Saturday, November 27, 2004

On Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

The Southern Baptist church has this interesting website about gender, and I have been mining it recently for enlightening articles about the current state of gender relationships in the United States. It seems that if we only went back to the Biblical roles everything would be just find and dandy. And what exactly are these roles?

J. Lincoln Dugan can tell us. He's the chairman of the board of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He's also the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi. Here's pastor Dugan's ideas about Biblical Manhood:

If one looks out at the church today and doesn't see that one of the top crying issues in the evangelical church, in America and the western world in general, is the desperate need for virile, manly, godly servant-leader males in the local congregation, they are missing one of the big issues of our times. You cannot cultivate that in a culture of effeminacy in a church, and the minute you cave in on gender issues whether it be female officers, whether it be refusing to address male-female role relationships in the context of marriage, when you refuse to address those issues, you are refusing to address one of the key issues relating to church issues in our time.

"Virile, manly, godly servant-leader males"! This is hot stuff.
And the effeminacy of the church is very disconcerting, too. No doubt the Western civilization is going down the drain because of the lack of attention to the importance of virile and manly servant-leaders.

Pastor Dugan feels very sorry for all those Christians who struggle with the idea of equality between the sexes. He will have none of that modern rubbish; all that is needed is the word of the holy Bible on this question, and everything becomes clear:

It is the ultimate head in the sand approach not to address the issue. . . . If the Bible is unclear on this, then there is nothing that the Bible is clear about. If you can skip over the Bible's clear teaching on this, then you have just undercut yourself in terms of the interpretation of Scripture. The Bible speaks more clearly to this than it does abortion. . . . It is vitally important for a man to face these issues.

What about the Biblical womanhood, then? Well, it's easy to guess that it doesn't involve equality or women in leadership positions, and some women might at first find this a little hard to take. But not to worry! According to pastor Dugan things are not so bad, really:

The first think[sic] is to remind men how many good women out there are just dying for this. If you came to visit me in Jackson, Miss. (which is not known for its cultural progressiveness), your guess would be, in terms of marital male-female issues, that I, as a pastor, would see more issues of male abuse or domination of women. That would have been my guess too and certainly would have been the presupposition of a New York egalitarian. Though I have seen that on rare occasion, nine-to-one the main complaint I get from women who show up in my office to talk about failing or struggling marriages, is that [they say] 'Dr. Duncan, I so desperately want my husband to lead me spiritually, to lead our family, I want a strong spiritual leader. He's not interested.' I tell my men that. They are dying for somebody to shepherd them spiritually. That is an instinct that God has built into every godly woman, even if she doesn't know what that looks like. I think there are women out there who want it even if they don't know what it looks like. But we have not had, for several generations, that kind of male husband/father spiritual leader in the homes, so first of all, I say to the men, 'don't think that every woman is going to reject this. Most women already know that they want this.

Oops! I never realized that I have always secretly pined for a virile, manly servant-leader in the Snakepit Inc.. I thought that having two dogs and twenty snakes boss me was enough for one goddess but I am obviously mistaken. Pastor Dugan tells me so.

He has a lot more to say about the evils of feminism in the second part of the interview. Read it if you'd like to have indigestion today.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Hank Wanted To Be Posted, Too

And Hank... Posted by Hello

Here's Henrietta Plotting and Scheming

Henrietta Asleep Posted by Hello

The Empress of All Dogs

Henrietta Posted by Hello

Happy Henrietta the Hound Day!

This is the anniversary of the day that Henrietta the Hound came to live in the Snakepit, Inc.. She was a rescued dog, and I have no idea how old she is exactly, but based on her teeth at the time I had her first checked at the veterinarian's, she was somewhere between three and four years old then. So she's been ruling the roost here for nearly a decade!

Don't believe those nice people who say that a rescued dog will be the best dog in your life as a rescued dog is eternally grateful for a second chance! Sure, Henrietta saw a second chance in me: a second chance to be the Empress of the whole world, and she ran with it. After fixing a few psychological problems first, like the fear of brooms, water hoses, hockey sticks and hammers, she continued with her master plan of starting a large-scale revolutionary movement against humans, and I can't really blame her for that. Now she's plotting the next stage under the dining table. She's snoring, replete with lots of turkey and stuffing, and looking oh-so-innocent. Don't be fooled by that: she is already scheming the next stage of the revolution. I suspect that this has something do with who is allowed to sleep in my bed, and I fear that I'm not going to be one of those people or dogs.

Progressive Shopping

This is the big consumer day in the United States, the Black Friday when everyone is supposed to go out after gorging yesterday, and to spend money for the good of the American corporations and labor markets. Well, I didn't do that, though I've continued the gorging today (did I mention the chocolate truffle cake yet?). Instead, I've researched the U.S. companies that sell all the stuff we are supposed to buy to be good patriots.

Did you know how many American corporations are wingnuts? An awfully large number. In fact, many of the largest firms donate only to the Republican party. It seems a little sick to support these firms if you are a card-carrying Democrat, especially if alternatives are available.

An interesting website on the political bent of firms is the You can go there and find which companies are especially Bush-loving in your state, and perhaps, just perhaps, they'd rather not have your money at all. Think about it. Why would a bleeding-heart liberal pay into the coffers of wingnuttery?

If you wish to know the worst of the worst wingnut firms, click here. Hmmm. It looks like I'll have to change some of my shopping habits from now on.

Added later:

The top-giving corporate political action committees didn't hedge their bets in the fall elections despite the narrow division between the GOP and Democrats in Congress. They favored Republican candidates 10-to-1.

Not the way the votes went, of course. Among the most Republican of these PACs are the following:

The five most Republican-leaning corporate PACs include:
_Cooper Industries PAC: All $208,000 to Republicans. Cooper Industries, based in Houston, makes hardware and electrical and automotive products.
_Flowers Industries PAC: All $131,500 to GOP candidates. Flowers Industries, a bakery company, is based in Thomasville, Ga.
_The PAC of Phillips International, a publishing company based in Potomac, Md.: All $113,500 to Republicans.
_Harris Corp. Federal PAC: $168,500 to Republicans, $4,000 to Democrats. Harris, based in Melbourne, Fla., is an international communications equipment company.
_Illinois Tool Works for Better Government Committee: $139,500 to Republicans, $5,000 to Democrats.

You can check the list for the five most Democratic PACs at the link.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving!

There is still much to be thankful about. I have been blogging for a year now, and I'm very thankful for all the new friends I have gained, for the community of readers and commenters who are so intelligent, perspective and kind! I'm thankful for being alive and thankful for the hope about future which we are not giving up.
I'm thankful for the chocolate truffle cake I have just polished off!

The following is a repost from last year's Thanksgiving post. It is a satire about my house, the Snakepit Inc.

Designing the Absurd

Is life meant to be absurd and design to follow suit? My house is full of examples that suggest this: The door knobs, for example. They are round glass balls. If you wanted to design a door handle that looks as it would work but doesn't, you'd make it a round glass ball. This keeps people housebound if they have wet hands, carry anything bulky or heavy, or suffer from arthritis. The glass also makes the knob impossible to repair when turning it no longer turns the lock.

The sash windows of my house may have been designed by M. Guillotine during his lunch breaks. The upper pane normally doesn't move at all, but when the ropes that support it break, it comes down faster than a guillotine blade. Usually when I am stretching my neck out of the window in order to wash the upper glass from the outside.

These inventions are ancient, but more modern design works hardly better. The shower head in my bathroom is good for quick showers in the morning. It is worthless for anything else, being embedded in the wall. Shower heads should be detachable. Anyone disagreeing with this has never cleaned a bathtub or a large, nervous dog in it. Both jobs need rinsing which needs detachable shower heads. The lack of one forces me to use a large saucepan. As a consequence, I always have dogs with saucepan phobias.

Saucepans are no good for rinsing remote controls, microwave keypads or computer keyboards. Nothing is good for rinsing or cleaning these, although an extended leave of absence from work and a ton of tweezers and toothpicks might make a slight difference. As most people have better things to do with the rest of their lives, such equipment is often sold in colors and textures which look already grimy. That way cleaning doesn't seem necessary until it is far too late.

A case might be made in defense of each of these features I malign. There is no such defense for the American electric sockets, no reason whatsoever for making them look like Edward Munch's The Scream, a painting from hell. This is what stares back from baseboards all over the U.S., normally attached to the wall roughly diagonally. No wonder that mental health problems grow increasingly common. The only place where these sockets should be allowed is in dentists' waiting rooms. But that wouldn't satisfy the laws of absurdity.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Divine Irony?

Sometimes it looks like the supreme powers of this universe do have a sense of humor. Consider this:

The election commission said (Mr. X) won ...with a margin of almost three percentage points.
The commission had already indicated a win for (Mr.X), but exit poll results had put (Mr. Y) ahead.

And this:

The opposition says it has recorded thousands of voting irregularities in the poll, including a near 100% turnout in some pro-government strongholds.
Western election observers have reported mass violations, and world leaders have expressed concern.

It is funny in a very sad way that this is Ukraine, and that Mr. X is the Putin-favored candidate Viktor Yanukovych and not George Bush. The supporters of Mr. Y, Viktor Yushchenko, have gathered in tens of thousands to surround the election commission building in protest. In the United States, on the other hand, eighty percent of people believe that the U.S. elections were legitimate. Yet the situations can be described in almost identical terms. So I believe that we have been given an example of the Highest Divine Humor here.

And the funniest bit of the joke is here (bolded by me for emphasis):

The US and the European Commission had urged Ukraine not to announce the result before reviewing the contentious vote.

A Post-Script: Here's Colin Powell:
"We cannot accept this result as legitimate, because it does not meet international standards and because there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse," Powell said.


Cute Dog Stories

How I hate the word 'cute'! I don't even know why I hate it, as I don't really mind the concept of cuteness. Well, cute dog stories are just the thing for the day before Thanksgiving. A cute turkey story might stick in your gullet...

This story is extremely cute. It is about a dog who is suckling two kittens, and the writer marvels over her maternity instinct. What I marvel over is why she wants to do this at her age: based on the story she's at least thirteen years old which is very old for dogs. Anyway, maybe you like it.

An even cuter story is one I read many years ago in a dog book. A man had a male Great Dane whom he walked along a riverbank every morning. One morning the river had four little puppies desperately trying to swim. Someone had thought of a quick way of reducing the excess dog population, I assume. The Great Dane jumped in and saved the puppies one by one. The man took them home and the Great Dane tended to them until they were old enough to be adopted.

Now, that is a cute story.

What You Do When You Make a Mistake

This seems to depend on who you are. If you are the Center for Disease Control and Prevention you can publish a study in March and come back in November with:"Oh, by the way, our figures in that March study were wrong because of some statistical glitches. And no, we won't tell you how wrong they were. Bye bye!" Nice work if you can get it.

The specific question was about the number of deaths in the year 2000 that could be attributed to obesity, and the March publication gave them as 4,000. Now it seems that the real number is something less, but how much less? Well, we will be told when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is ready to do so. What did you think they were? Public servants?

I have noticed a lot of carelessness in some medical studies which analyze diseases where a kind of a societal condemnation plays a role. A 1990's study about the deaths caused by cigarette smoking overestimated such deaths quite wildly and illogically by assuming that every person who smoked and died from diseases such as stroke and heart disease would not have died from these causes if she or he had not smoked.

Nobody thinks it's very serious to err in the direction of 'right results', especially when everybody agrees on the issues to begin with. Well, I think that this is when the researchers should be especially careful with their work. Common bias is still a bias.

An Important Lesson I Learned Today

If you have had only ninety minutes of sleep during the previous night and if the next day is one full of work and meetings and errands and appointments and cleaning and building furniture and blogging, eating ten (very very) small chocolate bars in fast succession will not make you more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It will make you really nauseous.

I guess I got carried away by that finding of chocolate's health benefits.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

More on Deliberate Childlessness

R. Albert Mohrer, Jr. is a Godly man of great earthly importance:

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., is one of the leading conservative evangelical figures of our day. His role as a strategic leader among Southern Baptists and in the wider evangelical world has been recognized by such influential periodicals as TIME magazine, Christianity Today and other leading publications. He is a noted author and speaker. In addition to being president of the Southern Baptist Convention's flagship seminary, Mohler has distinguished himself as a denominational statesman by his leading role in the massive restructuring of America's largest Protestant denomination. Dr. Mohler is a frequent guest on nationally televised news programs, including CNN's "Larry King Live", and is quoted frequently in The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other major newspapers. His commentaries appear regularly in Religion News Service and WORLD magazine.

One of the good ole boys, in other words. This radical cleric has recently written an article entitled "Deliberate Childlessness: Moral Rebellion With a New Face". He describes several childless couples, each apparently childless because they prefer to spend money on consumption or are too selfish and lazy to have children. For a taste of this, consider the following example of what drives couples to childlessness:

The Schums just don't want kids to get in the way of their lifestyle. They enjoy cruising to the Georgia mountains on their matching Harley-Davidson motorcycles. They love their gourmet kitchen, outfitted with the very latest stainless steel appliances and trendy countertops. Deb Schum explains, "if we had kids, we would need a table where the kids could do homework." Clearly, children aren't a part of their interior design plan.

Surprisingly, Mr. Mohrer's article doesn't have a single example of deliberately childless people who are childless for unselfish reasons, such as the knowledge that they would make terrible parents because of illness or a dysfunctional family setup or just the understanding that they are not made of the stuff that makes for good parenting. Neither do any of his examples choose to be childless for political reasons: the fear of environmental degradation with an increasing global population size, for example. Nope. Mr. Mohrer's childless people are Bad People.

Most of his article is aimed at Christians, and it includes arguments that the Bible wants everybody to have children:

Christians must recognize that this rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God's design. The Scripture points to barrenness as a great curse and children as a divine gift. The Psalmist declared: "Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate." [Psalm 127: 3-5]

Whatever. Having a "quiver full of children" may have been an excellent thing for a nomadic shepherd two thousand years ago, especially because children were extra hands for jobs and also old-age insurance, but I wonder if his wife (whose opinions are not mentioned in the Bible) was equally happy to fill that quiver.

Anyway, Mr. Mohrer argues that not having children on purpose is a revolt against God's will. If Christians want to accept his argument I'm quite happy to let them do so. But things get a little trickier later in the article when Mr. Mohrer elaborates on his thesis:

The church must help this society regain its sanity on the gift of children. Willful barrenness and chosen childlessness must be named as moral rebellion. To demand that marriage means sex--but not children--is to defraud the creator of His joy and pleasure in seeing the saints raising His children. That is just the way it is. No kidding.

It's not quite clear what "society" means in this context, but I assume that it is the American society, consisting not only of fundamentalist Southern Baptists but of people of many other religions or none. Mr. Mohrer wants all these people to turn into "saints" by taking on the task of bringing up children. His last sentence but one is especially telling: "That is just the way it is."

This is why it's not possible to debate a wingnut. Their minds are fixed and closed before anything has been said.
Thanks to Manfred Traven in my comments for the original link.

Waiting to Vote in Ohio

This is something I overlooked yesterday, but it's important enough to talk about even today. Yes, I know that Dan Rather is going to retire, and yes, I know that hunters have been hunted to death and a woman has cut off the arms of her baby daughter. I also know that approximately a billion mothers did not cut off the arms of their children today and that very few hunters were hunted to death. (I'm not downplaying the seriousness of these news; I'm just stressing their rarity.) But large amounts of voters, many of them minorities, had to wait in line to vote all over the country, and some of this waiting could have easily been avoided. This description is from Ohio:

In precinct 55-B on Columbus' near east side, there were 1,338 registered voters and, according to Franklin County Board of Elections estimates, 956 active voters who had voted in the last two federal elections. Despite voter registration being up 17%, and by the BOE's own guidelines the polling place requiring ten machines (one per 100 voters), the polling site had only three machines, one less than for the 2000 elections.
The Election Protection Coalition that visited the voting site between 7:30-8:30 a.m. documented a dozen people leaving the polls, six to go to work and six who were either elderly or handicapped. But things were worse in other areas of Columbus.
In precinct 1-B where there were 1,620 registered voters, a 27% increase in voter registration, the precinct had five voting machines in 2000 and only three in 2004. Where did they go? Out to Republican enclaves like Canal Winchester, where two machines were added since 2000, for a total of five to service 1,255 registered voters? Or were they re-routed to Dublin 2-G where 1,656 registered voters apparently needed six machines, twice the number of Columbus' 1-B?
Nearby in Dublin precinct 3-C, 910 registered voters were allocated four voting machines. No doubt machines were shifted from precincts like Columbus 44-G with 1,620 voters and registration up 25%, which lost one machine from the 2000 elections to 2004.

One would think that there has been ample opportunity to practise running elections in this country, given that we have been having them a while now. This raises the possibility that the cause for the long waits is not in your average bureaucratic incompetence. Whatever the case, this situation is not acceptable and remedies must be demanded.

Your Granny was a Monkey!

According to this CBS poll Americans don't believe in evolution. Fifty-five percent of the respondents believe that "God created humans in present form". Yet the majority (65%) advocate that schools should teach both creationism and evolution, though thirty-seven percent would like the schools to teach only creationism. Higher percentages of those who voted for Bush fancy creationism, although even quite a few Kerry voters (24%) would prefer just creationism taught at schools. Belief in evolution was higher among the more educated and among those who rarely attend religious services.

It's not clear how representative this poll is, but if it is representative of Americans in general, I'd say that those who advocate more science in education are going to be in real trouble. As will all members of the reality-based community.

Mmmm! Chocolate!

There is still some fairness and justice in this world. Not only does chocolate correlate with the enjoyment of other bodily pleasures but it's also good for your health. The most recent medical news suggest that chocolate is better for cough than the usual patent medicines:

Dark chocolate may have health benefits to weigh against fears of tooth decay or putting on weight.
A chemical compound, theobromine, which is found in cocoa, has proved more effective at stopping persistent coughing than codeine.
Tests have so far involved only 10 people and larger studies are needed, according to a team from Imperial College and the Royal Brompton and St Bartholomew's hospitals in London and a Hungarian company. They described their work in an online journal published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Usually I'd rave and rant about the legitimacy of a study with ten subjects, but in this case I don't feel any need to do so. Anything that promotes chocolate-eating is a very good thing in my books. Note that the experimental subjects took 50 grams of the medication, but that more might be better! Isn't this wonderful?

Monday, November 22, 2004

The Eternal Law?

I never went to law school, though I was accepted into one. I fell asleep the first day and that was that. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't think law is very important; it is, and I'm very glad that other people also find it great fun.

Now we have three new law schools which stress the religious application of law in the United States. Not the application of law to religion, but the application of religion to law. The idea is to groom a new generation of lawyers who can take on all the favorite issues of the Christian Right: the right to practise religion in public schools and in the public arena in general, the drive to ban abortions for good and so on.

The New York Times describes the newest religion-and-law school in the country:

The class in civil procedure, at the new Liberty School of Law here, began with a prayer.
"The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul," said Prof. Jeffrey C. Tuomala, quoting Psalm 19. "The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple."
But decisions of the United States Supreme Court, Professor Tuomala went on, are not always trustworthy. "Something that is contrary to the law of nature," he said, "cannot be law."
The school, part of Liberty University, whose chancellor is the Rev. Jerry Falwell, is for now a makeshift affair in a vast industrial building that used to be a cellular phone factory. Its students compensate for the surroundings by dressing well - many of the men wore jackets and ties - and by showing attentive enthusiasm, even for a heavy dose of civil procedure at 8 a.m.
The school, which says its mission is to train "ministers of justice," is part of a movement around the nation that means to bring a religious perspective to the law and a moral component to legal practice.
"People are realizing that some of the biggest issues of the day are being decided in the courts - the 2000 presidential election, the question of what is marriage, abortion, stem-cell research, cloning,'' said Jeffrey A. Brauch, the dean of Regent Law School, which was founded in 1986 in Virginia Beach by Pat Robertson, the television evangelist. "And maybe there are eternal principles of justice that will tell us how to approach these questions."

Talk about creating activist lawyers! I find it hard to see how these future lawyers could interpret the law based on the Constitution and so on, if they regard the Biblical messages more central. There's also the additional problem that not all their future clients might be Christians.

Still, the same article also points out why such schools are needed:

The claim that professors at the leading law schools tilt to the left is supported by statistics. According to a forthcoming study of 21 top law schools from 1991 to 2002 by John McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern University, approximately 80 percent of the professors at those schools who made campaign contributions primarily supported Democrats, while 15 percent primarily supported Republicans.
Peter H. Schuck, a law professor at Yale, where 92 percent of faculty political contributions went to Democrats, said Dean Green was right to question whether religious perspectives are welcomed at mainstream law schools.
"There is a sort of soft tolerance of competing views," Professor Schuck, who described himself as a political moderate, said, "but no real interest in exposing students to seriously developed contrary points of view that proceed from a strong faith-based perspective. Fundamentalism is derided."

This assumes that the professors teach their own political beliefs, of course, which I doubt is the practice in most law schools. They are not known for being bastions of radical lefty values.

I admit that having more ethical people in law would be good as it would be good in most other professions. But there is something madrassa-like in this approach of segregated religion-based education in law. And as a female divinity, I always worry about why the eternal laws are only those that were written up by nomadic patriarchal tribes two thousand years ago.

How to Report Gender Science Results

This is an interesting article. It refers to a 2004 study about how newspapers report on research in gender sciences, in particular, whether the newspapers stress a biological or a cultural/environmental explanation to any findings of behavioral differences:

Two Yale University researchers--Victoria Brescoll and Marianne LaFrance--analyzed articles on sex differences that appeared in 29 large-circulation U. S. newspapers published between January 1994 and February 2001.
After going through all that, they found that the political leanings of newspaper publishers and managers color reporting on sex differences. While conservative newspapers tend to use biology to explain those differences, more liberal newspapers explaining them in terms of socio-cultural effects.

The study, published in Psychological Science (Vol. 15, No. 8, August 2004), raises serious questions about how well science journalism serves newspaper readers.
The articles were coded for the type of explanation provided for sex differences and also for the degree to which the newspaper was conservative or liberal and the degree to which the newspaper articulated traditional sex role beliefs throughout its pages.
Brescoll and LaFrance also ran experiments to see if articles proposing biological explanations for sex differences would help foster gender stereotypes. Not surprisingly, the answer was yes. When faced with press coverage that favors biological explanations, guess what, readers' gender stereotypes are indeed reinforced.

This is one my fields of interest, and I have been following the reporting of studies, as well as the studies themselves, for quite a long time. The authors of the study are correct in their findings: most popularizations of scientific findings are terrible and appeal to our stereotypes and prejudices, whatever they happen to be. But mostly they actually appeal to those views that would maintain the status quo. There is a pretty strong bias towards explaining all results about gender differences as inborn. I would be a rich goddess if I had been given a dollar every time I read a headline stating that :"Girls are different! And it's in our genes!" Or one about why women can't read maps (it has something do with the map reading brave prehistoric warriors had to engage in while the women were watching the prehistoric equivalent of today's daytime soaps in some cosy cave).

There are the opposite popularizations, too, of course. But they are nowhere near as common. I can only remember two items in the last ten years which actually argued for a hundred percent cultural explanations to all behavioral sex differences.

But the actual studies are far too often not much better. Spend some time googling "evolutionary psychology sexual selection" and I bet that your hair will stand up. There are quite a few researchers in that field who have an axe to grind, and the point of the grinding is to prepare the axe to chop off some uppity female heads. Never mind if there is no fossil evidence or evidence about the psychology of our prehistoric ancestors: the results always conveniently support the researchers' own biases.

This is probably unavoidable, but a field of this type tends not to attract people with the opposite bias in adequate numbers. Thus we are left with an ideologically non-neutral science. Maybe more feminists will become evolutionary psychologists in the future, even though this is supposed to be a contradiction in terms right now.

The truth about most of the studies which compare men's and women's brains and so on is that the research is taking its very first infant steps, and any sort of conclusions are very premature. For example, differences in the PET scans between the sexes doesn't necessarily mean that these differences are inborn. It is known that how the brain is used affects its structure. (See, for example, the study of London taxi drivers who have unusually large areas reserved to long-term memory because of the intensive memorization of street addresses that is required for getting the London taxi license. Also, studies about the effects of depression on brain show long-term changes caused by the condition.)

The immaturity of the field doesn't stop the popular interpretation of every new research as the major breakthrough which explains why women do what they do and so on. These stories hardly ever give any statistical results, because to do so would reveal the great variability of the characteristics within each sex, as well as the large amount of overlap in the distributions of results for the two sexes. Neither do most of these popular reports even mention that whatever behaviors we observe today may also have cultural explanations, or that the nature-nurture debate is actually a lot more complicated than the simple idea of "one or the other" suggests.

I don't know if it is really possible to report gender science neutrally, but it certainly isn't happening right now. Most reports are intended to prop up a traditional view of the sexual division of labor by explaining that it is biologically decreed. This feeds right into the wingnut ideology for those wingnuts who don't have the fundamentalist interpretation for women's inferiority. Even the studies themselves have a certain type of bias in this sense: How often do you hear about studies that found no sex differences in behavior? Yet clearly men and women do an enormous number of things exactly the same.

I'm not neutral in this field, either, of course. When someone tries to sit on me and tell me that I am coy and timid and uninterested in sex and really bad at map-reading and unable to fix my car and that all this has been proven by Science, well, the correct response is to take the other side and to fight back. But I don't presume to know the exact amounts by which our behaviors are predetermined. I wish more people adopted the same quasi-humble attitude.

Eyes on the Prize?

That is a reference to the title of a PBS series and a book about the Civil Rights Movement. The eyes that today appear to be glued on the prize are not those of black Americans but those of our faith-based administration. As a consequence, the enforcement of civil rights has been asked to take a seat at the back of the bus. (Isn't this about the worst mess of writing you have ever come across?)

Federal enforcement of civil rights laws has declined sharply since 1999 although the number of complaints received by the Justice Department has remained relatively constant, according a study released yesterday.
Criminal charges alleging civil rights violations were brought last year against 84 defendants, down from 159 in 1999, according to Justice Department data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
In addition, the study found that the number of times the FBI or other federal investigative agencies recommended prosecution in civil rights cases has fallen by more than a third, from more than 3,000 in 1999 to more than 1,900 last year. Federal court data also suggest that the government has sought fewer sanctions against civil rights violators.
The study's coauthor, David Burnham of TRAC, said the results indicate that civil rights enforcement declined across the board during President Bush's first term in office. The Justice Department enforces a range of civil rights laws, from guaranteeing fair housing access to prosecuting hate crimes.
''Collectively, some violators of the civil rights laws are not being dealt with by the government," Burnham said. ''They've declined by a huge number of cases. This trend, we think, is significant."

According to Burnham, the reason for the drop in cases is not fewer claims as claims have remained constant for the last five years. What could be behind this trend, then? One possible answer is hidden in this quote:

Civil rights cases made up a tiny fraction of the Justice Department's total of 99,341 criminal prosecutions in 2003. But the study found that only civil rights and environmental prosecutions were down from 1999 to 2003 as the caseload rose by about 10 percent.

I guess the government doesn't care for civil rights. They are not like, you know, moral values and stuff.

My Nightmare

I had a nap this afternoon. It wasn't exactly refreshing. Here's what happened:

First, imagine sinking into your backbrain, a lovely fatigue caressing your whole body, the god of sleep gently licking your eyelids.


The scene: A large mental hospital in an ancient manor house surrounded by a beautiful park. But the rooms and corridors are gloomy and the furniture sparse, filthy and institutional. I wake up in a small room tied to an iron bed. A cheerful nurse with Phyllis Schafly's face bends over me and asks:"Are we feeling any better yet?" I can't answer, they've done something to my vocal cords.

Then I'm released and I wonder around the hospital. I meet a young male doctor with a crackerjaw and a white coat, and he reassures me that everybody in the hospital are completely free to come and go, free to do whatever they want. I try to leave the building, but every time I reach the door it turns into a crackerjaw.

Then we are having lunch. The other patients are screaming and some stare into the corners with empty eyes, a mouth dribbling a continuous stream of blood. The food is horrible: all little pink eyeballs, and they all sing a psalm in praise of god. I refuse to eat and a long tube (like a gas station one) is attached to my ear and someone presses the switch.

Then I'm floating in midair and see a vast, enormous fat man walk towards me, smiling and nodding. As he passes, he says:"So another one with the east coast elite disease!"

I have to stop following the U.S. politics so closely.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

More on the Appropriatons Bill

This document, a fourteen inch tall pile of papers, was handed to the politicians on the same morning as the supposed vote. An excellent place to hide lots of juicy surprises for those damn east coast elitists and others who forgot to kiss the boot of George Bush. Still, some examples of these surprises are leaking out (possibly because of their juiciness). Here's Senator McCain on the topic:

Mr. President, there is over $11 billion in unrequested, unauthorized, run-of-the-mill pork projects contained in the 1,182 pages of this conference report. Let's go through some of the more interesting provisions:

• $200,000 to the West Oahu campus of the University of Hawaii to produce the "Primal Quest" film documentary.

• $225,000 to the Wheels Museum in New Mexico.

• $7.3 million for Hawaiian Sea Turtles.

• $6 million for Sea Lions in Alaska.

• $450,000 for the Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center in Ohio.

• $100,000 to the State Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines for the development of the World Food Prize.

• $200,000 to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, for the Rockin' the Schools education program.

• $1 million for Mormon cricket suppression in Utah.

• $450,000 for an Alaska Statehood celebration.

• $225,000 for an Hawaii statehood celebration.

• $175,000 to a city in Missouri for the painting of a mural on a flood wall.

• $90,000 for fruit fly research in Montpellier, France.

• $225,000 to Traverse City, Michigan, for the restoration of an Opera House.

• $250,000 for the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum.

• $200,000 to the Town of Guadalupe, Arizona, for the construction and renovation of a shopping center.

• $325,000 to the City of Salinas, California, for construction of a swimming pool.

• $100,000 to the city of Macon, Georgia, for the renovation of the Coca-Cola building.

• $100,000 to the City of Atlanta for the renovation of Paschal's restaurant and motel.

• $900,000 to an economic development association in Idaho to continue the implementation of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial commemoration plan.

• $175,000 to the City of Detroit for the design and construction of a zoo.

• $238,000 to the National Wild Turkey Federation. Speaking of Wild Turkey - you almost need a bottle of it in order to swallow the lack of fiscal discipline in this bill.

• $200,000 for the City of North Pole, Alaska, for recreation improvements. I guess Santa had a tough year and the elves need a little help from the American taxpayer.

• $100,000 for restoration of the Jefferson County Courthouse Clock Tower in Washington State. I'm sure that this is a beautiful clock tower, but probably not what most taxpayers have in mind when they think of economic development, as this project is characterized.

• $220,000 to the Blueberry Hill Farm in Maine for renovations. For $220,000, I can only presume that somebody will be getting their thrill on Blueberry Hill!

Oops! There's also pressies for the Fox News Network and the other big media boys. So what is not covered? Well, the excellent Head Start program, the only government funded program that has continuously been found to provide excellent value for money and long-term benefits to the tune of seventeen dollars saved for each dollar spent; that one will be cut! Also, Pell grants will be made more difficult to get so that fewer students can go to college:

The government moved to change its formula for college aid last year, but was blocked by Congress. Now, however, no such language appears in the appropriations bill lawmakers are considering, clearing the way for the government to scale back college grants for hundreds of thousands of low-income students.
Nearly 100,000 more students may lose their federal grants entirely, as Congress considers legislation that could place more of the financial burden for college on students and their families.

Aren't we lucky to have this great bunch of politicians supporting every move that George manages to think out, while at the same time busily portioning out pork to their funders while the poor children are told to educate themselves by tying their bootstraps around their necks?

The Sanctity of Marriage, Again

The same-sex marriage bans that eleven states passed in the last elections have brought a new excitement and hope in the Sanctity of Marriage crowd. Of course, victories always leave one with that slightly depressed feeling afterwards: what is there left to work for? Don't worry about the emotional health of the wingnuts; they have their plans for the next stage of the campaign:

NEW YORK (AP) -- "Protection of marriage" is now the watchword for many activists fighting to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying. Some conservatives, however, say marriage in America began unraveling long before the latest gay-rights push and are pleading for a fresh, soul-searching look at the institution.
"When you talk about protecting marriage, you need to talk about divorce," said Bryce Christensen, a Southern Utah University professor who writes frequently about family issues.
While Christensen doesn't oppose the campaign to enact state and federal bans on gay marriage, he worries it's distracting from immediate threats to marriage's place in society.
"If those initiatives are part of a broader effort to reaffirm lifetime fidelity in marriage, they're worthwhile," he said. "If they're isolated - if we don't address cohabitation and casual divorce and deliberate childlessness - then I think they're futile and will be brushed aside."

I hope that you are prepared for this. I especially like the idea that they are going to address deliberate childlessness in marriage. What would addressing that entail? Requiring fertility checks of couples who have not reproduced within some reasonable period of time? Or banning all contraception? The latter is more likely. The plan would also have to address women's economic independence as that makes divorce easier, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was emphasis on the need to reinstall a male-dominated family structure even among nonbelievers. After all, it is the institution of traditional marriage that is to be saved here.

Isn't it interesting how the wingnuts don't fight for people. They always fight for institutions that are not living, feeling, hurting entities but just ideas. Marriage must be preserved and the way to do that is to force people to fit into the mold they have for marriage. Nothing else will do! This sounds very much like the extremist Stalinist form of communism and shows how the view of politics as a long line with extreme righties at one end and extreme lefties at the other end is wrong: the true diagram would be a circle where the extremists are sitting quite close to each other. That's why they often jump from one end to the other so easily.

They Don't Get It #1

This is a new weekly series I'm planning to begin right now. The idea is to pick something I come across in my surfing on the net that shows why feminists are still very much needed. Not something big and obviously relevant, but something that might not even seem sexist, something that will make people tell me that I have no sense of humor or something more important to do. Something to put a little thorn under our collective fingernails. Why not?

In return, I promise to do lots of sunny blogs in the future. Maybe a distant future, but a future nevertheless.

Ok. Here's number one. It comes from one of Saturday's Eschaton threads:

Democrats: always on the defensive. Always worried about what other people will think, or how something will "look". Grow some balls and fight like a man.

On Darfur and the U.S. Administration

Darfur is undergoing genocide right now. The government of Sudan is participating in it. The U.S. government has accepted the term "genocide" for the Darfur events, but this is how it interprets what should be done:

THE BUSH administration shrugged its shoulders last week at the genocide in Sudan's western province of Darfur. At an extraordinary meeting of the U.N. Security Council in Kenya, it sponsored a resolution that not only failed to advance those that passed in July and September but actually stepped back. The veiled threat of sanctions on Sudan's government was dropped. So was the demand that Sudan's government disarm and prosecute its allies in the Janjaweed death squads, which have burned villages, raped and murdered their inhabitants, and left nearly 2 million people homeless and at risk of starvation.
The Bush administration presents this abdication as a triumph. It argues that, by tolerating a weak U.N. resolution on Darfur, it was able to secure a unanimous 15-0 Security Council vote and that this may bring about peace in the separate conflict between Sudan's Muslim-led northern government and the Christian and animist southern rebels.

The people of Darfur can't wait. They're dying and seeing their children hacked to death before their own deaths. The U.S. is not the only guilty party in this lukewarm condemnation of the horrors, of course. It seems there is something in the air right now that makes all sorts of people show their very worst aspects. But remember, the hottest place in hell is reserved for those who were lukewarm in their help of those who suffer.