Saturday, September 25, 2010

Walter Piston


I didn't know why this kept going through my head tonight until I remembered it was about this time of year I played it in a night recital while I was in college about forty years ago. I remember being so scared because it was the slowest thing I'd yet played in public and was having a hard time holding it together. By the last variation I was playing so loud that when I got done someone said they thought the piano lid was going to fall shut.

There isn't any indication of who the pianist is in this recording and I don't recognize it. Anyone know?

[Anthony McCarthy]

Update: I asked a friend who was in the audience that night if he remembered it. He asked me if I remembered how it took a few seconds for anyone to clap. "We couldn't believe a little shrimp like you could make so much noise". Shows you that making more noise is no substitute for control and coherence.

You Are Free To Consult Your Own Experience And Conscience And To Decide For Yourselves [Anthony McCarthy]

For anyone who might have been following that long argument I’ve been having at Sean Carroll’s blog, it ended Thursday, when Carroll finally gave me an answer to a question I’ve been asking in the argument since September 6th, over and over again, in various wordings, Is there a single object that physics knows comprehensively and exhaustively?

Just to come clean, being too busy to go down another proposed dead end, I did intentionally bribe him. His answer, given when I offered to not post anymore comments on his blog if he’d finally answer it, was “no”

Since Carroll’s blog is about physics and it's read by many people conversant with physics, it is rather remarkable that none of them would answer that very simple question.

My participation in the argument began when someone e-mailed me to say that Carroll’s video endorsement of Hawking’s theological argument out of very theoretical physics, would clinch the materialist argument. I watched it and wasn’t impressed. As I said in the first comment in the argument, the first I ever posted on his blog:

So, a physicist studying the physical universe, with methods and tools that rigorously include only information about the physical universe only finds the physical universe as defined with those methods and tools. I'm waiting for the man to bite the dog in this.

For a physicist, who begins by throwing out anything that doesn’t directly address the physical universe to reach a result, extremely tentative in this case, and suddenly pull a theological conclusion out of it is, frankly, irrational. As I continued in that first comment:

I'm also wondering where the place of equal protection under the law or freedom of association, etc. are in your universe since those aren't required under this scenario either.

Carroll had a marginally interesting fight with Sam Harris about the possibility of founding moral holdings in science, earlier this year. I tended to agree with Carroll but only in a general way about the beginning of his argument. I think Harris is more than a little bit wet in that area, his arguments based in something very close to what many contemporary materialists would call “woo” if it was said by a theist and, to my reading, not exactly coherent.

In the second post, linked to above, this week, which I suspect might have something to do with my side in that long argument, Carroll made this rather sweeping statement of his materialist faith:

All we need to account for everything we see in our everyday lives are a handful of particles - electrons, protons, and neutrons - interacting via a few forces - the nuclear forces, gravity, and electromagnetism - subject to the basic rules of quantum mechanics and general relativity. You can substitute up and down quarks for protons and neutrons if you like, but most of us don't notice the substructure of nucleons on a daily basis. That's a remarkably short list of ingredients, to account for all the marvelous diversity of things we see in the world.

So, where would those two items of secular, civic morality I mentioned be found in Carroll’s universe? His sweeping, materialist faith, stated in his terms in two different arguments raises a very fundamental question, does any kind of morality really exist. This is especially troubling because in his answer to Harris he says this:

Morality is not part of science, however much we would like it to be.

I'll let you see how he addresses it for yourselves. I don't find it very convincing, though I agree with that last statement entirely.

I reject the idea that atheism is inherently amoral, basing that position not on any theoretical or rational analysis but on something as real as could be. I’ve known some very moral atheists who do not simply profess but practice a high standard of moral conduct. Professions of belief are nothing as compared to moral conduct. I don’t question the origin of their morality anymore than I do the moral conduct of religious people, I’m not especially interested in the question of origins, especially when those are unknowable. But for a scientist in Carroll’s position to hold those two positions, in public debates, asserts a position I can’t square, either rationally or in the observation of real life.

I think the problem with materialistic scientism is that it fails to take into account how science was invented by people, for what purpose, and how people came to believe what science said was reliable. No science that came after those first tests of its reliability, as it became a professional system, can escape that origin. The early assertions that were made as science were accepted because what it claimed, within the limits of what was studied, worked. It produced predictable results that were beneficial, it helped people avoid results that were not beneficial. And those results were only reliable within the limits of what was studied, what was able to be reliably studied with the methods of science. If extended past what the evidence produced showed, the results were not reliable.

Along the way scientists and their admirers seem to have developed a confusion about many things related to methods, the scope of what was studied, the rational application of what was learned and the limits of what could be concluded. Somehow, today, the philosophical ideology of materialism seems to have replaced the merely pedestrian fact of what a scientist uses in the practice of their trade. As Eddington pointed out more than eighty years ago, a businessman doesn’t necessarily make religious assumptions on the basis of their trade, they don’t enter those into their balance sheets. Though many businessmen have certainly held themselves to be in divine favor, they don’t put it into their ledgers. I think a lot of scientists, perhaps too busy to really understand the most basic facts of their work, make a similar mistake about what that work rationally encompasses.

I’ve never seen any evidence that scientists are more moral, more virtuous or more honest than people in other walks of life. The number of scientists who derive their incomes from weapons research, the production of dangerous chemicals that are regularly discharged into the food chain and the environment, often on the reassurance of scientists with a financial or professional interest, none of whom are then thrown out of science by their colleagues, is certainly conclusive evidence that the normal practice of science doesn’t produce morality as a reliable result. To think that a profession which has that record can then go on to tell us anything about the enormously important issue of civic or other morality is unfounded in evidence.

If one of the most extensive, sophisticated and massively respected areas of science has not completely and exhaustively understood even one of the objects which it has studied, at enormous expense in time, intellectual consideration and money, for to assume it has the answers to “all we need to account for in everyday life” is massively absurd. A claim like that, made out of a would-be rationalist frame of mind, should be as self-impeaching as the lapses in religious authorities when they prove to be morally compromised.

It was the “ignorant church lady” remark I mentioned here, in the first post in this Hawking inspired fight that has fueled my anger enough to sustain my part in this argument for more than two weeks of intense effort. I know that clerk in the grain store, I can see how she acts, I know she is far from ignorant and I know she knows the difference between the everyday scope of her work and how she should treat other people and the animals she keeps. She is the best judge of what she believes and it seems to produce pretty good results that are beneficial for those around her. And she seems to do it all on her own, without theoretical physics or David Hume or the moral systems of rigid religion. That is where I’ll take my instruction, thank you.

So, What’s In It For US, Keeping The Democratic Majority In Congress [Anthony McCarthy]

First, so no one mistakes what I mean, a definition of terms. By “us” I most certainly don’t mean “me”. Anyone who practices politics on the singular pronoun level is self-centered and greedy and those are the politics, the fight against which comprise the reason that politics are necessary. And I don’t mean the extended form of “me” as in me as a gay man or someone whose income places him in the category of the working poor, without insurance, growing older and with health problems becoming more likely. Or even “me” as one looking out for the interests of the progressive to lefty faction in politics.

Politics on the left is either for the common good or it is leftist politics that has already surrendered to that most insular form of the singular pronoun. I mean “us”, the side which is about the common good, the side that is for equal rights right down to the most radically subversive of those rights, economic rights, and beyond into the ultimate common good, the good of the common property of us all, the biosphere which is under threat and the loss of which will end up killing us all, right down to the last billionaire rolling in his now economically useless billions as his last hoarded means of sustenance runs out. I will not mention our other fellow beings, the animals and plants because this prelude is the merest of outlines of what is at stake. That is the “what” in “what’s in it for us”.

Barack Obama has been a real disappointment. The fine speaking voice, bold, decisive and confident, the bold change promised, has turned into a record of compromise from a voluntarily chosen position of weakness, unwilling or unable to discipline his purported allies in the Senate, foolishly allowing some of the most corrupted of those to undermine his stated intentions. And not just once but repeatedly. The obvious cowardice and inexperience of his inner circle in the face of difficulties further weakening his administration in legislative battles, his economic advisers in dealing the wreckage of the deregulated economy ill chosen because they were among those creating the disaster. That record of disappointment is well known to us.

What we get from having him there is probably less than we would have gotten under other circumstances, though any Democratic president would have faced many if not all of the roadblocks put in his way by the actual Republican-quisling majority in the Senate. He is, beyond question, superior to McCain-Palin, who would have worked with the same Republican-quisling majority in the Senate to ram through more of the Bush style measures that were being passed before 2006 and after with the help of right wing Democrats, after Republicans lost strength in the House. That isn’t an unimportant matter. For all his many failings and frustrations, Barck Obama isn’t as bad as that would be.

But this election isn’t about Barack Obama, it is about the control of the House and Senate and state governments which will set the districts under which elections will be conducted for the next ten years and likely longer.

Nancy Pelosi is the real Democratic leader in Washington, the only one who is exerting leadership. I’ve been over it many times here, she is an extraordinary Speaker, even setting identity aside. I’ve pointed out the approximately four hundred bills she has managed to pass which are stalled in the leaderless Senate which the impotent White House is powerless to move. That has been a growing total of pending bills mounting for the entire time she has been Speaker. I can only imagine what the frustration of that situation must be like for her. As of the last time I checked, she is continuing to fight that fight with her determination to bring the middle class tax relief bill to a vote in the House even as the Senate leadership appears to not be willing to make the effort. With her political experience and acumen. Watching the Democrats in the Senate do the most politically stupid thing they’ve done yet and refuse to vote on tax relief for the vast majority of voters because they are afraid of Republicans saying bad things about them, which they will do in any case, all I can say is I’d be tempted to just give up. But I’m not a person who has accepted the enormous responsibility for carrying what part of the progressive agenda up a steep hill under constant fire, she is. She and her progressive colleagues in the House have done that over and over again with insufficient to no backup. They deserve our support because they had done what they could.

It’s far harder to make any positive case for the Senate, with a very few exceptions they have been the planned aristocratic voice in government, the stall on democracy, the roadblock to any change that we ever believed in and had a right to believe this president would fight for. The best thing that they have done to date is confirm two supreme court justices who are far, far less bad than what, God save us, McCain or Palin would have nominated. Those justices replaced what passes as liberal justices on the present day court, they would have made Anthony Kennedy’s infrequent “liberal” majority rulings a thing of the past as the Roberts majority turned this country into a corporate oligarchy by law instead of just by corruption and cowardice. That is not an inconsiderable difference. The only reason that it appears at all possible that any kind of reasonable break on the Republican war against women, minorities, and the entire progressive agenda is that those two justices are there today. There is no likelihood that a six-three Roberts majority would deliver justice on those issues.

This week some of the major provisions of health care have been coming into effect, which are far less than they should have been and far less unambiguously beneficial than they should be. But they would never have been forced through a Republican-controlled Senate any more than they would have been signed into law by McCain or Palin. There are other measures that are less bad than the alternative that have leaked through the blocked Senate that are better than nothing and far, far better than the Republican alternative. And those Republican alternatives would have been law if the Republicans had won the last election.

I am furious with Barack Obama and his administration which has compounded its ineffectiveness with its clear willingness to disregard and even insult an important part of its base. I am furious with Barck Obama in not cracking down on Emanuel and Gibbs and wiseing up Axelrod. Being a member of that part of the base it is something that I’m not willing to accept quietly, I protest it regularly, letting my congressional representative know that I’m not happy, writing to the White House. I am even more furious with the Democrats in the Senate for electing leadership which has been in the hands of people answerable to states which don’t have Democratic majorities and who will not push an agenda favored by the majority of Democrats and independents. To top it off with their complete lack of political competence is incredibly frustrating.

There are admirable Democrats in the House and even a few in the Senate, whose integrity is largely intact despite being in the cesspool which the Supreme Court has made of our politics. Some of them are not only fine and honest representatives of The People but are also crafty politicians. I look to them for leadership, I ask myself what is it they think will produce the best available result I don’t see any of them wishing for the Republicans to take over one or both of the houses or the majority of state governments. They’ve done the work of trying to represent us under extremely trying conditions. And they deserve our support, just about any of them could be pursuing a far easier and more profitable line of work. Their case is the strongest one that a person such as myself can make for supporting even the lesser candidates who are the only hope of blocking a Republican takeover. They do not see any benefit in that happening.

The only Democrats I’ve ever heard touting the benefits of Republicans winning elections are the DLC type democrats, the insider hacks who are obviously mostly in politics and the government to feather their own nests. They are the people for who “us” means “ME”. You can often hear them on C-Span and on the other, more obvious voices for oligarchy. Giving up and letting that happen would reward Republicans and the corporatist Democrats who work hand and glove with them, in power or out, it will hand over our government to the most willing servants of wealth and privilege. That should tell us what is at stake for The People in this election.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Brennan vs. ‘Bones’ (by Suzie)

The sixth season of “Bones” premiered last night, and I’m still reeling from the anger aimed at women who love their work.

Last fall, when I was sick and my resistance was low, I chanced on the Fox TV show in which a forensic anthropologist partners with an FBI agent to solve crimes. Because I follow “the road to excess,” I watched every rerun until I had caught up. After 5½ hours in the recovery room after a major surgery in February, I was excited to get into my hospital bed in time to watch “Bones.”

Emily Deschanel plays Temperance Brennan. David Boreanaz is her partner, Seeley Booth, who gave her the nickname “Bones.” In the fifth-season finale, she and her assistant, Daisy, head to Indonesia to find a “missing link” in human evolution. Booth is pressured to return to Afghanistan to train soldiers. Others leave, too, promising to return in a year.

On the show last night, the forensics unit has fallen on hard times. Cam, the chief, cannot find any decent replacements for the scientists who left, and powerful people dislike her investigation into veterans’ health. Caroline, the prosecutor, persuades everyone to return early to keep Cam from being fired.

Cam blames Brennan’s selfishness for the ruination of the forensics unit. Brennan may be the world’s best forensic anthropologist, but she can’t take a year off from crime-fighting for a scientific breakthrough? Like so many women, she’s told that she needs to put other people’s desires first.

Daisy tells her former fiancĂ©, Lance, that her idol, Brennan, is wrong to put her career ahead of love. Although Daisy had begged him to follow her, he didn’t, and he blames her for breaking his heart. Although women have often followed men who moved for work, Daisy grovels for forgiveness. The opposite happened with Angela and Hodgins. He agreed to go with her to France, and that gave him all sorts of bonus points for being a wonderful man. Now, to make him happy, she says they should stay in D.C.

Brennan tells Angela, her best friend, that she dreamed about work. Only half-joking, Angela interprets that to mean Brennan will “die loveless and alone.” Because having a husband is what really matters. So what if Brennan is brilliant and beautiful; has a great job at the fictional version of the Smithsonian; has traveled around the world on behalf of human-rights victims; has become rich writing best-selling novels; knows martial arts and marksmanship; has had romantic love and great sex; has reunited with a loving family; and has friends and co-workers who love her.

She lacks some social skills, and the creator of the show says he based her on a friend with Asperger’s. Her friends can be protective to the point of patronizing. They coach her on how to relate to people, and this includes, at times, telling her how she should behave as a woman. She often resists, and it’s her resistance that has kept me coming back.

The Hathor Legacy supplies this example:
Angela: For once can you just pretend to be the girl?
Brennan: Why is everyone so anxious for me to be a girl?
Angela: Listen, go to the basketball game, let him show off for you and see what happens.

Brennan: I don’t know, it sounds so passive.
Angela: Now you’ve got it.
I’ll be sad when Brennan and Booth finally become a couple. Brennan is an iconoclast, a liberal, an atheist, a feminist. Booth is a practicing Catholic, socially conservative, and appears to embody every stereotype of masculinity. It’s a TV trope: the mismatched couple who bicker all the time even though we’re all supposed to recognize them as soul mates. From Feministing:
He's used by the writers as a sounding board for Bones to point out the errors of his ways and intellectually smack him around. Booth IS society, essentially, and Bones rises above it to show that it doesn't HAVE to be that way.
I don’t think viewers who love Booth see him that way.

In a reversal, the man (Booth) is emotional and intuitive while the woman (Brennan) is logical and rational. Booth’s ability to manipulate people awes Brennan, who must not watch any crime shows. While their friends try to shake more emotions out of Brennan, they praise Booth’s empathy. But where's the empathy when he accuses a widow of selling her husband’s body for parts? While questioning suspects, he can say the most awful things to people who turn out to be innocent, but we rarely see him apologize. In contrast, Brennan often has genuine feelings for people.

Booth insisted on calling Brennan "Bones." But I call her Brennan; I don't want others to define her.

Under The Bleachers

You may have read about Susie Madrak (yeah, Susie!) telling David Axelrod off:

Some fireworks at the end of an otherwise uneventful conference call with White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod, when blogger Susie Madrak took the White House to task for their continued swipes at the "professional left."

Madrak asked, "I'm a blogger, and I don't know if you know this term, but are you familiar with the term hippie-punching?"

There was about a 15-second pause. "Go ahead," said Axelrod.

She continued. "Liberals and bloggers feel like we're the girl you take under the bleachers but won't be seen with in the light of day." She mentioned a series of incidents where the White House distances themselves from their base, and wondered how that helps Democrats regain enthusiasm from those same people. "We're not big numbers, but we raise money and we encourage people to vote and get involved. You have to help us help you," she concluded.
That girl-and-bleachers reference wasn't an obvious one for me (it's a cultural thingie).

But once I got it I found it brilliant: Susie made the point and she made it in a way which made the reader (assuming the reader is a liberal/progressive) identify with the girl, in a good way. Metaphors in politics are often drawn from the world of male sports and the readers or viewers are expected to identify with those, too. I found this one an improvement.

What do you think?

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Ginger likes to sleep in a round bed made for cats. I call her my cat-dog. The resolution on this photo isn't good -- it came from my cell phone. I know there's new technology, and I value new tech, really, I do, but I'm waiting for the tech that will let me download knowledge into my brain, a la "The Matrix."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Pretend Boys of Afghanistan

This New York Times story offers much food for thought about gender roles and even about 'passing.' It's unclear how common the practice of dressing a girl as a boy might be, but even if it's uncommon the fact that it exists at all is remarkable, given the strict sex segregation in Afghanistan.

Or perhaps not so remarkable, after all, because this way of avoiding the system leaves the system itself intact: You still have to pretend to be a boy to be allowed to lead a boy's life. Which has more freedom and less harassment.

Sticks and Stones...

May Break My Bones But Words Will Never Hurt Me. It looks like this is untrue, based on a recent survey about calling female politicians names such as 'mean girl' or 'ice queen':

The poll, taken Sept. 1-8, asked 800 likely voters to listen to descriptions of two hypothetical congressional candidates, Jane Smith and Dan Jones. Half the voters then heard a back-and-forth about the candidates that used the words "ice queen" and "mean girl," then the word "prostitute" to characterize the woman.

The other half of the sample heard a back-and-forth without those labels.

Among the findings:

The female candidate lost twice as much support when even the mild sexist language was added to the attack. Support for her initially measured at 43% fell to 33% after the policy-based attacks but to 21% after the sexist taunts. The drop was significant among both men and women, those under 50 and over 50, and those with college educations and without.

• The sexist language undermined favorable perceptions of the female candidate, leading voters to view her as less empathetic, trustworthy and effective.

Responding directly helped the women candidates' regain support. The rebound occurred both after a mild response — the female candidate calling the discussion "inappropriate" and "meritless" and turning back to issues — and after a more direct counterattack that decried "sexist, divisive rhetoric" as damaging to "our political debate and our democracy."
Bolds are mine.

These are potentially very important findings. I spent some time trying to find the actual survey but without luck. It opens up lots of interesting further questions, such as whether it matters which gender does the slurring and whether similar effects could be applied to male politicians. But what would those sex-linked slurs be for men?
I forgot to add a link to the campaign about stopping sexist slurs of this type.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fair Pay Isn't Always Equal Pay. So Says Christina Hoff Sommers.

Christina Hoff Sommers is a famous anti-feminist. She has written an op-ed for the New York Times on why the Paycheck Fairness Act would be a BIIIIG mistake. It's because women deserve to earn less. Also:

The Paycheck Fairness bill would set women against men, empower trial lawyers and activists, perpetuate falsehoods about the status of women in the workplace and create havoc in a precarious job market. It is 1970s-style gender-war feminism for a society that should be celebrating its success in substantially, if not yet completely, overcoming sex-based workplace discrimination.

But if sex-based workplace discrimination is at least partially overcome, why fear this act? I don't get it. And why would demanding fairness be the same as setting women against men? I don't get that, either.

I wanted to begin with her conclusions because they reveal her biases. Those biases are evident in the meat of her arguments, too. First:

The bill is based on the premise that the 1963 Equal Pay Act, which bans sex discrimination in the workplace, has failed; for proof, proponents point out that for every dollar men earn, women earn just 77 cents.

But that wage gap isn't necessarily the result of discrimination. On the contrary, there are lots of other reasons men might earn more than women, including differences in education, experience and job tenure.

When these factors are taken into account the gap narrows considerably — in some studies, to the point of vanishing. A recent survey found that young, childless, single urban women earn 8 percent more than their male counterparts, mostly because more of them earn college degrees.

To correct an error of fact: The 1963 Equal Pay Act did not ban sex discrimination in the workplace: It banned paying men and women different wages for the same work. This is not the only form sex discrimination could take at work. Other possibilities are discrimination in hiring, firing, on-the-job training and promotions. The latter were made illegal in Title VII of The Civil Rights legislation.

Then to correct another inaccuracy: Hoff Sommers states that "when these factors are taken into account the gap narrows considerably" but then goes on to quote a study about young workers which did NOT take into account education levels although it did control for marital and parental status. Thus, she herself quotes from a study which left out some relevant factors.

Here is the interesting part of her argument:

Moreover, a 2009 analysis of wage-gap studies commissioned by the Labor Department evaluated more than 50 peer-reviewed papers and concluded that the aggregate wage gap "may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers."

In addition to differences in education and training, the review found that women are more likely than men to leave the workforce to take care of children or older parents. They also tend to value family-friendly workplace policies more than men, and will often accept lower salaries in exchange for more benefits. In fact, there were so many differences in pay-related choices that the researchers were unable to specify a residual effect due to discrimination.

The op-ed links to that 2009 survey. Surprisingly, the conclusion that "the aggregate wage gap "may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers" doesn't come from the surveyed studies but from the survey-maker's own study.

This study begins with a classification of variables which might explain differences in men's and women's earnings levels. These are
-work experience
-career interruptions

Note that the author of the survey assumes that all these are based on workers' choices alone. That rules out any alternative explanations even before we are beginning to look at the data. Yet promotions, for example, can be used to discriminate between the genders. The promoted person ends up in a different occupational category (say, management) from the non-promoted one (say, sales personnel). Likewise, it's possible that women don't work in certain industries because of workplace harassment which creates a barrier to entry, and it's also possible that employers discriminate against women who have children by giving them less lucrative tasks or fewer promotions and so on. Work experience itself could be based on not only the workers' own choices if employers discriminate in firing.

My intention is not to argue for those alternative explanations, but to point out that we cannot really regard all those factors as unambiguous outcomes of workers' choices in the sense the survey treats them.

The actual analyses in the study are of two types: The first one is a conventional cross-sectional analysis of the gender gap in wages. It uses variables commonly included in such studies (though without work experience measures) and its conclusions are also fairly standard: The conventional analysis accounts for between 28.8% and 44.9% of the raw gender gap in wages, leaving the rest unexplained.

The alternative analysis is one I find very troubling. It attempts to capture something that a cross-sectional study cannot do very well: patterns of labor market attachment over time. The survey-maker does this by adding market data: The percentages of workers with the same gender, age, and number of children who either are not in the labor force for reasons other than retirement or disability or who are working part-time.

These are supposed to be proxies for the worker's own potential career interruptions. Perhaps Hoff Sommer's argument that women are more likely to leave work to care for children or aged parents?

But note that such variables would also capture any statistical discrimination employers might practice against women of child-bearing age, where statistical discrimination is defined as treating all women of given characteristics as if they were equally likely to leave their job or start working part-time. IF statistical discrimination is practiced, women in the relevant age and family composition classes might not be given on-the-job training or promotions and might earn less for those reasons.

The alternative analysis 'explains' between 74.4% and 130% of the raw gender gap in wages, depending on the specification. Oops!

The survey-maker hastens to point out that the 130% figure is an anomaly caused by a high percentage of young men being out of the labor force. Other specifications for the alternative analysis 'explain' between 65.1% and 76.4% of the raw gender gap in earnings. But remember that including variables about the general behavior of the cohort a worker belongs to would also capture any statistical discrimination. Or to put it more bluntly: They also measure being a woman in a fertile age category, because taking time off and working part-time are correlated with being female. If labor markets discriminate on the basis of sex this variable would pick up some of that effect.

The point of my comments concerning the 2009 study and its conclusions is to remind us all that only conservative anti-feminists such as Christina Hoff Sommers knows for certain that women earn less simply because they 'choose' to do so. The rest of us have to study the evidence and so on. A lot more boring but also ultimately a better approach.


The latest effort to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military failed:

Senate Republicans dealt a severe and potentially fatal blow Tuesday to efforts this year to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bans gay men and women from serving openly in the armed forces.

Democrats were unable to sway a single Republican to begin debate on a defense authorization bill that included the repeal.

So it goes. But note that under the DADT, gays and lesbians can serve, as long as they are in the closet about their sexuality. From that point of view this makes no sense at all:

But opponents say lifting the ban goes against the wishes of many military leaders and would introduce radical social change to the force at a time when it is focused on fighting two major wars. Critics are especially concerned with potential distractions for troops serving on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq if heterosexual troops would have to live and bathe in close quarters with gays.

An Interesting Take On Taxing The Rich

A venture capitalist who wants to be taxed more:

I'm a venture capitalist and an entrepreneur. Over the past three decades, I've made both good and bad investments. I've created successful companies and ones that didn't do so well. Overall, I'm proud that my investments have created jobs and led to some interesting innovations. And I've done well financially; I'm one of the fortunate few who are in the top echelon of American earners.

For nearly the last decade, I've paid income taxes at the lowest rates of my professional career. Before that, I paid at higher rates. And if you want the simple, honest truth, from my perspective as an entrepreneur, the fluctuation didn't affect what I did with my money. None of my investments has ever been motivated by the rate at which I would have to pay personal income tax.


The supply-side, trickle-down economic policies of the last decade benefitted people like me, but the wealth didn't trickle down. So while we did quite well, people who live from paycheck to paycheck didn't.

When inequality gets too far out of balance, as it did over the course of the last decade, the wealthy end up saving too much while members of the middle class can't afford to spend much unless they borrow excessively. Eventually, the economy stalls for lack of demand, and we see the kind of deflationary spiral we find ourselves in now. I believe it is no coincidence that the two highest peaks in American income inequality came in 1929 and 2008, and that the following years were marked by low economic activity and significant unemployment.

Via cabdrollery.

The Great Communicators of the Democratic Party

Must count Lawrence Summers among those, must! He's leaving. Too little too late, I think, but in any case here's an assessment of his communication skills:

Summers, known for his abrasive style, has not been the best communicator of the administration's economic policies. His departure would allow Obama to bring in a new public face for his economic agenda.

Then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had an unusual form of praise for New York's junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, this morning at the fundraiser Mayor Bloomberg hosted for him at his townhouse - referring to her as "the hottest member" as she sat just a few feet away, according to three sources.


First Bloomberg spoke, then Sen. Chuck Schumer, and then Reid, according to the sources. Reid praised Schumer at length, discussing how he could have run for governor - and won - in 2006, but didn't, and instead accepted the Nevada senator's entreaties to run the DSCC.

Then he turned his attention to Gillibrand, saying something about how "many senators are known for many things," according to a source. He added, "We in the Senate refer to Sen. Gillibrand as the hottest member."

He also then discussed her knowledge of securities law as extremely deep, and suggested she was better on certain policy elements than other people, according to the sources.

Tinfoil hattie pointed this out to me. She also noted that "we in the Senate" business. Did Reid ask the female Senators of their opinions there, I wonder?

I also wonder if I should state here that Harry Reid has a face like the backside of a chicken with diarrhea? No. That would be inappropriate.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Reverse Gender Gap in Wages Among Young Workers

This article completely slipped past me, and it should not have done so, because it's such an excellent example of a subtly biased presentation of research findings.

Its major thesis is that a certain group of women is out-earning their male contemporaries: Women between the ages 22 to 30 who are single, childless and who live in large metropolitan areas earn more than men between the ages 22 to 30 who are also single, childless and who live in large metropolitan areas.

Note what is held constant (standardized) in that comparison and what is not:
1. Age is held constant. Older workers are excluded.
2. Marital status is held constant. Married workers are excluded.
3. Parental status is held constant. Workers with children are excluded.
4. The level of urbanization is held constant: Workers not living in metropolitan areas are excluded.

All of these choices work in one direction, by the way. The gender gap has always been the smallest among young workers, among single workers, among childless workers and among workers who live in large metropolitan areas. These are exactly the standardizations I would choose if I wanted to prove that women earn more than men, in at least some groups!

Then note what is NOT held constant: Education. In fact, we have no idea if we are comparing men with only a high school diploma to women with a college degree, say. The proper analysis would not just add a paragraph telling us that the reason for these difference is most likely the higher levels of education young women in metropolitan areas have (as this article does).

The proper analysis would compare workers who are young, single, childless, metropolitan AND who have a particular level of education: less than high school, high school diploma, an undergraduate degree, a post-graduate degree and so on.

By not doing that the article fails to show that the women it studies actually earn more than men when all the relevant variables are held constant.

Then, of course, the article does state this:

The shift in earnings power started showing up in a few big cities a few years ago and has become widespread. It isn't true for all women in their 20s working full time — overall, they earn 90% of what all men in their 20s make — just for those who don't marry or have kids.

Bolds are mine.

Note the way this article has been constructed. The finding that women in their twenties working full time earn 90% of what men in their twenties working full time do is hidden in the middle of the piece!

That's pretty biased, in my view. Then note that one could have done a completely different article about the gender gap in earnings between young workers by only looking at those who are married and who do have children (the exact opposite of what this article chose to do). If the overall gender gap is 90% and if single and childless women indeed earn more than their male counterparts, there must be pretty sizable gender gap in favor of men among those who are married and/or have children.
ETA: It is very important to look at the gender gap in wages after taking into account all the other variables which affect earnings. If we don't do that we are not talking about a difference which is directly about gender. Both sides in the political debates make that mistake far too often as I point out in my gender gap series (available at the website given at the top of this blog).

The Paycheck Fairness Act, Again.

It has been reintroduced in the Senate, and you should contact your Senators to urge its passage.

Did He Use Bleach Afterwards?

Pope Benedict XVI, I mean. After all, he shook hands with a clergywoman!

Pope Benedict XVI publicly shook hands with a clergywoman for the first time in a historic gesture ahead of a service at Westminster Abbey.

The Pope joined Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams for the highly-symbolic ecumenical service.

In what marked the first visit by any pope to the Abbey, the pontiff was presented to the Rev Dr Jane Hedges, canon steward of Westminster Abbey.


The introduction of women bishops in the Church of England, which moved a step closer this summer, has been opposed by the Vatican as a ''break with apostolic tradition'' and a ''further obstacle'' to any efforts at dialogue between the two churches.

To add to the tensions, in July the Vatican listed the attempted ordination of a woman, just as sexual abuse of a child by a priest, as one of the gravest crimes for the Catholic Church.

Emphasis is mine. And so is the righteous anger one should feel when reading that bolded sentence.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I Thought This Was A Spoof

"This" being the Iowa Republican Party Platform which states, among other things, that the Iowa Republicans want to abolish the minimum wage, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

You want to read through the whole platform. Perhaps then you can see why I couldn't quite believe that it's the actual platform of an American political party in 2010.

Here are the bits which directly apply to women in the platform:

We affirm that the unborn child is a living human being, with rights separate from those of its mother regardless of gestational age or dependency. We believe abortion should be illegal.

We support a "Woman's Right to Know Law" requiring informed consent including a three day waiting period with a mandatory ultrasound before any elective abortion services may be provided. "Informed Consent" means that abortion providers must offer, prior to the abortion, complete factual information to the pregnant woman about the complications of abortion, the biological development of the unborn, fetal pain and the availability of alternatives to abortion.

We support legislation requiring consent by a parent or legal guardian before a minor child receives any medically related procedure. The Parental Consent Law should require proof of identity of the parent in order to protect children from continued abuse by sexual predators who pretend to be the parent taking their child for an abortion.

We call for banning partial birth abortions both at the federal and state levels.

We call for facilities performing medical or chemical abortions to be subject to the same health and safety standards as hospitals.

We believe in "conscience clause" legislation so that no physician, pharmacist, or other health care provider can be penalized for refusing to prescribe, dispense, or participate in the procurement of abortion or anything contrary to the conscience of the healthcare provider.

We call for confidential statistical reporting of abortion procedures to be reported to the State Health Department by all doctors and health facilities performing abortions.

We believe the father of a child, born or unborn, has the same rights and responsibilities as the mother in all matters regarding the child, except in the case of rape or incest.

Note that abortion should be illegal. No exceptions, not even in the case of danger to the pregnant woman's life.

The last sentence in the above quote is a truly troublesome one, because it argues that a man should have the same rights and responsibilities to a fetus as the woman who is carrying it. It completely ignores the great difference here: The fetus is inside her body, not his, and the health risks are hers, not his. By arguing that he has the same rights to the fetus the platform also argues that he has rights over her body during the time of pregnancy.

These are not the only parts of the platform which affect women's lives. The platform is also opposed to federal or state-run health care and anything else that would make having a family easier, and it is extremely opposed to gays and lesbians having any rights whatsoever.

I guess reading platforms like this one reminds me that the Republican and Democratic Parties are not the Tweedledum and Tweedledee they sometimes seem to be but more like Savonarola and Mr. Milquetoast.

Women & the fall TV season (by Suzie)

The alleged trend this season is women in action shows. WSJ explains that networks do market research to determine what may sell each year, and research by the CW network found young women wanted heroines taking action.

But that doesn’t mean that TV hasn’t had women in action shows before. On the Today Show, Jennifer Pozner said the research was interpreted badly:
If they had asked the real questions of these women they were talking to -- 18-34-year-old women -- they would've found that, yes, they want strong, they want the adrenaline rush, they want women like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena Warrior Princess who protect themselves and save the world, but they want witty women, they want interesting women, they want intelligent women. It's not about the blood. It's about the fully-fleshed-out idea that women can be anything they want to be.
I’ll be watching NBC’s “Chase” TONIGHT at 10 Eastern time. I prefer shows that center on a woman, and “Chase” stars Kelli Giddish as U.S. Marshal Annie Frost. It’s shot in Dallas, where I was born, and I hope it can lighten up on the clichĂ©s about Texas.

Jerry Bruckheimer gets credit for the show everywhere, including NBC’s front page for “Chase,” where he’s called its creator. But the “About” section credits Jennifer Johnson, one of the executive producers, as its creator and writer. Melissa Silverstein notes that Johnson is one of only four female creators whose new shows were picked up this season.

The advance material emphasizes Annie’s toughness, reminiscent of Olivia on “Law & Order: SVU.” Giddish, an athlete who studied theater, says she does as much of the action as she can. The same goes for Maggie Q, who stars in the new “Nikita,” airing at 9 p.m. Thursdays on CW. Trained by Jackie Chan, Q has done plenty of action films. She was born in Hawaii to a Vietnamese mother and a Polish/Irish father. Her casting is significant because no other Asian or Asian-American leads a network drama.

Both Giddish and Q are beautiful, but unlike Giddish, CW is selling Q’s sexiness as much as it can. It even has a “sexy fun” preview. In interviews, Q already sounds a bit annoyed.
I'm so used to being sort of sweaty and wearing pants and sitting like a guy in boots and the whole thing that when I'm dressed up, I'm less comfortable. I like to wear less makeup and be tougher.
CW bosses wanted a pool scene with Maggie Q in a bikini. Producers explained that the show was being shot in freezing Toronto, but they relented and got one pool scene in Malibu. Q says she asked for a one-piece. “I don’t want to be that girl,” the one in a bikini in some cheesy scene. But she was given what amounted to a red bikini with a strip of fabric connecting the top and bottom. A photo of her in the bikini is everywhere, as well as one with her in fetishwear. She says dudes also will be happy with the scene in which she handles a machine gun that's bigger and heavier than she is. She does a lot of fighting in heels, and she says with dry humor that men think women wear high heels all the time.

A male critic for the St. Petersburg Times writes:
This is the smart, female-centered spies-and-slick shootouts series that Fox fumbled so spectacularly years ago in Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. Action star Maggie Q (Live Free or Die Hard) is sizzling as Nikita, a damaged street kid trained as a government assassin looking to take down her former handlers. ER alum Shane West is convincing as the dreamy, conflicted middle management guy who can't decide whether to kiss Nikita or kill her. And if you can put up with stick-thin models tossing around beefy stuntmen like they tried blocking the door to a Louboutins sale, then this slick re-re-re-invention of the La Femme Nikita film (after Bridget Fonda's disastrous Point of No Return and USA Network's Nikita series) will go down well. TiVo, if only to see Maggie Q in a swimsuit a few more times.
Herein lies the problem. CW puts Q in skimpy clothes, or has her walking around her penthouse like a Victoria’s Secret model. Men may drool over her, but that’s not enough to turn them into loyal viewers. Meanwhile, the network is compromising its own market research on what women want. In focus groups, they said they wanted to see athletic women, rather than women in bikinis lying on the beach or “models in evening gowns.”

“But for all its pandering, ‘Nikita’ is actually a well-made thriller for grown-ups: a heroine in a decidedly unheroic line of work,” concludes Alessandra Stanley in the NYT.

The St. Pete critic makes fun of female models, relying on the old stereotype that beautiful women are incapable of higher thinking. He suggests that a tiny woman like Q could not defeat big stuntmen. The Denver Post develops the idea further, asking in a headline: "Beauty meets brute force: Are tough screen heroines empowering, or do they send a dangerous message?"

First of all, a woman can be both strong and beautiful. Q is a former model who does her own stunts. Second, a small woman with martial-arts training can defeat a man. It’s a lot more dangerous to send a message to girls and women that there’s nothing they can do to defend themselves against men. Why do I need to explain this?

Critics have compared this “Nikita” version to “Alias” and “Dollhouse,” and I’m particularly interested in the latter. “Dollhouse” didn’t run years ago, as the St. Pete critic wrote. The last episode aired in January, and the season 2 DVD will be released Oct. 12 in the U.S. Like “Nikita,” DH got sexied up by Fox, with ads that looked like soft-core porn. But I loved its subversive message: People are being brainwashed, and it’s getting worse.

TLC On Women

TLC began its life as The Learning Channel, and that's where the acronym comes from. Nowadays it's anything but a learning channel, what with mostly dealing in reality shows, the weirder the better.

And what do those shows teach us about women? Well, women should have lots of children, lots. This is true of two of the TLC shows, including the show about the Duggars with nineteen children: Nineteen Kids and Counting.

Add to that a new show about a polygamous family: Sister Wives. This one consists of one Mormon husband with three wives and a bride. It looks like TLC believes that women should have both lots and lots children but only a fraction of a husband.

Should we take these lessons seriously? After all, reality shows of the type TLC specializes in are supposed to be about unusual families. But note that none of the TLC shows are about polyandry or about truly egalitarian marriages.

What unites the TLC shows about the Duggars and about polygamy is that they are about religious fundamentalist families. Such families do not believe in the equality of men and women in marriage, even though the TLC shows tend to skate over that fact. The reason Michele Duggar has nineteen children is not some accident: She is following a religious imperative of the Quiverfull movement to have as many children as possible. The reason some Mormon women* agree to (illegal) polygamy is because their religion requires that.

Do the TLC shows address this? Do they cover the negative aspects of these living arrangements? Even non-feminists might wonder how the polygamous Mormon families can justify The Lost Boys: the extra males which have to be thrown out with the trash if the community is to remain polygamous. Likewise, even non-feminists might wonder if aiming at having nineteen children is the best thing for a woman's health or even the best thing for those children. Indeed, both of these shows would give good examples of families where the role of the father must be stretched over a very large number of children. Does any of this get criticized in the shows?

My impression is that the shows are pretty much cheer-leading for the lifestyles of these religious extremists. Everyone is happy! Having nineteen children is great and doable on just your average single-earner income! Training your daughters to dream of nothing but childbirth is just dandy! Having lots of sister wives causes no jealousy, no competition for the husband's affections or time, no quarrels at all! These are happy families.

Try to think some suitable reversals by replacing "women" in this discussion with some other demographic group, and you might notice how very anti-women's-rights these shows are:

In the TLC program, the Duggars are portrayed as a wholesome American family who just happen to have a lot of kids; in one episode we see their resourcefulness as they shop for baby clothes at a thrift store. Absent from the screen, and smoothed over in the public representation of the "Baby Conference" (as well as in much of the homeschool movement in which the Duggars work with Phillips and Vision Forum) is the specter of biblical patriarchy, which is completely at odds with contemporary notions about the roles and the rights of women.

Biblical patriarchy or Mormon patriarchy. Either way, it's patriarchy, and it is indeed at odds with contemporary notions about the roles and the rights of women.
*As tinfoil hattie points out in the comments, this applies not to Mormons in general but to the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints sect.
ETA: This video shows how very differently polyandry is treated in the media:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Margaret Barry

My Lagan Love

Margaret Barry was a real street singer in the Irish traveling tradition, she played on the streets and in markets and fairs and for impromptu house parties. Her powerful singing can be extremely expressive even while it's declamatory. Her primitive banjo playing never got in the way of her singing, which is the mainstay of her music. The story goes that she made her own strings out of bicycle break cables. [Anthony McCarthy]


OK, I just listened to this one and it is irresistible.

Aine Fitzgerald

The Chicago Reel" and "The Providence Reel
Anne Briggs


She Moved Through The Fair

The Complete Guide To Understanding The Teabaggers [Anthony McCarthy]

Conservatives don't care if what they say is a lie because they know that conservatives don't care if what they're hearing is a lie. They don't even care if they know it's a lie. They don't care about reality or the truth. Not understanding that is a big mistake. It's not that they're just ignorant, it's that they are evil and have evil intentions. Do you think that crooks, racists and promoters of violence of the kind that are the conservative movement care about a bit of lying?

Ok, Ok, I Confess [Anthony McCarthy]

Ok, Ok, I confess I'd never heard of Slavoj Zizek until last week so I guess I'm supposed to feel guilty that I am ignorant of what looks like an up and commer in the kulture vulture world. Though at his age he might already be a came and went. Maybe that's how Molly Ivins felt when she discovered that, somehow, Camile Paglia had escaped her notice as she had her eyes on trivial stuff like what bills were getting passed into law in Austin and Washington DC.

I've looked at a bit of his stuff and was also introduced to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. Which I guess are both supposed to be a replacement for other models. I wonder if there are the equivalent of motorheads in the edifi of academe who taunt each other that their brand of psychoanalytic theory is " a pig ". Though I'm fairly sure they don't come to have fist fights about it between classes, poison spit onto the pages of small circulation journals being their favored form of dueling.

Why we need a new model in his line of work, is Paglia is growing a bittoo rusty in the wheel wells. Here's what Wiki has to say about Zizek:

Slavoj Zizek (pronounced ['slavoj ']; born 21 March 1949) is a Slovenian continental philosopher and critical theorist working in the traditions of Hegelianism, Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis*. He has made contributions to political theory, film theory, and theoretical psychoanalysis.

Zizek is a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and a professor at the European Graduate School. He has been a visiting professor at, among others, the University of Chicago, Columbia, London Consortium, Princeton, New York University, The New School, the University of Minnesota, the University of California, Irvine and the University of Michigan. He is currently the International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London and president of the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis, Ljubljana.

Zizek uses examples from popular culture to explain the theory of Jacques Lacan and uses Lacanian psychoanalysis, Hegelian philosophy and Marxist economic criticism to interpret social phenomena. He writes on many topics including subjectivity, ideology, capitalism, fundamentalism, racism, tolerance, multiculturalism, human rights, ecology, globalization, the Iraq War, revolution, utopianism, totalitarianism, postmodernism, pop culture, opera, cinema, political theology, and religion.

So, essentially, he's a blogger who gets paid for it and gets credited and gets paid gigs at posh universities. I read a bit of his stuff that I could get online and it looks pretty much like the same fare you get on the blogs at much longer length with a few extra citations thrown in. Only on the blogs it's usually honest about having less status than these fashionable, fungible and, eventually, forgettable social criticism pop stars who are supposed to be taken seriously by serious people who get written about in book reviews and magazines published in major cities and eagerly carried by kulture vultures in smaller cities and college towns. And you're supposed to feel stupid if you've never heard of them before, I'd guess. Though it might be understandable if you just find you can't take any of it seriously.

I might meditate on this for a while. It might help me in my continuing effort to reform myself. Just the writing alone is enough to make me think I've been headed in a very wrong direction.

* Lacanian psychoanalysis, which I'd never heard of either, looks like just another load of stuff to me. Apparently part of Jacques Lacan's shtick was a kind of back to Freud act. Including all kinds of pronouncements related to women and sex roles and that whole ball of quacks.