before we decide to throw up our hands and agree that it's-just-the-way-things-are? Especially as it might not be the way things are, after all.
If you are interested in real-world descriptions of sex discrimination, you might want to read through this thread in the Democratic Underground.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
My third post on the Lawrence Summers speech won't be up until tomorrow, because I haven't written it yet. Instead, I have read a discussion thread (courtesy of emjaybee in my comments) about the meaning of this speech, and I remembered just why I hate it when the topic of innate gender differences crops up. I had forgotten how all sorts of quite nasty people crawl out of the woodwork and state categorically that things are as they are for a good reason, that all is predestined and that the current sexual division of labor is the optimal one.
Funny how these debates never surface when a study claims that women do something better than men. Let me tell you an anecdote (which, as I described in my previous post, has no generalizability): I once taught a university course which started with some discussions of the I.Q. measure. This wasn't in psychology, so the treatment was relatively short, but for some reason I mentioned to the class that Binet's initial attempts to create such a measure caused one sex to have a higher average, so he adjusted the test until both girls and boys tested the same on average. There was some whispering and rustling in the audience, and this was among the male students. A couple of them got somewhat upset and wanted to know if the test still could have been seen as valid. I then explained that it was the girls who tested higher on the original test before Binet modified it, and somehow the adjustment was not longer causing either whispers or upsets.
I'm not sure what was going on, but the impression I received was that at least some of the male students had a prior idea about which sex should have scored higher. - Anyway, it was interesting.
The question of gender difference is not something one can discuss in unregulated arenas without invoking the idea of gender inferiority, and especially the inferiority of women. Misogynists, in particular, always believe in great and immutable gender differences, and such differences are the rationalization of their feelings. More generally, anti-feminists base their arguments on inherent gender differences, for without such differences there would be no logical reason to be an anti-feminist.
This makes a feminist approach often seem as if one is advocating the thesis that men and women are exactly the same from a biological point of view, even if one is saying no such thing. A feminist who believes in innate differences between the sexes has the extra burden of seeming as if she or he is agreeing with the misogynist or anti-feminist first, before going to argue that difference does not mean inferiority. In my experience this seldom works. But I'm not sure what would work.
Note also, that those who argue most heatedly for the case of innate gender differences appear never to suggest that such differences should be ameliorated by education or other environmental modifications. We do this with congenital problems all the time, and it might make sense to do with other characteristics, too. But this part is not in the political agenda of this group. The political agenda being that status quo is perfectly swell.
And, finally, it is odd how many commentators are willing to let go of their rigorous standard with respect to evidence and science when it comes to this issue. In the comments thread I linked to, at least two people advocated Stephen Pinker as an expert with respect to this question. His work is in linguistics, but what he says about sex differences appeals to the innate-and-immutable-nothing-can-be-done-about-it school.
I almost forgot: An interesting new argument seems to have cropped up (at least it is new to me),and that is the beautiful and harmonious complementarity between the biologically innately different sexes. While such complementarity may be very beautiful in some cases, it seems to assume that all women are like the average woman and all men like the average man, and it says nothing about the not-so-beautiful "complementary" relationships that have large power differences in them. Not to mention very different financial rewards.
That's intended to be a line from a really old song about the rivalries of children, and how children try to exclude those they dislike. Our administration does the same thing, or so it looks:
A senior State Department official has notified the Taipei Times that he will no longer speak to the newspaper's Washington correspondent in retaliation for a Times editorial on Monday which called Powell a "sorry wreck of a once principled man."
This reporter received a call on Monday from Randall Schriver, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in charge of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong affairs, complaining about the editorial and saying that he would no longer speak to the newspaper because of it.
Schriver said that the administration does not take issue with newspapers that disagree with the administration's policy, but he said the description of Powell went too far.
It was not clear whether Schriver was speaking for himself or for the administration.
This would be an interesting way to control the press without explicitly having any kind of governmental censure.
Link courtesy of Tom Daai Tou Laam on the Eschaton threads.
Time to dive in deeper. Lawrence Summmers' little speech suggested three different explanations for the scarcity of women in hard sciences: the eighty-hour weeks one is assumed to work, possible biological differences in talent between the sexes and discrimination against women. I wish to look at each of these, and I'm going to begin with Summers' second hypothesis, the one about biological differences between the sexes. The other two questions will be addressed in my next post if I ever get there.
It is useful to note at the very beginning that all these causes are likely to be extremely intertwined. For example, if people like Dr. Summers believe that women are less able to do hard sciences, and if people like Dr. Summers happen to become the presidents of major Ivy League universities, well, then there is quite likely to be discrimination against women in these places even if there was no innate sex difference in scientific talent. Likewise, if many employers accept the idea that women shy away from an eighty-hour week then they are going to be less likely to look at female applicants for such jobs seriously which can cause discrimination. And so on.
Also, it is interesting to ponder on the reason why hard sciences are called hard. What is it that is hard about them? Most seem to think that this label serves to distinguish them from soft sciences, but then, once again, what is so soft about some sciences? In reality, the hard sciences are in many ways easier than the soft sciences (which tend to deal with human data) because the empirical evidence has so much less static in it. It might be interesting to ask whether this hardness has anything to do with the idea of hardness in penis comparisons. I have no opinion on this!
Ok. Onwards and upwards. Are women less talented in hard sciences for purely biological reasons? The correct answer to this question is that we don't know. I can imagine many readers turning red here and starting to spew liquid on the keyboard, but bear with me for a while.
How would we find about such innate differences? The obvious answer would be by using genetic study for it, but as far as I know genetic study is currently not in a position to answer such complicated questions. If anything, we are learning that the interplay between inherited tendencies and the environment is much more complicated than we previously thought. It is even possible that the environment turns genes on and off, and in that sense there might not even be any such thing as purely genetic influence.
We don't have data on purely genetic influences in this field, or at least we don't have data that could be guaranteed to contain nothing else but the influence of our genes. What we have instead are three types of evidence which have been widely used to argue that differences in the numbers of women and men in hard sciences is biologically based: studies of differences in cognition between groups of girls and boys or women and men, studies which analyze the impact of some known change in the fetal stage or the impact of some known medical condition (such as autism) on cognition, and teleological studies which really use these same data but pedal backwards from them to various interesting stories about the division of labor between prehistoric housewives and brave map-reading warrior-hunters. I'm not going to say anything about the third group because discussing pseudoscience doesn't add anything (except hilarity) to what I'm trying to convey here.
The first type of evidence is the most important one of the three, because it uses large samples of relatively randomly picked individuals from all types of societies. The problem it has is that the measures of cognition elicited by asking children, teenagers and adults are unavoidably not going to be pure measures of genetic differences. The environment and the general culture have had time to work on the study subjects beforehand, and factors such as the quality of schooling the person has had, the family income and the general societal norms all can be shown to influence the findings.
Keeping this in mind, it's possible to note that most cognitive tests show some average gender differences in mathematics. Boys are, on average, better at certain types of mathematics problems than girls, especially in word problems, and this is true from a very early age and across various cultures. As Virginia Valian points out in her book Why So Slow, this might paradoxically be caused by the girls understanding words better in communication: most word problems require the solver to decide which parts of the statement are important for the solution, which parts are not and whether there is enough information for the solution. In the actual understanding of speech all parts have a function, even if some of the functions are half-hidden. Not knowing this may make a solver better at using the words mathematically.
Such gender differences are unlikely to be purely biological. This is because the differences between children in different countries are far greater and because the gender differences within countries have been declining for some time. But some part of these differences could be purely biological. What their significance for the hard sciences participation rates might be is more complicated. Consider the one test which shows the greatest sex difference of all: the mental rotation of three-dimensional figures, in which boys outperform girls pretty much everywhere. Most studies suggest that ability to do well on this test and other mathematical ability are not correlated. Thus, it's not possible to explain women's scarcity in mathematics in general by using this single test as the explanation.
The tests we develop and apply in cognitive studies are not necessarily neutrally selected. Every researcher has a gender identitity, after all. This is important to remember. For example, there are tests in which girls outperform boys by the same large and consistent margins as boys outperform girls in the mental rotation of three-dimensional figures, such as the one on perceptual speed, but these tests are not studied as intensively as the more familiar ones are. Even more generally, the tests we use are spot measures, may not reflect all important skills and tend to be overapplied to the young and then ignored for the rest of the individuals' lives. There is evidence suggesting that women have different lifetime patterns of mathematical abilities from men, and very little research exists on this and its possible meaning. For example, women outperform men in old age.
Many who argue for the biological explanation for the sex-skew in hard science practitioners say that what is really important to analyze is not the average scores on all these tests but the proportion of boys and girls who score exceptionally well. Because these tests have greater variability for boys, there are many more boys than girls with exceptionally high scores, and this fact alone could explain why most mathematical geniuses appear to have been men.
This is an interesting argument. Consider a different test, that of writing skills. Girls outperform boys on this test, and the variability is much greater for girls (see Dianne Hales: Just Like A Woman for references on the evidence). This means that there are many more girls in the high-scoring part of the test and therefore we should expect the geniuses of great literature to be overwhelmingly of the female denomination.
The reality is very different. Either we have been excellent in compensating boys for their "innate" deficiencies in writing talents or something else has affected the outcome, too. Or perhaps we should stop taking all this so terribly seriously.
A different avenue towards trying to find innate sex differences in mathematical ability uses subjects who are known to differ from the average in some pre-birth induced way. One such case is the genetic disorder of congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) which leads to an overproduction of androgens in the fetus' adrenal glands. Both boys and girls with this condition have very high levels of circulating androgens, and girls with CAH show many forms of behavior which are regarded as traditionally male (boys are harder to diagnose so there is less data on them).
Girls in CAH score very high on the mental rotation of three-dimensional figures, as might be surmised, but they don't score any better in general quantitative tests than other girls.
Simon Baron-Cohen has proposed a similar approach to testing gender differences in cognition by using children with autism as the study sample. He believes that autism is a form of an "extreme male brain" and that the greater mathematical abilities of many autistic children are evidence of the biological nature of gender differences in mathematics. The problems with his arguments become evident if you read his book on the topic (The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain), which I have done. He presents no new evidence for his arguments and he even goes on for some pages about the hypothetical "extreme female brain" which doesn't exist, but if it did exist, Baron-Cohen believes that it would be favored over the "extreme male brain". Which sort of shows where he biases lie.
And if you weren't convinced about them yet, you could always take the very objective test in the Appendix of his book which will tell you how biologically male your brain is by answers to questions such as:"Can you fix your own electrical problems?" "When you look at a piece of furniture, do you wonder about how the joins were made?" (What about when you look at a beautiful dress?) "Do you like to chitchat more than you like to collect coins?" Or you could take it here.
Ok. Enough for one post. I'm not an expert in this area, though I'm a sort of a Renaissance goddess, so the usual caveats apply.
Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard University, gave a controversial speech at an economics meeting last Saturday:
The president of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, sparked an uproar at an academic conference Friday when he said that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers. Summers also questioned how much of a role discrimination plays in the dearth of female professors in science and engineering at elite universities.
He offered three possible explanations, in declining order of importance, for the small number of women in high-level positions in science and engineering. The first was the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks.
The second point was that fewer girls than boys have top scores on science and math tests in late high school years. ''I said no one really understands why this is, and it's an area of ferment in social science," Summers said in an interview Saturday. ''Research in behavioral genetics is showing that things people previously attributed to socialization weren't" due to socialization after all.
This was the point that most angered some of the listeners, several of whom said Summers said that women do not have the same ''innate ability" or ''natural ability" as men in some fields.
Asked about this, Summers said, ''It's possible I made some reference to innate differences. . . I did say that you have to be careful in attributing things to socialization. . . That's what we would prefer to believe, but these are things that need to be studied."
Summers said cutting-edge research has shown that genetics are more important than previously thought, compared with environment or upbringing. As an example, he mentioned autism, once believed to be a result of parenting but now widely seen to have a genetic basis.
In his talk, according to several participants, Summers also used as an example one of his daughters, who as a child was given two trucks in an effort at gender-neutral parenting. Yet she treated them almost like dolls, naming one of them ''daddy truck," and one ''baby truck."
Summers' third point was about discrimination. Referencing a well-known concept in economics, he said that if discrimination was the main factor limiting the advancement of women in science and engineering, then a school that does not discriminate would gain an advantage by hiring away the top women who were discriminated against elsewhere.
Because that doesn't seem to be a widespread phenomenon, Summers said, ''the real issue is the overall size of the pool, and it's less clear how much the size of the pool was held down by discrimination."
This speech has caused a sensation, or, rather, two sensations. One is the fact that Summers referred to genetic explanations of gender differences. The other one is the fact that at least one woman got up and left the room in protest of the speech. The first sensation, or rather furor, is a debate about what Summers might have meant and whether he was just presenting a theory for further inquiry (as he himself stated) or whether he was actually making a biased statement. The second furor, mostly on various right-wing blogs, is whether the behavior of the participant who left is in fact evidence of women's greater emotionality and inability to engage in logical dialogue.
There is so much material in all this for me that no way will I just write one post on it. To prolong the excitement as long as possible (a sort of an intellectual foreplay), I'm going to blog on Summers' three theories on Tuesday (looking forward to that!). Today I'm going to blog about the reactions I just described.
It is indeed true that proper scientific inquiry requires that all possible theories are discussed, and from that point of view Summers' bringing up the genetic difference theory is perfectly acceptable. What makes it somewhat less so, for me at least, are the pieces of evidence he quotes in its support: one an anecdotal piece about his own daughter, and the other one on a medical condition called autism.
Anecdotal evidence is, by its very definition, not applicable as something we can generalize to large populations. I can find anecdotal evidence for most every single social behavior. It is not hard to do, and it is surprising that Summers would launch into what he himself calls a provocative speech while being so poorly prepared to back up his suggestions.
The example on autism is equally unsuitable. Many things are genetically determined, at least partly, and to state that they are so does not throw light on the genetic inheritability of other seemingly unrelated things.
On the whole, I'm wondering why Summers didn't equip himself with the many studies that exist in this area, not to mention the recent research in genetics which suggests that the way genes and the environment interact might be much more complicated than we currently understand.
All this is important to explain the furor over Nancy Hopkins' departure during the speech. Hopkins was one of the authors of an MIT study into gender inequalities, and it is possible that she is considerably better read in the field than Dr. Summers appears to be. She may have walked out because she realized that no constructive dialogue would be forthcoming. Of course, she may have walked out because she was fuming, too. Or she may have been fuming and aware of the futility of further debate.
Michelle Malkin (a conservative pundit) assumes that she was weeping, or at least that's how she titled her blog on the events. I see no evidence to support the weeping-argument. Malkin also argues that if Hopkins' behavior is indicative of what she teaches her female students, academia is better off without women. Taking her arguments to their logical conclusion, journalism would also be better off without women, given Ms. Malkins' own behavior.
The reactions to Dr. Summers' speech have been most revealing, though. It is interesting how very hungry certain commentators are for anything that would back up their opinions, and though this is visible on both sides of the debate, it is more pronounced on the wingnut side. Thus, "emotions" suddenly crop up as somehow meaningful in a debate about scientific ability; as if men don't have emotions (such as anger) that might affect behavior. All human beings have emotions. Only us goddesses can turn them off at will and write all this without even once feeling annoyed...
Original link to the story via feministing.com
Monday, January 17, 2005
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable...
Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice,
suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and
passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Right before the Iraq invasion, I jokingly said that the only Bush administration plan of invasion is based on the alphabetical order of countries: First Afghanistan, then Iran, then Iraq and so on. That Iraq came before Iran has to do with our leader's difficulties with words.
Sadly, this joke may have been no joke at all. Seymour Hersh reports on extensive preparations for a possible military attack on Iran in the latest New Yorker:
The Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer. Much of the focus is on the accumulation of intelligence and targeting information on Iranian nuclear, chemical, and missile sites, both declared and suspected. The goal is to identify and isolate three dozen, and perhaps more, such targets that could be destroyed by precision strikes and short-term commando raids. "The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible," the government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon told me.
Some of the missions involve extraordinary coöperation. For example, the former high-level intelligence official told me that an American commando task force has been set up in South Asia and is now working closely with a group of Pakistani scientists and technicians who had dealt with Iranian counterparts. (In 2003, the I.A.E.A. disclosed that Iran had been secretly receiving nuclear technology from Pakistan for more than a decade, and had withheld that information from inspectors.) The American task force, aided by the information from Pakistan, has been penetrating eastern Iran from Afghanistan in a hunt for underground installations. The task-force members, or their locally recruited agents, secreted remote detection devices—known as sniffers—capable of sampling the atmosphere for radioactive emissions and other evidence of nuclear-enrichment programs.
Why they are doing this is a story in itself, but essentially it is what the neo-conservatives in the administration want. In an interview on CNN's "Late Night Edition", Hersh said this:
"The planning for Iran is going ahead even though Iraq is a mess," Hersh said. "I think they really think there's a chance to do something in Iran, perhaps by summer, to get the intelligence on the sites."
He added, "The guys on the inside really want to do this."
Hersh identified those inside people as the "neoconservative" civilian leadership in the Pentagon. That includes Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith -- "the sort of war hawks that we talk about in connection with the war in Iraq."
And he said the preparation goes beyond contingency planning and includes detailed plans for air attacks:
"The next step is Iran. It's definitely there. They're definitely planning ... But they need the intelligence first."
The New Yorker article goes into much more detail about the possible war with Iran, and Hersh argues that Donald Rumsfeld is the central player in all this. He has essentially neutralized the CIA and now runs his hidden commando troups without any Congressional oversight:
The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls "action teams" in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. "Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?" the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. "We founded them and we financed them," he said. "The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren't going to tell Congress about it." A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon's commando capabilities, said, "We're going to be riding with the bad boys."
Well, we have been riding with a different lot of bad boys for four years now, so not much is new about this idea. What was new to me, assuming that Hersh's arguments turn out to be true, is the enormous number of kamikazi fliers in the Bush administration. For surely attacking Iran while the U.S. troops aren't sufficient to even pacify the much smaller Iraq is totally suicidal. A general draft would be absolutely required and large numbers of nonprofessional soldiers would die. No Republican president would be re-elected as long as anyone with the memories of this war would be alive.
Or so the consequences would be if this world was sane. But even in the world as it is, getting the American people to approve of an attack on Iran would require something along the lines of the 9/11 massacres with some proof on the culprits being Iranian. And this is what really worries me: that I find myself seriously considering whether the administration would mind this very much if it gave them a change to go out and play military commanders once again.
Sunday, January 16, 2005
Just to blow off some steam. This is courtesy of David Brooks' recent column about the need for women to make more babies for the glory of the United States, especially the need for educated women to breed more. Amanda at Mousewords has a much longer post on the topic, and you should read that one first, because mine will be an illegible rant.
First, may I ask what expertise has David Brooks to write about an issue he clearly views as only applying to women? Second, if he believes that the issue doesn't only apply to women, why does he write about fertility as if the male part of the parenthood equation is absent? For a moral-values-wingnut this is unacceptable. Third, why does he advocate nonexistent solutions to the problem he poses about balancing careers and childbirth? According to Brooks women can just take ten years off after graduation and then go back to a graduate program explicitly tailored for the needs of returning mothers. How many graduate programs of this type are there? And if there were many, how would their reputation in the labor markets be? And how likely is it that women who take ten years off this way will ever reach the same levels in their career paths as people who don't take the same time off?
The answer to the last question is that women who do this will never get the same perks or salaries or positions as those who stick to the jobs. Never, on average. Neither will they have the same incomes to retire on. What Brooks is proposing is a system where he wants more babies to be produced AND he wants the women to pay for that! Isn't that a neat solution for all but the women concerned? It will also make certain that very few women will ever get to be CEOs or full professors or Senators, and this should make most wingnuts happy as clams.
Fourth, it is not at all clear that the U.S. has a problem with birth rates, especially when immigration is taken into account. Even if the U.S. birthrates fell short of replacement levels, this might not be a bad thing on the world level as we really are too many compared to animals and plants on this planet already.
No, I don't think that this is the real concern of people like Brooks. The real concern is an age-old one, and it has to do with the question of who controls fertility. Brooks pretty much would like to control it if he could, and as it's not legally possible he tries to talk women into behaving the way he'd like them to. In some decades women are talked into having more children, in some decades women are talked into less children, but in either case the costs of these adjustments are commonly seen as belonging to the women and their families only, while the benefits flow largely elsewhere.
Of course there are slightly more surface versions about this age-old desire to control fertility, and they are the desire to have more white babies in this country as well as the desire to control uppity women. Brooks' tender column aims at both of this objectives.
None of this means that he wouldn't be right in stating that there are both women and men in their forties who regret not having children. The American labor market is horrible in terms of parents' rights, but Brooks doesn't want to meddle with the markets as he is a wingnut. Neither is he proposing any other real solutions to the problems of combining families and jobs, at least none that wouldn't predominantly benefit the wealthier (like tax subsidies for stay-at-home-parents).
David Brooks is a rat. Someone should write a whole column about how ratlike he is.
Literally, this time. I'm the world's worst shopper. I hate shopping so much that I panic when I need something and buy the first thing I see. As a result, my wardrobe consists of a large number of mismatched things (puffy feather boas, miniskirts, carpenter's overalls, dresses with enormous sunflowers on them and so on), and I end up wearing the same pair of jeans most days. My friends sometimes go out and buy socks for me, but mostly I look like something you might have found dropped on the sidewalk.
But no more! I've decided to turn a new leaf and to become a fashionable, exquisitely dressed goddess. I'm going to take out every single item of clothing I own, try it on, decide its fate and act. If there is something wrong with it, it will go to the "donate" pile (assuming anyone would want my rags). If it's ok to wear, I will have to decide what its family might be: the other things I will wear with it and the accessories. Yes, accessories!!! Even a feminist can learn to accessorize.
I'm going to get a lot of jewelry with skulls and crossbones and Fuck Bush signs, and also scarves and belts with the same, and each outfit will have a little tag saying which skulls and bones go with it.
Moreover, from now on I will dress from top to bottom in the same color scheme. No more bright red shoes with neon-color pink tops and plaid pants. Your eye will glide over me as if resting on a sophisticated painting, and you'll never even notice the snakey bits!
Well, this is the plan. The first snag became apparent today when I went out shopping. Every single piece I looked at was made in China. I have nothing against the Chinese, but aren't there any other manufacturers alive anymore? And women's clothes are crap. They are made shoddily and cheaply and they cost more than a first class ticket to Rapture. Then they didn't let me try the jeans on in the boys' department. What did they think I would have done in the dressing room? So I went home empty-handed. Tomorrow I will try the second-hand places, to see if things are any better there. If not, I may have to get used to nakedness as a permanent state of being.
It will be very hard to throw away some of may favorite pieces of clothing, I fear. Could I use the doctoral robes as a bathrobe? And an almost unused tiara must surely be good for something; maybe at a Republican tea party? Or the joke underwear? This will be a lot tougher than I expected.
George Bush is telling us all in his Washington Post interview. For your benefit I have read through it and extracted the crucial pearls of something from his ramblings. Here they are:
And at home, reform systems that will say that we have recognized we've got problems for future generations that we intend to deal with. One is Social Security, one is the tax system. As well, I'm mindful of the twin deficits we face. The fiscal deficit -- we will address the fiscal deficit in two ways: one, by submitting a budget that will continue to keep the pledge of cutting the deficit in half by five years, and secondly, addressing some of the unfunded liabilities inherent in the fiscal budget.
Interpretation: I'm going to ge rid of Social Security so that we can all watch the financial acrobatics of the elderly and the disabled walking the tightrope. This also saves a lot of money as we no longer will need reality shows to keep people diverted from politics. I'm also going to change taxes so that the rich pay nothing and the middle classes everything. This will have the added advantage of killing the middle classes so that we have more obedient workers as spare labor at low wages.
I'm taking on three issues: asbestos reform, class action and medical liability reform
Interpretation: I'm going to make it very much harder for the consumers and workers to sue corporations of any kind. Note that I'm listing the three main forms of lawsuits in which ordinary little people sue someone. I'm not mentioning all the corporate lawsuits at all!
The Social Security issue is an interesting issue when it comes to African Americans. After all, the life expectancy of African American males is a lot less than other groups and, therefore, if you really think about that, you have people putting money in the system that aren't -- families won't benefit from the system. And, therefore, it seems to me to make sense, if I were a part of a group of people that were being disadvantaged by the Social Security system, that I'd at least like to have the opportunity to have some of the money I put in the system passable to my family.
Interpretation: This is something I'm doing for African Americans! I don't understand why they didn't vote for me; I'm the President of Everyone. I'm giving the African Americans the savings that come from not having to pay Social Security payments. That way they don't have to worry about dying earlier than the rest of the country, and I don't have to address the question why they die earlier. Saves a lot of money all around.
Are you still wondering if there is class warfare in this country?